This blog post will be more of a comparison blog. How things are different in the US as opposed to Namibia….let me know what you think.
Traffic: It’s crazy in the US, right? In this vast country of 2+ million people, there are only about 200,000+ cars on the road. For a country the size of California doubled, you can imagine how long you can drive without seeing another car. That doesn’t mean they don’t have traffic jams or accidents here. In big cities like Windhoek, the capital, the congestion is as bad as I’ve ever seen it anywhere in the world. Accidents occur out in the bush all the time because of wild animals and drivers doing stupid things (no different than the US).
Public transportation: Available some places more than others in the US. In Namibia there is a train and the trip from Keetmanshoop to Windhoek (500km-a 5 hour drive) takes about 12 hours unless the train stops randomly for long periods of time, then the trip is longer. There are also a few buses that traverse the length of the country called “Intercape buses”. The buses are fairly expensive but safe. Riding on the train and the buses are the only means of transportation that are safe at night. Then there is the ever present “Combie” (Pronounced coombee). This is a van that holds anywhere from 9 to 16 people. To find a combie ride I have to go to the “hike point” in that community and the hike points are different depending on the direction you want to hike. So, for example, if I am in Windhoek and want to travel south by Combie, I go to “Rhino Park” and find a Combie going south to negotiate a seat and a price. I won’t be able to find a Combie going to Aus, so I will get one going to Keetmanshoop, and once I have arrived in Keetmanshoop I must go to the Puma Gas Station and find a “hike” to Aus. Probably the most time consuming part of “hiking” is that once you find a ride, they won’t just leave, they wait until their car or combie is completely full before they will leave. And, if they get a better offer to go somewhere else, they will tell you to get out and make your way with someone else. It can be very frustrating at times but can also be an adventure. My biggest challenge is getting a hike from Aus to Keetmanshoop or to Luderitz. I’ve been very fortunate in that the medical transport drivers will usually save me room in their vans or ambulances if they know I need a ride. Many people rely on taxis in towns and cities but there aren’t taxi’s where I live.
Drivers Licenses: There are no traditional drivers education classes in schools here but there are a few ways to get help from a “consultant” when learning how to drive. You have to be 18 to attempt the drivers test so most people who do it get the book and study so they can pass the written test. Once they have done that, they have to “practice” driving with a licensed driver for any length of time between one week and 18 months (the length the learners permit is valid). Any time during that period, they have to go back to do the driving portion of the test. If they pass that portion, they receive their license BUT if they want to carry people in their cars, they must get a PDP (Public Drivers Permit). This entails having a medical exam, eye test, and a criminal check and needless to say it takes a while to complete this process. Only a small percentage of Namibians have their drivers licenses. None of the people who work at the clinic know how to drive and they are shocked that I can drive.
Education: This is one of the systems that is so very different from the US system. There are public and private schools here but the private school students have to take the same public school exams. The school year runs from Jan. until Nov basically broken into trimesters. Primary school is grades Pre-primary through 7 and Secondary school is grades 8-12. It is required by law to attend school until age 18 although my observations have noted that nothing happens if you are not in school at any age. Beginning in grade 4 all of the standard exams are given in English because it is the national language. In grade 1 students must pass 2 of their subjects to move on to the following grade. In grade 4 students must pass 4 of their subjects to move on to the next grade. In grade 9 students must pass 6 of their subjects to move on. If you do not pass the required number of subjects, you repeat the grade. Also, for those students who do not pass grade 10, they usually just stop going to school. There is a bit more confusion for me in that if you are in grade 5 for example and you pass 2 of your subjects with high enough marks, you can still move on to the next grade even though you have not passed 4 subjects but one of those subjects passed must be English. And, basically the grading scale is that A’s and B’s are 50-100, C’s and D’s are 23-50 and failing is below 23. Once a student has reached the 12th grade, if they have done well with A’s and B’s, then the government will pay for their college education. They will pay tuition and give them a living allowance. If a student has finished grade 12 but did not do as well on the exams (still passing) then the student can still go to college either paying for it with their parents help or maybe getting a corporation to help. The mining companies are really interested in those who excel in the sciences or accounting for example.The students get a “certificate” when they finish grade 12. If they have not passed 6 of their exams they will still get a “certificate” but it will show what their scores are so future employers will see how well they did or did not do in each subject.
Health Care: I won’t even comment on US Health Care! In Namibia the public health care system is widely used by a large portion of the population because of the high poverty rate. The cost to go to the clinic to see a nurse or a Dr. is N$4.00 which is less than .40 US cents. If a public patient cannot pay, they are seen anyway. If a private patient comes to the clinic it cost them N$60.00 which is less than $6.00 US Dollars. There are clinics all over the country that are overseen by hospitals in that district. For example, Aus is in the Luderitz District in the //Karas Region. The Doctors from Luderitz answer the nurses questions and make the decisions if it is not a routine sickness. If they think a patient needs to be hospitalized, or to be seen by a Dr., they will have the nurse arrange transportation and appointments for the patient. If there is anything serious, the patients almost always have to travel to Windhoek for care so there is medical transportation to and from Windhoek every week, sometimes many times a week. Some clinics have Dr’s who work at the clinic but Aus does not because it is such a small community. The Dr’s do come to the Aus clinic about once a month. Our facility has 2 nurses, 2 HIV Counselors, 1 Community Health Assistant and 1 Cleaner. This clinic services about 1,300 people in and around Aus. All medications are free here. There is a high prevalence of HIV, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and malnutrition all over this vast country.
Groceries and food: Many small communities do not have grocery stores but they might have little markets that sell basic items at higher costs. So unless you live in a town or city with grocery stores, getting food is a daily challenge. It requires resources for the “hike” to and from a town with a grocery store as well as resources for the groceries. Many people will get help from combie drivers who regularly travel to larger areas to pick up a few things here and there. In a settlement like Aus, the government will drive around every once and a while in large trucks and give away canned fish or maize meal to those who need it. And even though food is challenging to have at times, the philosophy here is if you have a meal and someone stops by, you share, even if you don’t have enough to share. Everyone just takes smaller portions. There have been many, many times when someone stops by my flat to chat and will say “I’m hungry, what do you have that I can eat?” I make my own bread and I usually have butter or peanut butter so that is what they get. One day a visitor asked that question and I let her cut her own pieces of bread and spread the butter on her bread to discover later that she ate almost all of the bread and finished my butter. Completely finished it. That is normal here. Another difference is that many of the soups and stews will have large pieces of meat still on the bone and when eating the meat, we eat the meat with our hands making sure there is not a morsel of meat left on that bone. When a goat is slaughtered for a braai (cookout), every single piece of that goat is used except for the hide. Nothing goes to waste. One of the staples here is called Pap, or porridge. It is made out of maize meal and depending on what meal it is for it will be flavored or served with different things. For breakfast, my host family during training made Pap and loaded it with sugar and milk. For dinner it would be regular Pap served with some sort of meat and meat sauce that we would pick up the pap in our hands and dip into the meat sauce for flavor. Pap by itself has very little flavor or nutritional value although it is very filling.
Electricity: If a house has electricity, there is a box inside the house with a meter on the box. To have electricity, people have to go to the settlement office to purchase whatever dollar amount they can afford and they are given little slips of paper with a number that they have to punch into their metered box. That number will only work in that persons house. Then the person can monitor how much electricity so they will know when to buy more. When it runs out, they must go back to the settlement office to purchase more. If it happens over a weekend or holiday, they must wait until the office opens again.
This is enough for now. I’ve put off loading this onto the website for far too long.
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, Christmas and that 2016 proves to be all that you hope for! I had dinner at the US Ambassadors house for Thanksgiving with 8 other Peace Corps Volunteers, the PC Country Director, the Program Manager and the Financial Manager. It was a huge spread that we were all very thankful for. The Ambassador and his wife were extremely kind and welcoming. For Christmas I had 6 Peace Corps Volunteers come to my flat so we cooked a big Christmas Eve meal (I even found a turkey to cook), sang carols and generally had a good time. On Christmas day we were all invited to my friends (Karin and Steve) house for a big lunch. We sang American Christmas Carols for them and again had a wonderful day of fellowship. While a few of my PC friends were here we had the opportunity to go visit Orange River and Fish River Canyon. Magnificent views....google them. Fish River Canyon is supposed to be the second largest Canyon in the world falling right behind the Grand Canyon.
Thanks for reading!
“The years tell a story the days never knew” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here’s hoping that 2016 tells a story worth repeating!