Angie's Peace Corps (Namibia) Adventure
Jul. 20th, 2007
17 July, 2007. Tuesday.
Listening to: “Is This Love?” mix, tons of different artists
Where to start? It’s been a really long time now since I journaled. I’ve realized again that I’ve been slacking on my journal writing. But then again, the last few weeks have been crazy busy and all over the place. This is the first week since the middle of June that I’m at site all week long. You know, it’s really hard for me to journal after a long time. I never know where to start, what to put in, what to leave out. I never do justice to everything that should be said, and I feel like I don’t get to cover everything I’d like to. And I don’t want to make this super long, but lately I’ve been realizing that the more I journal the more memories I’ll have, the more clearer they’ll be, when I leave here and look back on the whole thing.
So let’s just say that a WHOLE lot has happened over the last few weeks. Among the highlights: visiting Rute for a long weekend (she’s back for good!); Peace Corps Regional Meeting; the incredible huge success of the Northern Girls Conference; my never-ending flu; and it seems I’ve met someone at a time when I was least expecting/ looking for it.
28 June- 2 July:
Spent in Otavi visiting Rute. I hadn’t seen her since she was at the hospital in Windhoek after her accident. She’d been through a lot since I’d seen her last- dealing w the whole psychological aspect of the accident, fighting Peace Corps to not med-sep her, gotten to take a short vacation in the states, etc. So it was beyond wonderful to see her and spend a few days alone just catching up on everything on both of our ends. We spent the first night getting drunk together, and every other night just talking, talking, talking. About where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going. Talking about everything and anything. Getting retarded, playing cards, cooking nice meals, reminiscing and dreaming. She’s my best friend in Peace Corps, but at this point she’s way more than a Peace Corps friend. She’s become one of the closest people to me in my life, and I think that’s just because of the Peace Corps experience. You make friends quickly and share such deep good, bad, and crazy moments. This woman I’ll treasure way after Peace Corps, so yes… getting to spend those few days together was amazing. And I’m so happy she got to come back & is well on her way back to fully recovered.
Peace Corps Regional Meeting
5 July- 7 July in Ongwediva.
A great weekend meeting up with other Volunteers that I never get to see from my group, meet some of the new volunteers (Group 26), meet our new Country Director, and oh yeah some in-service training tossed into the formula. Great weekend, but too short-lived. Getting all the volunteers together is a huge rarity, so whenever it happens I wish it could last longer. New Country Director seems to have it together and seems serious about changing some of the things in the program, which I’m all for. Not to criticize our old CD, I just don’t think he was as aware of or interested in the issues of the health program.
Northern Girls Conference
12 July- 15 July
I could write so much about the NGC but, again, I wouldn’t know where to start. It sucked that I had the flu throughout the entire conference, but I sucked it up & was there for it all. It went so well. Not w/out the typically expected frustrations of trying to do such a huge conference in Namibia, in Africa. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of things that happen here that you just accept and deal with & have to not get frustrated with because it’s just Africa! But man oh man, the frustrations & the things that happen that would NEVER fly back in the States if we were doing the same thing back there. Ah but that’s the beauty of the whole experience. You just learn to laugh about shit.
But in the end, all those stupid little frustrations or problems don’t matter. All we had to do when crap got crazy was look around at all the girls. 80 girls from grades 8 & 9 , 8 peer leaders grades 10 & 11, and 8 teachers. The girls were SO happy and SO enjoying themselves. They had no idea about all the things we had to deal with behind the scenes in order to make everything happen. They were too happy enjoying the whole Conference. And at the end of the day, that’s what always matters.
The girls were SO clever and so well-behaved. They were right on. They absorbed everything. They put their hearts into everything. They showed each other the way. Besides the girl, our other proudest accomplishment from this whole thing is how much of it was carried out by the Namibians. Almost all of the Conference was facilitated by Namibians- teachers, peer leaders, guest speakers, members of the Ministry of Education’s Regional AIDS Committee for Education (RACE). The potential for sustainability is definitely there & definitely strong. And I know I speak for both Amber & myself when I say that that is one of our biggest accomplishments in our whole Peace Corps experience. And of course it helped that some Peace Corps Volunteers from last year first collaborated w some of these people and paved the way.
And one last thing.. can I just say how cool it was that the Namibian Vagina Monologues came to the conference and put on a “toned down” version of the Vagina Monologues?! It was soo fucking cool. You don’t understand- these girls, these kids, these people… NEVER talk about sexuality or really get much into reproductive health. Say the word “Vagina” or “Sex” and the girls will giggle and freak out. And one thing is to say it in English, but saying it in their local language is a WHOLE different story. These words, these topics, are never uttered in the local language. Getting them to talk about these things in their local language, and even English, was a huge deal. We were a little worried that it’d be too much for these girls, and I think the ladies who put on the show were crapping their pants, but it was SO worth it. I think the girls were floored at first, but by the end of the night they felt so comfortable talking about their private parts & about reproductive health in general. By the end of the weekend it was “Vagina vagina vagina”, but it’s not just the fact of saying the word & talking about it. What they took from it was how important & valuable that part of our bodies is and how we need to be comfortable w our parts, & why we must respect it & make sure that OTHERS respect it & respect our bodies, and ourselves. The reason all this is such a big deal is that we just can’t fight HIV/AIDS if we can’t talk about our private parts & about sexuality & if we can’t feel like WE have to take control of our own bodies.
Yeah this has got me for 9 days now and won’t go away. I picked it up at the Peace Corps Regional Meeting. It seemed like half of the teachers had the flu, probably from being around their learners. So it was passed on to me and hasn’t yet left me. Strangely enough I haven’t had fever or real body pain, it’s just coughing, sneezing, sore throat-ness, losing the voice. I don’t know what is up w this strain but it must be pretty serious cause now all my co-workers have it too. I probably passed it on to them and now that I’m back at the office after the NGC, they’ve passed it back to me. I’m finally getting the appropriate medicine tomorrow, so maybe I’ll feel better soon.
About the Guy
Yeah, I don’t know. This has been going on for a couple weeks now. He’s not a Volunteer- he’s Namibian. I don’t want to say too much about it because for one, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and two, I’m always really paranoid that by acknowledging this sort of thing I am jinxing it. So all I want to say is that the timing couldn’t be more terrible, but the situation (whatever it is that it is) couldn’t be more better. It’s like I found a needle in a haystack, and I wasn’t even looking. Not at all looking, not at all on that mind set, not at all for that kinda thing. I’ve been just fine & dandy alone, focusing on my work, making plans for grad school, starting to get ready for going home. It just happened. The timing is horrible, and I have to wonder if this is all some sort of cruel joke that the world is playing on us both. But in my own personal view when this sorta thing happens you just go with it, and, as David Gray sings, “what will be, will be”. In the meantime, it’s fucking great. Currently, my room smells of fresh flowers. A needle in a haystack.
And that’s more than enough for one night. I hope I’ve done the last few weeks some justice. Now I don’t feel so guilty about not journaling anymore. I’ll try to keep up w it some more so that it doesn’t have to be so hard to start up again. Til next time, peace and love, and see you soon enough.
Jun. 21st, 2007
20 June 2007, Thursday
Listening to: Beatles/ Nirvana/ Foo Fighters/ 3 Doors Down mix.
* Today during my down time after eating something for lunch, something hit me. It hit hard. I listened to some music that I haven’t listened to in a very long time, and it hit me then & there that the “disassociation” process is a long one. And although I’ve come one hell of a long way, I’m still trying to disassociate some things. Mostly music. Eventhough it was hard to swallow through it, I forced myself to listen to these songs, which by the way, I completely accidentally bumped into today. I pulled out a cd I hadn’t listened to in a long time (probably not even once since I’ve been in Nam) looking for some other music and found these songs. It’s a cd I’d put together in 2003 or 2004 it seems. I like this music and in order for me to continue to enjoy it, I have to separate it from what i automatically associate it with. And if you’ve ever had to do that, you might know it’s not exactly a fun process. So while the flood gates opened, I just sat there & dealt with it. And to you, my favorite mistake, I say congratulations… Because I know you are reading (or will read). I bet you are happy & proud. Finally I have addressed something regarding you in my journal. This is the first time & last I’ll acknowledge this… what was. In the 6 months it’s been since all this went down, I’ve not once spoken of this. Because let’s be clear on something: “this” doesn’t factor into my world anymore.
Disassociation sucks. But the great thing about it is that it means you’re moving on. It means the page has been turned, and I turned the page a while ago. I’m free as a bird. And wouldn’t you believe it, it’s the best feeling in the world.
* In other stuff, after lunch my day turned amazing. It ended up being a superfeelgood day. That’s how good it was. I had a good jog, and it was during the jog that I realized something. You know, when I go jogging kids are always coming out of the woodwork, jumping out at me, coming out of the woodwork, running to catch up, slowing down so I catch up with them, yelling at me from across the field. It used to annoy me initially because I like to listen to my music & think when I jog and I can’t do that when kids are running w/ me. But I got over that a long time ago, and most of the time now I enjoy it when they tag along or yell for my attention. It’s actually so frickin sweet. And it’s one of the things that I savor every time it happens, because I’m gonna miss that so much when I go. These kids will do whatever it takes to bump into me or to exchange a hello with me. I think the most special thing about this, and the thing that always really get me right there, is when I see these kids dropping whatever they’re doing or running from across the field to catch up… just so that I can say hello to them, smile at them, or wave. That’s it; that’s all they want. Just some attention & some love. It’s so fucking cute when they just smile & laugh shyly and/or run away after I greet them. It’s like they don’t know what to do w/ themselves and all I did was say hello, ask them how was school, and ask what they are doing at the moment.
I really enjoy it so much. It always helps me put everything into perspective. If I didn’t have a good day or especially if I’m having a bad day w regards to the work I’m doing here, they always make it okay. I guess during that moment when I get a kid giggling just cause I said hello them, everything else can go to hell and if i did nothing sustainable while I was here, at least I was able to bring some love & happiness to a kid for a little while. The kids here are lacking so much love & affection. So yeah, I don’t mind it one bit anymore when they try to get me to stop for them. They don’t know that I notice or realize when they purposely slow down so I can reach them, or when they run to catch up to me. But I do. And I realized that if some kid is doing that, then how can I be annoyed and not give them some loving attention? Anyways, this has been going on for months but i hadn’t really documented the phenomena. I just realized today that I’m gonna miss this tremendously when I go. No kid in America is gonna get such a grin on his/her face just from seeing me run by. Here it means so much to some kids.
* The other thing that made my day today was that after work my library counterparts & I were saying goodbye for the day when one of them said something in Oshiwambo, and of course I didn’t understand. So she said in English, “I say we will pray…” and then she giggled and went on “… that you don’t leave us until 2009.” I started laughing, eventhough inside I was a little choked up. We laughed together cause we all know that they want me to stay but that I’ve gotta go back. We’ve had conversations about it before, and I know they’re getting sad about November. But I said, “yeah? Do you want to tell that to my mom/dad so that they can have a heart attack about me not coming home for another 2 years?” . We just laughed some more together. And as they walked away, I noticed my heart was so happy but so heartbroken at the same time. It makes me feel good to know they care about me so much, but it also made me sad that they are sad. Just another one of those memorable moments. One of those that also helps put everything into perspective. It’s gonna suck having to say goodbye to my people in Namibia. I wish I could be in two places at once.
Alrite…enough for one night. I’ve got emails to catch up on. Tomorrow is internet day for this week. What What! Good night… peace & love.
“Looking forward & not behind- everybody’s gotta cross that line.” ~3 Doors Down~
19 June 2007, Wednesday
Listening to: 3 Doors Down & Staind mix
Remind me to come back to tell you about my new friend, a boy named Sacheus. He is gonna be helping us in the library, and he’s got a heart of gold.
Jun. 17th, 2007
01:13 pm - 12 June 2007
June 12 2007
Listening to: “April’s Chill Mix”, a mixed cd
I have been thinking lately that I have not been journaling much. I’ve been fully aware of this, especially over the last few days. Why I have not been journaling, I’m not sure. But I think it’s really due to the time factor. I have such a packed routine, that I don’t have much time for journaling. I’d have to give up reading or studying time in order to journal. And i’m trying to do all the studying I can, and I’ve started reading Nelson Mandela’s “A Long Walk to Freedom”. Finally, at last, I started the book. I couldn’t leave Africa w/out having read it while I was here. Well if you don’t know, the book is over 700 pages long. I have a lot of reading to do, and I’m finding it hard to put the book down.
I’ve also been staying away from journaling cause there are a few things I’d like to catch up on in my journal, but getting around to it all would be extremely time-consuming. So instead I choose to continue to avoid it so that even more things pile up. Hm. Doesn’t make much sense, I know. I have this thing where if I don’t get to journaling about something in the moment, I don’t go back to it later. Or rather, I find it hard to do so.
Anyways. Again, I don’t want to make this long. I feel like I always say that and it always ends up being long regardless. But today there were 2 things that struck me & I decided I really want to document these things and not let them get away from me and my memories.
First off, today when I was jogging as I got further into the village deeper in the bush I came upon this homestead that I always run parallel to. There’s this big beautiful tree next to the mahangu fields on this family’s homestead. I like to think of it as a “dreaming tree”, cause I’m a Dave Matthews Band dork. I’ve noticed before that close by the tree there are 2 big piles of old beer & liquor bottles, some of them broken. It always make me sad to see a big pile of alcohol bottles. Alcoholism is a big problem here, and alcohol leads people here to HIV & other tragic shit. So every time I see bottles strewn across somewhere, my thoughts immediately go to “what did the person who drank that get themselves into when they were drunk?”. It’s not even about what kind of danger did they get themselves into, but what kind of danger did they get someone else into?
But what struck me today was that as I ran in the direction of this homestead & got closer & closer I realized that there were 2 toddlers sitting around the pile up of bottles- a little boy & a little girl. It was as if that was their play pen. There were no adults in sight. I’m sure they were back at the homestead, and from the homestead you can’t see to where these kids were sitting. The kids were just sitting there playing w/ empty beer bottles, some of them broken. Back home, we’d be calling child services on the parents, but out here, it just is. I can’t say it was shocking at all, because things like that aren’t shocking anymore. But it did hit me; it was a reminder of how different things are around the world. And this is Africa. I don’t know… kids at home have little tantrums if they can’t get the latest “cool” gadget or toy while kids in Africa play with broken beer bottles cause there is no money for a real toy. No offense, but we are a spoiled people.
Moving on from that rant… The other thing I wanted to mention was a little story my supervisor told me today. Mind you, this is a brand new story, occurring today. As in, these are the kinds of things that are still occurring in Namibia, day in & day out. My supervisor was explaining to me that he had to cancel an errand we had to do today because he had to go take care of a situation. The situation goes like this: He had to go to the Voluntary Counseling & Testing Center (VCT Center- where they do HIV testing) to take care of a problem. He was asked to go pick up the wife of a guy who was waiting at the VCT. This guy (let’s call him Fred) is married and has been cheating on his wife for some time. Yesterday his “girlfriend” & him went to get tested. He tested negative, but the girlfriend notified him today, through TEXT MESSAGE by the way, that she tested positive but was too afraid to tell him in person. Upon hearing this today the guy starts freaking out, naturally. He is well aware that just because he tested negative yesterday doesn’t mean he IS negative, because he might be in the “window period” of infection (quick HIV lesson: during the first 3 months of being infected it’s possible that an HIV test could come back negative because the body has not yet produced enough HIV antibodies, which is what the HIV test actually tests for). He’s panicking because he & the girlfriend were having unprotected sex. Now he’s dealing with the guilt of having infected his wife, if he does turn out to be positive. The wife was not aware of the affair. So today he was waiting at the VCT for someone to drive his wife over there so that he could deliver the news that not only has he been cheating on her, but that he, and therefore she, might end up being HIV positive. Between the guilt he’s dealing with & the fear of having been infected the guy was talking about wanting to commit suicide. All because he chose to cheat and have unprotected sex. AAAGGGHHH. The VCT counselor had his work cut out for him between mediating between the wife & husband, explaining the possibilities should he turn out to be +/-, and also trying to persuade him to not commit suicide.
And I just want to pull my hair out & repeatedly say “why why why?”. I mean, what are we doing here? What am I doing here? What is Peace Corps doing here? What are all these other NGO & volunteer organizations doing? What is all this funding coming in to this country doing? There is soooo much information out there. I’ve mentioned this before. The information is out there, it’s everywhere. Eveywhere you look there are messages promoting abstinence, being faithful, condomizing, delaying. All the alternatives for a healthier country, preventing new infections. And yet, things just aren’t changing. Information is out there, but what’s lacking here is actual behavior change. And that is the most complex & challenging task to accomplish. Why aren’t people listening to the information & putting it to good use? It’s such a difficult question to answer, there are so many factors to consider.
It’s just so fucking frustrating to know that so much information is out there, yet the same things continue to happen. This example from today is typical. Typical, typical, typical. Women are victims. Married women are some of the most common victims. Fuck. I knew coming here that things wouldn’t change overnight, but at the same time I can’t say I was expecting such a resistance to change. In my head, I just assumed that if information is lacking, once you provide information on how to prevent such a painful deadly disease, then OBVIOUSLY people take that information and apply it. But it’s just not that easy. I think I just feel like we are in the same place that this country was probably 5 and 10 years ago in terms of HIV. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of progress.
When my supervisor told me the story today, I remained calm because as frustrating as it is, it is not a shock to me. I already know within myself that these things are still happening day in & day out. I politely asked him, “so John, why do you think these things are still happening? Why are they not using condoms? Were they using condoms?” To which John answered with exactly what I was expecting, which is problem number 1. He said something along the lines of “those are things from inside.” When I asked for clarity he said that people don’t really talk about those things. Like it wouldn’t be something that he and this Fred guy would be discussing. Which is true. People do not want to talk about what they do in the bedroom or how they’re doing it. It’s a problem. I pressed on because I wanted to get his Namibian male perspective on why males are just not using condoms. I said, “is it just because they don’t like to use them? Or that they can’t get them?”. He said it’s very complex and there are many reasons why. Part of it is that it is not in their traditional culture to use condoms, part of it is that some of these people in the remote areas don’t have easy access to condoms, part of it is ignorance. He says that even w/ all the info out there some people just refuse to believe or accept HIV & the reality of how it spreads & how it operates. He also offered another realistic perspective, like in the case of this Fred guy. He was saying that probably someone like Fred would be hesitant to obtain condoms from the clinic or hospital (the govt. supplies them for free, as people have no $ to buy them) or what what because people know he is married and so if they see him taking condoms they will wonder “hey that guy is married what is he taking condoms for?” and suspect that he is cheating, etc etc. You gotta realize that Namibia is a small world, it’s a small country population-wise. Less than 2 million people. And everyone always knows someone. Gossip is a big problem. It’s the same reason why there is so much stigma surrounding HIV. Basically it’s one big circle of a problem. It’s a sick cycle.
So that was today. And I’m gonna stop here, cause I’m exhausted. Physically & mentally. A pretty heavy day. A whole different world.
May. 19th, 2007
15 May, 2007.
Listening to: David Gray; Album- A New Day at Midnight
Holy cripes it’s mid – May already. It’s flying by. Geez.
Long time no journal. The last few weeks were stressful, tiring, draining, and then exciting, fun, & memorable, respectively. From 22 April to 28 April I was in Windhoek with preparations for Camp GLOW. What was I thinking when I volunteered to be the person in charge of materials & supplies for this youth camp? I’m just kidding. I’m glad I did it, but it was rather hell-acious during that prep week. I ran up & down and all around the damn capital trying to get the things we needed. By the end of that week I was ready for a vacation. Which is exactly what I got.
That’s right, I didn’t actually attend Camp GLOW. Only I would volunteer to bust my ass preparing a conference and then not actually participate in it. Actually that’s not true- it seems to be PCV tradition to in one way or another do the same. Anyways, yes it’s true that for a long time coming I was excited & looking forward to GLOW. But then my PCV friend Carl started bugging me telling me about this vacation a few other PCVs were going on. It started on the same day as Camp GLOW. So I had a decision to make. I figured since I wasn’t really needed at the actual conference cause we had a surplus of PCVs attending, and since this vacation thing seemed like a great deal, I decided to take the vacation instead. Alright, actually it wasn’t that easy for me to decide & initially at first I turned down the vacation. But after much inner turmoil I decided that I would have another opportunity to attend & be part of a youth camp, and more specifically this will be one that I have helped to coordinate in every sense (the Northern Girls Conference that Amber and I are co-chairing. Takes place in July). Soooooo I decided that I would take the vacation. It was perfect timing, I would get to see more of Nam, which I felt I hadn’t done enough of, & best of all we were renting a car so we wouldn’t have to hike anywhere. What a blessing! Our own transport!
So vacation it was. And what a vacation it was. A group of 6 of us: Matt & Carl again, Irene, and 2 PCVs from Group 26 who I’d not yet met (they just got here in November). I won’t go into too much detail about the vacation because it would take me hours, but just a brief couple notes on things we did. First off, I’m so glad I went! We went around North Western Namibia, namely the Kunene region. In my opinion, probably the most beautiful & “traditional Africa” region in the country. We started at Kunene River Lodge for 2 nights, then Epupa Falls for 2 nights, then Palmwag for 2 nights, then Hobatere for 2 nights. We camped everywhere. We are on PC budgets, after all.
Best parts of the trip? 2 things.
1) While at Epupa Falls I decided that I wanted to take a Himba village tour because if I didn’t do it then, I’d leave Namibia without ever being exposed to the Himba people. It cost N$40 (about US$6) plus some sugar & maize meal that you bring to the Himba family in exchange for your visit. Part of me felt weird & uncomfortable about doing it, like it was invasive. But part of me felt I would regret it if I didn’t do it. I’m here, I’d like to be exposed to the different tribes in Nam. And that includes the Himba. Plus I know that they benefit directly from being a “tourist attraction”. It’s basically the barter system. You take them flour & sugar etc & in exchange for that you are allowed to pry into their culture. Eh like I said, I’m not 100% comfortable with it. But I’m so glad I did it. I took some pictures which you all will have to see at another time because the camera wasn’t mine. It was one of my best moments in Namibia, hands down. The ‘family’ was relatively young- husband & woman were my age and so they were into talking to us & they asked us as many questions as we asked them. It was one of those golden moments of cross-cultural interaction. I’m sure they thought we are as odd as we thought they were. Ah but it’s the differences that make the world go round. By the way I say ‘family’ in quotes because it wasn’t a traditional family in the way we think of it. The men in the Himba culture often have multiple wives. There was a young girl from another village, a couple of little kids whom I couldn’t figure out who the parents were, as well as a couple young girls from another village. I couldn’t follow the story line, and that’s pretty normal with homesteads & villages here, especially nowadays in light of the HIV epidemic. Anyways, Himba visit: amazing. It was like out of National Geographic.
2) Finally got to see African wildlife in its natural habitat! Again, it was like out of National Geographic. Got to see giraffes crossing gravel roads in front of us, elephants feasting on some trees, zebras running away from our car at night as we drove by, and the typical African image: bunch of kudu, oryx, giraffes, zebras, & warthogs gathered at a water hole. Finally, after a year and half of being in this country I was exposed to the wildlife! The only thing I’ve yet to see are lions & rhinos, though we were told that they lions were around but were hiding cause they were probably gonna attack some giraffe later that night. I’ll never forget going to sleep at night to sounds of zebras & who knows what other animals yelling way back down there at the water hole.
*So that was the vacation vacation part of my vacation. But before I came back to site, I spent 2 days in Omaruru. Good ole Omaruru. That’s where we had our Pre Service Training. I love the Ru & one of my best PCV friends Wendie is placed there, so I went to her site for a couple days. Good times. We mostly baked & ate all day for those 2 days & had a serious serious Grey’s Anatomy marathon. Can I just say that prior to this, I had only ever watched 2 episodes of this show and purposely avoided more because I KNEW I’d get hooked? Well Wendie was in the middle of watching some of Season 2, and decided I should get hooked as well. At first I resisted but it wasn’t hard to crack and give in. So in a matter of 2 days we saw all of Season 1 and about half of Season 2. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we watched Grey’s, ate, showered, and slept and that was it. And what a great time it was. Always a good time w/ Wendie. We hiked back to Windhoek together. I left there with her promise that she’d come to visit me in July. Sah-weet.
*Finally headed back to my site on this past Saturday (12th May). Hiked back with Robin & her new German volunteer roommate, who luckily happened to also be in Windhoek. Luckily because it meant I wouldn’t have to hike back to site alone. After a bit of difficulty w/ communication problems w our taxi in the AM, we got on the road about 9AM. Got from Windhoek to about 30k outside Otjiwarongo. Then another ride from there to Otji. Then from Otji to Tsumeb. Then from Tsumeb to Ondangwa. Finally made it to Ondangwa after dark, at about 6:30pm or so. But of course it doesn’t end there. From there took a taxi to Okatana. Finally made it home between 7 and 7:30. Was happy that we made it all the way in one day, and still relatively early. It almost always works out in just one day, it’s just the longest travel day ever. It takes about 7 good hours to get to my site from Windhoek, and that doesn’t include waiting-for-hikes time, or account for super slow transport, or account for rides that make “just a quick turn there”. But got back alive and in one piece after being gone for 3 weeks and for that I was beyond grateful & happy.
*Which brings us to today, to now. It’s only Tuesday so I’m still getting into the groove of things, but all’s well. I was happy to come back home. As much as I love getting out every now & then, especially for vacation or seeing other PCVs, I do love my site. And I like my little place. And I like my routine. So it’s no surprise that it’s only Tuesday and I’m pretty much right back on track w my routine. I like having a routine, and I think it’s partly a coping mechanism as well. Things w/ work are good, off to a slow start for now. The kids are on school break for another week still, therefore the library is closed. And my biggest project for the next couple months will be the library. But it’s good that it’s off to a slow start. It gives me a couple days to re-adjust again.
There’s a lot going on for preparation for the Northern Girls Conference. Today I met w/ the “Acting R.A.C.E Coordinator” for Oshana. She is through Ministry of Education, and they are pretty much funding the ENTIRE conference. A lovely woman, and a pleasure to work with. We poured over a couple hundred applications from 11am to 4:30pm today, with no stopping for lunch. All from teachers who want to co-facilitate at the conference, and young girls who want to be peer leaders or just participate at the conference. Mind you we had to pick only 2 teachers, 2 peer leaders, and 20 girls out of hundreds of applications. And each application contained essays. It was draining and tiring, and I don’t remember the last time I talked out loud so much (from reading them out loud). But at the same time I fully enjoyed getting to collaborate on the choosing. It gave me an opportunity to how these girls/women think they influence others & how they’ve been influenced themselves, but also to be exposed to the quality of education. And also it gave a sense of perspective. After all, everything around here is in some way tied to HIV/AIDS and the Conference is very much so towards the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Over and over again in these essays I read about issues related to death & HIV/AIDS, no parents, no money, parents who struggle to provide food for their kids, rape, stigma, etc etc. All of the role models mentioned in one way or another dealt with this and other setbacks in a dignified manner & fought to make it & set an example.
So it was a highly valuable experience for me.
*There is a Journey of Life training going on at the Mission until tomorrow for about 40 OVC & 6 Home Based Family Care Volunteers through Catholic AIDS Action’s HBFC programme. It’s all in Oshiwambo & my co workers have it down pat, so I’m not involved. But I sat in yesterday for about an hour. Eventhough I had nothing to contribute and I had no idea of what was going on, it’s just something that I wanted to do to show them I care about what’s going on. But also it kind of needs to be done. For no other reason than that people notice things like that and it means a lot in terms of “cross cultural friendship”. It means a lot to people if I just show up. It’s very flattering & amusing, yet also highly uncomfortable. It’s hard to explain, but just the action of being there among them, it says a lot. Especially, and particularly I think, because I’m white. It’s very strange to be in this position. It’s very strange to see Meme’s & little kids’ faces light up just cause you walked into the room. It’s a big deal, especially in light of the whole post apartheid thing. I’ve gone into the whole race thing before & I don’t want to dwell on it now. But generally speaking the white Namibians, they wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out w the black Namibians, showing up at their conferences as just spectators for example. It’s a shocking thing, a novelty, a surprise, to see a white person so deeply involved in THEIR culture & in their lives. And as much cultural integration & immersion as is there, I think that to them at the end of the day I am still white, I am still not really one of them and so everything is examined under a microscope- everything you do, and everything you don’t do.
Anyways, the thing I really wanted to jot down w/ regards to the people here for the training is that today I decided I wanted to have some bonding time w/ them. That means whipping out a coloring book & some crayons. After dinner I walked to the Memes and asked if it’d be okay if I colored with the kids. Over the next 2 hours I had about 20 kids & 3 Memes on the floor sharing 1 box of 40 crayons, coloring their hearts away. The best part for me was seeing these Memes having a few joyous carefree moments coloring. They are dealing with so much in their lives and seeing them coloring it was like all that slipped away for a little while. It was adorable. The kids had a blast too. I started off w/ a 300 page coloring book, and we used up more than half the book. They’d finish one page and come to me for another. Not only is it fun for the kids, but it’s therapeutic too. All these kids are here because they’ve lost one or both parents, more than likely to HIV. Unfortunately I can’t do this w them regularly because they all live in different villages, but atleast we had this bit of play therapy today. And really the Journey of Life programme itself is therapeutic.
Apr. 24th, 2007
16 April 2007, Monday
Listening to: Dar Williams, currently playing “What Do You Hear in These Sounds?”
*I love Dar Williams. I’ve recently discovered her & while I don’t like all her stuff, I like some of it. But what I do like, I don’t just like it. I love it! Check out “What Do You Hear In These Sounds?”, “The World’s Not Falling Apart”, “Farewell to the Old Me”, and “Another Mystery”. Those are my top favs for now. I’m sure she’ll grow on me & in a short time I’ll dig all her stuff. I get the feeling she might be country or religious or I don’t know what. Maybe she’s just folksy. Whatever her style is, it’s starting to grow on me. Oh and I like her voice.
I’ve realized lately that I love tons and tons of male musicians/bands, but I don’t really listen to all that many female singers/bands. I don’t know why that is. But I’d like to add more female singers to my repertoire.
*It was cool here today! It was actually something other than hot! I keep wishing this means that maybe winter is finally here, but everyone here says no it’s just cause of the rain last night & today. There were no clouds today. It was breezy & quite cool. I actually got goose bumps walking around outside & was thisclose to putting on a long-sleeved shirt. In the afternoon it got sunny, that sunny you only find in Africa, but it remained cool. Everyone says tomorrow it’ll be back to hot. Damn. I’m leaving my site this weekend & won’t be back til about the 2nd week of May. I’m hoping by the time I get back to site winter will be here. It’ll practically be mid-May already!
*So you know how I mentioned that I love omakunde & have been hooked on it ever since I tried it at the Memes’ house a few weeks ago? And how I was going around telling everyone how I think omakunde is ‘nice nice’? Well, big mistake! Actually not a mistake at all. I just think this is hilarious. I have been given what seems like hundreds of Kgs of omakunde from 4 different people since the last time I posted about this. Yesterday I had to tell people to please stop giving me omakunde. It’s too much for one person.
My coworker Loide, my friend Justine, and my counterparts from the library (Jimmy & Renate) have each given me tons. Loide brought a plastic bag’s worth wrapped in newspaper; Justine brought me a big Owambo basket’s worth of the good stuff; Renate, as I mentioned last time, gave me a shoebox’s worth; and then Jimmy brought me another plastic bag’s worth. Think of string beans. It’s a lot of beans! Some of the first batch went bad, so after that I decided to start sharing some of what I was given with others around the mission. Some of the omakunde given to me was already cooked, so that means you have to eat it even faster. And all of it needs to be kept in the fridge, but I only have a small fridge!
Ah but it’s been so nice. It’s meant so much to me. That’s made me realize how these people feel about me. And how I have more friends than I realize. And that despite what I sometimes perceive to be as a rough exterior on some people’s part doesn’t mean they don’t like me; it’s just their nature. But all this happening has opened up my eyes to all these good things, so I’m grateful for omakunde. I told one of the Memes from next door about how I was getting all this omakunde & she said “oh my dear, you are very blessed”. And I said “yes yes I am. It’s just too much for just me!”.
I also think that all these people felt good & happy about giving me the omakunde. It was something that they were able to give to me. I always feel bad when people give me things because I know people have very little money & struggle to make ends meet so I don’t like it when they ‘get’ me things. But this was different. Because I could tell it meant a lot to them to be able to give me something. Since they all grow it on their homesteads & there is such a plethora of it, it’s doable to share. And it doesn’t cost them anything. And so that’s okay with me. Plus I also came to the conclusion that since they normally don’t have much to give, perhaps this is their way of saying thanks for what I’ve done w/ them & for them. It means a lot to them to be able to do something in return. And you know, even when I get other gifts- the kind that I know people had to spend money on or go through trouble for- I try to keep that in mind. Even if it makes me uncomfortable & I wish they hadn’t done that for me, I have to remember that by turning it down or saying no thanks, I’m actually offending them. It’s tricky. In every action I take out here, I have to consider so much. See, as tempted as you might be to say “no, thanks” because you feel bad, you actually do more harm than good. By trying to be polite you actually end up being rather impolite.
So, all that being said, it should be obvious that things around here are good. The last few days have been enjoyable. It hit me this weekend as we sat in my kitchen drinking tea & eating omakunde for about an hour, after doing computer class for about 4, that Jimmy (21), Renate (30), & I have been spending a lot of time together. They are my library counterparts. And they are my ookuume (friends). It’s gonna suck to say goodbye. We were talking about this recently and Renate said something like she doesn’t want me to go. I said “there will probably be a volunteer to replace me after I go.”. She said, “Yeah, but we will not have another like you.” It hit me right there, man.
Ah, I’ll stop here for now before I start getting sad way ahead of time. I’m still listening to Dar Williams. She’s good background music for journaling. :)
Ka lale po nawa. Sleep well. Peace & love.
Listening to: Cities Sampler 97 Vol 18
On AIDS in Africa
Really the problem is I don’t want to delve into this epiphany right now because I’ve been having a conversation with myself, in my head, about all this for the last hour. But here’s what it comes down to: AIDS in Africa & why it is the enormous problem it is. Granted, my experience is based greatly on what I’ve seen & experienced in Namibia. But I’ve also learned a lot about what the HIV situation is in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa & the issues are analogous. Well today I was thinking of why this continues to happen everyday. I’m here, giving my insignificant direct or indirect contribution towards the fight against HIV, and yet I know it still happens every day. Every day here people continue to be infected. I just know. I know because of what I see happening. Things haven’t changed enough. So I began to think about why it’s such a problem here. Why the Western world was so quickly able to control the AIDS problem, while Africa is in such terrible shape & still slipping away. Certainly it’s not because of the “We’re better than them” point of view. And it’s certainly not because of the tremendously fallacious belief that “these people” are much more promiscuous &/ or dirty.
I see that this government is actually doing its part towards fighting the epidemic. They’re doing a lot, and they have forced every sector to include HIV/AIDS into their activities. Everywhere you turn you see HIV/AIDS messages & protect yourselves messages. Some would argue that a lot of that is just on paper, but when it comes to action not a whole lot is going on in some of these sectors. Perhaps; but what came to me today is that this problem is much bigger.
The messages are everywhere, the information is out there. Government, private organizations, and NGOs operating in this country are all contributing in one way or another towards putting the information out there. I feel like there is an overload of information. Everyone at this point agrees that the focus now needs to be on behavior change. How do we change behavior? Because information itself is not preventing or helping to solve this problem. So the approach now is towards focusing on getting people to take all this information and actually apply it to life & change behavior. But in my own opinion, this is a much more daunting task than was that of educating people. Changing behavior, specifically the kind that leads towards the spread of HIV/AIDS, in Africa means people have to let go of their culture & tradition in some ways. And that right there is one of the biggest barriers. What I have seen is a lot of resistance towards changing culture & tradition. It always blows my mind when I think about this barrier and realize that people are in effect choosing to continue this cycle of death & sadness because they simply don’t want to let go of traditional ways.
Here’s where it gets complicated. It dawned on me today there are 2 main issues that are hindering significant progress against the fight in HIV/AIDS. The first problem is gender inequality. The second problem is poverty. These are 2 problems that are prevalent across the board in sub-Saharan Africa. These were NOT 2 problems facing the whole of America when the HIV/AIDS problem showed up at our door.
I’m telling you right now that you cannot fight HIV/AIDS while ignoring these two issues. The highest risk group for HIV/AIDS infection is women. Mostly women between 20-50. Of this group of women do you know who is the highest at-risk group? You won’t believe this, but it’s married women. That’s right, married women are the highest risk group. Why? Because a woman has no say, married or not. She has no voice. She cannot tell the man what to do. She cannot stand up for herself. She cannot put her foot down. She cannot make her own decisions. Traditionally, and for the very most part, this is still the case. That means her husband can, and does, go out and be with other women. Comes home and passes it on to the wife. And why does he pass it on to the wife? Because the wife cannot tell the man to put on a condom. Why? Because if she does the man accuses HER of having cheated. Do you see what I mean about how intricate the whole thing is? Women have no voice here. They are nothings. For me, as a woman, it’s hard to see that. I see this type of thing everyday: A woman pushing a wheelbarrow full of crap while the guy just walks behind her making sure she’s doing a good job. So what I’m saying is, you cannot fight HIV w/out addressing gender issues. The man will do whatever he wants w the woman. Women & young girls have told me it’s very difficult to tell a man to put on a condom. It’s just not okay. She does not have a say in anything. But wait it gets even more complex.
As for issue #2, the poverty issue. These people are poverty-stricken, so what’s the only free & enjoyable thing you can do when you’re poor? Have sex. And if it’s the only thing they can get free & that’s fun, then gosh darnit you better believe it’s gotta be a fully enjoyable thing- none of that condom stuff. I’ll give you another piece of insight. I hear this from people all the time here, so you really have to consider this. With regards to protecting yourself & trying to live a healthy life & get far in life, people say “what’s the point of living anyway? What are we trying to stay alive for? To continue to feel hunger? To live in this misery? We have nothing. There is nowhere for us to go. We don’t have a good education. We have no jobs. There is no opportunity to move up or anywhere. What’s the point?” So how do you answer that? And more importantly, can we answer that? Outsiders? I’ve never walked a mile in their shoes. I’ve seen what it looks like now, & I understand it so much better. I understand it because I’ve been here now & I know what the situations are. But the truth is I’ve never really walked a mile in their shoes, and so how could I possible answer that. They just say: “what’s the point of living anyways? We’re all gonna die anyways, so we may as well enjoy what we can while we’re here (hence unprotected sex).” You have to understand people who live in penury don’t think about the long term- they think in the here & now. They’re not worried about how they’ll achieve a goal in 10 yrs, they’re concerned about where they’re gonna get some bread to feed their kids tomorrow.
So this will continue to be a cycle until something can be done about poverty as well. Until something can be done about unemployment. Until something can be done about the quality of education. It’s a sick cycle and the great majority of Sub Saharan Africa gets trapped in it- Without any money to go to school how can I get an education? And even if my family has money to send me to school, how can I get anywhere w the quality of education I’ve received? If I have no education how can I ever get a job? How can I ever get out of this hole?”.
Do you understand now? It’s just a bad bad cycle. It’s like people are destined to fail over & over again. And now you add in this HIV/AIDS world emergency & it’s just.. the cycle is getting even more complex. Cause now kids are also not getting educations cause they’re at home caring for dying parents. And once the parents die, then what?
If there was one journal I’d want EVERYONE that I know to read, it’d be this one. I feel we in America don’t really understand what’s going on here at all. And I’m no better- because I didn’t know til I came here either. It’s very easy to judge & misunderstand from afar. It’s like Africa is a whole world away. And in a way, it really is. But I love this continent. I don’t know why, but I have always been fascinated with Africa. I thank my lucky stars for being able to be here to see all this. It’s an incredible eye opener to another world. And now that I’ve been here & have gained some insight, I want people to be informed. I want the people in my life to understand what’s happening in Africa & why it is the way it is. I want people to care. We’re all one; we’re all human beings. I’m reminded of this quote I saw in a book I read recently called Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. It says that “The only real nation is humanity”.
Listening to: “Cities 97 Sampler Vol 18”, by Various Artists. Currently on Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’
Well I just had another epiphany this evening. It was just recently. This one’s much bigger and deeper than the one about the dogs the other day. I’ll briefly share, but I don’t want to delve into it too much. See tonight is my last night alone for the next 3 weeks or so. Tomorrow I’m headed to Windhoek where I’ll be all next week, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, preparing all the supplies & materials for Camp GLOW. I actually will not be at Camp GLOW, I’m just helping out behind the scenes with all the logistics. I decided that I will have another chance to participate in a youth camp in July (Northern Girls Conference, which I’m co-chairing w/ Amber) and that I should really take this opportunity to travel through Namibia. I feel like I haven’t seen much of Namibia, atleast not much of all the ‘touristy’ stuff. I don’t want to leave this country NOT having seen all these things. So anyways- I’ll be in Windhoek all next w/ for the coordination of GLOW, and then for the next 10 days after that, I will be traveling around w/ a couple PCV friends. They rented a car- oh it’ll be glorious to have our own car & not have to hike everywhere. Then taking a few extra days to slowly make it back to site. All this means that I won’t really have any alone time during the next couple weeks. Which is alrite. I don’t dislike people. I just love, value, & greatly appreciate my alone time, too. That’s one thing I’ve definitely learned while I’ve been out here. So with all that being said, for the next couple hours I have before I head to bed, I’d like to just sit & enjoy. Maybe I’ll watch my ‘Ali G- In Da House’ DVD. That would be awesome, I’ll be laughing plenty. Laughter is always good, they say. So w/out further ado, my thoughts this evening… See next entry. I want to make it an entry of its own.
Listening to: Ryan Adams, Love Is Hell
Here’s the last part of my last entry in case you missed it:
Earlier today when I had access to the internet I flew over to www.jasonmraz.com . Jason Mraz’s site. He’s one of my favorite singers, but beyond that, he’s one of my favorite writers. He posts some journals online on his site, and they are often very insightful & full of words of wisdom. He’s very sagacious. Well the one I found today, posted w/in the last week, was quite fitting to all that’s been going on. It couldn’t have been more appropriate, and it couldn’t have been more right on. So with that said, my next journal entry is going to be just a copy & paste of his journal entry. It’s kind of long, but it’s a beautiful entry. Please read it, I am sure you will find meaning in it too. Be grateful, right on.
So w/out further ado, here are Jason Mraz’s words.
AS POSTED RECENTLY ON MRAZ’S JOURNAL:
“About a month ago I received in the mail the top 100 classical masterpieces of all time. It's something that could be ordered from TV or the back of a magazine. I'm not sure who voted to determine why these selections were chosen for the compilation, but that's beside the point. And besides that, I don't know enough about classical music to care. I just know I like the stuff.
The collection once belonged to my grandmother on my mom's side. She passed away about 7 years ago. She probably ordered the CD's by phone sometime in the early 90's while watching the weather channel on the glassed-in back porch addition to her house; the same house I'd spend my afternoons after school between 3rd and 6th grade learning to draw and paint and eat my vegetables while acquiring a taste for whole milk and red apples. This is the same house where I'd break my leg while riding an exercise bike. And the same house with the piano rarely tuned donning the sheet music for the Muppet Movie as well as all the Christmas Classics that my sister would sing all year as if rehearsing months in advance for the holiday sing-a-long. My Grandmother, or Nanny's house was a workshop for cultivating craftiness. She herself was a painter. She loved wildlife, birds mostly. My grandfather, or Papa, was a gifted carpenter and woodworker and would make blanks for Nanny to paint on and sell at craft fairs. Blanks like the shape of an hourglass, which my Nanny would turn into an old maid. She would bring to life with her paints all kinds of kitschy creations to place at the hearth of the home or sit in someone's garden or doorstep. She was a master of two-dimensional southern accoutrements. She was also good at painting fruit on the 2inch boards shaped by my grandfather. Grapes and leaves I remember vividly having much character. To this day I remark at how the placement of a white dot in the right location can create the illusion of reflecting light.
Around the same time the CD's arrived in the mail courtesy of my Mom, I was informed that a friend from recent tours had passed away. The news came in an email. I was home alone. It was early in the morning, grey as a new day, but promises of sunlight lay just ahead. It was a short email that didn't give many clues or closure. It just stated the fact. My friend was dead.
I sank into my stomach. I felt the loss immediately. I experienced lack. This lasted for a good solid minute. The pain had a color. But it was swirling and constantly changing. As I was allowing and emotions were rising I opened my heart and head to tears. I opened my mouth to breathe in what I expected to be gasps of sadness and instead I joyously shouted her name. Oh Kelly, I said. And I was surprised by the sound of my voice in the empty space. I closed my eyes to hear the echo better and suddenly there she was standing inches from my nose. Tears never came. Chills stood up on my body and a warm smile graced my face. She looked exactly the way she did when I last saw her. When I opened my eyes I felt her everywhere.
Then I had a flashback to the night I heard of my grandmother's passing. I was about to play a gig in LA when I got the news. I cried in an alley behind the club keeping cool from the public while I communicated with my Nanny. That night I felt my grandmother's presence at the show finally, something neither of us ever got to experience.
So, I started thinking?
Why is it when someone passes we can immediately talk with them and welcome them into our home, thoughts and prayers as a spirit? We feel their spirit is free, ethereal and everywhere, where we are the ones trapped here in this limited capacity. Why is it I never sat and enjoyed a visit with Kelly or my Grandmother in meditation before? Did death grant them the power to be free and omnipresent? Heck no, they were always omnipresent. It was me who had failed for so many years to make contact with loved ones on either side. It was I who didn't trust or communicate with the Omnipotent.
Just because the stuff that makes us "us" is busy keeping us alive and active and involved in our somewhat mundane tasks, doesn't mean we are limited to being just us. We are unlimited! When you dream do you not escape the confines of everyday life. Can we not use our imaginations to soar above the skies or tell people things we might be afraid to say to their face?
For the first time in my life I am experiencing what I imagine is that universal sense of being connected to everyone, to everything. This oneness that so many have preached about and tried to teach aloud for centuries is today's posthumous gift from my dear friend Kelly and late Grandmother, Virginia.
Kelly has now made it clear to me how to access her gift and I'm spending more time with loved ones in my thoughts than ever. Just because someone is still alive doesn't mean you can't think of him or her in close ways and/or feel that person thinking of you. Just because you don't have their phone number anymore doesn't mean you can't talk directly to them.
Prayers are for all spirits, those of us still walking around and those us flying high lending our energy to all sorts of new things.
If the word "prayer" has you confused by it's religious connotations, use another word like "wish" or "meditation." Hell, don't define it in fact. All it is - is a positive thought coming from your true nature.
So here I am playing these CD's in my home. Enjoying my grandmother's knack for classical hits. Loving the fact that they arrived in my mailbox the day after I spent time in meditation remembering her. I'm uploading them into my computer one at a time so I can enjoy them on my ipod in the sky and in hotels across the world, bringing not only music but also my Nanny along for the wild ride I'm on.
But as I'm importing the discs, I notice she never opened Volume 8. It's still in the plastic. Apparently 1867 – 1876 weren't some of her favorite years as she skipped straight from Offenbach to Dvorak.
Perhaps she was saving me the thrill of opening a new CD. The peeling of the plastic wrap is something I have a special fondness for. I equate it to peeling dead skin after a sunburn. For some reason or another she never got around to it. Maybe before she got to it I had started making recordings and she diverted her attention to criticizing my music, which I heard she did on occasion. Grandmothers have the right if it isn't gospel. Either way, I'll open Volume 8 after I listen intently to the others that she spent time with. And when I do, I'll know she is listening. Then again, she's probably been hanging out with the actual composers. Whatever the case and however the truth exists, I am happy and I say thank you to everyone and everything.
Life is a miraculous occurrence. Billions of years had to go just right to produce you and I. Weather had to remain stable long enough for us not to get caught in a freeze or violent explosion. Species had to be fought and won. The evolution of the modern human, some 200,000 years in the making had to go accordingly and is going accordingly. What a glorious mistake if we are indeed an accident in nature! But so be it. I am that I am. This is what it is. And it works in mysterious ways; giving life, love or just delivering the mail at just the right moment to make us appreciate the magic. Each one of us is responsible for the ripple, even if we never leave the house.
Be grateful. Your family past, present, and future depends on it."
Listening to: Ryan Adams
So I realized today I haven’t written an update on whatever happened with Rute & Karola, those friends of mine who were in a car accident last month. That’s mostly because given the circumstances, I’m mostly uninformed & it’s hard to be in touch. But over the last week or two I’ve gotten some updates. I won’t go into too much detail about everything, but man oh man, things are rough. And things are not getting better- rather they’re getting worse. I think they didn’t need to escalate to where they are now.
As I posted some weeks ago, I went to Windhoek to visit Rute & spent a few days w her at the hospital shortly after the accident. At that point Karola was still in Namibia but she was being treated at a different hospital. While I was there Karola was flown back home to Germany, where she will remain & receive care & treatment. Karola & Rute never got the chance to say goodbye to each other. Not only that but she has not been able to speak to her. She has no way to get in touch w/ her. They were separated after the accident never to be seen again. That’s one of the things that is most difficult to deal with for Rute. We talked about all this at length about 2 weeks ago on the phone. Our only phone conversation in the midst of all this chaos so far. All I could do was listen, but I wish there was more I could do to take away what she’s feeling. I wish I had the power to remove people’s pain. Especially that of good people who are suffering.
Karola is motionless everywhere except her head. Karola’s family recently told Rute that Karola has a bell on her nose & that’s how she calls the doctors. It seems that there is no hope she will walk again.
As for Rute, well everything is kind of up in the air right now. When I went to visit her in Windhoek during late March, soon after the accident, they had operated on her foot & she was wearing a brace to try to fix her collar bone. However, she wasn’t receiving proper medical care. It was she who had to be on top of the nurses to come & check her wound & clean it- it’s a huge deep gash going across her whole foot. Mind you, she had stitches on at this time. She had her stitches taken out a day or two after we got there. Well, over the next 2 days she found stitches in her foot that they had somehow missed. Not to mention that she felt the whole thing while they were taking them out cause they didn’t sedate her properly.
When it looked like she was on her way back to recovery, they left her in the Peace Corps Medical Office for observation. During those days they realized that her foot wasn’t healing properly AND that she had caught an infection on her wound at one of the hospitals on her foot. She also realized during this time that the bone on her foot was somehow sticking out now. PC decided to fly her to South Africa so that she can get treated for her infection & to figure out why her foot’s not healing & fix the problem.
It was the day before she flew to South Africa (about 2 weeks ago now) that I got to talk to her on the phone for a good 40 minutes. She seemed hopeful & I also was telling her that I was glad they were sending her there cause I have better faith in their health system than the one in Nam. She’d probably have to go & if the infection was gone she could have an operation in which they’d have to take skin from another part of the body and put it on her foot to cover the gash. After that she’d probably have to rest for 2 weeks, bed-ridden. And for someone like Rute, that’s a very aversive situation. She likes to be out & about. She was already struggling with having to stay put in bed. But okay, we agreed that if that’s what she needed to do in order to get better then she was going to have to be strong & deal with it.
Now with the latest updates we have gotten it seems her collar bone is not healing properly either. Additionally her foot is still messed up, though I’m not sure what the exact situation is. She just mentioned about not being able to walk currently & for some time again. So she’s regressed- she was walking before. But the biggest blow is that she got news from PC Washington,DC that they were considering Medically Separating her from Peace Corps (think ‘honorable discharge’). But that’s the last thing Rute wants. She wants to stay in Peace Corps, she wants to finish her service, she wants to finish her projects. Shit, she was even hoping to extend her PC service and continue to work in Africa. PC DC says that they are just concerned about the length of time she will have to be away from site & unable to work. I think typically if it goes over 45 days, they Med-Sep you.
Right now I have no idea when she’s coming back to Nam, or even if she’ll come back to Nam. Everything is in limbo for now. She & our PC medical officer are putting up a good fight so she doesn’t have to get Med-Sep, but who knows what will be. I don’t want my girl to go- I know she wants to stay with all her heart. Most important of all, she’s been planning since last year to go home this May for one of her best friends’ wedding. I don’t know if she will be medically able to do that anymore. She has been looking forward to this since last year. I wish I could talk to her. I wish this was all over for her. I wish I could take all this crap off her shoulders. As Jack Johnson sings in a song about life & death, “You know that I would now, if only I could”.
I just feel terrible. From one minute to the next things change so drastically. Your whole life can change & turn upside down just like that. All the plans you had, all the dreams, all the hopes. One thing that has come out of this for all of us- I know for Rute & me, atleast- is a lot of self reflection & reflection on life.
I’m gonna close up here soon. Earlier today when I had access to the internet I flew over to www.jasonmraz.com . Jason Mraz’s site. He’s one of my favorite singers, but beyond that, he’s one of my favorite writers. He posts some journals online on his site, and they are often very insightful & full of words of wisdom. He’s very sagacious. Well the one I found today, posted w/in the last week, was quite fitting to all that’s been going on. It couldn’t have been more appropriate, and it couldn’t have been more right on. So with that said, my next journal entry is going to be just a copy & paste of his journal entry. It’s kind of long, but it’s a beautiful entry. Please read it, I am sure you will find meaning in it too. Be grateful, right on.
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