14 February, 2014

Baboons, Lions, Mongoose, Oh MY!

Here in Namibia, schools end their academic year and shut down for most of December, and open back up mid-January. During this month-long break, the PC gives us the 2 weeks around Christmas and New Year's as "free". In other words, we don't get charged leave during these "Cultural Weeks", as the PC names them. Many PCVs go home to the States or decide to travel around Namibia or Africa. Well, I hadn't saved up enough money quite yet to explore Africa, and really, the only thing that really goes on during this December time, is going to Swakopmund, the beach. December is the summer time here, and so this seems to be THE place to go at this time of the year. Well, I've already been there (I know, I still haven't shared these pictures yet!). It's beautiful, and wonderful, but I wanted to do something different. And sure, I'd love to enjoy a nice restaurant, touristy things, and "western life" outside the village. But if I keep doing these things, I'll never really see Namibia - or Africa - for that matter. I wanted to do something different, and yet something with a little Namibia flavor. I decided that I wanted to take a break helping people, and help animals!

There are a few volunteer organizations throughout Namibia, but the one I decided to visit was N/a an ku se. It's about 40k north of Windhoek. Not only is it an animal sanctuary, but also helps employ San Bushman people of Namibia, with a pre-school for their children. They also have a research facility a few hours away, as well as one of the 3 wineries in Namibia, and the owners also run a health clinic in eastern Namibia for the San Bushman people. The owners are a married couple. He's a doctor. She grew up around the Bushman people and baboons, and her mother also owns an animal sanctuary, Harnass. They are a great couple, and I even was able to talk with him about visiting his clinic, and potentially bringing some of his methods of running the clinic, back to my clinic. (He has had this clinic running for 10 years, by way of donations, with a doctor, and wonderful, FREE healthcare for the Bushman people - who were given low levels of care by the public clinics.)

I was there for 2 weeks, over Christmas and New Years - helping to keep the sanctuary up and running. We help clean, put the food together for the animals, feed the animals, follow the staff when checking the electric fences, and any other project work that is needed.  During the time I was there, we had to dig a trench in one of the baboon areas, to run electric wires. Anyway, it was such an amazing time! I've never done anything like this before, and have decided that I want to find other places as this,  and to be around the animals. In the future, I definitely want to volunteer with "big cats", and even marine animals - including dolphins and sharks!

Here at N/a an ku se, they take in "orphaned" and injured animals, "problem" animals reported by farmers, and help Namibian farmers by tracking these wild animals who are hunting and/killing their livestock - usually these are cheetahs, leopards and/or lions. With these animals, they really do try to get them back out into the wild. Though, sometimes, these animals have had too much human contact, and would end up getting killed by humans, if put back into the wild.

They have cheetahs, leopards, lions, meerkats, mongoose, baboons, vervet monkeys, a dyker, a jackal, ostriches, ducks, goats, cattle, peacocks, a tortoise, a porcupine, and so many more that I'm probably forgetting! At night, you have the option of signing up to take a baby baboon for the night. You first go into the cage, get your baby for the night, and then feed it with a baby bottle. Then, you take the baboon into the shower, and clean it. They usually cling onto you while you're washing them, and most of them love it. After drying them, you put a nappy (diaper, here in Namibia) on the baboon, and then we usually just hang out for the rest of the night with the other volunteers, keeping the baby wrapped up in a jacket or sweatshirt. They seem to love being next to you, and warm. During the night, they usually sleep in the bed with you, and sometimes even cuddle! I tried having a baboon twice. Both times did not go too well. For my first time, I had Hansie. He was fine until about 3 am. Then he, and the other baboon in the room which my roommate had, decided to jump around and play. After that, he wouldn't come back to me, and ended up sleeping with my roommate and the other baboon. During my second attempt, the baby would not come to me at all, and so my friend Marice took her. I think, because she gets passed around every night, she was just scared and not happy. I was going to try for a third time during one of my last nights, but ended up getting sick. But these baboons were really cute! 

We would also take the baby baboons on walks, out to a nearby tree, just to let them play. And we would play with them, as if they were small children! They also loved to come up to us and would "groom" us, but looking through our hair. Then, as a sign of friendship, we would do the same back. I'll admit, at first I was a little nervous about these wild animals. They would run and jump up on you, and it could be a little frightening at times. But I slowly got over my fear. I also learned how to speak "Baboon"! I wish I could go back and play with them now :(  I will tell you, though, one of my first experiences with the baboons, was not that pleasant. As soon as we walked through the gate to begin our walk, one of the baboons, about 1 year old, came up to me, and bit me on the shin. Let me just say, it hurt - a lot! The other volunteers were also shocked it happened, and I really wanted to leave the walk, but the owner, who was there with us, said that it would be bad for me to leave because the baboons would try to leave as well, plus, it would show that the baboon "won". Apparently, I was bitten because this was an alpha male, and he was testing me, plus showing me he is in charge. As we went on the walk, and finally sat under the tree, the other baboons did come up to me, and almost felt bad for me. But, it did scare me. Yet, I decided I was going to face this fear, and over the next few days, I made every effort to be with the baboons and gain my confidence back. See, baboons, like many animals, can sense if you're scared. And if they sense that, they will use that to their advantage. So, you need to go to them with confidence and be assertive. Then they will just love up on you like little babies. So, it was definitely a learning experience!

Speaking of being bitten, I also got bit on the leg by a mongoose. This other volunteer and I were trying to feed them, and they were in a new cage, where there is a door to close them off of the area where we put their food. Well, this smart little guy dug a hole under the door, and got out...and ended up chasing me around the cage and bit me! But not much harm was done. It was just kind of a shock! The other volunteer was finally able to lure him away with food, and we got him back in the cage....

A normal day consisted of many activities, and all of the volunteers (about 30) were split up into groups, and we rotated on a daily basis, doing different things around the sanctuary. So at times, we were with the researches, tracking snakes, or driving out in a truck with lots of raw meat and heads of horses or oryx or donkeys, to feed the wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and lions. 

Let me talk about the big cats for a second. They are my favorite! The cheetahs are beautiful. There was one, Samira, who was older, and we would feed separately. She was by herself, and when we were done feeding, we could go in and groom and pet her. Her purring was amazing loud! I could only imagine what it would be like to curl up with her, falling asleep to that purring! And when feeding the big cats, the lions were always last. They have a male and female. Let me tell you, when I saw them walk out to the fence, I was shocked. These beautiful animals are very big! Even the female. She was just massive, and full of muscle. I definitely am going look into volunteering more with lions.

For Christmas, we went to the preschool, where they handed out presents to all of the children. They danced (traditional dance) for us, and took pictures with us. The children were so cute and sweet! And they were thrilled to receive some presents! That night, the owners had a wonderful dinner for all of us, with some tasty, amazing food. And then for the New Year's celebration, we had a great dinner as well, along with some karaoke. We all jumped in the pool at midnight, and it became a big hug fest. The people I met while there are all amazing, from all over the world. I met people from Sweden, Switzerland, US, England, Australia, Denmark, South Africa and Brazil. Now that I've made friends all over the world, I plan on visiting all of them :)

Weekends have a little more down-time (during the week, we're working from 8-5). On one Saturday, the owners took us out to this pond for an "Amazing Race" type of activity, ending with a braai (barbeque). We had so much fun! We were put in teams, and had to put together a raft. The only materials we had were jerry cans, plywood, nails, a hammer and wire. After the raft is put together, we have to push the raft across a very dirty pond, with one person on it, holding a flag upright. Well, I was the chosen one to sit on the raft, and our raft started falling apart while on the pond. I ended up falling off, losing my favorite sunglasses! I managed to get back on, and once we finally made it to the other side of the pond, we had to pick one person to climb a tree and grab a bucket with uncooked meat in it, which we would use to cook for our team. Well, again, I was chosen. I climbed that tree, grabbed the bucket, and then realized that I had to get down, the adrenaline wore off, and I wasn't sure how I was going to get down, without falling, now that my clothes and shoes were all wet. Luckily, the cameraman for Naankuse helped us use the rope so I could climb down. I then had to get back on the raft, which was barely held together, and without falling in the water again or spilling the meat into the water, make it to the other shore of the pond. We finally made it, needless to say, in last place. We then had the braai and some drinks, and the owner decided there was a tie with the race (which I believe was lie, but still fun!) and so he had us pick someone from each team, and they had to swim across the pond and back. We chose our teammate John, but in the end, we did not win. But the entire day was one of the best days of my life. Good friends and good times!

Also, while I was there, the female caracal had 2 babies! We didn't know, until the day we went to clean out the enclosure, and 2 of the volunteers found them, hidden. Apparently, the female was hiding them from the male caracal because it's very common for the male to eat the babies. After we found them, the staff put in a smaller enclosure within the caracal enclosure, to keep the male away from the babies. On my last day, I was able to go in with the babies and play with them for a bit. They were so precious!!

Lastly, one other exciting time was when we were feeding one of the cheetahs, and as they lifted the water dish to clean it out, they saw a puffadder snake under the dish. We called one of the researchers, Stu, who came and caught it. It was a pretty big snake, and I was very happy that I was outside the enclosure, up in the truck! Check out the video for some snake-catching action...

I know I'm probably forgetting some other fun events, but I'm not sure I have room to tell everything! I've added a slideshow and a video, to give you an idea, even more, of what my experience was like...

I highly recommend this type of vacation for you, if you have any interest in animals! There are places all over the world - with all different types of animals. 

Here are 3 different slideshows of my time there...and sorry there are so many pictures, I just had to capture EVERYTHING and want to share it all with you! 

N/a an ku se:

An album of only baboons!

A N/a an ku se New Year's Eve 2013!

A video collection of some of my adventure.....

13 February, 2014

Why the heck am I doing this??

I have had many people say to me, "Wow - it's amazing what you're doing", and "I feel bad that I'm not doing something like this, and helping people", and of the sorts...

My response to them is "We are all doing something amazing. And whatever business you're in, (I had a musician from Nashville feel bad for what he was doing, after comparing it to what I'm doing) you are helping people too. If you're a musician, you're providing entertainment for people. A way to get away from their reality for 3 minutes. You're inspiring people. And if you're in the corporate world? Well, hopefully whatever business is that you're in, you're helping it grow, which, in turn, pays your (and your family's) bills, and hopefully is helping a customer out there. And honestly, I'm not dating, or married, or own a house, and I'm doing this because I CAN. I just had an opportunity in my life to leave the States for 2 years. I'm sure you would do the same if the opportunity came your way. And even if you think that you couldn't live in a hut and take a bucket bath for 2 years, doesn't mean you can't make a mark somewhere, helping people."

When people say these things to me, I guess I don't understand what they mean. Yes, this is difficult at times, and challenging, and rewarding, and frustrating, and enjoyable. But so are other jobs. And no, not everyone could move out of country for 2 years to do this. There's no money going into savings or an IRA. There's just work. However little or much you want to do. And yes, I miss family and friends.  But so do people who move cross country for a new job or life. But then again, maybe I don't understand what they mean because I've been living here and have adjusted to this life....because almost a year ago, I guess you'd say I'd say the same thing....So I'm learning! And this is what this experience is supposed to be!

And then people will say they feel bad for material things they have, or the amount of money they're making. And here I am, not making much at all, living without electricity.

To them, I say, that just because the people I live with in the village don't have much money, and struggle finding water and food at times, and I'm living like this right now, doesn't mean I want to, or feel I have to, live this way for the rest of my life. If I have the opportunity to make the money to buy a house, or a car, or nice clothes, or a great big comfortable bed and flat screen TV, then I'll get these things. The difference is, now, I sooooo appreciate them. I appreciate a refrigerator, and a hot shower, and a comfortable pillow, and a microwave. I don't feel I have to live like those in a developing country, just because they live that way. I have learned to appreciate and count my blessings for those things I am able to have. And you know what? My Namibian family and the others in the village do exactly the same!!

Recently I found myself getting very defensive when a friend was asking me about what I'm doing, and how I'm enjoying this experience. He said "How does it feel the be helping the less fortunate?" And "do you get up and save lives, build huts and educate the third world youth?

Ok, first of all, I HATE the term "third world." It's not that anymore. It's a developing country. They are young. Namibia became independent in 1990. And the war to gain their independence? Well, this if for another blog post, but after listening to my Meme talk about her experience when the soldiers came to her house, and the way the war went, you would have thought this happened back in the 1800s. So, they are young, and are slowly growing. They have a government in place, which may not be up to "western world" standards or levels, but every few years, they have a development plan, (if you want to read the most updated plan, click on this link: NDP4) and they are working their way forward. Oh, and if you were to come to Windhoek, or even some of the other cities in this country, you would never think of it as "third world" or "developing". 

Ok, secondly, no, I don't save lives. I help those where I can, how I can. But I'm not some saint or angel or god that came from America to "save" these people. They're doing pretty well on their own. I'm just assisting them, from another perspective, to hopefully quicken the pace at which they are developing. But again, the government is still here and helping them. And no, I can't really go against, or change, the government.  And one more thing about the Peace Corps. We have 3 goals. These are:

To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling 3 goals:
  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
And these are the goals I hope to achieve. By writing and sharing this blog, I am helping with the third goal - helping Americans understand better, the other people in this world.

Now, I need to address one more thing my friend said - "How does it feel the be helping the less fortunate?" Ugh. What the heck does "less fortunate" mean???? That term really ate at me. What does he mean by this?? So, I looked up the definition of "fortunate". It means:
  • favored by or involving good luck or fortune; lucky
  • auspicious or favorable
  • materially well-off; prosperous
Ok, so maybe the people in my village don't have all the material things that many Americans have. But, there are also MANY Namibians who have a lot of money. Did you know that one of the questions in the census they conduct here, is "How many planes do you own?" Which means, there are enough Namibians who own planes that this is a significant question. Is this same question on the US Census? Probably not.

And luck? I don't know. I guess we can say that we are "lucky" to have been born into a certain type of family or environment. But does that make them LESS lucky? Or LESS fortunate??

I'll tell you that every night when my Namibian family has dinner around the open fire, they are sharing stories, singing, dancing, and laughing. They are happy! They understand that part of their lives is working in the fields - plowing, planting, harvesting. They have to take care of their goats and cattle so they can eat. It's just a different way of life. But that's what they know, and they love it. I think, that even if they had lots of money, and a car, and a supermarket right around the corner from the house, they would still grow and harvest and cook their mahangu and traditional foods. So are they LESS fortunate??

You tell me....

So, why am I doing this? Because I can. And because for the first time in my life, I get to work, for the sake of doing something, and not worrying about what my paycheck will be at the end of the month. I don't clock out at 5 on the dot, because I refuse to work a minute past, since I'm not getting paid for that time. I've never been like that. I put in the work because it's the right thing to do. If you have to work overtime to get a project done, you do. And you don't ask to get paid extra for that overtime. Maybe that's wrong of me. Maybe I should have expected overtime pay. But that's not me. And I know my father would hate me saying this, but money doesn't matter to me as much as it does to others. Of course, I want to make money to buy the things I want, or buy a house, or travel to exciting new places. But I don't take a job just because it doesn't pay well. (Of course, I need an income that will pay the bills and save for retirement when I'm no longer working). But I take the job because it's what I want to do. I like the JOB, not the MONEY. 

What I'm saying is, for the first time in my life, I don't have to worry about how much I'm making or saving, etc. I get to work for the love of it! I know this won't support me when I retire, but at least I get to experience it for a moment in my life....before having to go back to the "real world" and get a "real job""so I can put more money aside for savings and retirement.....

Oh, and I love helping people more than anything in this world!!!! I enjoy putting others before me. It's just what I do. And I know there are times that I shouldn't do that, and I'm trying to find balance. But this life is not about the ME. It's about US. And if that means I have to help YOU so WE can enjoy it, well then, that's just what I'm going to do..... 

So, why the heck would I leave everything I'm familiar with, and know, and friends and family, to travel around the world, to a place where we don't even have 3G, and live in a hut in a village deep in the bush for 2 years? 

Because I want to. Because I can. Because I want new experiences. Because I've lived in the States for 38 years of my life, so why not try somewhere else? Because I love helping people. 

Because maybe this will become my new passion. And you know what?  This is already starting to happen for me!!! 

Peace & Love,

p.s. if my computer will cooperate, I'll soon be finishing up a video for my next blog about my Animal Holiday...I just wanted to get these other thoughts written down and share them with all of you.....

04 February, 2014

10, no, 11 Puppies & and a Kitten

Well, the older kids left after holiday break, and have been replaced by a few canines and one feline...

Welcome the newest additions to our family here in the village:

Penny just had her puppies- 10 total! They are only a week old...so no names yet. Their baby eyes are still closed! Penny is thin, and wants to eat alllll the time, especially meat. But she is being a good mother, feeding the puppies and keeping them safe and warm...and we are doing our best to keep up with her appetite...
Oh, and it's time for some "family planning" for Penny, as my sister Anna, says...

And out of nowhere, this little one showed up on our homestead...
Meme said his name is Kitty, so we now call him Mbishi - which means "cat" in Oshikwanyama.
Yes, my family thinks it's funny that we named the cat, Cat. :)
And as of now, this kitten loves to be held and purr, and isn't too keen on chasing mice...
Not so good for a cat that lives in a village....

And then my brother brought home this cute little thing...who I've named Sam. I'm not sure why he brought him because we will already have many puppies, and this means another mouth to feed, but hey, another cute furball is fine with me!

Sam and Mbishi are slowly becoming friends....