Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Back in Village

The next morning Rachel and Abby drove me to the smaller airport in town for my short flight to the north. As we flew over the Etosha salt pan, signaling our impending decent into Ondangwa, I was feeling a mix of emotions. Mostly, of course, I was excited to see my freinds and former learners, but I was also a bit anxious and nervous to see what it would be like to be back in the village. I landed and waited a bit for some of the teachers to come and pick me up. Soon, Paulson, Jafet, and a new teacher, David pulled up and my face broke into a smile as I hugged my friends for the first time in almost three years. We stoped at a bar on the way back to school for a soda and I got to see one of my former learners who was working at a bar across the street. I was saddened to see that she wasn't still in school, but she looked happy and it was wonderful to see her again.

Baby giggles!
On our way up to the school, I was informed that there was a parent meeting that night, which meant the teachers would be busy for a few hours. We pulled into the school and I was bombarded with greetings and hugs when I got out. I was especially happy to see Iimene, one of my old housemates who, because of his lack of facebook, I had not spoken to since I left. When the teachers left to go the meeting, I walked over for my reunion with Kristy. Words really can't describe how amazing it was to see her again, and both of us were on the verge of happy tears. We spent the rest of the night catching up, and I got to meet her beautiful new baby girl.

The impromtu photoshoots begin with some former learners.
The next morning I got up and got ready for school. It was a little bizzare to be doing my typical morning routine, but not in my old room. As a walked across the sand I was bombarded by former students screaming my name. Once again, my heart beamed. I even got to see some of my former Grade 8s who were now attending a private school in town, but who happened to be in the village for an awards ceremony for doing so well on their grade 10 exams. I spent most of the day in the computer lab, attempting to fix some of the computer problems they had been having, but mostly I was just sort of hanging out. I made a mental note to be sure to talk to the principal to decide exactly what I could do for the next week so I wasn't just sitting around doing nothing.

Playing in the yard
When school got out, I learned that most of the teachers would be going back to their home villages for the weekend, so catching up with them would have to wait. It was then that I came to sort of a crushing realization: though coming back to Onamutai had certainly felt a bit like coming home, I was coming home to a place where I didn't exactly belong anymore. Of course I knew that things would not be the same as when I was there the first time, but the feeling of not really having a place in the village life anymore was a startling one. I had forgotten how exhausting it is to be putting on a bit of a show every day, and to constantly be stared at and talked about in a language I don't understand. Though the learners who knew me were excited beyond belief to see me, most of the learners at the school had no idea who I was, and it was like being in the village for the first time again. I had forgotten how much time I had spent alone in my room, recouperating after exhausting days, desperate for a space where I could just be myself and do my own thing. I don't have that this time around. I'm in Kristy's room with her and her daughter and in a house with four other women and another baby. I had begun to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Now, I don't want anyone to think for a second that I regret my descion to come back, because I absolutely do not, but I promised to be honest in my reflections of what it's like to come back, and this is what I'm feeling. Ultimately, I decided that perhaps two full weeks in the village was a bit much, and I ended up changing my flight back to Windhoek to a few days earlier. To some, that may seem like a silly decision, but it made me feel a lot more at ease. It would also break up my travel a bit, give me some time to do a few things in Windhoek that I wanted to do, and most importantly give me more time with Rachel, who will be moving to Ethiopia soon and will likely not be back in the States for quite some time.

Helena the Princess
Anwway, all uneasy feelings aside, it really has been great being back in the village. The sight of the sand roads and the incredible hospitatily of the Ovambo people have really made my heart happy and I have no doubt in my mind that everyone here is happy to have me back. The person who was the most excited, though, might have to be Kristy's older daughter, Helena. Helena was three when I was here last, so the fact that she remembered me at all is a bit amazing, but apparently not only did she remember me, she has been asking about me since I left. Helena is 6 now, and is attending a hostel school in town, which means she comes home most weekends. As soon as she walked in the door, she came running into the kitchen to find me, jumping into my arms for a bear hug. It was so nice to see the grin on her face when I gave her the dress up clothes that I had brought for her (thanks Auntie Ann, Cara, and Molly!). I got to spend most of the weekend with her, taking her into town with me, and I was so impressed with her English skills! She is going to be one smart cookie, and already has dreams of coming to America.

Another highlight from the past few days was getting to see our friends Jan and Johnny again. For those who don't remember, they were the guys who would take us on amazing hikes, braai us incredible food, and let us use their house (and hot shower!) as a landing pad whenever we were in town. I got to see them, along with Abby and her parents who were in the north for a few days, and we had a delicious 4th of July braai (and though I didn't think it could get any better, their cooking has improved in the time since we left). It was so nice to catch up with them and reminice about our adventures. We laughed about the circumstances that brought our group together (the guys offered to host a birthday party for Abby and Kristin) and they joked that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they offered their house to a group of 7 American girls. It was clear though that they missed us, as Johnny said that whenever he sees volunteers around town (they are always easy to spot) he has tried to offer them rides and befriend them, but so far it hasn't really worked out haha.

One last ancedote before I wrap up this incredibly long blog post. Let me begin by saying that the town of Ongwediva has abosolutely exploded in the past few years. Everywhere I go I see builidngs that didn't  used to be there, and more are in the process of being built. It is because of this urbanization that I found myself in the following situation. I had gotten a ride into town with teachers after school and was wating for Abby and her parents to finish with their event at her school before heading over to Jan and Johnny's. I was killing time at the mall and decided to check out the new movie theatre. Yup, you read that right, Ongwediva now has a movie theatre. Anyway I found myself sitting in an otherwise empty theatre, watching Finding Dory in 3D, by myself, for the equivalent of USD$5. I could only laugh at the bizarreness of the situation.

Anyway, I am now spending the school days in a combination of being supervision for the library (the librarian moved to Windhoek and they have yet to hire a replacement) and sitting in on some classes. TK asked me to take over for one of his grade 11 classes and it felt really good to be teaching some of the same learners again. On that note, I think I'm going to end this, I'm sure you're getting tired of reading it...

Spitzkoppe: Revisited

One of my favorite places that I visited during my year in Namibia was Spitzkoppe. This rocky outcrop, formed by passing glaciers, is built for climbing and my jetty-loving soul was happy here.

Not to mention it's just absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Anyway, when I saw that Abby and I would have a day in Windhoek to play around with, I instatnly googled to see how far of a drive Spitzkoppe would be. 3 hours = totally doable. Originally were were going to camp there overnight, but with the facts that Rachel wasn't feeling well (and wouldn't be coming with us), it is winter so the temperature at night gets pretty cold, and that Taylor would be coming early the next morning, we decided a day trip would be best. Also, our friend Freddy from the backpackers and another woman we met there, Alex, wanted to join us, so it all worked out pretty perfectly! On Tuesday morning, we piled into our rental car and took off for the drive west. It was great to catch up with Freddy some more, and to get to know Alex. She is a teacher from Germany who was volunteering for a year at a school in South Africa, so it was great getting to chat with her. After a fairly uneventful drive (and a bumpy reintroduction to gravel roads!) we spotted our destination.

Abby had not been before, and instantly realized why it was one of my favorite places. We grabbed and map and Freddy and I conferred about where to take them first. We didn't have time (or the skills/equiptment) to hike Grosse Spitzkoppe, the highest of the peaks, but we had a blast scrambling up the smaller (but still plenty high) outcrops. We went to the rock bridge and I even found the exact spot I had taken my favorite picture 3 years earlier (the one that currently serves as both my desktop and phone wallpapers). Having Freddy along meant that we also got to see some things that I hadn't seen the first time, including some acient rock paintings and a sort of cave formed by some of the rocks.

It is really impossible for me to describe just how amazing this place is, so I'm just going to let you look at pictures, although even they don't do it justice.

Rock paintings

Freddy for scale

About to enter the cave

A tree sprouting from the underside of the rock

Another breathtaking sunset

Basically, eveyone should just go and see it for themselves. I promise you won't be disappointed!

We drove back under a blanket of stars and I marveled how even 20 miles out of Windhoek, the sky was still so black that you could clearly see the Milky Way.

The next morning Abby, Rachel, and I met up with Taylor for breakfast. She had just come in from the north after visiting her host brother who is starting University soon. It was so surreal to all be hanging out in Windhoek again. We did some craft shopping and found some good bargins. Later we went for sunset drinks at the rooftop bar at the Hilton, which offers some amazing views of the city. Then we had dinner at a restaurant that is trying for an American steakhouse vibe. We walked in to country music blaring and a bar with a variety of beer on tap (a rarity in Namibia). We met up with some pilots that Rachel knew and spent the night laughing with good food, good beer, and new friends.

Up next: my return to the village.

Our Epic Return

The flight back to Windhoek was incredibly surreal. We were both extremely excited to go back to the country that we called home for a year, but also a little anxious as to what would await us there. It was funny to contrast the feelings of landing at the airport this time compared to the first time. In 2013, we were nervous, scared, and excited--not entirely sure what we had gotten ourselves into. Seeing the barren desert surrounding us had many of us wondering if we had made the right choice. This time though, Abby and I couldn't help but do a dance of excitement on the tarmac, squealing "we're back, we're back, we're back!" to the confusion of the other passengers I'm sure. We got our bags and rented our car. When the guy showed us which one was ours, we were very pleased at the souped up sporty car that awaited us. After driving very small, very temperamental cars for 6 months, Abby was excited to have something with a little more pickup and that shifted smoother than the others. We knew it would make a huge difference on the gravel roads.

We drove into Windhoek and tried to navigate to our friend Rachel's flat. We had an address that I had put into Google maps, but when we arrived, we weren't sure we had found the right place. Neither of us had internet access on our phones. so we had to use an old fashioned map (gasp!) to make sure we were at least on the right street. After confirming that, we drove up and down it looking for the right number. We found it and approached the gate, only to realize we didn't know what flat she was in. Wow, we really hadn't thought this thing through. We ended up buzzing the manager's flat and his son told us where were could find Rachel. We found her place and then commenced yet another round of squealing, along with lots of hugs. We had a brief catch up session before Rachel had to go tutor, so Abby and I decided to test our memory of Windhoek and head over the mall to get somethings that we needed. We made it their easily and felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity as we walked in. After wandering around feeling nostalgic for a bit, we got the things we needed and headed back to Rachel's where we enjoyed a glass of wine on her balcony that has an amazing view of the city. The night wasn't over yet however, as Rachel informed us that our friends at the backpacker's that was our home away from home whenever we were in Windhoek were having a braii, and the best part was they didn't realize we were in town! After getting some meat at the store, we drove over. Man, driving through that gate really did feel like coming home. Another round of very surprised hugs awaited us inside and got our braii on while reminiscing about our year in Namibia. It was good to be back.

Next up-- Spitzkoppe: Revisited

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Adventures in Polokwane

On Friday I had my first full day in Polokwane. We woke up and after a relaxing morning, we went to her school for their last day of the term. Because all the exams were over, it was only teachers at the school, and people were just finishing up grading. Abby gave me a tour of her school and though I saw many similarities between her school and my school in Onamutai, here school was definitely bigger and had slightly more resources. I met with some of her colleagues, and then they had a staff meeting. Abby and I could only smile as I got to experience a South African staff meeting, which bore remarkable similarity to the many staff meetings I had in Onamutai. In fact, if anyone remembers by previous blog post on the matter (Are We Really Talking About This?) the staff birthday issue was discussed here as well, with much of the same results. When the meeting was finished, we joined some of her colleagues at a local restaurant for a braii. I don't think it would be possible to overstate the amount of happiness I felt having my first Hunter's and boerwors in almost 3 years. Seriously, nothing could stop my grinning.

A gorgeous white tiger
The next morning we got up early and along with Abby's roommate Izora and her boyfriend Jacob that was also visiting, we drove out to a town called Tzaneen where we went on an interactive animal walk.
Not only did we get to see many animals, but we actually got to go inside the cages and pet them. We saw monkeys, a variety of cats, meerkats, an anteater-ish looking animal that was very cute, tigers, a leopard, and lions. Yes, I got to pet lions. Both adult lions and two adorable little cubs. Their fur is super thick and I definitely felt a kinship with them :p It was an amazing experience and I was so lucky to have gotten to do it.

Later that evening we had a party for the other of Abby's roommates, Lizzy, who was going to be going back to the US after three years as a PeaceCorps volunteer. A few other volunteers were there, (including one who had gone to Stonehill in the class below me--small world!) as well as many of their South African friends. We had a great time braiing into the night while playing Cards Against Humanity, arguing about American politics, and taking periodic dance break. I was really happy to see the nice group that Abby has found in her new home.

The next morning we piled back into a car with Izora and |Jacob, this time with all our luggage, for the drive back to Joberg. After dropping our stuff at the backpackers, we ventured down the street to the Main Street Market. Inside awaited a cornucopia of food stalls representing every type of food you could imagine. After taking a few laps to check it all out, our mouths watering the whole time, we finally let our stomachs do the talking and got some (read: way too much) food. Of course we saved room for gelato though!
After stuffing our faces, Abby and I walked around this cute little shopping center made out of old shipping containers. Most of the things in this area were too expensive for our liking, but it was fund to window shop. Later that evening we went to see a comedy show featuring a handful of local comics. I was a little unsure about going because I was tired, and wasn't sure how many of the jokes I would understand. I'm glad we went though, because the show was hilarious. Of course there were some things that went over our head, but we were falling out of our chairs laughing so hard for most of it. And of course we got picked on on fair amount, being some of the only white faces in a very small crowd. but it was all in good fun and we were laughing right along with everyone else. When it was over, we made our way back to the hostel to get a good night sleep for our big day the next day: Jame and Jam return to |Namibia!

Getting There

Neroberg Tram
So, I'm about a week late with the posts here. As you can imagine, it's been a hectic journey. My flight took me via Frankfurt, Germany where I had a 9 hour layover. Luckily for me though, I have a friend who lives near the airport and offered to show me around her city of Weisbaden instead! After dropping my bags at her flat and changing out of my plane clothes, she took me to Neroberg hill where there is a water powered tram that goes up to the top. We rode that up and got some amazing views of the city, including a vineyard where they grow grapes for Riesling.
View from the top
A church in town
We walked around the top a bit, then took the tram back down and drove into to town. Kaiser used to frequent, and some of the city's famous hot springs.
We got lunch in town at an Italian place that has home made pasta and sauces to order and let me tell you, their pesto was delicious! We walked a little more and then drove to see the US army base that is the headquarters of US Army Europe . I had heard a fair amount about these bases from my mom and aunts/uncles and it was neat to see one up close. We then drove back to Christine's flat relaxed for a bit, watching the Euro Cup, before heading back out to the airport.

Though flight was a bit long, I got lucky and had an empty seat next to me so I could stretch out a bit. I managed to get a decent sleep, and was ready when Abby met me at the airport early the following morning. For those who don't know, Abby was a WorldTeach volunteer with me who is now teaching on a Fullbright in South Africa. Because she is awesome, she drove to the airport to get me, and we then drove the three hours from Johannesburg to her house in Polokwane, in the Limpopo province. It was interesting to see her town, because in many ways it reminded me of the larger towns in Namibia. She lives in a house with two other American volunteers and has frequently commented how similar her out-of-school life is to living in America. She has hot water, a washer and dryer, wifi, and her roommate even has a dog! After a quick trip to the grocery store, we spent the remainder of the night hanging out with her roommates (after I took a very long nap haha).

Next up: Petting lions in Tzaneen!