the peace corps effect.

One of my favorite movies as a teenager was The Butterfly Effect. Although it wasn’t a box office hit by any means and probably a poor execution of the idea, the concept that small causes can have large effects and how making one small change can drastically change the future is intriguing to me.

Applying to the Peace Corps at the age of 28 and moving to Namibia to serve at 29, makes me think back to my late-teens and early 20s, you know, back when I was a baby adult? From college to marketing internships to corporate America to college to nutrition internships to Peace Corps, makes me wonder how things could have changed if I made one small change.

What if I would have never signed that letter of intent to play college soccer?

What if I would have chosen a different major?

What if I would have gotten married?

What if I would have stayed at that job that was not fulfilling to me?

When I was 21, I was chosen by my university as the female Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative for the Lone Star Conference. I was the co-captain of my varsity soccer team, and honestly, I think I was chosen because I had stayed in the town for the summer to work and workout. To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled about doing more “work” during my last week of summer vacation, but when you tell a college athlete that there will be free food, it doesn’t take much more convincing. 

SAAC provides insight on the student-athlete experience and offer input on the rules, regulations and policies that affect student-athletes’ lives on campus. Through this opportunity I was able to meet other student-athletes within my conference. Some of which I have remained good friends to this day.

Our main topic during the 2008-2009 athletic season was sportsmanlike behavior- from the coaches, fans, and athletes.

Skip to 0:18 for my mini celeb debut.

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Over the years, I have had several opportunities to take on some more leadership and advisory roles. But, I never thought these skills would come full circle when I joined the Peace Corps.

This past week, I was invited, along with a group of six other volunteers, to serve on a Project Advisory Committee (PAC). This was an opportunity to sit down with Peace Corps Namibia and our host organizations to provide valued feedback, collaborate and recommend ways host organizations can best serve the volunteer, as well as how the volunteer can best serve their host organization. 

For me, this could not have come a better time. The overall morale of a health volunteer in my country is at an all-time low. Recent changes and adjustments within the program, leadership, and clarity of our direction has been a challenge that has been difficult for some of us to shake.

As a PAC representative, I was able to share my concerns as well as the concerns and suggestions from many volunteers without holding anything back. I learned in the same way volunteers may struggle to add value and feel validated, are the same struggles our host organizations deal with on their end.

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Giving a presentation to a group of over 40 professionals/organizations PCVs work with.

Why am I here?

The Peace Corps is all about sustainability. But, that’s not always tanigble. Capacity building, which is intangible, can be thought of as sustainable. Introducing a person to a new idea that may be more effective and efficient, and the ability for for them to teach others can be sustainable. This is the challenging part. Finding motivated people amd keeping them motivated throughout the entirity of a project is challanging when most people have a “seeing is believing” mindset, and that’s not just in developing countries.

Sometimes projects fail.

Sometimes people don’t show up.

Sometimes I do more  than I should.

Sometimes I want to do what’s best for me.

After having time to sit and think about my role as a PCV, here’s where I feel my duty lies…in a soccer analogy, so be prepared:

My role as a PCV is analogous to a role on a soccer team. I am the goalie. My role is just as important as the striker, midfielder, and defender, but I have a clear view of the entire field and see the entire play unfold. I can see the gaps in defense and opportunities for attack. From my view, know when we need to hold onto the ball and change the pace of play or even change the direction of the attack. Sometimes throughout the game, unforseen events happen in which my team may have to play a person down. If my team is strong, they will be able to play without me. My team can still protect our goal. My team still has a mission and a purpose.

The reality is, in two years, I’ll have to step off the field, and the game will continue on.

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2016 Peace Corps Namibia Program Advisory Committee

So, what if I would have never signed that letter of intent to play college soccer?

So, what if I would have chosen a different major?

So, what if I would have gotten married?

So, what if I would have stayed at that job that was not fulfilling to me?

I can’t tell you the answers to these questions. But, I’m always certain my view wouldn’t be this clear.

❤ Krystal 

miss ndapandula.

For my two years prior to coming to Namibia, I worked at Starbucks. Happy #PSL season, y’all! If you have ever been to Starbucks, you know that after you order your friendly barista writes (or attempts to write) your name on your cup. From a simple task such as this, you realize how important someone’s name is. For goodness sake, there are websites devoted to barista fails. Why is this such a big deal? Because it is. Your name is part of your identity. Without a name, how will you know that the quad grande half-caf 2.5 pumps vanilla latte with 4 Splendas, no foam, stirred, at 127 degrees sitting on the edge of the counter is yours?

Okay, I need to stop bringing up my painful past.

Names are a part of every culture. Names give us a sense of belonging, uniqueness, and identity. It’s strange to think that names cannot be taken from us and they don’t die. Names are important. In some cultures, due to high infant mortality, infants are not even given a name until after their first birthday. While in other cultures, particularly in Namibia, people are given two names: a birth name and a Christian name.

Quite often when introducing myself (Edina lange oKrystal or simply Ame Krystal) and asking for one’s name in return (Ove lye?), I typically get more than just that.

For example, it’s usually something along the lines of, “My name is Tobias, it means God is good”.

Meanwhile, I’m over here like, “My name is Krystal, it means clear or rock or something.”

Knowing a person’s name builds a connection. People, no matter where they dwell, feel connected when you know their name. It makes you feel wanted, needed, it builds trust and relationships.

It’s a tradition that PCV are given a name by their host communities. I was a little reluctant at first, because immabehonest. I like my name. I feared that my Namibian name wouldn’t suit me or I wouldn’t like it or I wouldn’t remember it or even respond to it. You know? Reasonable fears.

I also imagined it would be some larger ceremony where everyone in the community would gather with drums and fire as I received my new name

So, ladies and gents, the moment you have been waiting for… now introducing, Miss Krystal Ndapandula.

And guess what? I don’t hate it. And I actually respond to it.

Ndapandula (pronounced Ndaw-pan-doola) means thank you. This name was given to me by my host brother, Freddy.

Ndapandula is a common name in Namibia. When I introduce myself as Krystal Ndapandula, it makes me feel more “Wambo”. But, also ‘Krystal’ is hard for locals to pronounce, so throwing in ‘Ndapandula’ is the icing on the cake. I think my community appreciates my efforts of integrating.

Each day as I become more and more cognizant of my responsibility to others, I want to live up to the name I was given. By humbling myself to serve a higher purpose beyond me and by putting my community’s needs above my wants for my community, I strive daily to be a volunteer Ondobe is actually thankful for.

❤ Miss Krystal Ndapandula

Thank you

*Also, completely unrelated: We have now observed daylight savings here in Namibia, so with that information, I am now 6 hours ahead of EST and 7 hours ahead of CST.*

waterworks and sometimes it doesn’t.

We’ve all heard about Namibia and its water crisis. In 2007, an aquifer was discovered in my region (Ohangwena). It is predicted to be able to supply a significant amount of water to Namibian residents.

Until that phase is rolled out… Some days I come home to dry taps.

I don’t think I have ever appreciated the conveniences or realized the magnitude of inconveniences when it comes to water until I moved to Namibia. I mean, just like food, clothing, and shelter, water is a necessity. Water is life. Water is bae.

Being a PCV, you quickly learn that it’s always a good idea to plan for water to just not work.

Sometimes for a few hours and maybe sometimes for a few days.

WATER FILTER (CONVENIENCE)

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Peace Corps supplies volunteers a water filter. Although the water in my area is clean and purified, it’s nice to have a container to store water in. You quickly learn to be creative and efficient with your resources in the Peace Corps. This is strategically placed above my dish washing bucket so that any extra drop can be used for washing dishes. Some PCVs utilize jerry cans for extra water storage in case of emergencies, or if they need to travel a distance to fetch water.

BUCKET BATHING (INCONVENIENCE)

Summer time is approaching quickly, which means outdoor shower. But, for the other times of the year it means bucket baths.

I hate bucket bathing.

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I am so new at this concept, I never actually feel all that clean. You know the Peace Corps meme with a glass half-full (or half-empty, however you want to look at it) which says something along the lines of “I can take a shower with that.” While in my case, that truth is a tad bit stretched. But, I will say when I do take a bucket bath I use at most 6 liters of water.

I fill up two of these and add about a liter or so of cold water. One of many “American” downfalls of bucket bathing is time spent. It takes about 3 to 4 minutes to heat up each pitcher of water, and a considerably longer amount of time to actually bathe.

There’s also a techniques, which I will probably still be working on at the completion of my two years in Namibia.

First, wash your face.

Second, wash your arm, legs, pits, and bits.

Third, wash your hair.

Lastly, wash your underwear. It’s very taboo to wash your underwear with your outerwear to hang on the line. So, instead your underwear should be washed with your bath water and hung up in a private area, such as your room, to dry.

TIPPY TAP (CONVENIENCE)

In the village, we do a lot of health promotion and education on proper hand washing and hygiene which includes how to make a tippy tap. My host brother actually made this one while I was away for the weekend. A tippy tap is a wonderful hands-free way to hand washing when running water is not available.

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DISH WASHING (INCONVENIENCE)

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I shared this photo on my Instagram a few weeks ago. I share a kitchen with my host family and there is no sink. Instead we use buckets to wash and rinse dishes. Since moving out to my hut, I have downsized to only one bucket (buckets get expensive and take up room). I wash my dishes in one bucket, set them aside, and then fetch clean water to rinse. I then use the rinse water as the wash water for the next load the following day. Repeat. I do sometimes consider this an inconvenience, but actually it’s a little therapeutic. Sometimes, the kids help me wash. They like using my kitchen gadgets, i.e. bristle brush to clean my water bottles and my sponge with the built-in stainless-steel sponge.

It’s truly the little things that make a world of a difference.

❤ Krystal

bountiful harvest.

Mahangu, porridge, pap, oshifima. Chances are you will see me use these words a lot over the next two years.

Mahangu is one of many traditional foods in Namibia. It is prepared in some form or fashion in most Namibian households. On my homestead, it’s used daily to make oshikundu (a traditional drink) and oshifima (a stiff porridge used as you would a dripping bread).

 Several times throughout the year, my host brothers head to the farm to harvest mahangu. They have been at least twice since I’ve moved in. All I know is 1) “The Farm” is very far away 2) Harvesting mahangu is very, very hard work. Mahangu is harvested and then pounded down to create a flour-like product which is then used to make oshifima.

Before I get too ahead of myself, here are a few Cultural Fun Facts I wish I would have known sooner, and I am sure other PCVN can relate.

Fun Fact #1– It is considered rude to smell your food before you eat it. Still trying to break this habit.

Fun Fact #2– It is rude to refuse food. You can usually say something along the lines of thank you, but I ate, I am full.

Fun Fact #3– It is traditional to wash your hands before you eat (and also hygienic). At a family meal, we pass around a wash basin filled with soap and water for us each to wash our hands.

Fun Fact #4– You should only eat oshifima with your right hand. Whoops again!

Fun Fact #5– When offering a homemade food or drink, it is customary to taste it in the presence of the person. It shows that it is indeed nawa to consume, kinda like a modern-day wine bearer, but of your own offerings.

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Making porridge to feed the pigs. Every man, woman, child and animal eats mahangu around here.

 

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I should really stop becoming friends with potential Namibian entrees.

This weekend my host family celebrated a season of a bountiful harvest of mahangu.

We all gathered around the coffee table.

We feasted on oshifima and goat meat.

It was delicious.

I can compare this experience to what we do in America on Thanksgiving. It’s a huge celebration. There is singing and prayer and lots of laughter.

Unfortunately, my host mom was not home at the time due to a death in the family. So, my host sister, Lucia prepared most of the meal with the help of my brothers to braai (similar to BBQ) the goat meat.

As we sat around a crowded coffee table rejoicing over the abundance of oshifima and meat for dinner, I began to realize how thankful I am for a family who has accepted me into their house as their own.

Although there is still a period of transition for me between Fort Worth to Okahandja and now Ondobe, I am at HOME.

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❤ Krystal

peace corps roller coaster: serving while black.

“Oshike toyolo?”

“Why are you laughing at me?”

A phrase that never seemed too important to learn until the day I needed to use it. Now, I will never forget it.

During my first week at site, I have already experienced some minor highs and some depressing lows. Or as Peace Corps likes to refer to it as “The Emotional Roller Coaster.” I would more appropriately refer to it as “The Emotional Train Wreck,” which all took place in the matter seven days.

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I knew “serving while Black,” would come with its own set of challenges. But, in all honesty, I thought to myself, “it won’t be THAT bad,” until the day, it was THAT bad.

Don’t get me wrong, all PCVs have their challenges. Some black volunteers in other countries, cities, towns, or villages may never experience anything close to what I have experienced. Each PCVs, no matter what their background is, experience is so unique. There is absolutely no chance that what happens to one volunteer will happen to the next.

In joining the Peace Corps and moving to Namibia, I felt that “serving with Black,” for me would be one of the biggest blessing ever.

Woo-hoo!
No one is going to ask me for money, I thought.

Awesome!
No one will tell me I am going to marry or date them, check.

Great!
No one will stare at me.

All of these have been proven false in just one week.

Truth is, in a village, where everyone knows everyone, I’m like the new girl in high school. I stand out.

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At times, I feel like Americans whom look “American” (from a foreigners perspective) are forgiven more quickly for butchering local languages or for cultural faux pas.

For myself, I feel like there is less forgiveness at times.

Mom, sorry if you’re reading this.

For the first time this past week, I felt myself get so defeated I questioned: Why am I here?. I wanted to scream every bad word that came to my head and throw up the bird on my way out. Because, where I’m from, I would never see these people again. It took EVERYTHING within me not to exit the scene total “Tammy” style.

Sure, the “blending in” is great, until I have open my mouth to ask, “where’s the toilet?” or “can you take me to the bank?” It doesn’t take long for the laundry list of questions ensue as I stumble through all of the canned responses I know.

The “blending in” is great until someone calls you an “American nigger” to remind you that you’re not from here, you’re not one of us.

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This has been a challenging, soul-searching, tear-jerking, blood-boiling week for me, ya’ll.

I think it would be a disfavor to myself and all of you to only tell you about the highlights of my Peace Corps service. And as I mentioned before, EVERYONE’S experience is different, vastly different.

There will be countless times in the next two years I’ll be bent, but I can’t break.

There will be countless times I won’t understand what the hell is going on, but I am here, and I’ll have to roll with the punches.

There will be countless times I will want to take my ball and go home.

I will be laughed at, stared at, proposed at.

I have to remember and acknowledge that this is a two-way street. I am here to learn about Namibia and Namibians, in the same way I can find teachable moments to teach Namibians about America and Americans and African-Americans.

Not only that, I may be the first and very well the last American some Namibians will ever meet.

I have to remember, even across borders, people speak in ignorance. The same way you and I do at times.

I have been so fortunate to have wonderful friends and family back home, as well as my new Peace Corps family to be able to talk to during this past week. Most of them had no clue how my week was, until now.

With all of my struggles of the past week, many people reached out to me, even people I hadn’t talked to in years without even knowing what was really going on.

Eventually, the roller coaster reaches the top and at the top, there’s a beautiful view.

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❤ Krystal

it’s my birthday and my big annoucement!

“Meetings in the sunroom indicated decline in progress. Ms. B was a breast cancer survivor, but telltale signs told us this horrible disease had returned. She sat at the far end of the table. Uncharacteristically quiet and still, she seemed like a shadow of her former self. Her skin was now a yellow-green, like a half ripened banana picked over at the grocery store. The muscles in her arms had lost most definition as they wasted away from atrophy. Her skin was thin like tissue paper and you could see the blood vessels in her neck and face. Her sandy-brown wig now sat too big on her head. As we began discussing her prognosis, Ms. B sat wordless, while forcing herself to sip the supplement I brought her.

We reviewed Ms. B’s chart, which included her drastic weight fluctuations, elevated laboratory panel, and physical appearance, and suspected the worse. My preceptor, who was the facility’s dietitian and social worker, showed Ms. B her chart. They discussed her options while insisting that she go to the hospital, just for good measure. Ms. B tried to assure us she’d be okay. I didn’t know then that I would never see her again.

I am thankful that most of my experiences with patients end in success and healing, but I never forget the ones I couldn’t help. I understand that diseases, like cancer, can be beyond our control. However, with preventative measures such as education, many other diseases and illnesses can be managed and even avoided.

By being able to share my knowledge with people it may benefit is one of the many reasons I want to join the Peace Corps. My knowledge in dietetics can be used to help others improve and even extend life experiences. Too commonly, nutrition counseling is seen as a luxury, but it shouldn’t be that way. I want to be able to change lives by aiding people to make better dietary choices. The valuable contribution of my knowledge in nutrition, health, and wellness is a way I can be of service to people who may not have access to this information.

I understand that there will be many challenges, both physical and emotional, that I have never experienced. Although it may be impossible to wholly prepare for every unforeseeable challenge, through my life experiences I have learned to always be coachable, adaptable, prepared, and keep my composure during difficult circumstances.

My excitement comes from the desire to see a foreign country in a nontraditional way, raw and unfiltered. I’m eager to venture outside my comfortable American life, and relish the idea of learning a foreign language, seeing new landscapes, and, most importantly, spending time with diverse people that I will come to love, appreciate, and cherish. I look forward to creating meaningful relationships that last beyond my years of service. I want to understand people and customs that are unlike my own while contributing to pushing the world towards peace, respect, and understanding.”

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I joined the Peace Corps, ya’ll!

I started this post over 5 months ago, but have waiting for the perfect time to let everyone know. What better day than my birthday?

With the right support systems in your life, you learn to think outside the box, and it opens your eyes to a whole new World, without borders.

When you find your purpose it’s something that you can’t shake. It keeps you up at night. You visualize yourself in that place or time.

And there is peace in that.

A weird sense of peace. It’s difficult to describe, it just feels peaceful. (I know, you’re not supposed to use the same word to define a word.) My blog, my rules.

After the passing of my friends late last year, I realized even more how important it is to live with purpose and intent. Some people will think you’re crazy or what you’re doing is dangerous. For those people, I will tell you to re-read the previous three paragraphs.

The way that everything will pan out (once medical clearance, by the end of this week), I will be flying out to Namibia, Africa on April 11 of this year. I will be working as a Health Extension Volunteer in the Community Health and HIV/AIDS (CHHAP) program.

My blog will be taking a somewhat new direction as I begin this new adventure in life.

Thoughts and prayers are always encouraged during this exciting time in my life.

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❤ and peace,

Krystal