Ask the Peace Corps parent

My daughter is four months into her assignment in the Peace Corps. She’s teaching school in Aroab, Namibia, a small town on the edge of the Kalahari desert (so remote that it was only last week that you could first see a decent satellite image on Google Maps). I figured I’d start this topic to talk about what it’s like to have a daughter on the other side of the world for two years.

Lisa joined out of college and was originally assigned to teach science in Mozambique. But she had trouble learning Portuguese, so the Peace Corps sent her to Namibia (She’s already been in four African countries – South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland (to get her Namibian visa), and Namibia, not counting her one-hour stopover in Senegal).

She’s teaching English, General Science, Business, and Agriculture (!) in a school that serves students from hundreds of miles around. They stay in a hostel during the school year. Lisa has a small house on the hostel grounds – a kitchen and bedroom with a refrigerator, sink, and hotplate (power is supplied by an extension cord from the main building). There’s an indoor toilet, but no shower.

She’s the only Peace Corps volunteer there. The nearest town is Keetmanshoop, with a population of about 16,000. It’s ninety miles away and has the nearest Peace Corps volunteers to her.

Aroab has a population of under 1000 (not counting the students). There are a couple of general stores, a farm supply, and a guest house for tourists. No internet.

We’ve been supporting her and have worked out how to call her at a rate that doesn’t put us in debt (our first call, using Verizon, was almost $200; we’ve shopped around and now pay about $70-90 a month). She also has been getting packages from us.

So, any questions?

Well, I’ll begin, with three questions:

  1. What sort of a choice, if any, did she have towards where she went?

  2. Do you know the relative ages of her students, and is there any sort of a range based on subject?

  3. How did you respond when you first heard the news?

Very little. They asked her for preferred area and if she needed to teach in English. She wanted Africa, and said she didn’t mind other languages, partly because she thought it would improve her chances.

If you say you want to go to Africa, it’s a bit easier to get in, since many people want places like South America. But once she was accepted into the Peace Corps, it’s their decision. They told her that she’d be going to Mozambique, for instance, and when she was having problems, they assigned her to Namibia. But generally they send you where the need is greatest.

Her learners (they don’t use the word “student”) are in the 8th and 9th grade (roughly equivalent to the grade level here). She’s teaching 8th grade English and agriculture (which is really animal husbandry – there are very few cash crops in Namibia) and 9th grade Life Science (biology and chemistry) and Business Management.

English is the official language, but no one speaks it outside the schools. The country chose it because no one spoke it, so no ethnic group would have an advantage. Her area is primarily Afrikaans-speaking.

We were delighted. We knew that this was something she wanted to do, and we wanted to support her. We would have preferred Mozambique, though – you could text her there.

I was just looking into signing up. When you say that you’ve been supporting her did you mean financially? I was under the impression that the stipend was enough to live as the general populace of the area you’re placed in. Is that not quite true?

No – I meant moral support. We haven’t sent her any money.

The Peace Corps pays for your travel, and you do get a small stipend. She hasn’t had any trouble making ends meet, since housing is provided

Her only real expense is food. She has to cook everything except in the rare cases where she’s invited into someone’s home. That can be a challenge. Lisa loves fresh vegetables and fruit and it hard to get it in Namibia. Even things like eggs are a minor problem – they’re available, but only in lots of 48.

The diet there is primarily red meat. If you ask to eat chicken or fish, they ask if you’re a vegetarian. A real vegetarian would have a hard time finding things (as opposed to Mozambique, where fruits and vegetables are plentiful. Same latitude, but much more rainfall).