Thursday, March 20, 2014

Storied Past: Namibia Volume 1

Recently I was at a dinner and the topic of goat meat somehow organically arose in conversation. I chimed in, "we slaughtered a goat in Africa," and when the other diners looked at me with puzzled expressions I realized two things: 1. I am terrible at dinner conversation, and 2. There are huge stories from my life that I forget to tell people, like the story(ies) from the time I spent in Africa. I'll probably someday forget all of those stories if I don't write them down. THEREFORE, ERGO, ETC., I'm going to try and spend one day a week blogging my tales from days gone by.

So here we are. Story number 1. Or I guess the first part of story number one because I don't have the patience to write it all down at once. You probably wouldn't have the patience to read it all at once. I'll be impressed if you make it to the end of this post. I know how you millennials are.

In the early spring of 2006, I was feeling down, for whatever reason a 20-year-old female university student might be feeling down. I don't really remember. But I do remember thinking "I'm in the depth of despair so now feels like a really good time to make a completely impulsive and expensive decision." I saw a sign in the basement of the BYU humanities building advertising the Namibia summer study abroad, and that afternoon I signed up.

Even after meeting with the program director and attending the half-semester class meant to prep me and twenty other students for our departure, I  had no idea what I would be doing that summer. I knew we would be living among the Himba tribe conducting anthropology research. I knew at some point I might see an elephant. That was it. Other people assumed I was a better person than I really am and that I was performing some sort of service mission digging wells or feeding the hungry. I did not correct their misconceptions as quickly as I should have.

I did get way too much pleasure out of telling other people I was about to spend a significant amount of time on a foreign continent. In announcing my plans I would be sure to place a whole lot of emphasis on the word Africa. I loved watching jaws drop and eyes widen in reaction. I felt instantly interesting. I assumed I was the first ever white woman from Provo to make such a courageous journey and I was to be lauded for my bravery.

In June I flew from Salt Lake City to Johannesburg. Hell is an eighteen hour plan ride next to the bathroom with only a paperback copy of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason to pass the time. The woman in the seat beside me spoke zero English and smelled long overdue for a shower.

I arrived in South Africa with bloodshot eyes and an aching back, just in time to catch my flight to Windhoek, Namibia. An hour later as the plane landed at the tiny Windhoek airport I looked out at the terrain and thought, somewhat disappointed, "This looks like Utah." It's amazing how most of the world looks pretty much the same with only slight variations.

I had never been more tired than when I retrieved my luggage from the airport's single baggage carousel, hopped in a taxi van, and headed to meet the rest of the students for the beginning of our adventure.


Next week on Namibia Volume 2: I touch cow poop

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