Monday, February 1, 2010

Shabbat Dinner

I was going to write about a few sites I've seen but they pale in comparison to the dinner I had last week in Jerusalem. Friday night marks Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) in Israel. It lasts from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Shabbat is taken quite seriously here. I'm travelling with a Jewish Peace Corps friend and she got us invited to Shabbat dinner. The wife of the family, Gallia picked us up from our hostel at 3:30pm. they don't drive during Shabbat so she had to come early. Her son-in-law drove us to their home on the other side of town. On the way she pointed out some interesting points in town. She showed us the house where her husband Roni grew up. Two buildings away she pointed out pock marks left over from the 6-day war in 1967. Her husband was just a boy then but he remembers running with his family to the old city for protection. When we arrived at their apartment about 4pm, all the lights were already on. They do not flip switches or press buttons during Shabbat. We were given the task of tearing toilet paper neatly into strips. They do not tear things on Shabbat. Also, most of the dinner was prepared ahead of time because they don't cook on Shabbat. I know it sounds like a lot of rules. To me they seem trivial, but to them it's quite important.

The men and young boys of the family went to Synagogue to pray when Shabbat began. When they returned we sat down to dinner. There were 13 of us crowded around two tables. One of the sons poured wine into a brass cup for his father. There were two fathers in the house actually. Traditions states they should bless their children every shabbat. I watched as the younger father put his hands above his daughter's head and began to pray. I think he avoided touching her head because she was busy eating and he didn't want to disturb her. The older father took his children one by one pressing their heads against his. He prayed and finished by kissing them on the forehead. He then took his place at the head of the table and prayed over the wine, pouring a small amount for each guest at the table. Next, he blessed the bread and broke a piece off to eat. Then he offered a piece to his wife before sharing it with the rest of the table. The dinner was a feast. We had green salad, roasted red peppers, hummus, cucumber salad, chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, baked chicken, rice pilaf and probably something else I forgot. For dessert we had apple pie, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and mint tea made from fresh mint leaves. Oh, and they sang songs of praise in Hebrew before and after the dinner. The only reason they spoke english the rest of the night was for us.

It was powerful to be in that house. I feel like we saw what it was really like to live in the Jewish faith. We experienced first hand their traditions and kinship, and they welcomed us just like family. I was particularly impressed with the father, Roni. I think he is the type of father I would like to be. His children mean so much to him. That was made evident from the gestures and many stories that were shared at the table. By the time we left I felt such a strong admiration for them I almost cried.

Here are some pictures. The first is from Egypt at Karnak Temple. The second is at the top of Mount Sinai.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Malawi, Tanzania... and beyond

I'm still alive and still enjoying being on vacation... going on a month and no desire to quit. We have been in Tanzania about 5 days now. We spent Christmas hiking up a mountain in the rain forest. It was my first experience in a rain forest. It was beautiful... sorry no pics for that one. Were in Zanzibar now getting ready to celebrate New Year's. We're staying in a place called Stone Town. It's a crazy cool place. It's a town of tall stone buildings with mazes of narrow streets in between. We've been busy dodging cars and vespas the last couple days... oh and getting lost on the way to our hostel. It's really freakin hot here but swimming in the ocean combats that nicely. Speaking of water sports, here are a couple of pictures from Malawi. The first is of me rowing a dhow. These boats are very difficult to balance. We all flipped over in it many times but eventually I got the hang of it and successfully rowed to the other side of the bay. My Father would be proud... especially since he taught me how to canoe. The second picture is also from Malawi. We went cliff jumping there. It was great fun. Catch you next year. Peace.

Monday, December 7, 2009


News Flash: My Peace Corps Service ended 3-Dec. My world tour began 4-Dec.

I left Namibia on Friday 4-December. It was sad, exciting, nerve-racking and lots of other stuff. I'm now in beautiful Mozambique... although it took three days on a bus to get here. Honestly the bus ride didn't bother me. I met some interesting people, got to spend eight hours in a place called Vryburg thanks to a broken-down bus, and my body only hurt half the time. But seriously, It went by like nothing. I think it's because of the pacienca (patience in Portuguese) of the people. We never really knew when our new bus would arrive but 66 people just waited. I never heard anybody raise their voice or get really upset. It really helps when the people around you are relaxed. I feel like that would have been a very difficult situation in Western culture. I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa at 4am. This was actually convenient for me because my next bus left for Maputo, Mozambique at 8am. I slept a little at the bus station and then we were off.

I've been in Mozambique for less than 24 hours but I like it already. Maputo is the capital. It's where I will be for the next couple days before I go up the coast to a nice beach town called Tofo. The country language is Portuguese. Many people
speak hardly any english. That's been tough but I learned the greetings and how to point at stuff so I'm OK. Also I'm couch surfing via the website. It's great! I'm staying with a nice Portuguese family. Here's a quick photo... I think I'm still on this street actually. I better get back to exploring. My plan is to enjoy some Mozambiquan seafood, museums and street markets. From here I will meet my friends in Malawi, then travel to Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt, Israel, the UK, Italy... and maybe more if I'm not broke. Tudo Bem, Chao!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sometimes I do work

September was the busiest month I’ve had since Peace Corps training two years ago. Here are the highlights:

Close of Service Conference: Peace Corps had us in Windhoek for four days to prepare us for the end of our service. It was mostly paperwork and logistical crap but there were a few sentimental moments too... although they won't compare to saying goodbye to my Namibian family and friends.

AIDS Club Workshop: I helped facilitate a 2-day workshop for 13-16 year-old kids from around Oshikoto Region. These kids were chosen to head up AIDS Clubs at their schools. These clubs are designed to inform young people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS... of course... but also to learn leadership skills and have some fun (fun pictured). Many of the kids came from villages and had difficulty with English, especially our American accents,
but we facilitated alongside multi-lingual Namibians so it worked out fine.

Tsumeb Family Support Centre (TFSC) Spring Walk: TFSC is the new name for the centre where I work. We merged with The Women and Child Centre to form our new organisation. We’re having considerable financial difficulties so we decided to raise money through this event. We walked about 5kms with a police escort. We then had refreshments and games for the kids in the park afterwards. The pony rides, tug-of-war and sack races were a hit. We managed to raise a little money and had a good time.

Support Group Sewing Continues: Our support group has really kicked it into gear. I’m handing over all the responsibility to them step by step. They now have group positions, responsibilities, keys and soon control of the bank account. In Octoberthey will show off their dresses at the biggest party of the year, Tsumeb Copper Festival. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Male Engagement Workshop: This one took up most of my time in September. I basically organised it on my own. Male Engagement is a program addressing gender norms, gender inequality and how they relate to community problems like violence, alcohol abuse and HIV. I really like this material and I love the discussions we get from it. When you boil it down what we’re really talking about is how men’s behaviour toward women is often the root of our community problems. I think the format it’s presented in allows men and women to be honest about what’s going on without disrespecting each other. We had 15 attendees (pictured) from different government ministries, religious organisations and the Namibian Police. They came with a range of conservative and liberal views, but I think we managed to pull off a pretty constructive two days.
I couldn’t have done it without my good friend Udi (pictured). I tend to stress out about small details, but that’s hard to do when Udi’s just smiling and enjoying the whole thing. I owe him a lot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Owambo Wedding

Last weekend I attended an Owambo wedding. Their culture is the one I've grown closest to here in Namibia. I live near Owamboland, just north of Tsumeb, so naturally I have met more of them. My family in Tsumeb is Owambo. I have many Oshiwambo speaking friends. My girlfriend is Owambo and the bride in the wedding is her cousin. The wedding was fine, but I must admit my favourite part was the slaughtering of three cows. I've never seen it done before. It took 4-5 guys a couple of hours on each cow. Here are some pictures.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beautiful View

It’s the ghetto (location), but the view is beautiful. I was in the big capital of Windhoek last weekend with friends. We went to a family member’s house for dinner. At first we regretted the decision because it was difficult to find. We had to wait 30 minutes while two little girls from the house came to fetch us at a crossroads. They led us through a myriad of hills and dirt roads that had us constantly asking, “are we there yet?” When we did arrive my out-of-shape friend thought she would faint. We gave her a beer and then she was fine. The house was small and simple as most homes in the location are. The beauty of it was we were on the very outskirts of the city, up on a hill… in the ghetto. In America it would be prime suburb real estate; great mountain views, beautiful sunsets and away from the noise of the city. I watched one of those sunsets while the two little girls from the house jumped rope and played paddy cake. Their jump rope is made of plastic bags. They just tie them together until it’s long enough. Kids even make soccer balls out of plastic bags. I also noticed a creative soccer goal the other day. They strung together a bunch of aluminum cans and tied it to the top of two posts… and we think we know how to recycle.

The sitting room was crammed with two couches, two chairs and a coffee table. There was just enough room for the seven of us to eat dinner together. The ladies placed the different dishes around the table. It’s a good thing we didn’t use plates because there wouldn’t have been room. The dishes were pap (porridge), ekaka (traditional spinach), soup, pork steaks and fish (one giant Angel Fish stuffed with sliced tomato, onion and seasonings…yum!). Everything was really good, especially the atmosphere. It’s not that often I get to enjoy a traditional meal, in the traditional manner, sitting together and sharing. It still gives me a special feeling doing this. I feel accepted. I don’t feel like an outsider. Even after two years I still clearly recognize that I am an outsider. When moments like this occur, I cherish them.

I don’t usually enjoy going to Windhoek, but this time was different. I wish I had a few pictures for you but taking them would’ve been silly. It would’ve changed the atmosphere, and I would've felt like an outsider.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bummin Around

Wow it's been a while, neh? I'm still chugging along. I just finished another vacation with my Dad and his wife, Kim. It was nice but unfortunately they both got sick and we had to trim some things off our trip. I sure am lucky to get all this free time to roam around Namibia, and other countries. Sometimes I forget I have a job. Speaking of which... Our support group is still going pretty strong. The ladies are finishing up their sewing classes and soon will be making there own dresses and other clothing. I'm in the process of buying the necessary materials now. We have to spend the rest of our grant money before the end of July. I hope to post a blog in the next couple months showing what we've produced and maybe even sold. Wish us luck.

Sorry I don't have more. I'll get some pictures up soon. I promise.