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Musings

Posted by on March 21, 2016

I’ve been working so much during the week that I never have the energy to write a blog entry at the end of the day. Plus, I don’t believe that my daily activities warrant a play-by-play description of what I’m doing; I think most people would find it rather boring, because, quite frankly, some of it is. Instead, I’ll just try to recap some things of note and focus on things that I think other people will find interesting.

Last weekend I went running by myself for the first time. On Saturday morning I did an 8 mile run to the Zambian border. It’s kind of crazy to think that I can run to another country from where I am staying. In California, I have to drive at least three hours to get to another state! I didn’t want to try taking pictures of the border post from too close a distance, just in case someone didn’t like it, but here’s a distance shot.

2016-03-12 07.22.34

On my run back, I heard the pounding of feet behind me and saw two guys racing to catch up with me. One of them looked like a legit runner, with track pants and a warm up jacket that had some football (i.e. soccer) team’s logo on it. That guy ran very quickly until he was about 10 yards ahead of me but on the opposite side of the street then he slowed down. Sometimes I don’t understand guy’s egos.

However, the other guy was amazing: he was running in, I kid you not, dress pants, a button-down shirt, vest, and dress shoes!! Fancy dress guy caught up with me but could only keep pace for a few hundred yards before he ran out of breath and stopped. The other guy stayed just ahead of me until we came to the major intersection where he stopped and I kept going.

Katima really only has two major roads. On one road you can either go to Zamiba (4 km away) or Botswana (60 km away). The other road goes through town and features two traffic lights and most of the shops and restaurants. There’s one other paved road on which the hospital lies; other wise the smaller roads in town are dirt and the potholes are getting really bad with all of the rain.

The weekends are pretty quiet here. Most people go to church on Sunday. Almost all of the shops close at 1 pr 2 pm on Saturday and may or may not be open on Sunday. The grocery store is open and you can go to an ATM but otherwise you might be out of luck until Monday. There are no deliveries over the weekend so grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon will have the least selection available.

Everyone gets paid at the end of the month, just like in South Africa, and I’ve already been warned to not try to go to the bank, ATM, or grocery shopping/shopping in general around that time because everything will be packed. Most people live from paycheck to paycheck and when they have money they go and spend it. Apparently, it is not uncommon for someone to run out of money near the end of the month and not have airtime for their phone or have much to eat other than maize meal until they get paid. Even our staff, who are paid well for the area, sometimes share lunches because someone can’t afford to even bring food from home that day.

Namibia has over 300 days of sunshine a year, but don’t let that fool you: those are actually some of the worst days because even when the temperature is only in the 80s or so, the sun is really strong and it always feels a lot hotter. When someone says, “It’s nice weather today” they mean that it is cloudy and will probably rain. I find this funny because it’s the opposite of everywhere else I’ve lived.

The terrain is very flat here and the roads are straight but you have to be careful while driving because you never know when there will be cattle, goats or dogs in the road. Every day when we go out to the field or return, we always have to slow down for at least one of those animals. And sometimes they are not in a hurry to cross.

There’s a sign on the roadside that indicates you should look out for elephants. Kate has seen one right next to the road, not too far from town but I haven’t yet. I keep my eye out and fingers crossed every time though.

Work is pretty hectic during the week and when your in the field there’s no internet access so it can feel overwhelming to get back in the evening, quite tired from the sun and dehydration, then get a few dozen work-related emails. The weekend is a good time to catch up with all of those things though, because there’s not much else going on. I just finished reading an 850 page book that I only started after I left home. Good thing I have another one and my kindle!

Women in the villages where we visit tend to dress more traditionally than men. For women this means a T-shirt or rarely a tank top with a piece of cloth wrapped as a skirt that falls between their calves and ankles. Men wear shorts, jeans, or other pants with T-shirts. Out of respect for the culture, whenever we are in the field, I wear a long skirt or sometimes wrap a sarong around my waist over my pants. Our team shirts are red polos with logos on the front and back. It’s not very flattering attire and even the small polo is far too big for me. It’s hot no matter what so even if I were dressed differently I think I would still be sweating buckets. One day I drank 2.3 liters of water and still didn’t pee for 8 hours.

Since some of the cases we are following up with live 130 km or more away, we started one of the teams camping during the week so they don’t have to drive back and forth every day. This saves a lot of time and money and really takes a load off of the drivers who end up working the longest days. Let me explain what “camping” means in this situation. People do sleep in tents, but they are not what you are probably picturing in your mind: they are heavy canvas dome tents large enough for an average person to stand up in. What I would consider a 4 person tent is considered a 1 or maybe 2 person tent here (in a sparsely populated country, people like their space). They have 4-inch thick foam mats to sleep on and everyone brings their own quilt. The camping team is provided with cooking equipment, a two burner stove, and fuel and they camp at whichever clinic is closest to where they are working. The clinics have electricity so they can charge things, running water and showers, and bathroom facilities. They sometimes bring their own laptops and watch movies in the evenings. One of the nurses also let’s people sleep at her house since she has several spare bedrooms. Plus everyone who camps gets a per diem on top of their usual salary. Overall, it’s not a bad deal and the camping is pretty lux; the only downside is that sometimes it rains and things get damp for a few hours. We have the teams camping from Monday until Friday, but Kate says that on other projects, people would camp for months at a time.

It’s hard to supervise the camping team when they are so far from the office and there is so much else to do every day, which is probably the biggest downside from my end. It is especially difficult now because the third study vehicle (a large Land Rover) has been in Windhoek for routine maintenance and to have a roof rack attached. No one is sure when it will be returned. It is an 8 hour drive from Windhoek to Katima so I’m sure no one at Land Rover really wants to bring the vehicle back up here, but theoretically this barrier should be eliminated at some point.

I finally got added as a driver on the rental study vehicle so now I have access to a car after work and on weekends. It is a Toyota Hilux 4X4 with cap and it is huge! It’s also a manual and the steering wheel is on the right hand side of vehicles here so the first evening driving was bit nerve wracking. It also didn’t help that there was heavy traffic in town (and by heavy traffic I mean there were cars on the road and you might have to wait to pull out of a driveway). But I made it from the office to my B&B without getting lost, stalling, or hitting anything so I consider it successful.

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