Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Saying good-bye

This blog entry is overdue and was written a while back but I just got the chance to post it!

The time has come and as of late we have been saying many good-byes. A few weeks ago we hosted a bbq (aka braii) at our place for about 25 of our friends and colleagues at the hospital. As most staff parties begin the atmosphere was a bit stiff but once Daryl served his amazing cooking (as always!) everyone began having a great time. We were presented with some lovely gifts and words of thanks. The pharmacy crew will be at such a disadvantage without him there, and the one Pharmacist left was quite upset to see him go.

We also hosted a good-bye meeting for our volunteers at the project. There was a dual purpose to the meeting: first to say our thanks and secondly to give them a pep talk for what the next season will look like as Nicole will be all alone in her efforts to maintain the project until August when the next group of missionaries arrive. We have certainly felt overwhelmed at times when it was just the two of us and are praying that the volunteers really step up to the plate and come along side Nicole so that she is not burdened by the work load. Just as we were able to give to each orphan a bible, Nicole and Tricia were able to buy enough for each volunteer as well and they were received with much appreciation and enthusiasm. They were the envy of their peers at church and it was exciting to see them carrying them and using them at choir conference and church.

The women volunteers were also hit with a major blessing. Throughout the last year I have been collecting clothing, shoes, products, and some random items from previous female volunteers and missionaries and ended up with a huge load. So Nicole and I sorted them and laid them all out in one of the project rooms and then had the volunteers pick a number. The numbers theychose determined the order they got to go in and the girls just kept on picking until there was not one item left. They each ended up with huge piles of goods and it was such a treat to see them wearing all of our unwanted pieces with such joy. Most of them I would think doubled their entire wardrobe from that one give away!

On our final Sunday at church we presented the congregation with 7 refurbished and fixed church benches as well as 10 brand new ones! We had commissioned one of the pastors of the church to make them and his workmanship was fantastic. The church received them with great joy and we were very glad to have been able to use some of our excess funds to bless the church in that capacity.

In our last couple of days two of the church elders came over to our house for tea and to come as representatives from the church to bid us farewell. We were very touched by some of the words that were spoken we give God the glory as it was evident that they were truly thankful for our service in the last year. We were presented with what were suppose to be ‘small’ gifts…two beautiful carved wood pieces that will help us to remember them (as if we could ever forget!). During the last few days we were also surprisingly presented gifts from individuals in the church as well, and we were quite blown away with peoples thoughtfulness and generosity.

We had a little going away party with our Afrikaans friends at a local Afrikaans restaurant. We were touched by all who came and will miss some of those friends dearly.

One of our final days in Rundu was spent taking some of our closest kids from the project (4 boys and 1 girl) out to lunch. I think the bond we made with these kids has impacted both us and them in significant ways. They were beginning to become quite sad at the thought of our going and the good-byes were some of the toughest. After our lunch we walked around the village and found many of the people that we have been working alongside and had a chance to pray for each one and say our final words of thanks. Daryl was also able to hand out some of his extra clothing and items to some of the boys and they were all super excited to have a piece to remember him by. By the end of the day we had a huge entourage walking behind us from hut to hut and many hugs and tears later we drove away.

Good-byes seem so much harder than they did a year ago leaving Canada as we are a lot more uncertain as to when, if ever, we will see these friends again. We are thankful for the few that we will be able to be in contact with through email and phone but most don’t have computers, let alone know how to use one so the goodbyes have more finality to them. Never easy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

EBC Choir Conference 2009

Evangelical Bible Church Choir conference 2009. If someone came to Africa for just one week wanting a complete cultural experience and stories to tell for years, this is where you would find it. Wild! Six days of intensity, so here is an attempt at a blog entry.

Although the conference was only 6 days, the preparation began well in advance. In the midst of sheer busyness, full days, our evenings leading up to the conference where spent practicing new songs with the choir. These lasted on average 5 hours and consisted of us trying desperately to get the songs and moves into our non-Namibian heads. One of the big emphasis at practice was to perfect the “competition song“. Every year a song is written and the lyrics sent to every church in EBC and then it is up to the individual churches to come up with the tune and the choreography, and then at they compete for the title. A week before conference they decide that I should be selected to the final 16 for the competition. The whole church was overly excited about this as I would be the first “chindele” in all of EBC history to perform in the competition. Really it just meant they were sure that they were going to win because of me!

Conference: This year the conference was held in a town called Katima which is the most North East town of Namibia bordering Zambia. It is about a 6 hour drive through the Caprivi Strip, full of wild animals like Elephants, Lions, Hippos and so on (can’t believe it has become almost normal to see such amazing creatures on the side of the road). There were about a thousand people at the conference from all over Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. We all stayed right on the church property in a village close to town. There were some structures built for each group to have a changing area but sleeping (minus the few of us that brought tents) for the majority meant a blanket on the dirt ground. Toilets consisted of a little structure for people to “bathe” and to pee. Number 2 meant finding bush, but due to the recent floodings in the rainy season, bush was hard to access…

Our first morning was a bit of a surprise as we awoke at 6 am to hear the host choir singing there hearts out in unison! Better than any alarm clock I’ve ever had, the only struggle is that no matter how good they sounded 6 o’clock always came way too quickly after singing until 2 am only few hours earlier…every day! The first session would always begin around 7 am and somehow Daryl, Nicole and myself always managed to hide in our tent until the session ended at 8! There wasn’t much sleep to be had as the speakers blasted the local language but it was better than having to face the world that early!
Breakfast was a couple pieces of bread and margarine…we had our own secret supply of apples and granola bars to help complete the meal. After breakfast it was usually our choir that “called people to the service” with singing and dancing for about 45 minutes. Next was the morning session lead by an amazing Pastor from Zambia who we grew to love and respect as the week continued. A genuine and solid believer with a heart on fire for the Lord, what a treat.
Lunch and dinner was the local porridge with some sort of meat. Our group slaughtered 2 goats during the week and that got us through most of the meals as they eat everything (some parts more edible than others)…but they proudly kept the heads on display for all to see. Under the blaring sun, you can imagine the odour at the end of the week!
Afternoons had a session and then sport. Boys played soccer as the girls cheered and played Net Ball, the first time I have played sports in a skirt (in fact it’s the first trip I have been on where I couldn’t even pack pants!). By the evening session, everyone was struggling to stay awake from sleep deprivation, until the session was over and the keyboard kicked it into gear from 9 until 2am!!!

Celebrity status: We thought it was bad in Rundu… Apparently there have not been a lot of white people attending this conference in the past so the fact that there were 3 of us was, well, exciting for them. It didn’t Nicole and I long before we began calling each other Britney and Paris. At first we were hesitating, but by the end we just had to embrace the status and have fun with it. Photos shoots with random strangers was normal after an introduction of “I need to show my mom that I was with a “chindele”!” People yelling “chindele” all day in our face is always hard to know how to react to that. The biggest source of entertainment was when it came time for Nicole and I to sing with the church. The climax was on the last night when the competition occurred (strangely it seemed no other church considered it to be as big a deal as our congregation!), and then later when for one of our last songs I lead the song on microphone in the local language. It was hit and a week later still is as anyone who sees me will break out into the song!

After the fact we feel we went through Africa boot camp. One of my lines I used a lot this past week was “I will never pretend to understand this culture!”. We laughed so much my abbs hurt, we made fools of ourselves, learned lots, strengthened relationships, had some meaningful conversations, and then at the end shed some tears as it would be the last time I would see the majority of my dear friends.

to see more pictures go to:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Slower Pace

We have definitely experienced a completely different pace to different activities while here in Rundu. African cultures are generally “event orientated” versus “time orientated”, which means something begins when there are enough people to participate in the event and ends whenever it is felt that the event is completed. This has driven us to distraction many times, especially the idea of “rewarding the latecomers”: if someone shows up 2 hours after an event starts, there is usually a complete interruption including a full recap of what has happened so far, and no apology is ever proffered or expected. On the other hand, we have also enjoyed the sometimes slower pace of life, a chance to “smell some roses”.

Here is a short list of some things which go slower in Rundu:

1. An empty taxi: there is an expression “Rundu slow” which we have coined to refer to a taxi driving 10kms/hour on the main streets, looking for anyone to collect.
2. Line-ups (especially in government buildings): people are used to waiting in lines for hours or even days for such things as withdrawing money from the bank or paying a water bill. Sabrina has often been in a line at the Home Affairs Office for 4 hours, only to be told when she reaches the front of the line attempting to register an orphan that she is in the wrong line (even though the day before it was the correct line). And the process starts from scratch again.
3. Greetings: We have observed routine greetings which take a minute or so as acquaintances inquire about the previous nights sleep, the family, any news, their health, etc. Then, the person takes two or three steps and meets the next person to repeat the performance.
4. Church services: the average church service we have endured while here in Rundu/Kaisosi is around 4 hours, with our personal record being 7.5 hours (with no break).

The one thing that has seemed to go by extremely fast has been our year here: we are still in shock that we are coming to the end, it feels like we arrived only a couple months ago.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blankets, Bibles, and a Feast

Our time at the OVC Project is now officially over, but we went out with a bang. This past Friday we threw a fun going-away party (for ourselves) as the project was shutting down for the May school break and we are preparing to get on the plane to leave Namibia.

In the beginning our plans were modest, but as the day got closer, things got better and better. As we kept brainstorming new ways to bless the kids, more and more ideas kept coming and God made cool provisions so it all worked out.

Originally, we decided that we had to have the right food for the farewell party. We had had such a great time at the OVC Christmas party, we decided a similar menu (chicken, rice, potatoes, soft-drinks) was a must. As we found out from previous experience, this kind of spread is a once-per-year (or less) luxury, so many, many people (even if not officially invited) show up for the food.

Then, we started getting creative. Nicole and Tricia (the AIM short-termers from Kentucky) thought it would be awesome to use some of their supporter’s funds to give some sort of english book to each of the kids: books are such a rare treasure, and almost no-one in the village has even one. The next idea was “What if we could find English children’s bibles to give to each of the kids?” A couple of phone calls to a well-connected friend in Windhoek later, and we had 200 kids bibles at our disposal for a bargain of a price.

Next, we knew that as winter was coming that very few kids have sufficient bedding, let alone mattresses or bed-frames or stuff we take for granted. The idea of purchasing a blanket for each kid with money from our supporters really excited us. Sabrina went to a local department store here called PEP, chatted with the manager and explained what we were trying to do, and asked if there was any sort of deal or assistance the store could provide. She kept being given contact numbers of more and more senior managers in the PEP chain, and after dozens of phone calls and faxed letters later, we were stunned early last week to hear that PEP had decided to donate all 180 blankets, one per kid! We were amazed and excited to see how God was using local business to also show the orphans that they are valuable.

We had requested in advance “special project” money from our supporters so as to pay for the blankets: when we found out that that money was still at our disposal, we knew we could have a lot of fun. We ended up purchasing school books, crayons and pencil crayons, pens, erasers, soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes, as well as giving the kids some sweets that had been sent from North America.

As you can imagine (or maybe you can’t), arranging all these details takes a lot of work, so we were exhaustedly excited by the time the Friday rolled around. The day went off without a hitch. After many, many speeches of thanks (speech-making here is sacrosanct) we were able to feed the OVCs first, then the rest of the crowd (300 or more), and then we were able to individually give each of the kids their gift. We were touched by the sincere expressions of gratitude, and were glad that we could do something for these amazing kids whom we have fallen in love with.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Speaking Namlish

We no longer speak English, we speak Namlish!  

Namibia was settled by England and Germany, so the English that is spoken has the British vocabulary. Our vocabulary has been infused with British words like rubbish, car boot, and high care ward as opposed to emergency and so on. Because Namibia was ruled by Afrikaner-speaking South Africans, and Rundu is on the border of Portuguese-speaking Angola, and there are many different tribal groups in the area, communication can be a challenge. We are consistently impressed with people we know who can understand 7 or more languages

Namibia became an English speaking country 19 years ago at independence and so there are many people that struggle to speak it as it was never part of the older generations education. The younger generation is now being taught by many teachers who don't have a strong understanding of the language so there are words and sayings that are meant to be “English” but would never be used anywhere else. We speak much more slowly now and our sentences structure has even changed.  

There are a lot of verbal and non-verbal communications that are now a part of our every day life and here are just some examples.

Greetings: When shaking hands, you often clap three times first as a sign of respect.  When greeting someone who is older than me or has a higher position of authority I place my left hand on my right forearm as we shake hands and women do a little curtsy dip as a sign of respect.  When greeting a closer friend the hug includes kisses on both cheeks. Hand shakes are often prolonged and the conversation will continue as you hold hands.  When passing someone, it is customary to greet, then say "ok" as you end the greeting, which in Rukwangali is "ewah" (eh-waaaah). “Ewah” can also be used as an acceptable greeting/acknowledgement of presence if you are passing the person more than once in the same day.

Asking questions:  In the Kwangali culture, a whole conversation can be had without words.  If I want something that is visible, I must only clap my hands and point at the object.  The person that I am asking has a few possible ways of answering me.  There is the eyebrow raise which indicates yes, the chin jut that indicated yes, or the eyes looking to the side which means no.  If I can take the item, I may pick the item up and clap a thanks with a little curtsy dip or if handed the item take it with my right hand while my left hand rests on my right forearm.  A perfectly acceptable way of saying no is indicated by the twisting of the hand, and generally used if the item is not there or they cannot help you.

Getting someone's attention: Here in Rundu one must be very careful about how you wave hello.  The hand must be showed palm forward and shaken in a side to side manner.  If you try to say hello by holding your hand still and moving your fingers up and down it means “come here”! Also it is customary to get someone's attention verbally by calling them “nane” (nah-neh - mother) or “tate” (tah-teh - father).  This applies to everyone who is older than you.  If they are younger than you, you can call them kado (kah-doe)(girl) or boyi (boy-ee)(boy).

I'm coming now now: When one is going somewhere and will be right back, we would say "I'll be right back".  Here, you say "I'm coming ".  The 'now now' means I am coming back within fifteen minutes to a half hour.  'I'm coming now' gives the person about an hours time frame, and if they simple say 'I'm coming' it means that they will come back at some point during the day!

Neh?: This is very similar to the Canadian, “eh”. It is used to qualify or verify information or to make sure that the listener understood the speaker's intention.  If I am talking to someone and I want to make sure that I understood correctly then I will say "You are going to town to get some food, neh?"  Then she can answer yes or no to verify that I have heard her correctly.  It can also be used just to add emphasis to the end of a sentence.  

Izit?: In Afrikaans, which also heavily influences Namlish, it is very common to verify a statement with 'izit?'.  I think at home we would say 'is that true', 'really, I didn't know that', or 'I've never heard that before'. Daryl has adopted this well, sometimes too well! Also, “so?” (pronounced “Tsoe” but the “o” is held for about a second) is a variation on this.

Of course this is just a small sample of some of the language differences and who knows what you will hear coming from our mouths! I need to give credit to Kimmie, who wrote the outline of this entry initially to her friends and family so she did the bulk of the work!

To view some pictures of some random signs taken in Namibia click here:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Death and Dying in Northern Namibia

We have been overwhelmed with the pervasiveness of death throughout our time in Rundu. In North America, the death of someone we know is a shocking but thankfully rare occurrence: here, death confronts us unrelentingly. Almost every week, the church choir has been at some sort of memorial service or other in the community, and we have often felt the suffocation of grief that shrouds the community.

We attended a memorial service and burial for the first time last weekend: one of the cooks in the OVC program became sick suddenly and died, which came as a heavy blow to us all. When someone dies here, the proper things is to go and sit with the family at their home and grieve with them. In the time leading up to the burial, someone is always around the family, sometimes simply just sitting alongside them.

The night of the memorial service, a tent-like structure was erected in the midst of the family's yard, and many hundreds of people had crammed in. A friend of ours instructed us as to what was culturally sensitive and required of us, such as paying respects to the father and mother of the deceased. The night was filled with histories and sermons, and many many, songs. When someone dies in the community, choirs from the surrounding churches come, and so boundaries are erased in the face of grief. At many points, different mourners would break down into hysterical wailing, and there were lumps in our throats as we participated with them in their grief. While we returned home after the service, most people stayed the entire night, singing songs and waiting with the family.

The next day was a Sunday and we all reconvened at 8am for the funeral service. The choirs met the “hearse” (a pickup truck with a canopy) which had brought the body from the hospital, and the casket was carried the final 500m into the church on the shoulders of the singing choir. We were amazed at the numbers of people who had gathered for the funeral, several times the capacity of the church. Again, 8 different choirs from different churches had shown up, this time from a wider geographical area, all bringing a song or two as there contribution to the mourning. Each would wait patiently outside the church until it was their time, then would squeeze into the packed building through a side door and sing their songs, then exit to make way for the next choir. After the service, we all accompanied the casket to the local graveyard and said final farewells. We were told that many would be accompanying the family back to their home to spend more time with them sitting and grieving.

Other reminders of death happen nearly daily. When we arrive at the hospital at 8 am, we are usually met by a caravan of vehicles coming from the mortuary, with singing choirs in cars following the released body as the hearse drives slowly to wherever the final destination is.

Another haunting notifier of death heard much too frequently in the halls of the hospital is a “death wail”. This unmistakeable designation of tragedy comes from yet another mother walking/stumbling to the hospital exit from the pediatric ward, sobbing and lamenting spasmodically as she flees the news that her child has just died.

Children die in Namibia at obscene rates, from diseases that should be treatable or preventable. The statistics from 2007 showed that 24,000 children died in Namibia of malnutrition, which is especially shocking when one considers the population of Namibia is only 1.8 million. Many people still look on western medicine with suspicion, and will try all sorts of traditional medicines before coming to the hospital. The patient is usually on death's door and usually has had their conditions aggravated by traditional remedies, but if the patient dies while in the hospital, it reinforces the idea that western medicine is to blame or has failed. We have spoken with many frustrated hospital staff who wish people would seek help when it was needed, not after every other avenue was explored.

Life is hard and altogether too short here in Rundu.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Broken Foot

A few weeks ago while playing soccer with the boys at OVC program, Daryl broke a bone in his foot. We were able to get an X-ray quite quickly, but there was some uncertainty with the image so we drove the next day to the capital city, Windhoek, to get a CT scan and the advice of an orthopaedic surgeon. The results were that the 1st metatarsal was fractured in too many pieces to perform surgery, so that rest and time was the only option for treatment. We were relieved to avoid surgery.

The sight of a white guy on crutches hiking through the sand is one that elicits a lot of curiosity and attention. The first few days Daryl was wearing an Aircast, and he might as well have been from outer-space. We were able to switch to a much-lighter fibreglass cast for the next couple of weeks, and the entire cast is now covered with signatures of the kids.