23 May, 2013

I learned to "shimmy"

***Here is a blog post I started writing about a week and a half ago- before PST (pre-service training) was over. I figured, I should finish this before moving on in my story of my Peace Corps service....***

I'm writing this at the little cafe near our training center, waiting on a tuna toastie (sandwich), feeling like I needed something other than the fat cakes (kind of like fried dough, without the sugar) and an apple, that my family gave me for lunch. (Side note: I could speak up to the family more about having different foods to eat, but they are really not required to provide me lunch. The Peace Corps gives me enough money to buy lunch everyday. So, I always try to something else at this cafe.)

This is our last week of training - and I feel like I've hardly written about any of it. There is soooo much to tell. And I'm so far behind. Either I don't have much Internet access, or my evenings are spent playing with the kids and then studying my language. So, I'm hoping that once I get up to my village, I will have lots and lots of time on my hands to catch up on everything. I specifically want to talk about the different topics we've been learning about - Namibia, it's history, economics, culture, and of course, healthcare.

So, seeing as how I'm so far behind, I will probably just take each topic as a separate post, and explain more in detail....

Also note: I will probably be revisiting each topic, as I learn more and more while living here...

Anyway, this morning's training started as usual - 2 hours of language, tea break, and then another 2-hour session, usually related to something in the Health field, specifically, on Namibia, and how we may be as to incorporate it in our projects.

Well, today, we discussed Maternal and Neonatal Health. There are so many layers to this issue, here in Namibia...(as in almost every issue we have learned about during training)...and although I'm supposed to be inspired to do something, and help, and maybe make a small difference in the life of a mother, a child, the clinic, or community, this overwhelming feeling of sadness has taken over me today. And yes, I can give myself some motivating speech, to "find my Harry", i.e. my motivation to continue in this path....but at the present moment, I'm just sad.

In Sub-Sahara Africa, 1 in 16 women (1 in 7, in some parts of Africa) are likely to due as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.

In 2000, 62 out of 1000 children between 0-5 years old died.
In 2006, the number increased to 69 for every 1000.

The neonatal mortality rate in 2006 was 29 for every 1000, and as high as 39 in northeastern Namibia.

Some common causes of death in infants & neonates are:
- maternal complications during pregnancy
- birth injuries
- prematurity
- infections
- congenital malformations

Maternal morbidity has been related to:
- pre-eclampsia (33%)
- hemorrhage (25%)
- obstructed labor (25%)

Many pregnancies are dangerous - too early, too close together, too many, or too late in the life of a mother. Girls are becoming pregnant earlier and earlier in their life (age 14 & 15). Not only is this not good for the future of the mother, and potentially, the child, but these girls' pelvic bones have not expanded and developed enough to be able to safely carry and deliver a child. This puts the young mothers' life AND unborn child at risk.

There is also a shortage of healthcare workers, especially in the villages. Slowly, more Namibians are becoming doctors, but as of now, many are from other countries, and are only under contract for a few years at a time. As for nurses, although there are nursing schools here in Namibia, they are expensive to attend. And for those who do attend and graduate, it is difficult to persuade them to work in the villages. The younger generation want cars, paved roads, electricity, Internet, etc. And as for healthcare in the villages, some clinics don't have electricity, or it may be turned off at times throughout the day. The clinic also relies on the Ministry to deliver supplies. So, the nurses may have to go a few days, or a week or so, at times, without certain bandages, gloves, medications, testing material, etc.

So, like I said earlier, there are many layers here to consider....and this post will be one of many on this topic...


(And now that I'm at my permanent site, I'm asking more and more questions, to get a better picture of the situation. My clinic is actually very nice - only 2 years old. We have electricity and running water. We do not have a computer or fax machine. And there is no post office in the village. It takes extra time for the mail to arrive, so, usually, if the clinic has to send out bloodwork, it is delivered to a lab in a nearby district hospital, and the results need to be hand delivered back to the clinic. And sometimes, the 1 car the district or clinic might have, may break down, and then may take a while to be fixed. The doctor comes only 1-2x/month, which leaves most of the work up to the 2 nurses. (Last week, on top of the many sick people who came to the clinic, there were 27 expecting mothers. They came for their first Antenatal Care visit. We have these every Tuesday, with Thursday being the follow-up day. I will be blogging more about these ANC days in a later post.) Our clinic provides care for 8000 people. It is a public clinic. Only private clinics have scheduled appointments. So here at a public one, people come early, and may have to wait all day to be seen. Also, many travel long distances to get here. Also, my clinic is supposed to be for those in the village, but we are next to the Angola border, and many Angolans come to our clinic. And when they say they are from our village, this can affect our statistics, which means when the Ministry of Health audits the clinic, to determine if more staff is required, if we can't show that we are serving those from Angola as well, then we may not get any more help.)

I don't even know where to begin to explain to you how I'm feeling. I have so many emotions running thru my head - sadness, anger, denial, confusion, etc. But things are slowly changing. The government has created the Ministry of Gender Equality & Child Welfare to ensure equitable socio-economic development of women and men and the wellbeing of children.
So progress is happening....

But along with this information I learned in class today, I've been reading "Half The Sky". If I haven't mentioned it already in this blog, I highly recommend this book - for everyone. (And wow, I feel pretty dumb for being so naive about the world's problems. So, here is where I'm going to change that - I want to educate myself on so so many topics that concern life and the world!!) And the combination of these 2 things, has me feeling more and more passionate about women's and children's health, protection, education, rights - you name it - any issue.

Ok, I'm going to be completely honest. I've never been the "women's rights"-type or had the "You go girl!" attitude. I guess I had never wanted to be put into this category, for fear of being grouped as a "feminist" or, as some would think of it - "male-bashing". I have never wanted to be thought of as someone who is like this. I mean, there may have been some men in my life who I haven't been too fond of, but no, I wouldn't say all men are bad - or as some would think a "feminist" would say - "women are better." So I never really became passionate about this issue of women's rights. And now that I am outside the U.S., I realize that American and "western" women have it pretty darn good. Sure, it took awhile for things to become equal between men and women, but now, I'd say, generally things are good. (Granted, no I have not done any research on this topic. But yes, I am a woman, and yes, I have lived in the U.S. for the last 38 years of my life.) But, seriously, if I got paid that extra $1/hour that many feel women are not getting, at the same level as man, is that truly going to make a difference when I retire and there is (potentially) no longer social security? No, probably not. (I apologize for my sarcasm.) And since I've been over here in Namibia, I can honestly say that this is NOT a fight I feel passionate to fight. No, western women have it pretty darn good. Read "Half The Sky".

Ok, I will get off my soapbox now... :)

So, as I was saying, I never felt passionate about women's rights until I came here to Namibia. And everything I'm learning is just sealing the deal for me. No, so far I have not witnessed, or even heard of, horrific things happening to women over here - such as sex trafficking and facial burns from acid being thrown on them. But there are some things women are facing here. For instance, passion killings seem to be a problem. A woman breaks up with a man, he leaves, she thinks he is ok with the breakup because he doesn't contact her, meanwhile, he is upset over this breakup, and ends up murdering her. And an example of inequality that we learned about in PST is when a woman's husband dies, his family gets the house, land, and can even, legally, take the kids, leaving the wife with nothing. So, many times, the deceased husband's brother will take the widow on as his own wife (along with his current wife) , as well as the kids. Now, you could say this is wrong, BUT, they have a different viewpoint. By the brother taking on this woman and children, this ensures they are taken care of, versus taking everything away from her. But still, the woman has little legal rights.

Also, I have heard that many men travel for work (due to jobs being available outside the villages and small towns) and end up having multiple partners. And many times, women accept this. Now, for this issue, and the last I spoke of, things are slowly changing. Namibia is a very new country. It's only 23 years old. And women are starting to get out of the house, hold jobs, and make an income. This makes them less reliant on men to support them and the family.

Still, I feel a fire burning inside of me - to help these women become more educated about their health and their child's health. Especially in the villages. Things are so different there. Think of colonial times - living off the land, very few transportation options (so you use your own two feet), lack of education (even though schools as available, some don't go, and parents don't enforce it), the only businesses are people's own little food stands, or cuca shops (these sell soda, maybe fruit, soap, and other small items) and shabeens (bars). And alcoholism is a major issue, here in Namibia.

But I shouldn't be sad. I should feel inspired. And as luck would have it, the same week we talked about Maternal Health, (since I'm now finally finishing this blog post), we also had to give small group presentations. These were 10-minute sessions on how to do something (to help teach us how to make a lesson plan, follow it, and then evaluate the lesson -which we will probably do at some point while at our permanent sites). Well, I am really starting to believe that things happen for a reason - a girl in my group, Sallay, gave a lesson on belly dancing. Ok, yay, I get to learn how to shake my hips! At least, initially, that's what I thought. Well, after learning how to "shimmy", along with a few other moves, Sallay explained that belly dancing started as a way to build a "sisterhood" among women, and empower them. As she explained more, she mentioned that this may be something we could do at our sites - teach local women how to belly dance. I realized, that the dancing was more than just shaking the hips. More than an art form. It is a way to bring women together and empower them. And in developing countries, this is such an important issue! Sallay said she would teach me, if I taught her some massage and reflexology. Heck yeah! I think I will tuck this away as a definite option for something to start in my village. If I can help inspire women to become more empowered, then yes, I'll do it! Whether its knitting, crafts, dance, song, poetry, yoga, education or anything else - then this will be part of my duties in the community.

Hmmmm....and all of this happened in one week...

And so begins the "Edumacation of Johanna" :) Bring it on...I'm ready to learn!

Well, I guess I should get back to work....

Until next time...stay well (kala po nawa) and hey, while you're at it, for the heck of it, learn how to "shimmy"!

(p.s. if anyone wants to send me fabric and fun sparkly, shiny, things so I can make a shimmy belt, I will not stop you! And if I can get enough of these items, I can make belts for the women in my village- when I start my classes!)

Love & Peace...

***If you want to read Namibia's 4-year development plan, including Health goals, you can view it online at http://npc.gov.na/ndp4 ***

20 May, 2013

Some things I'm learning...

Here is the beginning of the list of some things I am learning (after only 2 months of living here):

- Material things are things

- Skirts, skirts, and more skirts!!

- My feet are sandy. Not dirty.

- Sunscreen is important - especially if you're white, living under the African sun.

- Bucket bathing is very therapeutic - especially at night, under the bright stars and moon.

- Air circulation is poor under a mosquito net.

- Huts are cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter- except that space between the roof and wall, where the cool morning breeze always finds its way in to wake me up every day.

- The roosters are my alarm clock.

- The dogs are my protectors.

- Guava is my new favorite fruit - especially when the tree is right outside the hut.

- Learn to laugh at yourself!

- Kids will be kids will be kids

- A fire is a nice centerpiece for entertainment in the U.S. Here in Namibia, it is necessary for cooking.

- Solar power is the favorite power source by those in developing countries. (Why doesn't the western world catch on??)

- There are 2,452 uses for a bucket.

- You can crochet plastic bags into purses, bags, wallets, cell phone holders, and so much more...

- The Namibian sky is like nothing else in the world - day AND night!

15 May, 2013

Quick pics...

(I tried to upload a few pictures of my new place, but Internet barely exists, here in the village. I am lucky enough to be able to send and receive emails!)

But I wanted to try to post this picture of me, in my hut, with my 5yr old brother, Junior (he loves using a machete!) and carrying baby Jaden on my back.

(My 15year old sister, Tulli, carried Jaden while using a machete to chop down dead trees for firewood the other day! I'm telling you- these kids have no fear!)

And then there is a picture of Tulli and Junior (wearing my baseball hat- they think that's so American!), hanging out on my hammock that I set up for them right outside my hut, and eating sugar cane- which is one of my many new favorites! Basically, any tree or plant around their house has some sort of fruit or nut. And we just walk through the fields, picking them from the trees and having ourselves a delicious snack...

Yes, between the white beach-like sand, the palm trees and diamonds as stars in the sky every night, yes, at times, I feel like I am in paradise! :)

I have many more pictures and videos to share, but thought I would pass a few new ones along....

Hope you are all doing well!

12 May, 2013

Hut time!

I have made it to my permanent site! I have so much to write about - but unfortunately, the Internet is not very reliable out here, in the village. I'm actually writing this on the Blogger app on my phone, and hoping it actually works :)

So, yes, I am living in a hut! And I have put my hammock just outside my door- and the kids LOVE IT! And I've decided to keep it there- this way, it will encourage them to come visit me. Though, part of me thinks maybe that's a bad idea because the other morning - at 6:30am- the little 5 year old, Junior, was swinging on it. But I'm glad that they're not shying away from me. I found out very quickly, that I had to be the one to initiate conversation. See, are first, they would just quietly look at me from afar. Now, they are constantly wanting to come in my hut, or show me things, etc. Oh, and they call my "Miss Johanna" :)

The other day, I also showed them some little Christmas lights I had that are solar powered. They got pretty excited about it. So we charged the lights all day, and then that evening, I suggested we put the lights on the tree that holds the hammock - and this would be the "party tree". And the our mini dance party began!!! The brought the radio over, and were showing off their dance moves! And then, of course, they tried teaching me the moves. So, hopefully when I come back to the States, I will be an expert in Namibian dancing - because I have some great teachers!

Anyway, I have sooooo many stories to tell and have taken pictures and video, and can't wait to share them! As soon as I can find some decent Internet around here - because, as the locals put it, I am "in the bush"!

For now, though, I'd like to leave you with this thought-provoking, and hopefully, inspirational passage from "Half The Sky" (sorry it's so long- but I had to include it in its entirety because I am learning that every word of it is true!):

"Young people often ask us how they can help address issues like sex trafficking or international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world. If you can't do that, it's great to raise money or attention at home. But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it - and it's impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it firsthand; even live in its midst.
One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. Study-abroad programs tend to consist of herds of students visiting Oxford or Florence or Paris. We believe that universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world, either by taking a "gap year" or by studying abroad. If more Americans worked for a summer teaching English at a school like Mukhtar's in Pakistan, or working at a hospital like HEAL Africa in Congo, our entire society would have a richer understanding of the world around us. And the rest of the world might also hold a more positive view of Americans."

(By the way, the last part of this quote explains exactly what are some of the goals of the Peace Corps!)

If you're looking for a good book to read, I HIGHLY recommend "Half The Sky"....

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!!

Love and miss you all!
~ Johanna