Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Weeks with Paka

What an experience to be able to visit Parker (I had not seen him since he left back in November) and see not only his home and teaching environment but share traveling to several areas of Namibia that neither of us had ever seen.

I arrived in the capital city Windhoek and met Parker at the guest house we had reserved. After one night and a good meal with two of his fellow Peace Corps volunteers, we headed to the west coast to visit Swakupmond and Walvis Bay where we spent 2 nights. We had a fantastic kayak tour of a seal colony where a couple of hundred thousand seals reside. It was great fun paddling and watching how curious of us they were. Many would swim right next to us and nibble at our paddles and then splash us and swim away.

We headed up to climb the vast great sand dunes and then northeast to Damaraland to hike to see the White Lady Paintings. These ancient paintings and carvings are 5000-6000 years old. Then it was on to Etosha National Park to tour the water holes for 2 days viewing animals. We were able to see antelope, elephant, giraffe, zebra, jackal, hyena and lion. Absolutely amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat from the safety of our truck and have so many walk right by us. Off to Ovamboland where Parker lives in northern Namibian near the Angola border, to stay with him in his homestead and visit the school for 4 days before having to leave for home.

I have to be the proud father now and brag about my son and how absolutely proud of him I am for what he is doing and the conditions he works with.

Parker is five miles from the closest electricity and in the homestead where he lives there is one water faucet. It’s bucket bathing each day and when the sun sets it is definitely lights out- other than the brilliant stars, it is pitch black.

The school is a 15 minute walk from home and is also without power. The learners all respect Parker and seem to enjoy his teaching, humor and soccer skills- although they are so shy and reserved. The school has minimal supplies and resources. With no electricity there are no computers, no copy machines, no music and no video opportunities. Lesson plans are written on the chalk board and copied on paper or sometimes practiced in work books. That said, the kids seem happy and watching them interact together at break time or recess, its like watching kids in any school- laughing and playing with patched jump ropes, chasing and the little boys wrestling.

I was able to bring with me several soccer balls, basketballs, jump ropes and some school supplies. The principal assembled the students and told them of the gifts from several friends back home. They were so excited to have new things. School was basically called off the rest of the day and they all played with the jump ropes and balls. They are able to check them out from the principals office for recess and also after school for soccer practice.

The school has a soccer team which Parker coaches after school, and through a donation from Lake Washington Youth Soccer I was able to bring about 2 dozen jerseys for the team. They were so excited and so ready to use them in the upcoming games as they have never had official jerseys.

It’s amazing to listen to how fluent Parker is in the native language of Oshiwambo. Life in the homestead and surroundings is quite simple and the family he lives with along with the neighbors seem to really enjoy having Parker in their lives.

You’re doing a good thing Parker and I am so proud of you. I miss you and am so thankful that I had the opportunity to visit and spend time with you.

Love Dad

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Multitudinous Meanderings

A bonafide fully equipped computer sits in front of me hooked up to a legitimate internet source so hopefully I can whip up a comprehensive update about the last month before I leave for my next adventure. Term one ended in late April and my learners did well by Namibian education standards. Maybe I was too lenient with my marking or maybe I made the final exams too easy, because there was quite a large discrepancy when I compared the math results for my learners with their results in other subjects. If I erred, at least my error boosted their confidence. My last day of school found me scrambling to finish up grading and completing various forms, and then I waved goodbye to the homeward bound learners as I sped by in the back of a pickup truck on the way out of the village. A series of taxis brought me to a fellow volunteer’s homestead where I stayed the night before continuing on to Windhoek the next morning. Did I mention that in addition to my full backpacking pack, I was lugging around an extra bag of books and a huge 20 pound squash? It’s the Owambo style to give gifts for the dinner table and already in my short time on the homestead, I’ve received countless chickens, squashes, pumpkins, ears of corn etc. from village families. So on the day I was leaving to go south, Meme brings me this massive gourd and tells me that it’s a gift for the Peace Corps staff. I didn’t really fancy the prospect of traveling for hours toting this extra weight around so I tried to ‘forget’ it at home. But I had forgotten something else at home (for real this time) so I had to go back, and then there was no escape from being squashed by the squash. Luckily the taxis didn’t charge me extra for my big bags and child-size vegetable. My friend and I woke up early the next morning and tried our luck at hitchhiking the rest of the way to Windhoek. Our first attempt was soured by a crafty truck driver who, after a miscommunication, ended up charging us for the slow ride to Tsumeb. But then we hit the jackpot when two German-Namibians picked us up in a nice SUV, treated us to lunch, and dropped us off at the front door of the hotel! The two of us came down early because we successfully applied for the Volunteer Support Network and had our inaugural meeting to attend. VSN is a service for volunteers to use when they need a break from the ridiculousness that life in Namibia can sometimes be. We were trained in ‘active listening’ with the idea of providing a venting source for volunteers with frustrations, concerns, questions, or quandaries. The other part of being a VSN member is that we get to help welcome the new volunteers to the country and lead sessions during their training. After a couple days, the rest of the volunteers arrived in Windhoek for ‘reconnect’ after our initial three months at site. What followed was two weeks of refresher courses including Peace Corps policies, information about funding sources, secondary projects, more language training, and tips for effective teaching. It was a lot to take in all at once, so although it was great to see friends after such a long absence, I was more than ready to hit the road especially since the destination was the much-hyped Fish River Canyon.

Just the word ‘river’ has such a strong attraction after three months in sweltering normality, and the rave reviews from previous expeditions sent the anticipation meters to record levels. The five days we spent trekking (double k words are pretty rare) in the epic Namibian wilderness didn’t disappoint. It was as if the nature dial was turned to maximum, and we took full advantage. Beautiful panoramas, secretive wildlife, brisk skinny dips in the river, exotic juggling, and plenty of try-not-to-get-your-feet-wet river-crossing problems, all combined to send to the overall experience to the top of the camping charts. I managed to take lots of scenic juggling pictures but they don’t quite do justice to the natural splendor so I will direct you here to view and be envious:

There was a slight interruption in this post. I just now returned from a weekend getaway in Tsintsabis and Tsumeb and before the tales keep on piling up, I must write down some more stories before the memories fade. A reversal of the timeline is now in effect so I will start with this last weekend and work backwards to where I left off. One kilometer outside the small town of Tsintsabis is the Treesleepers campsite ( named for the traditional tactic of the San people who slept in certain trees to avoid curious predators. Some friends and I spent a couple days in the bush where we went on a nature walk to learn the basics of traditional hunting and gathering which included how to catch guinea fowl with a rope snare, how to identify poisonous plants and use them to lethally enhance arrows, how to read and identify animal tracks, how to start a fire without matches or a lighter, and how to utilize trees for meat storage and defense against rogue lions. That same night we were privileged to see some traditional dancing and singing around the fire with the accompanying traditional instruments and dress. Previously, my cursory knowledge of the native people of the Kalahari Desert was gleamed from the classic movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy. The portrayal is true to some extent but much information is left out. There are many parallels between the San people and the Native American: various tribes with different languages, intimate knowledge of flora and fauna, expert survival skills, countless deaths at the hands of foreign invaders, and the loss of traditional practices as modernization spread. The name 'Bushman' is the derogatory equivalent of 'Indians'. San is the more commonly accepted term nowadays but even that isn't totally correct, as the San are only one tribe of the many. It was a fascinating weekend but as usual with those types experiences, we were left with mixed feelings of awe and sadness. Then, when it was time to leave, serendipity once again pulled through and we instantly found a free ride for all eight of us back to Tsumeb where we went on a spree that demonstrated how different modern times are from the eons of traditional life. We treated our taste buds to avocado-laden burgers and chocolate milkshakes for lunch and real Italian pizza for dinner. All of that culinary extravagance was followed by a night at a hostel with satellite TV and hot showers. The quintessential necessities for a perfect break from porridge, sand, and isolation.

Now it is time to return to Elamba Combined School in Okatha Kombago village. Last Friday, our school soccer team played it's inaugural game in the newly donated uniforms courtesy of the Crossfire select team from Washington. The learners loved showing off the new kits and were able to celebrate with a 3-0 win over some local village boys. Huge thanks to the generous donors and to my dad for transporting all the gear to rural Africa. After the jaunt in the canyon, I met father in Windhoek and we began our great two-week trip all around Namibia which culminated in a visit to the homestead, village, and school. In a brief recap, we kayaked with seals on the coast, climbed huge sand dunes, avoided bright green chameleons on the road, tracked hyenas and giraffes in Etosha National Park, navigated the endless shebeen-infested towns, had translated conversations (thanks to my language prowess) with my host family and other village elders, and spent a few days with the incredibly shy learners. I won't go into great detail as I'm hoping that my dad can add his input about our trip and give a different perspective. He also has plenty of pictures to share which will hopefully make up for the lack in this post. I would like to comment though on the two huge duffel bags he carted all the way here and how appreciated they are. I am completely loaded with all sorts of goodies including Time and Newsweek magazines, candy bars, running shoes, and a hammock! I'm reveling with all the abnormal luxury. Maybe a little too fast though as almost all the candy has been consumed... Overall the visit was wonderful and it was hard to say goodbye. But I am back into village mode now and ready for school again tomorrow. Hope all is well in your various locales and that you can find enough time to zip me a quick email:

Iyaalo! Tangi Tangi! Kaleni po nawa