Namibia: Quick Update

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DISCLAIMER
The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Namibian Government.

Hi all,

As I said, things here would get busy fast, and they did. This week our trainers had us meet local small business owners with whom we paired up with and now must use our “skills” to help them grow their business. It’s an exercise that is geared to train us in interacting with local business owners rather than to actually move a business along, but if that happens then it’s a gain for all involved.

We also had our eyes opened to Namibian political and social history and it wasn’t pretty. I don’t have time to go into it now, but to get an idea of where Namibia is today think about what America was like in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War and you may get a narrow view of what life is like here. This is a country full of raw natural beauty, people with centuries old traditions and whose eyes are focused on the future. I feel humbled and honored to be here and to offer whatever help I can to move them towards a brighter tomorrow.

But first I need to get trained in so much that I wonder if my old brain can hold it all. I am determined to try.

One way to help is to learn a language, and the language that was picked for me is Afrikaans, a German derivative with its own uniqueness. A large portion of the population speaks it, especially in the larger cities and towns, so it stands to reason that I will ultimately wind up in a larger town or city. This is my second week of classes and I feel somewhat comfortable with greetings, but that’s about it. We’ll get tested in a few weeks so that is what I’m studying for. So, practice, practice, …

I’m also in my second week with my host family. They are Nick and Kittie Mass and they are very nice people. They are also butchers. The day after I arrived I came home to a pile of meat in the kitchen. That pile happened to be the rough cut remains of a cow. Inside of 5 days they Mass’ , using a meat ban saw and other devices that would be at home in movies like Halloween of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, reduced nearly a thousand pounds of beef to steaks, sausage and other cuts of beef and beef byproducts. Nothing was wasted. They even make a Namibian version of beef jerky and SlimJIm. Tasty!!!

The saw I saw…


As you may imagine, I’ve got a lot to deal with here. I’ve got some work to do so I need to stop here. I’ll try to update more often even if it’s just a few paragraphs.

Stay tuned.

Vern

Namibia: Training Begins

On the Trans-Kalahari Corridor


If I said that my life has been turned upside down I would be making a gross metaphoric understatement. But I’d say it as a good thing.

As of today (Wednesday, April 19) I have been essentially living out of two duffel bags since the last week of March, I’m essentially homeless, but man-o-man, what a ride so far. Let me recap.

The last time I updated this blog it was Saturday, April 15. If Saturday was a down day, then Sunday marked the true beginning of our in country Peace Corps training.

After lounging about earlier in the morning and enjoying a final breakfast at Penduka Compound, we loaded our bags onto a truck and climbed into buses for our hour long trip to Kukuri Conference Center in Okahandja.

The scenery along the way was beautiful. We passed through some of the oldest geological formations on Earth. It’s hard to think of mountains as anything but ancient, but on a geological time scale peaks like the Alps and the Rockies are kids compared to the worn and weathered formations in the Central Plateau region. We were on the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, a highway that stretches from Botswana to the north vertically through the center of Namibia to Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a modern road being made wider, so our travel was smooth.

To my surprise, at least, we found our accommodations at the Andreas Kukuri Convention Center quite comfortable. Though each room could sleep four I had a room to myself. A good thing since I’m a restless sleeper, but it turned out to be not so good because the fan in the room clicked so loudly when running that I had to turn it off, leaving me at the mercy of tenacious mosquitoes. But this too is part of the adventure.

We rested and prepped for Monday.

The Kukuri Center we are allowed to leave the compound, but they recommend not going alone, and only to and from class. Wise in almost any new environment.

Our classes are held about 1/2 mile from the compound and they started throwing information at us at a blistering pace. It was tough for me because the hall we were in echoed badly and my hearing aids just couldn’t handle it. Turns out I wasn’t the only one suffering so they moved the training to a smaller room and I had no problem hearing. I still felt like I was drowning in info though, but at least I could hear it.

The Peace Corps does everything it can to make volunteers feel safe. They need to overdo it because most of their recruits are fresh out of college and may not be wise to the ways of the world. For an old guy who’s been around the block a few times the precautions seem excessive, but it’s best to warn loudly than to fix quietly. In that regard many of our classes had to do with safety: What not to do and what to do if you are in a fix. They also outlined the agenda for next 8 weeks. WE WILL BE BUSY! We have three major projects to complete all while learning a new language, moving in and adjusting to our host family environment and dealing with the mental baggage that comes with the prospects of being away from heart and home for the next 2+ years.

Man! I sure could use a glass of wine!!

To that point, there’s a small mall for shopping and a restaurant called Rhinos where PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) hangout. I’m told they sell good food, beer and wine. Unfortunately I may not get a chance to sample any of it because classes run from 7:30 to 4:30, often later, and we have mountains of homework with little to no fast access to the Internet! Life can be cruel!

Because I’ll be so busy and because I’ll only have my phone and a fairly costly data plan, updates to this blog will be done less frequently until I’m out of training 8 weeks from now. My updates also won’t so verbose. Words chews up data bits.

Please feel free, however, to ping me via WhatsApp or iMessage. My WhatsApp number is +1 (407) 405-3465, my iMessage number +264 (081) 475-1335. That last number is my Namibian mobile number. I don’t have to pay for incoming calls, but I’m at least 5 hours ahead of you, so I’ll take it as a kindness if you didn’t call me while I’m sleeping.

I’m writing this from a desk inside my host family’s home. Nice folks. Modest, but comfortable accommodations.

I gotta get to work.

Stay tuned

Vern

Namibia! Part Mbali (Two)

Idyllic view from Penduka Compound


It’s Saturday, April 15. I am sitting in the covered courtyard in the Penduka Compound a few kilometers outside of Windhoek, Namibia. The skies are blue with big cotton candy clouds, there’s a light breeze that takes the edge off the warmish sun, and there are white pelican cruising the nearby lake.

After traversing two hemispheres (horizontal and vertical) and sitting through several days of lectures, exhibitions and even more shots (1st Rabies, and meningitis), we (Peace Corps Volunteer Group #45) have finally got some downtime!
To say it’s been a busy week would be a gross understatement. We arrived Monday afternoon and after brief introductions our Peace Corps hosts fed us and put us to bed. We hit the ground running on Tuesday with meetings from 8 am to 4:30 pm where we were introduced to the local Peace Corps Staff and given our training schedule for the next 3 months. Wednesday and Thursday was more of the same. Friday was a bit slower. We got the first of 5 sets of shots and were interviewed for potential assignments.

Today, however, was much different.

The Penduka Compound was created for and run by physically and economically disadvantaged women. It provides a workplace and income through a variety of projects and programs. The Compound is at once, an inn by a lake complete with 4 rental cabins and 6 backpack cabins, workshops for producing textiles, glass bead jewelry and pottery, small scale poultry and hydroponic farm, and a small events venue. It’s a beautiful setting and in the evenings, after the meetings we got to enjoy fantastic sunsets and star filled night skies.

Sunset from Penduka Compound


The problem is that the Penduka Compound is kilometers away from Windhoek proper and is surrounded by wilderness and an unsavory area. So, our hosts have insisted that we stay in the compound. That changed today. We were loaded onto buses and taken on a tour of some of the impoverished areas, then to a mall that would be the envy any American location. It was an interesting experience.

The shantytown we drove through looked like what I’m sure many of you have seen in the movies and media. Densely packed dwelling made mostly of corrugated metal that seem to adhere to no urban planning ideology stretched for kilometers, yet there seemed to be a certain level of normalcy about it. There were vendors in open air markets and metal covered shops plying every conceivable trade, children played in dirt lots, and here and there were attempts at beautifying or shading a spot with trees. Poverty was definitely a problem, but it appeared that people were making do however they could. We didn’t stop to have a closer look, maybe no purpose would have been served by doing so, still, I would have liked to understand what I was seeing better. I may get that chance.

In the mall I was able to buy a SIM card for my iPhone, I now have access to the Internet at a decent speed. It’s not fast, but waaaay faster than what I’d been using up until now. I also bought some personal items in stores that don’t exist in the U.S. If all you saw was the mall you’d think Windhoek was a bustling European city. The mall was packed and money was being spent. Stores were museum neat, walkways were shiny as glass and there was plenty of anything you might want. A stark difference from the poverty we drove through. I suppose that our Peace Corps hosts were making a point.

Anyway, we’re back at the compound with new stuff and a lot to think about.

Stay Tuned.

Vern

Namibia!

First, and once again, allow me to apologize for the scarcity of my blog updates. My excuse is that the passed few weeks has been a whirlwind of events that has culminated with me sitting here at 8:00pm in Penduka Compound, somewhere near Windhoek, Namibia writing this update.

Getting here wasn’t easy.

I believe the last substantial post I made to this blog detailed my trip to see my daughter in Tucson. That was an eventful trip and completely enjoyable. My son drove in from Oceanside, CA and we celebrated my birthday just having a great time in each other’s company. Of course, club hopping in downtown Tucson helped a bit too. šŸ™‚

My kids are wonderful and gave me a send-off I’ll not soon forget. Nothing illegal (that I’ll talk about), but fun.

I flew back to Orlando for all of one night, then jetted to Philadelphia, rented a wreck (Really! It’s called Rent-a-Wreck and the cars are old, but cheap to rent) and drove to Baltimore to see family and friends.

My sister put me up for 5 days. (Thanks sis!) From there I visiting family and friends, like the evening I spent with my long time friend, Marlene.

Marlene picked The Rusty Scupper, situated in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, an area I used to live in when I was a teenager. I had drove pass the Inner Harbor on several of my visits home, but I never had a chance to really take a look at it, but I did notice that each time I visited there were distinct changes.

I got there early and while I waited for my friend to get through rush hour traffic I took the opportunity to check the harbor out. I immediately recognized the The Constellation, a corvette class schooner that’s been moored there since what seems like forever, and what used to be the Maryland National Bank Building hiding between two newer and somewhat taller structures, but that was it. Federal Hill wasn’t easily visible before, but now almost the whole park can be seen just pass the beach volley ball courts(!) and playgrounds right beside the harbor.

It took me a while to see that the modern brick building standing where the old McCormick spice factory was was actually an updated McCormick building, but now it’s called The Royal Sonesta. (They should have kept the McCormick name.) And it took me a while to locate the Domino Sugar sign that was always visible at night, but it was there just as big and red as always. The rest of the harbor is new and exciting. There was a Festival of Lights taking place, people everywhere, ON A CHILLY WEDNESDAY NIGHT! It is definitely a showplace.

Dinner was fantastic! Baked cod topped with crabmeat. MMMMmmm-Boy! And the company was amazing. Though I’ve known Marlene for over 20 years the woman does not age. We chatted like we haven’t seen each other for a few months instead of a few decades. Such a good time.

The next day was spent trying, ultimately without success, to hold on to my mobile number. I’ve had that number for years and didn’t want it recycled because I won’t be using it for two years. AT&T was NO help. They ran me in circles with one suggestion after another, none of which panned out. I talked to other mobile vendors and they gave me similar songs and dances. I finally settled on a company called Tossable Digits who offers a number ‘parking’ plan for $4 a month. Basically, they take your number and make it virtual, you then get their cheapest plan, which happens to cost $4 a month. As long as you pay your four bucks then your number stays in existence even if you never use it. So, I did that.

Special Note: Those of you who have my 3465 number please hold onto it. I’m getting an in-country number tomorrow and will advertise it here.

Speaking of numbers, I’m currently textable IF you have an iPhone (via iMessage) or have WhatsApp installed. My WhatsApp user name is VernGzr.

Thursday evening was spent with my sisters Zelda, Vicky, and Alethia. They treated me to a crab feast that brought to mind similar family feasts when I was a kid. Paper on the table, steamed corn on the cob, beer.

And steamed blue crabs! Few things taste better.

My family wasn’t done with me yet. My cousin, Stephanie, called aunts and cousins to gather for another send off.

I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t gone home since 2011. Doing so was always on my list of things I neended to do each year, but somehow it always slipped off. So, this was a mini family reunion, all focused on me. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you need your family until you are in their presence and you bask in the warmth of memories, acceptance and love. Just the hubbub of congenial conversations punctuated with laughter was enough to permanently etch a smile on my soul. It made me wonder how I could have stayed away for so long. Even my ever busy nephew, David, and his family made it. It was a fantastic evening.

My cousin, Stephanie, still wasn’t through with me and on Saturday she and my cousin, Michael, hung out, ate, chatted, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Sunday I had to be back in Philadelphia, but before I left Baltimore I had to make one final stop, to see my nephew, Don. My eldest brother, Carl (who has passed on) was a huge positive influence in my life and Don is a spitting image of him. Don looks so much like Carl that it was a bit unsettling to talk to him. That I hadn’t seen Don in far too many years only added to the surrealism of my visit. His mannerisms are so similar to his father’s that I had to keep reminding myself who I was talking to.

I wish I could have spent more time with Don and uber-cute daughter, Noel, but I had to get to Philly in time for my first Peace Corps at 5 that evening.

Once in Philly the pace of my life seemed to speed up so fast it felt like Captain Picard had just directed the helm to take me to warp 6 and commanded, “Engage!”

I had a staging meeting all day Monday and Tuesday at 1:30am we boarded the bus that took me and my fellow volunteers to JFK airport in New York. We checked-in, then waited for our nearly 15 hour flight to Johannesburg , South Africa. I dreaded the flight because it was coach, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated.

We went through South African customs and then flew to Windhoek (pronounced ‘vin-hook’), Namibia. More customs, but on the far side of that were our Peace Corps greeters.

I’ll leave the story here for now and pick it up in my next post. I got meningitis and rabies shots and interviews in the morning.

Stay tuned,

Vern

Landed in Johannesburg!

Quick update… just landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have another flight in 3 hrs.

15 hrs in the air… in coach! I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I did nap a little, but right now I’m running on caffeine.

I’m going to write more once I get established, but for I want to thank my family and friends for all of your support, the wonderful send-offs, gifts, and well wishes. I am indeed a lucky man.

More to come soon. Stay tuned

Vern