Saturday, June 17, 2006


Today I went for a walk with Sisi and Sirus (the two dogs that follow me when I walk). Sisi is a very large Ridgeback and has only one eye. Sirus (the virus) is a very small bristly haired mutt that likes to pick fights with dogs that are five times as big as he is.

We walked to the natural spring that is by my flat. For a while, I sat on a dirt pile and watched children gather wood and water for their families. The children that gather wood and water can be very young. I saw two boys around the age of 5 carrying small metal axes to help them gather wood.

There was a small group of children at the spring. They kept waving and yelling to me. Whenever I would wave back, they would laugh and cheer. It was a happy little game that we played for a short time. The children would alternate who would wave at me. I think they were trying to see if they each, in turn, could get the same response from me. It is rare for white people to be in the Location, and even more rare for them to wave back at children.

After the group of children had gathered some water from the spring, they walked to a group of nearby trees and began throwing rocks up into the branches of the trees. I was thinking they must be trying to knock some sort of fruit down. I was wrong; they were trying to knock a certain type of dried pod down from the tree branches. I'm not sure what they were going to do with the pods. Up North, I know that people feed them to goats, but there are not many goats here. I have tried to burn the pods myself, and I can tell you that they don't burn very well.

I walked over to the children, and used my slingshot to help shoot some pods down. They did not know what to think of the strange white man, with two mismatched dogs, and a slingshot. At first, only one boy was standing by me (the others had retreated to a nearby tree). The brave boy quickly called the other children over to me, when he determined that I was safe.

Another boy pulled out his own, home-made slingshot, and together we shot down pods.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Feeling My White-ness

Back in the States, I almost never thought of my skin color. If I did think about it at all, it was due to a direct conversation with another person about skin color.

Here in Namibia, I think about my skin color many times each day.

Most often, my recognition of my own skin color, occurs when something unexpected happens during an interaction with another person. And then, in that first moment of unexpected-ness, this question leaps through my mind:
Did that just happen because I am white?
Sometimes the situation is comical, sometimes its scary, and sometimes it just makes me mad. The good news is, I am slowly getting used to the whole idea, and now I mostly find the situations comical.

This does help me understand, if even only in a small way, what minorities in the States experience every day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Jays Phat Mac

My Mac is back in operation!

The environment here in Namibia is very tough on computers: extreme heat, dust, extreme heat, dust, and more dust. Most of the volunteers in my Peace Corps group with laptops are experience one or more significant problems with their laptop.

Until just this past weekend, my laptop was randomly and routinely crashing. It especially crashed whenever I would try to use the mail application. This made it very difficult (and very frustrating) to send email.

Somehow, I stumbled upon a great piece of Mac software called "Carbon Copy Cloner" produced by Mike Bombich. The wonderful application is donation-ware. That means you can use it for free, and if you like it, you should donate money to the developer.

This software is so useful that it help fixed my computer, the computer of another Peace Corps volunteer, and there is yet another volunteer on deck to have her Mac fixed as soon as she can travel down to my place in Southern Namibia.

This post is an official "shout out" to Mike and his great program. You have been a tremendous help to Peace Corps volunteers in Namibia!

New Start

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the local New Start center, to experience being tested for HIV/AIDS in Namibia.

New Start centers are found in many Namibian cities. They provide low cost HIV/AIDS testing and counseling to anyone that walks through their doors. During the month of May, they offered free tests. I had been wanting to get tested for a long time, for two reasons:
  1. I was very curious about the process.
  2. I would find it hard to encourage others to be tested, if I had not gone through the process myself.
It was late in the afternoon when I found myself near the New Start Center. Shoni and I were waking home from town. The time seemed perfect, so I said "see you soon" to Shoni, and headed towards the Center.

I have no reason to think I have HIV. I have been celibate for a long while now, and my last HIV test was more than 3-months after my last escapade (there is an initial 3-month window of time after infection when HIV tests will show negative even though HIV is present). Even so, I felt myself becoming nervous as I approached the Center. I kept thinking "What would happen next in my life, if I found out I had HIV".

As I entered the Center, I was greeted by an intake worker. She was very pleasant. I felt as though she was surprised to see me; and I wondered how many white people came to the Center. I told her that I would like to be tested for HIV.

In her office, she created a case file for me, and recorded a small amount of information about me. In order to protect my anonymity, she did not ask me for my real name; rather, she asked me for an alias. My real name was not used on any of the paperwork. When the paperwork was completed, she showed me to the waiting room.

A few minutes went buy......a counselor came and collected me. Together we walked to a private counseling room. I was hoping she could not sense my nervousness.

We talked for about 15 minutes. She asked me to tell her what I knew about HIV, how it worked, and how it was contracted. I told her what I knew. She asked me a series of questions like: when I last had sex, and if I had used a condom. We talked some more about what I might do, and how I might feel if I found out today that I had HIV. She asked me who I was planning to share my results with. At one point, I had to sign a disclaimer using my thumb print (in order to preserve my anonymity). When the pretest counseling was finished, we walked to the small lab at the end of the hallway.

The HIV counselor calmly prepared the rapid test equipment. A constant stream of repeating dialogue cycled through my brain while she was preparing the equipment:

Don't be nervous; there is no way I can have HIV; talk calmly; make a little joke; I hope she doesn't think I am nervous; how would I feel if I were a young girl that had just had sex; don't be nervous; smile and say something intelligent...
Rapid tests are wonderful, because they only take 15 minutes to process. A quick finger prick, some dabbing of blood, a little small talk, and I was released back into the waiting room.

About 15 minutes later, the same counselor came and retrieved me. Together we walked back to our counseling room. I was amazed at how well she was able to show no indication of my status during our walk.
Once we were in the room, we talked for a while -- surprisingly I don't remember what we talked about. My recollection of the discussion begins at the point of her telling me the results of my test. I was immediately relieved. After a brief discussion about the results, we talked about the things I should do, and not do, to stay HIV free.

This entire experience was very powerful, and now, I keep thinking of how hard this process must be for someone who is afraid they might have HIV. I am heart seer for those people.

Monday, June 12, 2006

What? Now That's Stress...

I just got back from a great Peace Corps training session in Swakopmund, Namibia. I thoroughly enjoyed the training.

All of the volunteers in Namibia (the volunteers from my group, and the volunteers from the two other groups still in Namibia) converged on Swakop. It was the first time many of us had seen each other. It was a joyful time for me, getting to see such wonderful people.

During one of the training sessions, we talked about the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale. This scales is used to measure the relative amount of stress life changes can cause. Peace Corps service (and all that makes it up) resulted in a score of 320.

Here are some other relative scores for major life events:

Death of spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Detention in jail 63
Marriage 50

As we know, being stressed can increase the chances of illness, see these crazy facts below:

Less than 150 --> 30% chance of developing a stress-related illness
150 - 299 --> 50% chance of illness
Over 300 --> 80% chance of illness

Ouch! That's a lot of stress!

I felt a lot better after learning the above -- I had thought I was just weak before hearing it.


Sleep well, the moon is full in Africa tonight!