Thursday, 17 August 2017

Khorixas with Friends

looking back to February 2017:

Sometime in November, my fab Peace Corps boss Linda phoned and requested a favour:  could I bear a roommate for a few months?  PC volunteer H. needed a new work site due to some security concerns at her location, and the transition would require some time, during which Linda wanted H. to live and work in my town.  I'd do a lot for Linda, but H. is delightful and the house is plenty big enough for two, so it was no hardship to say yes, of course.

And then take off for permagardening workshop, and then H. went to Windhoek, and then we both started traveling for the festive season, and what with all these various things, we barely saw each other until the end of January.  A few weeks later, she was packing up and getting ready to go.  Her new site is a good bit north of us, and in between is volunteer A. in Khorixas, so H. decided she'd spend a weekend there on her journey, and I decided I could use another dose of Khorixas, so off we went.

Serious water outside Outjo

A. had a site mate in Khorixas, and he had a girlfriend a region or two east, and H. had two future site mates in Opuwo, and all seven of us PCVs converged on this small town on more-or-less Friday evening.  H. and I hiked to Otjiwarongo without too much difficulty, bought the groceries and connected with a Namibian friend of A's who had offered to chauffeur us to her place.  Ka ching! and boo-ya!  We scooped up D. and N. in Outjo or thereabouts, and drove through a streaming, mind-blowing downpour.  After four or five years of drought, Namibia had a decent rainy season in 2017, and this was one of the more remarkable bits of it.  We had to stop at one point and carefully negotiate a short stretch of flooded roadway, so we chatted briefly with a farmer out inspecting the damage the water had done his fencing.  He told us they'd had about five centimeters of rain fall in an hour, washing away some of the post-holes.

Not even a river, just a flood.  A very temporary one.

The rain stopped completely about 20 kilometers from Khorixas, and our driver, B., who is a geologist working to identify likely locations for mining of rare-earth minerals, laughed as he related tales of Khorixas's continuing drought being attributed to the poor morals of its residents.  "People say it's because of all the fornication there," he said.  Later I heard someone else blame the high prevalence of lying and drinking in the town's people.

No imminent danger of flooding in the 'xas, but they held
their phones and wallets up crossing the riverbed, just in case.

Pity the livestock, but clear skies do make a braai easier, and that's how we started the weekend.  As PC volunteers, we're never really not working - we try to serve as good role models for financial and physical health, and lifelong learning, and anytime I'm out in a community, I'm probably doing some kind of English teaching, and trying to create a good, and accurate, impression of the USA and her people with anyone I meet.  However, we didn't have any formal work to do this time.  So we cooked, and walked about, and played ridiculous games like Paranoia and King's Cup or Elevenses or whatever it's called.  And when the sun got fierce, we stretched out at the lodge and napped a bit.

And tourist-gawked at the adorable donkey carts.
Donkey is also a popular entree in this area.

We also talked about ridiculous things, in ridiculous shorthands, like A's crazy cat Clementine, who is a mighty hunter and has killed scorpions, bats and many rodents and birds -- many of them in A's flat.  And the poop toilet -- her toilet doesn't flush well, so she and guests used to have to cross the Ministry complex's courtyard to the public toilets when the urge to poop came upon them.  However, her next-door neighbor had recently moved out, and on this visit we got to use the toilet right next door instead!  And it contained the murder mattress where H. and D. slept -- no need to ask, right?  Also Khorixas sauce.  I dunno about that one.

Working up an appetite for dinner.

Feast in the 'xas.  With sauce.

An enthralling, even bedazzling, game.  I don't recall which one.

A. snagged me a free ride back to Otjiwarongo, and from there I hiked home with a businessman from Swakop, who warned me a bit too often about the dangers of hiking, but was otherwise safe and sane.  Score!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Usakos with Friends

looking back to January 2017:

January was a bit rough, with a sad family situation and some very looong flights and layovers.  As glad as I was to get back to Arandis, I was very willing to leave town for a weekend to help M. celebrate his birthday with a whole bunch of other volunteers in the next town east, Usakos.

The view, from M's porch, of the outskirts of town.

Usakos is a bit bigger than my town, and a bit wetter, with the Khan River supplying enough water underground to allow for a few trees to survive.  A bit wetter also means more possibility of mosquitos.

And it's hot, even at night -- but night two they couldn't sleep outside,
due to rain!  That's right, rain!

It's also a main stopping point for traffic between Windhoek, the capital city, and Swakopmund and Walvis Bay on the west coast.  Swakop is a big tourist center; Walvis is the only deep-water port on this stretch of Africa's coastline, so it's a major transport and business center.  That means that the east-west corridor stays busy with trucks and combis full of people traveling for work or to visit family and friends, and almost all of them stop for toilets and the mini-mart (biltong, kooldrink, chips).

The mini-mart also supplements the local mini-grocer.

Strangely, Usakos doesn't have a great grocer, unlike my town, which has three.  But it does have a lovely cafe where we ate breakfast both mornings.

And a little park.  The town also serves regional, far-flung farmers.

We braii'd for M's birthday dinner, enjoying the lovely view from his porch.

Pretty sweet set-up for a PCV, but of course no grocer is a challenge.

But a lovely neighbor like this sweetie is a bonus.

I don't know why there's a little engine on display in Usakos.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Low-key Christmas

looking back to December 2016:

Plans for my second Christmas in Namibia went all kinds of skew-whiff, zigging and zagging about through various possibilities, places and people.  Different illnesses and difficulties were, sadly, responsible for the arrangements and re-arrangements, but eventually a happy outcome arrived, with PCV A. coming to visit for three days and a rent-a-car so we could putter about with a good bit more freedom (and a great deal more expense) than we would usually have.

The white one is ours, trying to catch some shade.

We were both mostly in the mood for movies, music and conversation, and got plenty of each.  Our major planned activity was a visit to Dune 7 and the moon landscape, both close by my home and each other.

Dune 7 is not especially special, but we didn't know that until we got there.  It's advertised as a tourist draw:  a high dune close enough to the bigger towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay to make a visit easy and quick.  On clear days you can see the Atlantic from the top of the dune, which is probably at least ten kilometers away and maybe more.  I don't really care.  The other mildly entertaining features are that walking a steep uphill of fine sand is hard, and coming steeply downhill in fine sand can be fun.  We did not have a clear day, so missed the ocean, but A. took the downhill route in great leaps, sinking far into the sand with each landing.  I was considerably more sedate, given my camera, knees and fear of falling.  With one or both feet sunk deep in the sand, if you fall forward I don't see why you couldn't just snap a fibula.  Jeez.

Heading up

and down.

However, I did have the fun of literally burning my toes.  Like most people, I did the climb barefoot because boots full of sand are no fun at all.  Since A. and I had had a holiday-like dilatory morning, we didn't reach the dune until about ten or eleven, by which time the strong December sun had heated those silicates to egg-frying temperatures.  We both kept digging our feet in deeper with each step, trying to find the cooler parts, but there weren't any.  I wound up with several blisters on and around my left toes, and considerable tender pinkness on the right.

When A. fell, he fell backwards.  Also he did not burn his toes, but he's a barefoot-runner kind of guy, so...

The moon landscape is gorgeous, and A. hadn't seen it before, so that was worth a drive.  We did set off to find some welwitschias, but we've both seen those and didn't enjoy the bumpy gravel road in a VW compact, and so turned back.

Does it look lunar in this photo?  Because it does in real life.

Christmas Eve's big fun was introducing A. to The Fate of Miss H.  Actually introduce, it turns out:  Lisa the nice waitress invited us to sit at a big table marked 'Reserved' and I checked with the lone man there, who welcomed us kindly.  Lisa then explained it was the band's table, and the man explained that he's the drummer and sound tech.  So we chatted with various band members and got some music recommendations that I've forgotten, and A. was as enthusiastic about their set as I'd hoped he'd be.  Lucky him; he saw them again in Windhoek this May, the night before he closed his PC service.


On Christmas Day we cooked lentil loaf and Yorkshire pud with mushroom gravy and A's fabled mashed spuds, and it was all delish with a bottle of South African red.  And some superb Scotch whisky.  We picked 'Frozen' as our Christmas flick, and all together were very mellow, in a happy, merry way.

In the Christmas spirit, I ate too much mashed potato
to choke down a Cape Town chocolate for dessert.

Merry, merry!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

And Now for Something Completely Different

looking back to December 2016:

Cape Town!  Oh, my dears.

Not the whole city, but a decent portion of it, from Lion's Head mountain.

I'd never really given it much thought, and it certainly wasn't someplace I planned to visit.  However, a group of PCV friends were going, which meant none of them would be available to go anywhere I did yearn to visit, and with the office closed for the festive season, I'd either languish sweating through another December alone, or spend too much money looking at things with no one to share the expenses or my sense of wonder, or to help me up when I fell off a mountain.  So when one of my friends had to drop out of the Cape Town trip, I asked if I could take his place and was glad to be accepted.

Part of the fynbos microecoregion or whatever.

The others did the bulk of the planning, which was fine with me.  I'm big on serendipity and somewhat lighter on internet access, and as a late addition to the group, I didn't wish to push.  And it worked out beautifully, though I wish I'd figured out a way to get to Robben Island, and maybe a township tour.

Sunset over table mountain from the Air B&B

I do question, too, whether I'd be quite as enraptured with Cape Town if I hadn't spent 18 months in a small town in a sparsely-populated, often poor desert country where I wasn't allowed to drive.  However, given those conditions I was seriously enraptured.

Fynbos on a mountain over an ocean.  Love this a lot.

Here are a few of the reasons:

1)  Uber.  You could just push a few buttons on your phone, and a car would arrive in a minute or two and take you where you wanted to go moderately safely without driving around in circles for 45 minutes first, gathering six or seven other people to pile on top of you.

Any of these cars might be Uber cars.

2)  Mountains.  Gorgeous mountains covered with greenery ring the city.  You can reach one in a few minutes with Uber and climb a well-marked trail to the top.

Half a moon over Table Mountain

3)  Ocean.  The part of the city that isn't bounded by gloriously green mountains is bounded by beautiful blue ocean.

Near the Cape of Good Hope

from Chapman's Peak Drive

4)  Art galleries, nightlife, all kinds of cultural stuff.  Several art galleries, one so crammed with paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures in myriad media that I clasped my hands in front of myself for fear I might knock something over.  Some artwork by artists with African- instead of European-sounding names.  Local traditional dancers doing street performances.  DJ's of many styles; signs of bands, cinemas and theaters though we didn't make time for movies and the only band we saw was a pretty modest cover band in a mock-Irish pub.

We just missed open-mike performances at this bar,
which is in the neighborhood where I visited art galleries.

5)  Bo Kaap.  The gorgeous neighborhood where we stayed in an Air B&B is clean, cobbled, hilly and very brightly painted.  It's got a lot of Muslims, so we heard the call to prayer ring out periodically.

Bo Kaap!

6)  Restaurants.  We had a full kitchen and tight budgets, and nonetheless we ate out most meals.  One night at Fork, a tapas place, I had one of the best meals I've ever had anywhere.  There was also a chocolate shop, a couple markets with artisanal food stalls including mushroom amazingness and fine cheeses, Mexican, a steampunk place...  Good whole-wheat bread was still hard to find, oddly.

I wanted to move in to the Honest Chocolate shop,
which had a gin bar in the back at night.

The chocolate pecan brownies were a large part of why.  Also the staff.

Not hugely important, but it was fun to run into buckets of gin everywhere.

7)  Company.  We spoke the same language in many more ways than the obvious one.  And we spent boatloads of time together, for over a week, sharing two bedrooms and a single bathroom, with no apparent tension.

Omajete, Khorixas, Mpungu, Swakopmund, Arandis.  On a mountain.

8)  Architecture.  The parts of the city we explored were great mixes of ornate and stately 18th through 20th century edifices, gleaming high rises, brightly-painted, modest single-family homes, New Orleans-like beer palaces and a bunch of other stuff I can't identify.  It was all gorgeous, and it all blended quite successfully.

This might be the Cape Dutch style.

This one, too, I think.

And here they are mixed up together.

9)  The amazing view from our front deck; cf: mountains, ocean, architecture and Bo Kaap.

Table Mountain, from the front door.

10)  Ecological uniqueness!  One of our guides claimed Cape Town's fynbos ecology is a globally unique biome, which gets a scholarly argument from Wikipedia.  However, it does seem to have an enormously high number of endemic species -- 6,000 types of vegetation you can't find growing naturally anywhere else.  So that was pretty amazing, and interesting, and very new information.

The botanical garden celebrates vegetative diversity, plus mountains.

They are really big on protea, which come in many sizes and colours
plus the national cricket team.

Friday, 30 June 2017

A Time to Plant

looking back to November/December 2016:

Our estimable Director of Programs and Training, Patrick, led a couple of permagardening workshops for PC volunteers in 2015, with a view to having his mentor and PC permagardener extraordinaire Peter Jensen visit Namibia from his home in Ethiopia for a master class in 2016.  It wasn't until late November that we finally got to meet Peter, and learn so very much from him.

We started in the classroom, but quickly moved into the literal field.
It was really hot up north in late November and early December, so we tried
to get the physical, outdoor labor done early in the day, and usually failed.

He's an RPCV (Returned PCV) of about 30 years' standing, and he's gardened around the world, adopting sustainable techniques from anywhere he can find them.  I yearn for a chance to get him to Dreamland Garden; I bet he'd have some great ideas.  They've tried a bit of hugelkultur there, and some composting, and both have worked very well.  They need to do more, but wood is hard to come by in a place without trees, and compost takes some creativity in a very dry environment.  (Hugelkultur involves using wood - usually just logs and sticks - in the growing medium to help conserve water.  You throw a few logs on the ground, pile your dirt or sand-and-manure mix on top, and then plant.  The logs absorb water that would otherwise drain into the deep ground, and release it gradually to your plants.  Clever and simple.)

In Ongwadiva, they have grass and trees.
We do not get those where I, and Dreamland Garden, live.

Peter uses lots of mnemonic devices to assist his trainees' learning.  One is CLOSE - he wants community leaders with an eye toward gardening to keep their projects Close, Local, Organic, Small and Easy.  A project that's far from the people operating it, that requires importing foreign or buying synthetic goods, or one that's too large or too complicated to maintain probably won't succeed.  So he urges us to think about all those factors when planning.

Right next to a PCV's on-campus housing

Then there are the Six S's, which come with a warm-up-and-stretch exercise.  These are the critical steps in water management:  Stop, Slow, Sink, Spread, Save and Shade.  In a lot of climates, rain is a seasonal thing - you have rainy season and dry season, and plants can drown in one and wither in the other, so you need to think about how to collect the water and disperse it more gradually than the natural cycle would do.  We built berms and swales, and intercropped both for pest control and to allow taller plants to shade shorter ones.

Here we are Sinking and Spreading in the Shade.

Peter spent a lot of time on soil conditioning, too - we added charcoal, egg shells, coffee grounds, and elephant dung, as well as more conventional ungulate dung, to the sandy-but-okay soil of Ongwadiva.  We double-dug with traditional short hoes; we kept the beds narrow enough for two people to shake hands across them.  We collected brown and green compost from anywhere we saw it on the grounds of the school where we were planting, and built a compost pile for future conditioning.

The completed compost pile, with plastic to help keep it moist in
this arid climate.

Soil amendments from breakfast

We mixed little twigs into the soil, too; mini-hugelkultur.

And, of course, elephant dung.

Double-digging is sometimes called 'bastard trenching' in the UK.
And it's not nearly this hot there.

We also spent time in the classroom, discussing the heartbreaking conditions of malnutrition, and especially the deleterious effect it has on early childhood development.  Stunted growth doesn't just mean a child is shorter than s/he should be, it also means all his or her physical systems - the nervous system, the brain, the heart - aren't as robust as they should be.  Given high levels of poverty in Namibia (masked from international aid organizations by the very high income disparity, so a few very wealthy people skew average income for the whole country), many children here suffer from stunting.

Future nutrition in well-nourished soil, with a layer of pine-needley stuff
to help Shade and reduce evaporation.

Future nutrition in need of immediate resuscitation

Close, local, easy gardens are a great way to provide vitamins and minerals at low cost.  They can also help ameliorate the impact of climate change, and maybe a tiny bit help to slow it down.  Grow local and organic, and you don't have to ship food in from more expensive, more fertile places.

We got us a garden.