Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

It is with very mixed emotions that I write to tell you about the last couple of months here in Namibia. So much has been happening that is wonderful and incredible, but here at the holidays we are really missing our family and friends at home. It is not that we haven't missed them before now, just that holidays bring a special kind of homesickness.

One of the reasons we are so homesick now is that my sister Monica had her first baby about two weeks ago on December 6th. We are new aunt and uncle and will be missing Max's first Christmas. He is a beautiful baby and Monica and Phil (her husband) are awesome parents. Please pray for them as they experience all the joys and challenges to come.

So it has been almost 2 months since our last post. It is not that we have had nothing to tell but that here in Namibia, especially in Windhoek, November and the first of December are extremely busy. It is just turning from spring to summer and the schools are out for their long summer break before the new school year begins in mid-January. December through mid-January is also holiday time for most of the country. By the second week in December most government offices have closed and people have started travelling. Many people go to the coast (where we spent a week) and others go to their traditional homesteads in the North. Really everything has to be finished for the year by November. Some of the highlights of November were Thanksgiving with a group of new friends from the U.S. Embassy. You know its not really a holiday unless you are an American. The Loaves and Fishes Christmas Party. As you may remember Loaves and Fishes is the homeless feeding program of the Cathedral. It provides food every Wednesday for around 40-60 homeless people from our community. It also provides a hot meal one Saturday a month. This year we expanded its mission to also provide medical vouchers for basic healthcare. At the end of the year we have a party for all the regulars and give them gifts of clothes and basic self care items. It was a great party. The last, biggest thing for November was the Bishop's visit on the 30th. Bishop Nakwatumba came and baptised 11 and confirmed 32 in a three hour service with more people sitting outside than inside. In fact we did the baptisms outside so that more people would be involved in the service.

The month of December started off with a bang. On December 3rd we celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. Nothing big. Just a toast and plans for our two week trip away from Windhoek.

Most everyone we talk to about living in a foriegn counrty tells us that it takes at least 6 months to get used to your new place. We are just shy of 6 months and unless something huge happens in the next 4 days I think it may take a little longer. We decided that mid-December would be a good time to get away from the city and travel a little on the way to our friend Lukas' wedding in the North.

We left on the 8th of December and drove through the bush to Swakopmund on the coast. We spent a cloudy and cool week there before heading North to Twyfelfontein for a couple of nights of camping on the banks of the (dry) Aba Huab river in Damaraland. The drive was amazing and Twyfelfontein is home to the largest collection of ancient rock carvings in Africa. Some of the carvings are over 6000 years old. One of the coolest is the Lion Man carving depicting the shamanistic belief that they could change into animal form. The feet and tail of the lion have human hands with five fingers. You can also see giraffe, rhino, springbok and quite a few other animals in this carving.

After two nights under the stars our trip carried us further North through terrain that reminded us of our trip through the Southwestern U.S. a few years ago. We drove several hours to just outside the Okakweyu Gate of Etosha National Park. Etosha is a huge game reserve that many people say is the best in all of Africa. After this trip we would have to agree. We spent two days in the park and saw an amazing array of animals. The two that stand out the most were the lions and the elephants.

Rather than tell the whole story in one long blog post we will post a more detailed story and a web album after the first of the year. But here are two photos that will sum up our experience. The first is of a massive old bull elephant that came out of the bush and straight toward our car. Penny took this photo as we were backing up the road. He walked right in front of our car and over to a mud hole in the road to spray himself with mud. We sat less than 20 feet from him for about half an hour. He never seemed to care that we were there, only that we were between him and the mud hole.

The second photo is one of about 50 we took of a pride of lions lying just off the side of the road. We were acutally on our way out of the park when we saw two cars parked side by side in the road. We wondered what they were doing and as we drove past them looked down and saw a male lion with two females and two weaned cubs lying under this tree. We sat and watched them over the next hour. We were never more than 30 feet from them. Over that hour one of the females went out to the bush and caught a jackal puppy and the male mated with the other female. It was like we had stepped into an episode of Wild Kingdom or were on National Geographic.

After leaving Etosha we continued driving north to our final destination Rev. Lukas Katenda's wedding. Lukas' wedding was a three day event that started on Thurday night at his homestead. Acutally it started that night at Lukas' and about 200 kilometers away at his bride's father's homestead. The night before the wedding family and friends get together to eat a freshly killed cow and to dance and sing through the night. We spent about 4 hours at Lukas' that night and did just that. Ate meat from a handmade traditional bowl and danced with the family and friends. We hit the bed about 1am that night.

The next day was the wedding day. It was supposed to begin at 9am. This being Africa we did not even arive until 10am and were almost the first there. The wedding actually began at 12pm and ended about 4pm. It was a traditional Anglican wedding with lots of singing and speeches after the official service. After the wedding comes the bride's reception at her homestead. We got there about 6pm and followed the procession of singing and dancing to the tree. It is traditional for the new bride and groom to go to a nearby tree for more speeches and the giving of gifts from the bride's family and friends. After the tree service everyone heads into the homestead where huge tents have been assembled for the reception. But this is just the fist of two massive parties. The second takes place on day 3.

The bride and groom do not stay together on their wedding night. Instead the next day the groom goes and gets her and brings her to his homestead and another day and night of parties begins. I have downloaded quite a few photos from the wedding to this web album Lukas and Aune Wedding Photos Web Album I hope you enjoy the photos. If you have any questions about what you see please ask. There are so many details to a traditional wedding ceremony in Ovambo culture I could never know them or write them all. But we did learn a lot from the elders of the tribes and we may be able to answer a few questions.

It would be very easy for someone reading this blog to get the impression that driving around Namibia is just one big safari adventure. Namibia is a beautiful country, both naturally and its people, but this beauty can mask the ugliness of abject poverty and disease. As we travelled through the small towns and villages we were met with experiences of terrible suffering. People of all ages were scratching out a meager life selling trinkets on the roadside. We passed one cart pulled by donkeys that had a wheelchair strapped to the back. Children at every stopped begged for a dollar (about 10 cents U.S.). Most of the country lives like this. 60-65% live on less than $2 a day. We drove past children drinking from puddles of water on the roadside. There have been recent reports of cholera. Namibia has a particularly virulant strain of Malaria called falciparum. If not diagnosed early and correctly (its symptoms are like the flu) it attacks the brain can lead to death. Every night after we left Swakopmund we slept under a net took our medication and sprayed ourselves with Peaceful Sleep bug spray. We only drank only bottled drinks and carried all our own water. One part of the wedding celebrations that very few people know about it that, when you get married you are expected to feed anyone who shows up and given the high poverty rate hundreds of people showed up at Lukas' wedding looking for food. And they were fed because they were part of the community. This trip across the country goes into our conflicting experiences in Namibia. On the one hand beautiful on the other ugly. On the one hand happiness and joy on the other pain and suffering. Remembering that every 5th person we met was probably HIV positive.

We are now back in Windhoek and preparing for Christmas services. Christmas Eve Mass is at 11pm and Christmas Day is 830am. We have decided to spend a quiet Christmas at home and make a few dishes to make us feel a little closer to home. We want to take this opportunity say thank you to everyone who has supported us over the past year. It has been a time of unbelievable change in our life and there have been quite a few times over the past 6 months that we had no idea what we were doing or why. And almost every single time we were at our most lonely or hopeless or homesick someone wrote us an email or called us on Skype to say hello and remind us we were not for. Other times we would be reminded of how many people were praying for us and supporting us financially in our ministry. You have helped us so much over the past year. Next year is going to be full of more challenges. I will be starting work on our theological training program (January 4-10 is orientation) and Penny will begin working with the diocesan HIV/AIDS program and continuing her work with the after school program. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and we will write again after the new year. Love, Penny and Jeremy

1 comment:

Anne Palmer said...

Jeremy and Penny,

Thank you for being the light-bearers, not an easy job. You are in our thoughts and prayers always.

The second box came back, apparently damaged in the mail. We'll try again, and maybe the blackboards will finally arrive.

Know that you are loved and treasured.