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Here you go!  Christmas and New Year road trip on Picasa

This monkey and her evil gremlin looking child tried to attack me. Stupid primates.

We’ve come back from our trip so no, these are no longer “updates from the road”, but I did (kinda) write some blog posts on pieces of paper while we were travelling, I just never got the chance to post them.  So I’ll continue writing as if I was still on the trip. (Which I really wish I was, instead of back in Khorixas working…)

For the second update from the Christmas road trip I could write about all the fun and nice things we’ve done. I could write about the full day drives through beautiful African scenery; I could write about our delicious Christmas Eve dinner on the beach near Lake Malawi or about spending Christmas day snorkelling in the lake. I’m fairly certain though that no one really wants to hear about that stuff and that you’d all much rather hear about any mishaps and misadventures we may have had so far. Well, you’re in luck as we’ve accumulated quite a few of those thus far, so here you are:

Adventure #1 Gas shortage

After leaving Livingstone, Zambia we headed for Lake Malawi. As this is a long (1000? km+) journey we decided to break it up with a stop in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi. We spent 2 nights at a nice hostel, had some good meals and good craft shopping and got up early the 2nd day to start the drive to Cape McClear on the lake. On the day of departure we were told by the owner of the hostel that there have been gasoline shortages in the city over the past few days but that we should be able to find some on the outskirts of the city. We drove through the city, checked some gas stations and they were all indeed out of gas. No worries we thought, there are plenty of gas stations on the road leading out of the city so there must be gas at one of them. We drove past one – it was out, as was the second, and the third, and the fourth. It was time to start worrying. We certainly didn’t have enough gas in our tanks to get us to Cape McClear, actually we didn’t even have enough to get us to the next major town.

Luckily, as often happens in Africa when a bunch of white people are seen standing around looking worried/confused/lost two men came over and offered help. They knew of there being petrol in a town about 20 km down the main road then 8 km further down a side road. These guys were hoping to get there to pick up some of this petrol in order to bring it back to sell on the black market in Lilongwe. So it was a win-win situation for all: they knew where the gas was and we had an empty spot in our car. “John” (I think that was his name) hopped in our car and off we went. John didn’t speak much English so we all just sat there in silence for most of the way. This was of course the perfect atmosphere for imaging the kinds of crazy weapons and ninja skills he must surely have possessed. (Nah, not really, after 8 months in Africa without incident I blindly trust EVERYONE.)

We drove the 20 km along the main paved road to where John directed us to turn off down a dirt track. We drove and drove through lovely Malawian countryside. We passed many thatched roof houses, goats, women working in fields, children carrying water on their heads… and little else. Recall that we were on our way to a gas station. It was starting to seem unlikely that one would appear in this “middle of nowhere”. The road and scenery went on and on… and on and on… Then, all of a sudden we drove into a pretty bustling village! It just appeared out of nowhere! We drove through it and there it was – a station with gas pumps full of gasoline. We did a little victory dance, filled our cars and said goodbye to John.


Before heading back down the dirt road through the countryside we decided to stop for some snacks in the heart of the village. As is common in African villages there was quite a bit of cheap street food on offer: roasted corn on the cob, corncakes, fatcakes, and bbq’d pork (for the meateaters). Also as is common in African villages where white people suddenly show up we became surrounded by people, mainly kids, staring at us and wanting us to take photos of them. It ended up being a really cool experience – we averted the first real potential disaster of the trip and also got a glance at authentic Malawian village life.

Adventure #2 – Car trouble

All through Zambia and Malawi (to my amazement) the roads we were driving on were in excellent shape – paved, few potholes, very un-African. This all changed as soon as we crossed the border into Mozambique. Suddenly it was all dirt road, with many potholes. To make matters worse as we were driving towards our next destination it was raining heavily and there was nothing around us apart from the odd subsistence farm homestead. It was just perfect breeding ground for car damage, and absolutely the worst place for it to happen. Hmm, can you guess what happened next?

Right, some bar that holds the front right wheel in place popped out (in Matt’s car) and the car no longer went straight. (It all happened slowly so there was no extra damage or anything, but the car certainly couldn’t keep going.) After jacking up the car and staring at the innards of the wheel for some time Matt figured out that a nut had popped off the bolt that keeps the wheel in place. If we could just find the bolt we’d be saved! By this point a group of villagers had gathered around us, after all we were a group of white people standing around looking panicked/scared/wet. Off we, and they, went on a hunt for the missing nut. The kids scoured the puddles but Ant was the one to almost save the day when he came back with a metal nut in his hand.

Unfortunately the nut didn’t fit. We had one more bit of hope though: in Julia’s “car repair kit” were packed some plastic garden zip ties. She suggested Matt somehow try using those to fix the car. Well to everyone’s chagrin this actually worked! The car was going straight again and made it all the way to the nearest town along 90km of dirt road, full of potholes, in the rain, on plastic garden zip ties!

We were obviously thrilled to have made it to Cuamba, a town we could stay in. We checked into a decrepid hotel, had a half decent meal and went to bed hoping that Matt would be able to find a mechanic that would quickly fix the wheel (we weren’t about to attempt 500km on plastic zip ties) so that we could head to the coast for New Year’s eve.

In the morning, again to our chagrin, Matt did manage to find a mechanic that fixed the right wheel in a pretty short span of time. We packed up the cars and started driving out of Cuamba…

Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. I’ll just give you a brief summary of what happens next, or else you’ll be here a while (and you’ve already been here a while… assuming you’re still here… you’re probably not, oh well I’m going to keep typing anyway). In summary what happened next was:
– On the drive out of town the left front wheel starts making noises.
– We happen to be just past the “mechanic” that fixed the right wheel so Matt drives in to see if the noise can be fixed. (I use the term mechanic very loosely – see photos below.)
– “Mechanics” take left wheel off car, disassemble other car parts, bang car parts with hammers, speak Portuguese, bang hammers harder, look confused, scratch heads, speak more Portugese, don’t speak any English…
– We sit in mechanic shop for about 3hrs.
– One of us gets diarrhea (see next story).
– We decide that we are certainly not leaving Cuamba today and check into a nicer hotel.

(After a few days Matt did manage to get the car fixed, but it sadly continued having problems for the rest of the trip. It made it back to Namibia in the end but was the cause of many grievances and headaches throughout the trip.)

Adventure #3 – Diarrhea!

We never figured out what it was but something in Cuamba made us sick. Four out of seven of us ended up with diarrhea.

Worst off was Mr. S. (I’m not divulging his identity as he wasn’t supposed to be in Mozambique at the time. Should anyone find out his identity he might be sent home by the volunteer organization he’s with. I don’t want to be responsible for that). Poor Mr. S. All through the hours we spent at the bush mechanic he was writhing in pain. By late afternoon he was pale as a ghost, shaking uncontrollably and probably mere hours away from death. We decided that he better go see a doctor. So Matt and I took him to the Cuamba hospital as that was the only medical facility in town.

I’ll spare you the details of what the hospital was like, but if you want to then go ahead and picture what you probably imagine an African hospital to look like (I’m sure you’ve seen lots of exaggerated footage on television). Then add in a lot more flies, make it smell disgusting, and cover every visible surface with disgusting grime. That’s what it was like. Matt and I kept trying not to breathe for fear of picking up some deadly airborne disease but we couldn’t keep that up for very long. Anyhoo long story short we spent about 5 hrs there with Mr. S. before being told that he’d have to spend the night there. Poor dude.

Hospital where Mr. S. spent the night

When we got back to the hotel we found Ms. L. and Ant looking miserable. They too had fevers and diarrhea. The next day Mr. S. came back from the hospital but was definitely not well enough to travel. So we spent all day hanging around our hotel rooms, which at this point were starting to resemble a hospital ward (but much much cleaner).

The morning of day 4 in %&#@ing Cuamba we were finally able to hit the road. We decided that with 1 dodgy car and 4 dodgy stomachs (yes the evening before yours truly had joined the “shits club”) it was a bad idea to head another 500 km away from home towards the Mozambiquan coast. Instead we decided to head back to Malawi and spend New Year’s eve there.

We made it, had a good time, but we sure did go through a lot of toilet paper!

Here we are in Livingstone, Zambia, 2 days into our super epic “trip of a lifetime” road trip through Namibia/Zambia/Malawi/Mozambique/Botswana! “We” are a group of 7-10 (or so, it’s hard to keep track) Namibian VSO and Peace Corps volunteers. My goal is to post regular “updates from the road” througout the trip, but considering my past blogging track record that goal is unlikely to be reached. You’ll at least get this one post though, so here it is.

We departed Otjiwarongo, Namibia early Friday morning (6:05am to be exact) in Ant and Julia’s Rav 4 and got into the Christmas spirit right away – Julia put Christmas carols on the car stereo, I put our Christmas garlands up around the car and we christened our Singaporean elephant-in-Santa-hat “Malik” (after the trip: Malawi/Mozambique). After a quick stop in Grootfontein to meet Celia and her car and then another quick stop in Rundu to pick up Lindsay we headed to Katima Mulilo – a town at the very eastern tip of the Caprivi strip. About 13 hours and 1 road side elephant sighting later we arrived there at Cheshire home. This is the home of VSO voluteer Jesse, as well as of many disabled kids from Katima (who we sadly didn’t get to meet as they were already back with their families for the holidays) and 2 disabled dogs. We had a lovely evening chatting with Jesse (and each other) at the local pizza place then crashed out early, tired from the long drive.

Jesse and one of the 3 legged dogs. He was really sweet!

 

The next day our trip officially began. The first order of business for the day was to cross the Namibia-Zambia border. It was a typical African border crossing – exactly like many of the ones I encountered on my trip through East Africa: crowded, confusing, hot, and full of men with big guns. An extra complication on this trip is that we’re crossing borders with our own vehicle which means lots of paper work, fees, confused border officials and time spent getting everything done correctly. Luckily all this is Julia and Ant’s job 🙂 I get to just sit in the car patiently and people watch.

After a short drive through some Zambian villages, then another short drive back through the same Zambian villages we got on the correct road to Livingstone – gateway to Victoria Falls. According to Lonely Planet “Victoria Falls is the largest, most beautiful and most majestic waterfall on the planet, and the Seventh Natural Wonder of the World. A trip to Southern Africa would not be complete without visiting this unforgettable place. This place is rare and extraordinary. Victoria Falls is to be seen, heard, tasted and touched: it is a treat that few other places in the world can offer, a Must See Before You Die spot.” Blimey! We checked into a hostel/campground, set up our tents and headed for this remarkable wonder! (This was also the place where we met up with “Dave” the 3rd car in our group.)

I won’t bother describing the falls here. I’m sure contrived first impressions of it are available in abundance on the interweb, so if you’re interested just google “victoria falls” followed by majestic, breathtaking, wow, “once in a lifetime” or any some such variation and you’ll get plenty such descriptions. I will say that it was certainly beautiful, I was very impressed and I do recommend it to anyone planning a trip. And this is despite the fact that we visited it from the Zambian side (supposedly not nearly as impressive as the Zimbabwean side) and during a season where water levels are quite low (again meaning that the falls was not completely in all its glory). (I’m hoping to come back to the falls just after the rainy season when my mom comes to visit at which time we will surely visit the Zim side).

As is common to many big tourist attractions Vic Falls is also chock full of activities that tourists can spend their money on. You can take a helicopter tour over the falls and have a picnic nearby for $400 (helicopter tour, no picnic costs $270 – I wonder what they feed those picknickers!), go one a “booze cruise” for $40 (unlimited alcohol included) and do a slew of “adrenaline activities” such as whitewater rafting, bunjee jumping, or ziplining across the gorge. I put my brave hat on and went for the wussiest adrenaline activity: the zipline. They strapped me into a harness, pushed me off a cliff and sent me sliding 250m across the big gorge. At a snail’s pace. It was crap. Utter crap. I’ve had days at the climbing gym way more thrilling then this. Oh well, the views were nice and Ant got some cool photos of me.

I ziplined from here to the other side.

All in all it was a fantastic day and a great start to what is sure to be an amazing trip. (Assuming we can keep up the comraderie we’ve had thus far for the full 3 weeks. A big topic of conversation and jokes yesterday was how we’ll all get along with each other throughout the trip and whether we’ll all still be friends afterwards! I’m thinking definitely not!)

Joannawanders Bonus Post: Baboons!

After seeing the falls close up we decided to walk over to the big bridge that goes over the river to have a beer and so I could do my zipline. On the walk over I was eating a most delicious apple – a Granny Smith, big, juicy, just perfect on that hot day. As we were walking one of the patrol men we walked past said to me “You’re asking for trouble from the baboons with that apple!” I replied, in typical overconfident Joanna fashion, “I’ll be fine” and walked on. After this Lindsay started telling us her story (which I’d heard before) of the last time she was at that very spot. She had been carrying a slice of pizza (I believe it had mushrooms and sausage on it) when the biggest baboon she’d EVER seen walked right up to her, stared her right in the eye and pretty much grabbed the pizza from her. Just as she was about to give us the punchline of her story the biggest baboon I’ve EVER seen walked right up to me and looked me straight in the eye! I knew what he wanted; he wanted my apple. I panicked and did the only thing I could do: I chucked my apple as hard as I could. At Lindsay’s feet (not intentionally I swear)! Baboon was happy. Lindsay was not. Luckily for her, and for my chances of remaining on this trip, she escaped unscathed. She does now question my trustworthiness though.

Friends’ blogs

I have some friends here, friends who blog. (And yes they are much more on top of their blogs than I am.)

Check ’em out:

Dave’s Boring Blog

Ant and Jules in Namibia

Work

First a disclaimer: I’m writing this post as if today were still a month ago. If I wrote this post as if today were today it would contain much swearing.


After having been funemployed for over 6 months I finally entered the working world again. Okay maybe “working world” is a bit of an overstatement for a VSO volunteer post, but I did once again resume a life of getting up before noon and knowing what day of the week it was.

Sign on my office door

 

My VSO job in Namibia is “ICT Advisor to the Ministry of Education, Kunene region”. (“ICT” standing for information communication technology.)  I work at the district office for the MoE. It’s a fairly large office of roughly 30 staff and the central bureaucratic hub for all things related to education for the region. My job there is to advise on IT practices at the office. I’m not really sure what that means. What I’ve pieced together is that they want me to: train the office staff (they didn’t say what in), give them internet (as God gave us light) and to generally find other ways they can use IT techniques to better their work. That all seems fairly straightforward and easy, but I’m sure that in a month’s time I’ll find out that getting anything useful done around here is near impossible. But I’ll deal with that then.

In my first few weeks here I had to adjust to the quirks of Namibian office life. These things seem completely normal to me now, but at the beginning they did surprise and amuse me a lot, so I think they’re worth sharing.

  • My office is a high security zone. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because the internet server is here, along with a big switch that has many cables coming out of it. So they must think that all this stuff is worth millions of dollars and therefore must be highly guarded. Really though, apart from the time that would have to be spent reconfiguring things if anything did get stolen, the net worth of the contents of my office are quite low. There are much nicer computers in many of the other offices which do not have big iron gates with two padlocks protecting them.
  • I have to lock my office door every time I leave, even if it’s just for a minute to go to the bathroom. (That’s probably because of the last point and also because of the next.)
  • Random people, including children, wander into my office all the time, for various reasons:
    – to sell me insurance
    – to sell me tomatoes
    – to ask for money
    – to ask if they can borrow my cup to have a drink of water
    – to ask if I can give them a job
    – because they’re drunk and have gotten lost on their way home from the bar
    – because there’s a white lady in here and they want to stare
    – and of course because their computer is broken and they want me to fix it
    Most of these are met with a polite “no”.
  • There is no toilet paper (or soap) in the bathroom but luckily each month everyone gets given their own roll of toilet paper. As with all things in Namibian government offices it’s very formally done: a lady comes around to each person’s office with a bag of TP rolls and an official form where we have to sign and date for our received roll. (They haven’t thought to give out soap yet, so I bring my own, and get weird looks for it.)
  • The bathrooms are very smelly and disgusting and probably don’t get cleaned more than once a month. Our offices, on the other hand, are spotless! There are women constantly cleaning the office. They come in every morning to sweep my floors and wipe my desk. (Meaning that I have to move out of their way and clear my desk every day.) Every other week or so they come in to polish the floors with one of those big buffer machines. Back home office cleaning generally happens after office hours, but I guess here no one could be trusted with an office key so they have to do it while people are working.
  • People don’t use email.
  • People talk to each other by yelling across the hall. (I wonder it the last two are related.)
  • There’s no such thing as inappropriate office behaviour here. On my first day I was introduced by a co-worker to some of the other staff as his “future wife”. People also make dirty jokes openly and act flirtatiously to get others to do their work.

This is just my list of superficial oddities that I’ve noticed in the office. There is a much longer list of examples of strange office culture, formalities and unnecessary bureaucracy that I could go on about. I haven’t been here long enough to fully appreciate them all though, so I’ll save those for when I’ve been here a bit longer. By that point I’m sure I’ll be much more disgruntled and will therefore write a much more entertaining post!

My Namibian Home

It’s been over 2 months since my arrival in Namibia. I can truly say that it has FLOWN by! I’m pretty settled into my new home now. For the first 6 weeks or so I was travelling in and out of Khorixas quite a lot for various VSO things so it took a bit of time for me to settle in but now regular travelling has ended so I am feeling at home here. Work is going quite well. (I’ll try to write a blog post about it at some point.) My co-workers are very nice; I’ve made friends with a few of the ladies in the office. I’ve also met some Peace Corps volunteers in town. So all in all everything is great!

I’d like to show you all around my new home so I’ve posted a tour of Khorixas and my house on my picasa page. Come visit!