Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Namibia is for lovers?

...you have got to be kidding me.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dress Code

I wear skirts most days here and for many different reasons. For one, it turns out it gets pretty hot in Africa. We are in our winter months right now, so the weather is pretty mild (actually, I'm amazed at how cold it gets. At night, I sleep in my sleeping bag and underneath my blankets, often wearing a sweatshirt and a beanie. How I will ever go back to Wisconsin winters is beyond me). However, typical of desert climate, when the sun is shining on you here you are hot. Come midday I'm usually running around town visiting schools or meeting with this person or that person and I would be pretty uncomfortable, and quite a bit sweatier, if I were wearing pants. Plus, people already tell me that I have that "typical Peace Corps look" (not a compliment, trust me), so throwing trousers into the mix wouldn't please anyone. Secondly, the laundry factor. As mentioned previously, laundry day is no picnic. It takes me long enough to do a regular load of my clothes which generally consist of skirts and tank tops. When the occasional pair of pants finds their way in there, my sore hands in the end leave me angry with myself and swearing of pants for at least the next few weeks.

Wearing skirts everyday does, however, present a few problems. Quite often I wind up in precarious situations that aren't exactly "skirt-friendly." For example, for some reason I frequently find myself having to jump over fences. The school has a fence around it and since I'm one of the only ones who leaves school grounds daily for work, I often end up locked out. The fence at the entrance is a bit high and quite conspicuous so if I know I'm going to be locked out, I will opt for one of the learner's strategically placed holes in the chain-linked fence surrounding the school (aren't I a good example?). However, not only do I have to walk through the bush to get to these holes, but the entire fence is covered in barbed wire. It does cut a good 10 minutes off of my walking time, but at this point my legs have cuts and scratches all over them from the bush and many of my skirts and shirts are torn from being caught on the barbed wire. Come August, I think all will be happy that my bridesmaid dress is full-length:)

One of the things I find most fascinating about Namibia is the distinct dichotomy between the developed world and the undeveloped world that all of us here live within. Namibians are moving quickly towards a completely "modernized" society (the definition of which I don't really understand anymore), but there are still days when my head spins and I feel so far removed from this culture I may as well be living on the moon. I'll be going along with my daily routine, minding my own business, when a donkey will walk into my classroom while I'm teaching and I'll remember that I am indeed in Africa.

Recently, I received word that I had a few packages I needed to sign for at the post office. Because one of the packages was too large for me to collect and carry all the way home, I waited for our office handy-man to take me in the office bakkie. We are only allowed to take the bakkie out when other errands need to be run in town or to surrounding villages, so collecting a package in this fashion is generally an all-day activity. This particular day, we were joined by two other men on our errand run. The first few months I was here I was uncomfortable riding in the back of bakkies wearing a skirt and would try whatever I could to attain an actual seat. At this point, however, I'm just happy when I get an actual hike and don't have to walk, and if it means a little discomfort I'm okay with it; a hike is a hike. I figured there must be something important happening so I volunteered to sit in the back of the bakkie and look through my package while the men discussed business. I was temporarily distracted by the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups I had received in the mail and didn't realize where we were going until we had arrived at a nearby farm. Going to the farm is my least favorite errand because regardless of what the activity is, I know I'm not going to enjoy it. Farms here are not like farms in Wisco. "Farms" are basically homesteads or large plots of open land with a very small house or sleeping quarters for the workers. Many people have farms to hunt on, while others keep livestock there until they're ready for sale or slaughter. Since this was not my first time at the farm, and since the men had never invited me to hunt (little do they know that I passed my hunter's safety test with flying colors when I was 12-years old), I was well aware of what we were at the farm to do. I jumped out of the bakkie, quickly jumped over the fence (still wearing a skirt, mind you) with the others and got to work trying to catch some goats while the driver tried his best to maneuver his way underneath the door-less, chain linked fence. The farmer who was helping us took a look at me, apparently oblivious to my skirt, and said, "You will be good help. You have nice shoes on today"-- translation: I was wearing flip flops as opposed to the high heels my female co-workers wear. With more moral support than physical help from me, the men caught two goats and loaded them into the back of the bakkie. Willing to do whatever I had to do to protect my peanut butter cups, I jumped right in there with the goats as we road back to town. Once back at the office, we unloaded the goats in the backyard and I retired to my office where I ate my peanut butter cups and watched from my window as the goats were slaughtered. That night, we had a formal braai; I didn't even have to change my clothes.

Congratulations, Nolie, on your new job AND on being accepted into the graduate program at Madison! Definitely an inspiration to those of us doing everything we can to avoid growing up:) I'm almost mentally ready to allow myself to begin counting the days until August 18th...not quite yet, but almost.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mama's got the Magic

I was talking to a friend from the states last Saturday, and when she asked me what I had done that day I replied, "Laundry." She was quiet for a moment but then followed up with, "…And…?" And I realized that the process of doing "laundry" here may need a little explanation.

If someone here tells you that they are doing laundry, you understand that that means they will be occupied for the better part of the day. There are no washers and dryers here, no multi-cycle machines to choose from; for most of us, laundry is done by hand. To be totally honest, I more or less suck at washing my clothes by hand. At this point, most my clothes are pretty beaten up and discolored, and my whites have turned into a sort of off-white/brownish color. I keep telling myself that it's just the nature of the beast; hand washing your clothes eventually destroys them. However, everyone around here washes their clothes by hand but you would never guess so just by looking at most of them, which makes me think that I must be doing something wrong. On the other hand, I have been coached by a few different people, and at this point I am at least able to get my clothes clean which is more than I could do a few months ago. It seems there's really no trick to keeping your whites whiter and your brights brighter when hand washing other than being taught from childhood the secrets to doing so.

Everybody's process is a bit different, but mine generally has four steps that go something like this: I start out by moving all of our laundry materials (scrub brush, wash board, laundry detergent, bar of laundry soap, rinsing bucket, stain stick) into the bathroom. I say a quick prayer that water will come out of the faucet when I turn it on and, assuming it does, I fill the bathtub with cold water. Next, I dump half my laundry basket full of clothes-- I do laundry so rarely that I usually have two bathtubs full to wash-- into the tub along with a handful of laundry detergent. Once the tub has filled with enough water (which usually takes a good 3 or 4 minutes depending upon how many other people are trying to do their laundry at the same time), I turn off the faucet, roll up my imaginary sleeves and begin to work the clothes in with the soap, using my hands and arms to make back and forth, washing machine-type motions. I continue this process for a few minutes until a good foam has been made. That's all step number one. From here, I take my book (currently Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and go read outside for ten minutes or so, letting the clothes soak in the soapy water.

After either ten or forty minutes have passed (ten if I go unnoticed, forty if a neighbor or hostel border stops by to tell me about their day or their family or the latest Omaruru gossip of who I was seen taking a hike with or what I ate for dinner last night), I go back in and proceed to step two. With the bar of laundry soap, I begin rubbing the soap into my clothes. This is done by a method known as "squish and push" which I picked up after many lessons from the hostel boys (did I mention that I live in the boys hostel? Keeps life interesting :). With one hand holding the bar of soap on one side of a shirt or skirt or pair of pants, and the other hand gripping the article of clothing and making a sort of fist on the other side, I move my hands back and forth against each other in a scrubbing motion, funneling the piece of clothing through. Once the article of clothing is nice and soapy, I dunk it over and over into the water while at the same time pushing the soap through the fabric. For the really tough stains, I either use our "scrub brush," which is more or less a piece of steel wool, or I enlist the help of one of the hostel boys, who continually amaze me with their ability to remove stains not even the best washing machine could get out. After the article of clothing is thoroughly beaten, I throw it into the rinsing bucket and proceed to the next piece. This process usually lasts around twenty minutes per load (remember, I still have another load to go at this point).

After I've repeated the above steps with load number two, I drain the tub and move on to step three: the rinse cycle. First, I refill the tub and plop the first load back into the water. Again making the washing machine motions with my hands and arms, I work to get as much soap out of the clothes as possible. I do this for about five minutes, after which I drain the tub and if necessary, run my clothes under the faucet to rinse them. Next comes the wringing. I was pretty gentle with this at first until my host mother set me straight. "Harder!" she'd say. "Show them you are boss!" As a general rule, I know I'm wringing my clothes hard enough and tight enough when it begins to hurt my hands. My sheets are the worst, followed by pants and anything denim. My jeans leave the palms of my hands red and sore long after the wringing is complete.

Once most of the water is out of my clothes, we move outside to the final step: drying. I am lucky enough to have four clotheslines, about 4 meters long each, on my "patio." Hanging clothes to line dry requires no explanation but it does perhaps take more time for me than for others. I forego clothespins because I don't like the little marks they leave on my clothes. As a result, I have to spend some extra time hanging them just right to ensure that they a) will dry in less than a day, and b) don't fall onto the ground and into the dirt, thus requiring me to start the laundry process over. Once they are all hanging, I go back to the bathroom to repeat the final few steps with load number two. If all goes well, the entire washing process takes more or less two hours uninterrupted. And you people thought I wasn't domestic…

Once all my clothes are hanging however, I'm still sort of tied up because I can't leave them unattended on the line. Though a bit of an inconvenience, I should be thankful that for the most part, I've only had completely random things stolen from me since I've been in Namibia-- and by random, I mean my toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, a sports bra, two t-shirts, and my hairbrush. The socks, underwear, and sports bra were hanging on the clothesline when they were taken so now I have to sit with my laundry and wait for it to dry which, if the sun is shining, takes about 4 hours. If it's raining or if they haven't dried by nighttime, I hang them around the house on a few makeshift clotheslines we've rigged up. However, they then require at least a full day to dry so if the weather permits I much prefer babysitting the clothesline and reading my book or having a cool drink with the neighbors as I wait.

So yeah, that's what I did last Saturday. And keep in mind that I am sort of an anomaly around here; not only am I without children, but I am unmarried as well, and therefore, thankfully, have no husband or babies to do laundry for. Now that… that would be a real chore.