Thursday, November 01, 2007

The beginning of the end...

On November 11, 2005, I set foot on Namibian soil for the first time. And on November 17, 2007, I will complete my two year contract and embark on a new journey. As most of you have already heard, I’ve decided to extend for a third year with Peace Corps in Namibia. I will take on a new job at a new site, both of which I’m looking forward to. The work will be based on a program called Men as Partners. Men as Partners is an initiative created by EngenderHealth, a non-profit organization based out of New York that works on global health issues such as HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, women’s rights, etc. Men as Partners works off the idea that improving the health and well-being of women includes engaging men, a critical component that has been missing in most discussions on HIV prevention throughout Africa. This new initiative will be introduced into Namibia next year, and I will be working on the national campaign at the grassroots level. Working so closely with young boys and men over the past two years, I have come to truly value this type of work and see its need here in Namibia, and I’m excited and flattered that I’ve been given the opportunity to take part in the early stages of this important project.

However, as excited as I am for what’s in store for me next year, things are wrapping up at my current site and it’s hard to not feel somewhat ambivalent and disheartened at the thought of leaving. Omaruru, the TRC, S.I. !Gobs—these places have been my home for the past two years, and as challenging as my time here has been, leaving this place and all these people will not be easy for me.

Of all the learners, I’m closest to the grade 12s, who have just finished writing their final exams. Saying goodbye to them has been very difficult; this group of kids arrived at the school the same time that I did. Also coming from places outside Omaruru, we spent the past two years together getting to know the place and the people of Omaruru and making it our home. My learners have been a huge part of my life and have enriched my experience here more than any other person or thing has. Now we are leaving, not together, and it’s hard to imagine my daily life without them.

Last week I was walking in town with a few of the kids when it started to pour rain. It was the first time I had seen rain in nearly a year, and the four of us just stood in the road and let the drops wash over us. Rain here has a poignant connotation. It means hope and happiness and fruitfulness, and living without it for an extended period of time makes you appreciate it more than you can probably imagine. The sun was shining through the clouds in certain spots and it created rainbow pieces that fell all around us. It was the most beautiful sight I had seen in a very long time, and as I felt the warm rain on my skin and thought about these kids and my life here, I started to cry. If the kids noticed, they didn’t mention it. It’s been an emotional time for all of us and tears have been more common as of late. My rule with the kids was that we couldn’t talk about me leaving until it was 6 months before the time. That 6 month mark has long passed, but talking about it has not become any easier. The thought of leaving makes me feel sick. I’ve had a perpetual lump in my throat for the past week and my eyes well up just thinking about how quickly my time here is finishing. Some of these kids literally have nothing else in the world and it’s hard to not feel as if I’m abandoning them. When I was preparing to leave the states for Africa, the thought of leaving was difficult, but I was able to envision what it would be like. I’ve said goodbye to family and friends before and though this goodbye was more long-term, I had an idea of what it would entail and I was right for the most part. The goodbyes here in Africa will not be the same. These goodbyes are to the people who have been my family for the past two years, yet it’s very likely that I will never see them or even speak to them again. I thought as the time approached I would have a better idea of what to say, of how to make my exit, but even now after I have actually said goodbye to some of my people, it doesn’t feel real.

I’m leaving Namibia in mid-November and will travel with two friends throughout Southern Africa—Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar—before I return to the states on home leave. I will be back in Namibia by mid-January and will resume some of my relationships here, but some will be gone. Over the past two years, there have been kids or friends who have left on long weekends or holidays and have never returned. It’s inevitable that some of my people won’t be around next year January, and that’s the thought that fills my heart with sadness. I’m not equipped with whatever quality it takes to say goodbye and knowingly part ways forever with a person whom you love; is anyone?

My last official day of work is tomorrow. My office colleagues and I have spent the past few weeks interviewing people for my replacement, which has been a bit strange and also a bit humorous. I’m having a farewell party and dinner tomorrow (complete with goat slaughter, my favorite) to say goodbye to my Omaruru friends. I will spend the weekend packing up my few belongings and on Monday I will go to meet with the new PC trainees who arrived in country in the beginning of November. For any parents or friends of Nam27 who may be reading this, I met with the group last weekend and everyone is doing fine. Wide-eyed, excited, inquisitive, terrified—no different than how I was just two years ago.

My time in Namibia has been truly rewarding, and I’m grateful for my experiences here. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve gotten more from this country than I’ve given them. The truth is that leaving would never be easy; I would never feel as if I had done enough or that it was the right time to leave. Reconciling the guilt we feel for leaving, especially for leaving the kids, with the desire we feel to go home is something that all of us volunteers are struggling with.

So yes, it’s been a bittersweet time as of late. I know next year will be a wonderful learning and growing time for me, but closing this chapter of my life will not be easy. All my PC friends are COSing (meaning they’re going through their close-of-service procedures), which is also a bit strange. Though I’m excited about my work for next year, it will be difficult to be here without my closest volunteer friends. Although I think I have convinced a few of them to visit me in La Crosse for New Year’s so that we can officially part ways with a bang:)

This will be my last blog post from Omaruru. I doubt I’ll be able to post during my travels, but I’ll do what I can to keep in touch. I’m sure the writing will resume when I return in January, so if you’re interested please continue to check in.

Thank you all for the support you’ve given me throughout the past two years. Your thoughts and words have never gone unappreciated. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such supportive people in their life. Additionally, thank you for your continued interest in Namibia. I hope that this blog has given you a glimpse of the beauty of this country and its people. I’m not sure what the point of this was if it hasn’t…perhaps just to help maintain some level of sanity:)

Hopefully I will meet up with as many of you as possible during my home leave. Keep in touch and I will do the same. Go well.

The hostel boys.


Anonymous WGHL said...

Congratulations for making a difference and good luck next year. Wisconsin is proud of you as well.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for making my day!

1:36 AM  

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