Thursday, December 29, 2005

My sister

I wrote parts of this a while ago. I've been trying to decide what to
do with it. I decided that it was important enough to share.

My host sister is an AIDS orphan. Her name is Daconja and she is
about six years old (I never managed to figure out exactly how old she
was). Her hair is cut short like a boy, but her eyelashes curl
femininely and she is very beautiful. She liked copying me. When I
would write my lesson plans she would sit beside me with a piece of
paper out of my notebook and one of my mechanical pencils and make
short vertical lines and circles, imitating my writing. One day I was
brushing my teeth before school and she was watching intently. She
went into another room and came back with a toothbrush and started
brushing her teeth. She played with my hair and she thought it was
hysterical that the braids don't stay in my straight, smooth hair. It
kills me that she will have to grow up without a mother.

I didn't expect that AIDS would affect me this much. I guess I was
just naïve enough to believe that I could come to a country with a
nearly 25% HIV/AIDS rate and I would be immune to the effects. All of
a sudden statistics devastate me. Do you know how they get the
HIV/AIDS rate in Namibia? They test all of the pregnant women who
come in to the clinic. The statistics mean that one out of four or
one out of five pregnant women are infected. The rate in the general
population is probably higher. One of the biggest risk factors for
HIV for women in Namibia is being married. Many women become infected
by their only sexual partner - their husband. By 2020 it is estimated
that 1/3 of Namibian children will be orphans like my sister. They
aren't numbers any more; they are my learners, my friends, and my

Daconja (the one she is writing about), Dorencia, and Dorien
-Amy's host family's children

Daconja is actually not related by blood or marriage to my family.
She came to my house because she had nowhere else to go. My host
mother, Tollitjie, knew her mother from the church soup kitchen. When
Daconja's mother was dying she called for Tollitjie and begged her to
take Daconja. The father wasn't in the picture and when the woman's
family found out that she had AIDS they had abandoned her. Tollitjie
finally agreed to take Daconja. She was the one who had to tell her
that her mother was dead. Apparently this happened the week before I
moved in with the family.

Namibia has the third highest AIDS rate in the world. The strain of
HIV that they have here is the most virulent and easily transmitted
strain. I think the worst part is that the rate keeps going up which
means that the epidemic hasn't even hit the peak. If people stopped
getting infected tomorrow, there would still be huge death rates for
years to come and they won't stop getting infected tomorrow. Tomorrow
more people will become infected. There is a coffin shop in downtown
Omaruru. It's obviously doing good business because it's one of the
biggest and fanciest stores in the town.

In the middle of my home stay Daconja's maternal grandmother showed up
and insisted that she go with her. Daconja didn't want to go, but
Tollitjie was afraid that the police would side with the grandmother.
I didn't understand what was happening. My mother left with Daconja
and when she came back, she was alone. That was the last time I saw
her. I later found out that she has a ten-year-old brother who was
furious that the grandmother had taken her and threatened to go to the
police. "Where were you when my mother had AIDS?" He asked. "Where
were you when she died? Tollitjie was there. You weren't."
Stigma is a huge problem in Namibia.

People who have AIDS can be disowned from their families. It's illegal,
but sometimes they are fired from their jobs. Some people even
use God as a weapon; stating that they are receiving just punishment for their sins.
The stigma
doesn't extend only to the infected person. In an ultimate act of
injustice, AIDS orphans, some of the helpless victims of the epidemic,
are also often burdened with stigma. They are bounced from house to
house, treated poorly by some members of their own family, and
insulted and taunted by their peers. Sometimes people refuse to touch
AIDS patients or orphans; convinced that they can get the disease
simply by touching the person.

Daconja was a skinny girl. They kept telling me how she had fattened
up since she had come to the house. Poverty is a huge problem for
those affected by AIDS and sometimes it's difficult to get enough food
to eat, especially if the head of the household is sick. I figured
that was what had happened in Daconja's family. But then, a day
before I left my home stay family, my host mother went to Otjibingwe,
where Daconja's grandmother lived. She checked in on Daconja and when
she got back she was very angry.

"I tell her that she should take Dacon to the clinic, but she says
huh-uh. I tell her that I'll take her if she wants, but she says
Dacon doesn't need to go to the clinic," my host mother said obviously
seething with anger.

"Is Daconja sick?" I asked naively. Tollitjie gave me a significant
look. That was when I realized that Daconja was HIV-positive.
There is no more turning my head. There is no more preferring not to
know. I can't let someone else deal with it anymore. HIV isn't
Namibia's problem. It's my problem. It's my war. The thing is that
it's not a very hopeful battle. My sister will die of AIDS. Even if
they came up with a cure, it wouldn't make its way here for quite a
while. She will not live to be an adult. People keep getting the
disease and it keeps killing people. There are surveys that say that
90% of Namibians know how HIV is spread, but the infection rate still
keeps going up. It's a very helpless feeling, knowing that there is
not much that I can do.

One day I went to church choir practice. We sang the usual songs in
KhoeKhoe and I faked my way through as usual. At the end we gathered
up our things and walked out into the cool, moonlit street. We sang
loudly, the four part harmonies echoing down the street. As I walked
home through the broken-glass filled ditch, clutching my host mother's
arm to try to avoid falling on the glass, I asked her about the last

"It's a song for the AIDS people." She told me. "It means, "Where did
HIV come from? We don't know. What can we do about HIV? We can't
think of anything. Who can help the AIDS people? Only God can help them. Help them, God."

That's what I think.
I also can't think of much to do.
Help them, God.
And help me.
And help Daconja.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Giraffe and rainbow and other pictures

Remember that email Amy talked about taking a picture of a Giraffe and a rainbow in Anker? Well Amy emailed it and here it is:
There are several other new pictures of Amy's house in Anker posted here and of her learners and host family posted here.

Culture and other things about Namibia (email excerpts from Amy)

Culture - things I've noticed.

1. This is a male dominated society. At the engagement there was one open chair and Pat said that Elizabeth should sit in it, which seems like a reasonable thing to do, but my host mother had Elizabeth move so that Pat could sit on the chair (he gave it to one of the elderly women instead, but it shows you how different the Namibian culture is from the American culture. In Namibian culture if there aren't enough chairs, and there often aren't, women and children sit on the floor.) There is also often an order that people eat in- men first, then women, then children eat what's left over. I am often not held to the same standard (because not only are teachers highly honored, but the fact that I'm American and white still, unfortunately, gives me a higher status in the culture. Still, students often behave better for male teachers and men are given more status in society.

2. This is a much more communal place. In Africa, you share. If I have some candy then it is expected that I will give some to others. There is often only one cup of juice or something and you take a drink and pass it on to the next person. I told you earlier that Anker has a traditional leaders' office. These are the descendants of chiefs and kings and whatever else they had before. There are maybe 12 of them, but only about five are around Anker. The way the community makes decisions is to get the whole town together, argue about whatever they are talking about, make sure that everyone says what he or she wants to say, and then the traditional leaders get together and decide what to do. No votes, just a decision. This is how many of the small villages make their decisions. It's a much more communal way of deciding things.

Other things---

1. I don't think I will ever get used to the broken glass. It's everywhere; in the street, on the school yard, in the playground where the children are playing. Most of the kids around here go around barefooted and I worry for their poor little feet.

2. I don't think I can mention enough times that it is really, really, really hot here. I'm not sure exactly how hot, partially because they do everything in Celsius, but I think it is well over 100 degrees F on most days. It's a dry heat, but still.

3. When they say "rainy season" what they mean is that it's the season when there are occasionally clouds and a couple of times a month it sprinkles. If it were Minnesota we'd call it the "freakishly dry and hot season".

About Amy's house and school (email excerpts and pictures)

Anker- is a small place. They told me that it's 2000 people including the surrounding countryside, but I think that the surrounding countryside might be a couple of kilometers in either direction. This is what Anker has - a primary school, a clinic, a police office, a traditional leader's office, a Catholic church, A Lutheran church, two "supermarkets" (which sell cornmeal, sugar, and coke), and five bottle shops (bars).

Other than that, Anker has houses, goats and donkeys. Most of the houses in Anker are traditional. They are rectangular, built out of sticks fitted close together and then covered in a mixture of dung and mud. Some of them have thatch roofs, but most of them have corrugated tin for the roofs.

The principal and his family took me out to their farm and I saw the communal grazing area, where anyone can graze their goats or donkeys. Donkey carts seem to be one of the main forms of transportation in Anker. They look like two or four wheel carts and they usually have two donkeys pulling them.

My house in Anker is quite nice. It's in a block of government houses which are built for teachers, so connected to my house on either side is a neighbor's house. You enter the front yard through a gate that's made of sticks strung together with wire. The front yard isn't much to look at.

I think I'm going to try to paint the front of the house and plant a garden (I'm thinking that onions and carrots will grow well in the sandy soil). There is a little front step area with a sink (which is common to see in Namibia).

When you enter the front door you come into the kitchen. The kitchen sink is on your left hand side and on your right is the cupboard (only one, but I won't have that many dishes so it works out). Next to the cupboard is the refrigerator (small, but I won't have that much to refrigerate anyway). All of the milk is UHT super pasteurized so you can put it on the pantry shelf until you want to use it. The fridge also has a freezer on the bottom where I can keep ice water (a necessity), ice cream, or meat).

On the far wall is my stove/oven. It is tiny and from what I hear you can only turn one of the burners on at a time and you shouldn't even think of trying to use a burner and the oven. I think I'll be cooking a lot from scrap. You can get the staples really easily-rice, potatoes, flour, pasta, sugar, yeast, etc. are all cheap and easy to find. You can get special foods and prepared food on occasion, but they're expensive and you have no guarantee that you'll find them again.

From the kitchen you go back into the house and you find the living/dining room. It's a really great room. It has lots of windows that look out onto the back yard (which is much prettier than the front yard) and it's a bright, airy room. It has a table and two chairs, and a bed that serves as a couch. The girl who was there before me left a blanket spread like a table cloth across the table and she left a really cool wall cloth and hanging on the wall, so it looks nice.

As you come into the living room my bedroom door is on the right had wall and there is a hallway that comes off of the wall behind you. My bedroom is beautiful. It also has a view of the back garden and the volunteer who was there left me a bunch of stuff. As you come into the room the bed is in the middle and there is a large wardrobe at an angle in the right corner. There are also two low tables. The last volunteer left me a bunch of books and magazines, some tea, a CD player, and a bunch of random stuff.

The hallway off the living room goes to the other bedroom, which I think I will use for storage as it is one of the most depressing rooms I've ever seen. It's painted a dark shade of forest green and it has a broken bed without a mattress and a couple of boxes of junk in it.

On that same hallway there's also the bathroom and the sink/shower room. The toilet is in one room and in the room next to it there is a porcelain sink and a pipe that comes out of the wall that serves as a shower. I think one of my first jobs is going to be trying to track down a shower head and then trying to attach it to this pipe.

That's the inside of my house. The back garden has a shaded porch (and the volunteer who was there before left me a rope swing that I can hang from it. It has some hedges and a tree and a clothes line. That's my house.

The school is shaped like a U. It has five classrooms on one side and five classrooms on the other side. At the end of the school there are three rooms- the Principal's office, the head of department's office, and the supply room. There are no hallways, just shaded cement walkways. In the middle of the U there is a sun shade made out of corrugated tin and logs that they use for morning assembly. They also have some flowering hedges. Nine of the classrooms are being used for classes- grades one through seven, two grade ones and two grade fives (apparently because so many grade fives failed last year and had to take it over.) One of the rooms is used by the library.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Excerpts and pictures from an email from Amy

I'm doing well. I figure I should take advantage of really cheap and readily available Internet while I'm here in Omaruru ( it's less than $1 US for a half hour) so I'm on or the third time in as many days.

Yesterday was a good day. I ate a lot, I watched a lot of movies and TV, and I read a lot. I also washed my feet, which was amazing. I am so sick of having dirty feet. You know in the Bible how everyone is always washing their feet. It's because they get absolutely filthy when you live in a desert and wear sandals. I spent about an hour and soaked them and used a pumice stone and put on lotion and socks and shoes, so now my feet are happy with me. I also played hearts until late in the night.

Today we had some random sessions- "processing" which is a fancy word for talking about our CBT experiences, a short and extremely helpful IT session done by Jay and Jason (who are both pretty amazing), and a session where we talked to the health volunteers about HIV/AIDS.

This week we're doing a workshop on teaching techniques and a workshop on HIV/AIDS. The IT people are also doing some optional sessions in our free time on IT stuff (which I'll definitely be attending, because I need the information.)

I was telling some people that I not only feel like I'm MacGyver when I do stuff like the like the light bulb telescope trick, but I also feel like I'm going to have to do some MacGyver-like things to do my job at my permanent site. I said it's like, "You're going to plan physical science labs and you have at your disposal paper and maybe chalk (if the kids don't eat it, like they did in Karibib---Don't ask me, I don't know why they ate the chalk, but they seemed to enjoy doing it every now and then)." I'm looking at it as a challenge.

We don't necessarily have computers or books (even textbooks) and lesson planning materials are severely limited. I think more and more that I'm going to work on getting computers for my school. I think I might try to get computers through Microsoft. There is a open source organization called "SchoolNet" that has given refurbished computers to a lot of Namibian schools, but I hear they aren't giving out more computers for at least a year, so I'm thinking about working on Microsoft, or if I can get around the tariffs and import laws (there are some strict laws about importing used computers) I'll see if I can't use some of the people I know at IBM as connections to see if I can get a lab. Apparently one of the best labs in the Peace Corps volunteers' schools was donated by HP because a volunteer a couple of years ago had some connections there.

I want to work on the library as well, so if any of you are interested in starting any book drives, email me. I am drafting a letter to send to publishing companies trying to get them to send books. I'm having a lot of fun with it. I'm trying to paint a picture of Anker that will appeal to an editor in New York or London, so I talk about how kids there often see kudus or giraffes, but many see a book for the first time when they enter primary school (which I am positive is true. I have seen one book in a Namibian home so far and I've been staying in richer homes than most in Anker.)

I'm really getting excited to be at my permanent site and to get to work. I know it will be very, very hard, but I feel like there are all these projects that I can do and I can't wait to actually start.

Things you can pray for—That I will be healthy and happy (spiritually, physically and emotionally), that I will be able to work with limited resources and that my creativity will kick in when I need it (which will be often), that I can have patience and care for my students and that they will have respect for me, and that my projects will be sustainable and respectful to the local people.

Also, things I thought might be nice to find in a care package--- Crystal Lite has these travel sized packets that make the massive amounts of water that we drink more bearable, newspaper clippings, magazines and other reading material, and photos. Basically I will treasure anything you send me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas Everyone! (group e-mail from Amy)

(Sent from Omaruru, Namibia on Christmas Eve about 5PM)

Dear Everyone,

Merry Christmas everyone!

IMPORTANT INFORMATION—even if you don't plan on reading the email, read this—

In about two weeks I'll be going to my permanent site. If you intend to send something to me from now on, you should probably send it to

(Her Name)

PO Box 90




I know it looks a little sketchy, sending something halfway across the world with a PO Box, a city, and a country, but I'm 65%-75% certain that it will get to me (That's pretty good odds considering I live in the middle of nowhere in Africa.) So, feel free to send me letters, poems, love notes, etc. We all go a little crazy over the mail. Someone was saying today that he got some little trinket in a package and he was saying that he wouldn't mind if someone broke his camera, ate all of his food, and burned his clothes, but if they touch even the stupidest trinket he got from home, he'll kill them : ). OK, now for the actual email. You can stop reading if you want to.

I'm back, safe and sound in Omaruru. I got some cups and a fork and knife set (no spoons, which kind of confuses me since you can live without knives and forks, but anything you'd eat with a spoon you really can't eat any other way) from my host family for Christmas. It's really strange thinking that Christmas is tomorrow. Before we left, one of the host families decorated their lime tree with blinking Christmas lights.

I've been a little sick the last few days (just a little stomach trouble, and the Peace Corps is keeping me well medicated, so nothing to worry about). My host mother bought me a coke and mixed in some salt. She told me that's what you're supposed to do for stomach trouble, which is interesting because all the medical people say you should drink water with sugar and salt in it, which is basically what she gave me.

We came back to Omaruru in the covered back of a bakkie (pick-up truck). There were five of us and some luggage in the back. It was great. I broke out my harmonica and started playing (badly). It seemed like the appropriate thing to do. It was actually something that I thought I might be doing in Africa. This is the thing, Africa isn't just different from what I expected, it's crazier than I expected. You can pass a Herero woman dressed in what looks like a patchwork version of a British Victorian dress and a Himba woman, walking bare-chested with a skin skirt, and a woman wearing western clothes all on the same street.

I'm going to miss my host family, but I am really excited to get to my permanent site. Today we're going to decorate one of the thorn trees around here with popcorn chains and paper snowflakes and we're doing a gift exchange tomorrow. I got a vegetable peeler, kitchen knife, can opener, and a box of ground cinnamon. I think it's an OK gift. Mainly I'm thinking that practical gifts are best as most people don't have anything more than a bed, a stove, and a refrigerator at their flats. We're also going to have a bonfire with smores and earlier some people at the embassy sent us cookies. We're really eating our way through Christmas.

The engagement went off without a hitch. It was really neat. They showed up at ten o'clock at night with buckets of food. I literally mean buckets, they came with macaroni salad and potato salad in the basins that they use to wash clothes in. The bride and groom sat at a table in the front. There was a pastor who gave a very impassioned sermon and there was a whole ceremony where the man gave Deborah (my sister) a watch and a ring. They also poured a cup of sparkling grape juice and everyone who was there drank from the cup.

Funny story—One day we were having a braai (a barbeque) and they were talking in rapid KhoeKhoe when they leaned over to me and whispered, "Do you have a problem with witches in America?" I wasn't sure that I understood them, so I asked them what they meant and this was the response, "You know, the people who walk around naked at night and turn their backs to your window."

Well, needless to say, I didn't know. They told me that witches are a big problem in Namibia. Later on in the week they were all talking in KhoeKhoe again and they leaned in to me and whispered, "The woman across the street turned into a cow." I replied, "She got really fat?" and they looked at me like I was the thickest person they'd ever tried to communicate with. They pulled me into the kitchen and Gazzah ( who has the best English skills) said, "No, she actually turned into a cow and all those witchy things. One of the neighbors saw her walking naked at night." So apparently this isn't a hypothetical problem with witches. It's a problem with the neighbor across the street. I don't take it too seriously because the rumors that go around the location are crazy.

There was a rumor that Dan and I were a couple and that's why we went to Dylan and Sandra's house (not Mario, which was the actual reason.) It was a little weird, but I'm kind of getting used to being led around like a kind of dumb puppy.

Earlier today I made a telescope. Jay, one of the IT guys learned how to make a telescope from a light bulb from his host sister (mainly you just take the metal part and the filament out and then you fill the glass bulb with water.) I'm thinking that, between this project, the RISK game we made out of markers, paper and rice, and constructing my own cell phone tower (which apparently involves going onto my roof at dusk on a clear night with a compass and a self-constructed pole) when I get out of the Peace Corps I'm going to be like MacGyver. I'll just need paperclips, twine, and chewing gum and I'll be able to make anything.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately. I read Till We Have Faces, The Secret Life of Bees, and I started Naked by David Sedaris, but I accidentally left it in Karibib, so I borrowed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress from someone. I think if I keep up this pace (and I don't have television at my permanent site, so I think that it's likely I will keep up the pace) I will run through all the other volunteers' books in 6 months. I guess when I hit that point I'll just have to figure something out— write my own book, or take up woodcarving, or learn how to raise goats or something.

I'm doing well. I hope everyone else has/had a Merry Christmas. I miss you guys.

Much love,


Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Blogs from Amy's team

Back at Omaruru Rest Camp and with Internet access again, many people "blogged" today.

Homestay-Eating Highlights

This one is long

Together in Omaruru
Christmas in Omaruru

+pictures in his gallery of the mountain Hike

Merry Christmas!
Christmas in Namibia

Saying goodbye to Bing with a Bang

Morning of Christmas Eve

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Amy's address in Namibia

(Her Name)

PO Box 90




I know it looks a little sketchy, sending something halfway across the world with a PO Box, a city, and a country, but I'm 65%-75% certain that it will get to me (That's pretty good odds considering I live in the middle of nowhere in Africa.) So, feel free to send me letters, poems, love notes, etc. We all go a little crazy over the mail.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Weekend links from other teammates

You eat the feet?!?!

Days 37-38

Happy holidays and my permanent address


Greetings from Karibib (group email from Amy)

Sorry it's been so long since I sent my last email, the Peace Corps has been running us ragged and I live in the location (the area where the black people had to live during apartheid) so it's about a 40 minute walk to the tourist center in town, where they have Internet.

I have been spending the past few weeks in Karibib. My host family is amazing- Bertha and Gotfried //Naobes (the "//"stands for a click). Bertha runs the soup kitchen at the Lutheran church and was very excited to hear that I was a Lutheran (I've given up trying to explain the intricacies of my religious affiliation to people with minimal English skills, they just want to know if I'm Lutheran or Catholic and I've decided that I'm Lutheran).

A few days ago I got a letter from my cousin Alena with family pictures and they went crazy over them. They were especially excited to see my grandparents (age is a big deal in this culture) and in my broken KhoeKhoe I managed to tell them that my uncle is a pastor in a Lutheran church. I heard them telling each other about it later on that day.

I figure you all might want to know what my days are like here so I thought I'd write "A day in the life of Amy"

I usually get up at 6:15. My host mother is already up and I eat breakfast of either the Corn Flakes the Peace Corps provided (Made from real Mealies!) or oatmeal and tea or Nescafe (instant coffee). I take a shower (strangely my host family's house doesn't have a mirror but I'm getting used to that).

At about 7:15 I head off to model school which is basically 3 weeks of classes to teach us about teaching techniques. I go across the river. The definition of "river"in Namibia is very different from the definition in America. In Namibia "river"means broken glass and trash filled ditch that occasionally fills with water. I get to school and prepare for the lessons. At 7:45 there is a school assembly where the children sing and pray and announcements are made.

We have 6 periods from 8:00-12:30. I teach three of them and I'm supposed to observe at least 2 others, so I'm busy. Then we usually have a meeting to discuss problems or whatever. Then I usually go to Dylan and Sandra's house for lunch (their host family sometimes has a video game player with original Mario on it and that's a good way to spend an hour in the hottest part of the day). After that I have language class from 3-5.

Then I go home, eat dinner and plan the next day's lessons and, if I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I study my KhoeKhoe. At 8:30 we watch "When You Are Mine"<insert steamy spanish soap opera music here> which apparently everyone in Namibia is obsessed with. I usually go to bed at about 9:30. That's my busy busy life.

Actually the last week hasn't really gone like that. One of my host sisters is getting engaged and there is a whole tradition around what you're supposed to do. The entire bride's family gathers at my house at night. Then the groom's family comes and we lock them out and tell them to go away. We even turned off the lights and told them "we are going to sleep now, good night." The grooms family brings a pure white goat (if the girl has never had a child) and they slaughter it and eat it.

This goes on for any number of days and the bride's family insults the groom and his family and the groom's family gets on their knees and begs them to give the girl. Also the groom's family brings a package of food and no one from the bride''s family can touch the package or everything is over and the girl is theirs. It's all very complicated and ritualized. They explained what the reasons for all the rituals are, but I just don't have long enough to tell about them.

Anyway, that's how it's supposed to go, but on Wednesday the groom's family showed up with a goat that had a black head and that was too small and my family got really angry (because it's like an insult to the woman's honor to have a goat that's not pure white) and then they slaughtered the goat without asking for permission before my host father showed up and my family got really angry and told them to leave and there was an angry, heated discussion in my living room until one AM. I went to sleep, but apparently they told the groom's family to bring another bigger, white goat as well as the little one and to pay the electricity (because the groom's family is supposed to bring the light into the bride's house) and to bring the groom and the grandparents.

This all happened on Wednesday. On Thursday they showed up without the groom or the goat and without paying the electricity AND the packet of food they brought was small and my family got really angry and my host father said that no one could talk to them and stormed out (after telling them that they were treating us like dogs). Anyway, I was scared that the engagement was off, because they told us that this never happens. Usually the groom's family does whatever the bride's family asks. So yesterday I got back from school and there was a big white goat and a bunch of wood and I heard that the groom was coming and they paid the electricity.

And yesterday night there was a long discussion where my family insulted the groom's family (the idea is that if they get angry they are not humble enough and they might abuse the bride so they don't deserve her) but the game was back in it. They asked them to describe the bride and they said she was like an egg and my family said, "you'll break her." It was less heated. Anyway, tonight is supposed to be the engagement at 10, so I'm pretty excited.

Other cultural experiences of note, Dan and I had goat head at the church choir party. They apparently have decided that I'm in the church choir because I can kind of fake singing the KhoeKhoe songs so they think I'm brilliant in KhoeKhoe, but I never sing in church, just at practice. I don't really understand it all, but what can you do?

There was a Christmas party for the choir (Christmas is HUGE here) and goat head is a delicacy, so they served it. When I say goat head, I mean that they singe the hair off a head of a goat and they boil it- teeth, eyes, brain, tongue, everything. Anyway, I ate a little bit to be polite and then surreptitiously snuck the rest onto the plate of a little kid sitting next to me. It didn't taste bad, but I had seen the singed, boiled goat head and that turned me off. Also I wasn't entirely sure which part I was eating which kind of freaked me out.

Last Saturday I had my mid-test for KhoeKhoe. I got Novice-mid, Dan got novice-high, but everyone else in the KhoeKhoe group got novice-low which is the lowest possible score. We're supposed to be at intermediate-mid at the end of training (in like 2 weeks) but I can't see how that would be at all possible. I'm just hoping to get to intermediate-low. I figure they can't kick us out if all of us fail the test.

Karibib is a nice place. There's a supermarket where I can get just about anything I want (if I can afford it). I've been going to the church in the location on Sundays. It's a really long, hot service. Last week the sermon was in 4 languages. The preacher preached in Afrikaans and it was translated into Otjiherero, KhoeKhoe, Otjiwambo, and English. Sometimes it took so long to translate it all that the preacher lost his place in the sermon. There is a lot of singing and it's all ridiculously amazing. They sing a cappella in 5 part harmony here all the time. I'll burn some of my videos onto a CD and send it home one of these days.

OK, I should probably finish up. I miss you all a lot. I was feeling a little homesick the other day, thinking about how I won't be home for Christmas. I will be thinking of you all and I will definitely try to be better about sending emails. I think it will be easier when training is over. And to all you teachers, if anyone has any great 6-7th grade ESL/ physical science tricks I'd love to hear them.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Teammate blog entries from the weekend


First get-away

Day 33 - About Saturday Dec 10, 2005
there is also a brief mention about Amy at the end

Darned Computer
plus a few new photos in the gallery (none of Amy though)

Home life in Omaruru

Friday, December 09, 2005

Aerogramme from Amy

This letter was sent on November 28 and includes most of the same information as her long e-mail from that day. However the pictures on the back were new.

Jason's update

Day 31 Wednesday Dec 7, 2005

Day 32 Thursday Dec 8, 2005

Day 32 again

Where Amy is right now -Karibib

While we haven't heard from her, this is where Amy is doing her training right now in comparison to Omaruru and Windhoek. Maybe if we could just zoom in we could see her.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A PCV's parents visit her

Here is a link to a Melanie B's web page. She is a volunteer who is one year through her service and her parents just visited her from North Carolina. Check out the current photos (red starred). Her archive of emails is a long read but mirror Amy's experiences so far if you start at the beginning.

Mel in Namibia…a Peace Corps Experience

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A couple of links from Namibia

Jason's blog

Days 29 and 30 - about Mon and Tues, Dec 5-6, 2005

Also, Jason has several new pictures in his photo gallery.

Liz has a brief update on her blog:


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day links about Namibia:

Map of AIDS rates in Africa:

AIDS battle far from won in Namibia:

UNAIDS program In Namibia:

Excerpt from President Bush's address on World AIDS Day:

Our concern about HIV/AIDS does not stop at our borders. Other nations face greater challenges, yet they are moving forward with courage and determination that inspires our respect, and deserves our support. Nations like Uganda and Kenya have demonstrated that leadership and honesty can overcome stigma and reduce rates of infection. Nations like Botswana and Namibia have shown that anti- retroviral treatments can be widely delivered and highly successful. These countries, and many others, are fighting for the lives of their citizens -- and America is now their strongest partner in that fight, and we're proud to be so.

We're supporting our partners through the Global Fund, which is helping nations purchase medicines and treat tuberculosis, the deadly infection that often accompanies AIDS.

Support World AIDS Day

Volunteers end their terms in Namibia

Kristin: "Leaving on a Jet Plane..."

Shannon: Coral Pink Sands 12/02/05

Jonathan: My two years in the Peace Corps

Chris: I'm home

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Links about the Damara people and language

Amy works in an area of Namibia heavily populated by a people group called the Damara. Their background is somewhat mysterious because they are of Bantu origin but share a language with the Khoisan people.

A few definitions will show why things can get confusing:

--Bantu - A major group of related African ethnic cultures and languages who share similar physical features and who inhabit much of Africa south of the Sahara. They probably originated in the area near Nigeria/Ghana.

--Khoisan - Another major group of related African ethnic cultures and languages (different from the Bantu) who share similar physical features. Their languages are characterized by clicking and popping sounds. They are generally found in the southernmost countries of Africa. also see The Khoisan

--Nama - the name given to a subset of the Khoisan people group and also the language they speak (also called KhoeKhoegowab).

--Damara - the name of a tribe of people of Bantu (not Nama) origin who speak a dialect of Nama or KhoeKhoegowab.

About the Damara people:

The Damara People of Namibia

The Damara

Photographs of the Damara People

Links to pages about the language Amy is learning. The broad language group is called "Nama" (also called Khoekhoegowab). Damara is a dialect and is spoken by about 100,000 people:

The Nama language

Nama language of Namibia

Map of language groups in Namibia

KhoeKhoegowab language lessons

Links from teammate blogs recently

"Hello from Namibia"


"Day 21"

"Day 22"

Namibian Vocab Lesson

Monday, November 28, 2005

Amy's Nam 25 teammate's blogs from Namibia

Before - December 2005

After - September 2007

Besides Amy's blog, there are at least 22 other people keeping blogs in Namibia with her. Here are links to each one.

I don't know how often these will be kept up to date.

Link to Jason's page of blogger photos and links (link no longer working)

A long e-mail from Amy

Dear everyone,

Life is good. I got back from my permanent site visit in one piece
last night. It was an amazing experience. The principal of my school has 6 daughters and I felt like I was another, highly honored part of the family. My permanent site is a tiny town called Anker. Anker is about 6 hours north and west of Omaruru, so I had been traveling for most of the day. I was in the middle seat of a pickup, in between the headmaster of my school and the first grade teacher who will be my counterpart.

For the last 45 minutes of the trip to Anker you must go down a thin gravel road through the bush, stopping occasionally to let herds of goats, or donkey carts pass. The houses are spread across the land, most of them are traditional rectangular huts made out of sticks and covered with mud.

As I was examining the town, the principal started leaning on the car horn. It surprised me, but then we rounded the corner and there, in the school yard, all 285 primary school students were standing, waiting for us, dressed in their purple collared shirts and brown skirts and shorts. When they saw the truck they started cheering and jumping up and down. We drove slowly through the school yard and they ran alongside the car, singing and

Later I saw that, in the dust on the side of the pickup,
tiny fingers had written my name. We drove right up to the school
gate and got out of the car. The children lined up in a metal sun
shelter. Some of them were holding a sign carefully lettered "Welcome to Anker, Amy." Then the children sang me 5 or 6 traditional songs in Khoe-Khoegowab into which they inserted my name and a small group of second or third graders did a traditional dance, dressed in costumes they had made out of mealie-meal sacks with bells on the fringe.

One of the teachers gave a speech about how long they had waited and how hard they had worked to get a volunteer and how thankful they were when Courtney, the volunteer who was there before me, came and how thankful they were that I was there.Then they asked if I wanted to say a few words. I managed to stammer a few words about learning from each other and making Anker a better place, but I was so overwhelmed that I don't think it was a very good speech. The entire town made me feel immensely welcome.

I stayed at the headmaster's house and they fed me enormous amounts of food. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that a typical dinner was 3-4 cups of macaroni salad, another cup or two of vegetables or coleslaw, and two large pieces of meat, plus a liter of Coke, or a heavily sweetened orange drink. I really tried to eat all of the food they gave me, but sometimes they would feed me meals like that twice a day, so it was almost impossible for me to eat it all. I gave up on Thanksgiving after nearly making myself sick trying to finish the enormous serving of rice.

Several of the daughters and 4-8 grandchildren were generally around for dinner. They have DSTV at their house, so we generally watched soap operas or action movies while eating dinner. On thanksgiving I had springbok sausage, bread with butter, and really good heavily sweetened black tea while watching "When You Are Mine," a Spanish soap opera really badly dubbed into English.

I saw all of the important sites in the town; the school, the hostels (dorms for 1st through 7th graders), the clinic, the shop, and the traditional leaders' office. I actually met with the traditional leaders. They told me that they take their responsibility for my safety very seriously and if I ever have any problems I can tell them and they will take care of them for me.

I am quite isolated at my site. I am pretty convinced that no one has Internet in the town (since my laptop will be the third computer in town, including the one at the school that they use to teach the teachers how to do basic computing - turning a computer on, typing, and mouse skills).

There is no cell phone coverage (cell phones in most of the developing world are the source of communication because it's cheaper to put up cell towers than landlines), the headmaster of my school has a telephone in his house, but I don't. However, I think I feel less isolated in a lot of ways than some of the volunteers in larger towns because my town takes such good care of me.

Courtney told me that she just had to tell the headmaster that she wanted to go to town and he would find and arrange rides for her so she didn't have to hitchhike. Some of the other volunteers were pretty much abandoned in their towns by their supervisors. My house is beautiful.

Courtney left me all her dishes and she left the apartment decorated, with wall hangings and tablecloths and everything. No one in town has hot water, but I do have a tap with clean, running water. It's drinkable but it tastes really salty, so I think I'll buy bottled water to drink, that's what I drank at the headmaster's house. I have an oven and a fridge and electricity and more room than I really know what to do with (2 bedrooms, a living room/dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom and shower/sink room, and a large backyard with flowers).

I am immensely impressed by the work that Courtney did. I have an amazing amount of respect for her and, when I was feeling embarrassed by the attention and care that were heaped upon me, I reminded myself that it was a reflection of the honour and respect the people of Anker had for Courtney and therefore, for me.

She did so much for that town. As far as I can tell, she started a library (with almost a thousand books now), she got a playground built, she got new textbooks for the school, she helped with the HIV/AIDS club, she gave community English and baking classes, and she taught the teachers computer skills.

Still, there is a lot to do in Anker. I toured the hostels (dorms where half of the students live) and they are in pretty bad shape. They were built in 1971 during apartheid and as far as I can tell they haven't been touched (with repairs or renovations) since. Many, if not most, of the windows are broken, the depressing gray-blue paint is chipping and, in the dining room which is supposed to serve about 150 students I saw maybe half a dozen chairs and most of them were broken. I'm not sure where the students eat, maybe they stand at the tables. I was trying to explain the hostels to some of the other volunteers
and I realized that they look a lot like the orphanage in the movie
Annie, except with less stuff.

I saw the room where the students keep their belongings and, for 30 boys, there was less in that room than I brought in my suitcases. So I'm going to try to get a grant to fix up the hostels. I'd like to see the windows fixed, new or fixed furniture, and colourful murals on the walls. Plus the kitchen is in bad shape, so maybe we could get it fixed up.

Anyway, I also want to keep working on the library. If anyone has used books, or wants to start a book drive, we could really use good, quality picture books (especially easy-readers), books with African characters or themes, easy to read books on HIV/AIDS, and reference books for young children, especially on math, science, and African history. Also that website I sent out allows me to buy books for the library that don't get donated. Email me if any of you want to work with me on that.

I think I might also try to get some computers for the children to use. Anyway, those are some of the things echoing in my head right now. I really can't get started too much until I get to my permanent site and live there for a couple of months, but I'm kind of chomping at the bit.

What else? Oh, my site is really close to Etosha, which is the nature park where most of the westerners who go on safari come to, so there's a lot of wildlife near my site. The headmaster took me to the family farm which is out in the bush. I saw a herd of Kudus, a herd of Oryx, a herd of springboks, warthogs, baboons, and (most amazing of all) a herd of giraffes. It rained when we were out there and I have a picture of a giraffe and a rainbow that looks like it's from National Geographic. I'll put it on the blog if I get a chance (the Internet is really slow here). Someone who didn't have as good of a site visit said, "Where were you? Giraffe-Rainbow land?!?"

They also showed me where the elephants have pushed down some of the trees, which sort of scared me since elephants can be dangerous, but it was pretty far from the town, so as long as I don't go wandering off I should be OK.

Well, since I wrote everyone a book here, I think I'll let this be the end of this email. Tomorrow I'm heading to my host
family's house in a town called Karabib. I'm not sure what the
Internet access will be like, but I'll try to send out at least one
email while I'm there since I'll be gone for about a month. We return to Omaruru just before Christmas.

I look foreword to hearing from you all (by the way, thank you for your letter Rob). Thank you for putting up with my long rant-y email. I hope everything is going well for all of you and you had a happy Thanksgiving. Have a Merry Christmas if I don't talk to you all. Goodbye.