There are three core goals that I have as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. The one everyone thinks of is: [to] “Help the people of interested countries [Namibia] in meeting their need for trained men and women.” But the other two are not as well known but just as important: [to] “Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples severed [Namibians],” and [to] “Help promote a better understanding of other peoples [Namibians] on the part of Americans.”
The second one has been the most fun so far, trying to dispel the myths about America and to help the people of Namibia see what life is like outside of their village, town or city. That is something they can't even fathom. All they know about America is what they see on TV (mostly MTV) and South African media. Some of the people I've met treated me like I was some kind of angelic being, and spoke about America like it is some heavenly or magical place. I've been trying to show them that we're normal people and are just like them.
In the past, the third goal, to teach Americans about Namibians, would not have been possible until I returned home after service. (Well I guess there was snail mail and film cameras...) However, with the internet and all of the technology I can work on it, though the use of Facebook, emails and my blog.
Wild Animals- Northeast of Kamanjab, lies Etosha National Park, the biggest attraction in Namibia, and from what I've been told, one of the nicest parks in the world. Because of it's proximity to Kamanjab, there are many tourists who come through here, and apparently it's relatively easy to find lions outside of the park some 80 km (50 miles) north of Kamanjab, in the “wild.” From this, people here know about American's (and all westerners) fascination about wild life and have been really curious about the wild animals in America. I have been asked what wild life I've seen before, what I've seen here, and what animals are like in America.
I live with a family of four, the parents, a girl and boy, 12 and 4. One night, there was the left over remnants of a tourist book for Etosha. There were detailed drawings, names and sighting maps of all of the animals and birds of Etosha. They were showing me this and asking me if I have seen these animals and if they had them in America. The only “African” animals I have seen are baboons (running across the road), giraffes and zebras (on the way to Opuwo, the C35 runs along the border of Etosha. I have seen various antelope, but not good enough to know which they were. I've also seen many birds but they don't count to Namibians.) They even showed me a drawing of a hedgehog/armadillo type creature, and said that it's worth a lot of money, but you'll spend many years in prison if you have one or are caught with one. (I think they mentioned something about them being used in traditional medicine.) There is also tough laws on poaching any of these animals both in and out of Etosha.
While they were showing me these pictures, I explained that we don't have those exact animals, but their “cousins” so to speak. I tried to describe to them what our animals look like and how they behave differently than the ones here in Africa. I mentioned that we have lions, but they prefer to stay in the mountains, that we have plenty of antelope like animals but some, like Elk, aren't known for their speed like a Springbok (antelope). I then tried to explain a bear, which was kind of lost on them. (I'm curious as to why there aren't any bears here... Stephen Colbert, Africa is for you!) I tried to relate the story about the hedgehog/armadillo they had told me about, to a bald eagle. I tried to explain the different climates in America. There are different climates here in Namibia, but most don't see them, and they're not nearly as dramatic as they are in America (at least not from my understanding).
The next night, I went onto the internet during happy hour and got a bunch of pictures of mountain lions, cougars, other big cats, wolves, elk, buffalo, bears (both polar and grizzly), bald eagles, and even the majestik møøse. There was also a picture of an armadillo, and it looked similar to the one from Etosha! I went onto Google Earth and was able to get a cartoon map with America and Namibia in the same picture to show how much bigger America is. My family didn't know it was so big! I also took the time to talk about the different places in America, like the Rockies, the deserts, etc. I was probably a little biased with the Mojave desert, but I also showed them pictures of rattle snakes, coyotes, and other desert wild life. Thankfully I was able to relate all of these animals, except bears, to creatures they know of, and the places in America to places they know and can relate to in Namibia.
I especially enjoyed showing them the bears, elk and big cats. They were so amazed how differently they looked and behaved. They also really enjoyed seeing the møøse. They really liked it's elaborate antlers, but I warned them that møøse bites Kan be pretti nasti...