Friday, May 05, 2006

Letter from Keetmans (e-mail from Amy)

Sorry it's been so long since I wrote a long email. It's hard to get reliable internet on the go.

Reconnect was a lot of fun. It was so amazing seeing everyone again. Windhoek was pretty great too (although it was dang cold.) When we first came we stayed in the boy's hostel in Jason's school before reconnect which was OK, except that the rooms smelled a little like /hanab (the KhoeKhoe word for the smell of dried urine. I really love a language where there is a simple, tw syllable word for that idea and where the word for television is about a mile long with three clicks and literally translates to "Radio with the pictures that you look at") Anyway, while we were in Windhoek we went to Chinatown and bought a bunch of bootlegged DVDs. I got Wallace and Gromit, X-Men one and two, Rush Hour one and two, The Lord of the Rings Return of the King, The Fantastic Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Matrix one through three, and the War of the Worlds. Eight DVDs with a total of 12 movies on them cost me N$120 (US$20.) Some of the others got more serious movies (Brokeback Mountain, Memoirs of a Geisha, Million Dollar Baby etc.) but I figure that I'll be watching them about a million times back at Anker and I really don't need depressing things. Anyway, I'm thinking I'll probably go back at some point. I got Narnia, but I had to switch it because the DVD I got didn't work. I also bought some bracelets from the Opuwo people. I got two that they make with PVC pipe and black dye that look like wood and are really nice, but my favourite is made of brass with designs pounded into it. Anyway, lots of money has been spent, but it is my holiday and I really buy next to nothing in Anker.

I can't tell you everything I did over reconnect, since it would take about ten pages and you'd probably be bored long before it was over, so here's a list of a few of the things I did: watched the Daily Show (Jason took a whole weekend to download it), ate Chinese food, got some good teaching ideas, watched a lot of movies, sat by a fire and drank German hot spiced wine to warm up (the people who own the hotel are German and they were really nice to us. They said it had never been that cold in the 10 years they have been there), read Much Ado About Nothing out loud with Elizabeth in honor of Shakespeare's birthday, ate lots of good food, and went to a bunch of long sessions (some good some bad.)

We traded books and magazines. My books went all over Namibia (to places with names like Okamatapati, Okakarara, and Schlip.) The Gobabis people were incredibly thankful for a couple of copies of the New Yorker and since there are about 8 people near Gobabis they'll probably be well read. I did manage to get the Chronicles of Narnia from Pat (in exchange for The Inferno and The Christian Imagination.) I also found out that Julie's coping strategy is also reading ridiculous amounts, so we promised to leave books to trade in Otjiwarongo (she has The Color Purple and Song of Solomon.) Between books from the Peace Corps library and other volunteers at least half of my suitcase is full of reading material (though not all of it is fun, I got a book called "Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Large Multi-Level Classroooms")

So here's what happened since reconnect. Monday was a national holiday (Hero's Day, in honor of all of the Namibian women and children who were killed when South Africa bombed a refugee camp during the war) so we couldn't get train tickets out until Monday night. We stayed in Jason's hostel. He lives in the hostel of Windhoek high school even though he teaches in Katatura (the location in Windhoek.) The hostel, like most hostels, reminded me most of an orphanage, but it was only N$10 a night. I have to get a sleeping bag because I've been using wadded up clothes and my towel and I've had some cold nights. This is what they don't tell you about adventures in the books; you will probably be hungry at some point and you should get used to being cold when you sleep. We hung out for the day in Windhoek. It rained an insane amount (From what I hear Luderitz, in the middle of the Namib Desert with an average of like 3 cm a year, is completely flooded.) We bought train tickets and a bunch of food for the train ride.

Eight of us went on the train, Elizabeth, Khorixas Matt, Andrew, Silas, Elissa, Lindsay, Will, and me. The others were going to Keetmanshoop on their way to hike Fish River Canyon. At 7 o'clock we showed up for the train, were greeted by a very drunk train station employee and realized that, yet again, we were going to stand out since we were the only white people in the station and probably on the train. We had bought tickets for a coach sleeper car for N$84 (about US$12) apiece. The car fit eight people, but bizarrely had only 6 "beds" (i.e. triple-decker padded boards that folded out of the wall.) We had dinner of salami, cheese, bread, apples, chocolate, peanut butter, biscuits, cheap wine and Coke and we talked until late. Namibian trains, unlike Amtrak, let you do fun things like open the window and lean out to look at the southern stars, but you have to watch out for trees. At about 10 o'clock I climbed up to the third level (it was about a foot and a half from the roof of the train, but unlike the second level, it had a bar to keep me from falling off in the middle of the night) and spread a couple of coats over me and had a pretty good night's sleep (though it definitely would have been better with a sleeping bag.) In the morning we woke up to watch the sun rise over the desert. For a minute it looked like the edge of the desert was on fire and then, all of a sudden, the sun was up. We ate some of the remains of dinner and when we got off the train (unloading our luggage through the window) we walked through Keetmans. Luckily we managed to get a couple taxis, since Jay lives in Tseblaagte, the location in Keetmans, and it was maybe a mile and a half from the train station.

At Jay's youth center I found out that they already had a Sewing teacher, but she really wanted me to draw a pattern for the traditional dresses from scratch. Thank you, Arena Theatre and Michael Stauffer, because I couldn't have done it if not for the hours I spent in the costume shop. I made a test dress to check for glitches in the pattern and there was nothing that a little adjusting or a few darts couldn't fix. Jay took a picture. I'll have him send it to my dad. (When I say "traditional dress" I think you all might be thinking something different than I mean, like grass skirts or something. Traditional Dresses for the Nama/Damara either look like Victorian dresses or like puff-sleeved dresses in African patterns.) On Tuesday night I went out for pizza with Matt, Silas, and Will and on Tuesday night Shoni made Thai peanut sauce and brown rice for us. One of my favourite things about the Peace Corps is when we all get together. It's really communal, drinking out of the same cups and everything, and even if the food isn't fancy there's always a lot of it. Then we all sleep wherever we can find a place, usually on the floor with an odd assortment of sleeping pads and bags, couch cushions, foam mattresses, blankets, and pillows. On Wednesday morning, the Fish River Canyon people left and some people who went to the dunes near Soussesvlei stopped by later in the day.

Some of the people I've met in Namibia seem like they don't really belong in real life, like they stepped out of a postmodern novel and are all a little confused about how they ended up here. At Jay's place there's this one-eyed dog named, ironically, Ce-Ce who is about as big as a small pony and guards Jay fastidiously. Jay and Shoni saved his life when his eye got infected after a kid shoved a wire into it. Then there's a tiny dog named Cyrus who looks like Benji, only smaller, who likes to take on Ce-Ce and who dances. On Tuesday night there was a Namibian pop concert here and the artists stayed at Jay's youth center. Jay made friends with this Namibian Rastafarian named The Last Brain who sings in Khoe-Khoe. Some of the volunteers talk about living next door to diamond smugglers or witch doctors. People like this aren't supposed to exist in real life. It's like the world has taken crazy pills.

Next week I'm going to head up to Opuwo and I'll probably go whitewater rafting on the Kunene River before heading back to my site. I'll be with Sandra and Dylan. Suzi told us about a lodge that's owned by the family of a former VSO volunteer, so we should be able to get a pretty good deal on housing. Then it will be back to my site. Anyway, I'll write again soon. Hope everything is going well back there in the States.

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