Friday, October 13, 2006

The Long Road Home

I'm not sure what was more of a challenge: traveling back to America for the wedding, or returning to Namibia. Part of the reason I haven't written anything in so long is because it's been sort of difficult for me to wrap my brain around the drastic difference between my life in America-- the lives of Americans in general-- and my life and the lives of everyone here. Throughout my service, I've learned to take things in stride, to gaan met die stroom (go with the flow) and try not to let emotions overwhelm me. However, moving between these two worlds, it seems nearly impossible to not feel some guilt. I am well aware of the differences between myself and Namibians, but after living here for a year in more or less the same conditions as most of my colleagues and friends, the similarities between "them" and "me" seemed more tangible than the differences, which, to be honest, became more and more hard to see as time went on.

Going home changed all that.

My life in America is incredibly blessed. Granted, many people were much nicer and much more accommodating of me than they probably would have been had I just been visiting from college (you know who you are:) ), but aside from a painless dress fitting and a couple of minor errands, I had few worries when I was home. I am comfortable with my life here, but if I said that I wasn't missing or wanting certain things I would be lying. My "wants" could never compare to the needs of many people I know, but they are still present. One can survive without electricity or running water, but to "want" such essential amenities is both humbling and eye-opening. Eating porridge day after day, though filling and satisfying, does leave something to be desired as far as food consumption goes. And though adventurous, walking along the road for hours in the blazing sun waiting for a hike does, after a few months, lose its appeal.

Going home fulfilled my most basic wants. For example:
• I wanted to watch an American football game. I watched the Packers lose preseason to the Bengals.
• I wanted to drink margaritas and eat Mexican food. My family and I ate at two great Mexican restaurants while I was home, not including an emergency run to Qdoba on State St.
• I wanted to spend time on the river. I went kayaking with my mother in her new tandem kayak and drank root beer floats with my brother in Riverside Park.
• I wanted to spend good, quality family time with my mom, my brothers and my new sister. Not only did we go bar hopping on State St. after the wedding, still dressed to the nines in our wedding attire (oh so classy), but the wedding gave me the opportunity to be surrounded by nearly everyone I care most about in the world.
• I wanted to find fun gifts for my friends and my learners here. I came back with an entire suitcase filled with presents, including three Game Boys which my kids have not gone a single day without playing. I have yet to decide if introducing things like Game Boys was a good idea.
• I wanted to do my laundry with a washing machine. I have never seen washing machine water get so cloudy.
• I wanted to get people talking about Namibia. I think that happened.

Being home allowed me to eat lots of good food and never feel hungry or guilty. Here, meal time gets a bit tricky. For example, I never leave food on my plate, especially if I eat in front of my kids (which I try to refrain from). If possible, I will eat in my office or in my room when the kids are away because trying to deal with them when food is around is difficult. The idea of "leftovers" is really a foreign concept to many people here, particularly the kids. How could there ever be more than enough food? There has to be someone who is still hungry. Though when cooking at my house we usually cook enough for a few extras (visitors, sick kids, kids who miss or are banished from meal time, kids who plant their feet until we feed them, etc.), our excess—something that has been toned down drastically since arriving in Africa—never goes unnoticed. My kids reprimand me for throwing away orange peels and apple cores (which they eat, seeds and all), and they collect the throw-away bones from any type of meat we cook and proceed to crack them open and suck the marrow from them. Yes, it's as gross as it sounds, but it's food to them. Nothing goes to waste here.

While I was home, I took long, hot, unrushed showers until I felt truly clean AND I brushed my hair for the first time in months. No matter what they say, absolutely everyone I know would choose hot running water over lukewarm bath water. Even those who consider themselves completely happy and acclimated here (me being one of those people), jump at the opportunity for a shower. My standards for what can be considered "clean" have lowered considerably. Bathing is, indeed, nothing more than sitting in your own filth. Walking around all day in the sand and the dirt and the sun, that layer of filth grows and that bath water darkens. Bucket bathing (which just means standing up and pouring water over your body, as opposed to laying in the water), helps rinse most the dirt away, but thoroughly cleaning one's hair, especially hair like mine, is next to impossible. Lately, because of circumstances beyond our control, we have been turning our water off with the hopes of postponing the inevitable demise of our bathroom. Our Namibian-water torture dripping ceiling, which I mentioned previously, has stopped messing around and has actually caused the ceiling panel to pull away from the wooden boards holding it up. As we wait for it to be repaired (which probably won't happen until it collapses), the ceiling is slanting down towards the bathtub, and the water that was once dripping through the ceiling is now running down the ceiling panel and directly onto the bather. I'm pretty sure there's a family of something living in the ceiling and I'm just waiting for the day when the ceiling collapses and I find myself sharing my bath with a gaggle of lizards or something. Because of this, my bathing routine lately has been get in, get out, get on with it. Total cleanliness is no longer an attainable goal.

I guess I've been tripping over the extreme differences between my life here and my life there since I've been back. Some of the differences, like showers to baths, are comical. But many are difficult; most too difficult to even write about or talk about. Knowing the homes that many of my kids had to go to over holiday, and hearing many of their stories coming back; and then comparing that with my own life over holiday…. it's challenging for me to get a handle on how I can move so easily between these two worlds that are so fundamentally different from one another. That, and how most people I know here will never truly know the ease with which many in this world live.

So, it's been a transition to say the least, but I'm feeling better. I presented a Reading Comprehension workshop along with another TRC PCV to primary school teachers last week and it was a hit. A lot of my work this year was leading up to the workshop, so I feel a small sense of accomplishment. Hopefully some of the strategies I introduced will find their way into classrooms here. Exams are about to start which means the kids (and the teachers and the schools overall) are totally nuts and out of their minds. It's been a bit of a circus around the office and at home, but it's all part of the experience.

Now that I got this first post back out of the way and out of my head, I will work on some more amusing entries. Nolan has about 1000 pictures that he's working on posting. I will work harder at keeping pictures more up to date.

Thanks to everyone who was so great to me while I was visiting and to everyone who continues to be supportive of me here. I hope this entry finds you all happy and healthy.


Anonymous Keith Mitchell said...

Hey Kat, I’m still here reading, every word. Miss you very much and I’m pleased to be able to share your experience through your posts.

You’re in my thoughts and Prayers
Love Keith

10:32 PM  

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