Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry something!

(Last Thursday)
So today was our ‘graduation’ ceremony. We finished up teaching our respective classes, and handed out certificates to those that attended. All in all, our four-day workshop was an astounding success. Everyone who I spoke to loved “The Science behind HIV,” and commented that it was one of the most interesting and informative workshops they have ever attended. I’m feeling pretty good. I was even asked to redo the entire lecture to our language trainers in Okahandja. Granted, there were several people that either couldn’t believe or accept the current hypothesis that HIV originated from Chimpanzees…but you can’t win them all, Hasselhoff.

There were six sessions given by the 13 volunteers stationed here in Tsumeb. Figure that at two people per group. They included the Science Behind HIV, The Truth of STD’s, Condom Use and Demonstration, Stigma and Discrimination, Making Good Life Choices, and Alcohol Abuse. Now that we’ve finished with the workshop, we’re all enjoying coming together and sharing our favorite questions and comments made throughout. Feel free to admonish us all you want, but some of them really were worth sharing. Disclaimer: Some of the following lines may be a bit graphic for some of our younger readers. Andy, turn the monitor around. Ok, I’ll give one example, regarding HIV: “If I have an open cut on my arm, and someone ejaculates on it, can I get infected?” Certainly an interesting way to go about it, I suppose. I also think the rather young girl asking if she could get pregnant from swallowing during oral sex gets an honorable mention. Take notice of how the statement was asked. If she could - Not, if anyone could.

Ok, I think that may be enough for now – Andy, its safe to turn the monitor back around now.

I’m just amazed that we could all keep straight faces throughout these sessions, with talking about penises and vaginas and what-not. Not one person had to say alternative names for any of these dirty words at all (No banjingos or she-shwas here, folks.) But keep in mind this also is coming from the group of individuals that began convulsing into hysterics when Obie said he, “had to tap” the watermelon to see if it was ripe. Oh, and tap that, he did. This isn’t mentioning how funny “biltong” can be pronounced. Nothing dirty – just makes you laugh. And in the pants-wetting-laugh-kinda-way.

Most of us are in our mid-twenties. Obie is in his early thirties. I love this place.

At time of writing, there are only 5 days until Christmas. What the hell? It’s somewhat difficult to imagine the Christmas season, when you’re sitting under a mosquito net with Victoria Falls flowing down your back. It must be like an obnoxious weekend in Florida – everyone displaying beautiful second degree sunburns, while listening to Christmas Carols and Jingles at the line at Pick-‘n-Pay. I still have no idea why they sing Frosty the Snowman. When one of the neighboring girls asked what snow was like, I felt obligated as a global volunteer to help her better understand what American experiences are like. Accordingly, I went inside and scrapped frost off the kudu head in the freezer, condensed it into a ball, and threw it at her.
I don’t think she has a strong appreciation of American Culture…Yet. Maybe I should acquire one of those huge inflatable lawn ornaments?

*As a side note for those of you that don’t know, Mangos and their skin contain a substance which resembles the active ingredient in poison ivy. Many people that have a heightened sensitivity to poison ivy can develop similar symptoms upon consumption of said fruit. We actually have a volunteer here that cannot be in the same room without someone that’s recently eaten one – hives, rashes, she breaks into it all. All of that being said, the skin around my eyes is getting puffy, itchy, and irritated. I think that’s what I get for eating up to 8 mangos a day…before lunch. I think it’s time that I take it easy.

(Oh, and Andy – you can drink the tap water. As for the conditions of septic tanks and latrines and the like – well, let me put it this way: I’ve had to get vaccines for typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. You make the call.)

If you haven’t figured it out by now, each one of these segmented headings denotes a different day of typing, another train of thought ran aground. Unfortunately I do not have daily access to the internet as I’m sure you’ve all figured out by now – so once again here we are, two days until Christmas.

And I can assert I couldn’t feel any farther from the Christmas spirit. It could be the 95+ degree heat, it could be the language classes pushing into Christmas Eve, or it could be the organization already threatening to remove people from the program. Regardless, I haven’t figured it out, but it doesn’t feel right.

I’ve determined that you really don’t know what Christmas is like with your family, until that option becomes completely unavailable. I’ve celebrated this holiday with all available members of my family my entire life. Hell, in college I even brought some home to add to the mix. Namibia is different. Obviously. It feels as if there’s barely any holiday spirit (if any at all.) We volunteers have begun to sing Christmas carols to lighten our mood, but somehow it only reinforces the fact that: a) we’re alone, b) we’re away from everyone we’ve ever known and cared about, and that, c) we’re alone. Having locals ask who Rudolph is becoming somewhat disheartening.

I think I’m taking it better than some thus far – I’m not crying myself to sleep or dreaming of tinsel dreams and gummidrops. Of course, it may have to do with the fact that I’ve been listening to my recordings of John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. Say what you want – there’s nothing like the Muppets singing Christmas carols to instantly make me feel much better, and to bring me back memories from throughout my youth. “…and don’t worry, we’re going to catch them red-handed!” – “What colors are their hands now?” – Classic. If only I had a recording now of Animal singing “Silent Night.” Perfect.

Muppets aside, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without family, food, or snow. Hell, I’d take two out of three.

I hope you all receive what you requested for the holidays. Happy Holidays Everyone!
September 24th, 9:00pm – Namibian Standard Time. From here on out, I write without a script. (I was so excited for that, completely by chance, I swear…kinda ironic statement, but what the hell. Perfect moment)

Christmas Eve, slowly ebbing into the dawn that is Christmas Day.

I really wish I could write here. About something - anything. Turns out Christmas Eve isn’t all that big in Namibia. We ended up eating dinner around the television, watching year old Spanish soap operas that have been dubbed into English. (Thank Heavens for small favors, I guess.) For the first real time since I arrived, Christmas has made me feel alone. We were scattered once dinner was consumed, and I found myself alone outside just watching the sky. Really unremarkable, actually. Just a sad realization that if I were home right about now, my family would all still be nitpicking on fruit, pastries, and coffee while I hogged the fennel on the corner of the table. I want my fennel, dammit!

I’m not writing this to sound depressing - just stating that I’m thinking of home. There is an actual fantastic reason to be happy right now. Today, on Christmas Eve, and completely unexpectedly, I received 4 letters, from four different people. I got letters today from Karen, Amy S, Amanda, and Karen’s mother. Holy Crap, did those letters save me from this holiday. It really is true, you live and breathe in anticipation of letters. Many emotions were felt, so all I’m going to say, “Way to make me tear, guys. Thanks.” You guys saved my holiday.

Oh, and everyone congratulate Amanda on getting into Grad school. If someone could do me a favor, and lightly pat her fanny in a fatherly/un-fatherly way and let her know how proud of her I am, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks. Oh, and as long as we’re congratulating people, here’s a shout-out to my old roommate along with all the other Gburg-ers on finishing Finals, as well as my brother. C’mon, you guys know you did fine. You don’t need me to tell you that. It’s all good.

I‘m going to go back to John Denver and Kermit dueting. Happy holidays everyone!

Sorry it took so long to get to posting. You wouldn't believe how difficult its been...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

!Gai //Goas!

David Sedaris has nothing on Khoekhoegowab. Sure, I imagine French may be difficult for some to master, perhaps to pronounce – but I guarantee that it pales in comparison to the constant clicking and guttural gasps that attract mating water buffalos. At least one has the benefit of attempting to deduce the meanings of words in a romantic language. Regardless of where in Europe you are, I’m pretty confident you won’t be surprised when you order a bottle of l’agua – excluding if it’s sold at nine Euro a bottle. Clicking however, is a world of its own.

With four different clicks, each click can completely change the meaning of a word. For example: “!a” – to hang, “‡a” – to skin (as in a goat,) “//a” – to wash, and “/a” – to squeeze. I’ve begun to memorize nouns in hopes of expanding my vocabulary, but unfortunately I’m memorizing the most useless words found in the language. Similar to that of Sedaris, the locals stare at me as I rattle off the most useless garbage I can muster in my attempts to impress them.

“Micky Rooney is sailing the Space shuttle? Where?”
“Who is this Ozzy Osbourne, and why does he carry olives in his pocket?”

I’ll admit, my situation is enjoyable. I’m currently residing in the town of Tsumeb, in the north of Namibia. Its one of the green places in the whole country, combining both the offering of torrential downpours at a moments notice, with the thrill and excitement of still being able to be run over by a donkey cart. We’re currently undergoing several hours of class a day, half devoted to learning obscure vocabulary and grammar, and half devoted to learning what exactly I’ll be doing. (*Note: I still haven’t a damn clue.) We’re all having fun though, from playing with the neighborhood kids, to asking our native language teachers obscure questions with equally daunting vocabulary, most of which doesn’t make sense.

“Teacher, how would I say that I’ve been studying alchemy for the past fore-night, in the hopes of transfiguring an 8-cylinder carbine light socket into a cornucopia of miniscule ideals?”

Those are my favorite, right up there with Paddy learning how to say, “That’s what she said,” in Afrikaans.

But I truly am having a great time. Sure the classes are boring and mostly uneventful – but it’s somewhere along the walk home I realize I’m walking with an African sunset on my back, while eating a mango I plucked from a tree I just passed. It’s kind of easy to zone out and ignore the severity of reality around you, but I’m taking it one day at a time – one mangled lesson at a time. Life is good.

!gai !goise, everyone.

Later Edit* I just finished taking my first oral test. I thought I had done very well, until it was later pointed out to me that when the instructor asked what color her thermos was, I kindly thanked her and commented that I already had coffee earlier that morning. Swing and a miss.
For the past several nights, I’ve been agonizing over what exactly to write about. Nothing has really happened in the past several weeks apart from language classes and workshops. It bothers me immensely that I’ve been promising you all stories worth taking the time to read. Let’s be honest, that’s likely why you’re here now - in grip anticipation of rhino charges, African anecdotes, or at the very least side conversations worth record. Alas, I’m unfortunately stuck in a state of limbo. As usual, language classes are proceeding as expected with lectures taking up the remainder of my shaking sanity. At the very least I can say that I’ve begun teaching workshops.

Today I begun teaching a workshop for the community entitled “The Science behind HIV and AIDS.” The Peace Corps set us up to teach workshops to the community of Tsumeb on the topic of our choice, in order to evaluate and prepare us for further teaching. I chose to mirror my bioinformatics thesis: explaining where HIV came from, it’s mechanism for infection, et cetera. Thanks Dr. James – here’s my education at work. I’m hopeful so far, as this appears to be information that the community hasn’t ever heard. Hearing that HIV was most likely crossed over from chimpanzees – I can see a look from around the room…I think I may have encountered one of those legendary moments I’ve heard about teaching, where everyone seems to be giving you their absolute attention, mesmerized by every thought they construct, and impatiently waiting on the next word falling from your tongue. We’ll see how the next couple of days go since I’ll be giving lectures and workshops until Thursday.

But ah dear reader! Your presence has reminded me of something of the upmost importance. Since you are here, I am in need of some form of opinion. Just because I’m over nine thousand miles away (~ a shitload of kilometers,) that doesn’t mean I can’t ask for helpful insight. Just a disclaimer, it’s about ethics and morality (as these are a few of my favorite things.) Here’s the deal – I’m having problems discerning whether or not the end justifies the means. Since such a situation is taken on a case-by-case basis, I’ll give you the one I had in mind. You see, sexism is incredibly strong and quite powerful here in Namibia. Previous attempts to start women empowerment workshops has usually met with failure. This comes from the male half of the population being ill-equipped and unprepared for societal change. Trust me when I say you don’t want to see the results of a woman marching into her home and telling her expecting (and usually impaired) husband that she refuses to cook. The Department of Youth and the Department of Education of Namibia have therefore decided to wisely invest some money and time into male-geared workshops, in hopes of creating more accepting and tolerant men. So finally I come to the point: the men of Namibia (generally speaking,) will not attend such a workshop, unless they feel that they get something out of it.

Never mind the prospect of a fitter, happier, and more productive relationship – they need something of substance on which to feast. Now I’ve been in conversation with my peers over the matter for the past couple weeks, debating whether or not the utilization of this inherent sexism to achieve a desired end is ethically right, let alone possible. Basically, we would appeal to men by appealing to their masculinity. Seems to be simple enough, but I’m wondering whether or not tapping into this well is necessarily a good idea. It would start with asking men who has the harder job, men or women. (To my female readers, you know how I feel – so no bashing me. Feel free to bash others.)

Here in Namibia, men would of course, say that they are the ones in the more stressful situations, what with work and all. Obviously women have it easier with the whole mothering, parenting, cleaning and cooking thing – but I digress. Since we have addressed that men obviously have the harder living conditions, it is only obvious that men make hard decisions- this is therefore must make us men. But perhaps we can lead the ducks to water…what is easier: drinking away your problems, or working through them? Hitting your spouse, or taking the time to sit and discuss problems? The point would be made, that since drinking and violence are the easy answers out, these must obviously be the choices that men do not take. Men do not take the easy way out – a real man always chooses the harder of the two paths. This is what makes him a man.

We’re constantly approaching this from different angles in hopes of finding a more successful way of going about this, but I’m more currently wondering whether or not in this case that the ends justify the means. Sure, we’re reaffirming the inherent problem associated with sexuality and sexual disparity, but at least we’re contributing to a more cohesive society. I’ve been jumping all around the issue, playing Devil’s Advocate when possible (I wish Cory were here to laugh with me.) But now comes time to ask for you, Reader, to give your opinion! What do you think? Ethical, or not? I’m hoping for some sort of discussion to result, so have at it.

In the meantime, I’m going to figure out how to say that, “No, I’m sorry – but boiled, decapitated goat heads give me gas.” Ah, the beauty in learning a foreign language.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hey everyone, still alive!

Sorry for the lack of updates. Real Quick: I'm in the town of Tsumeb, in the north - receiving the last of my training. I don't have regular internet access (I'm actually supposed to be in class right now...) so I just wanted to sign on and let everyone know that I'm alive and well. I'm living with a host family (a grandmother and two baby girls.) So far, its going wonderful.

I have to go back to class before they realize I've left, so trust me, I'll have another massive update when I have the ability.

FYI: Please keep commenting. Trust me, I look more forward to them than anything else thus far. They really get you through the day. If you're still keeping up with this jounal thus far, than you know I love you, and look forward to EVENTUALLY having the ability to post pictures.

Happy Chan-uh-na-kah, Merry Christmas, and all that Jazz ~