Before I get into the next part of my Luderitz adventure I should give my host, Travis, his due. After reading through what I wrote in Part 1 it occurred to me that it might seem as though my time spent in Luderitz was all fun.
Well… it was, but that doesn’t mean Peace Corps work wasn’t accomplished and that I didn’t learn a lot, which was the purpose of my visit to Luderitz.
Shadowing is when a PC trainee follows around a PCV in the field for several days so that the trainee can “…see how it’s done…” up close and personal. One of the many lessons trainees are taught is to integrate into the community to which we are ultimately assigned. But what does integration mean, and why bother?
Integration basically means to immerse one’s self into the fabric of the community, to become part of the community and allow the community to become part of you. In doing so a PCV increases his/her effectiveness on many fronts including being better able to get tasks done, increase his or her safety, and, of course, create new and meaningful relationships where real cultural ideas can be exchanged.
It’s not as easy as it may sound. In the States, if you move into a new neighborhood there are many things you take for granted, like being able to speak the local language and understand the local customs (unless you move to New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Texas then all bets are off). Here everything is different. People may not speak your language and even if they do they may not completely understand you, or you them. Customs are different, foods are different, smells, sights, sounds are all new and different than what you are used to. Overcoming all of that and your own ignorance of local ideologies, protocols and so on and still make friends can be a daunting task for many.
Travis is a master of integration. He was dropped into Luderitz in a less than ideal situation and he managed to immerse himself so well that the people I was introduced to all think of him as a local. In effect, he is. Each person I met was a well known figure in the community and they all thought highly of Travis and the Peace Corps. So, the time we spent meeting and greeting was time effectively spent, and I’ve learned valuable lessons. I can only hope I can pull it off as well as Travis did and is doing.
OK, back to fun…, I mean work.
On Friday after my arrival at Luderitz Travis and Phil took me to Kolmanskop, a town that the desert is reclaiming.
Kolmanskop was established in the late 1800’s by Germans when diamonds were found literally lying around on the ground. Germans claimed the land and built a lavish town complete with it’s own icehouse, public rail system, schools, and bowling alley. Remember, this is in the Namib Desert. There’s nothing around for hundreds of miles but rock, sand, more rock and sand, and some distance to the west, ocean. They had to import everything including water. Yet they lived a lavish lifestyle, at least until the diamonds ran out.
Sometime during the early 1920’s larger diamonds were being dug up further south and Kolmanskop was ultimately abandoned. With no one to maintain it time, sun, wind and sand took its toll on the structures, making for surreal photo ops today.
After Kolmanskop Travis and I went to his office in the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry where we went through some of the projects he was working on. Its a small office, but then the town of Luderitz is small. Still, a lot gets done and Travis has made great efforts in expanding the presence and role of the Chamber of Commerce in Luderitz.
After spending the afternoon in the office we bought gear for a local fishing event the next day then went to a local pub for dinner. There I was introduced to even more people whose names I can’t hope to remember, but all knew and appreciated Travis’ and the Peace Corps’ presence in Luderitz.
To my surprise there was live music. A local who makes unscheduled appearances sang old rock tunes while strumming a guitar. I could have been back in Orlando at any number of watering holes on a Friday night, but I was in Luderitz, and that made it memorable.
We had to turn in early because Travis got us a spot on a boat (he knew the captain of the boat we were on! Again, integration!!!). The event was an annual snoek fishing contest. I hadn’t fished or been on anything that floats larger than a kayak in many years, so I was a bit concerned about getting seasick.
The morning was cold and everyone was dressed like they were mates on an Alaskan trawler. I had on a pair of jeans, two shirts and a jacket. I felt woefully underdressed. But the fishing gods smile upon me and the sun was warm and the winds, at least in the early morning hours, were light.
Catching snoek (snook) is not done with a rod and reel, at least not off the coast of Namibia. You use a length of heavy line, a lure that looks like a small squid that covers a hook that would seriously annoy Moby Dick. When the captain tells you you throw your lured line out and let it sink, then slowly pull it in. If you get a strike then you pull in the line using gloved hands as quickly as you can. I got two strikes, but lost both because I didn’t pull in fast enough. There were far more experienced snoek fishermen pulling in fish almost every time the boat stopped. It was exhilarating to watch.
Snoeks are not small fish, they are cousins to barracudas and have teeth that can easily take a finger or two off.
While I didn’t catch anything being on the water off the coast of Africa was an amazing experience. The water was sapphire blue, the sun was warm, and the salt air invigorating. I felt at once at home and completely out of my element and loved every second of it.
Travis, on the other hand, spent almost the entire time lying on deck trying not to chum the water. Poor guy.
Once we made landfall he spent time recovering while I met up with Janet and ate some of the snoek that was caught earlier. The evening was spent chatting with new friends and drinking a local brew call Savannah Dry.
Unfortunately, I had to turn in early to rest before my trip back to Okahandja.
My return trip was painful. It took 12 hours to complete and most of it was done crammed on a small makeshift seat next to a van door I was not entirely sure was completely closed. Still, I was next to a window facing west and I watch the sun turn a dry savannah golden.
Yes, I had an amazing time in Luderitz and learned so much from Travis that I’ll never be able to adequately thank him.
Today is June 7 and I have 8 days left in my training period. I’m so far behind in telling my story so far because there is simply too much to tell. What I will have to do is pick the stories and hope you find them interesting.
I’ve got a language test tomorrow so there’s studying to do.
There’s more to come so…