04 April, 2013

FINALLY arrived in Namibia!!

Alright…I really need to catch you up to date….so I'll try to make this quick!

Ok, we finally arrived in Johannesburg….it was about 8 in the morning, and we had a 6 hour layover. We actually didn't mind having the time, since it took a while to get from our gate, to the next, and we were able to walk around, send some postcards, relax, and many of us even were able to connect to the internet and talk to/email our families and friends, to let them know we made it safely across the pond. Right before boarding the plane to Windhoek, Namibia, we had to change out of our comfy clothes, into our "business casual" work attire. This was our first day on the job, so we had to dress appropriately. We finally boarded the plane, and ended up sitting there for about an hour and a half, due to rain that was in the area…..

As we flew back over Africa, to the western side, the excitement began to build! We were ready to meet our staff and see Namibia!! As we came down over Namibia, we oooh-ed and ahhh-ed over the site of the land. It looked exactly as we had all seen in pictures….some mountains, and very desert-like - lots of sand/dirt, with trees scattered here and there…

After deplaning, and going through customs, we handed our passports over to the PC staff (we would be getting these later, after they finish our visa applications), and finally getting our luggage, the staff was there to greet us with water and hot cakes - a favorite desert in Namibia (basically, fried dough). We loaded all of our luggage in to 2 trucks, and climbed into the vans that would take us and hour and a half north to Okahandja, where we would begin our training.  A current, and very patient, PC Volunteer rode with us as well. We bombarded him with questions - safety and security, language, our assignments, the land, the people……we asked him  EVERYTHING! 

Since we were running late, they decided to take us straight to the Kukuri Center, where we would be staying for the next few days. 4 people to a room, with a dining hall - within walking distance to the training center. We finally arrived, tired from our long day of travel, dragging our bags into our rooms (for the last time, at least for a few days), ate some dinner, and then headed to bed. We were to begin training in the morning at 7:30, breakfast would be ready at 6:30…..

Over the next few days, training consisted of morning Namibian song-singing (hopefully I can get a video of this for you to hear!), ID photo-taking, meeting the staff, meeting the doctors, shots (ooooh, so many shots - and we're still getting 1-2 a week! These consist of Hep A&B, Meningitis,Typhoid, Rabies, Flu), safety & security, meeting with some current PCVs for Diversity Training, discussing what we, as Health Volunteers may be doing, interviewing to discuss what kind of living conditions we would prefer, and what kind of job we would want, and then orientation to discuss "Homestay" - where we live with a family for 6 weeks during our training time. 

Let me further explain options for the living conditions (our permanent homes for the next 2 years) and job positions. This would determine which language we would learn (there are approximately 10 different Namibian languages), and where we would be placed.  As for living arrangements, they asked us if we would prefer to live near other volunteers. From Windhoek, south, it can get colder in the winter. There are more urban areas here as well. In the north, you see more rural villages, huts, and the landscape is more green (great for gardening). The HIV and teen pregnancy prevalence is much higher in the north, as well. About half of us would be placed at a completely brand new site. In other words, not following in a current PCV's footsteps in the community.  I was actually surprised with how many of my fellow trainees wanted to be placed near others.  During my interview, I told them that I didn't feel I needed to be placed near anyone. Over the years, I've become comfortable with being alone, so this didn't bother me. I've heard so many stories, anyway, of Volunteers staying in their sites, and loving their communities so much, that they don't always feel the need to leave and visit the other PCVs. I also knew that everyone would be a phone call away. And that many of us would take weekends to visit each other. So, if they chose to place me in a very rural area, I would be just fine with that. Plus, I'd get to live in a hut!! (By the way, many of these areas may not have showers - so bucket baths are your friend. And electricity may or may not be there. And honestly, it seems there are so many different types of living situations in Namibia, that the staff could never really give us a straight answer when asked to describe each area of Namibia. 

BUT, when it comes to our placement, the big determining factor, is the job. If they feel we would be better in a hospital in an urban area, then that's where we will be placed, and will learn whatever language is in that area. They don't place us based on where we want to live, but rather, the job. As for jobs - well, we are learning that as a Health Volunteer, it can be very challenging. We aren't really given any true 9-5 job. We create our own. We create our own projects. We may be based out of a clinic or hospital, possibly, and have a counterpart from that area, but that doesn't necessarily mean we will work in the clinic or hospital. We can start a community garden. We can create after-school programs for kids. We can work with other local, national, or global organizations as well.We can teach a yoga class. Or give sex/health education to learners (Children in primary and secondary schools are referred to as learners. At the university level, you become a student). Or start up a Grassroots Soccer program. We can pretty much do anything we want. Many of us will be working with kids. The children, here, need something to keep them busy after school. Girls' and boys' clubs are a popular program many PCVs begin. Sex education doesn't happen much at home, or even in school. They are supposed to learn "life skills", but many teachers are uncomfortable talking about these issues. This is where a PCV comes in. We can educate these learners about many health-related topics. And we can also have educational groups for adults as well. (Youth, here in Namibia, is considered 0-35 years old). Our main goal, in the beginning of our service, is to get to know the community, the leaders, the children, and determine the needs of the community. From there, the sky's the limit, with what we can do!  

Through the principles of "Do No Harm, Respect of Persons, Non-discrimination, and Participation", a Health Peace Corps Volunteer, in Namibia, addresses global health issues, in the areas of HIV & TB mitigation, maternal, neonatal, and child health (including early childhood development, Malaria prevention and control), environmental health (water, sanitation and hygiene), and/or life skills for healthy behaviors (nutrition, alcohol and substance abuse prevention, youth sexual reproductive health). The goal is sustainable community development, that will educate and empower the community, so it will continue after we leave. Basically, I'm going to have to think of myself as a project manager (yes, Cortney - you would be perfect for this!!). I already know this is going to be challenging for me.  At many times in my life, I've gone in to a problem or project, thinking that it's just easier if I do it myself. But the problem with this thinking, in the Peace Corps, is that if I don't teach these children and adults how to continue educating the next group of kids, and the ones after that, then my project will not be a success. These people need to become empowered and educated - to help themselves. And so, here I am…..

And on day 5 of training, I found out I will be learning to speak Oshikwanyama - a Bantu language! It's one of the many Oshiwombo languages. Basically, they are all very similar, just different dialects. And since I'm learning this language, supposedly I will be placed in the very northern part of Namibia - in the Ohangwena region!! 

Well, I don't want to overwhelm you with info - because I have a LOT to share!  

I will leave you with this statement, given to us during the first few days of training:

"You will never, never be the same after this……"  
(and I am beginning to believe it!)

Here are some pictures from my first week of training and staying at the Kukuri Center:

You'll actually look forward to your morning commute. Life is calling. How far will you go? Learn more about the Peace Corps


  1. Not to sound repetitive, but we are so proud of you. Enjoyed reading your blog. There certainly is a lot to learn, not to mention the decisions you have to make. Love you, mom

    1. Thank you Mom! I am so lucky to be over here....and I can't wait for you to come visit and see this beautiful place. Love you and miss you tons!