letter home – march/april/may 2017.

Hello All—-

I haven’t forgotten about you! I have been both busy and not busy at the same time. How is that even possibly?

In March, I joined a couple Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and a Namibian friend to Cape Town, South Africa for a relaxing vacation and we also attended PRIDE. Recently, Peace Corps Namibia, with the overwhelming support of former Global Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet (I met her last July), formed Diversity Resource Partners (DRP). As you can imagine, PCVs join Peace Corps during all stages in their lives. From recently college grads to retirees and many volunteers in between. Serving as a black American volunteer has its challenges, including times where I must “prove” my Americaness and ability to do things as well or even better than white Americans, of course considering my skills and knowledge. While this remains my main struggle during service, many other volunteers face challenges in being open about their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, political affiliations, etc., which can make it a very lonely place for a volunteer. We created DRP to provide a place for volunteers to connect and have a place to address these challenges and provide a sounding board in how to deal with challenges (respectfully and tastefully) in our communities (with other volunteers and our actually Namibian communities). This has definitely been the one time in my life that I have truly thought about my physical identity on a daily basis, whether people are giving me the run around because I don’t appear American enough for them, to subtleties such as watching a cashier hand a fellow volunteer their change while placing their left hand on their right elbow (a sign of respect) and that same cashier sliding my change to me on the counter, or having an HCN approach a group of volunteers and shake everyone’s hand except for mine, are moments that are hard to shake and leave a lasting impression. I can’t say most days I thought about that in the States. DRP provides a place for me to talk about these challenges so they don’t eat me up inside.

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I also made a trip home in March. I’m kinda regretting it now. It just made me miss home too much. I loved seeing everyone while I was home, don’t get me wrong. I also have overall enjoyed my time here, but it just makes it easier to be homesick thinking of the things I am missing out on now to be here. But, in the same ways, one year passed so quickly, I expect my last year of service to be the same. I made a Facebook post recently about things I missed in the States. Thinking back, it was such a superficial list. My best friend, Carrie Hooton, challenged me by responding, “Things I miss by not going to Namibia: (Krys fill this in, top 7)”, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Blog post in the works.

April was filled with meetings and lots of transitioning in Peace Corps Namibia. My last email I talked about struggles of the health program. All of the health volunteers were invited to Windhoek (pronounced Wind hook or Vind hook), for a 3-day conference on restructuring the program. Unfortunately, due to continuous staff changes, and lack of support and partnership with the Ministry of Health, being a health volunteer has been, I’ll just say it, HARD!!! Many of us are in clinics in rural villages where English is not spoken or spoken well. So, when a PCVs shows up, the clinics see us as if we’re creating more work, as opposed to helping to alleviate it (even though these clinics have agreed in advance to host a volunteer). So, many volunteers have to be extremely creative and flexible. From the meeting, we were able to come to a consensus of what a true health volunteers role should be and not only that, we suggested new ways recruit volunteers to Namibia because the current application was in some ways misleading.

At the end of April, I was involved in the first Camp O-YEAH in my region. Because of my food science background, I was pretty much the camp cook. Josie knows, I hated food management! My food management rotation literally brought me to tears. Well, I ended up planning the menu for a 5-day health camp- including requisition, recipes, menu, and the US to metric conversions! Most meals turned out great. Campers were happy as well as the facilitators. The campers were able to try new foods that they don’t eat at home, and let’s just say, EVERYONE LOVES TACO TUESDAYS!

During the month of May, the schools were on holiday. The schools here are year-round (somewhat), so there are month-long breaks during May and December. I didn’t have much planned, so the principal at the secondary school, Ms. Elago, invited me to her home for a few days. It was nice to get away for awhile. We relaxed, picked lemons from her lemon tree, and talked about projects for the upcoming term. I did make another trip to Rundu located in northeast Namibia, for the going away party of the group who arrived in Namibia a year before me. My friend, Steffi, was a business volunteer in Namibia. Recently, NPR did a fantastic reflective piece on her service, you should read it! She’s heading to NYU in the fall.

Next weekend, I am heading to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to run a 7.5K (it was only R45~ $3.50 USD). I am probably going to bungee jump, Mom. Just be warned now. Then, later this month, my cohort group meets for our Mid-service conference, marking our one year at our sites.

I hope this email blast wasn’t full of complaints. I mean, like always I take the good with the bad, and that’s normal for any job, whether it’s brewing my life away at Starbucks or roughing it while trying to balance cross-cultural interactions. Some days are good, some days are challenging. The most important thing is learning from each experience, amiright?

Books I’ve read this year (I am always open for suggestions):
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowlings
We Should All be Feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Columbine, Dave Cullen
The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World, Chris Gulliebeau
Push, Sapphire
Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa’s Borders, Jason Carter
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah

Do I like reading? I don’t know. But, after reading some of the books I’ve read in the last year, I am convinced I could write a book about my life and sell a lot of copies.

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I met the Minister of Health, Dr. Bernard Haufiku. He came to the health camp and spoke with the youth. He is an intelligent man and so kind. Invited us to his house from dinner the following evening. In US terms, this was like meeting the Surgeon General of the US.

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I took a photo of a taxi rank, where you should haul a taxi from, but this is not the reality. I still hate hiking in this country!

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I have a roommate, it’s a mouse and it likes to eat my produce.

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Rainy season is over and everything is dry and dead, again!

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We harvested all of our mahangu for the year, the kids are using sticks to get the grain off of the reeds.

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Our dog, Brownie, had 13 puppies two weeks ago, I haven’t decided if I am keeping one yet.

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I passed out some bears at a local kindergarten. Bears were donated by the Mother Bear Project. If you know how to crochet or knit and want to find a way to put a smile on a child’s face, check out their website.

package with care.

In my time away from home, it’s nice to receive letters, postcards, and occasionally, care packages from home. Collecting packages from the post office can sometimes come with a hefty custom fee (note to senders: don’t mark any items in packages as new and please pay all the customs fees when you send the package). Nevertheless, receiving packages from home always comes at the “right” time, and adds excitement by having reminders from home to share with host families and fellow volunteers.

With the fair share of Hot Cheetos, Tampax, and socks volunteers receive, sometimes care packages include strange items. After receiving a few thoughtful but in the context of Peace Corps, useless items, I asked volunteers globally, to name some of the weirdest items they received in a care package.

My mom once sent me a blank personal check. There are no banks in my village, and if there were, I don’t think they would take out-of-country checks.

Katie

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Katie was teaching learners at school about types of dance. She received a pair of pointe shoes in a care package to teach them about ballet.

Sarah

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Sarah received a bar of soap shaped like a cat. She is still trying to figure out if it was created with a mold or actually carved out, and so am I.

Linda

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Unable to fit one hiking boot in her suitcase when she departed for Namibia, Linda’s sister kindly sent her other hiking boot to her in a care package.

Vashalice

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Vashalice’s mom collects back scratchers. Assuming she may need an extra hand, Vashalice received a back scratcher in the mail, I think her mom was right.

Thank you all for sharing!

❤ Krystal

letter home- september 2016.

I haven’t had time to finish any post lately, so decided to share an email I sent home to family and friends almost exactly a year ago. Funny how things change in the matter of one year. Enjoy!

Wa lala po nawa! (Good Morning!)

I can’t believe yet another pumpkin spice latte season is upon us. And while you, my friends, are enjoying the break from the intense summer rays, and relishing in the crisp air that autumn has in store, I am now on the cusp of summer. It’s really hot! I thought living in Texas would be the best preparation for me, and in some cases it is. But, with little cloud coverage and no humidity most days, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the Namibian sun.

Some things I thought I would never get used to 1) Taking a cold shower. Yes, I have an outdoor shower which only has cold water. I just imagine that I am rinsing off at the beach and it gets me through the misery. 2) Waking up by 7 am most days. I am actually really proud of myself. If it’s not the roosters or kids (goats and humans), it’s one of my host siblings knocking on my door to ask for sugar, matches, or the key to the house (I have the spare key to the main house just in case I have to tinkle at night). 3) Cooking using a crockpot and kettle most days. I have access to the main house, but since I keep all my food in my room, it’s easier to prepare meals on my own, in my room. Pinterest has been a god sent, and I have learned to make cakes, bread, soups, sweet potato fries and much more in it. I also learned I can boil pasta and eggs in my kettle, so that’s another PC lifehack.

So, you probably want to know more about what the heck I am doing here. Besides blogging and cooking and hanging out with the kids (who sometimes drive me crazy). Well, as some of you know, the first 3 months are site are meant for building connections in my community, learning about the needs of the community, and learning the language. So, in the grand scheme of things, the first 3 months I haven’t done much. I say that in the sense of. I am not teaching nutrition classes (yet), I am not planting gardens (yet), etc. This time is more about “taking the temperature” of the community and making sure the work that will be done is sustainable.

Ten days ago marked the end of my 90-day probation where I am allowed to beginning projects. My current project is the Girls Club. Believe it or not, although I am very excited to get it up and going, I was not very enthusiastic about it from the beginning. Mainly because I don’t see myself as a teacher and it is extremely stressful for me to prepare weekly agenda with the limited resources we have. And.. we all know the attitudes teenage girls have! LET’S BE HONEST! The first week about 1/3 of the initial sign-ups showed up, and the information in the toolkit was boring. Like, I was even bored. So, week 2, I decided to change things up. I found a flipchart and had the girls write down topics that wanted to cover in Girls Club. Each week we will dive into the topics they are interested in and go from there. Topics the girls want to talk about: HIV/AIDS, relationships, and of course fashion to name a few. Each week, I find a little more confidence in leading these future leaders and hope that the change in the club material will excite the girls more and gain a little more interest from their fellow learners.

This weekend, I decided to get my home garden going. Our first attempt at germinating our seedlings failed when I woke up in the middle of the night to a black bull outside my window eating our seeds. So, while it was still cool out yesterday, I took the kids (host siblings, not goats) out to collect materials for composting. Lucky for us, there is plenty of cow/goat/donkey poop around. Guys, I picked up cow poop with my bare hands and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. We also collected lots of green stuff (pulled leaves off of trees), brown stuff (dried leaves and mahangu reeds), and “good soil” (the kids convinced me it was good, but we had to break it up with excessive force, so we’ll see). After about 2 to 3 hours of collecting the goods, we started our compost pile outside my room. Well, I had to add water this morning which was leftover from my coffee, since our water was still out this morning. Everyone is excited about beginning the garden, I hope the excitement last as we continue to get the hardest part out of the way, which to any of you who have ever started a garden know actually starting a garden is hard work, and I can understand why some give up before the harvest.

I was trying to keep this short and sweet, but this week at the clinic, two Red Cross volunteers from Germany are coming from my neighboring town to follow our Red Cross/USAID team for the day. We planned on going out to the community garden, which I haven’t seen yet. So, it will be another adventure for me, and hopefully, this will be another way to meet and form connections with my community. Wednesday is my Girls Club and Thursday I will head out with Helvi, a Health Extension Worker, to help with rapid HIV testing.

This weekend, I was invited to be a judge for a beauty pageant in Outapi. My friend, Mandeep, is the PCV at the VTC (Vocational Training Center), and he has put a lot of hard work into planning a business bazaar in his community. Somehow a pageant fits in there. So, that’s my plan for the weekend.

Other than all the craziness, I am still blogging and journaling and soaking everything in!

Miss you all!!

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

you’re invited to camp glow.

I’m writing to ask for your help with one of our main projects in Namibia.

We’re currently raising funds for Camp GLOW (Guys and Girls Leading Our World). It’s a leadership camp which focuses on gender equality and will take place in Windhoek at the end of August. We have 44 campers from all over the country, meaning youth from different tribes and cultures coming together (many of them seeing the capital for the first time) and exploring ways to set goals, break stereotypes, and become the leaders of Namibia’s tomorrow.

I’m sending Teopolina, a Grade 9 learner, to camp this year, so it’s consuming my every waking thought. Because of Peace Corps policy, I’m not allowed to post our fundraising link directly to Facebook. I know it’s summertime and you’re all really busy, but if you can give even $10, every little bit counts.

Follow this link:

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/camp-glow-namibia-2017/ where you can find more information about Camp GLOW and how you can help.

If you can think of anyone else who would be able to make a contribution please send the link along to them.

I’m eternally grateful for any help you can give.

Thank you in advance!

❤ 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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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

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