f i s h r i v e r c a n y o n

1 round-trip train ride. 5 days. 8 Peace Corps Volunteers. 500 pictures. 75 kilometers.

Perks of being a Peace Corps Volunteers include opportunities to travel and see the world. Namibia is a country of contrasting beauty, a sentiment included in the nation’s anthem.

Last August, seven volunteers and I took on the challenge of hiking the second largest canyon in the world, Fish River Canyon. Located in southern Namibia, Fish River Canyon hiking trail stretches about 90 kilometers and is one of the most visited attractions in Namibia.

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Fish River Canyon hiking trail contains a steep descent, boulders, rocks, deep sand, slippery river crossings, baboons, snakes, scorpions, and wild game throughout the canyon.

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Being a beginner hiker, here are some things to consider if you plan on taking on Fish River Canyon.

Tips if you plan to hike Fish River Canyon:

Print a route map to carry along. Luckily, one person in our group thought to do that, otherwise, we’d probably still be hiking to this day.

Know your fitness level. Although minimal hiking experience is needed, the trails are a mixture of stones, deep sand, grass, bedrock and in some places steep ascends or descends. It requires moderate fitness level. You will be spending the major of the days walking under the blistering sun, which can add to the difficulty of the hike. Many groups finish the hike in 5 days, but taking the shortcuts can cut about a day and a half off of the hike.

Food and drink

A water filter pump is a huge advantage. Water purification tablets if not.

5-day meal plan for Fish River Canyon

Sleeping

You can either sleep in the open or in a lightweight tent. We had a mix in our group, and those sleeping in tents got the better sleep. The wind picked up at night and sand in the face isn’t a great thing to wake up to. Take a super-warm sleeping bag regardless.

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❤ Krystal

 

i choose to stay.

Last year, I wrote a post about FOMO (read: the truth about fomo as a peace corps volunteer). I mentioned how being a Volunteer means missing out on birthdays and other significant milestones back home. But, there is one thing I left out.

Death.

Because the thought of death still makes me uncomfortable, although death is as natural as life.

On Sunday, February 11, my Gramps was placed in hospice care. He passed away early in the morning on Saturday, February 17, the day after my 31st birthday. He was 87 years old.

With only 3 months remaining of my service, I choose to stay in Namibia. This was not an easy decision to make.

Throughout the course of the week, my days were filled with what can only be described as signs from God. Signs of comfort and peace and understanding. This helped guide me through the grief of being away from home during such a significant time for my family.

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I choose to stay.

Because I want to continue your legacy of service to others.
Because I want to remember your glances as if you already knew you were looking at me for the last time.
Because I want to remember your big white smile and gentle laugh.
Because I know you wanted me to remember your life and not your death.
Because no matter how far away I am in distance, you’ll always be in my heart.

Dedicating my Peace Corps Service to my Gramps
Cary Holland, Jr.
November 13, 1930 – February 17, 2018

❤ Krystal

everyone seen’ a rhino, say yeah.

 

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First animal sighting of the canine Adidas and Nike behind me.

 

Living in Africa Namibia, I think everyone back home assumes that I encounter dangerous wildlife on the daily.

The most common “wildlife” I see in my village are goats, cattle, dogs, and chickens. Think of the animals you would encounter driving down a back road in Oklahoma, and those are exactly the same everyday animals I see in Namibia. I know this because I’ve driven many back roads in Oklahoma.

Northern Namibia is home to one of the oldest national parks, Etosha. Etosha was established as a game reserve in 1907 and covers over 22,000 square kilometers in the Kunene region. Etosha is home to hundreds of mammals, reptiles, birds, including some threatened and endangered species, oh and it’s only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from my home in Ondobe.

My friend, Mandeep, invited me to Etosha with him and his mother and sister who were visiting from New Jersey. Justin also came along and drove us through the self-guided safari.

Okay, I’m finished talking. I know you just wanna see animals.

*As I am writing this, I am trying to watch YouTube videos of rhinos, elephants, and lions. Let me remind you, these are wild animals. Catching the best snapshot is in no way more important than protecting your life. All of these photos were taken from the safety of a vehicle, and I hope that if you decide to visit Etosha or any national park, you will also practice common sense to protect yourself from a dangerous animal encounter.

Man, I am bossy today.

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Some wildebeest fighting while others mind theirs.

 

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When you see it.

 

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Jackals waiting for leftovers from the lion’s feast.

 

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Are they black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

 

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Kori bustards are the largest flying birds. So, pretty much I’ve seen pterodactyls. Life complete.

 

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A line of elephants leaving the waterhole.

 

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Springboks are like the goats of Etosha. They are everywhere!

 

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Beautiful ostrich. Supposedly, the black ones are male and the brown ones are female.

 

Although I don’t have a picture of the rhino (I mean, I do, but it’s so far away), as we headed back towards the north gate we looked over to see a large gray body slowly walking through the savannah. So, we seen’ a rhino and I would call this a successful trip to Etosha!

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Then, there are these 3 crazy animals.

❤ Krystal

red, braai, and blue.

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I always look forward to holidays. It seems that once the 4th of the July hits each year, the final months of the year fly by. For many American expats, getting US holidays off of work is a rarity, unless the holidays are also observed in our host countries. In Namibia, shared observations of holidays include Good Friday, Easter, Christmas, New Years Eve and Day, to name a few. All other holidays are just days.

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To make up for holidays missed, many times PCVs organize celebrations on weekends before or following the holiday. This year, Independence Day fell on a Tuesday, so to make-up, we held a braai the Saturday following in a town central to many Ovamboland volunteers.

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A braai is in many ways similar to what Americans call a barbecue. And just how Americans use the word barbecue as a noun and a verb, the word braai is no different.

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Photo from Krystal W.jpg

Yeah, Rachael and I braaied pizza. Mmm. Sweet Baby Ray’s!

One of Peace Corps goals is to share American culture with our host country- colleagues, family, and friends. Fortunately for us, most Namibian’s main food group is meat, so it didn’t take much convincing to involve locals.

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Celebrating Independence Day abroad not only brings together PCVs, but also other expats as well. This year, many World Teach Volunteers joined the festivities as well as PCV’s colleagues, significant others, and friends.

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Namibia celebrated 27 years of independence on March 21 of this year, while the United States celebrated 241 years. Being from a country almost 10 times “older” than Namibia, I’m reminded each day the amount of patience that should continue to go into the work I am doing.

During the 2016 holiday season, I started a tradition of using a tablecloth at special events in which everyone signs. Each year, I will hand embroider each person’s writing to remember all my friends and family who I have shared special occasions with during my service and even after. This will most likely be the last big celebration with the current group of volunteers. Group 42 will COS in later this year, and a new group of education volunteers will arrive in August.

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Happy 4th, y’all!

❤ Krystal

11 years in the making.

I have never been known for having a good memory. My older brother would get upset with me when he would start reminiscing about good ole days, and I couldn’t remember the slightest details. He can recall Christmases from when we were in diapers, road trips across the country, and what pizza toppings were on a pizza during a family movie night in 1996. Even if I exhaustively jog my memory, I come up with nothing.

My freshman year of college, I took Intro to Public Speaking. This was a required class, but I enjoyed it because it served as a sort of therapy for me. During this time in college, my parent’s had recently divorced and I was going through physical therapy for my ACL tear. It was a rough time for me to say the least, so I found solace in writing down and presenting my thoughts (I’m sure I was a wreck), but I remember one thing clearly:

In this class, I decided I was going to bungee jump at Victoria Falls.

Okay, let me back up a little.

One of my classmates was Zambian. She gave a speech about a fear that she overcame. That fear was bungee jumping from Victoria Falls Bridge. She described the fear, exhilaration, excitement, and adrenaline she experienced during her jump, and from that day on, I put bungee jumping at Victoria Falls on my bucket list.

One problem.

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In 2006, I had no clue where Zambia was even at. Let alone Victoria Falls. Was it in South America? Or an island off of Australia? As I told you before in a previous post, I’ve never been a traveller, so putting something on my bucket list was okay. I mean, if it happened it happened, and if not, it was a stretch goal after all.

In the years following college, I can’t say I actively devised a plan to achieve this bucket list item aside from pinning it on my Pinterest. When I moved to Namibia, I realized Victoria Falls wasn’t too far away.

So, last month I  found myself in Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe and Zambia are neighboring countries) to run in Victoria Falls marathon (I only ran (walked/jogged) the 7.5k fun run). During my weekend, I realized, this was my opportunity to fulfil a dream over a decade in the making. As soon as I checked into Shoestrings Backpackers, I booked my ticket to jump at Shearwater Bungee in Victoria Falls.

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On June 17, 2017, I was the 9th bungee jumper from Victoria Falls Bridge. All of the feelings my classmate described that day in 2006, were #allthefeels I experienced in my jump.

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What bucket list items do you want to fulfil? Wanna bungee jump at Victoria Falls?

Come visit me! I don’t think I’ll jump again, but I’ll watch.

❤ Krystal

mother bear project.

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Sometimes being a PCV is about spreading goodwill. As PCVs, we partner with NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), CBOs (Community-Based Organizations), and FBOs (Faith-Based Organizations) to help maximize effort. One organization in which many PCVs are able to work with during their service is The Mother Bear Project.

The Mother Bear Project is a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was founded “accidentally,” by Amy Berman, who we like to call The Mother Bear. The Mother Bear Project is dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/AIDS by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit or crocheted bear.

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Knitters and crocheters from all over the world dedicate many hours to create each lovable bear. You can see from the photos how each bear is truly unique and in some ways, match the unique personalities of their learners.

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Becoming a bear maker is easy. With a $5 USD donation to the Mother Bear Project, you receive the pattern to create your bear. If you don’t know how to knit or crochet, you can sponsor a bear. Once you receive the pattern, you need at least 3 colors of yarn and ta-da! (I’m sure it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture.) After completing your bear, you can sign your name on the tag included with your pattern and the Mother Bear Projects adds a felt heart to each bear before sending to partners, such as Peace Corps Volunteers, to hand deliver.

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Aren’t they precious?

❤ Krystal

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