Namib-Naukluft Hike

Recently I did the 8 day Namib-Naukluft hike with 9 other Peace Corps volunteers.  It was the longest backpacking trip of my life so far and I learned a lot about hiking, packing, eating, shoes, etc.  Unfortunately I learned my hiking boots are too small, but my friend Dan saved my LIFE by letting me use his backup trail shoes.  The Namib desert is the oldest desert in the world.  The sites and geology were stunning.  I feel so lucky to have lived in a country with such diverse landscapes. We woke up at 5am everyday and were on the trail by 06h15.  We averaged 14-17km/day and were usually done by 1 or 2pm.  Breakfast was oatmeal, lunch was tuna wraps and biltong, and dinner was some combination of pasta or cous-cous and soup.  I had a wonderful experience and enjoyed making the trek with good friends.





















The top of the plateau was riddled with this… Exposure and erosion grinding down to reveal what’s inside.  



Gratitude Lately

Lately I have been thankful for world map projects,


Eric and I tracing border outlines with the “help” of a projector.  Two problems: 1) The projector went out of focus every five seconds, so we had to speed trace during moments of clarity; 2) We realized after some time that the image was gradually shifting left.  Luckily there were no serious misconfigurations.  


Some of Dan’s students who came to help.  When we first primed this wall last year, the principal sent all boys to help.  It was a disaster.  No matter how much instruction we gave, the end result was the same: Jackson Pollack-like splatter on the floors and desks.  I remember thinking, “If only he had sent girls… how careful and attentive they would be.”  Fast forward to the actual painting of the map and I learned my lesson.  This time we did have girls, and they were the ones that got caught painting their names on the outside wall when they were supposed to be cleaning the brushes.  


The crew, plus fellow PCVs Ally and Alex who showed up at the end for an Easter weekend visit. 


Dan with the finished product.

for the chance to get out of the office and collaborate with a friend for a friend,


Eric is my site mate in Ongwediva and a fellow business volunteer.  One of the friends we  made playing basketball asked if we could help her with her business plan so we decided to meet up at a cafe in town to go through it.  We spent two and a half hours on financial projections and drafting recommendations and ideas for Low.  Low has a really great business idea related to the medical services industry, so it was a treat for Eric and I to be involved and get to contribute.  Coffee and carrot cake definitely sweetened the deal.

for a night spent in the village with family and friends,


During the long Easter weekend I FINALLY made it out to my colleague, Dave’s, village (Onamwege).  Tate Dave (the man standing with the hat on) is like my Namibian father and his family has become my family here.  He and his wife, Else, are best friends with the two couples seated on the left.  They are pictured here with the village headman and his wife who stopped by to pay a visit.


The homestead had a beautiful fence.  If you look closely you can see the green mahangu through the top of the door.


Helping to corral chickens for dinner.  I am the weak link in this picture, as my skittishness prevented me from acting as a serious barrier to any bird.  


I chose the least graphic photo here.  Sorry if it offends.  The guys slaughtering another goat. I have a strong appreciation for the fact that Namibians are very in touch with where their food comes from (they grow it and raise it themselves) and what preparation is required to get it on a plate (they do their own harvesting, killing, and cleaning).  If you have read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, then you are aware of how disconnected Americans are from the source of their food.


Selfies with Tunga, my three-year old bestie. In the time that I have known her, Tunga has gone from speaking no English to speaking English exclusively.  We all get a kick out of her vocabulary, accent, and the instances in which she is forced to revert to mother tongue because she can’t say what she wants to.


Late afternoon.  In the foreground is Mr. Rio, the lone boy child of the weekend.  I think every one of the girls present that weekend came up crying at least once and said with trembling lip, “Mr. Rio bit meeeeee.”  The party always follows the shade, so you end up in different parts of the homestead throughout the day.

for loving colleagues that give you sweets,


This is Meme Leticia, one of our accountants at the school.  She is one of my favorite colleagues to mess with and a beloved friend.  Last year our finance department was severely understaffed and there was a period in which they were preparing for auditors that Meme Leticia would see me coming and start to shake her head.  “Aye Meme Sarah, I don’t want to talk to you today.  I don’t have time for jokes and funny stories.”

for wedding announcements and “wi-li-li-li-ing,”


Last month I was sitting with a colleague and she said, “My sister, even though you didn’t invite me I still want to tell you congratulations.” Cue the confusion.  “Meme, aye, it’s not like that, I haven’t formally invited anyone to my wedding yet.  A few people have asked about the logistics of coming but I haven’t invited some and not others.”  “No, my sister, it’s fine. I still want to congratulate you.”  Eeeeewaaaaaa (Ok), that’s when I realized it was time for THE ANNOUNCEMENT!!!!!!! Weddings here are a free-f0r-all event.  Literally, they put a white flag at the top of a tree and anyone can show up to eat and drink.  It is customary to announce your wedding at your place of work, so I posted a copy of Benjamin and I’s save the date and a tongue in cheek note to accompany it.


Hedwig and I.


My note was inspired by a text message I received on Valentines Day that said this: “Dear friends, family, colleagues, lover, and everyone who knows and love me.  I’m here to inform you that I am ready to receive any valentine gifts e.g. cards, flowers, airtime, wine, jewelry or anything that you wish to give me…I wl only receive them from today until the 14th of this month…NB: No late gifts will b accepted. Thank you very much!”  To translate my note, I said we are prepared to receive gifts such as “ondjove (the traditional marula nut cooking oil), chickens, cows, phone credit and candy.  You can send them to us by plane to America. Peace and love.”

and for weekend adventures with my Peace Corps cronies.


This is Ruacana Falls, situated on the border with Angola.  The Ruacana power plant supplies energy to a large swath of the country and because of the dam this water fall is not always quite so majestic.  We were lucky to find it in full force.


These are some of my best friends (from L to R): Eric, Linnea, Me, Jaime, and Dan.  After trekking down a loonnnnnnnng flight of crumbling concrete stairs, we stumbled upon the OLD and ABANDONED power plant.  It was super cool.


All sorts of interesting features and signatures to explore.


A glimpse of the Kunene River through the window. 


On our way back to the campsite we stopped for a beer and meet these new friends.  It always feels weird when people want to take pictures with you because you are white.  Even though that piece of the puzzle perplexes me, I have come to love (obviously) the Namibian photo shoot, which always entails at least 15 photos and poses.


Here’s to gratitude and how it turns everything into enough.  As my time in Namibia dwindles, I have to try extra hard to appreciate and cherish all the wonderful things about my life here and not focus on the encroaching sadness I feel.



My “spots”

Last week I read an article about the public outcry faced after running the following ad:


I’ve always loved my freckles.  In fact, so much so that my dad credits me with teaching him to love HIS freckles more.  Growing up I welcomed the summer sun and resented winter for diminishing my freckles’ visibility and number.

Living in sub-Saharan Africa, however, has a way of making you take skin care more seriously.  The sun crisps here; you literally feel its rays singeing your body.  There’s also the issue that most people don’t know what your freckles are and why you have them….

Here are the comments I’m most accustomed to hearing from colleagues, friends, and strangers:

“What was it that destroyed your skin?”

“How did your skin get ruined?”

“Why do you have those spots?”

Sometimes I venture into genetics and melanin.  Other times I just shrug my shoulders.  At all times, there is at least one concerned bystander asking me where my umbrella or hat is and telling me I should really start wearing long sleeves.

On the Importance of Shade Trees

I wanted to share the article I just finished from today’s paper: DTA ‘meeting tree’ cut down. Like I’ve said before, in Namibia shade is everything. My colleagues cars are congregated beneath the school’s trees daily. I often get invited to parties and when I ask where they will take place am told, “Beneath some tree there.” If you don’t skim the article I included, the basic gist is that the opposition party is upset because they think their meeting tree was cut down as an act of political sabotage.  Not cool.  Literally.

I don’t think I will ever appreciate the shade of a tree more than I have during my time in Namibia.


Wildebeests lounging in the shade on the edge of the Etosha pan. December 2015


International Women’s Day

I wasn’t planning on writing anything for International Women’s Day.  In fact, until my colleague said something this morning, I wasn’t even aware that it was today.  As I have been for many days recently, I was largely preoccupied with my masters thesis and how behind I am (reminder: I am a part of Peace Corps’ Masters International program and will hopefully complete my degree in Public and International Affairs in the upcoming fall semester).

Fast forward to this afternoon.  I went out to print some pictures and when I came back I ran into one of my former welding classmates, Ju.


Ju is on the far right.  Solid guy and the best welder in our class.

Ju used the preferential points his completion of evening short courses conferred to him for long-term enrollment and is currently training in the Joinery and Cabinet Making (JCM) trade’s afternoon session. Because he loved welding so much, and because the two trades seem wonderfully complementary to me, I figured he must be enjoying his new classes.  Much to my surprise, when I asked him how he was liking the new gig he replied:

No man, I don’t want to be doing women’s work.

And thus the reason I decided to write a post for International Women’s Day!

You see (if you’ve seen an uptick in my use of this phrase’s, it’s because it is used ALL THE TIME in Oshiwambo…”ou wete, neeee”), when I asked him why he felt that way about JCM Ju said, “There are so many ladies there.  And a lot of measuring.”  Which interestingly enough is one of the reasons why I love our schools JCM workshop SO MUCH.

The JCM workshop at Valombola VTC is overseen by a team of three trainers, two of whom are female (pictured below). Meme Lavinia Uupindi (right) was the FIRST female graduate of the school.  To me she is legendary–the queen of Valombola!  Side note: they are posing with a board my fellow PCV Daniel wants cut in the workshop.  He is making a Namibian version of the popular board game Settlers of Catan and diligently measured out all the pieces we need to do it.


As I feel my body succumbing to the afternoon heat and my brain suggesting a tea break, let me jump mental train tracks and take the chance to write about how this involves my masters thesis. Although I am seriously behind, I have picked a topic and decided to investigate how gender influences vocational education and training (VET) outputs (i.e. number of male/female trainees in the various trades) and labor market outcomes (i.e. differential wages, terms of employment, opportunities for self-employment, and participation in the formal or informal sectors).

Linked with adequate employment opportunities, VET can assist people in expanding their skills, raising their productivity and increasing their personal incomes, thereby leading to overall raised living standards and stronger, more competitive economies (UNESCO, 2008).

This quote reflects why policy makers, at least in sub-Saharan Africa, are increasingly paying attention to the role VET should play in combatting unemployment and poverty.  In the newly adopted sustainable development goals (SDGs), three of the education sub-targets involve VET (4.3-4.5).  But the education attainment piece is only one part of the puzzle.  VET is also being recognized as a big part of goal 8, the “[promotion of] sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” ( The interdependence of these two components is a key strategic focus in the international development arena moving forward.

But back to women. Despite sub-targets involving gender equity in both the education and economic goals, a lack of attention is paid to the role gender plays in mediating the “school-to-work” transition.  Meaning, the Ministry of Education will continue to promote gender parity in VET enrollment numbers, but what happens to our male and female trainees once they graduate?  Occupational segregation exists in Namibia, as it does around the world.  Does the Ministry of Trade and Industry seek counsel from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare on how to properly recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work?

Further, why does UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for VET, not include SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” as an equally important interdependence to account for in their 2016-2020 strategic plan? Despite the fact that my school has an impressive number of female trainees enrolled in our plumbing and pipefitting trade, I suspect there are not many plumbing and pipefitting companies owned by our female trainees after they graduate…

And so I want to take the oft-used investigative lens of gender and apply it to the under-studied context of vocational training and its consequential employment prospects.  I’m happy because this aligns well with one of the last projects I will be working on before I leave Namibia: implementing tracer studies of the graduates of Valombola VTC.

Oh, and a final note to end on.  I was further perplexed how Ju could possibly feel the way he did about joinery as a craft/trade because I watched this video on my lunch break: The Birth of a Wooden House. Out of this world.



Hot Flashes

Contrary to what the title may have led you to believe, this post is about BASKETBALL… And my weekend. I traveled to Windhoek to play in a 3 v 3 tournament with some friends. Unbeknownst to me (due to my recent absence from the incessant group chatter on WhatsApp) my teammates had decided our team name would be the “Hot Flashes.” I might be off base, but I think for most Americans the first thought this conjures is menopause.

Not so for Namibians. I asked my colleague what the first thing that came to her mind was when I told her our team name. She said:

Like, hey, you guys are fire! Like dangerous!

A good reminder of the subtleties of language and influence of culture.

Anyway, our team was anything but hot. I sprained my thumb in the second game, Esther developed uncontrollably shaky hands, Laina suffered an elbow to the face, and Eden endured a shoulder injury, asthma attack, and fainting spell. The basketball gods were not kind to the Hot Flashes.

Despite the setbacks and losing in the semis, it was still a weekend well spent with good friends and in the pursuit of a shared passion for the sport of basketball.



Proud to be an American ?/!

One of the things I hoped my Peace Corps experience would help me to do is transition from being a self-conscious United States citizen to a self-aware United States citizen. The difference of one word but a massive shift in identity. You see, I’m naturally disposed to criticize all the things about my country that make me cringe: mass incarceration (Please read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness), corporate greed, an arrogant sense of American exceptionalism, and so forth.

Tracking current events from home while living in Namibia has been at times painful and bewildering. What do you say to someone when they ask you why your country loves guns so much after hearing about the shooting in Charleston? How can you possibly defend your country’s “greatness” when innocent black Americans are getting shot in the back while running for their lives? Namibia, formerly under the rule of South Africa, is a country navigating post-apartheid race relations. I never expected that so many stories of the fear, brutality, and systemic control my fellow countrymen and women are sharing from home would echo those of my colleagues’ from Namibia.

Then Donald Trump decided to run for president. Oof. For the first time in my life I’ve entertained the possibility of mass conspiracy; it’s not possible for someone to lead the polls by showering the nation with vitriol and employing dog-whistle politics (thank you Scandal for introducing me to this concept).

In “The Empathy Exams,” Leslie Jamison writes about living in Latin America as a US citizen:

For starters, there was the question of history. Which wasn’t my fault, exactly, but did make me involved. The history was studded with absurdities: the Contra War, the arms scandal, Reagan everything. Bush everything. Omar recited the best bits of Bush’s debates with Hugo Chavez–Chavez, still something of a hero in that country–and I laughed louder than anyone.  I hated Bush too.  I needed them to know that.

I share not to take a stance on any former presidents, but simply to identify with her experience of desperately wanting to show sympathy with the critical perspective. I share because I roll my eyes harder than advisable every time a Namibian asks me what I think about Donald Trump.

But back to my opening statement. THIS is something I’m trying to change. Not that I want to be disingenuous or tolerate bigotry, but rather that I can hold my country’s greatest failures and biggest successes at once.

Police brutality and entrenched bi-partisanship distress me deeply.  But, I’m proud of our education system; grateful for the leadership opportunities afforded to me as a girl child; appreciative that it doesn’t take four hours to pick up a package from the USPS; and thankful for the comparatively safe driving conditions on our roads (accidents in Namibia are horrifying–in both intensity and frequency).

Living here is helping me make the transition to awareness. It’s making me realize how much self-consciousness is a function of privilege.  Jamison, in a different essay, writes about the guilt she feels when doing a “gang tour” in LA:

Your own embarrassment lingers. Maybe moral outrage is just the culmination of an insoluble lingering.  So prepare yourself to live in it for a while.  Hydrate for the ride.  The great shame of your privilege is a hot blush the whole time.  The truth of this place is infinite and irreducible, and self-reflexive anguish might feel like the only thing you can offer in return.  It might be hard to hear anything above the clattering machinery of your guilt. Try to listen anyway.

In listening to my friends and colleagues, I’ve learned much about the ways in which Namibians outdo Americans. I’ve also learned that I come from a pretty awesome place that I should feel proud to call home.

Transplanting rice

This past Saturday I went to the University of Namibia’s agriculture campus in Ogongo to help transplant rice. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is sponsoring the project and partnering with UNAM Ogongo and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to develop flood- and drought-adaptive mixed cropping system of rice and mahangu (the pearl millet staple of this region). My housemate, Mr. Takao, recently and tragically returned to Japan but left a slew of new JICA friends in his wake. Two of them, Kenta and Shogo, are posted with the Rice-Mahangu project and remembered my expressed interest in transplanting when the time came around.

What a neat, new experience! After getting stuck and almost falling into the water, I ditched my boots and opted for bare feet. The paddy is divided into columns by rope and each rope contains markers that indicate where one should plant the rows. A final measure to ensure equidistance is a simple pole with 5 tape points to guide you as you implant each individual seedling into the silky mud.


It was clear from the beginning that I would not finish my column first. My perfectionism did not aid itself to “jumping right in,” and I must have asked “is this ok?” at least 20 times! 


Making progress…and repping the Dunking Deutschman.


After finishing we feasted on sushi…and I promptly fell asleep for two hours. Great company, I know. In 100 days we will go back to harvest so stay tuned for Part 2!

Gratitude Lately

Lately I’ve been thankful for spunky and adorable puppy-warthog hybrids,


Meet Zebo, my friend Sarah Rosen’s dog. He lives with her in the Zambezi region and is a transplant from the Damara Location in Katutura. He has the most bizarre mane and prominent whiskers, but I really think he is the cutest dog around.


For excavator repair adventures deep in the bush,


I tagged along with Sarah’s friend, Christoph, for a repair job at a village about an hour away from Katima. The excavator was functioning properly but the air-conditioner was broken in the cab. Without AC the windows and doors had to be left open and dust was a problem.   


But first, find the shade.


Blue skies and baobab trees.


No, this is not a joke. I got to operate this behemoth and what a treat it was. Holy hydraulics…

For sundowners with cold beer,


Not pictured: never ending swarm of termites vacating their underground home to take to the skies. 


Christoph and Sarah

For the superzoom on my camera that allowed to peep the kids fetching water from the Angola side of the Zambezi River,



For celebrating THANKSGIVING TWICE!,


Eric teaching Faith about the wishbone. Eric, Linnea, and I hosted my Namibian family for American Thanksgiving. It was really fun to teach them about the holiday and its traditions as they have only seen it played out in Hollywood movies.  


The week before I dispatched Eric to Ondangwa where there had been whispers of turkeys by another volunteer. This was the first turkey Eric ever prepared and he smashed it out of the park. 


Part 2. The next day we hosted PC Volunteers from the area as we were all traveling to the capitol the next day for a conference.  Here is Eric, as the temporary Man of the House, cutting his SECOND turkey. It was even better than the first. 


With all of the Americans on hand, the second day’s food was much better. Here you can glimpse the spread.


Funny story… Halfway through preparations for the FIRST dinner on Saturday (try to stick with me, here), my gas tank ran out leaving my stove top and oven completely useless.  Luckily I found a crew of women using our industrial size hostel kitchen to prepare for a wedding and was able to secure the use of an oven and the keys for the following day. As luck would have it, thirty minutes after we put in the turkey for our SECOND dinner on Sunday, there was a city wide power outage, rending the electric stove and oven completely useless, too.  Fortunately I had purchased an inflatable pool the day before so we spent a few hours lounging and waiting for the electricity to come back on.  After about four hours, we resigned ourselves to the fate of a powerless Thanksgiving preparation and some people went to buy wood. We would try to do everything over open flame. JUST as the coals came into their own the power came back on….around 6:30pm. Needless to say, we did not eat until 9:30pm.  But it was so worth it and enjoyable with such a laid back crew. 

For the chance to catch up with one of my favorites,

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.05.12 PM

I am an unashamed super fan of Lindsay Lewis Teeters. We worked together for two years at Virginia Tech and she is one of my favorite people. Unbeknownst to me, Lindsay took these screen shots of our conversation. From left to right: 1) me in disbelief at seeing her face for the first time in 6 months; 2) generally ecstatic to be hearing about her life; 3) uncontrollably laughing for who knows what reason…

and for a successful Halloween party filled with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle power and love.


L to R: Dan, Me, Mr. Takao, Linnea, and Eric. We were the TMNT with my roommate as the supremely wise Splinter. How did you manage that green body paint you say? Well, quite easily with body lotion and green food coloring. Getting the green OFF of our bodies, the floors, and walls was a different story….

Here’s to gratitude and how it turns everything into enough.  Much love from my side.