The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Landlines, Internet, and Mobiles

I can’t believe I just spent close to five straight hours on the internet.

I’m at a “best kept secret” hotel in Windhoek catching up on blogging, chatting, Facebook, and the feeling of being virtually connected. I call it a best-kept secret because the location is great (I’m across the street from the “new” mall that has virtually everything, including a movie theater (maybe the only one in town); the neighborhood is safe and diverse; the rooms have TVs and en suite showers with running hot water; the rooms are air-conditioned; I CAN ACCESS THE INTERNET USING MY WIRELESS NETWORK CARD; and I’m only paying N$300 for the night. I’m set. I return to Khorixas tomorrow; so, I’ve been taking full advantage of these resources (which I may not see again for a while), especially the internet.

Most people in the country connect via phone (mobile phone, home phone, or public phone) or internet. The majority, however, are not under contract; there are a number of “pay as you go” plans. These systems allow people to buy calling credits or airtime and just recharge as needed. You can buy a recharge card just about anywhere – at the post office, grocery store, bottle store (liquor store), clothing stores, china shops, street corners, gas stations, and the list goes on. There are about three main phone service providers that sell cards and have packages.

The other option is to go to an internet cafĂ©, which can range anywhere in cost from N$8.00/30min to N$20/30min. Thing is, internet cafes have certain working hours; I’ve already gotten a virus on my flash drive; and not all of the services are reliable.

When I was in the town of Tsumeb last month, I bought three 20-minute “Wi-Space” internet access cards, at N$10 each. I am only now finding myself in a “Wi-Space” zone again so I can use them. I flew through the 60-minutes of credit Skyping with mom and dad and needed to plunge deeper. I ended up buying a 250-minute Wi-Space card for N$100. I just finished that credit and went downstairs to buy another 250-minute card.

Each card has a login code so I can easily logoff and just use the card when needed.

So today, I spent N$230 on the internet, which is roughly US$26.00. I fully believe it was worth the feeling I got connecting with loved ones and sharing the latest happenings around the world.

I do admit, however, that I'm tired now. It may be from too much internet, or it may be because it's 10:30pm and I'm not feeling well.

(Mom, forgive me for posting the pic of us Skyping, but it was a good illustration to support this topic)

Oukongo Village

One stop we made along the way was in the small village of Oukongo, about 15 km outside of Opuwo. Fellow WorldTeach Volunteer, Ayoola (from Trinidad), teaches English and Life Skills classes there. There is no running water and you have to hitch a ride to town if you want to get groceries. Ayoola was super-excited to see us. We even whisked her away on a drive north for a few hours.

The photo shows schoolchildren climbing to the top of the water “tower?” to fill their buckets for home. The spout on the side of the tower is broken. Needless to say, the water in the tower doesn’t stay clean for too long because the kids simply dig their dirty containers into the water contaminating what may have once been clean. Don’t worry, Ayoola is on it and has already begun teaching and reinforcing the concepts of water cleanliness. She has seen at least a few of the young residents take heed by cleaning their bottles before dipping.

The Almighty Dollar

Namibia’s currency is the Namibian Dollar (N$). It is divided into 100 cents and is linked with the South African Rand, which is also legal tender throughout the country. The value of the Namibian Dollar and South African Rand are the same. The exchange rate for the U.S. dollar is about $9.55.

The bill notes are $200, $100, $50, $20, $10; the coins are $5, $1, $0.50, $0.20, $0.10, and $0.05.

A cab ride within Windhoek is N$7.50 per person. And cab drivers will pick up as many passengers as can fit in the car and who are going in somewhat of the same direction (the city is not extremely big). As such, it is not advisable to be in a hurry and expect a cab to get you anywhere fast. Also speaking of cabs, I have finally stopped getting into the cab driver’s seat by accident; the driving wheel is on the right side of the car (and they drive on the left side of the road!)

A 330ml (12oz)can of “cool drink” (soda, pop) is usually around N$5.50. (I’ll write a post on “Namlish” soon).

Items are not very inexpensive; however, I don’t need to purchase many things, so my money is likely to go a long way during the year. That is, if I stay away from bookstores and educational supply stores. I spent N$550 (five-hundred and fifty Namibian dollars) at EduMeds (educational supply store) yesterday.
I actually think I spent more money in the past week than I’ve spent during my entire time here. It is because I now realize what things would make my project, home, or person more complete; and how/where to obtain the items. Regarding the latter, many of the items I need (specific toiletries, computer supplies, home furnishings) are not available in Khorixas. Thus, I took advantage of the opportunity to travel to Windhoek with a colleague for the weekend.

My South Desert Diet

The pleasant goat dish pictured is aptly or (in poor taste) named, “Smiley.” It is a traditional Herero dish that we were offered during orientation in Windhoek. Did I try it? I’ll let you guess. Would you try it? Have you tried it?

Alright, I’ll give in, I didn’t partake in the goat (but there were more than enough eager eaters to not have the dish go to waste.) Seeing as though “Smiley” is out and my special peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe wore out its excitement after about two days, it was only a matter of time before I started experimenting with cookbook recipes.

I received a WorldTeach Namibia cookbook at orientation and there was a Peace Corps Namibia cookbook at my house. The recipes in the books do not necessarily highlight special foods of the region; rather, the country-specific cookbooks seem to include dishes made from ingredients that are readily available in the local cities, towns, and villages. The books also offer substitutes for ingredients or ways to prepare ingredients from scratch, if the items (such as tortillas) are not readily found in markets. Over the past week, I’ve prepared familiar foods using the books, such as mashed potatoes, pancakes, and rice and beans. I’ve also almost set my shirt on fire, striking matches in attempts to light our burners; but, I’m getting better at it.

Though not always goat, Namibia is a meat-eating nation - kudu, goat, beef, even donkey are all cookable and eatable, depending on where you are in the country. Biltong is a spiced, dried meat, much like beef jerky. It comes in a variety of flavors and (textures) and a number of different kinds of meats are used. I was hesitant to try it at first, but now, I consider it a great snack. I just haven’t figured out how to choose the type that won’t eventually break my teeth from being so tough.

Also, I’ve been to KFC three times!!! The first time was in Oshakati (up North) and I was floating from the taste for about three hours after eating it. I was also amused to hear Jodeci and Lauryn Hill playing through the speakers. I guess they send the secret ingredients and the special soundtracks when opening new stores.

Oh, and here is a recipe from the PC Namibia cookbook that I have yet to try, because I can’t seem to gather the requisite ingredients and utensils (even from Windhoek).

First shoot an elephant. This will yield about 3,500 – 4,000 lbs of fine meat. Add 100 lbs. of salf. Sprinkle with pepper (enough to make an elephant sneeze). Assemble 10,000 gallons of water, 1 truckload of mixed veggies, and two rabbits for seasoning. Now cut elephant into small pieces (this takes about two months). Boil in covered swimming pool for 2 weeks. Add veggies and rabbit. But, remember that not everyone likes hare in their stew. Simmer at 480 degrees F for 3 days. Serves about 7,350 people.

Keeping Clean

I now have a challenge that is equal to that of washing my own hair – handwashing my own clothes. What a chore! One of my roommates pays a local woman to do it, which helps a hard-working individual earn needed money and takes the huge chore of the table.

I am a little hesitant to have anyone do my cleaning (for now). I feel awkward when I can do it myself, especially when I see women who look like they are in their 90s taking care of all type of domestic activities (by themselves). And especially in an environment where servitude was recently the only viable work options for members of this community. My back is often in pain after washing because I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it; but, I’m sure I can be as strong as the elders.

The first week, I tried washing in a bucket in the tub (to avoid going into the washroom and encountering big insects by surprise), but had to scrap that practice because the tub is just too low.

I have enough underwear to last at least three weeks (actually four) so…..in reality, I may only need to wash once a month (kidding, not about the number of undergarments, but about the ability of me to keep my low supply of clothing clean and wearable without soap for 30 days). The heat and dust make regular washing a necessity.

I'm currently in Windhoek and have bought a number of supplies that will help make the rooms in my house a bit cleaner as well.

Road Trippin’ in Namibia

I spent the past week on the road with a colleague from the Ministry of Education’s Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology. We were visiting schools and conducting outreach to administrators in regard to the computer-based learning centers the Directorate is funding and that I am managing (in Khorixas and later in Ongwediva).

At a few points, it was hard to distinguish the scenery and vast expanses of space I saw while road-tripping in the U.S. from road-tripping here. Other times, the warthog and elephant crossing signs were dead giveaways of the fact that I’m not in Kansas anymore. (Arizona, maybe. Sorry, mom and dad, but y’all are in the “boonies”).

The roads throughout the country are a mix of gravel and tarred surfaces. Some are two-lane, while most are one. Cows apparently own the road. We often had to maneuver our way through dozens of cattle that were chillin’ in the street or leisurely crossing in HUGE herds. Goats and donkeys also seem to have adopted the road as their own.

Other animals are less "gangsta" with their presence in the street. I saw ostrich, baboons, kudu, warthog, jackals, and dik-diks, quickly flee into the bushes upon encroachment of our vehicle. At a few times, we were driving alongside the border of Etosha National Park, and I saw giraffe, zebra, oryx, and other indigenous species grazing along the gates.

Oh, and I found it interesting that Namibian police also hide out in the bushes with a camera and car to catch violators of the posted speed limits.

A Tribe Called Quest

“Um…? America?...United...States…of America?....,” I say unsuredly and hesitantly when (often) asked, “What tribe are you from?” Surprisingly, the response I get from the inquisitor is, “Oh! U.S.A.?! Obama!” Apparently, the question is genuine and suggests that my looks (color, hair, facial features, dress) are not clear indicators of my ethnicity or my nationality here. I’ve been mistaken for Ovambo….in Ovamboland (far North). Some guess that I am from “Zim,” Zimbabwe. Others simply assume I’m Namibian, that is, until I open my mouth.

There are a number of racial and ethnic groups in Namibia. In fact, during apartheid, there were over a dozen separate schooling systems for learners, one for each racial group. After independence in 1990, the education system was consolidated into one. There is now a scattering of people across the country; however, the various ethnic groups still predominantly live in the regions where they were sent during colonial times. The ethnic groups were distinct and lived apart even before Germany took Namibia as a colony; but, the current regions now look as they do in regards to ethnic group because of the forced relocations that took place under German rule. Most blacks were sent to areas in the North, in less fertile and arable regions. There is still a quasi-border, called the “red line,” that separates the North from the South. This “red line” is now simply considered the animal disease control checkpoint, livestock bred north of this boundary may not be sold to the south or exported to overseas markets.

The various ethnic groups in Namibia come in all hues and colors; they speak different languages; and have different traditions. I am still trying to find ways to distinguish some of them. The Ovambo, the Herero, the Ovahimba “Himba,” Damara, the Nama, the San, the Kavango, and the Caprivians (though the name refers to a German lieutenant who seized that land – the Caprivi strip – to make it a part of Namibia, and as such, does not have universal acceptance among the members of that group), are among the different tribes. All of the groups have proud and rich traditions; although, I think the Himba and the San (also sometimes referred to as “Bushmen”) are the groups with the most distinctive traditions, as compared to Western norms.

Both the Himba and the San are still fairly nomadic and pastoral. Both also still dress minimally and live minimally off the land. Ovahimba women wear their hair locked and in a somewhat ornamental design; cover their bodies in a red ochre mixture, in part to protect from the sun; and go topless, save for full body wraps used in the mornings and evenings. The bare breasts of Himba women are seen everywhere the Himba are seen, in council meetings (in which others are wearing three-piece suits), in markets, on the streets of cities, villages, and towns. Common sights they may be, one of my Caprivian colleagues still has trouble figuring out where to look when Himba women are around. He thinks he should be looking anywhere but at their breasts. The Himba primarily live in Opuwo (Kunene Region); although, some travel to other areas, like Windhoek, to sell crafts.

The San are rarely seen in towns and cities. They live in villages and in the desert. As conservancies and national parks increase in popularity, some of the San people have been forced to relocate, in apparent efforts to reduce the hunting of the now-protected animal species that once sustained the dietary habits and needs of the San.

At each opportunity, I am reading about Namibia’s history and talking to locals hearing their-stories. I think I have my facts straight above, but I’m humble and ready to stand corrected (and not by Wikipedia, but by more official or primary sources).