Now that I’ve been at site for a little more than a month, I’ll try and summarize what my day to day looks like. It is not always same, but I am starting to get a little bit of a routine worked out. Even though it is a bit early to get started on any major projects, I have started working with the people here to get a community garden started in Mpungu. And that is usually where my day begins.
A garden is one of those things that almost always sounds like a good idea, and probably always is, but the work required to start a garden is highly underestimated. It’s easy to imagine a space bursting with varieties of colorful fresh vegetables. fruit trees abound, and maybe some pretty flowers scattered about. One takes a look at the space and maybe starts thinking we can compost there and put plots here. Once the vegetables start growing we can sell them here, and make x amount of dollars, with a certain percentage going back into the garden so we can grow and expand. Then, we will designate the vegetables grown from these plots to be donated to the health center to be given to people going in for their ARVs. Before we know it, we’re occupying a space the size of two football fields and putting Mpungu on the map. Meanwhile, as health volunteer, I’m disseminating health information and running community programs from my little self-built shelter right at the community garden/center.
Can you see my vision? Sounds kind of cool, eh? Well, it’s been about three weeks since we had our first meeting, and we are making good progress. Meaning, we finally have the fence repaired and secured around the perimeter of the garden. This required fixing fence posts that were already there, going out into the bush with an axe to cut wood for new fence posts, mixing concrete to pour at the base of our corner posts, untangling and stretching yards and yards of trampled down fence from years ago, and cutting up the worst of the old fence, in order to use that wire for securing the useable fence. In addition, making do with limited tools, we removed dead trees, bushes, and weeds from the area where we will be putting the first plots. By the way, everything in Namibia has thorns, and they bite.
We are now getting into the politics of the garden. We are assigning committee members, i.e., chair person, vice chair, secretary, technician, etc. We have to draft a letter to submit to the water committee so we can link to the community water supply. In order to get that water, we need to find pipe and a tap. It will also be very beneficial for us to have a water dam- a massive water container- which we probably have to build ourselves out of bricks, that we will also be making ourselves using cement and sand. We need to work on our business plan to present to community council members, and start figuring out how much money must come out of the members’ own pockets to make all of this happen, or if there are any grants available to us through one of the ministries or regional offices.
While I’m talking about money, let me bring up disturbing part about being an American in this country. Straight up, some people here think all Americans have money and we should give it to them. They really don’t hear me when I tell them I am a volunteer living off a stipend that affords me a lifestyle like their own. I actually had a tense conversation with a woman about it today. But I don’t pull any punches on this issue. At the end of the day I don’t care if they think I’m rich or not. The bottom line is they are not getting a dime from me. I am here to help use the resources currently available to work on long lasting projects focused on sustainability. That does not include dumping all of the money that I supposedly have into projects that will only survive if they are the ones invested in them. And please understand this is not everyone in Namibia, but because of the wonderful representations of Americans and our culture from Hollywood movies, reality TV, and music videos, there is a general misunderstanding of American culture and the overall lifestyle of an average American. It’s not their fault, they just know what they are exposed to.
But despite a few tiffs over my lack of “willingness” to fork out money, we are really working well together. People are helping me learn the language and I am hoping I am helping them realize what they are capable of. I mean, look at the women in the photo below setting fence posts with babies strapped to their backs. How awesome is that? About half of the members from the garden are in the photo below standing in front of the white pick-up.
If the work in the garden doesn’t take all day, then I usually pop into the clinic in the afternoons. I don’t do much in the clinic because I am not trained, nor would I be allowed, to treat people. But, I will go in and help them out with some computer stuff, or type up labels for medications, and just chat with some of the nurses and other staff members. There are some ideas that the head nurse has at the health center that I can get involved in, but we haven’t even really hit the planning stages yet. Plus, we are trying to make sure I don’t take on too much too early in my service here.
On Wednesdays I have started teaching a health and life skills class to grade 8 students. I have taught two so far. The first one went so so, but the second one I felt pretty good about. The two biggest challenges in the classroom so far are the number of students per class, and the language barrier, which surprised me given the language of instruction here in Namibia is English. I also figured the younger generations would have a pretty good command of it. This is probably true in some parts of the country, but in the villages in Kavango west, Rukwangali is definitely the language of the people. Regardless of my surprise about the language, that doesn’t change the fact it took me fifteen minutes to explain how to play rock-paper-scissors, and maybe only half the class actually understood how to play by the time I moved on to the actual lesson. I can’t even take for granted that playing a simple game won’t be challenging. More incentive to learn the local language I suppose.
After garden work, health center, and/or school I just head back to the homestead and relax. Usually having funny, random, and awkward interactions with all the grandkids running around – seen below having fun in front of my place. In the evenings I cook food on my little hot plate, wash my dishes in a bucket, read some books, do some writing, and have gotten strangely good at talking on the phone. If I throw in hand washing my clothes, bucket bathing, yoga, and the occasional run, I think I have most of what I may do in a day covered. Oh, I also regularly chase chickens out of my place.The two people in the photo on the right own the homestead and are my new host parents- great people. This was taken on Tate Joseph’s birthday this past weekend.
Thanks for reading. I’ll try and add some more photos from the school and the health center at some point.
My words not the Peace Corps’ or the US Government’s