Sunday, November 25, 2007

Racing against...what?

I would have liked to start with the good, the bad, and the ugly - but unfortunately most are usualy one and the same. (Or at least intertwined to a point not worth elaborating on.) I guess the best way is just to write, and see what comes from it.

So I've begun my shadowing in Walvis Bay, following a young female volunteer who's already been here a year. Since its Sunday evening, I haven't gone into work with her yet, but its at least nice to walk around the Bay and the lagoon area.

Regarding my permanent site, I had discovered that my roommate and I weren't the only Americans around. Jessica, a young woman with the World Teach organization, has already finished her term of service and will be leaving somewhat later in the week. She was at least gracious enough to invite Ian and I to her place for an inpromto-Thanksgiving meal.

While Africa doesn't have turkey, we made due with chicken which was enjoyed by all. Jessica was a great hostess, and spoke to us for hours what living in Usakos is like, and what to expect as Americans. "Usakos is like Africa, USA style." To an extent, it appears to be true. Since there is a significant white population in town, our presence has gone somewhat unnoticed. Well, so far.
But since life is all about collecting stories, its about time I shared one.

A while back, it seems that Jessica was in need of a ride and decided to hitchhike. Unable to find a traveling family or taxi, she reluctantly climbed into the cabin of a big-rig with a Zimbabwian named Francis (or FaFa, as he likes to be called.) Suprising her basic instincts, Fafa turned out to be an incredibly friendly and funny guy, regailing her with stories of his travels. As luck or fate would have it, he decided to drop by on Thanksgiving to pay his respects.

We met Fafa, and he truly seems like a nice guy. He expressed this sadness for Jess's end, but was happy to meet us. Fafa is a trucker that travel all around Southern Africa. He leaves from Walvis Bay with fish from the coast, and transports them to Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, and the Congo. Since Fafa is lonely most of the time on the road, he spends his air time (phone time) calling friends and travelers close by just to keep him awake at night. We decided to shoot the shit, and after about the 3rd RedBull chased, it was enough for Fafa to tell us the glory that is trucking in Africa.

"Well, shit - heres some deal. Pumba. you know, Pumba...with the horns? Good meat. Hitting them with a big rig kills them dead. Dead dead. But heres the secret, you gotta hit them STRAIGHT ON. None of this driving over them with the tires - that makes them explode. What you gotta do - is drive directly over them! And then hopefully - the triple axels smash their head in. You get out quickly and finish them off if you have to. If its night time, i throw their sorry ass into the back. But if its daylight, i gut them then and there. Best to do it quick, tick bites can be nasty bitches."

....So I guess there you have it. If you have any choice in the matter at all, hit a warthog from head on.

While it seems Usakos is closer toward Westernization than most, you don't often have to look far to get a strong sense of reality. While Ian and I went exploring the 4 streets of our town, we had noticed that one of the stores was nothing other than a coffin maker. Just past the open door in the visible eyeline, were dozens of children sized coffins.

The next is something that isn't easy to listen to, and isn't easy for me to talk about. The first thing, is that the Grandmothers of Africa are the closest thing to Guardian Angels I have ever seen. There are entire families composed of children and Grandmothers, who have been forced to bury their own children - victims of HIV/AIDS, and related causes. But the worst of it continues. When these Grandmothers die, there's no one left to care for these kids.

As a health extension volunteer, we had to have one day of training devoted to what are called, "child-headed house-holds," where the oldest child is forced into the position of being the guardian and role model for their younger siblings. Theres much more to comment on what it must be like for these families, but I truthfully think I don't have the stomach or the heart for it right now.

To finish up on the lighter side, I'd figure I'd answer all the questions laid out by my younger cousins, Nicole and Sophia. I figure since they had the courage to ask questions, I'm sure you had the very same ones.

From Nicole:
So did you see any interesting animals yet???? So far, I've seen Warthogs, Baboons, and a couple of Stray Giraffes. I'm still hoping for a cheetah. :)
Did you meet any interesting people, did u make any new friends??? PLENTY. Many are current volunteers, many are wonderful locals.
What are you eating? Lots of stuff - mainly sheep and donkey meat.
And how did you get the food? Mostly purchased for me so far, there are groceries here, believe it or not!
Is it hard making conversations?? Not yet...Most people speak English, and those that don't are being incredibly helpful with me speaking Damara/Khoekhoegowab. That clicking is hard to do.
What was the most exciting thing you have done or/and seen so far? Lets see...I've held an 8foot South African Python, visited a small Damara children's choir in the middle of nowhere, and found a spider in a bathroom that my roommate referred to as, "a Daddy-Longlegs injected with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ooze."
Is it stinky there? Not really. Smells Dry.
Are there any plants there? Plenty. Although most of where I am looks like Arizona. Have your dad look up pictures for you.
How many people do you estimate are positive with HIV/AIDS a day?? I'm told in my area that those aged 18-25, 1 in 5 has it. I visited a doctor however, that "positively asserts" that close to 40% of the population has it.
And my last question what is your favorite cookie?? Well, I take two Oreo double stuffs, and take away two of the layers, and put the remainder together - to get the Star Destroyer of Oreos. Quadruple Stuffed!
and what do you want for christmas?? No idea. Really. I haven't got the foggiest.

From Sophia:
Hi Nick did you get my letter? Not yet. All my mail arrives in Windhoek, the capital, which is about 3 hours away. They'll bring it later, hopefully at the end of this week.
Did you go hunting? Only for stuff in my luggage. Not really food.....yet!
Did you find all my letters in your bags yet? Sophie, every time I did in my bags, I'm finding more of your "notes." :)
If you did go hunting, what did you use and what did you get? A rubber band, a paperclip, and a little super glue. I caught nothing.
So if you got my letter can you write back? When I get it, I sure will.

Ok, that took long enough. If anyone similarily has any questions, feel free to ask. I'll be more than happy to answer, given enough time.

Oh, and to Robbie - the only DVD I forgot to bring, was Shaun of the Dead. I'm pissed.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Welcome those to our Thanksgiving cheer! Since one of my many responsibilities here is to help educate cross-culture experiences, I've decided to aid in the teaching of Thanksgiving to Africa - by means of one of my favorite meals - the Turduckin.

Now to those of you that don't know, the turduckin is a turkey, crammed into a duck, which is stuffed into a something else. I've decided that since we were somewhat underachievers in that regard, I now give you the Africa recipe.

First we start with a scorpion, cram that into a macaw, then into a snake, then into a Dik-Dik. Cram that bad boy into a chicken, and then a rooster, then an even bigger rooster! Stick all that into Eagle, then an Impala, then a Leapord, then a cheetah. Split this between two adult Lions. If theres any free space after that, cram a couple Toucan's in there. Stick both of them into a water buffalo, followed by an African Black Rhino (I know they're endangered, but they're delicious,) cram that into a Hippo, and plunge in all into a Grand African Elephant. Stick in the oven at 450 degrees for 140 hours. Deep fry for an additional 40. Garnish with 30 heads of lettuce, and a Baker's dozen worth of carrots. Should feed 6,000+ People.

Happy Gluttony Day to all. I miss America.

Now if you don't mind, I have to figure out who will clean the outhouses.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oh wow, You guys get two posts in one day?!? It must be my Thanksgiving gift to you guys!

Speaking of which, since I'm spending my Thanksgiving alone in a desert, no doubt eating cherry Pie filling as Robbie so eloquently taught me, I would like to take an opportunity and give a real post.

So I found out how to access the internet. Seems I can use his comp when hes not here and everyone else is gone for the day. Like I said, I'm in the town of Usakos - and I'm telling you, It's smaller than Gettysburg. Like, much smaller. 4 streets in total. The surroundings look more like Arizona than anything else, so the culture shock isn't too heavy.

It is amazing however, to see the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I'm not even speaking of those on the street that obviously have it. I'm referring more to the poverty and unemployment. Its astounding. Here in Namibia, there is the "town," and what is referred to as, "location." Town is what we're all used to - suburban homes, stores, shops, etc. When you think "location," you're thinking of a Sally Struthers commercial, at best. It is poverty like nothing on this planet. As a side effect that Namibia suffers from HIV/AIDS, the unemployment in my neighboring location is around 90%, with no exaggeration. Out of the 2000+ tenants, more than 1800 are unemployed.

The youth center I'm working at though offers hope to those around. Ian (another PCV, as well as my roommate) and I have already begun a project, which is to rebuild the computer lab. For my gburg peeps - I swear, if Adler ever saw this comp lab, you'd find him in a pile of his own vomit and blood. I think they tried installing Vista onto either old commodore64s, or the old Apple computers that ran the original Oregon Trail.

But the work has been started, with a long way to go.

I was also happy to discover that I shall get my own office. Instead of my name, it says "Health Officer" on my door. I guess its ok to be grateful for small favors. I also accidently discovered about 250+ pounds of mushrooms in our basement, which evidently fall under my responsibility for planting and selling. I'll fill more on that later when I discover more.

If I don't post for a while, everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Sorry guys - nothing too extensive today, Just letting everyone know I'm in the town of Usakos. It can be found on almost any map - its about two hours west of the capital of Windhoek. Yesterady was wonderful - we went to the tourist city of Swakopmund, and then to Walvis Bay. Its amazing - swakop looks exactly like Long beach from home.

At the end of this week, I'll be heading to Walvis Bay to shadow someone, and then It's off to Tsumeb. What a hell of a journey.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finally! Something Respectable!

Ok, please forgive me –Once again, Yes, It’s been quite a while. The first post you see here was written a while ago. Enjoy.
Well, it certainly has been a little while – and certainly more than enough has happened since we’ve spoke last. Let’s see, I’ve since successfully negotiated handling my Staging, lasted the 15.5 hour flight to South Africa, and am now currently lounging about in my mosquito net in Okahandja, Namibia. First, let’s go over the basics.

Staging was held in Washington DC, where the Peace Corps put us up in the Georgetown Holiday Inn ( which wasn’t bad by any standards.) Basically, it was three days of varying lectures on how difficult this journey would be, basic security, traveling logistics, etc. There’s 69 of us in total, all either teaching, or doing what’s called health extension (HIV/AIDS, sanitation, nutrition…) Basically, any time I had off I went with new friends in search of dinner.

It was a rather exhausting 15+ hour flight, but we knew it was worth it once were begun to fly over Angola. We reached and landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. Upon meeting our Peace Corps liaison, Waldo, we proceeded to gather our bags and venture towards the hotel – where we were pleasantly surprised. Evidently, no group prior had ever had lodgings so good.

It was an amazing experience to see how our cultures differently. I think it was most noticed when a rather large group of us decided to go out for dinner. There were about eight of us, and I ended up splitting a dish with Loren, one of my fellow trainees. She and I ended up ordering 2 beers, and a special South Africa steak. (About 80Ran, the currency of South Africa. Currently, its about 1$=6.3R) About a half hour later, no exaggeration, the waiter returns to tell us that they are out, and implores us to order something else. Loren and I eventually decided on a chicken curry, at about 23R. When our check came at the end of the evening – it was for the steak. We calmly explained that we didn’t end up getting it, but rather we ordered 2 beers, and the chicken. He ended up bringing a receipt for 3 beers, and the curry. When we corrected him again, he brought a receipt for only 2 beers. Upon our final attempt, he looked at us and told us he would have to reenter the order into the computer, handed me the receipt for the two beers. “Well, Chief?” Dinner for two = 30ran ($4.80)

The next morning we departed for Namibia – with the good and the bad. Let’s start with the bad – the flight attendant made me check my carryon (Because it weighed 19.9 kilos – nice!) but it had my expensive camera in it. They then proceeded to LOSE THE BAG, AND MY BACKPACK. All my expensive stuff. Both cameras, my DVDs, all my contacts and glasses, easily everything I never wanted to lose. In the Johannesburg Airport.

But quite literally, as I wrote this, the airport delivered both bags – with everything in it. I can now go to the bathroom again. Quite an interesting Saturday night. Tomorrow I have my interview with the Health Extension placement officer to see where in the country I’m placed – and what, by chance, I’ll be doing. We’ll see.
November 11, 2007

And here we are now, more than a week later. It really is an amazing experience thus far. As I wrote before, I’ve started my language lessons. Afrikaans, and Khoekhoegowab (Pronounced Quay-quay-go-wab.) And yes, it’s a clicking language. Theres four different kinds of clicks, each coming from a different spot in the mouth. So far the lessons are going well. Hopefully I should be able to converse with my neighbors when the time comes.

So here’s the schedule for the next couple of weeks: This upcoming week is basically loaded with language classes. Not really much else, apart from additional shots (which we call, “candies”,) safety and security seminars and general health lectures. After that, we’re going to our permanent site locations alone for a week. Basically, it means they’re dropping me off in some backwater village in Africa and it’s my job to survive for a week straight, using only a week and a half’s worth of language lessons. If you’re following along with a calendar, then you’ve discovered that I’ll be alone in a strange place for thanksgiving. Needless to say, it’s a very interesting situation. Assuming I survive that far, I have to then HITCHHIKE to another volunteer’s location to shadow him for a week to further understand a “week in the life of a volunteer.” After that, I have to “find” a way back to Okahandja. (Key word for hitchhiking again.)

From there, all of us volunteers are broken into smaller groups which are sent throughout the country to finalize our training. From what I’ve learned so far, there are about 8 or 9 volunteers, including myself, that are going to the town of Tsumeb, which is just outside of Etosha National Park. Yay animals! Other towns people are going to include Olukonda, Grootfontein, Outjo, and Khorixas. We’ll be in our respective towns for about 3-4 weeks to finish everything up. After that, we all come back here for a weekend to celebrate our training and to be officially sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers.

Oh, and I think this is a good a place as any to mention that I saw a wild giraffe. And for some reason, I was pictured Andy riding him.

I would like to take this moment to send a Thank You to a “Sister Karen,” from the “Blessed Church of Jesus,” for the card and gifts she sent. You see – Karen sent a card, candy, and plastic bugs. Now normally, there would really be no use for such toys… But as it turns out, when you’re in a country where scorpions are an everyday occurrence, leaving one in a bunkmate’s bed yields a better-than-average reaction. We were actually awoken by the cries and cursing of one said bunkmate. Thanks Karen!

That being said, my roommates are really incredible. Check it out, we’ve got David - a 30-year-old business advertiser, Rosh’n, Obie – a 34 business man that we terrorize for being “old, Paddy – a 22 year old that I actually met on the Amtrak leaving Penn Station on that fateful, Kengo, and Milan. All amazing guys, all amazing people.

Forgive me for this update jumping all over the place – it’s a lot to recall and to write down chronologically. To finish this update, I’ve decided to make some points that I couldn’t really fit in anywhere else.
- My mosquito net makes me feel like a Disney princess.
- When you haven’t eaten anything real for about 6 hours, the stomach of anything sounds appetizing.
- You never know how much you miss Bounty TriplePly™ until you no longer have it.
- “Your Mom” jokes in foreign lands aren’t as funny as they are at home.
- It’s almost impossible to click appropriately for class when you had peanut butter for breakfast.
- If a bunkmate mislabels both their Imodium and laxatives, hilarity will ensue.
- Its difficult to explain to every teenager why they can’t “meet Tupac
- Playing “I spy,” on a 15-hour plane ride are grounds for homicide. No one would commit me.
- If a bunkmate catches you switching their labeled Imodium and laxatives, they have every right to duct tape you the ceiling.
- If you’re reading about the history of Jews, you get pissed when you get to the part about them wandering the desert, because they didn’t have to wear Khakis and ties.
- You know that all the vaccinations are starting to take their toll, when you discover a volunteer digging a hole in the back yard of the training complex because he’s “digging for diamonds.”
*Note – that’s a true story.
- Colbert needs to know that there are bigger threats than bears.
- Listening to Toto never gets old.
- However, listening to people singing to Toto gets old very quickly.
- If there is an ample source of water nearby (or running water for that matter,) you don’t need to acquire drinking water by squeezing it out of elephant turds like they did on SurvivorMan. The locals will make fun of you.
- If anyone’s thinking of something I would need…Blistex. A desert, as it turns out, is a very, very dry place.
- The Bugs here are the size of Volkswagon Beatles.
- There WERE pictures to post with it, but the Internet is too slow to accomidate. :(

I think that’s about it for now. Until next time…

Thursday, November 8, 2007

You've come back from the Crusades? And Alive?!?

YES EVERYONE! I'm alive.
Sorry about not writing here, I'm being situated in a town called Okahandja - a town north of Windhoek, the capital.

I'm really sorry I can't write much here, (time constraints) My training center doesnt have any internet access, and they close by the time our classes are done.

But just so everyone knows, I'm taking constant Afrikaans language lessons as a secondary language, with my primary language, KoeaKoeaQuwab. Don't worry, I definetly spelt it wrong, but its the one with all the clicking.

I'll keep in touch, and i'll write when I can. In two weeks - I visit my permanent site for a week. Hopefully, It won't take for me as long to write. (They charge by the data transfer.)

See you soon