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.


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