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Africa News, Week #3

Here’s our third missive—can’t believe we’ve been here that long already!

Last weekend was kicked off with Friday afternoon popcorn, as usual. Then Saturday morning we had a project—make a chalkboard for my classroom and varnish the top of a table which will become my demonstration desk—fit for a secretary. Mark found the table in storage, very dirty and infested with wasp nests; David had already cleaned it up and sanded the top; I put on the varnish. For the chalkboard, we mitered in a frame of @1x2s and nailed them to the @4x8 piece of fibreboard (not really 4x8’, but whatever that works out to in handy meter measures). And the spelling around here is British, so it is “fibreboard,” not “fiberboard.” Then it was my job to lay on a nice neat coat of “green chalk board” paint. I put on the second coats on desk and chalkboard the next day, so they would be dry and ready to put into the classroom on Monday, for my class on Tuesday morning.

We are hoping for some serious rain-over the past two weeks the storms have sounded fierce coming in with plenty of lightning and thunder (as it is as I write this) but we have probably had less than a half inch of rain. The soil is sandy, so the maize and muhangu are withering. Perhaps this storm will provide needed relief.

The youth (in this case, in their 20’s) have organized under the title: “Ndiyona Constituency Youth Forum: Kavango Region”. They attended one workshop on leadership last October and left today for Rundu for another four day workshop. Their main objective is to develop projects or small enterprises. So last Tuesday, at the suggestion of Br. Loren,  I presented a 3 hour workshop examining the ideas of markets, consumers, what a business is about: sales minus costs = profits. Then I had them break into small groups and brainstorm ideas for projects and after the brainstorming session, they ranked their business concepts 1-3. One group was rather innovative as their projects were: 1) auto garage, 2) poultry, and 3) a recording studio. Another’s was a bar (shabeen) and a hair salon. The 3rd group suggested vegetable growing/marketing and a meat market. W will see after this week’s workshop whether I am asked to continue with follow-up workshops.

My frustration here is what appears to be a lack of any type of market economy. I know there is a lot more going on than meets the eye, but it would be an interesting research project to have household income/expenditure diaries out here and trace where cash income comes from and what it is spent for. Other than the small markets and shabeens and an outdoor meat market with half a beef carcass hanging, there is very little visible commerce in Nyangana.

But there are services like funeral directors. Saturday morning, Paula and I took a walk out in the surrounding area and coming back there was a funeral procession coming on the Mission grounds. The hearse was a Toyota pickup with a canopy on the back.

Two of the Indian sisters, one a nurse and the other an M.D., are leaving after10 years to return to India. So Saturday evening we were invited to Mass at their little chapel in the convent and afterwards served a nice Indian buffet. Yesterday, the Bros and Charles reciprocated with afternoon tea (serving pound cake and ice cream). Here we learned that in the early 2000’s the Angolan conflict spilled over onto this side of the river with troops, mortars and RPG’s flying around. All of the ex-pats working at the hospital left except for the Indian Sacred Heart sisters. Charles was by himself at that time and one night took refuge in the convent as the situation became more tenuous and scary.

The other day at a meeting about 20 km from here in a government centre of some type, I was looking around the room and it was decorated with posters on Namibian birds, the 2008 National Tree, and in juxtaposition with the posters showing the natural beauty of Namibia were other posters re: HIV/AIDs, a beer bottle with a caption warning that excessive alcohol consumption results in irresponsible sex. I then looked down at two cardboard boxes full of “Smile” brand condoms. This of course is just one of the many challenges Africa faces today with Namibia’s HIV/AIDS rate estimated to be over 15%.

This Sunday we experienced the full-on Sunday Mass, not just the 1 ½ hour Communion Service they have when the priest is out of town. Deacon Berthold had returned the day before and assisted, along with a true deacon—one that isn’t on the path to priesthood. Groups of school girls wore different colored uniforms (blue tams, white tops, blue skirts for one, yellow tams/skirts for the other) and formed the choir. The women’s group all wore white tops and white turbans, and a variety of colorful shawls looped over one shoulder and the opposite hip. What with the maximum possible number of songs and processions and Deacon Berthold’s 20-30 minute sermon, the Mass was over in only 2 hours—then the announcements began; another half-hour later we came outside and the choir groups sang goodbyes to the departing Indian sisters, circling around them as they had done to welcome us. As Mark has commented, “What else do they have to do on Sunday morning?”

Speaking of having things to do, we have access to TV in Fr. Charles’s house and sometimes watch a few minutes of the news, but much more time is spent chatting with Charles, Loren, Mark, and now also Berthold. So we’re mildly aware that Super Bowl Sunday happened back in the US, but just barely. David knows who played and what the score was, but got that info on the Internet.

Now it’s Friday night and I have survived my first week of teaching office skills for the secretary / English. My 4-5 students struggle to understand my brand of English, and I have to work to understand them. But they need to be able to answer phones, write letters, etc., in English, so we really emphasize giving them practicing both speaking/listening and reading/writing English. In between preparing for and teaching that class, I’ve been reviewing Br. Mark’s courses in Windows XP, Word 2007, and Excel 2007—he has done such an excellent job of creating a course of study for those programs that “taking” his courses is helping me feel comfortable with them, instead of being frustrated that they have so many changes from the last version. And I’m developing a set of files that I think Ginger and the next short–term missioners will find workable. That was part of my purpose—Ginger gathered some excellent materials and I’m supposed to add more exercises, tests, and file organization to the mix.

One interesting event today was a meeting of the 4 women staying in the women’s residence with Brother Mark (and me present as his moral support), and Fr. Charles, at the women’s request. The big issue—they don’t want to cook with wood; they would prefer electric hotplates. But hotplates take so much electricity that Br. Mark/Fr. Charles cannot afford to just give it to them. Fr. Charles said he was willing to pay a tractor driver and two men a half-day’s wages to go gather wood for them, delivering enough wood for the 5 month course. So they asked, how much more than the cost of gathering the wood would the electricity cost? It’s hard to know, because all the electric is on one meter. The compromise was that they would use gas, since that can be measured by the cost to replace the tank when it’s empty. Br. Mark said he’d pay for a two-burner gas stove-top and the women could share the cost of the gas. So one issue that has been on their minds for the last two weeks is settled—other than that, they seem pleased with the facility.

This morning David made it out the door shortly after 7am to catch the bus into Rundu. He joined Br. Loren, who was just finishing up his youths’ 4-day workshop. They planned to stay at a nearby lodge, then shop tomorrow before returning here sometime in the afternoon. David can tell about what he did when he returns.

Our popcorn group was cut in half, as Deacon Berthold also left for a few days to visit his family. Hot day, hot evening—no rain in sight. (They are concerned as the corn Fr. Charles planted is withering. They figure if it doesn’t start raining soon, the normal rainy season , which usually wraps up by  early April, will be past.)  Other simple pleasures today: photographing butterflies on the flowers growing in front of the Business Center, and later a 3” chameleon who spent the afternoon on one flower stalk. Br. Mark said they lie in wait to catch a butterfly. Looked to me like he was just practicing his protective coloration; and he would keep rotating around that stalk to hide behind it whenever I came near. His body was so narrow, he could almost completely hide himself that way.

David: Well, I have returned and the bus trip was another cultural immersion experience. Berthold made the arrangements ahead of time, having it stop by here at the Mission to pick me up--he called not once but three times to make sure the driver didn’t forget me--time for pickup was 7:30, but at 7 a.m. Berthold knocks on our door and says the bus is waiting for me. Luckily, I had gotten up early and was ready to go.  The bus is a Toyota van—a model that I have not seen before, sort of like an overgrown station wagon pulling a small trailer for cargo so it can hold 8-9 people.  So we go bumping along a dusty sandy track out of the Mission and pick up one person along the road, then drive off the road across a field to pick up an elderly lady and her grandson whom I later see at the bank in Rundu (the site of the closest banks and post office).  All the while, we’re listening to African music with some U.S. pop tossed in--some song about Las Vegas. We stop once along the road in front of a family housing compound; the driver gets out and later comes back with a woman trailing him with a plastic container of petrol and a funnel. Money is exchanged and that is pit stop number one.  A few kilometers down the road is another pit stop of the same nature. We arrive in Rundu about 9 a.m.--not bad for 100 km with door-to-door service.

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