Living Conditions and Lifestyle

Communications

People in Namibia communicate by mail (called “post”), fax, e-mail, telephone or cellphone, and radio.

Mail

The postal system is reliable, but service to the more remote villages is often slow. Mail from the United States to Windhoek, the capital, can take up to two weeks. From there, it could take two more weeks for mail to reach your village.

During pre-service training (your first 8 weeks in country), you may use the Peace Corps office address:

Your Name, PCT
Peace Corps
PO Box 6862
Ausspannplatz,
Windhoek, Namibia

Your mail will be forwarded periodically to your training site. Once you have moved to your permanent site, you will use the school’s address or get a private post office box.

Telephones

Telephones are available in most towns and villages, along or near main roads, most people use cell phones. No international telephone companies (e.g., MCI or AT&T) operate in Namibia, so you will be unable to make collect calls or use calling cards purchased in the United States. Calling cards are available in Namibia for use in-country and internationally. International service from the larger towns is good, but calls must be made from a telecommunications office or a private phone. Most Volunteers will communicate with home via their cell phones. Cell phone usage and coverage is available almost throughout Namibia, especially in urban areas. All Volunteers are expected to purchase cellphones, and the cost is included in their settling-in allowance. Only a few PCVs will lack coverage at their sites, and they will be able to use their phones by traveling a short distance for weekend shopping. Text messaging and email via a smartphone are quickly becoming a preferred means of communication between Volunteers and with the PC office.

Smartphones are increasingly becoming the norm for Volunteers, allowing them to have basic internet access even in their communities. 3G coverage is increasingly common but connection speeds are well below American standards. Because IT equipment is significantly more expensive in Namibia, most Volunteers who are interested in a Smartphone bring an unlocked phone into country with them. US Postal restrictions currently prohibit the shipping lithium ion batteries, making it complicated for friends, family, etc to mail you a smartphone after your arrival.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

Access to e-mail is available in Internet cafes in Windhoek and other larger towns. As telephone service expands, so will Internet access. Volunteers tend to bring their own laptops or tablets into country with them. The harsh climate- heat dust, erratic electricity, and rural conditions- tend to age IT equipment faster than in the United States, so most volunteers will bring older IT as opposed to purchasing a new computer or smartphone.

Housing and Site Location

Housing varies considerably. Your site may be a Western-style cement block house, usually with electricity and running water; an apartment attached to a health facility (nurses dorm); or, in the case of more rural areas, a mud hut with a local family in a traditional homestead. As the government has invited assistance from a variety of sources, you may also be asked to share a two- or three-bedroom house with one or two colleagues (either Namibian colleques or PC Volunteers of the same sex). Our expectation is that you will have a private bedroom, but remember that there is a shortage of housing for government staff in most areas in Namibia. In most circumstances, the ministry/hosting agency to which you are assigned is responsible for paying your monthly utilities and providing you with the basic furnishings (e.g., bed, mattress, chairs, table, stove).

Living Allowance and Money Management

The Peace Corps provides Volunteers with a monthly living allowance for basic expenses, a leave allowance of $24 a month, and a quarterly travel allowance for in-country travel. All allowances are paid in local currency. The amounts are intended to allow a modest lifestyle, and most Volunteers find the allowances to be adequate.

Volunteers open accounts at the First National Bank of Namibia during pre-service training and are issued an ATM card. The Peace Corps deposits all allowances and reimbursements at the Windhoek branch, which Volunteers can then withdraw from the bank nearest their site or through the use of their ATM card. For some, this involves a five-minute walk. For most, it requires planning ahead for a ride to town on a free day. Volunteers often travel to town with fellow teachers on payday.

Food and Diet

Basic food such as corn, millet, and greens can be bought in most communities, and a wide variety of products are available in the larger town centers. Fresh fruits and vegetables are highly seasonal in rural areas and may have to be transported from quite a distance. Canned goods are widely available throughout Namibia.

Although committed vegetarians and vegans have successfully maintained their diet and health in Namibia, obtaining the recommended daily allowances of vital food groups and micronutrients can be quite challenging. The Peace Corps medical office provides multivitamins, calcium, iron tablets, and, in some instances, vitamin B-12. Some Volunteers in Namibia grow their own gardens in order to have fresh vegetables when they want them. Maintenance of a healthy and balanced diet will be discussed extensively during pre-service training.

Transportation

The Peace Corps policies on transportation in Namibia urge Volunteers to limit their travel to essential trips and to stay at site as much as possible. If a Volunteer has to travel by road, care must be taken to choose the safest route and means of transportation. Given the limited number of transportation options available to Volunteers, this requires prior planning and flexibility on the part of the Volunteer. It will occasionally be necessary to extend or put off a trip because safe transportation options are not available. The ultimate responsibility for choosing the safest means of travel falls on the Volunteer. Traveling by road can be dangerous in Namibia, because of excessive speed and the lack of defensive driving skills. The level of driving skill and courtesy is often lower than one would encounter in the United States. The miles of unpaved roads and the poor state of many vehicles on the road, including those serving as informal taxis, present challenges to Volunteers trying to get around. Given the lack of public transport in many areas, Volunteers are often forced to utilize informal bush taxis or other forms of hitching a ride. The number of taxis available in populated areas continues to grow, and bus service is beginning to expand throughout the country, and train service travels north and south of Windhoek each week. Volunteers will be provided with information on the safest modes of travel during training.

Geography and Climate

Namibia borders the South Atlantic Ocean, Angola, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. It lies between latitudes 18 degrees to 28 degrees south and longitudes 12 degrees to 24 degrees east. It covers approximately 317,500 square miles and has a population of about 1.8 million.

Namibia’s generally hot and dry climate ranges from true desert to subtropical. As in other parts of southern Africa, temperatures are closely related to wind systems, ocean currents, and altitude. Except for the highest mountain areas, the lowest temperatures occur in the Namib Desert region and are affected greatly by the cold Benguela current from the South Atlantic. Daytime summer temperatures in the desert frequently exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime winter temperatures can drop below 32 degrees. Volunteers who accept an assignment to Namibia must be willing and medically able to live and work in this extreme climate.

In the mountainous Windhoek region, average temperatures for the warmest month, December, range from 63 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. In July, average temperatures range from 43 to 69 degrees. Annual rainfall averages 22 inches in the north, six inches in the south, and about two inches in the coastal region. Rain falls mostly during the summer (October through March), and the winter (July through September) is very dry. The most pleasant months are April, May, and June.

Windhoek is the seat of the national government and the business and cultural center. Keetmanshoop is the center of the karakul (sheepskin) industry, Tsumeb is the headquarters of copper-mining operations, and Otjiwarongo is the center of the cattle farming area. Swakopmund is a coastal tourist center, Oranjemund is a diamond-mining town, and Arandis is the home of the Rossing uranium mine. Walvis Bay is an important port and fishing center west of Windhoek.

Social Activities

Social activities vary depending on where your site is located. In more rural communities, social activities include visiting neighbors’ fields and cattle posts and, for men, drinking at local bars. Cultural festivals, sporting events, weddings, and even funerals provide opportunities to meet and socialize with community members and their extended families. Groups of teachers sometimes go to town to shop and relax on paydays before heading off to visit their families. Namibia’s rich geography provides many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, including national parks and conservation areas. Volunteers sometimes visit each other or meet in larger towns for shopping, socializing, or going to a movie. Although the Peace Corps recognizes that periodic visits to towns are important for networking and moral support, Volunteers are encouraged to remain at their sites as much as possible, to develop language competency and ensure integration in their communities.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Namibians attach great importance to neatness and proper dress, particularly in professional situations. Volunteers are expected to dress appropriately both on and off the job and to show respect for Namibian attitudes concerning personal appearance. For work, male Volunteers usually wear slacks or khakis and a nice shirt, often with a tie. Female Volunteers usually wear below-the-knee dresses or skirts with a nice top, or pants with a shirt.

Excessive drinking is widespread in Namibia. Volunteers may come under social pressure from colleagues or other Volunteers to drink, often to excess. Because of the Volunteers’ unique status in the community and as a representative of the American people, they are “on duty” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As such, Volunteers are expected to comport themselves in a professional and culturally sensitive manner at all times. Peace Corps/Namibia has strict regulations concerning the excessive consumption of alcohol and these rules are enforced. We look to PCVs to model alternative behaviors, particularly for youth, as they work in Namibian society.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. The basic “street smart” tactics you would use to protect yourself and your belongings in a large urban area are important. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Namibia Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established policies and procedures designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. In addition to safety training, these policies and procedures will be provided once you arrive in Namibia. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.

Rewards and Frustrations

Invariably, former Namibia Volunteers speak of the relationships they established as the highlight of their service. Many speak of how they learned to value a more family- and community-centered way of life, and of how they grew in patience and understanding. Most are able to pinpoint specific contributions they made to Namibia’s development (i.e., improving the levels of English proficiency of their students, teachers, and community colleagues; seeing students pick up science and math concepts; watching teachers try new ideas in the classroom; helping a community organize an important development project; and fostering a dialogue about HIV/AIDS).

The positive reflections are the endpoint of a series of highs and lows that are part of the process of leaving the United States, arriving in Namibia, and adapting to the practices and pace of life in a new culture. You are likely to have less guidance and direction than you would get in a new job in the United States. You may have to motivate yourself and your colleagues without receiving any feedback on your work. You will need flexibility, maturity, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness to overcome difficulties. If you are willing to respect and become integrated into your community, continue developing your local language skills, work hard at your assignment, and be open to all Namibia has to offer, you will be a successful Volunteer. You, too, will be able to look back positively on the relationships you have built and the small differences you have made by virtue of those relationships.

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