Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Africa Itches

Typing this entry is testing my patience. First of all, for some reason the 'T' and the 'Y' on the computer that I'm using are switched. The keys aren't switched, going from left to right the T does come before the Y, but when I push the T key I get Y and when I push the Y key I get T…. who knows. Secondly, my boss's 8 year-old son was playing his soccer game on this computer earlier and must have fooled with some setting because now the theme song to the game is playing over and over and over. I've taken the disc out, but the music won't stop and if I try to restart the computer I won't be able to sign back on to the internet. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

Another reason that typing this is difficult is because I have two mosquito bites on the index finger of my left hand. Actually, I have mosquito bites all over my body. My arms and legs are generally covered in bites, but I also have bites in places one would think only defenseless babies would get bitten. Above my neck, I have bites at the corners of both my eyes, a bite on my right eyelid and a few bites behind each ear. I have two bites on my neck, which probably lead people to believe I'm not quite as lonely here as I really am. I have bites in places that are almost exclusively covered by clothing, including my lower back and my hips. The palms and backs of my hands and the bends of my elbows have bites. There are bites on the sides and bottoms of my feet and in between my toes. Actually, my feet are more or less one solid bite aside from two thin, pale, sun-neglected strips that my flip flop straps cover (which make my feet look pretty ridiculous). The bites on the tattoo on my foot make the shamrock look bubbly and 3-dimensional. Our PCMO says that some people are just more sensitive to bug bites than others, although having grown up on the Mississippi I'm not sure how that's possible in my case. Luckily, there is no Malaria in my region so my bites, though incredibly irritating, are probably not dangerous. But regardless, with the 'T' being 'Y,' my fingers itching and the FIFA World Cup theme song blaring from the computer, it's one of those days in Namibia.

I've come to realize that people here think I'm much more interesting than I really am. This weekend while spending some time in the location, I met a man who asked if he could visit me at my house. This happens to me almost daily. Sometimes it comes from people I've met maybe once or twice, but often its complete strangers who just randomly stop me on the street and invite themselves to my house. What wonderful things they think I possess or what interesting activities they think I partake in during my free time, however, I can't figure out. Perhaps the stereotypes they have been exposed to regarding the lives of young American girls have caused them, legitimately, to assume that I'm living the fast life here in their small town. But, to be completely honest, I'm pretty boring. As I explained before, my daily routine rarely strays from get up, bathe, work, run, read and lights out (often at embarrassingly early hours of the evening). Anytime there is anything going on at the school that the learners ask me to attend (drama or choir practice, study hall, random sporting competitions with random rules they make up to pass the time, etc.), I'm usually more than willing to go if for no other reason than to break the typical monotony of my evenings. If I say, "I went out last night," that may simply mean that I left my house and crossed the school yard to the dining hall.

Our house doesn't offer much "American culture" to the curious Namibian. Like I said, I have my own bed and my roommate and I share a stove, refrigerator, and a kitchen table… and that's all we have. No TV, no internet, no board games, nothing. Aside from a map of Namibia in my room and a map of the world (with many mislabeled countries) in the sitting room, our walls are empty. We used to have furniture, but the owner (who apparently had just been using us for storage and had no sympathy for our "poor Peace Corps Volunteers with no money to buy furniture" pleas) recently came to collect it, leaving us with a big empty living room with many places to stand, but nowhere to sit (although as of late, it's been converted to somewhat of a dance floor). Our kitchen houses our old, temperamental stove and rumbling refrigerator. Generally, we leave a pot of food on the stove or some fat cakes on the kitchen counter for the boys to pick at (and the cockroaches to take their chances with). Other than that, our kitchen is empty.

Though there is nowhere to sit and nothing to do, our house is certainly the hot spot of the hostel. I'd heard from other PCVs that the lack of privacy during their service had been challenging. I'm a pretty social person, and generally prefer to be around people rather than to be alone, so I wasn't too worried about that. However, though I love the company of the hostel borders and my Namibian friends, privacy has indeed become a non-existent state in my life. From the moment I walk in the door after work, our house is bustling with people; learners with homework questions, teachers wanting to chat about the day or borrow this or that, friends bringing over food to cook dinner for us, the hostel boys/our adopted children running in and out, drinking our juice, eating our food, blasting Tupac from my iPod. Often times when I get home there will be learners sitting outside our door waiting for me, and if my roommate Wendie is already home I will occasionally find a sleepy Namibian resting in my bed. Wendie does have a laptop, but it's a bit old and Namibia has taken its toll on it, leaving in a bit slow as well. Regardless, the boys spend hours playing Science and Math games on the computer-- not my idea of fun, but it does pass the time. Because Wendie is their teacher, she's the disciplinarian of the house and often banishes the naughty boys to the patio. My bedroom window looks out to the patio, so banishment simply requires them to relocate to outside my window and analyze every book, picture, t-shirt and move I make in my room by poking their heads through the burglar bars, pointing at this or that and asking a never-ending stream of questions. Weekends are out of control. Usually by no later than 7:30am, I hear "Miss? Miss? Good morning miss!" from outside my window. Since my bed is right next to the window, and because my windows have no curtains, the minute I open my eyes I'm greeted by a smiling, mischievous, fully awake hostel boy staring back at me (privacy? What's that?). From that moment on, our door stays open and kids are running in and out all day long, washing their laundry in our sink and hanging it on our lines, reading our month-old newspapers and magazines, terrorizing our kitten, doing our dishes, cooking mounds of porridge, sweeping our floor, asking, "Miss, what is this? What is that? Why do you paint your nails red? Who are you talking to on the phone? Why do you eat your meat with a fork and knife? Where are you going? What are you doing?" Occasionally, I’ll be taking my bucket bath and a friend will open the bathroom door, walk in and sit down on the toilet to have a conversation with me that was apparently too pressing to wait (nudity is no big thing here). Because there is no other furniture in the house, friends are often sprawled across my bed or on my bedroom floor, going through my closet, looking through my letters and pictures from home and asking endless questions about life in America. Our visitors require no entertaining, they are just over to pass the time, so I usually just mill about between the different groups, chatting, reading, listening to music.

Perhaps the people in town have heard from the hostel boys that my house is the happening place to be, but I think if they came by they would find that their definition of "happening" might differ slightly from those of us on this side of the river. You see, because of our similar circumstances, those of us in the hostel have formed our own little community; with a significant lack of anything tangible to fill the void of our free time, our definition of fun is probably quite different from the average person's definition. When we're not in school or at work, we are all more or less bored out of our minds and therefore can spend hours upon hours doing nothing as long as we are all doing nothing together. But I do like keeping people on their toes, so I'm going to try to retain this allure of mystery as long as possible.

I hope April is treating everyone well:)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kat -
I'm not sure if it is appropriate to compare the inquisitive Namibian Learners to an episode of Sex and the City, but the first thing I thought of was Carrie and Aiden."Hey pop tart! Where ya been and whatcha been doing?" "As soon as I walk through the door, he's all up in my face with 'who'd ya see, where'd ya go, who'd ya meet? what do ya know?'"

I hope the learners are as wonderful as Aiden is!

I miss you
Love, Cindy:)

11:09 PM  

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