FAQs about going to Namibia as a Peace
clothes to pack | stuff to
bring | housing |
safety | bikes
SHOULD I PACK?
My best advice to you is to bring comfortable shoes and
clothes. You will be doing lots of walking! I brought all sorts of skirts
and blouses, that I wore in the beginning because Peace Corps people told us
to dress nice. But after a short while, I and everybody else gave up and
just wore khakis and more comfortable clothes.(Think "smart-casual" when
choosing clothes to bring. And remember, you'll be walking a lot, riding in
the back of trucks, etc.) I never wore shorts in public as my white legs
would attract way too much attention, but I did wear some around the house.
Also, don't forget to bring some warm clothes, like sweaters. In the
winter, it doesn't get very cold (maybe the 60's, 50F at the coldest), but
there is no heat, so it feels pretty cold, especially at night. Bring sturdy
sandals--the shoes you can buy in Namibia are crappy, to say the least. A
lot of people either brought Chacos (brand-name sports sandals) or had some
sent to them. So a sturdy sandal like that is highly recommended (although
it's quite expensive!). Also bring some sports shoes if you plan to do
running or anything, as the ones you can buy there are crap. Bring a hat
for the sun, and sunglasses.
Another advice about clothes--bring light-colored
clothes. The sun is really hot, so you don't want to be wearing black.
Also, because you hang the clothes outside to dry, they will fade really
quickly too. They will also stretch out tremendously from the hand washing
and line-drying, so try to choose a material that won't stretch too much. I
recommend only bringing one pair of jeans, because they are a big pain to
wash by hand. Light-weight Khaki type pants are really the best.
OTHER STUFF SHOULD I BRING?
Aside from clothes and shoes, most other things you can
buy in Namibia. So I suggest you bring a lot of clothes and a few pairs of
shoes, and not much else. The supermarkets carry everything you could
possibly want. Just bring a small bottle of shampoo, etc, to get you
started, but don't waste weight on that stuff, because you can get
everything like that with no problem.
Some little things I was happy I brought were:
1. Purell hand sanitizer
2. a good flashlight (we recommend a small LED headlamp
for those night trips to the latrine, or doing anything when you have no
electricity and want your hands free)
3. a pocket knife (the kind with all the tools and
stuff--like a leatherman or swiss army knife)
4. recipes (you'll be cooking a lot from scratch—but
you can get most basic cooking ingredients with no problem. Pre-made stuff
5. a small (digital?) thermostat (just because it's fun
to call home and say: "It's 105 degrees" and not be exaggerating)
6. A few great books to read. The Peace Corps office
is well-stocked with books, but you might not go there right away, so you'll
want something for the first few weeks
7. Music, an MP3 player would be best
8. Photos of your house, family, school, city, etc.
You'll spend a lot of time trying to explain life in America, and photos
help. Also, if you happen to have a lot of photos of yourself laying
around, bring them to give to your friends. I had a bunch of old senior
photos left from high school that I brought and gave to my students. They
9. Sharpie markers (great for making class posters,
etc.). You can buy markers there, but they're crap. Also, don't let
anyone, ever, borrow your precious sharpie markers. You'll either never see
them again, or have them returned to you ruined. Hide them.
10. Stickers are light-weight and a great reward for
your students if they do well on a test.
11. Pen pals. The kids love having pen pals, so if
you can arrange it with a school or youth group before you leave, come to
Namibia armed with names and addresses.
12. You might want to bring a short-wave radio as the
BBC will become a good friend of yours when you're lonely out in the
I BRING A TENT AND SLEEPING BAG?
Don't waste your weight limit lugging a tent and
sleeping bag over. You can buy decent quality ones there, if you think you
will use them, and they are much cheaper than in the states. You can also
sometimes get them from volunteers who are leaving, or borrow them from
BRING A LAPTOP COMPUTER?
Deciding whether or not to bring a laptop is quite a
tricky question. It basically boils down to: If you have electricity,
you'll be glad you brought it. If you don't have electricity, it was a
waste of weight. I should note however that a few volunteers in our group
brought laptops and didn't have electricity at their site. However, they
could use it occasionally at the peace corps office, another volunteer's
house, their school, etc. So I guess even if you don't have electricity,
you'll probably find some way to use it somewhere. Therefore, I would vote
in favor of your bringing one, but don't hold me accountable if you regret
All of this is, of course, only if you already have a
laptop or can get a used one (like we did.) I don't recommend going out and
buying a top-of-the-line laptop to drag to some hut in the middle of the
Namib desert. Also be aware that it gets quite hot in Namibia (depending on
where you are, up to 105F) and it is always dusty. Owning a laptop will
also certainly tag you as being "rich" and you will constantly be barraged
with requests to use it, or people will just ask you to do their work with
it. Another problem is that you may not have access to a printer. You can
buy one there for not too much money, but the ink is really expensive and
seemed to run out really quickly. So it has its disadvantages too.
In our group, about one fifth of the people had
laptops, so plenty of people survived just fine without one. Just make
whatever decision you think is best, there is no right answer to this
WHAT IS THE
Housing is different everywhere. Some rich families
live in nice modern houses. The poor families live in thatched huts. More
and more compounds are acquiring a mix of cement huts and traditional stick
huts, combined with a modern building or two. So there is quite a variety.
As to the living conditions, the Peace Corps has some standards. For
example, you won't be living in a hut. They require you to be housed in a
cement-block house with a decent roof and a cement floor. You will have
your own bedroom and kitchen. Beyond that, there aren't really any
standards. I visited the houses of many of the other volunteers and some
were a little scary, but everyone got used to them pretty quickly.
WILL I HAVE
ELECTRICITY AND WATER?
You might not have electricity--but they have kerosene
lamps which you will also get used to quickly. Many volunteers got in the
habit of following the cycles of the sun, rather than their clock. You
might not have running water, but there will definitely be some clean
drinking water at your house. The thing to keep in mind is that you will be
living with a family, and they all manage to live there, so you will be able
to also. There will be a lot to adapt to, without a doubt, but just know
that many volunteers have gone before you and they all managed to adapt and
you will be able to also!
There are informal busses going between the major
towns. They gather in a certain place and leave whenever they get full of
people. Taxis also take people on the main roads. Finally, hitchhiking is
a major form of transport as well. I found traveling very easy because all
you really need to know is the name of the place you're going, and then you
just ask people where to go for that bus or hitch point. It might sound
weird to you, but trust me, it's easy.
IS THERE A
VARIETY OF FOOD?
The typical family does not eat a great variety of
foods. In the north where I lived, the daily meal was millet porridge and
goat or chicken meat, maybe some spinach. We shopped at the supermarket in
town, and there we could find a wide variety of basic foods. We cooked for
ourselves the whole time and developed a lot of recipes.
THERE STORES FOR SHOPPING OR ONLY MARKETS?
In the capital city, there are large shopping malls and
well equipped grocery stores. In the smaller towns, there are also some
grocery stores and shops, although not as nice or plentiful. We could find
most everything we needed without much trouble.
I GET BOOKS DONATED FROM HOME?
Peace Corps of course wants to encourage "sustainable
development" and having things shipped over from the US isn't exactly
sustainable. What I suggest you do is this: make arrangements before you
leave to have the books sent via M-bag (ask at your post office—it’s a super
cheap, super slow way to ship books). You probably won't know your real
address until you have been in Namibia for a month or so, so tell your
contacts hold on to them until you can send your address. The books take
about 3 months to arrive using the M-bag, so by that time you can do some
community research and find out where the books will be needed and where
they can best be used. The idea is not just to give things away, but just
to find the best place for them by actively involving community/school
members. This is actually a bit harder than it sounds, but anyway, give it
your best shot. The thing is that money is so scarce in Namibia, that it's
hard to justify NOT using your connections to get things shipped over. PC
has their reasons, but when you're actually in a village and people keep
coming to your house asking if you have any books to read, well, it's a
different story than the one the PC administration experiences everyday from
their office in the capital. I got a lot of books donated and only good
things came of it.
It's also a good idea to ship some books to yourself.
Two years without any movies or TV is a long time. You can ship those to
the PC office in Windhoek (which is probably the address they gave you) and
they will get to you eventually.
IS NAMIBIA SAFE?
The country was generally very safe. Granted, I felt
extra safe because I was usually with my husband, but there were many single
girls who were volunteers and they didn't experience any problems. Of
course, you will receive lots of marriage proposals though! Generally, what
happens is that your community will like you and take care of you. My
students worried about me more than I worried about myself.
However, there is a lot of petty theft, especially
towards the foreigners, and especially in Windhoek, the capital. In
Windhoek, never carry anything valuable around with you. In fact, just
don't take anything valuable with you! In Windhoek, NEVER carry a backpack
or a purse. There are many poor people who are not necessarily criminals,
but they can't resist the temptation of a white person's bag--because they
imagine it to be loaded with riches. Many, many people got robbed or pick
pocketed. Zac and I never did because we never took anything with us that
didn't fit in our pockets. If we wanted to carry some snacks or a water
bottle when we walked around the city, we carried it in an ordinary grocery
store plastic bag--much less tempting to the thieves! But in your village,
you will be perfectly fine--because everyone will know you and they will all
think you know them (even if you don't).
The good thing is that although people got robbed
occasionally, no one ever got hurt and there was no assault or anything
close. Should you ever be robbed, just hand over your money, and you'll be
fine. I know I make it sound like it happens all the time--but don't worry--it doesn't! It's just that we were there
for two years and whenever a minor thing happened, everyone heard about
it. I'm not sure where you're from in the states, but I think you should
just take some common-sense precautions like what you would do when visiting
any big city in the U.S. You should bring a money bag that can hide under
your clothes and then you won't have to worry.
CAN I BUY A BIKE?
Peace Corps will reimburse you if you buy a bike, but
they won't go out and buy one for you. All taxi drivers will be perfectly
willing to transport your bike from town to your house though. A lot of
things sound hard when you're in the comfortable U.S. but Namibia is a
country of adaptability and you'd be surprised what you can do there.
I AM A NEW
TEACHER, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ME?
As to teaching, I have a bit of very important advice
for you. Be really strict and really tough in the beginning. I got to my
school and was totally duped by all these cute, poor African kids saying,
"yes, miss" to everything I said. I loved them, but within a few weeks they
were nearly uncontrollable, and it was really hard to turn around and be
strict and expect to establish discipline. Their idea of discipline is much
different than ours. However, they can adapt to our ways, as long as you
come up with a strict discipline plan and stick to it, no matter what!
It'll be hard in the beginning, because you'll feel kind of alone and you'll
want the kids to like you. But trust me, they will like you and respect you
if you are a strict, but fair, teacher. I cannot emphasize this advice
enough! I really wish I knew it before I started because it could have
saved me so much trouble!
ARE THE STANDARDS IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION?
The teaching profession is mediocre to say the least.
Students who don't qualify for the real university then go to the teachers
colleges. The result is that the teachers often don't know much more than
their students. A lot of education revolves around rote memorization and
unquestioning obedience. It was quite different from the western style. A
lot of teachers also only know their subject and don't have a very good
general knowledge. At a lot of the rural schools, the teachers even appear
not to care and sometimes have been known to sleep in class. English is
supposed to be used in the classroom, but some of the teachers don't know
English very well, so they end up teaching in their native language. This
is problematic because the national exams at grade 10 and grade 12 are
completely in English. At the typical rural school, only a few kids will
pass the grade 10 exam to go on to grade 11.
GENERAL ADVICE DO YOU HAVE?
I guess the main thing I would tell you is to be
flexible and try to go in with as few expectations as possible. Many people
can get frustrated with teaching in Namibia if they come in with too many
expectations about themselves, what they want to achieve, and what they hope
to find and do in Africa. Try to go in with an open mind, and as blank of a
mind as possible. That way you will find it much easier to adapt to your
new situation. I went to Namibia with a much different attitude than when I
A specific example would be, when you go to your
school, you'll probably have an idea of some secondary projects you would
like to do. But a better thing would be to go to your school and ask them
what they would like to do. It's so important to work with your school and
leave any American concepts of time and efficiency behind! I'm sure you can
learn a lot from my website, because I was writing all that as I was going
through it, so you can see my learning process and my slow coming to terms
The one expectation you should have is that it's going
to be really hard. I was lucky because I was with my husband, but all the
other volunteers were single and had a very hard time adjusting to living in
a village all the time and feeling like they had no one to really talk to.
Of course, by the second year nearly everyone had made some good friends in
their village. But Namibia is a slow place, and friendship takes a long
time there. So, if you expect anything, expect it to be hard, and right in
the beginning, you may even really hate it (like I did) but in the end I
loved it more than anything.
Any more questions? Please e-mail