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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.   Our 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 important paperwork.

 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.Ostrich: and ostrich walking across one of the smaller salt pans.

 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 country—particularly in 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 flip-flops.

 Lions: these are the two lionesses that Solomo thought were going to jump into the combi.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 Anand and Jacque in the Etosha Pan exotic animals 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

Giraffe eating: I would just like to point out that this giraffe is happily chomping down on 2-inch long thorns.

giraffehead.jpg (50043 bytes)
Giraffe head
: “Hmm…maybe eating all those thorns wasn’t such a good idea after all….”

Well, I hope the weather is becoming nice and warm for you now that you have the sun. We have a about a week and a half of teaching left, then 3 weeks of exams. We’re able to follow the war with the newspaper here, which has decent coverage, and we can sometimes get the Voice of America on our short-wave radio. We haven’t seen it on TV yet at all. There is a TV in the Dining Hall for the learners, but it smells so bad in there that we haven’t felt the need to watch it on TV too much. It’s kind of nice being able to distance ourselves from the war. I think all the learners know about it because they’re watching it on CNN, but again, something is lost on them. One 11th grade learner asked me today when Iraq was going to start fighting back. Sometimes they ask my opinion on it or want to know why there is a war and who will win. The Peace Corps tells us to not voice our opinions, but I’m just honest with the kids and explain my view and try to explain the history that is behind the war. I tell them that not all Americans want the war, and that most people want it to end quickly. Let’s hope it does.

 Love always, Sera and Zac

click here for more pictures from Etosha

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