saying goodbye to namibia

Sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Safari this morning.  We've checked out and are just hanging here until about 11:00 before we head to the airport.  It seems like a lifetime ago that we checked in here, exhausted, and grubby after 39 hours of travel from the USA.  Now we are refreshed, our bodies are on the right time zone and heading on to the next segment of our journey.  Its really strange to think that I'm heading to Israel, while the rest of the group is heading to cape town.  One consolation is that I'll be enjoying nice warm 90 degree weather, while they will be in Cape Town's winter at 59 degrees.

Last night we had a very nice dinner at Nampa and Matty's house.  I'm very jealous of Matty's indoor wood fired oven.  He had obviously been grilling meat for us all afternoon.  Not only does it make delicious meat but it also heats their family room.  It was amazing to hear the story of these two Luther College Alums.  They were at Luther in the mid 90's, but by the time they found their way to college in the USA they were married and had small children.  They are so grateful to the people of Decorah for their hospitality and help that they are always eager to open their home to Americans who are traveling in Namibia.  We worked hard on their youngest daughter to convince her that she must come to Luther to go to college.

As I think about the two purposes of our trip, the philanthropic, and the cultural I am inspired to try to return someday, and to help to keep up the good work that EmpoweringLearnersNamibia has started.  There is so much more we can do to help, and it really doesn't take much money to accomplish a lot here.  For example a new Kindergarden school could be built to replace the 10x12 metal shack for about  $5000.00 US.  

almost back to windhoek

Well, here we are on the B2 not 55km from Windhoek and the Safari Hotel.  Suddenly our coach makes a very bad noise and we begin to coast down the road.  Joey looks rather concerned.  We coast to a stop and pull over to the side of the road.  One of the few places in all of Namibia where there is almost no shoulder.  The diagnosis is dire, the clutch plate is out.  Luckily its only 1:15 in the afternoon and we are close to our destination.  David is on the phone getting another coach on its way.  This bus that we've spent so many hours with is not taking us any further.

So far we are all in good spirits.  The sun is out, the weather is nice.  We are joking about our plight and assessing our provisions.  In the cooler we have some apples, a half bottle of Riesling and one Windhoek light.  Suddenly Joey says… "I need a beer!"  We all crack up, we'd be happy to give Joey our last beer, he's been such a good sport with great humor this entire trip.

We are thankful that this little mishap happened here.  When we think of all the places this could have happened. The middle of Etosha, the middle of the desert, Each of which would be hours and hours from anywhere likely to have the ability to come and get us.  We'll be just fine, and this answers the important question of what to write about in today's blog.

UPDATE:  We're moving again, in a lovely, highly air conditioned coach.  Its just 2:55 so we were only delayed about 1:45.  When the replacement bus got here we formed a bucket brigade and transferred the luggage from one to the other in no time.  We're looking forward to arriving at the Safari and we'll still have some time to relax and refresh before we go to our dinner at Nampa and Matty's house.

photo highlights from namibia

Well, its really hard to pick out the photo highlights from this trip, but I decided to take a quick stab at it during my hour at the internet cafe today.  So, here's a link to the flickr photoset.  Hope you like it.

lions and rhinos and springbok, oh my! etosha!

If someone had told me six months ago that in the span of 24 hours I would see nine Lions,  two Rhino, four Elephants, three Hyena, one Jackal, a Journey of Giraffe, a Dazzle of Zebra, and countless Wildebeest, Springbok, Oryx, and Impala I would never have thought it possible.  But that is exactly what happened this last day.  As Ann remarked, "whoever thought I would be so casual about seeing another Zebra"

On the drive into the park we got really excited about seeing  a couple of Elephants and Giraffe in the distance, then Joey pulled off onto one of the many side roads that takes you to a water hole and we were able to get a little closer.  But later we were to find out that that initial excitement was just an appetizer.  A couple of water holes down the road, we pulled up and there were two huge elephants just standing 20 yards from the bus.  And the Giraffe seemed to be everywhere along the side of the road.  It was really incredible to get so close to all of the animals.

We stopped for a late lunch and then walked to the water hole at the Na… Rest Camp, someone had sited another elephant and it looked like we could get close to this one standing on the observation platform.  However when I got out there it had disappeared into the bush.  I had turned around and was headed back toward the bus when Josh Martin softly called me back -- "Rihno!"  I got back but the Rhino had wandered into the trees so I was only able to get a partial shot of it with my camera.  I have a great 70-200mm zoom, but I was now wishing I had upgraded to the new 100-300 model!

When we got to our rest camp we were all planning to sign up for an open air Jeep excursion.  It was a little confusing, but our options were to go out at 5:30AM, midday, or an evening excursion starting at 18:30.  I don't think any of us was particularly excited about getting up for another early morning drive, so lots of conversation ensued.  In the end we all booked the 5:30AM tour and were not disappointed.  Remember that we are in Africa, so even though the days are long in the Northern Hemisphere we are at some of the shortest days here.  At 5:30 it was still completely dark.  However we were treated to a spectacular view of Venus and Mars.  Our guide and driver for the morning was named Samuel, he's been working in the park for 20 years and does an amazing job of spotting the game.  We told him that we really wanted to see some cats and he smiled and told us that what you see on any given day is mostly luck.

We drove for quite a while in the dark with Samuel illuminating our path with a red handheld light.  It was COLD, we all had on many layers including winter coats, and luckily Samuel provided us with ponchos to put over our legs for another layer of warmth.  We never really did see anything in the dark.  At the first water hole we stopped we didn't see anything so we drove around to the other side of the water hole where Samuel said 'Lion!'  We looked and at first none of us could see it, but eventually we all saw what he was pointing to.  A male lion laying down at the edge of the water hole munching on something that was freshly killed.  As I was watching the lion through my long lens I noticed something much darker pop up from the grass behind the lion.  Samuel confirmed that it was a Hyena, in fact there are probably several of them waiting for their chance to eat whatever the lion leaves behind.  We also discovered that there was another lion that had been lying a few meters away from the first.  We were just starting to pull away when we were rewarded with a final view of the Lion who stood up and took a big stretch.

We drove on through herds of Zebra and all kinds of antelope when Samuel spotted another pair of Lions just on the edge of the pan, these were farther away than the first but the light was much better so I was able to get some good pictures and really zoom in on these.  In fact it turned out that there were seven Lion in this area, and Samuel said probably two more that we didn't see, because the pride is eleven, and we had already seen two of them at the previous water hole.  The drama of seeing this group of Lions was heightened by one lonesome and apparently suicidal Springbok.  This poor creature seemed completely unaware of the Lions and just kept wandering closer and closer.  Samuel said that Lions only strike if they know they won't have to chase their prey for more than 100 meters, but would could see the lions get very still and very low to the ground, they clearly had not missed this Springbok.  Eventually the little guy came to his senses and escaped with his life, at least for today.

When we got back from the drive we went to breakfast and we have spent the rest of the day sitting and observing at the water hole, or lying around the pool area soaking up some of the warm midday and afternoon sun.  We are hoping for a return of the Rhinos that appeared here last night, but as Samuel said its mostly luck as to what might show up on any given day.

And just as I finished writing those words we were rewarded.  A giraffe came ever so slowly and cautiously out of the trees to get a drink.  This is a really amazing process.  First she approaches the water hole very slowly, checking each way several times.  Then she must get in position to drink, which involves spreading her legs very wide  so her neck can reach the water, but you can tell this puts the giraffe in a very vulnerable position so much stopping and starting and looking around ensues as she prepares to drink.  And when she does its a long one.  Twenty seconds maybe with the mouth in the water, and then with a mighty shake she raises her body up and assumes a position that looks like she's ready to flee.  With all of us sitting up here taking pictures and whispering she is very cautious of us.  What a site, this whole trip to the water hole probably took just over an hour between her cautious approach to the hole and then multiple long approaches and drinks.  Patience is a virtue.

rev. p. hanock kindergarden.

Our second stop of the day yesterday was at the Rev. P. Hanock Kindergarden.

This 'school' was a metal building that was a maximum of 12 feet by 12 feet and barely tall enough for Josh Martin to stand in.  This school housed 24 students, about half of which had chairs to sit in.  The students were prepared for us to come, and gave us a concert and a number of demonstrations of their ability to count, and name the colors and the shapes.  It was really impressive and they were all so eager to show off their knowledge.  From the very beginning they instill in these learners the importance of knowledge and going to school. "Knowledge is our future" they sing.

In addition to this small classroom there are outhouse facilities donated by Luther alums Orv and Cathy Johnson. The Luther connections here in Namibia are many and strong.  It is almost heartbreaking to see what a relatively small amount of money by American standards can accomplish over here.  We left the kindergarden some blocks and a soccer ball.  The look on the children's faces when they emerged from the building to kick the ball around was another of those moments that make you realize what this trip is all about.

okahandja woodcarvers market

Here we are back on the bus after a stop at the woodcarvers market all of us laughing our heads off.  About 70km North of Windhoek we stopped at the woodcarvers market.  In my mind I had a vision of a sedate little market where Namibian men were sitting and carving interesting wooden masks and bowls.  What ensued was the first "holy shit" comment of the day from one of our co-travellers.  While Jane went across the road to the market, I went to the coffee shop to get some coffee.  As Josh and I crossed the road I was approached my a young man who said "I have your wife"  A swarm of young men descended on us, come to my shop, come to my shop, the next 20 minutes were pure chaos of bargaining in both US$ and Namibian $.

Now that the dust has settled a bit it appears that the best strategy is to offer somewhere less than half of what they first tell you is the price and work your way up as slowly as you can.  However, we all learned that the hard way.  Our first purchase of this manic shopping spree was a marble bowl.  The asking price was N$650, we countered with N$400 and settled at N$500.  Way to high.  As Jane was literally pulled out of that shop and on to another shop I saw an elephant hair bracelet.  I didn't have any Namibian dollars left so I told him I would buy it with US$.  He said $70 US for the bracelet.  I told him no way; but by then the bracelet was already on my arm.  So I told him the leather bracelet I had cost less than $20 he said make me an offer, so I told him $10.  But its made from Elephant hair!!  With that he wrote $50 on his arm.  No way, I said so I came up to $15.  Eventually we settled at $20.  I really do this is one of the best deals I've ever made.

As all of this was taking place young men were trying to lure Mary (Ethan's mom) to the outskirts of their little woodcarving village.  Mary resisted with the help of her sister Carol who exclaimed, "I'm not letting you get sold into white slavery"  Mary was the smartest among us as all she purchased was a single woven basket.

Meanwhile, Jane was embroiled in making a bargain for a couple of giraffes.  We were rapidly running out of cash, and she was desperately trying to get back to the first stall where she had found a bowl she really liked.  We ended up with the giraffes and two bowls.  Now this young man grabbed the bowls and told us he'd wrap them for us.  As he was wrapping them he insisted that Jane look at the Salad tongs in his stall.  He proceeded to hold our bowls hostage until Jane finally bought two sets for US$10.  Meanwhile Josh was standing outside the stall saying Mom, we have to go, the bus is going to leave.  Apparently this is a common ploy as one young man was stuffing marble candle holders into Jerry's backpack.  Ann had to pull them out and pull Jerry out of the stall in order to escape.

Jane is now trying to sell two of the salad tongs she bought to Josh Martin.  She told him she'd sell him the one pair for $20 US.  Just think of your mother she said!  If you brought these home to her she'd know you were thinking about her.  So, Karen, if you want some Namibian salad tongs just let us know, we'll make you a really good deal!

I think at the end of the session we had spent about $100 US, or 800 Namibian dollars.  Even if we overpaid for every item it was well worth the price just for the experience.  Plus we figure we are helping these guys make their living and propping up the economy of Okahandja.  Josh Miller and Josh Martin were the only two people who didn't spend any money.  Josh had 20 people approach him, and he just kept telling them, I don't have any money. I don't have any money. 



After a quick stop at the Parliament, and an unsuccessful attempt to visit the Christkirche we visited the meteorite monument in downtown Windhoek.  Evidently Ethan was getting a little tired of site seeing by this time and needed a break for lunch.  Which we took at Schneider.  Jane had some delicious Curry Wurst, and Josh, Josh, and I all went for the Stroghanoff with Spaetzel.  Schneider had some nice outdoor seating, and was surprisingly fast and cheap for a center city lunch stop.

After lunch was the well timed trip to the 'Diamond Factory'  We learned a little about diamonds, and then had a tour of the showroom.  The tour began with some free glasses of Champagne and ended at the Tanzanite stand.  Long time readers of this blog may remember the Tanzanite story from Mexico and how that ended.  This was had a somewhat similar, though less expensive, ending to the story.  It seems fitting to get some Tanzanite while we're in Africa,especially since our 26th anniversary is only 2 days away.

you must really like to fly

"You must really like to fly"  was the comment of the  flight attendant from Scotland on our British Air flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg.  What prompted the statement was my comment that I would have the curried chicken because "that was good last night." -- We'll return to the concept of good airplane food later.   Its Monday.  We left Chicago on Saturday. Two overnight flights in a row with a nine hour layover in London.  I feel like I've been in the airport forever.  Now we are waiting out our final layover in Johannesburg for the final leg of our flight to Windhoek.  We are in Africa, but it doesn't really seem like it yet.  We've got to get out of the airport and into the real world.  The Empowering Learners trip is well underway.

Because we had such a long london layover we did leave the airport and take the tube into London.  We walked around the London School of Economics with Josh Martin, and then meandered through the South Bank area having lunch at Giraffe.  Yesterday was a hard day, the overnight flight with the 6 timezone change really messes you up.  This morning was easier as we flew mostly north to south, crossing only one time zone.  We are really thankful to the gate agent in Chicago who rearranged our seats on this flight so that we had the aisle seats in the middle section with nobody in between us.  We were able to stretch out and get some decent rest last night.

About this trip.  This is not just a trip for fun, this is partly a mission trip and partly a cultural experience.  The trip is organized by Empowering Learners, a non profit organized by Ethan Schultz, and Ann Sponberg-Peterson.  The goal is to bring 24 laptop computers and 50 calculators to the Oshigambo high school in Northern Namibia.  We also carried along an assortment of Braille books, and Soccer balls to distribute along the way.  There are a total of 12 of us on the trip and we got all of this stuff along with us in carry on and checked baggage, we are definitely going to be a lot lighter on the drive home than we on the trip here.  Once we complete our business working with the high school we'll be visiting the Etosha Game Park and the Atlantic Coast in Swakopmund.  More detail to follow.

For now we are safely checked in at the Safari Court Hotel.  After two nights sleeping on airplanes and having our morning coffee in airports, we are all ready for a shower!   As a group we will have a little break before meeting with our tour guide for the trip and then heading to downtown Windhoek for a meal at a nice German restaurant.