Sunday, September 29, 2013

A day of missing and reminiscing

In a lot of weird ways this year has shown me how important and impacting different experiences in my life have been to me.  These experiences start in my early years of life, but through my year in Namibia they have crept back into my mind, reminding me how incredibly blessed I am.  I’m talking about experiences that first occurred when I was a small girl, starting around the age of 3 years old or younger.  Since being in Namibia, I’ve longed for some of these events, to relive them now that I am older.  I have craved some of my Louisiana times like Mardi Gras, visiting New Orleans, and driving past the different bayous as we head to the Boatwrights’ house for crawfish. 

In addition to Louisiana, I have longed for adventures that took place throughout most of my childhood, like road tripping to Pennsylvania.  Since I have been here, I have missed the hills of the North and the family dinners where we all gather around together for the first time in a year.  I have missed the smell of my grandmother and aunt’s homes.  I have missed the adventures with my cousins to Crab Apple where we fished like total rednecks thanks to the string, sticks, and bate left behind by others. 

I have also missed my days in Italy where I could spend hours getting lost in the culture and food.  I miss being able to go to the train station and head out on another exciting adventure so easily.  I miss the late nights with my roommates who continue to be a part of my life to this day.

Ultimately though, I’ve missed my Texas days.  These were the days where I figured out who I was, the days where I was pushed and challenged to become a woman.  This is where I was eventually saved and learned to love.  Throughout this year, I’ve missed these days the most.  I’ve missed the simpler times of dancing every afternoon and attending football games.  I’ve missed summer drives with the new 93Q in the background.  I’ve missed road trips to Austin or the river.  I’ve missed meeting up with my girlfriends to talk about our latest boy situations.  I’ve missed the Southern charm that I once took for granted.

As I write all of this, I long for home, but immediately know that as soon as I get back I will have another list of things I will miss.  I will miss the days when things were simpler because I lived in a village.  I will miss my Namibian family.  I will deeply miss my 9th graders.  I will miss the hospitality and my outlook on life.  I will miss the freedom that was present since I did not have the weight of my American expectations.

At the end of the day though, I realize just how truly lucky I am.  I know that I am blessed, but as I look back and am constantly reminded of these times, I mature and truly understand just how deep my blessings run.  I had a great childhood, one with love, great food, adventure, and hot summer days.  As I matured into a teenager, those times continued and I was blessed with equally great years.  God has constantly protected me, loved on me, and shown me that He is the one in control.  I am so grateful for His unending love and for His constant reminders of what He has and continuously does for me.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Naked = Sweat free

Here is a serious question that I am continuously pondering…how do Namibians wear clothes all the time?  And by clothes, I mean long trousers and long jerseys (sweaters).  As I sit at work, all I can think about is getting home and stripping down.  If I had my choice, I would walk around this country naked.  I would adapt the ways of the Himbas just so that I wouldn’t feel like I was suffocating in my own clothes.

I realize my question is kind of silly, because I’m obviously wearing clothes too, but the difference is that I am wearing as little as possible without getting in trouble.  I wear light materials and sleeveless shirts in order to put a stop on the amount of sweat that is covering my body, which by the way does not really work…  Basically, this country is freaking HOT!  Somehow I forgot that during the somewhat cooler months in term 2.

Enough of all of that weather talk though… This week I don’t have much to update people on.  In many ways, the week has been hellish.  I had a nice heart-to-heart/crying session with my principal about some of the struggles I am facing with my students.  In return, she shared some of the struggles she also faces as a female principal.  I cried. She cried.  It was awful and beautiful all at the same time. So that you know how I felt this week, here is an excerpt I began to write after being completely knocked down by some of my 8C learners:


“It has been awhile since I’ve had a real heart-to-heart with all of y’all, so here it is.  I am ready to come home.  Plain and simple.  I am ready to be home with people I love.  I am ready to be in a place where I am respected.  I am ready for a little relaxation.  This term, which is only in its third week, has been overwhelming and exhausting in every aspect.  Daily I am taken advantage of by students and occasionally by coworkers.  I am pulled in different directions as I try to accommodate everyone and help as much as possible.  I am teacher, librarian, and occasionally a secretary, but with all of those titles, I do not gain more respect.  In fact, it seems I receive less as time goes by.  Students take advantage of me on a daily basis because I am not Namibian.  They speak excessively in class, they lie to me because they know I don’t know any better, and they are often times not grateful for what I am trying to do.  Almost every English class period I go to, I find students that have gone home early, which in the long run puts more work on me to track them down and make sure they have the information they need.

I know that many people here do not know what it is like to leave everything behind and start a new life in a new country.  I also know that they did not ask me to come here and do those things for them.  However, when students ask me to stay longer or say they will miss me when I leave, I am hurt when the next day comes and they are talking in class or not paying attention.  In addition to that, I have had a colleague tell me that she wants to talk to me about how the teachers do not treat me well.  Instead of talking to me about that, why don’t we just treat me better?”


That was something I started and didn’t really finish because I had to teach another class.  Also, I honestly didn’t want my blog to come off negative, because in fact, I am incredibly lucky to be at the school I am.  I have been supported by a handful of coworkers and I have a great home/family.  I do however believe that honesty is the best policy and by putting my difficult times out there, people know what I am actually facing from time to time.  This life, like every life, is not perfect or always sunny.

As for school news, grade 10 started their exams today.  They are all camping up at the school.  The boys have set their tents up on one side of the campus and the girls have set up on the other side.  Since so many students don’t have electricity at home, they allow the students to crash at school during this time period.  The kids are loving it.  It’s like a giant slumber party with your closest friends, and on top of that, they don’t have to go home, fetch water, or collect firewood.

Well, that’s all for this week.  Amanda and Mark are headed back to good ole America.  In fact, they should be in London right now making their last stop.  Show them some love when they return since they too will be embarking on a huge adventure within the next month....The Oberstoetters are taking on CANADA!

Random Village happenings that made me smile:
  • I showed my students a picture of Fabian (dog), and one boy asked me what his job was.  He was referring to guard dog. Unfortunately, Fabian is NOT that cool, or brave...
  • A boy in 9A asked if I was going anywhere for the weekend.  After telling him no, he said, "we only have a few days to miss you then."
  • I took Vistorina and Martha to town today, and they were giggling and enjoying a day on the town.  We got to shop and explore together.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wedges and Namibian Sand- Their Tragic Love

Prior to living in Namibia, people don’t tell you how fashionable locals are.  How much they too are driven by fashion and new trends in the clothing world, technology, music, etc.  Because I didn’t really think about these things, I planned for my climate and living conditions when I packed.  Therefore, for 2 terms, eight months, I have dressed the frumpiest and most casual I have in my life.  I went 240 plus days without ever putting on heels, which if you know me, is a crazy thought.  In addition to that, on most days I wear simple cotton pieces, and I am lucky if I do my laundry after four times of wearing a specific piece of clothing.  I have taken casual to a level I did not know was possible.   I think a lot of volunteers fall under this category.  We packed and planned for clothes that could get ruined by the sun and hand washing.  We made sure to bring clothes that we would not be sad to see get ruined or to leave behind because of better purchases (i.e. African baskets, wooden craftwork).

With only about 2.5 months left here, I branched out of the wardrobe I bought.  Since I have an upcoming wedding to attend, I figured purchasing a cheap pair of wedges was not a ridiculous thing to do.  In fact, it was probably needed because my Namibian friends dress beautifully.  They wear heels regardless of the sand.  The men dress in dress trousers and button down, collared shirts.  The women are in nice dresses, skirts, and slacks.  They look put together every day, and well, I get ready in 30 minutes, far from put together.  So with all of that, wedges were purchased.

Now fast forward from the purchase to this week.  In my brave, ambitious mind, I thought it would be fun to feel fancy for a day.  I strapped on those wedges and headed out to school…in the sand.  After walking a couple feet, I instantly started to second-guess my decision, but I had to push through and make my decision the right decision.  I arrived at school, and instantly you would have thought I was wearing a crystal tiara.  The students were making comments about how nice I looked.  In their exact words, “Missss, you are looking !na today,” which translates as good.  The girls tell me this from time to time, but today was different…I won’t give a lot of details.  Just know it was different.  Flattered I was, but uncomfortable may be a better way to describe the day.  Something I did for me, turned into a bigger distraction for the students.  I had established myself as casual with them, and the second I stepped outside of that, their little worlds were rocked.

As I was walking home, again regretting this brazen decision because I nearly twisted my ankle, one of my 10th grade boys who is not afraid to speak his mind and ask an endless amount of questions about my personal life (i.e. miss, do you have a Namibian boyfriend?  Miss, how many kids will you want?), politely screamed across the sand, “miss, you were looking beautimous at school today.”  I got a chuckle out of the word beautimous, but decided shortly after that these shoes will stay at home until the wedding I attend.  They are officially retired from Namibian days, mainly because of the sand and frightening experiences I faced while walking to and from school (NAMIBIAN WOMEN ARE HARDCORE).  They will probably make a debut in South Africa and then again at home, but for my remaining 2.5 months in the village, this girl will continue her attractiveness in Birkenstocks and Chacos…SEXY!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Cause I am Your Lady and You are my Man"

I'm sitting outside on the stoop as Celine Dion belts out some beautiful melody, very typical Celine style.  Deep.  Powerful.  Empowering.  The boys are building a fence around the homestead with the help of Doc's brother, and the sun is setting a pastel pink behind my equally pastel pink house.  As I look out into the distance, a chestnut colored cow and his pal are wandering through the desolate fields searching for food they will struggle to find.  All around me I am reminded that I am truly in Namibia, and in this moment, my heart is incredibly full, as full as Celine's love song.  There are clothes hanging up outside, there are people walking to and from different homesteads, and there are chickens climbing trees, something prior to being here I did not know was possible.  In these moments, I can hardly believe that this is where I live, but I'm so thankful for these constant reminders that show me just how blessed I am to be a part of such a community.

Pastel sky, Pastel house.

Happy Birthday Namibian Grandma!

This past weekend I stepped outside of my comfort zone and attended the birthday party of my housemate and homestead family’s grandmother.  Around 4, we headed to another one of the family’s homesteads where we were greeted by a big circus type tent and many, many people.

Starting the party off we headed to the tent where the bishop, deacon, and family members were speaking about grandma.  I’m no sure what was said since only one person spoke in English, but from time to time, Doc and his cousin, Tangeni, would explain bits and pieces about what was being said.  Basically, she’s an awesome lady.  Born in Angola, she moved to Namibia at a young age.  She is the mother of 13 children, and has been living a nice, long life.  Her age is a little uncertain due to lack of documents and the move to Namibia, but on this day, they were celebrating her 83rd birthday.

Following this portion of the party we moved back into the homestead.  I helped some of the memes to set up some of the food, but then switched to helping Doc and the boys with passing out drinks.  By putting myself in charge of something I was able to distract others and myself from the fact that I had no idea what was going on.  Luckily, in many ways this made me feel like I was a part of family.  As we passed stuff out I was introduced to many family members, neighbors, and friends.  I saw students, my principal, and another teacher.  Everyone was so welcoming, asking me questions, holding my hand, giving me hugs.

Once the party was well underway the fun really began to start.  Namibians know how to throw a party.  Slaughter a cow.  Turn on some PDK and Gazza.  Do traditional dances.  Enjoy the company of others.  Just an FYI to all you Americans back home, I expect all of these things for my 24th birthday…cow included.  Go big or go home!

The rest of the night was filled with talking, talking, talking.  Again, I was not really sure what was happening since people were switching between Oshikwanyama and English, but from what I got I could at least make a comment here and there.  It was nice to be included in such an event, and to also see how Namibians celebrate birthdays.  Since being here, I have attended a funeral (greeting of the family) and a birthday party.  In October, I will have the opportunity to attend a wedding, which I am incredibly excited about.  That will complete my list of big events to attend before returning back home.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Term 3 has Begun

Term 3, my very last term in Namibia, has officially started, which means I have less than 100 days left in this country.  I made it through my first week back, but I won’t lie, it was not easy.  Our time changed last Sunday, which signified the start of spring (it feels more like summer and my thermometer says it is 81F at 10:45 am...I'm sure it is wrong).  We sprung our clocks forward, making it dark again when I wake up.  There is something about waking up when the sun is still down that is a little depressing to me.  It makes the mornings harder than they already are.  However, they aren’t just proving to be difficult for me; they’re also messing with the students.  Since many of these kids do not have electricity in their homes, some have no way of knowing that it is time to get ready for school.  They depend on the traditional alarm clocks of the rooster and the sun, which is difficult with this new change, and causes about 1/3 of the students to show up to first period late.

Our first week back, I spent time going over the English exam with my 9th graders, and then we transitioned into a group project that they will be presenting for my sister and brother in-law.  Each class has been divided into groups of 5-6 people.  They are required to choose one topic about Namibia so that they can teach Mark and Amanda a little bit more about their country.  So far, things seem to be off to a good start.  We have some kids talking about Namibian history, others are talking about traditional food and clothing, and others are going to explain the language of Oshikwanyama.  Although this is more for Amanda and Mark, it will be good for the students to get practice talking in front of others and working with different types of people.  I was that teacher I disliked growing up, and put the kids into random groups.  No way was I going to let them would have been a hot mess!  As for my BIS classes, I started introducing all of them to the library.  We went over the different rules, sections of the library, etc.  Already, about 40-50 books have been checked out, and in a week, they will have about 100 or so more books to choose from!

This weekend I was supposed to go to Etosha with some of our LRC students (similar to Student Council), but unfortunately the date got switched to next weekend, which means I can’t go because MY SISTER WILL BE IN NAMIBIA!!!  Yes, in exactly 6 days I will get to hug Amanda and Mark for the first time in 8 months.  The McLaughlin girls will be reunited at last.  My heart is so happy about this, and I can’t wait to see their reactions to many things, like living with no running water and bugs constantly in the house.  I'm talking giant lizards... 

Back home everyone is transitioning into fall, which is by far my favorite season.  I love the changing leaves.  The transition into fall clothing.  The idea of months of family related events on the way.  Since I am missing this and all things pumpkin (I LOVE PUMPKIN), a little homesickness has crept its way back into my daily routines.  However, with only 3 months to go, I know that a year without all of these things will make them that much more wonderful when I return.  Here’s a short list of things I look forward to when I return:
  • ·      A real shower, or more importantly, a bath tub
  • ·      A more active lifestyle
  • ·      A nice haircut where I feel pretty
  • ·      Edamame and other unique foods that are impossible to find here
  • ·      Almond milk
  • ·      G-free muffins and anything with a cake like texture
  • ·      Christmas lights
  • ·      My precious Fabian

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Holiday Part Two: Living Big and Fancy

Day 9:
The second half of our journey was a little bit more relaxing than the first.  And by half, I obviously did not half my travels appropriately.  They are divided according to when I started jotting down information in the backseat of the car. 

On day 9, the group left Luderitz and headed even farther south to Fish River Canyon.  We started at the most southern part, Ai-Ais.  In Ai-Ais, there is a nice resort with hot pools, which are naturally heated by a small hot spring in the area.  When we first arrived, we were in awe of this place.  It was luxurious and the fanciest thing we had seen in months, so we quickly changed our schedule in order to stay for two nights instead of one.

While there the first day, we enjoyed the pools and delicious chips (French fries).  We then headed to our campsite, made S’mores, and went to bed.  Crazy enough, it rained that night!  Surprisingly, our little China Shop tent made it through the night, but I did not sleep comfortably thanks to this dancer’s body of mine.

Day 10:
We continued to hangout in Ai-Ais.  We were hoping to work on our tans, but the weather had a different plan.  It was chilly, overcast, and sprinkling off and on.  This led us to stay inside at the indoor pool. I upgraded to a real room because they were reasonably priced and I knew that bucket baths were very near in my future.  Then, three of us treated ourselves to a massage.  The day was full of relaxation and tasty food, some of my favorite things.

Day 11:
We woke early and headed to the northern part of Fish River Canyon, Hobas.  Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon.  This was the other site on my list that I wanted to see before heading home and it did not disappoint.  Although we were only there for about 30 minutes, I could have stayed and stared at that canyon for hours.  It is amazing to think about how these things form, but even more so to stop and realize that we have a great Creator that loves us enough to bless us with such beautiful things.

The remainder of the day we drove back to Windhoek so we could get on the road early the next day. 

Day 12:
Home to the north we went.  We returned our rental car, got into a combi, and for 8 hours we were reminded how much hotter the north is to the south.  Even with that dreadful heat around me though, I was so excited to see cows on the street and homesteads.  The North feels much more like home, so I was so happy to finally make it back to my homestead the following day.

Holiday Part One: Diarrhea, Dunes, and Diamonds

Holiday has been off to a crazy, adventurous escapade so far, but in order to avoid boring you and rambling on, I'll break the days down and give the big highlights. 

Day 1:
Kristin and I left school a day early so that we could start the fun before the other two in our group... Our patience obviously isn't as strong. I got a ride with another teacher and met Kristin in Oshakati for some lunch. From there we wasted time until we needed to catch a ride on the Intercape. The Intercape is a South African bus that travels through Namibia and South Africa. Picture a fancy charter bus you used for overnight field trips and church summer camps. The seats were amazing, and Kristin and I were acting like small children because we were so happy with our little TVs, reclining chairs, and lack of PDK repeatedly on the radio. I had no idea what I was getting in to. We arrived in Windhoek the next morning a little before 6am. 

Day 2:
We met up with Abby, her sister, and one of her best friends from home. At this point Abby was about to embark on the journey of renting a car for the very first time. After some expected struggles, we got the car and headed for the Daan Viljoen Game Park, a resort with animals and hiking trails. Abby mastered the city driving, being on the wrong side of the road and car. For the remainder of the day we prepared for the trip by buying food and supplies. The night ended with delicious Indian food and Emily and Mariella finally arriving in Windhoek. 

Day 3: 
My group of four went to pick up our rental car from the small Eros airport in Windhoek. Kristin and I were the two designated drivers for this trip, which started off a little bit scary. 

After getting the car, we packed everything up, met Abby's group, and got on the road to head to Naukluft, near the Tsauchab River. We arrived at our campsite mid-afternoon, giving us a little bit of time to explore.

At the campsite, our spot was awesome! We had an outdoor toilet and a shower in the tree. Talk about being a part of nature. That night we made chili and froze our butts off as we slept. Unfortunately though, this is where my part of the trip took a turn for the worst. At 1am, I was hit by some kind of stomach bug, which led to continuous vomiting and eventually diarrhea. To say I hated life is an understatement. I was miserable: cold, pukey, and yes, a little dramatic. 

Day 4:
This day of adventures was still pretty rough for me. I was still sick and we had to get back on the road again. In order to prepare for the upcoming couple hours, I stayed back from the group hike and rested for a bit. This resulted in sleeping, a lot of nasty drinks, and more puke. I was pretty. Afterwards, we got on the road to head to Sossusvlei/Sesriem. 

Around 2 or so, we made it to the next destination, one that praise The Lord had an emergency clinic with meds. I got medicine, we set up our campsites, and then headed to the dunes. God was on my side for the timing of my sickness because fortunately I had already experienced this part of Namibia over May holiday, which made it easy for me to say no to dune climbing. 

The remainder of the night is pretty much a blur. I went to bed before the group and barely ate dinner. Sesriem was so cold that I ended up leaving my tent and sleeping peacefully in the car vom free. 

Day 5:
Our two groups split up and headed on our separate ways. Abby's group went to Swakopmund and ours went to Luderitz, a 7-hour drive on gravel roads in a rented car. The drive consisted of a sing along, read aloud, and the creation of a song thanks to Emily and Kristin. We made it to Luderitz shortly before dinner. We checked into the hostel (read real beds and hot showers), headed to dinner, and went to bed early. Terror struck again that night when Sleaze (Emily) woke up vomiting... Time for round 2 and 3. 

Day 6:
On day 6, more of our group got sick.  Emily and Kristin were hit with whatever I had.  I was still queasy, but more than anything, I just needed to get out because I was mentally preparing myself to feel sick again.  We were supposed to go on a tour this day of the ghost town, but luckily, we changed the day.  Mariella and I got medicine for the group and then headed out for a walking tour of the town.  That is basically all this day consisted of.  There was little food eaten.  Few events happened.  A lot of sleep was slept.

Day 7:
This day was very interesting.  Prior to getting to Luderitz we booked a tour that would allow us to explore Sperrgebiet National Park, a restricted area close to Luderitz.  This park is owned by Namdeb (Namibia De Beers) and is used for diamond mining.  We were not able to see any of the current mining being done, but our tour allowed us to visit old mining sites.  Overall, it was not what we expected and a little boring, sad to say.  At the end of the tour though, we got to see the Bogenfels Sea Arch, which was definitely my favorite part of the day.  The scenery was gorgeous and the air was fresh and smelled of the sea.  I would have been happy staying there all day.

Day 8:
On our last whole day in Luderitz, we headed to Kolmanskop, the famous ghost town.  If you Google Namibia, a lot of these pictures will show up.  It is the town where the sand dunes have started to invade the living rooms, etc.  There were only two big things left on my list to see in Namibia, and this place was one of them.  We arrived at the site, got a brief tour, and were then free to roam around on our own.  It was amazing to see how the dunes had taken over the homes. 

That night, we met up with some other volunteers in our group and went to dinner close to the water.  Several people in our group did not enjoy there time in Luderitz, but overall, I really enjoyed the slow pace of the town and the vibe.  No, it did not have a lot to offer a tourist and I would not want to live there for many years, but I could see a volunteer really enjoying their time in this town.

Holiday 2 Commencement

**Disclaimer: This was written prior to truly understanding how I would be arriving in Windhoek aka STYLE!  Thank you Intercape**

My lime green hiking backpack adorned with yellow hibiscuses sits at the door waiting to be strapped onto my back. As I give it a quick glimpse, I walk out the door attempting to patiently embrace this day. With the sand moving in and out of my shoes as I walk to the school, I quietly say my morning prayers and ask for guidance and protection on my next journey. In less than 12 hours, I will squeeze into an oh so dreadful, but glorious bus with one other volunteer. I can already imagine how some of the adventures will play out. I can already hear PDK and Gazza serenading us on our 8 hour plus trip south towards Windhoek. Like clock work, the hours will pass by slowly before this excursion. It seems like every journey has this long, quiet pause before the excitement begins, allowing for reflection and preparation. I breathe these moments in, knowing that without them it would feel like I was drowning in all the continuous newness, beauty, and Namibian sand. This holiday marks the beginning stages of my countdown until I return home.  This holiday will be the last time that I will greatly explore the country of Namibia.