WHERE on Earth have you been?

Weds, 2-Sep, Barbara and I paid for a 3-bunk cabin and got lucky when the third passenger was a No-show; slept well on the overnight train, Keetmanshoop to Windhoek.

Thurs Morning, 3-Sep, we took a taxi from the station to a hike point and a kombi north to Rundu near the Angola border. We stayed at Esterline’s flat at the Regional Vocational Training Centre. Esterline is the perfect host! Great sense of humor and a ready smile. Warm and caring. Love her. (read on for more about Esterline) Plus comfortable beds and a warm shower. JT also stays in Rundu and she was so very gracious to loan us her tent! Thank you again, JT.

Fri, 4-Sep, THE ANNUAL GAME COUNT: off to Kongola and Mudumu. I went to the Rundu hike-point in the morning ahead of Barbara & Esterline who had some errands to run. I arranged for three seats on a kombi…with leg room! While waiting at Wimpy’s I met three other PCVs and joined them for coffee. Emmy from Philadelphia and Beverly Massachusetts, Mirhet from Nashville, and Rachel from LA. Enjoyed meeting them! After a long ride to Kongola we were given a lift to Mudumu National Park by Bennett, the local leader of the annual game count. We pitched JT’s tent that evening in the Katakwa Island camp inside the park and not far from the Botswana border. This is where it went downhill for Steven. I was pretty much miserable for the next three days even though Barbara is glad she had such a new experience. Let me get the whining off my chest first. The tent was pitched in dirt, but it felt like granite. Really. I still don’t know how Barbara slept. I know Esterline slept on her stomach, which doesn’t work for me because of the 1980’s cervical spinal fusion (C4/C5) that reduces neck rotation. On either side my hip bone was in pain. On my back my sacrum (S4? S5?) was in serious pain. I don’t have any fat left on me. No padding. No tush cushion. I dropped from 184 lbs when we left Cincinnati to 161 lbs today.  Got about 4 hours of painful “rest” that night. The following afternoon I lifted the tent and dug out a depression for my bones. And I could sleep the next two nights.

Sat, 5-Sep, So we wake up at 4:30 anyway. No problem. There are about 60 park and conservancy employees assigned to do the game count at this site. They are all camping in the Katakwa Camp with us. We are the only three PC volunteers. Breakfast each day was not nutritious: a thick slice of buttered bread and the instant chicory/coffee, Nescafe Ricoffy®.  Barbara and I are assigned and added to one group of four. Esterline walks with a different group. We pile into the back of a bakkie and head out into the park to our assigned starting point. On the way my sitz bones take a beating on the metal bed. Round Two! The best part of the first day was walking …see https://youtu.be/HbA-gkRSM9o We start as the red ball of sun blazes into view. Great exercise, no pain…no game. Not much anyway. [see previous Photo Post] After about two hours and 11.1 kilometers, we get back in the bakkie and our sadistic driver seems to be in a big hurry to get back to camp where he later stands around chatting with colleagues. The speed and the bumps join forces to destroy me. Try as I may to lift myself off the bakkie bed by brute force, my bum bones are battered thrice as hard as we roar back to camp. For the remainder of my stay I cannot sit on a hard surface. Beyond the pain I now have a pair of khaki cargo pants and a good shirt that are never going to come clean. The former are charcoal streaked from the burnt brush in the bush. The latter has the black plastic from the tailgate of the Toyota bakkie embedded in the right sleeve. No big deal. We arrive at camp well before lunch. Lunch is okay. Dinner is fine. The people are all quite welcoming and the view across the tributary is excellent. A large elephant is walking across the “island” off in the distance. At night the hippos are very close and grunt to each other in a rather soothing tone. But before we settle down to an afternoon nap the water tankers begin to arrive…next to our tent! The engines roar as they back into the filling station, two gasoline pumps near the water’s edge are turned on and the tanker begins to fill with river water.  It takes a while. They’re big trucks. The noise would have been tolerable if that was it, but the trucks just keep coming all afternoon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVo7Aq5NDgQ  Not exactly what I could call the Sound of Africa. But I did get some much needed sleep thanks to the pressure point depression I had dug under the tent.

Sun, 6-Sep, our second morning of game count: same as the first day with a big BUT for my little butt. I had decided the day before that I would not be going out again unless I could find my fanny in the front seat. And that is where I sat for the next two mornings. Yahoo!® No more rump bump for this chump. That afternoon Esterline went home to Rundu as she wasn’t having much fun either.

Mon, 7-Sep, our third morning of game count: same same. Rapid pace set by Exile, Albertina and the two Namibian Police Officers protecting us. Great exercise. Right after lunch we packed up and headed to Kongola for the ride back to Rundu. I could not wait to get out of there. Clearly we had been looking forward to the Game Count experience in the Zambezi Region. It was a great disappointment for me. However, there was a major breakthrough for Barbara…her first overnights in a tent. She was also impressed by the team members who could identify tracks, spores (droppings/poop/scat) and how fresh they were. As a boy in Connecticut I would track animals, mostly white tailed deer; but we learned to recognize raccoon, possum, rabbit, fox, and a few others. Of course, I’ve enjoyed many days and nights tent camping around New England and Kentucky. So what was interesting for Barbara was mostly boring and painful for Steven. So it goes.

Once again at Esterline’s in the evening we had a wonderful salad and it was a real pleasure to meet Esterline’s friend, Tera. Hirohito Terauchi is a fine young man who volunteers much like Peace Corps folks, but with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Tues, 8-Sep, Rundu to Windhoek. After about an hour of looking for the best ride we settled on a “private hike” in a mid-size BMW. One woman selected the front seat while the PCV threesome sat in the back. We may have arrived in Windhoek faster than a kombi, but I was just as uncomfortable …even sitting with two of my favorite ladies. We saved $20 each. And our driver drove us right to the security gate of the Handke Hotel which was at the end of a quiet dead-end street. WE WERE GIVEN THE WARMEST WELCOME BY GROUP 40 volunteers and it was truly a joy to see them all over the next few days. This evening we joined some of them for reunion, communion and Indian cuisine…and our fourth meal at Garnish Restaurant.

Weds, 9-Sep, Mid-service Medical/Dental: (Handke Hotel Room 10 has the most comfortable bed in the world…or was that all in my head?) Breakfast at the Handke was excellent. Two eggs over with bacon, bread, real coffee and juice, YES! Soon thereafter we were at the PCN office across town. Nurses Efraim and Auntie Kate took good care of us, as did the admin professional, Ann. Had two hepatitis shots and set up our dental hygienist appointment for Thursday. In the evening before dinner Barbara, Yvaline, Esterline and I went to the skyline lounge at the Hilton for a sunset panorama of the city. It was a very good time for relaxing and enjoying each other, the people and views. It’s not safe to walk around Windhoek after dark, so we hailed a cab back to the Handke…sort of back to the Handke.

** PG-17 Rating ** As we approached Rossini Street, all four of us made a totally irrational decision at this point. After being safe in a taxi for 99% of the cross-town ride we told the driver to just drop us on the corner. After all it was a quiet, dead-end street, less than half a New York block in length. We would walk the remaining 1%. Half way to the hotel’s gate three or four young men walked toward us. I was naïve and trusting as they walked past us, but they swiftly turned, two held me and Yvie at knife point. A third tried to yank off Barbara’s fanny-pack. We think the fourth ran up the street to a waiting escape vehicle and was the driver. It was over very quickly and no one was seriously injured, but Barbara’s assailant did smack her on the right ear as a parting gesture. Esterline is and forever will be my SUPER demigoddess because she attacked Barbara’s attacker and likely prevented Barbara from being injured. With those two strong women slapping that guy around, he got nothing and all three shitheads ran to the waiting car and took off. One got my passport and PC ID (which I did not realize until a few hours later) and I shoved the contents of my back pocket into his face…N$ 370 which he grabbed and ran. Yvie lost her wallet and cell phone. All of this took about 30 seconds, but the lingering feeling of helplessness and potential death, the image of the guy holding a 6-8” blade to my guts…those will last a long time. Ever since we arrived in Namibia I have spent a lot of energy – emotional and physical – just making sure Barbara is safe. The idea of walking that last 1% in a city where NO place is safe after dark was just plain asinine. Luckily we are all alive and well. Later the police came to our room to get a better idea of the attack scenario.

Thurs, 10-Sep, dental X-rays and cleaning, Olympia Dental Practice. Dr. Magdel Kruger was excellent at explaining what the x-rays indicated. The hygienist, Andrea was also expert and was perfect on plaque patrol and pokey probe. At the PCN office Patrick gave me the backup copy of my PC ID. I have another passport in Keetmans. I completed a reimbursement request for the cash stolen and our Director of Management and Operations predicted that my PC passport might show up as there is no fencing of such things in Namibia. The shitheads only wanted our valuables. Patricia, who manages the Handke, said to my face, “Those were good ones. So poor that they need to rob people. There is no work for them. You were lucky. Some will stab you first and take your stuff while you’re bleeding on the ground.” Maybe so, but I never again want to be so ‘lucky’ as to be threatened by a knife wielding stranger…regardless of socio-economic status.

Fri, 11-Sep, after breakfast we met with Katerina, one of the founders of Karas Huisen Crafts. She continues to consult with the KHC retail outlet in Windhoek. One of our favorite people.

Sat, 12-Sep, Barbara has a lengthy interview with a Nama social activist. I go downtown with Janet & Kim and have a fabulous machiatto and a huge lemon poppy seed muffin at the Mug & Bean. Mmm!  Late afternoon we taxi to Penduka for new friendships at the round flat of Andy Garrison, a Group 41 volunteer assigned to help strengthen this multi-faceted organization http://www.penduka.com/en/for-you/tourism/.  Michael, Cristal (also Group 41) and Josine, a Dutch volunteer, join us for a fine dinner prepared by the Penduka kitchen staff. A perfect evening with new friends.

Sun, 13-Sep, Ally and Kim arranged for a kombi to take 22 of us to Otjiwarongo’s Out of Africa Town Lodge for the Group 40 Mid-Service gathering.  Upon arrival Rachel and Caitlyn stowed their backpacks in their room and locked up. Their backpacks were stolen immediately as the sliding door was easily removed. This would not have happened if the lodge provided security (see Gp 40 Reconnect). The front gate remained wide open with no attendant so that anyone can stroll around the grounds to see what 35 Americans might be up to. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g974183-d1208085-Reviews-Out_of_Africa_Town_Lodge-Otjiwarongo_Otjozondjupa_Region.html

Mon, 14+15-Sep, 2-Day Mid-Service Conf, this was well planned, well executed and we found the content useful. Kudos to the PCN leadership and staff.

Weds, 16-Sep, we were quickly picked up after breakfast for a nice private hike back to Windhoek with Barron (driving) and his wife, Margaret. Good folks. They dropped us at the PCN offices and I soon said farewell to Barbara who was anxious to get back home. Following PCMO orders I remained in Windhoek as my dental work had been scheduled for the 18th. Back I go to the Handke Hotel.

Thurs morning, 17-Sep, thinking about Group 40’s Mid-Service Conference. So many thoughts swirling and dancing in my head at 5 am after 6 hours of sleep. First let me say that I am so very proud of each member of Group 40 Peace Corps Namibia. They are amazing individuals with noble and goals and objectives and they walk the walk every day. Our last session of our 2 day Mid-Service Conference focused on the definition of development, and the articulation of our beliefs and motivation with regard to the grass roots development work we are all doing as  volunteers. As the session began I was curious as to where it was headed but I later realized that many people have difficulty in articulating their motivations even if they have no difficulty in taking action on their beliefs. Articulation, sharing verbally with others, is a very important part off interacting with the rest of the world. I for one have not had a problem understanding and articulating my motivation for doing what I’m doing. But I also have not done so frequently. I am doing this work because I believe that when one has the time and the ability there is no greater good than to help other people in need. There is suffering around the world and in many countries there is mass suffering. Famine, malnutrition, lack of freedom, lack of health care, oppression, lack of education and all sorts of in equities. Much of the suffering on our little blue planet is at the lowest level of physiological needs. Help the people, people who are fearing for their lives every day. And when I say “help people in need,” I in no way belittle or minimize the contributions that all people can make in society whether it’s in a full time job in industry, in sports, in entertainment, in services. These are all ways in which people make contributions to society and in which their work is important even if it often seems trivial or even meaningless to the misinformed.

I believe that the popular version of the Age of Aquarius* and the Great Leveling are one and the same. [ https://stevelink.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/62/ ] As I blogged several years ago the Great Leveling means that everyone who has their basic needs met and is able to look upon the rest of the world and see the suffering and the inequities that exist has a tendency to want that to change, has a tendency to want all people, all homo sapiens to have their basic needs met and to have a very good chance at achieving happiness and contentment and fulfillment in their short lives. So the great leveling is economic in that as second and third-world countries improve their economies and improve the standard of living/quality of life of their people some of the advanced first-world countries will have their economies strained because there’s not been a full revolution in the adjustment process. So we will see some major advanced countries [e.g. the United States, Greece, et al] suffer for a bit as the leveling takes place. But eventually the standard of living/quality of life for all people will be very much alike, on the level. That, I believe, is something that everyone with an ounce of compassion would like to see. All people having all of their needs met and having the freedom to fulfill themselves by contributing to others. And this relates to the so-called Age of Aquarius (not to be confused with the Aquarian Age) which was made popular by songs and movements in the 1960’s. I think that the reason the 60’s were seen as the dawning of a new age may that a critical mass of people began to understand and imagine what the ideal future could look like. And that image includes no poverty, no famine, no disease, no oppression, equal opportunity. People caring for other people. I see it simply as evolution to recognition of a higher level of civilization. Just an advancement in the evolution of the species. It is all possible, isn’t it? A definition of heaven that struck me and stuck with me is that heaven and hell look very much alike. Each is a banquet except that in hell everyone’s elbow is locked and the residents are in eternal anguish because they cannot get the food to their mouths. Yet in heaven the diners also have locked  elbows, but everyone is feeding someone else. Without exception, everyone is helping someone.

* Then peace will guide the planets And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Harmony and understanding

Sympathy and trust abounding No more falsehoods or derisions

So this is why I want to help others, because I believe that all people can use a little help. Some more than others.

The other issue in our final session this week had to do with grassroots development versus just pouring money into a country, program or project. The difference between giving over control to the host country verses having some control by being in the field and at least partially integrating with the people on an eye-to-eye basis. Here comes the “selfish” part. I am retired. Personally I do not have enough in savings to make a difference in Namibia by sending funds to the government or their new Ministry for Poverty Eradication. The Peace Corps model includes a small in-country staff and enough allowance to provide each volunteer with healthcare, nutrition, housing and security. All travel is paid for by PC. So we do not spend our U.S. savings (except for vacations). When friends and family asked, “Why do you have to go to Africa when there are plenty of poor people in America who could use your volunteer efforts?” I learned that it was quickly understood if I answered, “Well, we are a bit selfish and also want to experience a new culture and expand our understanding of the world.” People understand selfishness. In addition to the selfish part, PC knows that volunteers at the grassroots level can help ensure that the money is well spent. What little oversight we may have on our projects is more than a program manager in Washington, D.C. could hope for. Project funds in Namibia can easily slither in unintended directions…if you catch my drift. So here we are, eye-to-eye with the people we help and the people we help to help the people in need.

Fri, 18-Sep, 9:00 AM dentist replaces old filling with resin and I am still totally impressed with the processes, Dr. Kruger and the people at Olympia Dental Practice which are par with U.S. services. Clear and timely explanations of what she was going to do. Pain free. Very friendly and professional care. Soon I was hailing a taxi to Rhino Park and was, unfortunately, the last person in the kombi to Keetmans. That means I was squooshed, squished and squashed in a rear seat designed for four very slender little boys. Instead we had two grown men, and two women, one being stout with a child of about 18 months to keep us busy.  For 338 km my legs were locked in place and began aching. But luckily – just 160 km from Keetmans – a passenger jumped out leaving a solo seat with actual leg room! R-E-L-I-E-F.

I was so happy to see Barbara, but I plopped into the big leather chair and just about passed out. Could not open my eyes. Did not want to move. A short while later I knew I had a ‘bug’ that sapped my energy while presenting me with runny tummy [diarrhea].

Sat, 19-Sep, stayed in bed all day, had a banana and half-cup of coffee. More runny tummy.

Sun, 20-Sep, very low energy but definitely improving. Made peanut butter pancakes. Went to Shoprite for some groceries, did three loads of laundry. Had a nice Skype with Caroline too! It is 10 PM. Lekker slaap.

Mon, 21-Sep, feeling stronger, lost two more pounds, down to 159 this morning, but that is after two weeks of travel, stress, pain and three days of illness. Hoping to be somewhat productive today for the sake of my Namibian constituents. Now ready to prep a 2-hour non-profit board training* for tomorrow afternoon. Some background on this project:

      *Date: Mon, Jun 22, 2015 at 5:07 PM

                Re: Request for assistance

Dear Steven

I am writing this mail, with reference to the telephone conversation we had in the morning.

I am a member of a community based organization called Today’s Life. Today’s Life is an organization aimed at working with people living with HIV/AIDS by educating them and their partners as well as treatment supporters on the importance of adherence to ARV’s and also to address other social issues. This organization also aims to give technical support to PLWHA, who wants to or is doing public disclosure about their HIV status and motivational speeches to their peers. The initiative is to support communities with our project in the following ways, 1. Positive health, 2. to Restore Dignity amongst community, and educate and inform communities to make decisions on Prevention of HIV and other infections.

The Today’s Life Organization has another project aimed at young people from 8 to 19 years called //Karas Young Achievers Empowerment Project. In this project we work with the said target of young people to ensure they understand youth development and growth both physically and psychologically and to ensure that they envision themselves, by capacitating them with knowledge to sharpen their skills. In order to make this programmes happen we need a few resources like, incentives for participants to come to sessions, like food for tea breaks and lunch and also taxi monies.

It is against this background that I request from your good office to assist us with capacity building, in order to establish income generating projects to sustain the abovementioned programmes. Included is a draft profile of the organization. The draft profile is subjected to change from the time you receive this email.

Looking forward in meeting you next week.

Yours in health

Gerald

Secretary

Today’s Life Organization

From: Steven Link Date: Tue, Aug 11, 2015 at 10:35 AM Subject: Non-profit Dear Gerald,

It was a pleasure to meet with you yesterday. I gained insight into your exciting goals for the community and potential challenges.

  • Please take some time to study the attached. Yes, it is U.S. material, but almost all applies in Namibia.
  • Tomorrow I will send you more specific Board profile and recruitment ideas.
  • As we discussed, it will be necessary for you to write a Vision Statement for PHDP and Young Achievers.
  • Also write specific, quantified goals/outcomes for the first year and desired growth in 2nd and 3rd years.
  • Then you are ready to recruit 2-4 allies or colleagues to buy-in to the Vision and Objectives so you can move forward as a team.   

>   Please connect with questions you may have; I am here to help you reach your goals.  

Best regards,

     Steve

Tues, 22-Sep, feeling stronger, but lost another pound to weigh in at 158 lbs! Could be a lifetime achievement? Or maybe that was my weight toward the end of Basic Combat Training, 1965. Saw Dr. Jacobs yesterday and we had a thorough consultation. We agreed that if on Thursday weight loss or any other problem continues, I will have blood drawn for extensive lab analysis. We leave on Sunday for 8-days with the kids, but lab results can be relayed next week from the doctor by telephone while we’re in Etosha.

About Steve Link

In Namibia with the U.S. Peace Corps July 2014 - July 2016. View all posts by Steve Link

6 responses to “WHERE on Earth have you been?

  • John Uccello

    Dear Steven, I have been wondering how you and Barbara have been doing. Wow. You have been through a lot! So thankful you are both safe but that feeling and memory will be with you a long time I’m sure. Seeing the kids again and being able to hug them will be awesome! You deserve a much needed break. I pray you are healthy despite the weight loss and your body can recover. You need some good food and REST! Have a great vacation and give Barbara and kids our love. Stay safe, love you, Sheri and John

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  • Bobi

    Oh, Steve, I’m so sorry to hear about your ordeal. It is so good that Esterline was with you and knew what to do! Thank God no one was seriously hurt. You and Barbara must have been terrified, but, you do seem to be taking it all very well – much better than I would! Hold Caroline, Dave and Oren close and have a wonderful, safe time with them. No more going out after dark!
    Be safe. Love you both.

  • tera9319

    I reached here when I search my name.
    I still remember this special night, talking about ramen noodle. Thanks!
    Hope you both going well.
    (Hirohito Terauchi from JICA)

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