Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our Last Week in Windhoek

So this post is going back in time a little since I didn't have time to write it while it was still happening.

After returning to Windhoek from our week in Omungwelume, we suddenly realized just how little time we had left together before departing for our sites. We were all very excited after having our limited exposure to the learners up north, but it was sad to think that we wouldn't be all together anymore.

Bret kept us busy right up to the end with more sessions, these ones less teaching focused and more culture/logistics focused, which was nice for me. He was also great about being flexible with the schedule so we could fit in some free time to go to the mall and get the things we would need before going up north. We also had several field trips, which were a nice break from being at the hostel all the time. Our first trip was to the Single Quarter Market, a large, open air market on the outskirts of Windhoek. Very traditional. We were split into groups, given N$20, and a few items to locate at the market and get information on from the people selling them. Because we went on a Sunday morning when many people are at church, it wasn't extremely busy, which was good planning on Bret's part; it would have been very overwhelming otherwise. My group was assigned to look for an Ovambo dress (the traditional outfits worn by the women in my region), a Herero dress, worn by women in the west part of the country, and Ombike, a traditional drink of fermented fruit mash. We had luck pretty quickly finding the dresses. They are really pretty and of course all custom made by hand. The Herero one's in particular are extremely intricate. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I cant' show you pictures, but I'm sure I'll have some eventually, especially the Ovambo ones since that's were I am! We couldn't find the Ombike because it was Sunday morning, we we spent the rest of the time exploring the market. I bought some fresh nectarines (no mango this time) and Jessie, Ted, and I tried this nut/fruit think that I can't remember the name of. It tasted like a fig. We then went over to the meat area-the highlight of the market and what it's famous for. Here the market was filled with the sounds of hatches chopping at the meat and the sizzling of the grilles. It smelled really good. We sampled some Kapana- small, bite sized pieces of beef specially seasoned. Walking back to meet the group, we saw a decapitated cow's head and legs. Definitely not in America any more.

After departing the market, we went to Katurtura (Otjiherero for 'the place we don't want to live'). This is a township north of the city where the government sent the black residents of Old Location to live in the 60s when they wanted the city center for whites only. Driving through this part of the city was more reminiscent of the north, except more crowded. Cement houses were packed together and every other building was a bar or barbershop, both bustling at noon on a Sunday. We took a few turns and then saw something that took our collective breaths away: we had officially entered the slums of Windhoek. All we could see, stretching out over the hills, were tin shacks and makeshift lean-tos. I wish there were a better way to describe the expansiveness, every time we reached the top of a hill, it spread out before us again. We finally reached the edge, and our driver told us if we come back in a few months, it will have extended over the next few hills. It was quite a humbling sight to see, and what almost made it worse was that each person we passed had a huge grin on their face and were waving to us like we were celebrities. Here we were, relatively well off white people in two government vans driving through utter poverty, but they just seemed so happy to see us. I wish we could have gotten out and talked to them, but we couldn't. Our driver told us that many of them work in the city as taxi drivers, cleaners, gardeners, etc. and have to commute about an hour and a half each day into the city. The whole experience was emotionally overwhelming for all of us, and we all gained such an appreciation for just how much we really have.

Our other field trips were to USAID, where we got a security briefing from a State Dept. member, and got some information on USAID projects in the country. It was funny being in a US-owned building with portraits of Obama and Hillary Clinton on the wall and to hear American accents from people outside our group. The next day we went to the American Cultural Center and got some information on how some of our learners can apply to study at American universities. The guy we spoke to there was the Political Consultant at the Embassy and had tons of experience working and volunteering overseas, and had lots of great stories for us. Our last trip was to the National Library where we got some information on how to start/improve the library at our schools by working with the National Library system. That night- our last night in Windhoek- we went for a celebratory dinner at a Fusion restaurant. The food and wine was delicious. I tried kudu, which is a game animal similar to a springbok. It was cooked in a coconut sauce and served on a tortilla. It was really good, and I got to try my first truly exotic food! After dinner, some of the girls went to an Afrikaner bar in town, but I decided to stay back with the rest and we sat at the bar in the hostel and finished our Windhoek and Tafel's (Namibian beers) and enjoyed a quiet last night in city with good friends and good conversation. We awoke early the next morning for goodbyes and loaded into our vans for one more long drive north. 

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