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.

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