Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Life in Namibia

I get asked sometimes what life in Namibia is like and it is a really difficult question to answer. But here is a short note to try a describe what our life is like. We live in the capital city of Windhoek. It is the largest city in the country with about 300,000 people. We live in a nice house next door to the Cathedral. It is the smallest Cathedral in the Anglican Communion and I am the Associate Dean and Rector. We make very little money by U.S. standards but by Namibian standards we are extremely rich. Over 65% of the people in this country live on less that $2 U.S. dollars a day. We shop at western style grocery stores and shops and can get just about anything we want. But not even most of the city live like we do. Over half of the city of Windhoek live in shacks and don't have a reliable source of drinking water. Outside of a few cities Namibia is populated by rural, subsistence farmers whose life depends on good rain and a good harvest. If you look around, statistics say that every 5th person you meet is HIV positive. Malaria, TB, and meningitis are just a few of the other diseases that plague the country. 

We came to Namibia to work on a clergy training project. Our goal is to work with the diocese to help develop and implement a 3 year training program for new clergy. So far it is going really well. We have 50 students, mostly from the northern part of the country. They are highly motivated and are working very hard. I also run the cathedral, sort of. Sometimes it feels like it is running me. I am the main clergy presence for the approximately 400 parishioners and in addition I am the chaplain for the 700 student diocesan school. To say that days are full would be a great understatement. Penny works on various projects, like after school programs and organizing clergy spouse conferences. She has also started presenting at workshops on Hospice and the dying process. If it were not for her I would not have made it this long in Namibia. She gives me love and strength that carry me for days. 

We have made friends and have met lovely people all across this country. We try to spend some time every week away from work with our friends, which usually means leaving our house, because our house is about 30 feet from the Cathedral, so we are always "on duty". I have taken up squash and try to get to the gym a few days a week. I have a standing squash game with several Americans from the Embassy every weekend. Staying healthy is one of our main priorities. I wake up at 5 am every Sunday morning to try and catch he end of Saturday nights college football on the internet. ESPN shows one college football game that begins about 4am Sunday our time and they show Sportscenter USA at 12 noon on Sunday. 

Our days in Namibia go up and down. Sometimes we feel like this is exactly where we are supposed to be, and other times we are racked with guilt and sadness and feel we must get out before we are overcome. It doesn't mean we can't be in both places at the same time and some days we are. It is hard to adjust to the back and forth. Some days we can go from dinner at an ambassadors house to serving the homeless in a few hours. Lately I have been working with a lifeboat metaphor. Although we didn't come to Namibia to "save" people and we realize that there is nothing we can do for most of the people here, it is horribly painful to watch the immense suffering in this place. It is like being in a lifeboat, in our case a comfortable place to live with plenty of food and relative safety and looking out at a sea of drowning people. We only have a few life vests and they are not nearly enough to help. It is not that we feel guilty all the time, we work as hard as we can to do everything we can to help the men, women and children of Namibia. But working hard does not hide you from the day to day reality of life and death. We do not have the luxury to hide our eyes from this suffering, looking out across the drowning sea of humanity and being present to it. This is the key. If you are present to suffering it will effect you. No matter how good you are at professional detachment, not matter how much self reflection work you have done, no matter how much you pray you will be affected. Sometimes it is just too much. Sometimes I feel like we are being taken down into the waters, that our "lifeboat" has capsized and we are swimming for our life. I have been trying to find an appropriate prayer to say for what we are experiencing but it is not easy. I was recently reminded of a prayer that was prayed by the desert monks of the 3rd and 4th century. It is the opening of Psalm 70 and has been prayed daily for centuries, "Oh God make speed to save us, Oh Lord make haste to help us" Many days it seems like the only appropriate thing to say.

About a week ago the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams gave a sermon on mission that was quite good and in it he said "Mission is most truly itself when it walks along the same road as those who are suffering in body or spirit. Only then does it walk the way of Christ. …to stand with and walk with those who are forgotten or despised, the poor in city and country, women who have suffered violence, children and migrants. Walking in this way will not guarantee success or safety, but it will be a true fellowship with Jesus; without that true fellowship with him, there will be no true reaching out in love to others, and without reaching out to others there is no fellowship with him." 

We are trying to understand what it means to "walk along the same road as those who are suffering in body or spirit" We know that our privilege means we will never be on the same road. Even if we are walking together, side by side, we can never truly know the suffering the people of Namibia live with. We can be present to it, we can be a witness to it, but we will never really know it. These are nice words and what we are supposed to say about mission but there will always be something that keeps us from knowing truly what the people here experience. 

Overall this has been one of the hardest, most challenging, most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life and we are not even half way through it. I ask for your prayers for the people of Namibia and all those who are here, far from home, working and serving the people. Peace, Jeremy

1 comment:

Anna said...

Hey Jeremy and Penny you are always but a thought away!!!! My mother recently shared the bulletin from a Celtic service they celebrated at her church.....I'd like to share the Lorica Litany - 6th century from it with you as you have always shared so many wonderful prayers with me.

Today I shield myself with the threefold power,
The invocation of the Trinity.
Belief in the threeness, profession of oneness,
In union with the creator.

Today I shield myself with the loving power of the Cherubim,
Obedience of angels, service of Archangels,
Hope of rising to my reward, prayer of the patriarchs,
Sayings of the prophets, teaching of the apostles,
Faith of the confessors, deeds of the righteous people.

Today I shield myself in the power of heaven,
Light of sun, brilliance of moon, splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning, swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea, firmness of earth, hardness of rock.

Today I shield myself with God's power to direct me,
To uphold me,
To guide me,
To listen for me,
To speak for me,
To guard me,
To protect me,
To open before me,
To protect me from the snares of demons,
To shield me from my vices & human nature & those who wish harm,

Christ be my protection today...
Christ be with me,
Christ be before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ inside me, Christ see and hear me, I claim the threefold power...

The Lord is salvation
Christ is salvation
The Lord is salvation

Anna Tominack