Every Peace Corps Volunteer begins their journey with approximately three months of Pre-Service Training. This training includes technical, safety, medical, language, and cross cultural sessions.
We arrived in Namibia on Thursday evening and immediately began our training on Friday morning. Breakfast was set from 6-7am and classes began at 7:30am. Not much time to worry about jet lag!
Our training is six days a week, Monday through Saturday with Sundays off. Monday through Friday we have classes from 7:30am to 4:30pm (though we never get out on time) and Saturdays are usually a field trip or cultural day. It is about a half hour walk to the training center from our homestay and we typically walk with a group of 6-8 people. Sundays we like to hike, play soccer, catch up on laundry, or catch up on sleep!
Our life here so far has been hectic to say the least. On our second day in Namibia, each trainee was given a list of 54 site descriptions. We had a short amount of time to look over the whole list and choose our top 3 locations just based off of a description such as rural/urban, school size, lodging type (traditional/modern/host family), type of teacher needed (math/science/english/computers), and how close the site was to other volunteers (ranged from same town to 300+ km away). We had an interview with our technical trainers to discuss our top choices and any other considerations we had in choosing a site such as being close to mountains or being able to have a garden. After these interviews, they had a better idea of what region we would be placed in and that was used to determine what language we would be learning. So, during the first full week of training, Eric and I discovered that we would be learning Afrikaans!
The first full week was also when we all got placed with our host families. They tried to match each volunteer with a host family that spoke the language that we would be learning, but not every language group is represented in Okahandja, our training town, so some volunteers are not able to practice language at home with their families. Luckily, almost every family in Okahandja speaks Afrikaans, so we have been able to use our family as a resource.
We are beyond spoiled with our host family in Okahandja. We have running water, electricity, wifi, a washing machine, and a gas stove. We are in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with a living room, family room, dining room, full kitchen, and they even have a pool in the backyard (sadly it is not filled). Although we have all of the modern luxuries that we are accustomed to, we are definitely an exception. The wealth gap is very large here and it is immediately evident as you drive through town. While Eric and I are in the wealthier part of town known as Town Laan, just a mile or so away is a makeshift shanty town on the outskirts of the city. It is really sad to see many people living in these conditions around Namibia.
I could go into why this gap exists and talk a lot more about Namibian culture, but I will leave that for a later post! For now, I will get back to training.
Our second Saturday of training was cultural food day. All of the different language groups got together with members of the community in order to cook a traditional meal representing their respective ethnic group. Each language group also prepared a traditional song to present to the rest of the group. The 7 different language groups are Afrikaans, Khoekhoegowab (click language), Oshikwanyama, Oshindonga, Otjiherero, Rumanyo, and Silozi. The preparation of food took about 5 hours. All of the groups cooked their meals over open fires in large cast iron pots or on the braai. Three goats were slaughtered as well as several chickens. As part of the Afrikaans group, we cooked roosterbrood (my favorite), potato salad, sausage, liver, and various other goat parts.
Seeing the animals slaughtered was very difficult for me as a 7+ year vegetarian. I am glad that I got to see the process since I believe that everyone that eats meat should understand where their food really comes from, but if anything, it just reaffirmed that I cannot take the life of an animal if I do not need the meat to survive. It was strange to me that a few members of our group were eager to kill the animals, and I was a little put off at the lack of respect for life that I saw from some people. I believe that it was a sobering experience for many and one that I will not forget any time soon. Some of the pictures from the event are graphic so take this as your warning.
A lot of the food looked very good as it was being cooked but I was surprised when I tasted it. I was looking forward to trying the traditional spinach dish found in the northern region of the country, but I took the first bite and was immediately put off by the crunch of sand. Apparently, they let the spinach dry on the ground in the sun before cooking it, so what I was tasting and crunching on was literally sand and dirt from where it was dried. The only non-meat items were bread, pap (a corn or millet meal porridge that is cooked into a thick paste and used as a vessel to scoop other meat or veggies), the sandy spinach, and a fermented millet drink. I really enjoyed the bread, pap, and millet drink and I am looking forward to adapting the recipes to make some Nam-erican food once I am at site.
For our third Saturday, we took a field trip to Windhoek, the capitol of Namibia. We all got on a bus and left Okahandja at 7am to take the 45-60 minute drive to Windhoek Saturday morning. Our first stop was Heroes’ Acre, a memorial dedicated to all those who have fought for Namibian Independence. After our tour there, we headed to a museum to learn more about the history of Namibia. I really enjoyed getting to do some “touristy” activities to learn more about my new home! After a morning of history, we headed to the Maerua Mall for lunch and some shopping. Eric got a much needed new pair of shoes and we were happy to find vegan food and smoothies! After the mall, we headed to the open air market in Katutura. Katutura is a neighborhood outside of Windhoek center where all of the blacks were forced to move to during apartheid. It literally means “the place where people do not want to live.” The market mostly consisted of what I would call “street meat” but Eric and I did manage to get some fresh fat cakes, which are basically the Namibian equivalent to a zeppole without the powdered sugar.
As you can see, they keep us quite busy. Hence why I am squeezing three weeks of training into this one blog post. Tonight is our last night in Okahandja for three weeks because tomorrow we are heading north to Community Based Training (CBT) in Tsumeb. There, we will be observing teachers, co-teaching, and teaching our own lessons. We will also move in with a new host family for our time in Tsumeb. On one hand, it feels as though I was just in the states yesterday hanging out with everyone, but on the other hand, it feels as though I have been in Namibia for months now. It is a weird dynamic and I think that once we get through training and start a routine, the dust should finally start to settle a bit. Until next time….