Saturday, June 15, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

The month of May was devoted to travel, like all of my school breaks seem to be these days.  There is no option of staying in the village, because one, I’d be by myself, and two, I’d be stuck for a month.  That doesn’t sound fun or safe! 


I left the first instance I could after the kids left.  I spent the week with another volunteer and her visiting family.  Now, this woman is absolutely amazing!  She is in her 60’s, and has dreamed of being in the Peace Corps since she heard it on TV as a child.  Of course, life gets in the way of plans, so she waited until she was retired to join.  Her name is Ruth, and I hope to one day be just like her.  Actually, we are very similar.  They call me Baby Ruth.  I think it’s a huge compliment.  


So, when she invited me on her family vacation, I jumped at the chance.  I was worried that I would be intruding a bit, but found myself welcomed warmly.  Her family is just as amazing as she is.  And no wonder, they were raised by her!  We spent the week visiting various places.  Most of the trip seemed to be in the car, which was fine because I was able to get to know her children.  Thankfully the three teenaged grandsons were sitting in the back, so we didn’t have to hear (or smell) them!


I am so thankful that they were so open and friendly with me.  I especially enjoyed hanging out with her grandkids.  They were so funny and fun!  I did use some of my time with them as ‘babysitting’.  I knew that sometimes the adults would want some adult time without the bickering or energy of teenagers, so when I noticed that happening I would pull them aside.  It wasn’t a chore at all.  As seen by my resume, I love hanging out with kids!  It’s one reason I became a teacher after all!


A week of relaxation followed this, in which I did absolutely nothing!  It was amazing.  I’d sit at a friends house (she was gone for most of it), watch TV or movies on my laptop, and nothing else.  Maybe I would read.  I enjoyed being able to zone out and not be constantly travelling.  I also was able to update my movie collection a bit. 


My sister Michelle arrived in Windhoek on May 5th.  I had informed her that we would be hiking for half of the trip, with the potential of camping as well.  She agreed to this, most likely because she had absolutely no concept of what that really entailed!  Right out of the airport doors we caught our first hike.  It was incredibly easy.  We didn’t even have to flag anyone down.  We were walking down the road by the parking lot when a man pulled over offering us a ride to the city. 


(Now, don’t freak out about this.  It happens quite a lot that people will pull over when they see volunteers travelling with heavy bags.  They know that we are hiking and are kind enough to give us rides.)


Our driver was very nice.  Very, truly, extremely racist, but very nice.  We even stopped for a drink with him.  When he noticed Michelle was a bit uncomfortable (either because we were having a drink with a stranger, or his racism, or that fact that he was a strange man), he made sure to let us know that he had a girlfriend that he loved.  Welcome to Namibia, Michelle!  We started off with a bang.


Let me fast forward the rest of the trip due to the length of this post.  If I keep going on like I have been, this will soon become a novel!  We spent the night in Windhoek, where she was introduced to wild game meat.  (yummy Oryx!).  We hiked to Tsumeb to get our rental car for Etosha.  Once there, we were surprised (pleasantly for me, and horribly for Michelle), that there had been a mix up and they only had a stick shift available.  So, Michelle had a 5 minute lesson on how to drive stick and we were off for 2 days in Etosha. 

  We saw pretty much everything except for lions.  That was sad, but partly due to our inability to sit for hours in the middle of the night waiting for them at the watering hole!

Within minutes of entering the park, this is what we are greeted with.

The entrance to the park from a tower.

These antelope get awfully boring after say, about 1000 of them!  But they are still gorgeous.

Gotta love baby season!

Elephants are still definitely my favorite animals.  Ever!
My sister Michelle and I after a day of driving through the park.  I was so happy to be able to share this experience with her!

More happy elephants at the water hole.  This is the same hole we could watch at night (had we not been sleeping)


We drove back, dropped of our car, and hiked to Rundu.  The back of a closed baki (truck) and lori (big rig) later we were there.  The next morning we went to get a hike to Katima.  A few hours later, frustrated and close to tears (in Michelle’s case), we finally got a combie ride.  We arrived in Katima, and had an amazing evening relaxing.


After getting our visas, we went to the nearest town for a bus to Livingstone.  Unfortunately we had no Zambian Qwatchas, so we exchanged with some really shady people.  The bus was also not going to leave for half the day, and we were not willing to walk around the shady town with our things, so we paid for a taxi.  The 200 km drive took us over 3 hours due to the potholes in the road.  By potholes, I mean they would be small lakes if ever filled with water!  The car would swerve from side to side to avoid them.  All this did was made me appreciate the infrastructure of Namibia.  If they’ve done something right, it’s road maintenance.


Three days in Livingstone was definitely not enough.  We hang out with other volunteers, went canoeing followed by a game drive and evening cruise.  We danced  and went to see Victoria Falls.  While we were there, Michelle and I signed up for the package deal of extreme sports.  First we zip lined across the gorge of the Zambezi.  Next we bungee jumped (which was freaking awesome by the way!), followed by a giant swing, which we did together.  Ever since then, I’ve decided that I should quit any real job I ever get and become an extreme sports junkie!  It’s addicting.



It takes a village to free a bus from a ditch.
Hanging out with the adorable local kids.  Laughter was the only language we shared.
The cutest little girl I've ever seen!
The Zambizi seen from our game drive.  No hippos here, unfortunately.
So many babies!  I love it!  Inside the Victoria Falls Park.
Michelle and I on our way down to the bottom of the falls.
We didn't get a picture of us bungee jumping, so I had to make do with this one (artist rendering courtesy of me!)
A tiny portion of the falls.  Unfortunately most of the time it was covered in mist and not camera ready.
What I like to call the splash zone.  Walk across the bridge and you've taken a shower.
We hiked back to Namibia, where we spent the next two nights in a tree house.  Yup, you heard me, a tree house.  We went to this out of the way camp where they have camping and tree houses along the Okavango River.  Our house happened to be at the end, with no one next to us.  We relaxed during this time, falling asleep to the sounds of hippos and elephants.  One night, while walking back from the main area, I swore we were going to be eaten by a hippo.  We could hear them so close to us, but it was so dark we couldn’t see anything!  And, being idiots that we are, we only had my phone as a flashlight.  Thankfully I’m assuming they were still in the water, which was maybe 20 feet from us.

The view. Amazing, right?
Sorry it's blurry.  I had to take a night shot.  This was the main hangout area.
We then got a hike by another car  After two hours we stopped at back in Rundu.  It was fate that brought us to our next hike, a mother and her daughter, returning from Livingstone as well.  This woman was reluctant to give us a lift, but , most likely out of pity, did.  We soon got to talking and I learned that she did skills training in the field of Agriculture.  We got to another town right before dark (she was very uncomfortable driving at night, as was I in hiking at night), and stopped at a guest house.  They only had one room left, which was a family suite with two rooms.  We shared and continued our journeys separately the next morning.


Once back in Windhoek we rented another car for our voyage to Sossusvlei.  We began later than I hoped, and the journey took longer than I had anticipated.  Poor Michelle felt a bit uncomfortable on the windy roads, so we made sure to take the curves slowly.  We also made sure to watch out for animals (thankfully we were alert and slow, because some springbok walked in front of us).  We arrived, searched for our campsite, and set up camp.  Early the next morning we drove to Deadvlei, where we attempted to climb the tallest dune there, Big Daddy.  The wind was strong, the journey was tough, and I was about done with it half way up.  We (or maybe I) decided that we’d had enough so we had fun and ran down it instead.  After some steak and a beer, we went to bed and drove the long journey to Okahandja. 

The amazing mountains we passed to get to the dunes.

Enjoying the view.  Or taking a needed rest after about a quarter of the trek.  Dunes are tiring!!!

Michelle being patient with me while I caught my breath.

Centering myself after the climb.

Michelle was so excited to find a candy bar with the name of her favorite movie on it!


Not much happened in Okahandja, and then we drove to my village.  As Michelle drove, I could see the wheels turning in her head about how in God’s name she was going to get back all by herself!  I promised her that I would give her great directions and she wouldn’t get lost.  I don’t think she believed me! 


My village was quiet, as there were no learners there yet.  I showed her around, and she was able to see what my real life is like here.  It was pretty slow.  I spent some time preparing for my lessons, and we made some bread.  Then we ate it while watching TV and movies.  Do you see a pattern?  I watch a lot of media here during my free time. 


The first day of class was devoted to the kids being able to ask Michelle questions.  I thought it would be great.  I thought they would ask tons of questions.  I thought they’d jump at the chance to ask her anything they wanted.  What did I get?  Silence.  The kids were so boring!  They didn’t want to ask her anything!!!  I was so disappointed.  I didn’t help that our of the 250 kids we have at this school only maybe 80 were there that day, and most of those were the grade 10’s that I don’t have.  So, all in all, those three days we quite boring but she was able to get a real understanding of what life is truly like here at my school.  Early in the morning of the second school day she (with thankfully a girl needing a ride all the way to the city) drove to the airport, and began her 30-something hour journey back home.


If I learned anything from my holiday, it’s that I love the comfort of home.  My sister being here reminded me how much I love my family.  It had seemed as if nothing had changed in the 10 months since I had seen her.  We had gone back to the way we were.  Of course, I  have changed much since then, but nothing in a way that would change our relationship.  I was sad when we parted, but also realized, to my relief, that her being here did not make me want to quit and jump on a plane home.  I am still quite happy here, and though I do miss my family, I know that I can and will be successful in Namibia.  She showed me that I can be both a homebody who loves her family and an independent world travelling individual.


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