December 20, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Jonathan Stewart's Adventure in Namibia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Namibia: Peace Corps Namibia : The Peace Corps in Namibia: December 20, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Jonathan Stewart's Adventure in Namibia

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 1:12 pm: Edit Post

Jonathan Stewart's Adventure in Namibia

Jonathan Stewart's Adventure in Namibia

Adventure Namibia

For two years, I'm in Namibia with the American Peace Corps helping Namibia improve it's public schools. As a primary school teacher trainer, I'll help teachers improve their methods, help operate an education resource center, and educate people about AIDS.

I'm excited for the opportunity to live and work in another country, and to become part of a community very different from the ones I've lived in in the U.S. I'm hoping for lots of soccer games and to learn to cook tasty Namibian dishes.

Clara Donkor and Philomina Ochurus, Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs)

Clara and Philomina are full-time nurses for the Peace Corps here. "You are all like African babies," Clara told my group of trainees three days after we arrived. "You have only been here since Friday, and your immune system is like a baby's. Listen to us. We are your African mothers." To me, they are guardians of Namibia, bringing us the hopes of the country, along with medical expertise and personal first aid kits in black plastic containers stuffed with pills, creams, condoms, and bandages.

Philomina gave up a high-ranking position in Namibia's health ministry to come to work for the Peace Corps. She wanted to be involved in patient care again, and she likes knowing she's affecting social change in Namibia by supporting Peace Corps volunteers. "You are blessings to us, like the rainfall," she told us. Her words are a warm hug welcoming me into her country.

Clara is the lead nurse, and she's been employed by the U.S. government longer than anyone in Namibia. After earning a nursing degree in Scotland when she was twenty-seven, she returned to Africa and went to work for the Peace Corps. That was over thirty years ago. Since then, she has worked in several African countries and taken care of thousands of volunteers. She warned us that, "Diarrhea is a way of life in the Peace Corps," but not to accept medication from anyone for that or other health problems. "The only person that should make decisions about your health," she said with a laugh, "is the two of us."

She implored us to stay healthy and learn all that we could about Namibia. She mentioned that the world's ignorance of Africa burdens the continent's progress. For her, it is the third and final Peace Corps goal that is most important that returned Peace Corps volunteers share their knowledge of their host countries when they return home to America. She pleaded with us not to forget about "The Third Goal". "Hopefully," she said, "the way people think about Africa will stop."

December 20, 2003

I’ve been here for eight weeks, and 2003 is coming to a close. It’s time for me to make some general observations about Namibia, and assumptions about how my life will be here.

My first day in Namibia, the assistant country director asked me to tell him my biggest concern. I told him that I was concerned about leaving this group of Americans in January, a group that I’d only known for a few days, but a fun group with dynamic, dedicated, and interesting people. I think I’ve overcome that. The more I learn about the culture, the more I want to know about it; and the more Namibians I meet, the more I want to spend time with them.

Before I came here, I’d wished that I had served as a volunteer right after Namibia’s independence in 1990. I’ve realized that now is a more interesting time for the country, really. The novelty of independence has worn off, and the country’s grappling with some big issues. Since independence, the country has been teaching students above third grade in English instead of Afrikaans, and has promoted learner-centered education in place of traditional methods and corporal punishment. But progress has been slow, and the UN recently reported that just 7% of sixth graders are literate. HIV/AIDS continues to exact a high toll in every sector of society, with about 22% of the population infected. Government and the media are putting out more sophisticated and effective messages that go beyond the health factors of the virus and include discussions about the social factors affecting the pandemic. Looking to the economy, corruption is widespread, and most foreign investment has drained profits rather than contributed to them. Concerned about the crisis in Zimbabwe, Namibians are moving forward carefully with land reform. There’s a lot to figure out, but there’s hope for the possibilities of the country, and for the post-apartheid generation.

I’ve learned enough about Namibia culture and families to know that my host family I’ve been staying with during training in Otjiwarongo reveals a number of cultural trends. Some nights I eat a candle-lit dinner with the children. Other nights I come home and most of the adults my host mom and a few others are drunk and the kids are eating bread and butter for dinner. (And last Friday night my ten year old host brother was also drunk.) I’ve enjoyed listening to my host mom, uncle, and grandmother singing traditional songs on the porch, and laughing with my host sisters as they try to teach me to hand-wash my clothes. My host grandmother speaks Herero; my host mother speaks Herero as her home language, learned Afrikaans during her schooling, and speaks English as a fourth grade teacher; and my host brothers and sisters speak Herero as a home language and English as a school language. Food that is brought home from the store is usually gone within a day, but it’s always shared. A combination of aunts, uncles, and cousins visit everyday for a meal, and a few bottles of sweet wine if my host mom is home, and some of them stay for the night. Our house on the outskirts of town (where the sunsets are beautiful every night) was once part of an exclusively white neighborhood, but now the neighborhood has black families. The Education Ministry has provided the house for my host mom, who’s a teacher. My host mom’s husband died of “heart and lung problems” about eight years ago, when he was in his forties. I’m guessing he actually died of AIDS. One great grandfather in the family is German, and a grandfather in the family, who’s Herero, has over forty children and more than two hundred grandchildren. Everyone in the family will return to the farm for a few weeks over Christmas, where each family member will wear similar clothing and share gender-specific responsibilities, regardless of their social status and professions (or lack of one).

The Peace Corps training has been mostly helpful, and only sometimes disorganized. The language classes have not happened as frequently as I thought they would, but for a couple of weeks we had class four hours daily. Consequently, I’ve made good progress learning Afrikaans. I expect to use it with some educators in the poorer schools in Tsumeb and in the rural schools. Many of our trainers are young and energetic, but some of their enthusiasm has diminished as their paychecks have been delayed, as us Americans have stepped out into the communities on our own, and as they’ve been away from the support of the training supervisors when we’re at our separate community-based training sites. Many volunteers have begun to help plan and facilitate our own training workshops, and as we look ahead to a long two weeks at our cramped conference center in Okahandja, we are thinking of how we can help make that time enjoyable and productive, or at least tolerable.

I’ve recently recognized that I have some mixed feelings about my permanent assignment. On its own, Tsumeb is a great place. (see “November 24: Tsumeb” in “dispatches”) However, I’m already missing the classroom, and I’ll be living in a suburban-like neighborhood, not in an exotic village or a vibrant “location” (ghetto). I’ve been thinking about remedying this with extended work trips to rural schools, or with getting into something here that’s big, something I will be proud to bring back with me, like playing on a soccer team or becoming an amateur expert in the local ecology.

I balance my social time between Americans, Namibians, and our Namibian training staff, who are our cultural liaisons. Once I move to Tsumeb, I won’t have much opportunity to socialize with Americans, so I’m enjoying it now, even as I limit time with them so I can learn to become part of the communities here. Friday and Saturday night fun consists of dinner at someone’s house—either with other volunteers, with a couple of the Namibian trainers, or at my own home with the kids. Few of us have ventured out into the night life here, which goes until sunrise and resembles the saloon culture of the old west to me. In fact, a guy I was thinking of hanging-out with one Saturday night, a Namibian taxi driver I know, ended up in jail for shooting a white guy that very night. I need to understand a little bit more about night life, and become a better judge of Namibian character, before I put on my dance clothes.

I’ll close with a few words for you, whoever you are, who’s carefully read to the last paragraph of this dispatch: thank you, thank you, thank you. This website is my most prized possession here, giving me an audience for my stories of joy and frustration, and providing me with a bridge back to America. To my family and friends who’ve sent me an email, and to the family and friends (whom I’ve never met) of other volunteers who’ve signed my guestbook—thank you. When I get to Tsumeb, where I’ll have slow, but free Internet at work, I’ll be a more reliable correspondent. Until then, I’ll keep your warm greetings with me over the holidays, and I wish you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

dispatches home

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Namibia; PCVs in the Field - Namibia



By Pat Eickman ( - on Thursday, July 08, 2004 - 7:14 pm: Edit Post

To Jonathan Stewart:
Hi! Pat Eickman here! I've lost your email address, but it seems a summer at CTY can't go by without thoughts of you! This June I saw the young man that you and I spent so much time with my first summer. He's happy, and he's still going to CTY!
I hope this email finds you well. My email has changed:
Pat Eickman

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