Last Saturday we packed up our teaching clothes, put our extra bags in storage and piled into two vans for the near 10 hour trek north. It was hot and cramped, but the scenery was gorgeous and the sky was brilliant blue. After a few pit stops, we crossed the Red Line. Officially, this is a veterinary disease control mechanism and protects southern commercial cattle farmers by prohibiting northern farmers from selling their meat south of the line. Unofficially, this servers as a separation from more affluent Afrikaans southern Namibia from poor, native, black northern Namibia. Crossing the line, the striking difference is apparent immediately. Driving through the north was a continuous check of my privilege, as each squalid village we passed through left me thinking "what have I gotten myself into". Going into this experience, I of course was expecting to see extreme poverty, but nothing can quite prepare you for seeing it first hand, especially when you know it is your home for the next year. The cement and aluminum buildings seemed hardly big enough for people to fit in, never mind to be homes, bars, or markets (essentially the only three types of buildings I have seen in the villages). I started to get really nervous about my coming year, and wondered if I was cut out for this after all. I was afraid that I was the only one thinking this, and hated myself for being so judgmental.
About an hour away from our destination, we stopped in the largest city in the north to pick up supplies for the week. This is the city that I will be going to to buy groceries, clothes, school supplies, and anything else I need to buy while I am here. Once again, I was shocked at how underdeveloped it was, considering it's the second largest city in the country. Everything seemed so run down. Another privilege check. We got out at the local grocery store to do our shopping. We had been broken into groups of four to do the cooking for the week. Each group was in charge of one dinner and my group decided to do a stir-fry. After adjusting to the smaller size, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection at Spar. Although I did not have 10 brands of orange juice to choose from, the shelves were well stocked with familiar food items, and I breathed a sigh of relief to know that I would still be able to make some of my favorite foods. (No dill though, this may be an issue...) We managed to locate almost everything we wanted for the stir-fry, with the exception of soy sauce, so we settled for curry and were on our way.
We drove on for another hour on a dirt road to the village of Omungwelume, where we would be doing our teaching practicum. We would be staying in the dorms of the Eengadjo Secondary School and cooking in the on campus house where two of the volunteers who are placed in this village would be living. As we drove away from the city, the scenery changed a bit from the more barren desert landscape to one that was much more reminiscent of NH/VT farm lands. Trees lined the road and behind them, traditional homesteads sat like islands among the vast fields of wheat, sorgum, and murala. The vans slowed periodically to allow herds of cattle and goats to cross the roads and before long, we pulled into Omgwemlume. The town was a larger version of the villages we had seen on the drive up, but as we drover further off the main road, the houses seemed a little bit bigger and more sturdy. When we got to the school, we first went to Jessie and Ted's house to drop off the groceries. After a sentimental moment of our Field Director (Bret) handing his old keys over the Ted and Jessie, we opened the door and stepped inside. The house was an absolute MESS, to the horror of the new occupants, but after an hour or so of 15 person teamwork, we managed to throw out all the trash and dirty underwear (yup, yup) and had scrubbed the kitchen so it at least resembled a place where food could safely be cooked. I started attacking the oven, which was covered in about five layers of grime, and that became my project for the week. It actually became a bit of a joke amongst the volunteers- whenever we had some free time, I could always be found scouring away. It looked pretty good by the end if I do say so myself.
When dinner had been cooked, my group cleaned up by candlelight and then we made our way back to the dorms to get ready for bed. We would be arising early the next day to begin our teaching, so I took a quick (cold) shower and climbed into my homemade sleeping bag (thanks mom) and fell asleep.
Coming soon: our week teaching in Omungwelume, a traditional Oshiwambo meal, and the trip back. Stay tuned!