I have a lot of African stories. I know, I know – I live in rural, Magnolia, Mississippi, USA – what do I know about Africa?
Quite a bit, actually, as I lived and worked there as a development worker (volunteer, so those Millsaps loans didn’t eat me) for two whole years. I lived in the bush and taught English at a school on a Catholic Mission, Kizito College, in Katima Mulilo, Namibia. My volunteer service was about twenty years ago, and in preparing for this TBT article I came across this little clip, taken about 8 years ago. So many things are exactly the way I remember, but some things are totally new!
There was one “tar road” down the Caprivi strip, and I lived just about at the end of it. I was about a 45 minute drive (across several borders) from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Yeah, you’ve heard of that place! We’d go there on the weekends and eat at Subway. OH! The bread!
But what did I do in Namibia? Why did I go? What was I thinking?
I lived on the Catholic Mission and taught English to secondary students at Kizito College – mostly girls because the Catholic Sisters kept female students as boarders. We all lived in a “gated” community (8 foot fence, barbed wire, girls could only leave once a month, at “month’s end” which was payday). Other students from the local villages attended classes too. They all wore blue and white uniforms, but it was easy to tell the villagers from the boarders – the sisters made the girls shave their heads (they spent too much time doing their hair than school work). Village learners had full heads of hair!
My Irish roommate and I kept the school library, sort of, and taught the English classes. In Namibia, there are numerous tribal languages, and Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor, so the country decreed all schools teach academic subjects in English. There was a nice group of ex-pats that lived and worked in Katima. I was one of them, the youngest and greenest of all.
I could probably write a book about my adventures, misadventures, experiences, and life lessons from my time in Africa, and occasionally I will share them here in our blog. Some of my stories are funny, some of them I refuse to tell, and others are down-right painful. Needless to say I learned more about myself as an educated, middle-class, spoiled American white woman than I taught to the African students I was there to serve.
This one time, in Africa, we hitch-hiked across Sussevlei, getting a ride in a freezer truck, and hiked Fish River Canyon.
A few years later, someone more famous than I, showed the world the beauty of this land, and she delivered her twins there. Later, she would steal my son’s name, Knox, too. And she homeschools. And has (had?) a house in NOLA. Okay, maybe we’re just soul sisters.
Apart from the apparent glam of a romanticized Namibian tenure, life was actually quite challenging for me. I did not have hot water, a TV, or a refrigerator. I once found a dead bat in our toilet. I rescued chameleons and swam with hippos. I ate goat, mpani worms, zebra, and developed a taste for chips and vinegar. Our water came directly out of the Zambezi river, and during the rainy season we had to scrape the mud off the filters to keep them working correctly. AIDS was a big deal; most of my students were orphans though no one openly discussed it. Some nights I couldn’t sleep because of the incessant drums from the village across the street when someone had been “witched.” To this day I can’t give blood or be an organ donor because I contracted (and obviously survived) a tropical blood disease – malaria.
Yeah, I have stories.
I learned to live in a pretty primitive setting, lacking most modern amenities – but some of our ex-pats lived in huts! My metal roof, cinder block flat was posh. A few years after coming home we lost our house to Katrina. We were thrown back into survival mode, if only for a few months, but it was second nature to me. Americans, you really don’t know or appreciate the material blessings you daily take for granted.
My mom and I, and probably most of America, is obsessed with watching the progression of Irma. Hurricanes originate off the coasts of Africa, did you know? Time will tell how and when and where she will eventually make landfall. Florida? East coast? Pull a Katrina and stay straight this way? And Jose is hot on her heels. I can slip back into survival mode – I don’t want to, but I will if I have to!
It took our sons reaching scout age to really embrace the simplistic, primitive-ish lifestyle again. I made (and eventually broke) a vow to never camp again – I lived like that for two years, why would I do it for fun? “I’ve done my time,” I said. But I did, I broke that vow, and now we actively recruit new scouts and families to pitch that tent, Leave No Trace, reduce, reuse, recycle! Finally the primitive life I led for a while in Africa blends with the American life of my modern family – through scouts.
If you happen to live in Southwest Mississippi and want to have some scouting adventures, we have programs in place for Cubs (first through fifth grades), Scouts (middle school/high school) and Venture Crew (co-ed up to age 21). We are having an Open House tonight at the American Legion in Edgewood Park, 6:00 p.m. It’s not Africa, not the bush, not the dunes of Sussesvlei, and you likely won’t have to be afraid of swimming with hippos, but you could, very possibly, have some grand adventures.
Elise Parker 9/7/17