Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Space Odyssey and Traversing the Namib Desert

And How Exactly Do You Pronounce Sossusvlei? (Article by Woody)

Leopard at AfriCat Foundation
Okonjima Nature Reserve
Well, we had a chance to find out over the school break from late June to early July when we finally visited Namibia! In addition to funny German and Dutch town names like Sossusvlei and Swakopmund, Namibia is extremely scenic, with a number of national parks and private reserves focused on wildlife conservation. So on this trip, starting from the capitol Windhoek, we went on a camping trip and traveled with a tour group from Wild Dog Safaris going north and making our first stop at AfriCat Foundation's Cheetah and Leopard rehabilitation centre where we saw an old rescued leopard at feeding time (with a mongoose and red-breasted shrike trying to steal their share of dinner) and a trio of sibling cheetahs lounging in the late afternoon shade. 
Younger male head-butting an older male giraffe

The next day we continued to the east entrance to Etosha National Park, where we spent 2 nights and got to see a wide variety of wildlife, including black rhinos, a few lions, including a pair mating, giraffes fighting (complete with martial-arts ninja style dodges and fake-outs), and lots and lots of grazers like black impala, springbok, kudu, steinbok, and gray duiker. Along the way to the central gate of Etosha, we stopped at the giant salt pan that occupies at least one fourth of the park. Since this was the dry season, the salt pan was really a salt flat that stretched as far as we could see out to the horizon. It's a little surreal standing on what looks like it could be the edge of the world. But during the rainy season when the pan floods, it's filled with wildlife, mainly huge flocks of birds, that migrate in just for the season. Along the way, both the camp spots we stayed at had water-holes that were illuminated at night. While we didn't get any good sightings of big cats around the water-hole, we did see a number of elephants, tiny black rhino, and extremely skittish giraffes coming down for a late night drink.

Himba community outside the
far north Kaokoland region of Namibia
Following Etosha National Park, we took a short visit to a Himba village, where we met a small community still living the very traditional lifestyle of cattle herding and leather-and-bead craft work. 

Himba boys (photo by Anne Stacey)

From there we headed west again to AfriCat Foundation's Lion rehabilitation centre. There we camped for the night, and the following morning got to accompany the centre's guide to see feeding two of the centre's rescued male lions. We continued on our way west toward the coast, and in Damaraland stopped briefly to see the Petrified Forest then on to Twyfelfontein to see the rock engravings that were left by the San people more than 2,000 years ago. Looking at the carvings of all the different animals they tracked and hunted, it seems they ranged quite far, probably spanning the area from Etosha or even Caprivi in the east all the way out to the western coast.

Cape Cross seal colony
The next day we finally made it to the coast and stopped mid-day to see the fur seal colony at Cape Cross. A short way south along the coast and we reached our destination for the next two days, the big coastal cities of Swakopmund and Walvisbay. There we got to take a break from camping for a couple of nights and were able to check out the more touristy side of the town. 
Seagull on lamp post at Walvis Bay
Our tour group split up there with the few of us remaining who were heading south through the rough gravel plains and hills to the giant sand dunes in Sesriem and Sossusvlei. While it is quite a long drive from Swakopmund to Sesriem, the scenery is desolate and amazing, with rolling hills of stone sticking up at all odd angles and run through with a few seasonal river beds that only see water in the rainy season. It's such a difficult terrain that it's a wonder they even tried to run a dirt road through there. The only thing that manages to grow there is a little scrub and some very scraggly acacia trees, just enough to feed the few animals that are adapted to that environment and that can travel that terrain.

It was cold on the morning sunrise
tour of Dune 45 (photo by Tee La Rosa)
We made it to Sesriem, but too late in the day to see anything but a sunset. Early the following morning, despite the cold and heavy fog, we headed to Dune 45, named so because it's exactly 45km from Sesriem, and climbed it to get a look around. Unfortunately because of the fog we couldn't really see the sunrise, but it's still impressive standing on the ridge of a 170m high dune, with nothing but wind-blown red sand dropping off to both sides. After a little breakfast to warm us up, we continued down the road to Sossusvlei to see the dunes and flood plain where the river ends. By then the sun was out and had burned off most of the fog, so we could really see the extent of the dunes. In Sossusvlei, once we hiked a couple of km into the park, we even got to see the Big Daddy dune at over 350m high. While it was tempting to climb it, I think we were beat from having climbed Dune 45 earlier that morning and the walk into the park. So we settled on a shorter climb just to get a good look at the flood plain and the few dead but still standing acacia trees that remain in the old part of the flood plain, and which have been dead since the river changed direction some 700 years ago. We also got to check out a ravine carved by the river just outside Sesriem on its way to Sossusvlei. Because it's a seasonal river, we were able to walk along the dry river bed at the bottom of the ravine, but we could easily see the marks left by the river indicating the water level when it filled during the rainy season.
Sand dunes at Sossusvlei
in the Namib Desert

After these 10 days of mostly camping, we finally wound our way back to Windhoek where we got to rest for a couple days before flying back to South Africa. Like Botswana and Zambia, Namibia is in many ways similar to South Africa, influenced by a shared history, cultures, and environment. Yet despite the similarities, like Botswana and Zambia it has many unique things that cannot be found in the other three countries. Sooo... should you ever find yourself visiting the southern Africa region and can spare a few weeks to travel around, don't assume that visiting just one place gives you much of a picture of this part of Africa. Make it a point to see all three!

Click here to check out our Picasaphoto album to see pictures of our trip to Namibia: 

A Growing Business... (Article by Robin)

As an education volunteer, when we first came to South Africa, I had no idea that by the end of my 2 years of service that I would help to create a small business project. Since September of last year, Woody and I have been working with our community to create a training center to help community members produce handmade sewn clothing, accessories, and toys.

Traditional African fabric
Soon after buying my own personal sewing machine to keep myself occupied at site, I had a community member (and now student of mine) who approached me and asked if I could teach him to sew. He told me that he was interested in starting a small tailoring business and wanted to learn how to sew. So, I decided to start a sewing and crafts class one day a week for adults that met after school at one of our primary schools. When the class started, we had initially only 3 students all sharing 2 sewing machines (mine and one of the students had her own). Soon the word got out to the community about the class and we more than doubled our number of students to 7. At that point, we still had only 2 sewing machines to use plus the school owned a large industrial machine. So our students had to take turns cutting material and then rotating turns on the sewing machines. Realizing that we needed more machines, in March of this year, I wrote up project proposal to a local community development organization named Ulusaba Pride'n Purpose suggesting that we create items to be sold in their curio shop in order to raise funds for the project and purchase additional sewing machines and accessories for the class.
Student showing off her finished apron

Pride 'n Purpose quickly responded not only with granting us the opportunity to sell our items with them in their curio shop but also generously donating R4,000 as an enterprise development investment in our business. With that money, were were able to buy two more new sewing machines and an abundance of additional equipment such as sewing shears, an iron, seam rippers, bobbins, etc.

Getting ready to sew
From our humble beginnings as a weekly adult sewing class, the Ku Rhunga Klub Project quickly expanded into a small income-generating project. And recently we just sold our first batch of just over 50 items to Ulusaba which they plan to sell in their curio shop. We heard that 5 out of the 6 stuffed rhinos that we made were already sold in the first week.

Reversible purse-ables made by the KRK
Currently the Ku Rhunga Klub Project creates items such as girl's baby dresses, boy's jumpers, aprons, shoulder bags, and stuffed toy rhinos and giraffes. To make each item, the club members begin by cutting out patterns from traditional African fabric. Coincidentally, our clothing items are all reversible, so the club members have to choose two contrasting fabrics that look good together. Once the pattern pieces are all cut out, the pieces are assembled and machine stitched together. Finally, the buttons are hand-sewn on to the clothes and the feet bottoms and eyes for the rhinos and the giraffe toys are also hand stitched. The idea for making the stuffed rhino and giraffe toys came out of the need to utilize small scrap pieces of material as we were quickly running out of fabric. Each item takes between two and five hours to produce.

Stuffed "Richard" the Rhinos made by KRK
This month, Woody and I have also recently developed a new logo for the group, came up with a catalogue of items, worked with the KRK Project's committee to draft a business Constitution, and assisted with opening up a small business bank account for the group. All funds raised by project are split between supplementing the personal income of the participants and providing additional or improved equipment and supplies for the group. For each item sold, half of the profit will go toward the club member who created the item as labor compensation and half of the profit will be given back to the Ku Rhunga Klub Project to save for needed equipment and materials.

Painting the Stars (Article by Robin)

Art Club boys helping paint the library mural
Now that the new library building is complete at our high school, Woody and I are anxiously and hurriedly trying to get it all set up and usable for the teachers and students. The new Literacy Centre will be used for reference, research, enhancing English literacy lessons, and developing student and teacher computer skills. The Centre will also be used by the learners and community members for career guidance and materials and applications for university and other post-secondary education programs will also be made available through the Literacy Centre.

Robin paints the planet Peace Corps
One thing that Woody and I have been doing to prepare the library for opening is to paint a mural. Since the construction of the library began last January, we've been thinking about doing a mural. Traditionally a lot of Peace Corps volunteers across the globe have painted World Map murals since 1988 that can be utilized in conjunction with Geography classes. It is a great idea and initially we thought of doing a world map project too. However, since the previous PCVs had already painted a world map at one of our primary schools, Woody and I decided that we would do something different and go for the entire solar system! I had the idea for the design, but since I'm not the greatest at drawing and computer design, I asked our friend and RPCV Adam Willard to design the mural for us. Adam took my concept and made an awesome design for the mural.

The painting crew (boys from grades 8 and 9)
The next step was actually painting it. Ulusaba donated the paints and brushes and Woody and I set to painting it. We asked a few kids who were formerly in the Art Club at one of our primary schools, who now attend grades 8 and 9 at the high school to help us with the painting. The concept for the mural is a child on Earth sitting under a tree reading a book and out from the book flies the solar system – it's suppose to symbolize the idea that you can open your mind to the whole universe just by reading a book. The mural includes the 9 planets in the solar system plus one extra Peace Corps planet. Just for laughs, we even painted in the Starship Enterprise flying around our little planet Peace Corps.  The process for painting the mural has been lots of fun and additionally it has been a great tool for teaching the kids about space and the solar system.

We also received a ton of new furniture for the library. Recently, Ulusaba received generous donations from Builders Warehouse and also through donors to their Kickstart fundraiser this year. Every year they hold an enduro off-road motorbike riding event for fundraising and this year they chose to do fundraising for our Literacy Centre. The riders all donated R400 per rider and this year there were over 30 riders in the event giving us more than R12,000 that was used to purchase furniture, bookshelves, chairs, and more to outfit the library.

Kids In Space!!! (Article by Woody)

Space - the final frontier.” ~Star Trek; The Wrath of Khan

With the start of Term 3, most of the kids attending the computer classes were getting bored with practicing typing and writing. So it was time to mix things up a little bit. In addition to allocating a little time from each lesson to typing instruction, we've introduced them to the TuxMath program to give them a little practice in basic arithmetic. Trying to explain the controls for the video-game format of the lesson took a little time. “No, don't just hit random keys to fire like crazy! No, no, no, don't just copy the sum! Work out the sum, then type the answer.” Eish! But they finally got the hang of it...

Math lessons in the computer lab with Tux Math
So we're working slowly through it, starting with very simple single-digit addition, then working up to 2 digit addition and on to subtraction, multiplication, and eventually (some day) division and simplifying fractions. At first, it was a little disheartening to the class teachers and to the principal when he visited the class, because quite a few kids, even those in the higher grades, were still doing relatively simple single-digit addition on their fingers. But it's promising and they're showing improvement. The game format is engrossing enough - Missile-Command-defend-the-planet with cool deep-space backgrounds - that they're not getting bored easily. The variation in pace and complexity keeps it from becoming monotonous, and kids being kids, they often celebrate with a little jig when they reach the end screen of each section that says “You've Won!

Books for Africa Project (Article by Robin & Woody)

The construction on the new library at our high school is finally finished!  Now we are quickly trying to get everything ready for the teachers and students to use it.  And of course we are eagerly awaiting our shipment of books from Books for Africa.  We want to thank those of you who have donated to our Books for Africa project:

        Helen Al-haddad
        Rhoda & Ben Hill
        Cely & Joe Alhaddad
        Marla & Mohammad Al-Sulaihim
        Tim Branaman
        Kearstin Brewer
        Jennifer Hill & Aaron Martin
        Gillian Grant
        Natalie Eckberg
        Holly Gardner
        Susan Seal
        Tiffany Lewis & Parish Episcopal School

Thank you so much for your contribution and for helping to make our kids futures just a little bit brighter!  You all are our heroes!!!

1 comment:

African Safaris said...

Temperatures here are so extreme so you should be physically prepared if you're planning on a safari here. The people are very friendly and like you said, Namibia is very, very scenic.