A Giving Story: My Turn to Give Back

I arise from a night of deep sleep to the sound of birds chirping. I glance out my window to greetings from warm sun rays coming from an Indiana sky on an early August morning.  Looking at the leaves, dancing in the cool air, creating a mosaic of colors; I take a deep breath and a smile emerges across my face. I am home.

I throw on shoes and decide to go for a walk in the woods. Years ago, I made a trail, but I hadn’t walked it in months so surely, it’s overgrown at this point. Nonetheless, I come upon the old fire pit I dug one summer with my older brother Wesley. This way, I could stop keeping my parents up at night while enjoying the company of friends late into the night. The trees sway in the wind, a shiver shoots up my spine. In my haste, I forgot to toss on a jacket, but nothing will stop me from enjoying this moment. A loud thud and I’m suddenly awake.

“Welcome to Namibia” as the sign reads at the Windhoek airport. It was a dream. Oh, how I wanted it to be real. I try to close my eyes again to cast myself back into the moment, but it’s too late. The dream is long gone. I glance out my window to be greeted by a rush of cool air and intense rays of sunlight coming down from an early Namibian summer sky. Observing the sand, the glitter of it reflecting like diamonds, however, the glitter is thousands of glass shards leftover from broken bottles. I take a deep breath and a smile emerges across my face. I am home.

Now, to some individuals, what I just said could be taken as a negative perspective of Namibia. But that isn’t the case. Prevalent refuse is just a fact of life here due to the lack of steady infrastructure in these particular parts of Namibia. If I walk out to my balcony and climb up on top of the walls to watch the sunset you can see their form of a landfill. The landfill, in a more accurate description, is a spot out of town where they take all of the trash and burn it. What else can be done? There are no alternatives provided and they are a young nation still working to create sustainable solutions to everyday issues – such as weekly garbage removal.

I walk into my bathroom, turn on the light, and several cockroaches scatter across the floor. Quick little things. For their size, they move like lightning, which causes the ritual mass exterminations to be a bit of a contest. It makes for a bit of fun, to be honest. Anyways, I digress. I sit down on the toilet and rub my eyes. The pungent fumes coming from the pipes is enough to knock you out cold, so I quickly open up the bathroom window to let in some air. In the distance, I can see the stunning //Kharas mountains. That is Kharas with a click (i.e. //). To achieve the clicking sound, pull in the air on the side of your mouth, make a clicking noise, and you have it down.

On the drive to Karasburg from Windhoek, it seemed like it was going to be nothing but flat and empty desert for miles yet after passing through Keetmanshoop, we ended up driving through an absolutely stunning mountain range. Desert sand spotted with tiny brush and thorny trees leading up to rust shaded sand and spice colored mountains. They looked hot, especially with the African sun beating down on top of them.

In my home, I turn the hot water nozzle on for the shower and the strange showerhead spurts out glimpses of the water. One, two, nothing. Damn. Bucket bath it is. I head to the kitchen to fill the kettle with water. And I remembered that the bathroom sink wasn’t dripping. The water is shut off again. They have to do it. I completely understand. Water shortage. But why can’t they do it on a consistent basis? My frustrations are quickly put to ease because I remembered to fill up my two five-liter jugs with water the previous night. That should be plenty of water to tie me over until the water comes back on in the afternoon. I can even make some coffee this morning. My appreciation for the French Press my parents sent me in a care package is soaring.

Real coffee is few and far between here in Namibia, mostly for economic reasons. It is expensive and requires more equipment. Instant coffee is by far the popular choice. Ricoffy, a blend of instant coffee and chicory, is the people’s choice here and in South Africa. However, to make a strong cup, you may or may not need to empty half of the can into your mug. Today though, I get to wake up to a nice cup of Folgers.  

What is written above highlights my dark humor and the very early on rationalizations I made while adjusting to settling and living in the town of Karasburg, Namibia during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I couldn’t help but read the above passage with a smile, but part of me felt selfish. Selfish for the reason that my time in the aforementioned living conditions was only temporary. At one point in time, I was able to go back home to a radically different standard of living. When I finally reached that point, I found that I wasn’t any happier.

My happiest moments came when my Namibian friends and I worked together to tackle a problem or when one of my student’s faces lifted into an “aha” moment during class. I realize now it was the work that made me happy. It was the giving of myself to something much larger than my little wants and worries. It was the act of surrendering myself to the work of heightening the human condition. What I found, time and time again, in this act of giving back, are so many others following the same path. There are individuals everywhere that day in and day out wake up with mornings like the one described above or much worse and continue to give back daily. So, I write this for my fellow colleagues at Ernst Jager Combined School in Karasburg – to the educators, the cleaners, the parents, and the children that inspired me to give back, because you all gave me so much. You gave me love, acceptance, joy, laughter, time, and the inspiration to give freely.

Thank you for showing me kindness and generosity to a complete stranger. Thank you, one thousand times over, for making me resilient and capable of taking on any challenge. I learned so much from you and I hope I worked hard enough in the time I was given in Karasburg. Being back in the US, I find myself reflecting on my time in Namibia. The most significant thought that returns to my mind is how much my community gave to me – their time, their passion, and their love. Now, it’s my turn to give back.

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