the truth about fomo as a peace corps volunteer.

When I was growing up my parents were strict. I jokingly tell people that the pastor’s kids had more freedoms than my older brother and me. My parents had parental locks on MTV, BET, and VH1 (Larry figured out the code, P.S. Don’t use your children’s birthdays, hehe). Sleeping over at friends houses were few and far between and I knew nothing about sex until I was 14 or 15, since I was excused from the “Facts of Life” education at school. So, growing up it’s safe to say, I dealt with a lot of FOMO (failure of missing out) because in many cases I did.

As a college student, I made sure I never missed out on anything. Going to the library parties Wednesday through Saturday night, football games, university events, movies, Spring break trips, you name it, I was probably there. This trend continued through my 20s as my way of making up for lost time.

Then, I joined the Peace Corps.

27 months away from my close family and friends.

27 months of missing out.

Missing out of life events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other significant milestones.

Besides many trivial things I am missing back stateside during my time in Namibia, these are real things. These are times I can’t get back or recreate. These are times I couldn’t prepare myself for prior to leaving for service, although I did try.

It has become so easy for me, and I am sure for other expats, to dwell on everything we’re missing at home. Recently, my friend, Carrie, challenged me to think of things I would be missing if I chose to not come to Namibia. With a little bit of thought, here I go:

    1. Making Lifelong Friends

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      I mean, I could make lifelong friends anytime or place, but in April of last year, I began a journey with volunteers who will always just “get it” and “get me”. Volunteers from all over the States who will appreciate what it takes to be a PCV. I have made friends who continue to challenge me, support me, and relate to me on a daily basis. In addition, I have gained friends from Namibia- from PC staff, colleagues, host families, and neighbors. Being a volunteer in Namibia means gaining a namily, that’s for sure.

    2. Learning a New Language and about a New Culture

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      Why would I want to re-learn French when I can learn Oshikwanyama? I learned a language I never even knew existed in a country I never knew existed before applying to Peace Corps. Each and every day I learn new things about a culture I would have never known about without taking the leap to travel outside the borders of my own.

    3. Traveling to New Countries

      Before Namibia, the only stamp in my passport was from Mexico (not even sure if that counts if you’re from Texas). I have never been an avid traveler, but by the end of my service, I will have a handful (or two) of stamps added to my collection.

    4. Discovering New Skills and Hobbies

      I taught myself to hand embroider. I’ve practiced more of my calligraphy and doodling (yes, there’s an art to doodling). I made my own sourdough bread and reignited my love of gardening. Yes, the life of a volunteer is hectic, but I also have a lot more downtime than I have ever had (or will ever have again). Watching movies and TV shows get old, so learning something new is never a bad idea.

    5. Strengthening Old Relationships

      Although I am thousands of miles away, there is something about distance that helps strengthen relationships. Not only in romantic relationships (but, those too). Being away from family and friends has allowed me to make more decisions about me, and what makes my life meaningful and fulfilling without other people’s anxieties and emotions influencing them. I have gained a greater sense of independence and realize more of my ability to do things (and do them well) on my own. Distance has made me better at planning communication with people back home while also determining which relationships have been worth sustaining in my time away.

    6. Increasing Knowledge and Skills for Future Endeavors

      Peace Corps, for me, offered an opportunity to change my career path while gaining two years of hands-on experience. I have also had the ability to acquire knowledge and refine skills that may make me more marketable post-Peace Corps. Granted, there is still plenty of time between now and COS (close of service), these are still important things to consider IMO.

    7. Realizing How Much “Grit” I Have and How to Survive on Less 

      Endurance. Passionate. Excellence. Courage. Perseverance.

      I don’t think I truly knew what grit was until I joined the Peace Corps. But, I’m positive that I have had in inter-weaved in my personal makeup my entire life. Many days as PCV are disappointing. Many days I must revisit the drawing board. In all of the unpredictability, these things are predictable. So, why do I do this? Why am I still here? Grit. That’s the only way to explain it. I have the desire and need to achieve and love the feeling of accomplishing a long-term goal. Yes, enduring a variety of hardships in my living and working environments may not be for the faint of spirit, but in a crazy way, having grit breathes life into me.

      Also, no promises that I won’t try to serve lentils 101 ways after Peace Corps, but living minimal really makes you think about what is important in life, and what brings true happiness (the secret is: it’s not things).

So, with all the FOMO, there is a joy to be gained. JOMO, if you will (I didn’t make this up). I’ve found joy in having time to get to know myself absent of fears and anxiety. Even if I am missing milestones back home, there are so many experiences I am gaining here. With more one year of service to go, I continue to look forward to the months ahead.

❤ Krystal

c a p e t o w n, s o u t h a f r i c a

In March, I took a wonderful vacation to Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is located on the southwest coast of South Africa. It is a city of wonders, beautiful people, breathtaking landscapes and of course delicious food. Many Peace Corps Volunteers living in southern African countries take a trip to Cape Town once or even twice during or after their service because it’s like a small taste of America located on the continent (they have a McDonald’s and Burger King, y’all). Although this was my first time to Cape Town, it definitely will not be my last.

my top [f i v e] favorite attractions in cape town, south africa:

[o n e] Lion’s Head

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This was the first place I visited the evening after I landed in Cape Town. Told to be the “easier” hike of the two mountains in Cape Town (the other being Table Mountain), Lion’s Head offered a fun, yet challenging climb, and the reward of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean view. Even if you don’t make it to the top, the views and the people you meet along the way make it all worth it. For a moderately “in-shape” person, allow for about an hour and 15 minutes to climb (take pictures, chat with friends, take more pictures). If you plan on venturing to the top for a sundowner, make sure to bring a flashlight for the trip down.

[t w o] Greenmarket Square

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Nestled between St. George’s Mall and Long Street, Greenmarket Square is a place where artisans from all over the continent bring goods to sell. Anything from handmade dolls and paintings to kitchenware and radios made of bottle caps, are some of the goods you can find here. The artisans are friendly and make it worth the trip. For a Peace Corps Volunteer, the market provides a place to work on your negotiation skills as well, even if you end up spending R700.

[t h r e e] The Neighbourgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill

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If you happen to be in Cape Town on a Saturday (which you should be), head on down to The Old Biscuit Mill where each and every Saturday the Neighbourhoods Market is open with food, food, and did I say food? The Old Biscuit Mill is located in the hip and trendy Woodstock Neighborhood, and is open Monday through Saturday.

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On Saturday, venture on down and buy yourself a mushroom kebab, freshly squeezed lemonade, tuna noodle stir fry, handcrafted chocolate, a Belgium pretzel, and whatever else you can carry, then walk outside to purchase souvenirs to take home. But, do this all before 2pm, that’s when they close.

[f o u r] VA Waterfront

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There is something about a fresh ocean breeze which that makes anyone feel alive. VA Waterfront is a popular Cape Town destination place for food, fun, and shopping. The VA Waterfront offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic shore, Table Bay Harbor, the City of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Go for the fun, go for the food, go for H&M!

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[f i v e] Robben Island

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Robben Island is located about 7k from the coast of Cape Town. Built between 1962 and 1969, Robben Island was a political prison during South African apartheid rule. All prisoners, including South African’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, were members of political parties who opposed apartheid. In 1997, only one year after releasing the last prisoner, Robben Island re-opened as a museum and offers tours throughout the day. The tour includes a ferry ride to and from Cape Town (from VA Waterfront). Many of the tour guides are former prisoners of Robben Island. The tour cost is about R230 (you must purchase tickets in advance).

Visiting Robben Island offers one a lot of perspective on a history that is not too distant. Walking through the prison blocks, prison yard, and prison cells reminded me of freedoms which are not free.

In some ways, I feel the tour was rushed, but even still, I think Robben Island should be on your to-do list.

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. ❤ Krystal

q&a peace corps namibia edition no.1

After living in Namibia for a year, I constantly forget that friends and family back home still have many questions related to how I survive and function here.  I thought it would finally be nice to answer some of these questions for all you curious people out there.

Q: What do you eat in Namibia?

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A: Pretty much anything I can afford within my PC stipend. As a PCV, I am given a monthly stipend to buy essentials- food is obviously one of them. So, I am in control of many things I eat. My normal grocery list contains items such as bread, protein sources such as tuna, beans, or lentils (if the prices are right), vegetables, and chocolate. When produce is in-season, I typically purchase it from my neighbor, but all other times, I will buy from the store in my village or shopping town.

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Kapana and oshifima from the open market in Ongwediva.

 

When it comes to traditional foods, I typically eat those foods with my host family, because, I really don’t know how to prepare them well at all. Since my host family is large, there is usually more than enough to share. Some nights, I am in the mood for oshifima (traditional porridge) and ombidi (wild spinach), and my host family lovingly shares with me. I do enjoy trying new foods and traditional staples and snacks.

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On weekends, I may find myself away from site to run errands or visit volunteers. If I am in a town, there are typically a few decent selections of restaurants to dine at. Not necessarily chain restaurants, but some tried and tested places. Local hotels or guest lodges serve burgers, pizzas, or green salad, but it also comes at a high cost on a volunteer budget. Volunteers also enjoy cooking together.

Q: What is a koombi?

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It’s hell on wheels. Okay, it’s a large van. One or both of these statements are true.

A koombi is a large van which is a common form of transit when traveling across the country. For every koombi in this country, I have a comedic story to follow. Koombis are one of the most frustrating forms of traveling IMO. Most fit between 15-20 passengers, and drivers won’t begin the trip until almost all of those seats are filled. So, the trick is to get to the koombi early, but not too early, or you’ll be waiting for it to fill up. But, not too late, because then that means you may be on the road well after dark, and then the driver won’t take you to the location you paid for him to take you, and then you’ll have to pay for a taxi, but because it’s so late you’ll have to sit in a taxi for 45 minutes while the driver takes a nap waiting for more customers, then it will rain because it’s not dramatic enough unless there is rain…

Koombis suck.

Q: Do you shave your legs?

A: Sometimes, but not most of the time. I mean, as a PCV there is no requirement to do or to not do so. I personally have found it to be a chore these days than anything. I live on a homestead with an outdoor shower. So, shaving requires extra time for me to stand outside naked. I’ll pass. I could shave my legs in my room. But, then that requires me to make a trip or two collecting water to lather and rinse while trying not to end up covered in sand while doing so. No thanks.

Q: What time zone are you in?

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Namibia is in the West African Time (WAT) zone. During daylight savings time, most of Namibia moves to West Africa Summer Time (WAST) for the summer months (beginning of September to beginning of April in Namibia) so we share the same time as Botswana and South Africa.

So, throughout the course of the year, I am anywhere between 6-8 hours ahead of CST.

Q: What is the main religion in Namibia?

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Many Namibians identify as Christian. The two largest Christian groups in Namibia are Lutheran and Roman Catholic. Other religions practiced in Namibia include Isalm, Judaism, Buddhism, and Baha’i Fatih.

Q: Do people in Namibia speak English?

English is the official language of Namibia, although there are multiple langauges spoken in the country. During apartheid rule, there were 3 official languages of Namibia: Afrikaans, German, and English. After Namibia’s independence in 1990, English became the official national language. Although English is the official language, it is regularly spoken by a small percentage of the population and rarely the first language learned by Namibians. Oshiwambo and dialects of Oshiwambo are spoken in nearly 50% of Namibian households, followed by Damara/Nama (11%), and then Afrikaans (10%).

❤ Krystal

cues on queues.

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If I’ve learned one thing while living abroad, it’s patience. Extremely patience. At the grocery store, doctor’s office, bank. For meetings, events, and taxis. Patience is key.

In Namibia, when you’re waiting in line, it’s called waiting in queue. And when I venture to any of the places named above, I expect to wait in a queue. Sometimes for a few minutes many times for a few hours.

In most cultures, there are unwritten rules or norms related to queuing up. In Hawaii, customers leave their sandals in queue as a placeholder, then take a seat until their sandals are in front. Other cultures may have a system of complete disorder or disarray, but somehow people always seem to know their place in queue.

In Namibia, there are also some unwritten rules of queuing up. Here’s some tips to help you keep your sanity if you ever come visit me:

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Read all signs. Well, technically, these are written. But, read signs, for real. There may be many. Sometimes, they even contradict each others, but they tell you what services can be offered in certain queues. Those are important. Many times, failure to read these signs on your part will make for a long, stressful day.

Elderly get served first. Yes, even though you’ve waited hours, when meekulu walks in, she is now priority. Pro Tip: If you even think about walking passed meekulu(s)* for any service, you better greet each and every one of them as you walk by.

*the plural for meekulu is omeekulu, but for English context, I just added a ‘s.’

Place holding is acceptable. You start to notice this more when you’re nearing the front of the queue. All of a sudden, two or three people are now making their way to the front, out of no where. It’s completely acceptable to leave the queue to run other errands and to return back in front of the man with the white shirt and blue jeans. That man will also vouch for you, that you indeed had that place in queue.

For all the times I have waited in queues, it’s so easy to resort back to how things are done in America and complain while swearing silently in my head. But, for every queue wait in, I’m thankful for the A/C I get to enjoy and sometimes a comfy seat. I truly see what it’s like to be a local while learning to art of waiting.

❤ Krystal

down by the river.

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The Kavango River: separating Namibia from Angola.

It still amazes me how different the landscapes are as you travel through Namibia. This weekend I spent some time in Rundu. I knew I was getting closer to town when I saw vivid green foliage, traces of water from recent heavy rains, and elephant crossing signs. Yes, seriously. I live in a country where elephants and people can cross paths (although, it wouldn’t be a great idea). How crazy is that?

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One of the many beautiful peacocks roaming around Camp YEAH over the weekend.

Each year volunteers in the Kavango Region host Camp YEAH. YEAH stands for Youth Exploring and Achieving in Health. The camp focuses on educating youth about the risk of HIV/AIDS and other issues affecting youth such as teen pregnancy. Volunteers and counterparts select motivated learners from their communities to participate.

This year, we will be introducing this camp to Ovamboland, creatively rebranding the name to Camp O-YEAH. Camp O-YEAH will be held during the first week of May. I have been put in charge of getting all the kitchen/nutrition stuff in order for camp. Since this is my first time being on the operations side of any camp, I figured this was a great opportunity to check out Camp YEAH, but also see how a camp kitchen is run.

When I completed my dietetics degree, I never thought I would use any food management concepts again. Not because I would never need to, but because I never wanted to EVER again. (Never say never, my friends!) I fell in love with the community health aspect of dietetics, and not so much with the food management or clinical side of it. Dietetic professionals know that creating menus to feed the masses takes a lot of time, math, tears, and preparation. Move to Namibia and add in converting everything from US to metric, and it turns into one heck of a good time.

I watched as a team of two volunteers with the assistance of a few locals cook and serve three meals per day to approximately 50 campers and staff. I was thoroughly impressed and mostly relieved that some school kitchens in Namibia are equipped with appliances found in commercial kitchens in the States. (They had a tilt skillet, y’all).

Mariah and Winnie cooked and introduced delicious new foods to the campers while reminding volunteers of the yummy foods we sacrificed for two years.

 

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Delicious cheese…oh, and chili.

 

For me, planning six days, 17 meals including 5 tea breaks, and 50 expected attendees will make anyone want to pull their hair out, but I think it will turn out just fine.

 

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Speaking of hair, do you like my new style? Can’t beat a new look for $10 USD.

 

❤ Krystal

 

what i know now: packing guide for peace corps namibia

 

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wOnderlust, they were so close.

 

As I approach my one-year mark in Namibia Group 45 is counting down the days until their departure. I wanted to create a guide for those heading to this side. Last year I posted a list of what I was packing for my 27 month Peace Corps service. If you have perused a few other Peace Corps Namibia blogs (Little Backpack, Big World and Alex Yonkovig to name a few), I think you will be able to get an idea of what to bring and not to bring, so my guide is obviously not all-inclusive. Knowing what I know now, here are some suggestions for you. This guide will be most beneficial to health volunteers, but here ya go:

LUGGAGE
Stick to 2 bags (3 max). I should’ve listened to this advice. One should be a larger suitcase or duffel bag with wheels and the second should be a backpack. PST is not your final destination. Having luggage with wheels will make moving easier on you and all the people around you. You will be walking a lot and a backpack is more functional. I brought a small duffel bag, which was clearly the wrong choice. Also, keep in mind you want something durable enough for commuting 8,000 plus miles, but also durable enough because it will collect dust for the next 2 years.

LOCK your checked luggage!  LOCK your checked luggage! LOCK your checked luggage! LOCK your checked luggage! LOCK your checked luggage! LOCK your checked luggage! 

Things WILL go missing. Pocket knives, jewelry and especially electronics have been known to go missing in Johannesburg. Don’t even think about putting your valuables in your checked bags unless you want to arrive in Namibia without them.

Less is more.

FOOD
I brought lots (probably too many) snacks and spices. Because you know, after one month in Namibia I was suffering and devoured all of my Krave beef jerky. I would suggest bringing some ethnic spices or seasonings that you can’t live without, and also a few of your favorite snacks, but, don’t go overboard. It takes up valuable weight and space, and it is always nice to have items like that arrive in a care package. Surprisingly, you can find similar spices in major shopping towns/cities such as Windhoek. Volunteers have found sriracha, Heinz Ketchup, Oreos, and even Pop Tarts.

There is food in Namibia. You won’t suffer…too much.

CLOTHES
Health volunteers will most likely be placed in northern Namibia. I spend most of my days out in the community, so my dressing code (what it’s called here) isn’t too strict compared to maybe a CED volunteer who may be required to dress more business casual. I brought one nice pair of dress slacks and four or five skirts. These were acceptable during PST, but not functional or ideal for me at site. I would recommend keeping the business attire to a minimum. (You honestly could probably wear the same thing every day at PST, but don’t.) Health volunteers, don’t waste valuable space on a lot of business wear.

Ladies, if you choose to bring dresses or skirts, make sure the hit your knee or below. I know the game we play. I’m 5′ 11″, sorry the ‘six’ key on my laptop is broken, but you will feel eyes looking at you if you decide to wear anything shorter. It’s just not appropriate in Namibia. Cute, form-fitting, and trendy is fine. Short is not.

Group 45 will be arriving during some of the cooler months here in Namibia so take that into consideration when packing. You will not need a winter coat by any means but pack a light sweater or cardigan. Maybe, even bring a light jacket, mornings and nights will get pretty cold during those times.

Don’t go out and purchase a lot of new items. If you’re unsure, go without, and you can purchase it here for a fraction of the cost. Bring clothes you are comfortable wearing at home. Those are the clothes you will be most comfortable wearing here. Don’t, I repeat don’t, go buy a whole new wardrobe. You will be here living and working, you won’t be a tourist or on vacation (most of the time) so don’t spend too much time at REI.

WORKOUT
If you work out at home or you are considering working out during service, bring workout clothes and even some equipment, if you must. If you don’t want your nice athletic wear getting ruined, DON’T BRING IT! Because you will snag your $40 reflective running tights on the fence post on your homestead and it will be the saddest day ever. Volunteers have brought kettlebells, yoga mats, and resistances bands from home. All of these things are also available in-country as well if you rather not tote these items across the globe.

OUTERWEAR

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Bring a hat, umbrella, and at least one sweater.

Most of the time it’s sunny and sometimes it’s cold.

FOOTWEAR
As a health volunteer, my Chacos sandals are my go-to. I choose Chacos over Tevas because I think the soles can outlast the northern Namibian terrain. I’ve seen acacia thorns do damage to some of the sturdiest soles. I wear these almost every day because of the amount of sand I trek through to get to and from work.

Bring at least one nice pair of shoes for church, weddings, retirement parties, or even a PC event.

Slippers are a must around my room because of the insects. Oh, and shower shoes.

HOUSEHOLD ESSENTIALS

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I just make cold brew coffee in my Nalgene now.

You can get all household essentials in-country with your settling-in allowance. I think a volunteer even purchased an iron and an ironing board with theirs. If you bring a water bottle, bring one that is 32 oz or smaller. My Nalgene carries 1500mL, which is a pain to travel with (there I go complaining about water), but it gets heavy. I would even suggest a thermal type of bottle. Wait to buy sheets here. They have several bedding stores to purchase them. You won’t know what your living situation will be for the next 2 years right away, so just wait to purchase bedding.

TOILETRIES
Toiletries, such as toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, etc., you can find here. Unless you are brand loyal, only bring enough for training.

Ladies, if you don’t have a DivaCup. Get one (or two). Feminine products can sometimes go weeks without restocking, especially in a village.

Sunscreen is provided by Peace Corps Namibia unless you need a higher SPF. I think PCN provides SPF 30.

NATURAL HAIR LADIES AND GENTS
Bring products from home. I think there is one store in Windhoek that sells natural hair products, although, I haven’t been able to locate that store yet. Many women here do not wear their natural hair, so the product selection is slim or non-existent. I have found some alright brands, but they do some damage to your PC stipend. So, stock up on your shea butter, jojoba oil, oil treatments, and do yourself a favor and bring a small spray bottle also.

E-READER
I received mine as a gift a few years ago and was a little hesitant on bringing it, but I’m so glad that I did. I didn’t even have much time to read for enjoyment back home, but you will have plenty of downtime during your few months in-country and at site. Volunteers love to share books. If you have an electronic reader, BRING IT!

SLEEPING BAG
You will hear mixed reviews on bringing a sleeping bag. I’m from Texas, so when I got to my permanent site in June the nights were cold for me. I slept in my sleeping bag every night. If you choose to bring one make sure it is compact. Like super compact. A sleeping bag is also useful when overnighting at other volunteer sites or if you plan to go camping while you’re in Africa.

EAR PLUGS
Ear plugs! Bring ear plugs. I can promise you the first few weeks or even months you may have a hard time sleeping from the dogs, chickens, and other noises. Also, save the little courtesy pouch from the international flight. It has a sleep mask which I use on the weekends to sleep in until 745a.

See you soon and happy packing!