(Note: this was supposed to have been posted two weeks ago. Gettin’ crazy over here!)
Over the course past few weeks I have been traveling, literally, from one end of Namibia to the other, all for a good cause.
One of the projects I’m working one is called Building Cultural Bridges (BCB). It is the brainchild of Mike Lynch and Brett Claydon of Educators of America (EOA), a nonprofit that seeks to help students by helping teachers. BCB is an offshoot of EOA and its focus is to connect kids in different countries via teleconferencing equipment, in doing so these young people are able to directly converse and exchange cultural and academic ideas regardless of distance. Its a great program and I’m happy to be part of it.
My role has been to help facilitate the program in the Erongo Region of Namibia, and to that end I’ve helped to host several video conferences between students here and in Buffalo, NY.
The program isn’t just to get the students talking, teachers on both sides of The Pond can and do use the conferencing equipment to chat and coordinate meetings and other projects for the students. One question does come up often, however: What’s it like to teach in (insert country here)?
It’s a valid question and one that often gets overlooked when chatting with counterparts in other countries. This brings me to the reason for my recent cross-country trekking. Mike asked me to produce a video that focuses on the teachers and their environment here in Namibia. That may sound like a simple request; interview a few teachers, slap a video together and I’m done.
One thing I’ve learned during my stint in the PC Media Committee is that a good video is well planned. So, I started planning, and that’s when the logistical details started popping up. I wanted to give a broad perspective of the teaching environment here and the people who choose to teach in it, that meant I needed to talk to teachers in as many different geographical locations as possible, which meant I would need to travel. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that PC does not allow volunteers to drive, so we are relegated to using the often dicier public/private transportation options. At best, you can meet some interesting people and enjoy a pleasant, air-conditioned ride for a relatively small amount of money. If you’re not lucky it’s be a cramped, smelly, dangerous, hand basket ride to Hell that is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been lucky and have had to endure only a few of the latter.
It seemed that the Namibian God of Transportation (No such deity, but there should be) smiled on me because Mike and Brett of EOA were making their annual visit here and were scheduled to head to Oranjemund (pronounced “O-ran-ye-mun”) and I was able to catch a ride with them to interview two educators, one from a private school, the other, a principal of a public school.
And so, my journey began.
Brett and Mike took the faster, less traveled, but far more scenic route, which is over dry packed dirt most of the way. They rented a 4×4 so we were able to maintain a decent speed even as the terrain grew more varied and the road less maintained. We headed out of Swakopmund down to Walvis Bay, then on C-14, a road that roughly paralleled the coast, but is much further inland.
Out of Walvis Bay the terrain is mostly flat with occasional inselbergs to break up the monotony. As we traveled further south the flat desert gave way to rocky hills and, gradually, into low, ancient mountains. We stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn to take pix. Further on the landscape became wild, rocky and raw. At one point we had to stop and just take in the view. It was otherworldly.
It’s like I stepped onto another planet.
We continued south to Aus, where we dropped off some supplies to friends and continued south on C-13 which borders a “Diamond Area”, an area where travel is restricted because of diamond mining. It’s a huge area and one of several in southern Namibia. After a few more hours on the the road we arrived at Oranjemund. As you might imagine, the chief industry for the town is diamond mining. For a long time the town was restricted and only residence were allowed free access. Others had to get a pass and were checked when leaving to make sure no diamonds that might have found left with them.
(The Orange Rive that borders South Africa (background). The wind on top of this hill nearly blew me off it.)
Oddly, wild oryx freely roamed the town and have done so for decades. These are large ungulates stand in size between white tailed deer and elk. They sport long, straight and very sharp horns and have been known to successfully defend themselves against lions. On a morning stroll, I walked pass several that seemed completely oblivious to me. Interacting with these beast, however, is strictly forbidden. They are wild animals and can get aggressive if you stand between them and food.
So, should I try to feed, pet, or even get close to an Oranjemund Oryx?
I was there on business, not sightseeing or oryx petting, so I got my interviews and other shots around the town. I caught a kombi back to Windhoek while Mike and Brett went on the Luderitz.
The very next week my host organization, The Rössing Foundation, needed me to head up to Oland (the area in northern Namibia so called because most towns have names that begin with ‘O’ and it’s mostly populated by people of the Ovambo tribes). I made arrangement to interview two teachers there and, with barely enough time to catch my breath, I was off again.
I’ve traveled to Oland many times so the route was familiar to me, but the last time I visited the area, as well as the rest of Namibia, was in the grip of a devastating drought. I talked about this in detail in an earlier post. Since my last visit the area has seen an abundance of rain. What was parched and dusty is now green and wet. Places where my RF supervisor and I drove across the last time we were here is now under at least a meter of water. The animals that survived are loving it. Cows, donkeys and goats that looked horribly thin now have less pronounced ribs and hips as they lazily munch on a veritable sea of vegetation.
Oland is home to an area that, even in its driest, has a beauty that’s hard to match elsewhere in the world. The area is between Otavi, Tsumeb, and Grootfontein and is called The Maize Triangular because it’s where most of Namibia’s corn is grown. The area is criss-crossed with extremely old mountains that are covered with shrubs and small trees. When the rain come these mountains are covered in a blanket of greenery that defies description.
(Heading towards Tsumeb.)
Interviews in Oland done, I head back south. I still have several teacher interviews to do, but those will likely be local, an hour’s travel at most. I’m also putting together a video for the Rössing Foundation, another for COSDEC (which I haven’t started yet because of the travel. Sorry Katrina!), and I’m developing a video making workshop which the few folks who know about seem very excited about. And I only have about 5 months left!
Gettin’ crazy over here!
And now I need to start thinking about what my next chapter will look like. I have some ideas.