Monty's Year at Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, Namibia

Archive for July, 2010

Training

Given the content of my last few posts, you might be fooled into thinking that all I have been doing is camping and watching sunsets.  Let me put those thoughts to rest!  While many schools are able to come to Gobabeb for day or weekend field trips, most schools cannot afford the cost of transport to our remote location.  Thanks to a grant from the Finnish Embassy, over the past week we were able to bring Gobabeb to them!  In the last four days I have worked with close to 400 kids in 7 schools (40 more tomorrow!).  I am beat!

Grinnell Corps Fellow Michelle Fournier (who I am now taking over for) spent much of the last year creating the Namib Desert Environmental Picture Building Game.  Inspired by a similar game developed in South Africa, the objective is to teach environmental ethics using issues familiar to those that live in the Namib (i.e. mining, deforestation, water scarcity, waste management, informal settlements, etc.).  As many classrooms here are managed using old-school teaching methods, students actually find the game extremely fun, and it forces them to think critically in ways that are quite challenging.

One of the most interesting schools we visited was located in the DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community), an informal settlement located outside of the coastal community of Skakopmund.   Informal settlements are outside of municipal jurisdiction and do not have sanitation, adequate water access, medical facilites, or schools.  With increased urbanization, more and more people are moving here and setting up shacks from whatever material they can scrounge up.

The DRC School Project and Community Center was started 5 years ago by two social activists and has expanded modestly since then.  The school aims to take kids off the street and help bridge them to public government schools within a year or two.  The school also hosts local organizations and offers free computer classes to the community.  I really enjoyed talking to the woman who continues to develop and build upon her original initiative.

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Sundowners

During the course of the coming year readers of my blog will undoubtedly see references to one of the greatest traditions alive in southern Africa today – “sundowners!”  At it’s core, a sundowner implies 3 things – a view of the western horizon, a cold drink, and friends.  In Namibia, these things have been easy to come by!

More than an excuse to enjoy a beer or a coke at the end of a hot day (although it is also that!), a sundowner is time for reflection.  Seeing the sun melt and descend below the horizon highlights the passage of time in an intensely tangible way that few other things can.  Before your eyes, another day ends, never to be repeated.  While a sundowner can illuminate the sacred nature of the present, a good sundowner also serves to inspire the future.  No matter who you’re with, it seems the the last moments of a day are usually shared in awed silence.

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Although open-container laws are probably more strictly enforced in America than here, you should find a view of the horizon and try this one at home!


Scenes from my first week at Gobabeb

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Work

July 21: My office (!)

The last 48 hours or so have been filled with non-stop activity and learning.  Exhilarated, overwhelmed, and exhausted seem like appropriate adjectives for now.

Over the next ten days I will take over the duties of the previous training person here at Gobabeb, so I have a lot to learn in a short amount of time.  From the sound of things, most of my skill-set will have to be acquired on the job, but I am excited to learn and contribute as much as I can to what I am quickly realizing is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been able to experience.

In a couple of days I will embark on a 4 day expedition to different schools in the region doing environmental education and outreach.  I am really excited to get a better sense of what it’s like for Namibians to live here as well as explore the environmental challenges that everyone here must face.  Also, I may or may not be slaughtering a goat in the next few hours.

Over the next 12 months I hope to share little tidbits of my life here, but for now, enjoy a few of the photos I have taken!

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Gobabeb!

I’m here!

Words are escaping me at the moment, but here’s a picture taken on a massive dune where my new friends and I watched the sunset.  It’s a 10 minute walk from my house (visible near the water-tower on the right side of the image).


South Africa: Kruger, World Cup Fervor, and Cape Town

July 16, 2010:  Written in a train somewhere in the Karoo, South Africa.

I’ve spent the last few weeks traveling through South Africa, absorbing some of the World Cup excitement, seeing old friends, and meeting new ones.  I’m writing this entry on a 27-hour train journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg where I will embark for Walvis Bay, Namibia (and onwards to Gobabeb!) with Nathan.

Returning to Kruger National Park was absolutely fantastic.  The southern milky way was just as bright as I remembered it, but this time around I was joined by great traveling companions in Nathan, Kaitlin (Grinnellian teaching in Lesotho for a year), as well as my Dad and two of his friends from work.  We all made way through the park from the south to the north over a week’s time.

KNP is situated in the lowveld of South Africa, bordering both Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  The vast wilderness area holds a prodigious diversity and abundance of life.  We enjoyed some very lucky sightings including close encounters with all of the “big 5” as well as some spectacular bird-life.

From the most northeastern point of South Africa at Crooks Corner in KNP we headed towards Cape Town in the extreme southeast via the Blyde River Canyon – by some accounts the third largest canyon in the world.

Our flight to Cape Town fell on the auspicious date of the World Cup Final in Soccer City, Soweto.  Upon arriving in Cape Town we rushed to the Fifa Fan Fest – a gathering of tens of thousands of enthusiastic soccer fans.  Four hours before the match the parade grounds had reached capacity, but the party was just beginning… live music, fireworks, and eventually the game displayed on a massive screens.  It was truly amazing to see the enthusiasm of the South African people and other international world cup fanatics!

During the World Cup Final

As the birthplace of European conquest and settlement of sub-saharan Africa, Cape Town is an endlessly fascinating with countless cultures represented within it’s steep streets.  Dominated by the massive Table Mountain, the city center is nestled between towering cliffs and great white shark frequented waters of the southern Atlantic.  This, however, doesn’t deter intrepid surfers from utilizing massive waves that crash upon pristine white beaches here!

For everyone’s sake I won’t even start talking about the inspiring people or incredible contrasts that anyone who visits South Africa experiences- this entry would never end.

Only 2 more days until our arrival in the Namib!

-Monty