Where the Wild Things Are
28 March 2003
So here we are, sitting in Africa on another Friday
afternoon. We’ve had no running
water since 3pm yesterday. I’m
told it’s not going to rain again until October.
Hmmm. Actually, it is not
uncommon for the water to go out here, and the couple before us warned us that
one time it was out for a week, so we have been storing water.
Normally it just goes out for a few hours, so for us, this is the longest
it’s been out. After spending
over an hour doing half the dishes we’ve accumulated during this time, Zac is
already talking about putting one of the 25-liter jugs on top of the fridge and
connecting a pipe to it so that we can have running water again.
principal tells us that the problem with the water is that it comes down a pipe
from Angola, and along the way it feeds many water points for villagers and
animals alike. He basically said if the cattle drink all the water before it
gets to us, then the school’s water tank is empty. The learners seem to think the pipe is broken somewhere and
they’re fixing it. Who knows?
Last Wednesday (the day the Iraq war started) we had
a meeting with The Peace Corps to revise our emergency plan (should bin
Laden or Saddam suddenly appear in Namibia). It
was a humorous event in which many of the contradictions of the Peace Corps
became blaringly evident. For
example, the first stage of the plan (all of this is top secret by the way) is
where we are told to contact the Peace Corps and then go to our home and remain
there until given further instructions. However,
many people are so far out in the bush that there is no phone and no one speaks
English. If the message ever gets
to them that they’re supposed to go home and stay there, how will they ever
find out when they can leave again? Many
people were also concerned about the evacuation phase, declaring that they felt
much safer here in the event of a war than in the U.S.
The meeting became really funny when the administration started
discussing, in all seriousness, helicopters coming to pick us up from our site.
Now, since we’ve been here in Namibia (nearly 5 months), I’ve only
seen one aircraft, and it was the President’s personal helicopter.
When it flew over the school, all the learners ran out of the classrooms
to look at it. Where on earth are
they going to get helicopters to pick up 80 volunteers? And there’s no way they’re actually going to be able to
find us anyway. The icing on the
ridiculous cake was that all during the meeting, which took place in the
morning, about 6 of the volunteers were drinking beers, hidden behind our very
March 21st marked the day the sun went
from our side of the equator to yours. On
that very day, the weather here turned chilly.
We had forgotten the feeling, and looked at each other like, “What’s
happening? What is this feeling?
Oh! It’s cold.”
The days are still hot, but the nights and mornings are becoming cool.
The rains, apparently, are finished (much to the detriment of our
garden). We’re still very curious
to see what happens in winter here. One
of my learners is already wearing ski gloves to class.
Where he got ski gloves, I have no idea.
Most of the kids wear sweaters and complain about the cold, but they
refuse to close the windows, “Because Miss, then there’s no oxygen!” I think they spend so much of their lives outside that they
really think they will suffocate with all the windows closed inside.
Thursday was the beginning of a Long Weekend because
Friday was Namibia’s independence day (celebrating 13 years) and the learners
also got Monday off. So our friends
Jacque and Anand came to the Arcaro Rest Camp for the weekend. They experienced culture shock coming to our house, because
they’re both staying with families on traditional homesteads and teaching way
out in the bush. They quickly
deemed our house “little America” and were amazed at such novelties as
running water, electricity, and our deluxe, flush-style toilet. It’s true that in our house we are intent on
upholding such American virtues as decorating the walls, killing flies, putting
rugs on the floor, and eating off of dishes that have been washed with both soap
and hot water. The weekend was a
good test of our newly refined culinary skills, as we wowed them with a variety
of recipes all consisting of some combination of onions, potatoes, pasta, canned
green beans or tomatoes, chicken and rice.
Jacque called the weekend “cooking camp” as I showed her how food in
Namibia can actually taste good. Anand
is an omelet fan, so Zac was happy to have someone to eat eggs with (since I
don’t like them). We spent the days eating, reading, and comparing different
teaching strategies/creative punishments. In
the evenings we sat out back and watched the stars emerge in the perfectly clear
sky. Both Jacque and Anand are from
New York City, so they have an intense appreciation for the stars here.
On Saturday, we went to Etosha National Park, home of
some of the best wildlife viewing in the world.
It’s a mere 15km from our house (I’m convinced an elephant is going
to walk through our back yard before our two years is up).
We had previously arranged for a taxi driver named Solomo to take us in
his combi (an SUV/van type vehicle). We
were a little leery of such an arrangement because pre-arranged things don’t
tend to work out too well around here. But
he called on Friday night and told us he would pick us up at 6am Saturday
morning. So we’re all up before dawn, and I’m having visions of
taking National Geographicesque photos of the sun rising over an elephant.
The guy finally shows up at 7:30am American Time, which is apparently the
same as 6am African Time. He
brought two girls with him who had never been to Etosha before
and were all
decked out in their finest clothes. We
Americans, looking forward to being tourists for the day, were sporting shorts,
T-shirts and I was happily wearing my orange $2 Wal*Mart flip-flops.
At the gate to Etosha you have to register your
vehicle, demonstrate that you are not carrying any live cattle across the
veterinary checkpoint, and check your pistol.
Solomo asked Zac and Anand if they had a gun, and they both said no,
thinking the question a bit silly. At
which point, to our shock, Solomo took his pistol out of his belt, removed the
fully loaded clip, took the bullet out of the chamber, and handed it over to the
official. We’re all looking
nervously at each other, thinking, taxis are our sole mode of transportation
around here…how many drivers are carrying loaded handguns?
Also at the gate is a small lookout tower where you can view the grazing
veldt on the outskirts of the park. We
climbed the tower eagerly, and were followed by the two Namibian girls who
seemed genuinely afraid of stairs (there aren’t too many of them in this
the north). At
the top, the Namibian flag was unfurled in the cool early morning wind.
Being in tourist mode, we quickly decided that this is a Kodak
moment—the four Americans in front of the Namibian flag.
But, for us to all be in the photo required one of the Namibians to take
it. Jacque handed her camera to one
of the girls, who instantly started looking through the camera lens (backwards).
I took the camera, turned it around and showed her the viewfinder on the
camera, where she should look through. She
did so, while looking frantically all around her, seemingly suddenly lost.
We showed her how to aim the camera at us, and push the silver button
down, which she did, while also bringing her arm down.
I’m pretty sure the picture is going to be of my orange Wal*Mart
Once inside the park, Solomo drove at about 100km/hr
(the speed limit for the park is 60km/hr).
Taxi drivers are the only people in Namibia that seem to hurry.
Just inside the park, we saw a male lion sitting way in the distance. Further
in, Solomo spotted two lionesses drinking at a water hole close to the road and
said, “Roll up your windows! There are lions!” Somehow we knew the lionesses weren’t going to jump
into the combi, so instead, we poked our heads out the window and took
photos, much to the amusement of the Namibians.
So we careened through the park and arrived at the first rest camp before
10am. Zac was sitting in the
passenger seat up front and did his best to keep Solomo at a reasonable speed,
and it still took a lot of coaxing for us to convince Solomo to stop at the
animals and wait for us to at least take photos. At one point we saw 3 elephants really close, and the
smallest one (the size of the combi) was about to charge the combi.
Of course, being the tourists we were that day we were thinking what a
great photo it would be! I could see the headline in the Namibian newspaper: 4
Americans and 3 Namibians Mauled by Angry Baby Elephant.
Later, Solomo was racing a Springbok down the road,
and that is how we discovered that Springboks, which are quite springy, can run
60km/hr consistently for a long distance. Zebras
aren’t quite so fast, but they are smart enough to just run off into the bush,
instead of directly in front of the combi like the springboks.
Being a taxi driver in Namibia, Solomo is used to driving through cattle,
goats, donkeys and chickens and anything else that wanders into the road, and
I’m sure it made sense to him to apply the same strategy to the
at Etosha: just plow through them honking your horn.
But to us foreigners, the strategy seemed greatly out of place amongst
endangered animals that we would have been quite happy to sit and watch. Furthermore, Etosha is great because the animals, while not
domesticated, are not afraid of cars, and so you can see them quite close.
After Solomo drove through Etosha, I think at least half the animals are
now afraid of vehicles. Needless to say, I don’t think we’ll be hiring Solomo to
take us to Etosha again. But, the
day wasn’t all lost, we got to see a lot of animals, walk (illegally?) on the
Etosha Pan, and spend a day as tourists