The second term of the school year finished on Friday, meaning that I have two weeks of vacation to enjoy. At the moment I am in Rundu, relaxing, eating hamburgers, and playing frisbee like crazy. On Wednesday I am going to catch a bus with a few friends to Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. Livingstone is also known as the 'adrenaline capital' of Southern Africa: bungee jumping, white-water rafting, great wildlife parks; It should be a lot of fun.
My birthday was two weeks ago and I got a lot of letters and emails and well-wishes. Thanks to everyone! Turning 24 and being in Africa, it was one of my best yet. On my birthday I went to a braai (barbeque)at my friends (Scott and Lindsey) house in Nkurenkuru. Half of the guests were Namibians that Scott and Lindsey know, the other half were Peace Corps Volunteers, so it was really a mixing of cultures.
An American would probably be confused about what happens at a Namibian braai. First of all, the meat. Same as America, there must be meat at any braai. But the host of the braai must supply everything: meat and other food and all beer. There's no such thing as BYOB. The guests should be able to eat as much as they want and they get to take as many left-overs home as they want or else they become offended! There isn't a butcher in Nkurenkuru, so we decided to buy a goat from a local farmer. A few of Lindsey's students were convinced to help us kill and prepare it. This time, my hands were completely clean! The learners were paid by getting to keep the goat's head and its hooves. The second thing about a braai is that each gender has well-defined roles. All of the women at the braai, even guests, were expected to be in the kitchen, preparing food, cleaning, and serving the men. The men only had to help cook the meat, drink beer, and relax. Not too taxing!
I had never eaten goat meat before coming to Namibia. I was at first a little hesitant, but I have come to see it as a very tasty and affordable option. The most tasty parts of the goat are, in no order: the liver, the stomach lining, intestines and head. The liver is tasty, the stomach is chewy but also good (weird texture!) But I balk at the intestines. While the women were boiling the intestines a mysterious smell began to spread through the house: thick, fetid, and, frankly, revolting. I had to evacuate. I know it is a delicacy, but if it literally smells like shit while cooking, what does it taste like? Maybe next. Finally, I've never seen someone eat the head; is it the jowls? Eye balls and brain? These are questions that I am still investigating.
The other food served at the braai were potato salad, baked beans, rice, and yisima
, meaning maize porridge. Not too exotic, I suppose. This was a braai hosted by Americans, of course, but it was done with extensive consulting from Namibians so I think it was fairly authentic. A lot of people have asked what a Namibian birthday is like. I think it is subdued compared to an American birthday. Most Namibians don't have the ability to buy fancy birthday presents and I've never seen a cake of any kind in Namibia. At the end of the night everyone sang Happy Birthday, and then (not at my initiative), they passed around a cup and everyone had to put in a small amount of money.
A cornerstone of the Peace Corps Volunteers duties is to work on secondary projects, usually development or income-generating. Early in my service the school told me that they wanted a computer lab at the school. I was hesitant to bring computers to the school only through donations. Development through 'gifts from the sky' has had an awful track-record in Africa. It does not build African self-sufficiency, the recipients have no sense of having earned what they have been given, and perhaps most insidiously, it creates a system of dependence rather than self-reliance. Instead I have been working to convince the principal, teachers, and school board to purchase the computers themselves. Every year the school collects about $6000 from school fees paid by the learners. The government only pays the teachers' salaries, the school is expected to finance the rest: textbooks, supplies, maintenance, everything! I think you can imagine how far the $6000 must go.
Well. The first stage of the computer project is over! This past week the school decided to spend about $2000 to purchase 6 computers, a printer, and an Internet subscription from a local NGO. I feel really good about this. It is the embodiment of sustainability. It shows a local commitment to the project. Whatever else I do for these two years, however many blunders I make, I can at least point to the modest computer collection and know that I have made a difference.
Of course this brings up another point: How in the hell am I going to teach a class of 35 learners, all of whom have never touched a computer in their lives, with 6 computers!? Two steps forwards, one step back.