Totsiens en dankie my vriende

20140319-100915.jpg20140522-081414.jpg

 

So, now I am back and have had the time to reflect on my African experience a bit. I think what this last year has taught me is that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. This lifestyle fosters detachment and repels greediness. It cultivates simplicity, natural love, creativity, and an appetite for adventure.

It has been two weeks since being back in the US and it still feels a bit anticlimactic and somehow illusory. I find myself waking and wishing I was staring up at a tarnished ceiling covered with random insects, most of which would have been large spiders; however, all of that is sort of insignificant because really and most importantly I am desperately missing my morning talks with my best friend and seeing my kids everyday. Although after leaving them, I feel like this last year has inspired a sense of fearlessness within me and I feel like I have never been stronger. Living with nothing but two backpacked filled with camping gear and toiletries makes life pretty simple. I guess when you travel and leave everything behind you realize what is important and what you are thankful for.

I am thankful for the little, free things in life. For me, my experience abroad has reconfirmed in so many ways that there are no colors. There are no languages. There are people. There are beautiful people all around the world waiting to share friendships and be loved, waiting to be understood, and accepted. We are all equal no matter where in the world we live, what we do, or what we look like. We are all the same.

This is the end of this chapter in my life and I want to thank everyone who has followed my adventure. Thank you to my family, friends, the Chef, and former diners, for keeping abreast of my journey.

Love you all.

xx

 

20140526-191639.jpg

Unmapped Territory.

There is unmapped territory in all of us.

Last Thursday I was notified by WorldTeach that I had to leave Uis due to the violence and because the PeaceCorp pulled both of their volunteers from the site. The school was notified on Thursday late morning and by the afternoon I had all of my belongings packed and was in a car heading to Omaruru en route to Windhoek.

It is just so amazing how, at any moment, your life can seem normal and in a routine and perhaps mundane…. Then in the next moment, everything can change so drastically. With such short notice, I barely was able to say goodbye to my learners and colleagues.  Although, Uis at times, felt like I was trapped in the middle of bush, it was my home and I really did love it. I loved the solitude and being surrounded by the natural beauty of Africa and people who appreciate not who you know, or what you have, but who you are and welcome long talks and wasted afternoons by an open fire with no care except for the company in that moment.  People who don’t plan for the next job, next day,  what the weekend plans are, but are content with the present.
Now, in Windhoek,  I can’t help but miss everything desperately.  I was given a choice to be placed in another location in the Erongo region or head home. I thought long and hard about this decision and decided that I must come home, albeit two months early.  Now, sitting with this decision I feel almost incomplete. I committed to a year of volunteering and it feels like it was ripped from me. I know living here has taught me a lot about myself but also how to be flexible and to go with where the wind me.  However,  I can’ t help but feel like I didn’t complete what I set out to do.  I didn’t get to immerse myself for a full year without the conveniences of technology and the luxuries of home.
I already miss the learners’ faces and when I did get a chance to say goodbye to a few favorites, I couldn’t help but have tears come to my eyes. I will miss them a lot and know I must return to this magical place.
I just read this quote and loved it..
“When you think you have yourself all mapped out, there’s always an unknown path to appear. Take it.”

While I was away…

shoes-teen
I truly can’t believe how fast time flies when you are with family and friends. I had the most wonderful time at home.  I got to see nearly all of the people I wanted to with the exception of about five important people. (I promise I will see you in December when I am back for good)!
It was so strange being back in the U.S. after such a long period of time and although I have changed so much, so little had changed at home. Everyone was nearly doing the same things, my Mom was busy as ever running around the grandparents to their various appointments, Jo planning and getting ready for the wedding, and the Chef….well, being the typical Chef.  Nothing really changed however I felt completely different. Everything looked different and felt different. Especially in the first week. Everything we appreciate like being able to visit the grocery store whenever we want or running to grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks or even meeting a friend last minute at a restaurant around the corner. All things I typically take for granted aren’t available to most people, especially here in Africa.  The simplicity of it sounds sort of cockamamie but being so spoiled in my upbringing, I really missed it.  I also realize here, we don’t need much.  In the U.S. we are so consumed with how everyone looks at you and how you spend your time. Who/where you are and whom you are with takes over why you are doing things. Here, none of the superficial stuff matters. People don’t care if you are wearing yoga pants to the coffee shop (ahem, if there was a coffee shop) or whether you brush your hair perfectly (or not at all in my case..). The most important thing here is family and it’s as simple and raw as it gets.
IMG_4101
(Ben and I when he visited Boston)
While I was home, I visited my old office at BIDMC and they donated a whole box of goodies for the kids. Yesterday I gave out a few of the pens and pencils and sharpeners.  The kids were thrilled. (Thank you Donna and the team who donated all the goodies for the kids!)
So I thought I would summarize a few things that have changed since I have been away..
  1. One of my kids, Mathias has been going to my flat every single day and watering “our” (all I did was buy the seeds for him) garden. And now look at it!  During the first term, Mathias was the biggest trouble maker in my class, I constantly kicked him out and sent him to the principal’s office. Now he is my second in command in the class. (As my family tells me at home, just one… just one) Maybe this is it?

IMG_4181IMG_4179IMG_4176

(We have grown collard greens, cabbage and apparently tomatoes are on their way – hurray!)

2. Loretta. Still amazing.

3. Alyssa, PeaceCorp volunteer is no longer in Uis – sadly. Apparently due to violence in the area the PeaceCorp decided to remove her because of her safety. Sad but true. While I was away I heard that the China shop was robbed and the owner got beaten up pretty badly. Additionally, according to some of my colleagues, a sexual offender that was being held at the local prison in Uis, (population: 300) is now out and about.  Excellent.

4. New Principal! I have a new principal and she is wonderful. I returned around 9pm on Wednesday evening and of course hadn’t slept in over 40 hours by that time and the following morning attempted to teach all of my classes. Around 10am, I was beat and went during the break to lie down and by lie down I mean sleep. I tried to get up but literally couldn’t and so I had Loretha tell the principal that I needed to rest.  Apparently, she nearly finished Loretha’s sentence and said, “that sweet girl she must be exhausted.” Love her already.

Things that haven’t changed.
  1. The kids.  My favorite kids ran up to me when I arrived and hugged me until I think I turned blue. It was a nice way to arrive. Loretha did nearly the same thing and couldn’t stop smiling saying, “Oh Cummings! You didn’t get as fat as I thought you would.”  At least you know Namibians tell you how they really feel.
  2. 5:45am wake up with Loretha – hmmff.. still hard for me.
  3. Uis is still so dry and sort of brown. There isn’t much green because the weather yesterday and today has been hitting nearly 95 degrees. You really can’t do much but stay indoors and read or go for a walk fully covered. However, I do have some green in my backyard – hurray!
  4. Esther, my senior who I adore, while I was at school came into my flat and reorganized and cleaned my whole flat. She used to do this last term sort of unexpectedly and on Thursday while I was at school did the same thing.  Even if I am in the flat and perhaps sleeping and she walks in, she will run in and give me a kiss on the cheek. She is as sweet as ever.
  5. Spiders here are still big.
IMG_4158
All in all, I think the adjustment this time around is going to be difficult as I am coming from home versus traveling around Africa as I was in the first term.  Since being back I already miss the luxuries of the first world, family, the Chef, daily yoga, and of course the assortment of green food.
Ps. Yesterday a goat was killed outside my flat. There is still blood over the wall. Welcome home. 

Surreal.

IMG_4101.JPG

I have been home for a week exactly.  One 2 hour flight to Jo’berg, and then a 12 hour flight to London and finally a 7 hour flight to Boston.  During the trip I met countless travelers who I noticed were always eager to learn about my adventure as well as share theirs.  As soon as I sat down for the flight to Jo’berg, I met two men who immediately wanted to converse about their journeys as well as nearly interrogate me on mine.  One was about to embark on a journey to Germany and then to the U.S. and to Canada for six months. The other was a resident in London however was just heading to South Africa for a quick getaway.   I have noticed from staying at hostels and backpackers in Namibia that most travelers are lonely.  If people travel alone they are usually keen to make conversation and simply have some company.  Typically, when I have traveled alone I tend to gravitate towards others as well.. perhaps it is just the human contact I crave or a friendly face and smile to share stories.   Either way, my nerves were aflutter yet they somehow were eased by these carefree moments and interactions with strangers.

Since being home, I have had the luxury to see a few of my favorite people and somehow have easily fallen back into my routine in Boston.  One thing is absolutely certain, being back in your mother’s arms is probably the best feeling in the world.  Jo picked me up from the airport and we had one of those scenes from a movie where each person runs at the other and then hugs the other while crying. It was pretty much that exact scene.  I missed her a lot and seeing her made all my nervous energy dissipate.  Jo drove me home to Princeton and my Mom hugged me while she had tears streaming down her face. Dad couldn’t stop saying, “you know, hunny, you really don’t have to go back,..” To say the least I certainly feel surrounded by love and warmth. 

A few things I had forgotten:

– New England is so green… when did that happen?! Compared to Africa everything here looks like a tropical jungle – when you aren’t used to seeing how lush everything it is, it is quite impressive
– Trees are really really tall here. I never realized it but most of the trees in Namibia are quite stout and sparse given the lack of rain. 
– New England is incredibly clean. I recall from time to time thinking that there is trash on the streets in Boston but actually, it is spotless..  In Namibia, I have seen people throw trash out of windows and sometimes when I go for a run you see plastic bags scattering the plains.  That would be a rare sight here.

– Juice. Juice made from kale, pineapple or essentially any fruit or vegetable is AMAZING – the real question is… can I bring my juicer back to Namibia and secondly, can you juice mutton? (Don’t answer that.) Sigh… okay no juicer then. 

– I missed everything.  Having a little distance from your home makes you realize how special everyone and everything is. I was simply walking in Boston yesterday and looked around and noticed how lucky I am to live where I live.  Seeing people who are fortunate enough to have food everyday and the luxury to be able to simply walk to the store if they want something particular.  I suppose being back for this month has forced me to realize that I must cherish each and every moment.   Whether it be the friendly encounter with a stranger on a flight, someone you meet in the cue at the grocery store, or sitting looking at the Boston Harbor or the lake with your best friend. You never know how long these moments will last.  I know this month is going to go by so fast and I know I am not going to be able to see everyone I would like to see and before I know it, I will be back in Uis, surrounded by kids yelling “Miss! Miss! Miss!” – “You must give me…”

So while I am here, I am going to enjoy the quiet and relish all the delicious things in a first world country including:
– hot showers anytime
– no dirt/dust/sand anything sticky on your feet while inside your house
– socks without holes
– a real comforter and clean towels
– windows… may seen overrated at times, but I assure you they are not! 
– smoothies
– fresh vegetables and especially home made pesto
– real coffee vs. instant coffee (I am not complaining but real coffee is insanely good) – especially made by the Chef.
– a car vs. hitchhiking. (NOT overrated. EVER.)
– washer/dryer – all I can say is… wow. I love you?

Somehow after writing this list, I can’t help but to miss my learners and of course, Loretha.  A few of my kids stopped by the night before I left and gave me notes they had written telling me how missed I would be while I was away.  As hard as it will be to return and leave my home, family, and people I love, I know being back will yet again force me to reflect on who/where I spend my time moving forward. I think the biggest “a-ha!” moment has been for me to not waste time on people or things that don’t give back the same way.  A perhaps simple thought but nonetheless important lesson.  Now back to my warm cup of coffee while looking out over Lake Winnie. ~ Bliss ~

Sweet Bread

This past weekend, L and I got a sheep and I was 100% committed to doing the slitting of the throat all myself however when he arrived all chipper and wagging his little tail my heart sank and I locked myself in my room. Somehow I still haven’t shaken my love for farm animals. Perhaps it is because of all the pumpkin and apple picking we used to do as kids on local farms and after full cartons of big juicy apples we were rewarded with a visit to the farm animals usually having little ones run at their feet. Little did we know that that was Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner the farmers were fattening up. The realities of growing up somehow keep you wishing you never knew. Ignorance is bliss has never been more true.

So back to the sheep.. Oh yes don’t think we didn’t kill it – we did and then ate it. It was delicious and yesterday evening after sending the head away to a woman who apparently knows the art of cooking a sheep head brought it back to us. I watched with my mouth hanging open while L held the head in one hand and used a knife to cut pieces and then place them right into her mouth. I wasn’t feeling keen on the sheep eye however she insisted I must try the brain. I did the honors and broke the skull after refusing the encouraged tactic of reaching in the back and simply pulling out piece by piece.

The final verdict – not bad actually. Very rich and quite similar to the yoke of an egg. We also enjoyed the tongue quite a bit.

Bahhhh.

“God I feel alive”

This week marks the beginning of the mid-terms for all of the kids. I still can’t believe how fast this trimester has gone by. Somehow the weeks tend to blend together due to the amount of content that must be covered during class time and the study periods during the afternoons and evenings. The mid-term weeks, in teacher language, really means no rotation. During a typical week, the kids follow a schedule just like in the U.S. and rotate between classes. Given that I teach 25 classes per week, I do have from time to time a few off periods. During these periods I tend to go check email, make coffee, de-stress, and organize myself for my next class. When the kids are not rotating however, there no off periods which results in constant discipline and exhaustion. Hmmmmf… only three more weeks though…

This week we finished up Grade 8’s topic on atoms. I think they came out pretty well. I encouraged the kids to use old bottles, trash, and essentially anything they could find. Below are a few of the photos. Not bad eh?

20140721-102146-37306454.jpg

20140721-102144-37304497.jpg

Rambo.

Since Jules has left, life has certainly been a bit of a struggle. Everyday since she left Uis, every class begins with the kids asking me if I can either do the moonwalk, sing and dance for them, or teach them Spanish. None of which I can do with Ms. Julienne’s smile, energy or contagious laughter. I think she has made a lasting impact that even she won’t realize. The kids already ask me when will she and Mr. Matt will return nearly on a daily basis. As they ask me these questions, I can’t help but remember that I will be home in less than a month. It is coming up fast and I honestly can’t wait for daily hot showers, Starbucks, and salads and of course all my family and friends.

This weekend I was invited to go to the annual Otjiwarongo Carnival. Louis picked me up on Friday after school and we headed out to Omaruru and then to Otji. We were being met by Louis’ sister, Mary-Ann and her husband Raen as well as a few other friends. The carnival was nothing like I have ever experienced. On stage were high school performers in red and white sparkling dresses and hats with feathers. We were seated at a long table that spanned the length of the room and on the stage were big tables where people with feathered hats sat with pints of beer. The host spoke to the crowd in Afrikaans then would mid-sentence switch to English and then again mid-sentence would switch again to German. The girls in between the acts would dance up and down the long walkway that cut the room in half. The announcers would make toasts and then the girls would perform a short routine and then we would drink. More announcements in Afrikaans, toast, drink. It reminded me very much of almost an Octoberfest type seating arrangement and performance. Lots of cheering, singing, and dancing. It was a lot of fun. The following day the whole lot which was about 12 people, woke up early and headed to a friends farm. Louis’ sister told me that the game farm we were headed to had kudu, oryx, hemsbok, and eland. Eland is the biggest out of all of the antelope and they were planning on hunting two during the afternoon and into the night because of the full moon. (Apparently a full moon is good for hunting?) We drove from the small city of Otji and then began trekking into the bush. After about 30 minutes outside of the “city” we began to come across big metal gates that would separate farms. We would enter one farms property and then drive through on the sandy road to another gate. Each car in the line would take turns having their passengers get out, open the gate, and then let the rest of the cars through. This continued for another 30 minutes as we traveled through five or six farmers land. Finally we arrived at Espia’s farm, a quant lodge with a 4 chalets next to the main house. The house was surrounded by barbed wire and high fences to keep the game and leopards out. As soon as we arrived all of the men took off to go hunting. The women decided it was time for an afternoon cocktail. I took a long walk along the property and was met along the way by many warthogs and other small wildlife. I was eager to have the men return with the eland because I had never seen an animal that big up close or slaughtered.

Around 9pm, we heard from Raen that they were successful. I had never seen an eland however heard from a few of the women that they can get as big as a ton in weight. 45 minutes later the bakki arrived with the eland. The group brought a few of their workers who apparently had been known to slaughter a whole eland in an hours time. I was ready and eager to see this. Below are some pretty graphic photos. At one point, Fessy, Louis’ cousin, took my hand and shoved it into the brisket (essentially the breast area) of the enormous eland and my hand almost felt like it was burned because the blood was still so hot. It was pretty incredible. The precision of the workers and also the art of slaughtering such an enormous animal was remarkable and something I will never forget. At the end, I held the heart and my hands it it was as big as my head. The meat on an eland could feed a family for about three months time according to one of the men. Espia told me that he was planning on making biltong with the meat and selling it.

20140714-121617-44177386.jpg

20140714-121618-44178249.jpg

20140714-121642-44202085.jpg

20140714-121643-44203852.jpg

20140714-121642-44202961.jpg