Friday, December 5, 2008

Omwa hala okulesha?

It definitely does not seem like December, at my house in Okahandja, we have a little mini artificial Christmas tree twinkling in the corner of the sitting room. As I sit slathered in sweat, idly distracted by the Spanish soap opera on tv, it provides a strange contrast to my nostalgic associations with the holiday season that for 23 have been fully entrenched in the comforting notions of family, pets, fireplaces, Northwest weather, hot chocolate, and egg nog. Fortunately, I have discovered my new panacea: Oshikandela! My low moments are easily alleviated by the smooth hybrid mixture of yogurt, custard, milk, and sugar, which announces its arrival by injecting my tastebuds with one of the various curative flavors of ‘sweet’, banana, strawberry, or even guava. Although I find that my salivatory and gluttonary systems sometimes need a boost, it has been relatively smooth sailing through the foodscape of Namibian cuisine. Omuhaka (sausage), iihakautu (potatoes), omakaloni (macaroni), omayi (eggs), omboloto (bread), and obuta (butter) are staples of my homestay diet. My bread/butter lunches and meat/starch dinners are fairly bland and unproblematic save for the small slice of tin-can that I found in tonight’s sausage… Peace Corps has given us a spiffy cookbook compiled by other volunteers so I hope to provide some culinary reciprocation for my host meme. Maybe I’ll try my hand at some sweet potatoes or cranberries or stuffing or turkey, all of which I dearly missed as I sat alone eating canned ohi (fish) and oshithima (porridge) for my Thanksgiving dinner.
That thought brings me to the next big piece of news for today’s bloggable agenda: other than my deplorable Thanksgiving night, my weeklong visit to my permanent site in northwest Namibia gave me renewed energy and left me highly excited for my post-training adventures! On the 23rd Nov, all twenty trainees in Nam28 traveled north to pay a visit to our prospective schools and villages where we will be living and teaching after training ends in early January. I am replacing a volunteer who has taught math and science for the last two years at a tiny village school deep in the Namibian bush. There are only 13 teachers and about 300 learners (students) from grades 1 through 10 that convene for three terms a year in a ten-room school with the most basic of facilities and supplies. There is no electricity but there are desks, textbooks, and chalkboards all of which are in various states of disrepair. I spent the week marking (grading) and invigilating (proctoring) exams, as well as getting to know my new colleagues, the Namibian school system, the levels of the learners and a general feel for how difficult my assignment as a math teacher will be. On the spectrum of scholastic ability, the learners are all over the place, but the majority can be found in the middle to lower portions. One grade 8 math question that tripped up so many kids was, “What is the difference between 289 and 286?” to which many regrettably replied that ‘one number has a 9 and the other has a 6’ instead of doing the implied subtraction. It seems like many of the problems stem from trouble understanding English but also that basic math concepts are very shaky.
Knowing that teaching could prove to be very challenging and frustrating at times, I’m glad to have been placed in a homestead with a second Namibian family that is supercoolawesome. The traditional northern Namibian homestead is a fenced fort-like structure system that encloses several mud huts scattered throughout the mazy interior. I won’t actually be living in a hut like a true Owambo person but instead in a cement house that is situated amongst the food storage containers, the chicken roosts, the kitchen area, and the other sleeping huts. At first I was disappointed to have this ‘modern-style’ oven of a house in stark contrast to the rest of my family, but the intrinsic privacy will probably turn out to be a good thing. Next to my house, there is a smaller building for my kitchen and attached is the walled-in open-air showering square. There is a clean water tap inside the homestead but the nearest electricity outlet is about a two hour walk away in the small small town where most of the teachers live. The sunsets and stars were incredible. Bucket bathing outside naked as four different lightning storms flashed across the distant sky streaked with the sunset’s fire was an amazing experience. Apart from the separate living quarters, and the fact that I’m an oshilumbu (aka mzungu aka foreignwhiteperson), I really felt comfortable with the meme and the five children of the homestead. Only the oldest boy (maybe 20 years old) speaks English so my Oshiwambo will be superb in no time. There is a 7th grade girl and a 4th grade boy that go to my school but they were too shy to try out their English with me but they did join in on some soccer and also showed me how to dance like a frog! It’s the new funky chicken. The meme only speaks Oshikwaluudhi (yet another dialect of Oshiwambo meaning that my current instruction in Oshindonga is maybe 93% applicable) but we were able to communicate through my limited vocabulary, signing, writing words and pictures in the sand, and with the translating help of the son. She has a very happy soul and personality and was proud to show me around to the neighbors and her old old father who can’t see or hear yet talked to me in rapidfire Oshiwambo for about 20 minutes straight. I’m still laughing about it now. Everyone I met (the dancing memes, the old elder kukus, the local drunks, the school kids) was really happy to see me and gave me such awesome smiles. I can’t wait to go back.
At the end of the week I got a ride into the small town nearest my school. I stayed with a volunteer who lives there and who graciously showed me around town, the best places to buy groceries, and the Pizza Den, where a killer calzone made up for my lackluster dinner the night before.
The next day on the way back to Okahandja, I spent a fairly miserable 10 hours in a combi (bus) due to the cramped hot sweaty conditions but I did happen to see a few elephants and kudu on the side of the road. Hyperbolically, I wouldn’t have survived that ride without my book of crosswords so I am greatly indebted to my dear dear late Grandmother who sparked my interest in puzzles and games of all sorts. During the last few years, I’ve unfortunately had numerous encounters with death that have left me struggling to find the vocabulary that can aptly express my feelings. Death has that powerful and strangling force that can cripple my ability of meaningful thought and has such an ephemeral effect on my emotions. It’s difficult. I love you Grandma Jean.
Back from site visits, we are all busy preparing for model school where most of us will get to experience classroom style teaching for the first time. The paperwork and preparation definitely adds up with lesson plans, syllabi, binders, etc. etc. I’m nervous but also pretty excited to try out some of my creative ideas. My host sisters left yesterday for vacation to the coast so I think I’ll be a little lonely for the next month. But it will give me time to put together a juggling routine for the Peace Corps talent show that is coming up in a few weeks. I have a snazzy internet cell phone now so I can check email a lot more frequently and for a lot cheaper that internet cafes but it’s still tough to find time and energy to write these updates. If you can get your hands on an international phone card and feel so inclined, all incoming calls are free on my end so I would love to hear from you. Let me know and I can email you my phone number. Until inspiration and serendipity strike,

Ombili (Peace)
Love, Paka

Monday, November 17, 2008

Otandi kala mNamibia

15th November 2008

Mwa tokelwa po aantu! Good evening everyone! Africa called to me and now I am alive and well in Namibia! It’s only been a week and half since I left home but bunches of happenings have happened. I’m a bit at a loss as to where to start with everything so I’ll just try give you some of the highlights:

I am learning how to speak Oshindonga! The Owambo people live in the northern part of Namibia and collectively speak the Oshiwambo language of which there are seven dialects that are apparently distinct enough to warrant their own names. That being said, my language teacher, named Victory (how sweet is that!), says that when I speak Oshindonga with someone that speaks Oshikwanyama (another one of the seven) we will be able to understand each other almost perfectly. The main differences are spelling changes and slight pronunciation variations. We have had just three days of language class so far but already I can tell that my time spent speaking Kiswahili has given me a good head start with Oshindonga. About 16% of the words are either exactly the same or a spelling variant. Also, the grammar is very similar. I am turning my mind onto hypermemory mode so that I can pick up on new vocabs I hear in class and from my host family. I already know a bunch of random nouns and also how to count to ten: yimwe, mbali, ndatu, ne, ntano, hamano, heyali, hetatu, omugoyi, omulongo. With all this talk of new languages, we really haven’t been that challenged yet because all the staff speak awesome Namlish. Namlish is the local way of speaking English that ends up being a mixture of Afrikaans, British English, Oshiwambo, Rukwangali, Oshiherero and countless other words that just fall in the category of Namibian slang. Namlish is wonderfully creative and funny and creates for some hilarious communication mishaps. I’m collecting some examples for a future megaposting of linguistic revelry…

Half of the twenty volunteers in PC-NAM 28 are learning Oshindonga with me and the rest are learning Oshikwanyama or Rukwangali. Just one volunteer, Lori, is learning Thimbukushu. These separations somewhat determine are permanent site placements as these languages are all spoken in the northern part of Namibia. In about a week, each of us will find out exactly what city or town or village we will be living in for the next two years. It’s a bit nerve wracking not knowing, but it helps one get into the stressfree-chillzone-you’re-in-Afrika-relax-noworries-mode. The 20 volunteers are a pretty diverse group… most of us are doing the immediate graduatecollegestraighttopeacecorps transition but there are some that left solid jobs, one married couple (avid game players I might add so I’ll just give them a !), and a few that don’t fit any standard profile. There are four or five other math teachers like me and the rest will be teaching English, physical sciences, or general computer skills.

We were all placed with homestay families two nights ago. I spent tonight playing with my Namibian sisters in my new house in the Location area of Okahandja an hour outside the capital city of Windhoek. The Location might be called a ghetto in the states but in Namibia it is just a ‘suburb’ neighborhood of Okahandja which was formed during the ridiculously evil times of apartheid that have caused so much pain in Namibia (and still do to some extent today). More on that major topic some other time… I have a meme with nine children who are all grown and away, but there are three girls (4, 10 and 16) living in the house with me. I’m not yet quite sure how the branches of this family tree connect… Lola (the youngest one) is very funny and cute but also a handful as 4 year olds can be. Today I played their drum (similar to a djembe) and her dancing was so funny. She and Noko spent an hour last night combing my hair trying to get it to go straight to no avail. Kelsey is on break from her secondary school and really likes riddles and jokes so send me some good ones! I showed them my mini photo album of family and friends and pets which they really liked looking at. They (along with most of Namibia) watch this Spanish soap opera (dubbed in English) called Catalina and Sebastian which the girls love. “Amelia is such a stupid snake!” (True beans x2k8) The whole family is really nice and welcoming and are really trying to help me learn Oshindonga. It’s been a great few days with them!

Today was extra special foodwise because all the families and volunteers got together for a traditional cooking day. Live chickens were slaughtered (I ended up passing on the chicken soup…), millet was pounded by alternating-manpowered-treebranch-pestles, ground nuts were shelled, fat cakes (AKA Kenyan mandaazi or American donuts) were deep fried in oil, mopane worms were cooked (they taste like wood), and lots of meat was grilled in the Braai (bbq) area. The Braai is traditionally the men’s job even though just one guy is in charge of flipping over the various nyama. This means that all the other guys sit around and laugh and tell dirty jokes until it’s time to eat. That was definitely a highlight of the day. For all of my fellow LC EA07 buddies, they have Stoney ginger soda but the additional title of Tangowizi must be just a Kenya/Tanzania thing.

And you knew it was coming… Juggling! I have already taught several fellow volunteers the awesome skill of infinitely-self-‘prop’agating-object-manipulation and am in the process of teaching some of our Namibian PC staff members as well as my host sister Noko. I was helping in the kitchen and saw my chance with the tomatoes… Noko and Kelsey were surprised but Lola just stole a tomoato and started eating it.

Tomorrow we travel to Windhoek (an hour or so south) to buy cell phones. So between now and when you have my phone number, get some international phone cards, or figure out how to use Skype, or just save a little extra moolah aside for me as ALL incoming calls are FREE (for me that is hehehe)! But in the meantime, you should send me a message or email and in it you oughtta/could/might address these topics:
A – good riddles or jokes (filthy, dirty, or tame – the whole spectrum)
B – What you want to know how to say (or want me to know how to say) in Oshiwambo
C – Any specific questions about life in Namibia
D – Any major news (national and/or personal)
E – What you did that day no matter how awesome or mundane

Indeni po nawa! Go well!

Love, Parker

Monday, November 3, 2008

Farewell Friends!

Thanks to all you lovely people who stopped today! I was amazed by all the support, donations, gifts, and wellwishing that was present.
Mucho-grande-jumbo-mondo appreciated!!

Well since my bags are finally packed, I thought I might whip up a packing list of every last thing that I'll be taking with me as I leave for 27 months. Approximately 25% clothes, 25% utile items, and 50% games and toys - just how I like it!

dress shoes

Samba soccer shoes (for all purpose strolling and the hopefully frequent soccer games)

Keen sandals

long underwear top/bottom

~10 reg socks/4 dress socks

~8 boxers

dress coat blazer thing

two pairs of dress slacks

two khaki pants (one converts to shorts)

one pair shorts

3 quick dry tshirts

3 dress shirts

4 long/short sleeve shirts


soccer shorts

two headbands (Carlo you know it!)


2 pack towels (kinda like a shammy)

battery-less crank radio

6 battery-less crank flashlights (perfect gifts for my homestay family)

2 water bottles (one sigg and one nalgene)

leatherman skeletool and whetstone

2 hunting knives (not to be used for hunting)

TI-83 calculator with extra batts

2 pairs of sunglasses

Games and Goodies

3 deflated soccer balls

chess set

cribbage board

8 dice of various sizes

travel scrabble (with two sets of letters)



instructions for playing bridge

set (pattern matching game)

Pentago (much more strategic connect four variant)

travel connect four

3 decks of cards

rubik’s cube

hoyles book of rules for games

juggling siteswap dvd set

6 juggling clubs

15 juggling balls

flower sticks

The Mathematics of Juggling

~60 crossword puzzles printed from NY Times online

6 GAMES magazines

ipod and mini speaker

laptop computer

digital camera + 3 memory cards

One Hundred Years of Solitude (gift from sister Katelyn)

Grab Bag

blank journal

duct tape and several small rolls of half-used colorful electrical tape

big roll of scotch tape

washcloth and small hand towel

sleeping bag + sleep sheet

freezer Ziploc full of meds courtesy of Mother
Photo album with ~25 good pics of family and friends
8 extra passport photos J.I.C.

I think that covers it all but there is probably some stuff that slipped into the 72 pounds without making it onto this list. A HUGE thanks to Mother and Father and Sister for helping out immensely with all the purchasing, procuring, plundering, and pillaging that went into the making of this list. Also for throwing such an awesome going away party!!

YIKESIES! I leave my home in 7 hours! At least I spent the last night at home the best way possible - watching home videos from 1993 of my sister and I being goofy kids and laughing at the crazy outfits that our parents wore. "MOM she's standing up in her highchair again!"

Until Namibia,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ventures, Visitations, and Vagabonds

Only two more nights at home. How did the last month go by so fast?? And why have I not written any more about my upcoming departure? Well I've been scampering all across the lands, venturing hither and yon to visit vagabonds of various ilk . Here is a little recap.

Said goodbye to Portland friends and had one last juggling session with the four Giraffe Theorists from Lewis & Clark College. Here is our awesome video: Giraffe Theory

After I moved home, my Dad and I drove down to visit grandparents in CA.

Came home for a couple days and then jetted over to the previously unknown terrain of New York State. My good buddy Evan Franzel is finishing up his senior year at Vassar College but was on October break so we got to go jaunting.

Juggling in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The arcs of the balls represent our tumultuous economic status as of late. It is yet to be determined whether or not the metaphorical ball(s) have been dropped.

New York. Gnu Yorick. Nu Yawk. Know Yuck. Now Yak. Noah Yurt.

The juggling trick I am doing is called the Statue of Liberty

Tonight I just returned from Bellingham where Sister Katelyn and friends Grant and Igor enjoyed the pumpkin holiday and the accompanying revelry.

Grant and I carved a hybrid-mutant-dinosaur-dueling-an-ape-with-an-arsenal. Patent pending.

Sequined souls

In between all the fun stuff, I managed to to procure all the items necessary for the impending journey and figure out all the other odds and ends and tidbits and orts and scraps that needed to be dealt with. Tomorrow, as I do my final pack, I'll let the curious know what exactly one takes on a two year sojourn.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

For the vexillologists out there

There are way too many options and things to customize with this whole blog thing. I'm trying to get a good color scheme going but there are an infinite amount of combinations and permutations of settings and hex color codes and fonts and layouts... I feel myself getting sucked in. But I did figure out how to insert pictures. So as per the title of this post:

Here is a pretty good overview of my assignment as well as a background on the country of Namibia.

Short but sweet today... like a gnome in the sugar bowl

Monday, September 22, 2008

Finally it's Final

The interminable wait has at long last reached a conclusion! I am going to Namibia in November! To update those who are in the fog, the long and involved process of applying for the Peace Corps has finally come to fruition. I submitted my initial application back in February 2008 and after an hour long phone interview, an extensive legal/dental/medical screening process, and many months of semi-fretful limbo, I finally opened my invitation packet amidst the onslaught of nerves and ebullience... Namibia! I quickly did a cursory scan of the packet full of info and learned that I will be teaching high school math for two years in one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world located on the Atlantic coast of Southern Africa. This volunteer assignment is almost exactly what I was hoping to do when I first had the idea to apply, and the confirmation comes with great relief as I just recently read an article describing the cuts to Peace Corps funding and the growing of number of qualified applicants that are being turned away. Although there is a certain amount of trepidation regarding the fact that I will be away from friends, family and the familiar for 27 months, I really feel that this is the right decision to make at this stage of my life and that everything will work out for the better. Depending on my placement within the country, I hope to have internet access (the frequency/reliability is yet to be determined...) so I can keep people informed about the goings-on in Namibia via this blog. There is a rapid intake of information happening as I read through everything that the Peace Corps has sent me, but there is still a lot more knowledge to acquire and tasks to complete, so until next time, may Peace proliferate.