Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rafting on the Kunene river, Packages, and a few thoughts on international aid (email from Amy)

Hey everyone,

It's a long one this week.

Keetmans to Otji to Opuwo to Kunene

So, I'm back safe and sound in Anker. It was quite a
vacation. After Keetmans I hitchhiked up to Otjiwarongo and met
Sandra, Dylan, Wendy, Angie, and Robin (Dan showed up the next day.)
On the way I passed over the Tropic of Capricorn which I thought was
pretty interesting, even though it's really just a sign by the
highway. We went to the SuperSpaar that they just built there (which
I think caused us all to freak out a little.) It was so amazingly big
and nice, with just crazy things that you could buy. You could get
Nutella, and Tang, and Fish sauce there among many many other things.
We're not used to choices, well actually, technically we're just not
used to more than one choice. We're used to one choice of rice, one
choice of pasta, one choice of milk. We probably spent half an hour
in the first aisle trying to decide what type of tea to get. I don't
know what we're going to do when we get back to the States where we
will not only have those kinds of choices, but they'll be reasonably
close to where we live. I can imagine calling one of the other
volunteers to tell them that I found paprika at my Minnesota grocery
store or something. Anyway, we spent the night and then headed off in
a combi to Opuwo by way of Kamanjab. Opuwo is about 3 hours North
of where I live. It's mostly Herero and almost half Himba (the Himba
are Hereros who dress traditionally; skin loincloths and wraps with
the women going bare-chested and everyone covering their hair, skin,
and clothes in red ochre and butter fat.) We camped the night in
Coppelia's yard that night and went up to the Kunene River Lodge in
the morning after buying a few more groceries (we couldn't have gone
hungry even if we had tried with all of the food we had.) We went
another 3 hours north of Opuwo to the Kunene River (which is the
border between Namibia and Angola until, I think, at least Ruacana)

Camping, rafting and Angola

Anyway, we camped at the Kunene River Lodge for two nights
which was a lot of fun. We cooked over a campfire (despite what you
might think when you hear "Peace Corps" I do not cook over an open
fire on a regular basis. We joke that PC Namibia is "Posh Corps"
(although definitely more so in the towns in the south than out in the
bush where I am or up north) still, I have electricity and a stove and
refrigerator and running water. We talked over the vacation about how
people write to us and say they're impressed with us or whatever and
we feel a little like we're tricking them.) It was fun to pretend to
be tourists although some of the complaints from other tourists about
the bathrooms/ showers/ hot water seemed a little ridiculous since it
was probably my last hot shower for at least month. The Kunene is an
actual river (as opposed to the "ephemeral rivers" where I live that
only run when it rains and otherwise just collect broken glass.) and
was really moving quite quickly. We went whitewater rafting down the
river which was a lot of fun. We even stopped and took a little walk
across the river in Angola which would have been much nicer if we had
had shoes or if there were slightly fewer sharp pointy stones. As it
was, we mainly decided that Angola was prickly.

Groceries and packages in Kamanjab and back to Anker

We hiked back to Kamanjab on Thursday. I slept at
Clementine's house while the others went on to Otjiwarongo. On Friday
I bought loads of food (N$415 worth- about US$70) since I had
basically eaten everything in my house except for unopened canned good
and a few staples before reconnect. Then I waited for a hike out (no
need to hike with tourists- my principal was coming into town to buy
supplies for the shop his family runs so I got a ride back in a
ridiculously full bakkie (pick-up)- there were three people piled in
the back on top of what would have been a truck overloaded with
supplies anyway.) I had loads of packages (which I sort of expected,
but it was especially nice because I was kind of depressed when I
first came back, probably from a combination of leaving good friends,
going back to the school term, and just the random impulses to cry
that happen every now and then and make me worry that I'm going a
little nutty (or as we say here, that I might be making doughnuts,
from a story about this guy who apparently let the stress get to him
and went temporarily insane, locking himself in his house and making
doughnuts 18 hours a day.)) I got a letter from Tiffany and some
family movie DVDs from my aunt and uncle (thanks guys) and a package
from my grandparents with magazines, tape, and some other stuff (by
the way, thanks for the toothbrush, on my trip my conditioner leaked
all over the bag with my toiletries in it and, despite multiple
washings, I was unable to get the conditioner taste out of my
toothbrush.) and a really nifty package from Jewell (best package I've
gotten so far, by the way. Just a bunch of really useful random
stuff- a puzzle, some crayons, one set of silverware, a teeny-tiny
book, some ribbon, pipe cleaners, wheels, little stuffed monkey etc.)

40 lbs of books!

But the really surprising packages came from Houghton Mifflin USA. I
sent a letter asking for donations for the library about two months
ago to 15 publishing companies. Anyway, without my knowledge they
sent over 50 brand new books, most of them hardcover picture books,
for the library. They even sent some book tapes (now if we only had a
tape player) and a Dorling Kindersley packet with a digital camera.
I'm going to try to teach some of the teachers to use it so they can
take photos for the school. Maybe we could even use it to raise money
for the school here (pictures are a big deal.) I mean, it's meant as
a toy, so it's not really fancy or nice, but it's still a big deal
here. The books are really amazing too, lots of hardcover picture
books. I looked through them and most of them will be really popular
with the kids (lots of pictures.) I can't believe that they sent 3
boxes (40 pounds) of brand new books so quickly with just a letter
asking for them. Sometimes I'm really overwhelmed by the generosity
of people. Anyway, I'll make some of my library prefects write some
very nice "Thank You" letters (and I'll write one too.)

Reading books and memorizing poetry

Speaking of books, I haven't informed you of my reading
over the break (partially because I read a lot less with all those
people around to talk to.) Over break I read the whole Narnia series
(I plan to return it to Pat at All PCV Conference in June, so I just
might read it again), Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (which
had a pretty hilarious series of essays about trying to learn French,
which were especially funny when I compared them to my KhoeKhoe, he
says at one point that he had a breakthrough when he stopped talking
like an evil baby and started talking like a redneck with bad grammar.
I am still waiting for that transformation but thankfully people
think that a white person talking like an evil baby in KhoeKhoe is
still pretty impressive) This week, being back in the village, I did
a lot of reading. I finished Pride and Prejudice and much to my
enjoyment someone sent an M-Bag with Harry Potter books 1 and 2. The
library doesn't have any Harry Potter books and I personally was
really missing them (hint- I know it would cost a mint in postage so I
don't really expect that anyone will take me up on this, but if
someone really wanted to make me personally very happy they could send
me books 3-6.) I'm not sure how many of my learners could read Harry
Potter (I have suspicions that maybe a couple of them could read at
least the first two or three if they took the time) but I've enjoyed
them. I also finished a book I started before break called A Map of
the World. Anyway, for those keeping track, if you count the Narnia
series as seven distinct books, that puts me at 26 books in about 4
months or an average of over one and a half books a week. My Peace
Corps education continues. In other news, I'm working on memorizing
John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14. Poetry is my newest coping strategy. I
decided that, since I was having these irrepressible impulses to get
up in the middle of the night and read e e cummings' "since feeling is
first" or Gerard Manly Hopkins' "Carrion Comfort" that it would
probably be better if I just memorized some of my favourite poems.

Jobs in my Anker house

When I got back home I did some odd jobs I had been
putting off: changing light bulbs, cleaning sharpening and oiling my
Swiss Army knife (I hope that it's OK to oil it w/ cooking oil because
I did), cleaning and sterilizing my water filter and processing some
water (I got a Brita water filter to add to my Peace Corps one and
once Anker water has been double-filtered you can hardly taste the
borehole taste.) Unfortunately I forgot to get some Borax while I was
out. I have a homemade recipe for cockroach killer (Borax, icing
sugar, cornmeal, and milk) that I got from the Peace Corps cookbooks.
My house had developed a small insect problem that wasn't helped by an
almost month long absence or by the fact that my drain is basically a
tube that sticks out of the side of my house making it a convenient
tunnel for creepy crawly things (not that they couldn't get in through
the broken part of a few of my windows or the crack at the bottom of
the door. Houses here aren't built to be airtight like American
houses.) I used a recipe that the Peace Corps Cookbook said would
take care of an ant infestation- washing down all of the flat surfaces
in my house with vinegar and water, but I have my doubts that it will
work on the cockroaches. I'll just have to Doom them if they get too
cheeky (Doom is the bug killer that they sell here. I don't like to
use it too often because it advertises "deadly killing action" and I
think I'd prefer not to breathe that in.) I'm glad I bought some warm
things while I was away because it's been pretty cold here at night.
We're just starting winter and they say, because of all the rain, it's
supposed to be a cold one. I know, you hear "Africa" and you think
that I'll be boiling in some swealtering jungle, but this country is
mostly desert and savannah and since water helps to regulate
temperature and since we're pretty far south of the equator- it can
get cold. Now, mind you, I'm not talking about Minnesota-cold, more
like high 40s-mid 50s, but the roofs are made out of corrugated tin
and some of my windows are a bit leaky. Still, it gets back up to the
eighties or nineties in the day. I mainly just wear a lot of layers
to bed and I'm thinking I'll get some Seran-Wrap and packing tape and
Macguyver a little insulation job on my bedroom windows.

Food and drink

I've taken a page from some other PCVs and have been cooking a lot
this past week. On Sunday I made chicken soup (I actually do that a
lot since it stretches my limited supply of (good) meat out and it's a
fast meal.) Then during the week I learned to make refried beans and
tortillas which makes me really happy since I can get all the
ingredients I need in Anker, so it's been added to my
Foods-to-make-when-I-desperatly-need-to-get-to-the-grocery-store list
alongside pancakes and porridge. This Sunday I made crepes which,
much to my surprise, turned out really really good. I cut up some
canned apricots and made a filling with cinnamon and brown sugar. i
topped the whole thing with cream and icing sugar. I like this
cooking as a coping strategy trick, it means I get to eat good foods
and I do something with my day besides reading for four to six hours.
Also I've been making my own Chai lattes from some tea bags my parents
sent for Valentine's day. I had been missing Chai a lot, but with
full cream milk powder, honey, brown sugar, and something called
Cremendous which comes in a juice box sized carton and is the
consistancy of heavy whipping cream, I can make a drink that tastes
almost like Starbucks.

First week of class

This week has been busy (and somewhat annoying.) School
technically started on Tuesday, but I had, at most, about half my
students in all of my classes. On Wednesday and Thursday I had maybe
two-thirds. On Friday I was still missing five or six from my seventh
grade. The frustration comes from trying to teach without teaching
anything that will have to be caught up on by the rest of the class.
English was easier than Science, I had them write about their goals
for the term and only had to face the frustration of defining "Goals"
about twenty million times (I still had learners who wrote that they
wanted to score points in soccer.) In science I tried to talk about
making bar graphs. I want to do a project on the weather where they
measure it each day and graph it at the end of the week. I brought in
the thermometer that my grandparents had sent me and, sure enough, it
fell off the window and broke on the first day. Now I'm trying to
figure out what to do, since that was a major part of my plan for the
first part of the term. I'm going to look for a thermometer the next
time I get to Otjiwarongo (or when I head to Swakop for the All-PCV
conference next month) but in the mean time I'm going to make a paper
thermometer and change it according to the weather report the night
before, although, annoyingly, the closest town they ever report for is
Outjo; a good 2 ½ hour drive south.

Goals and plans

As per my resolution to become a better teacher and Peace
Corps Volunteer in general this term, I've been working on various
donation letters and on some lesson plans (and a discipline plan,
which will hopefully work or at least prevent a repeat of the incident
where they beat my learners for disobeying me.) I plan to start
trying to write a grant with one of the teachers. My ideas are
probably (read-definitely) running a little amuck right now, but in my
ideal Peace Corps world I would get grants to fix all of the broken
windows, to get a copier for the school, and to get a few computers
(preferably ones that actually work.) I also harbor hopes for making
our library one of the best in the region and for getting donations of
board games and other leisure activities for the hostel. Now, that
having been said, I'm trying to be a little more reasonable
considering how dang complicated grants can be and how hard it is to
make donations a sustainable project. Plus I really have to remember
that my main project is teaching. Still, I want to leave something
more permanent behind when I go home after two years and I'm still in
the honeymoon period of the term when I think I can do anything.

International Aid?

Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about aid anymore.
That's probably not what you expect to hear from me, but it's true. I
have seen really amazing programs that are funded through aid money--
most of the portable schools that serve the semi-nomadic Himba and San
(formerly known as Bushmen) populations were funded by Norway and I
can't imagine that the anti-retrovirals that some people are on were
financed without aid. Still, I see so many major problems with aid
programs. Many of the health PCVs complain about Government aid
programs, NGOs and FBOs (Non-Governmental Organizations and
Faith-Based Organizations) have a lot fewer problems, but so much
government money is badly spent even though Namibia has much lower
levels of corruption than other African nations (although one of our
neighbours is Mugabe's Zimbabwe, so that might not say a whole lot.)
Even if you ignore corruption, I am still frustrated with the way aid
is distributed. I have been trying to learn to write a grant and it
is dang complicated and hard and I'm a native English speaker. I am
not entirely convinced that anyone in my village could do it without
help (there's one teacher who might understand English well enough,
but I don't know how his reading and writing skills are.) The
frustrating part is that, compared to other volunteer's schools, my
school is relatively well run by people who care about giving their
kids a good education AND it has a lot less resources than other
schools. It seems like money ends up going to those places that are
middlingly poor. They're poor enough to get funding, but not poor or
disenfranchised enough to not be able to jump through all of the
hoops. On top of all of that, I think Americans put too much faith in
money to solve problems anyway. I have lost a lot of faith in money.
I mean, there are definitely physical resources that my school could
use, but I sometimes wonder if corruption isn't partially caused by
money. I mean, maybe the reason my school doesn't have the problems
other volunteers have is because it doesn't have as much money. I
certainly think that I personally would have more problems, not less,
if the Peace Corps gave me more money. Plus there is so much money
ear marked for HIV/AIDs relief, but honestly, despite the fact that I
know for a fact that AIDs is killing and orphaning my community, I
think that the money would probably do more to fight AIDs if it were
aimed at poverty reduction and treatment of those with AIDs or stigma
reduction as opposed to the prevention measures that everyone wants to
emphasize. I teach sixth graders who know in great detail how to
prevent AIDs. When they wrote pen pal letters to 6th graders in
America several of them urged their pen pals to use condoms. You
learn this stuff early here and the disease is still spreading. It's
not that people don't know that they could die; it's that a lot of
them don't see much to live for or they don't have many other options.
They're just trying to survive until tomorrow so why should they
worry about something that could kill them in ten years. I know that
Namibia couldn't get by without aid money, but sometimes I think that
aid damages people too. It teaches kids (and adults) that money will
fix their problems and that they should just be given that money
without effort. I don't know if the good things outweigh the
problems, I mean it makes you feel good to give, but are we just
postponing problems? Are we enablers? I don't know, but I don't
trust money, especially money that's not earned. I worry about what
it will do to my community. I think if you set out to save the world
you have to think about the consequences. It's a lot harder than it
seems. I guess that's the story of my life in Namibia; I can easily
tell you the problems, but fixing them is another story. If it were
easy I suppose I wouldn't be here, but still.

"Woman's Day"

Anyway, back from that little soliloquy, I wore my
traditional dress to church on Sunday and once again enthralled
everyone with my ability to parrot words from a hymnal. Ronnie
preached, which was amazing, although I didn't really understand most
of it. He is very intense. It was mother's day (which they call
"woman's day" here) and all the guys got up and thanked the women.
Anyway, hope you all are doing OK. I tried to send this letter on
mother's day, but it wouldn't go through. I think maybe the phone
line was a little funny (there are probably more problems with the
phones here than any other utility.)

Lots of love to everyone. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. By the way-- to my friends who have
recently graduated from Wheaton, if you don't send me your new email addresses I won't be able to keep in contact with you. The Wheaton addresses expire sometime during the summer.

(I have had a lot of requests for my address and, at the suggestion of
a friend, I decided to put it at the end of each email)

PO Box 90

Kamanjab, Namibia


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