Difference between revisions of "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Namibia"
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Revision as of 06:56, 21 May 2014
- 1 Communications
- 2 Mail
- 3 Telephones
- 4 Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
- 5 Housing and Site Location
- 6 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 7 Food and Diet
- 8 Transportation
- 9 Geography and Climate
- 10 Social Activities
- 11 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 12 Personal Safety
- 13 Rewards and Frustrations
People in Namibia communicate through a variety of means, including mail (called “post”), fax, e-mail, telephone or cellphone, and radio.
The postal system is reliable, but service to the more remote communities is often slow. Mail from the United States to Windhoek, the capital, can take up to four weeks. From there, it could take two more weeks for mail to reach your village. Keep in mind that many rural villages and towns do not have direct mail service; in order to receive mail in these locations, Volunteers must purchase post office boxes in their nearest urban area.
During pre-service training, you may use the Peace Corps office address:
“Your name,” PCT
PO Box 6862
Your mail will be forwarded periodically to your training site. Once you have moved to your permanent site, you will use the school’s address or get a private post office box.
Telephones are accessible in most towns and villages, along or near main roads, and in most schools. No international telephone companies (e.g., MCI or AT&T) operate in Namibia, so you will be unable to make collect calls or use calling cards purchased in the United States. Calling cards are available in Namibia for use in-country and internationally. International service from the larger towns is good, but calls must be made from a telecommunications office or a private phone. Cellphone usage and coverage is increasing throughout Namibia. Most Volunteers purchase their own cellphone during training or bring their own from home. Text messaging (or "sms") is quickly becoming a preferred means of communication amongst Volunteers. The two major cellular companies are MTC and Cell One. MTC is the largest cellular company in Namibia and the preferred provider of most Namibians and Volunteers. Volunteers are advised not to sign up for international plans with their U.S. cell providers, as these plans often do not work in Namibia.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Access to e-mail is available in Internet cafes in Windhoek and other larger towns. Some teacher resource centers provide public access to e-mail but not the Internet, and junior and senior secondary schools throughout the country are increasingly setting up internet access in their computer labs. Internet access is also available through the cell phone companies with a GPRS capable GSM phone, as well as High Speed 3G service in larger towns. The major cell phone companies sell 3G devices which connect via USB to a computer and allow the user to access the internet wherever there is cell service (including in rural areas). Check out the MTC Websitefor more information.
Housing and Site Location
Housing varies considerably. Your site might be a Western-style cement block house, usually with electricity and running water; an apartment attached to a student boarding facility (hostel); a traditional hut on a family compound; or a room with a local family. As the government has invited assistance from a variety of sources, you may also be asked to share a two- or three-bedroom house with one or two colleagues (either Namibian or Volunteers from other countries). Our expectation is that you will have a private bedroom, but remember that there is a shortage of housing for government staff in most areas in Namibia. The ministry or agency to which you are assigned is responsible for providing housing, as well as paying your monthly utilities and providing you with the basic furnishings (e.g., bed, chairs, table, stove or hot plate, and refrigerator). With the exception of extremely rural sites in the northern part of the country and the Caprivi, most Volunteers have electricity at home; in these areas, it is the norm for Volunteers (as well as their host country colleagues) to make use of electricity at the school or office to charge electronic devices (i.e. cellphones).
Living Allowance and Money Management
The Peace Corps provides Volunteers with a monthly living allowance for basic expenses, a leave allowance of $24 a month, and a quarterly travel allowance for in-country travel. All allowances are paid in local currency. The amounts are intended to allow a modest lifestyle, and most Volunteers find the allowances to be adequate. The last increase in the Volunteer living allowance in Namibia was in 2009, and annual surveys are conducted to assess the need for an increase in living allowance.
Volunteers open accounts at the First National Bank of Namibia during pre-service training and are issued an ATM card. The Peace Corps deposits all allowances and reimbursements at the Windhoek branch, which Volunteers can then withdraw from the bank nearest to their site or through the use of their ATM card. For some, this involves a five-minute walk. For most, it requires planning ahead for a ride to town on a free day. Volunteers often travel to town with fellow teachers on payday.
Food and Diet
Basic foods such as flour, rice, pasta, and root vegetables can be bought in most communities, and a wide variety of products are available in the larger town centers. Fresh fruits and vegetables are highly seasonal in rural areas and may have to be transported from quite a distance. Canned goods are widely available throughout Namibia.
Although committed vegetarians and vegans have successfully maintained their diet and health in Namibia, obtaining the recommended daily allowances of vital food groups and micronutrients can be quite challenging. The Peace Corps medical office provides multivitamins, calcium, iron tablets, and, in some instances, vitamin B-12. Some Volunteers in Namibia grow their own gardens in order to have fresh vegetables when they want them. Maintenance of a healthy and balanced diet will be discussed extensively during pre-service training.
Traveling by road is inherently dangerous in Namibia. People generally drive too fast and the level of driving skill and courtesy is often lower than you would encounter in the United States. The miles of unpaved roads and the poor state of many vehicles on the road, including those serving as informal taxis, present serious challenges to Volunteers trying to get around. Given the lack of public transport in many areas, Volunteers are often forced to utilize informal taxis or other forms of hitching a ride. The Peace Corps policies on transportation in Namibia urge Volunteers to limit their travel only to essential trips and to stay at site as much as possible. If a Volunteer has to travel by road, care must be taken to choose the safest route and means of transportation. Given the paucity of transportation options available to Volunteers, this requires prior planning and flexibility on the part of the Volunteer. It will often be necessary to extend a trip or to put it off because the transportation options available are not safe. The ultimate responsibility for choosing the safest means of travel falls on the Volunteer.
Taxis are available in some more populated areas. Bus service is beginning to expand throughout the country, which should provide alternatives to hiking in certain areas.
Geography and Climate
Namibia borders the South Atlantic Ocean, Angola, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. It lies between latitudes 18 degrees to 28 degrees south and longitudes 12 degrees to 24 degrees east. It covers some 317,5000 square miles and has a population of about 1.8 million.
Namibia’s generally hot and dry climate ranges from true desert to subtropical. As in other parts of southern Africa, temperatures are closely related to wind systems, ocean currents, and altitude. Except for the highest mountain areas, the lowest temperatures occur in the Namib Desert region and are affected greatly by the cold Benguela current from the South Atlantic. Daytime summer temperatures in the desert frequently exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime winter temperatures can drop below 32 degrees. Volunteers who accept an assignment to Namibia must be willing and medically able to live and work in this extreme climate.
In the mountainous Windhoek region, average temperatures for the warmest month, December, range from 63 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. In July, average temperatures range from 43 to 69 degrees. Annual rainfall averages 22 inches in the north, six inches in the south, and about two inches in the coastal region. Rain falls mostly during the summer (October through March), and the winter (July through September) is very dry. The most pleasant months are April, May, and June.
Windhoek is the seat of the national government and the business and cultural center. Keetmanshoop is the center of the karakul (sheepskin) industry, Tsumeb is the headquarters of copper-mining operations, and Otjiwarongo is the center of the cattle farming area. Swakopmund is a coastal tourist center, Oranjemund is a diamond-mining town, and Arandis is the home of the Rossing uranium mine. Walvis Bay is an important port and fishing center west of Windhoek.
Social activities vary depending on where your site is located. In more rural communities, social activities include visiting neighbors’ fields and cattle posts and, for men, drinking at local bars. Cultural festivals, sporting events, weddings, and even funerals provide opportunities to meet and socialize with community members and their extended families. Groups of teachers sometimes go to town to shop and relax on paydays before heading off to visit their families. Namibia’s rich geography provides many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, including national parks and conservation areas. Volunteers sometimes visit each other or meet in larger towns for shopping, socializing, or going to a movie. Although the Peace Corps recognizes that periodic visits to towns are important for networking and moral support, Volunteers are encouraged to remain at their sites as much as possible.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Namibians attach great importance to neatness and proper dress, particularly in professional situations. Volunteers are expected to dress appropriately both on and off the job and to show respect for Namibian attitudes concerning personal appearance. For work, male Volunteers usually wear slacks or khakis and a nice shirt, often with a tie. Female Volunteers usually wear a long dress, a long skirt with a nice top, or pants with a nice shirt. While floor-length skirts and dresses are not required, women generally do not wear skirts shorter than knee length.
Excessive drinking is widespread in Namibia. Volunteers come under social pressure from colleagues or other Volunteers to drink, often to excess. Because of the Volunteers’ unique status in the community and as a representative of the American people, they are “on duty” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As such, Volunteers are expected to comport themselves in a professional and culturally sensitive manner at all times. Peace Corps/Namibia has strict regulations concerning the excessive consumption of alcohol and these rules are enforced.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Namibia Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Namibia. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Invariably, former Namibia Volunteers speak of the relationships they established as the highlight of their service.
Many speak of how they learned to value a more family- and community-centered way of life, and of how they grew in patience and understanding. Most are able to pinpoint specific contributions they made to Namibia’s development (i.e., improving the levels of English proficiency of their students, teachers, and community colleagues; seeing students pick up science and math concepts; watching teachers try new ideas in the classroom; helping a community organize an important development project; and fostering a dialogue about HIV/AIDS).
The positive reflections are the endpoint of a series of highs and lows that are part and parcel of the process of leaving the United States, arriving in Namibia, and adapting to the practices and pace of life in a new culture. You are likely to have less guidance and direction than you would get in a new job in the United States. You may have to motivate yourself and your colleagues without receiving any feedback on your work. You will need flexibility, maturity, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness to overcome difficulties. If you are willing to respect and become integrated into your community, to work hard at your assignment, and to be open to all that Namibia has to offer, you will be a successful Volunteer. You, too, will be able to look back positively on the relationships you have built and the small differences you have made by virtue of those relationships.