camp o-yeah.

Camp YEAH (Youth Exploring & Achieving in Health) is a health camp hosted by Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts in Namibia. Each year, in-school youth apply and are then invited to a week-long camp to engage in topic discussions and activities that will empower them in making healthy choices regarding their health and the health of their communities.

This was the inaugural year of Camp O-YEAH (the ‘O’ stands for O-Land) which was hosted in Oshakati. 18 youth from across the four regions of O-land (Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati, and Ohangwena regions) gathered for a week of activities involving teamwork, goal setting, and of course, health awareness and education.

Victoria’s very first time in a swimming pool.

This year, I was able to bring Victoria as a camper to Camp O-YEAH. Victoria is a grade 12 learner in my village. Although quiet and soft-spoken she always has a way to light up a room. She wakes up early each morning to walk 3k to school. She spends hours studying under a torch or lantern, because there is no electricity at her home. As the winter days have become shorter, this gives her less and less daylight to not only get home from school each day, but to complete her chores while continuing to make time to prioritize her studies. Victoria wants to become a tour guide when grows up and has determined the path to get there.

During my service, I have asked myself many times, “Am I doing the right things the wrong way?” I’ve struggle with community “buy-in.” I’ve struggled with finding counterparts who see the bigger picture and realize it begins with smalll daily actions. Victoria has been one who sees the bigger picture.

Camp O-Yeah opened up a world of possibilities for Victoria.

On day 1 of Camp O-Yeah, each camper was given a dream book. They were told to decorate their books anyway they wanted to. Within their dream books, they could write anything they wanted inside— thoughts on life, studies, draw pictures or write poems— anything. Their books were for their eyes only, and campers could choose to share the contents of their books if they wished.

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On a few ocassions, Victoria shared a few entries of her dream book with me. The content she shared with me made me realize even moreso how beautiful and courageous this young lady is. Each day she battles many obstacles to receive an education, change her fate, and have a voice in her future.

So, whether or not I ever find out if I am doing anything right during my last year of service, there is one thing I know: Victoria came into my Peace Corps service at the right time, and if in any way I am able to impact her life in a positive way, that will make all of this worth it.

❤ 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

third goal.

Peace Corps has 3 goals:

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1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans. 

Goal 3, commonly referred to as the Third Goal is what my blog is about. It gives me the opportunity to share my Peace Corps Namibia life with you. What’s even cooler is the opportunity to share my Peace Corps live and in-person. And that’s what I was able to do during my trip home.

I had a special opportunity to visit my World Wise classroom,  another school in which I used to volunteer at as reading coach, and also my brother’s high school while I was home. Each presentation gave me a chance to share my experiences over the last year with students, teachers, and my family.

Not only was I able to teach Americans about Namibia, but hopefully I was able to inspire others to join the Peace Corps in the future.

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I loved being able to share my stories and experiences with everyone. I sometimes forget how fascinating living in a developing country can be because there is so much normalcy in my routine. It’s nice to be asked questions that remind me of how far I’ve come and even those that address myths or misconceptions which I also had at one time.

Although, I had a wonderful time back in Texas, I felt the overwhelming desire to go home, that home being in Namibia. I definitely felt like I was on vacation and enjoyed the chance to recharge. I think this feeling came from finally feeling like I have a true role and obligation as a volunteer in my community.

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So, as I return to Namibia, probably a kilogram (or two) heavier, I am looking forward to my next 14 months. I am looking forward to the relationships to foster, language to master, and projects to complete.

❤ 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!

malaria immunity. what’s your superpower?

Meme insisted that I got tested at the clinic.

I carry sickle cell trait.

Let’s clear a few things up before I go any further.

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) also known as Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited form of anemia in which mutated (sickle-shaped) red blood cells do not carry enough oxygen throughout the body. Because of this, the red blood cells “stick to the walls” and cannot pass through capillaries. As a result, this causes chronic pain (sickle cell crisis) typically at the location of the “sticking,” which is often crippling for those who suffer from SCD. SCD is common in those of African descent, but similarly Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and Asian Indian ancestry can also have SCD.

A carrier of Sickle Cell Trait is a person who only inherited one mutated gene of SCD. Remember dominant and recessive genes in biology class? In most cases, carriers of  sickle cell trait are asymptomatic and commonly do not have issues related to SCD, although there are always exceptions.

Interesting research shows that carriers of the sickle cell trait are IMMUNE to malaria, because SCD stems from mutated red blood cells which carried malaria.

Now, malaria is a real nasty disease. Malaria is caused when an infected mosquito transmits a parasite, most commonly P. falciparum, to its host. Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, chills, and vomiting.  If left untreated, malaria can lead to more severe symptoms including death.

Does anyone like needles? Nurse Anna laughing at pain.

Don’t get me wrong. Being genetically resistant to malaria is really cool. But, it does not make me immune to mosquito bites or mosquitoes buzzing in my ears a night. So, I make sure to sleep under my properly installed ITN (insecticide-treated net) and wear insect repellent.

Doctors still recommend carriers who live in malaria zones to take daily prophylaxis, especially during the rainy season – which is now in Namibia.

Hey, the more you know.

❤ Krystal