Thursday, January 21, 2016 0 comments

To the Top and Back Again: A Kilimanjaro Climbing Tale

A few people have asked me about Kilimanjaro, and after a month of deliberation (but mostly sleeping and deliriously consuming holiday baked goods), I’ve compiled a semi-coherent packet of advice for anyone considering the Big Climb. For those of you too sensible and frugal to consider Kilimanjaro, this post also serves as an embarrassing—if indirect—description of my ascent. I’ll first discuss general training advice, then at the bottom of the page you’ll find my recommended packing list.

General Training and Information

 I really underestimated how difficult climbing Kilimanjaro would be. I had read that Kilimanjaro was really just a long hike, which is—in a sense—true. Ascending Africa’s highest peak requires no technical climbing experience: no ropes, no harnesses, no dangling over bottomless crevasses. I assumed that because I didn’t need crampons, Kilimanjaro must be easy. However, dear reader, I was perilously wrong. I took the seven-day Machame route, which goes up the south side of the mountain and is affectionately known as the “Whiskey Route.” (A name that compares it to the easier Marangu route, known as the “Coca-Cola Route.”)

 The first four days were moderately difficult—especially day three, when we did an acclimatization climb to 15,000 ft. At that altitude, I became light-headed and irritable. However, on day five—when we climbed to the summit of 19,341 feet—I became genuinely ill. Day five consisted of waking up at 11:30 pm. (I think everyone does it at night, though for what reason I am not certain. I theorize it is to protect all us white and Asian tourists from sun burning in the thin air. My secondary theory is that we tourists whine less when we are semi-conscious, which makes life more pleasant for the guides.) We then walked for nearly eight hours to the summit. This walk is extremely steep for the first seven hours and forty minutes. At one point, I could only take five steps at a time before I would collapse in despair. Upon reaching the summit, I groggily gave my camera to a guide. He snapped a picture, and I turned around to hike a further three hours back down the same steep, knee-breaking trail to the base camp. There I took a nap, ate snacks, and then continued about three more hours to the next camp. Altogether, this amounted to about 14 hours of hiking in one day over extreme elevation changes at high altitudes with little sleep. All these factors combined to make day five far more difficult than any marathon, Spartan race, or backpacking trip I have ever done.

Keeping this narrative in mind, I would encourage you to train for the climb with the same thoroughness that you would for a marathon. I would also HIGHLY recommend getting prescription altitude medication to take during your climb. I tried to buy it over the counter in Moshi (the town nearest Kilimanjaro), but they were—predictably—out of stock. In the end, a fellow climber gave me half her altitude pills. Don’t be me. Get altitude pills. The tallest point in the continental U.S. is 14,505 feet; a full 4,836 feet lower than Kilimanjaro. Even if you routinely climb Mt. Whitney, you can’t adequately train for altitude in the States. Spare yourself the headache (literally), and get altitude pills before you come to Tanzania.

Bare Minimum Packing List

I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous packing lists for Kilimanjaro. One blogger I read recommended packing a small tent to hide one’s toilet… As a volunteer, I didn’t have the budget to invest in those fancy things. Here is a skeleton list of what I would consider bare essentials for climbing.

Note: Weather there is extremely unpredictable. Kilimanjaro is one of the only places on Earth where the full range of ecosystems—from tropical rainforests to polar glaciers—exists within a few miles. Two of my Peace Corps friends climbed Kili two weeks before I did, and they had no bad weather. On my climb, it snowed all of the summit day and rained on the way down the mountain. That being said, it’s a really good idea to pack for the worst.

  • Comfortable hiking pants (I wore the same pants every day. If they are waterproof, even better.)
  • Hiking shirt (I wore the same shirt every day. This should be something that’s wicking, so not cotton.)
  • Ladies: sports bra(s) (I wore two over the course of the hike.)
  • Underpants (I leave the numbers, material, and cut of said panties to your individual discretion.)
  • Warm sleeping clothes (I wore the same long underwear, top and bottoms, every night and on summit day.)
  • Light hiking fleece
  • Rain jacket
  • Wool hiking socks (I took four pairs.)
  • Summit clothes: Down parka, fleece pants, thick ski gloves, warm hat, balaclava, foot warmers (I wore all these clothes in addition to my long underwear pajamas and daily hiking clothes. One woman in my climbing group wore her ski pants and Under Armor and was fine. Also I tried just wrapping my face in a scarf and wasn’t warm enough. So I had to borrow a balaclava from a guide. Once again, don’t be me. Balaclavas—alternatively known as ski masks—are cheap, so you can buy one before you depart, or they are available to rent from most guide companies. Also balaclavas will protect your ears.)
  • Waterproof hiking boots (Buy these and break them in at home. I was extremely lucky that my climbing company had a pair in my size. I was even luckier I didn’t get blisters.)
  • Gaiters (I only used these on summit night, but they would have been essential in heavy rain.)
  • Poncho (It didn’t rain hard enough for me to use this, but I am glad I had it.)
  • Sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (Kilimanjaro is only three degrees from the equator, but it gets extremely cold at high elevations. On my summit night, including wind-chill, the temperature dropped to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.)
See? Cold.
  • Something to carry water in, 3 liters minimum (It’s against park rules to take disposable plastic water bottles up the mountain. If a ranger sees you, he will confiscate your bottle. Once again, this was me, and I had to sneak my bottles around seven days.)
  • Wide brim hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp and batteries
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • Powerbars and snacks for the day (Your tour company will supply and cook your meals.)
  • Hiking poles (I thought I didn’t need these. I did. Your knees will be grateful for them on the ascent and descent day.)
  • Toiletries (Take what you normally use. Also make sure you bring a lot of high SPF sunscreen. I fried the hell out of my face, and my nose peeled for a week. Also the guides will give you a bowl of hot water for washing in the morning and evening. I would recommend bringing a package of baby wipes to supplement cleaning in between.)
  • Tiny towel or wash cloth (for drying yourself after tiny bucket baths).
  • Medication (Whatever you normally take, plus altitude medication. Also there is malaria in Tanzania, and four days up the mountain would be a terrible place to get a sudden high fever. Bring malaria medication. Other note: by the first night, the elevation was high enough that mosquitos weren’t a problem. So I never used bug repellant. But malaria can take a few days to set in, so it’s best to keep taking your prophylaxis. I would also recommend an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen. My knees got real’ sore coming down the mountain. Lastly, your guide will have a first aid kit, so you only need the basic first aid supplies.)
  • Toilet paper and a small trash bag (The toilets are nasty. They are mostly tiny squatter holes, and it seems people can’t aim their bricks at high elevations. You’ve been warned. Also don’t be the jerk who leaves their trash on the mountain. For once, this wasn’t me. Keep a little Ziploc to put your wrappers and others bits in.)
  • Small day backpack (The porters will carry most of your stuff every day. The weight limit for the pack you give them is about 30 pounds. However, you will need a small daypack for you to carry your water, snacks, jacket, sunscreen, etc.)
  • Large duffel bag or backpack to give porters (They will put your bag—fancy backpack or scruffy duffel—in a non-descript nylon bag and throw it on their heads like you’ve seen Africans do in so many National Geographics. So don’t stress about whether or not you have a big, expensive mountaineering backpack: it doesn’t matter. Also almost every climbing company will require you to have a porter. I’ve heard rumors of companies that will allow you to carry your own gear. If you’re interested, you can ask Google. However, once again, don’t underestimate the altitude. The porters are accustomed to the elevation and can zip up the trail even with a huge pack on their head and their own backpacks on their backs. Every tourist I saw—even the super fit ones with tiny backpacks—moved much, much slower than the porters.)

Not being jerks and taking our trash off the mountain.
Also my sweet friend who gave me her altitude drugs.

That’s all I can think of that was absolutely necessary for me. But I’d recommend reading other blogs about Kilimanjaro (except the toilet tent lady's). It’s good to have multiple perspectives and to be as prepared as possible for this expensive once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My tour company supplied tents and sleeping pads. So I’d check with yours to see what they’ll supply. Also ask to see your company’s list of available rental equipment. I rented almost everything from the tour company—even my shoes (not recommended). And the things I didn’t rent from them, I wish I would have. E.g. hiking poles. I went with Zara Tours and was very pleased with their service. However, I know many people who went with different companies and were all very happy as well. Most of the companies offer basically the same services.

While climbing Kilimanjaro is very difficult, it’s still glamping. The guides and porters will take very good care of you and make sure you’re well fed. Really, I was never hungry at any point during the climb. If you’re curious about cost, I paid $1,450 USD for the seven-day Machame route. This price was after a $200 discount for agreeing to clean up litter on my climb. Prices will vary on the route and the number of days you spend on the mountain (varies from five to ten days). I paid an additional $280 in tips. Ask your tour company what their tipping policy is. Zara Tours recommended between $250 and $350. I know it’s a lot of money, but I was very impressed by how the porters and guides treated me.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to post them in the comments below. I will try my best to answer them or will refer you to other people I know who’ve successfully climbed Kilimanjaro. It’s my hope that if you follow the advice in this post, you will learn from my mistakes and not be the most chronically under-prepared person on your trek. Good luck and happy climbing!

My climb captured in one photo.

Sunday, August 2, 2015 0 comments

"But what will I eat?"

 In November of 2012, I interviewed for the Peace Corps. At the end of the interview, the recruiter asked if I had any questions. “Will I have enough to eat?” I enquired, envisioning emaciated Ethiopians in news magazines. The recruiter took a deep breath that seemed to say “Oh sweet naïve American.” Instead she assured me that yes, I would have enough to eat, and that Peace Corps would supply me with vitamin supplements (chewable dinosaur supplements, as I would come to discover).

The point of this post is to answer my own question from that interview. I do have enough to eat. My diet is rich and varied. I even feel much healthier here than I usually did in the US.

During undergrad, I usually spend about $40 USD per week on food. In Namibia, a similar amount can buy the following:

box of granola bars
package of toilet paper
loaf of bread
chocolate bar
soup mix
peanut butter
trail mix
cooking oil
ground beef
a newspaper (to feed my mind)

Total: N$397.99 Namibian dollars = about $34 USD

I also bought a bag of green peppers and oranges from a vendor for another $1.50 USD. Bringing my weekly total to $36 USD. Food costs take up the heartiest chunk of my monthly $200 USD pay check. Transportation costs make up the second largest portion. Luckily, I traveled only 10 miles to buy all this food.

However, I am not limited to food I can buy at the grocery store or grow on my host family’s farm. In the large nearby towns, I can find restaurants ranging from seafood to Indian to fried chicken.

Indian food in Windhoek, about 500 miles from my village.
Chicken in Oshakati, about 60 miles from my village.
Salad in Eenhana, 10 miles from my village.
Wild antelope steak in Windhoek, about 500 miles from my house.
Eating pizza in Ongwediva, 60 miles from my village.
Cake in Otjiwarango, about 300 miles from my village.

Even my friend's Namibian cat has a balanced diet.
While I do have a number of culinary options in Namibia, I spend an embarrassing amount of time daydreaming about food in the States. Weirdly, IHOP is near the top of my list. Crispy hash browns and stuffed French toast dance in my dreams. Fortunately, I will return to the US on October 9th. I haven’t lost too much weight, so my family shouldn’t have any trouble recognizing me.
Saturday, June 20, 2015 1 comments

Myth About Africa #3: Ebola was a threat everywhere.

My earliest memories of the word “Africa” were dominated by images of famine-stricken Ethiopian orphans and AIDS patients withering on hospital cots. While these images might have been accurate in some places a couple decades ago, they are not now. Now when most Americans hear “Africa”, their first thought is Ebola.

If you arrived at this blog post intrigued by my Facebook claim of “experience with Ebola,” I have a confession: despite living in Africa for two years, I have zero experience with Ebola. That’s the point. Namibia has never had a case of Ebola. The closest ever case was in South Africa in 1996. Although I am far removed from the most recent Ebola epidemic, I’ve received some concerned queries from my friends and family in the States. Truly, I am grateful for their concern.

But Namibia has never been in much danger of a major Ebola outbreak. The main reason is simple: Namibia has been one of the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. This claim may seem counterintuitive. Let me explain. West Africa (the locus of the most recent Ebola epidemic) escaped the full brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1990s. The HIV prevalence rate in Liberia is 1.1 percent. Most international funds for fighting HIV/AIDS were spent in Southern Africa. Namibia, for example, has a prevalence rate of 14.3 percent. Because of this influx in spending, Namibia has a solid medical infrastructure.  Each large town has a state hospital and many smaller communities have clinics staffed by trained nurses.

In West Africa, where many countries have been so riddled with war and corruption, citizens have little trust in any governmental institution--beleaguered hospitals included. That is not the case in Namibia. Here the government provides free HIV testing and counseling, as well as free antiretroviral therapy (the drugs that keep HIV at bay). As the prevalence rate is so high, many Namibians take advantage of these services, which has led to a comfort with clinics in general. Namibians don’t go to the doctor just for HIV-related matters; they go for minor illnesses too. Whenever I get the smallest head cold, my coworkers insist that I go to the hospital immediately. If Ebola were to strike Namibia, the people would be more likely to seek early medical attention than many people in West Africa.

Another reason Ebola spread so quickly in West Africa is that during burial rituals, the living relatives frequently touch the deceased and contact the victim’s bodily fluids. In Namibia this would be less likely to happen. Once again, the reason is HIV. The Namibian government has sponsored many HIV/AIDS prevention education programs. They have been effective.  Prevalence rates for young women have dropped by 50 percent in the past 10 years. I can ask any of my students how HIV is transmitted, and they will robotically recite “blood, breast milk, sexual fluids”—all bodily fluids. Health workers routinely visit remote areas to perform HIV/AIDS outreach and deliver routine vaccinations. The state-run radio regularly broadcasts reminders to wear a condom.  In the event of an Ebola outbreak, these programs could easily expand for Ebola prevention.

I can’t pretend I am smart enough to think of all these ideas myself. I found this article “Why Ebola Hit West Africa Hard” immensely informative.

While the HIV/AIDS pandemic has expedited the development of Namibia’s health systems, obviously HIV/AIDS itself is a very bad thing. The disease killed about 6,600 Namibians last year. However, through improved health care and education, Namibia’s national health is improving. Most people I meet look remarkably healthy.  And they should be.

My host family’s diet is as follows: a small amount of meat, a lot of field spinach, and even more millet porridge. Millet is loaded with B vitamins, protein, fiber, and iron. It’s so healthy, I am surprised American housewives haven’t turned it into a fad diet. My host family also tills the fields, pounds the millet into flour, herds cattle, plays soccer, and dances. They dance really well, which leads me to my next true myth about Africa.

True myth #3: All Africans can dance.

Some of my learners performing in traditional garb.

As soon as the school bell rings at the end of the day, I hear the girls beating on the school’s leather drum. The older girls teach the younger to flamboyantly stomp in time to their singing. They have no self-consciousness. (I squarely blame music videos for Americans’ self-consciousness in dancing. We compare our dancing to professionals on TV, so naturally we doubt our own abilities.) Tangent aside, the girls here—and frequently the boys—know that dancing is just fun and don’t worry if their hips pop as seductively as J.Lo’s… Is she still famous? I haven’t been in the US for a long time. I guess I’ll find out in 3 months when I return. Don’t worry; I promise not to bring Ebola with me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 0 comments

What I Want Americans to Know About Namibia

This entry was written by one of my grade 10 learners (Nam-speak for “10th grade student”). I have typed her words below in normal font, and my commentary is in italics.
Meet Olivia.

By Olivia Dumeni

I want Americans to know the Ovambo’s language and their work. Americans need to know Oshikwanyama, because Namibians also know English. And Oshikwanyama is a simple language. They need to know about Namibians’ culture.

(There are more than a dozen local languages in Namibia. One of these is Oshikwanyama, spoken by the Ovambo people in northern Namibia. However, Namibia’s official language is English, which is learned in schools. Olivia wants Americans to learn Oshikwanyama, because she thinks it’s unfair that everyone must learn English like Americans. While I wouldn’t require all Americans to learn Oshikwanyama, we should recognize the message our monolinguism sends to other countries.)

I want Americans to know how to pound mahangu and how to collect firewood. I want them to know how learners perform in their subjects.

(Mahangu is pearl millet, the staple of the Ovambo’s diet. They pound millet into flour then cook it into a stiff porridge. I told the learners that most Americans live in towns and don’t pound mahangu or cook on fires.)

I want them to know that English is a difficult language for Namibian people, and to know that Oshikwanyama is a simple language. I want them to know that Namibian learners have many subjects. We only have 40 minutes per period.

(In Namibia, the grade ten learners are required to take 13 subjects a week and are tested on about eight of those subjects multiple times a year. In my opinion, they have far too many classes. The kids can’t possibly master that many subjects each term. I told the learners that many schools in the US use a block schedule— four 1.5 hour classes each day. My learners were VERY jealous of this system.)

Namibians always eat porridge and spinach, sometimes rice and macaroni. In Namibia many people believe in God. And always on Sunday they go to church so that God can assist them.

(My learners and I were discussing religion in America, when I told them that many people in America are not Christians--that the US has people of many religions, and not all of them believe in Jesus Christ. Namibia is primarily Christian--Lutheran in particular. My learners were pretty horrified to learn that not everyone everywhere is Christian.)

Namibians always cultivate their mahangu, maize, and beans so that they can get food. In Namibia, learners have black teachers and at our school there is one white teacher.

(In my village, most people are subsistence farmers. They mostly eat just the food they grow. This is not the case for all Namibians though, and there are many large, modern grocery stores here. Also Namibia is a post-Apartheid country. Race is frequently the topic of discussion. Namibians are not shy when talking about race. Wherever I go, I hear the word “oshilumbu”--white person. I also regularly explain that “No, not all white people like to run, just some.” (I run a lot.) Or “Yes, there are a lot of black Americans.” To be fair, I think some Americans would be surprised to learn that there are a lot of white Africans—not albino people, but people of European descent whose families have lived in Africa for generations.)

In Namibia, there are many schools, and they are different. Some schools have electricity, while others they do not have electricity. Some schools have hostels and others there are no hostels.

(Schools come in a wide spectrum in Namibia. Some schools in large towns and cities are not that different from what you’d find in the US or Europe. Inequality, however, is one of the most common features of Namibian life. Many schools are extremely under equipped—not enough books, chairs, desks, or classrooms. Luckily, however, most schools have electricity. My school is scheduled to receive it this year. Also many schools in Namibia are boarding schools (hostels schools). My school is not, and some learners walk for over an hour each way to school.)

That is all I want Americans to know!

(There are so many more things I want Americans to know about Namibia. I return to the US in September or October, but I will try to publish a few more blog posts about Namibia before then.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 0 comments

Myths About Africa: Part II

This is my host brother's rockin' hut

In my last blog post, I discussed the misconception that Africa contains just one culture or identity. Before moving to Namibia, I imagined that everyone lived in huts and lions inhabited every corner. These were easy assumptions to make after a lifetime of watching “The Lion King” and the National Geographic Channel. However, the problem was that I assumed these images represented the whole of Africa, which is what I will discuss in this post.

Myth #2: All of Africa is impoverished.

Before applying for the Peace Corps, I assumed that Africa was a stagnant continent stuck in the past. This isn’t true. My village, country paradise that it is, is one of the ever-shrinking number of places in Namibia where people lead a pastoral life. However, even in my remote hamlet I can use my smart phone to facebook my friends back home (albeit I must sit on one particular tree stump to do it).

If I travel just 60 miles southwest, I’ll be in a large town called Ongwediva. There I can shop in a mall that would be at home in any new suburb in the States. Across the street I can use high speed internet while dipping my feet in a pool. A 3D movie theater is being built three blocks away. And if I’m hungry later I can eat at KFC. In Namibia, my electricity-less village and American fast food chains are neighbors.

America or Namibia?

When I first arrived in Namibia, I saw fancy restaurants and swimming pools as signs of wealth and huts as signs of poverty. I’ve since learned that such indicators can deceive. Take the Himba for example. I was first introduced to the Himba several years ago when I watched the documentary “Babies.”

Look a Himba baby!

At first glance I assumed this tribe from northwestern Namibia were poor, because they appeared “primitive”: huts, loincloths, etc. They are, however, one of the most successful tribes of cattle herders in Africa. If one cow is worth at least $1,000, and some herds run as large as 500 cows, then a Himba family can be wealthy by any country’s standards. I had just assumed that to be rich, a person had to drive a Mercedes and wear a Rolex.

Clearly the myths about African poverty are more complicated than I imagined before moving here. But I had a small number of notions that have proven true. In each entry, I’ll discuss one false myth and a true one. In my last post I described how women really do carry water on their heads. In this post I’ll also discuss water.

True pre-conceived notion #2: There really are the “rains down in Africa.”

If you don’t understand this reference, google the song “Africa” by Toto: I assure you you’ve heard it. I grew up in a desert. When I researched Namibia before my departure, I found the pictures looked identical to southern Utah. So I assumed I knew what to expect with weather. I was wrong. Little did I know that I would be moving to northern Namibia where there are two distinct seasons: wet and dry. During the dry season, I can go months without seeing a cloud. Then starting in November, I see clouds everyday—very angry clouds. The storms these clouds produce are simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. Whenever the thunder passes overhead, I cower in my bed waiting for the wind to tear the tin roof off my house. But other than a few leaks, my little house has managed to stand up splendidly to these storms.

Unfortunately, along with these storms come the seasonal illnesses. I have had some sort of respiratory ailment for the past two weeks. Nothing serious, I don’t have Ebola. In fact, I spend the vast majority of my time in perfect health, which will be the topic of the next blog in this series. Not everyone here is dying of famine, AIDS, or Ebola.
Saturday, November 15, 2014 0 comments

Myths About Africa

            Before moving to Namibia, I fielded a lot of concerned questions. Some were from others: will you be safe? Will you have enough food? Some were questions I asked myself: will a cobra kill me? Will I contract a tropical disease? Most of these questions, though well intentioned, were misinformed.
            Acceptance of these myths was not entirely my fault. My education completely neglected Africa. I only remember learning about the slave trade. Even then the textbook focused on the Africans’ deadly transit across the Atlantic or their dismal lives in the Americas. We paid no attention to their origins.
            The media weren’t helpful to me either. When FOX or NBC bothered to air a story on this continent, it was almost exclusively about child soldiers or AIDS (now ebola, I’ve heard). But after moving here, I’ve learned this picture isn’t fair. It’s not accurate.  There is much more happening here than a string of tragedies. For the next few posts, I’ll share what I’ve learned in my brief time in Africa. I’ll start with the grand daddy that spawns all other misconceptions.

#1 Africa is one country.
            Before joining Peace Corps, I knew in theory that Africa was a continent comprised of different countries. However, that didn’t stop me from thinking of Africa as culturally homogenous—that an Ethiopian wasn’t really that different from a Zimbabwean. Now I know that each of Africa’s 54 countries is bursting with different races, tribes, languages, and cultures.
            Case in point is Namibia. Two million people live here. My home state Utah’s population is about the same. Utah is home to mostly white, English-speaking folks, who almost all practice one religion. By contrast, Namibia boasts at least 14 distinct ethnic groups, each of which speaks a unique language (but who almost all practice one religion—Lutheranism). If I travel 40 miles south of my village, the people speak a different dialect than I know. If I travel about 300 miles in any direction I will encounter at least seven more languages (not dialects, languages). Each of these groups has their own rituals, customs, and traditions. And they don’t like being confused with their neighbors. 
            Now imagine this level of diversity applied to every country in Africa. Nigeria, with a population of 170 million, has hundreds of indigenous languages, and large Muslim and Christian populations. Clearly my referring to a Nigerian and a Namibian as “Africans” makes as much sense as referring to a Mexican and a Canadian as “North Americans.”
            So for the remainder of this series, I’ll stop talking about “Africa” and instead focus on the only country I know much about—Namibia.
            As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of ideas about Namibia before moving here. Most of my ideas were wrong. However, a handful have proven true. In addition to discussing an inaccurate myth in each post, I’ll also elaborate on the few that are indeed true.

#2 Women carry stuff on their heads.
            When I first arrived I was amazed by this skill that everyone seemed to possess. I assumed it was an art they had honed since infancy (and I do see near infants carry bundles of sticks on their heads). I never imagined they carry buckets on their heads simply because it’s easier than using their hands.
            I learned this fact after a month of dragging my five-gallon water bucket 50 yards through sand. One day my scrawny 15-year-old host sister helped hoist the bucket onto my head. I was fully bracing for it to break my neck or at least be completely unwieldy. I even closed my eyes waiting for my sister to let go and the bucket to tumble. When I opened my eyes, my sister was walking home and I was left independently balancing my bucket.
            To be fair, not ALL Namibian women carry things on their heads—mainly just women from rural communities. I would be surprised to see a woman walking down the streets of Windhoek, the capital, balancing a basket on her head. She would more likely put it in her Volkswagen, which just underscores my original point—Namibia is diverse. In my next post, I’ll focus on this wide assortment of living situations in Namibia. Not everyone lives in huts.
Saturday, March 22, 2014 1 comments

Day in the Life

I worked abroad twice before coming to Namibia—once in China and once in Mexico. On both of these adventures, most of the pictures that crept online showed me playing: zip lining off the Great Wall China, cuddling baby jaguars, etc. The online portrait of my life in Namibia is following suit. This trend has led some of my friends and family to conclude that I don’t actually work. Now I understand most of the comments are just good-natured ribbing, but I feel defensive nonetheless. So today, in an effort to prove that I don’t spend all of time frolicking through sand dunes, I will walk you through my typical day.


6:15 am Shoot arm out of mosquito net. Fumble until I turn off alarm. Roll over and try to ignore wooden slats pushing on my ribs through the thin mattress.

6:30 am Mental fog dissipates enough to remember that standing is more comfortable that lying down. Stumble to outhouse and check corners for snakes.

6:45 am Wash face in bucket. Take malaria meds and attempt to swallow horse pill vitamins. Gag shamelessly and try again.

7 am Eat breakfast. My favorite time of day. Includes cereal, yogurt, juice, fruit, and peanut butter. Sit contentedly for a few minutes rubbing my belly. Realize that I am late and wash dishes. Dispose of water on unidentified squash growing under window.

7:30 am Walk 247 steps to school. Greet all teachers, principal, secretary, janitor, and miscellaneous memes (older women) crossing the yard.

8 am Start teaching.

10:40 am Break. Inhale sandwich.

11:10 am Back to teaching.

2 pm Open library. Try to convince fourth graders to stand in line quietly. They convince me to shut up, go inside, and ignore them as long as no one draws blood.

3 pm Close library. Exhale stress from teaching classes of 40 students and depositing books on 52 unruly children. Start planning for tomorrow. Lessons must be simple, engaging, appeal to various learning styles, and address some element of the 14 page nationally mandated curriculum. If I’m lucky, the kids might even learn some English.

4:30 pm Call it a day. Walk 247 steps home. Verbally unload day on puppy and chickens. They are quiet though inattentive listeners.

4:45 pm Eat a snack. Relish every spoonful of peanut butter.

5 pm Run through the forest. Belt Miley Cyrus to scare cows and goats off path.

7 pm Occasionally bathe.

7:30 pm Harass host siblings to play with me.

8 pm “Help” make dinner. Try to stoke fire; children laugh. Try boiling water; children laugh. Try stirring pot of porridge; this job is simple enough to trust to me.

9 pm Eat porridge and meat with family around fire. Admire stars.

9:45 pm Strap on head lamp to make final out house run. Still no snakes.

10 pm Collapse into bed, tuck in mosquito net, and pass out.


3 am Wake up because rain is pounding tin roof. Stuff in earplugs. Out again.


There is little variation to this routine. Sometimes my host brother takes me bow hunting (I watch). And sometimes we slaughter a goat. Sometimes I’ll even open a roll of two-ply toilet paper as a special treat. My life is quite monotonous, but I love it. I’ll admit, however, that I am counting the 26 days until my next vacation. Plan on my bombarding you with more pictures of frolicking on sand dunes.