Hello Otjikondo, Goodbye Otjikondo


This time last week I’d just booked a flight to Frankfurt but had almost 4 days to wait around in Windhoek for it; 4 days in Windhoek is 4 days too many, so with some broken communication, Gilly agreed for me to come and visit Otjikondo with Ottilie and Chelcie for the weekend. Our wait in Windhoek included ice cream in the park, shopping for fabric for Sara, making use of the internet at the Carboard Box, eating at Nando’s and Joe’s Beerhouse before meeting Paul on Thursday morning.Image

Chelcie and I ended up in the back of the open bakkie with a very strong natural air conditioning, lots of luggage and 2 mattresses to sit on. The mattresses would have been perfect if only they weren’t covered with plastic sheets that flapped around in the wind and made so much noise that it was almost impossible to hear each other.Image


Arriving at Otjikondo nearly 5 hours later was no less than magical; Paul beeped his horn and kids came running. Chelcie and Ottilie were greeted by hugs and squels, I got a few of the same then some ‘Miss Mary you’re back again?!‘s… It was great to see everyone again but I had to explain quickly that I could only stay for the weekend so the chance for them all to get a dance lesson was pretty slim, sorry kids!

Seeing current GAPs Rebecca and Eleanor again was awesome and they haven’t changed a bit since I last saw them. We got straight to work on Friday, I opened the shop and helped Destiny learn her rap for one of the songs in Wind in the Willows, their summer play. That evening most of the children watched Frozen in the evening but I went to look after the little boys as their hostel sister was away. We watched Antz and Matilda, I fell asleep on the freezing cold floor and woke up to some of them having a giggle at me. I got a few cuddles before I walked home.

Saturday’s normal routine was replaced with sport; the under 11s, 12s and 13s played netball and football against Kamanjab on maybe the windiest day I’ve ever experienced in Namibia. We won all games except 1 which was amazing! I looked after Brenda’s baby Crushanda and hung out with my girls Tjazupo (my sponsor child) and Eengwi (her best friend) whilst some of the older girls somehow convinced me to let them use my camera so went around documenting the matches and supporters.


That afternoon was spent running the shop whilst the others did bank (gave the kids their pocket money). I don’t know how it took so long but Priska and I were in the shop until it was dark; we couldn’t find our way out and had to stumble over to Gilly’s house without dropping the bags full of coins and notes we had. I was exhausted and felt so ill but decided not to turn down Paul and Sara’s offer of dinner!

Sunday’s church service was enough church to last me a lifetime; it went on for 2 and a half hours and I can’t bring myself to write any more about it. Tjazupo, Fillemon, Tenesses and Dankie (our sponsor children. + Eengwi came as her and Tjazupo are pretty inseperable) were invited into the GAP garden afterwards and were spoiled by us with presents and sweets. Tjazupo and Eengwi loved their plastic princess accessories and I showed Fillemon how to play snakes and ladders and do races with his toy cars.



The rest of the day was spent teaching the drama kids a dance, having lunch (Mina’s chicken and chips!!!!) at Gilly’s, messing around with the over excited Grade 7’s, eating fudge in the big girls hostel, reading Mr Strong to the girls in Weavers Nest hostel, hearing the girls own stories and acting them out, dinner with the ex and current GAPs and watching Pitch Perfect in my room with the girls.

Although my visit to Otjikondo was so short it felt really special and it’s always great to see the Stommels, staff, GAPs and children. I said my goodbyes and made sure they weren’t too emotional as I wasn’t in the mood to cry and be upset! I’ll miss everyone huge amounts and know I won’t be able to visit again soon which is a horrible feeling! On the plus side, I’m so thankful that I was able to go back and visit twice less than a year after I finished my 12 months there.

Goodbye Otjikondo, thank you GAPs and Stommels for putting up with me once again! 🙂 Love you, miss you, mean it 😉

Mary x

Weekend in Swakopmund! 4th-7th October 2012



On Thursday 4th October Fran and I had our first weekend off from Otjikondo so we decided to travel to the coast to a town called Swakopmund! We set off at 8am, hoping to hitchhike to Otjiwarongo or Outjo. After about 5 minutes of standing at the side of the road a man stopped and told us he was travelling straight to Otjiwarongo which was really lucky. On the 2 hour journey he told us about his wife and children which made us feel a bit more safe even though it was pretty daunting being in the car with a total stranger. He dropped us on the outskirts of Otjiwarongo so we walked in random directions for about half an hour until we found a wimpy burger, result! After a massive club sandwich (this is like my traditional ‘last meal before we go somewhere’) and muffin we tried to start the next part of our journey, from Otjiwarongo to Swakopmund. Somehow we ended up on a combi bus, paying around £10 for a 5 hour drive. Fran complained about how hot and stuffy it was but seeing other combis on the road with the double the amount of passengers piled in made ours feel like luxury… I chatted to a really nice Namibian woman who told me all about South African Idol and how they’ve just had the first black winner since the show started; I love hearing about TV stuff even I don’t even know any of the contestants! I read the South African version of Heat magazine which was strange and fell asleep and woke up about 20 times. There was nothing interesting to look at out of the window but we did manage to see 2 giraffes by the side of the road which was amazing!

Arriving in Swakopmund was a shock because of how cold it was there; it was probably warmer than England but it was different after being in constant heat for 5 weeks. We stupidly didn’t have a map or directions to our backpackers so we wondered through the industrial part of the town, walking over train lines and passing miners for over an hour. After being pointed in endless different directions we reached our backpackers and the owner knew of Gilly and Reiner, our hosts at Otjikondo! It reminds you of how small Namibia actually is in population. On our first night we went for a romantic meal (I swear me and Fran have turned into a married couple) and had an early night. On the Friday morning we treated ourselves to a well-deserved shopping trip around Swakopmund; not even stepping into a shop for 5 weeks is hard for 2 teenage girls. We found a cheap shop called Mr Price and stocked up on cheap clothes (living the high life!) then went to the pharmacy to buy boring things like oil for our hair that’s drying in the sun 😦 On Friday evening we decided to go Swakopmund’s only club, Gruniz. You can’t really compare it to anywhere in England because it was full of over 50s and German tourists but we managed to have a good time. We discovered that Namibian men can be quite possessive and think that because you’re talking to them you are now their girlfriend.. Luckily not all of them were that bad and we made friends with someone looking a lot like pitbull and his friends.

On Saturday morning Fran and I went sand boarding! We were picked up by the company and drove into the desert; after having a safety chat and meeting the others in the group we climbed up a massive sand dune to do our first run down. We realised that we were probably the only people there who weren’t in a couple, how depressing! Going down the dunes on a board was so much fun but a bit daunting as you just get a face full of sand if you do it wrong. Which me and Fran both did the first time round. I cried out the sand in my eye and we climbed the next dune. We spent a few hours there which was really fun but hard work as you have to climb back up after going down; I was knackered but the instructor seemed to think I was ridiculously athletic for some reason. Maybe because I felt like I was on a film set or something so didn’t stop running around. They measured how fast we each went and I managed 67kmph on one slope and managed to go down twice as much as Fran because she liked to ‘rest at the top’!

When we got back to the hostel we noticed the 2 beds beneath ours were taken; we spent ages trying to guess what these new guests would be like by looking at their bags and pyjamas. We guessed 50 year old travelers but a few hours later they arrived and it was George and Jamie! They’re 2 of the other Project Trust volunteers in Namibia, they’re teaching at a school in Guina. We were both so happy to see them and hear all about their projects; we decided our kids were cuter and smarter at Otjikondo but George and Jamie are treated much more like teachers than we are. They even have to wear smart shoes!? That evening we had a pizza together then me and Fran went back to Gruniz; we had a really good night, meeting a friend we’d made in Windhoek in August and watching a wet t-shirt completion (very strange!). We also met a group of stunt men who were in Swakop working on the new Mad Max film; they were all pretty cool and made us very jealous by telling us all the different countries they’ve worked in and all the celebrities they’ve met. The next morning we packed and said our goodbyes to George and Jamie and headed off to find out how we’d get back to Otjikondo! Our journey home was a lot more stressful than the way here as tour buses told us they had space for us but would then tell us they didn’t. It was a long day traveling back home but somehow between combis, hitchhiking and dodgy taxis we made it back before it got dark. It felt great to be back even though we had an amazing weekend away; it’s nice to be back ‘home’, feeling safe and knowing that the kids are around to talk to and play with. Being away for our first weekend was a totally new experience for us both and the first time I’ve felt properly independent; I kept thinking my parents were around to pay for activities and choose the restaurants. Somehow we managed without them though 🙂 Luckily me and Fran will definitely be returning to Swakopmund; for the Grade 7 outing and for music week. We can’t wait! 🙂

lots of love

Mary x

Grade 3 outing to Outjo – 24th September 2012


Today was really fun, humbling, scary and a bit strange. I managed to join the Grade 3s at the last minute for their class outing to <a class="zem_slink" title="Outjo" thref=”http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=-20.1088888889,16.1547222222&spn=0.1,0.1&q=-20.1088888889,16.1547222222%20%28Outjo%29&t=h&#8221; rel=”geolocation” target=”_blank”>Outjo (our nearest town). I went in the car with Tabs driving and 15 kids piled in the back sitting on mattresses, we drove for around an hour to our first stop in Outjo, the bakery. The bakers showed us around which was surprisingly interesting, they were making lots of sweet bread which is basically like a giant ice bun. One man told me that I was the most beautiful teacher he’d ever seen, it sounds cringey but you weirdly get used to the strange comments like these because everyone’s fascinated by foreigners. The kids sang 2 songs to the staff to say thank you and goodbye which made me emotional because I love it when they sing!

Our next place to visit was the police station, I expected a standard school visit; seeing handcuffs, fingerprints etc, but this visit was a lot different than I expected. Firstly the officer showed us the prison cells.. we walked through a door that was only locked with a small padlock then down an outdoor corridor to a cell, but it wasn’t empty. Firstly the officer took out a disturbing looking man right in front of the children and put him in the next cell that had around 5 other prisoners inside. The officer then told us that this man had murdered someone 2 weeks ago. I don’t know about anyone else but I was so shocked at how relaxed they were; letting children as young as 8 be less than a meter away from serious criminals. I just stood there in shock as the prisoners stared at us and tried to speak to us, it felt more like a zoo than a prison. We then saw the tiny cell that they kept them in, there is no electricity, just a room with a sheet on the floor and toilet in the corner. There was also a dark room with no windows where they would send the prisoners if they were ‘misbehaving’. I told the children and teacher how different prisons are in England and tried to reassure them that hopefully they’d never have to go to prison. Next we went to the room where the forbidden items were kept, they showed us all the alcohol and drugs they’ve confiscated and it seemed completely normal to the officers to show the kids packets of cocaine and tell them how people use it, how much its worth and what the effects are. I was still in shock.. I was then left in charge of occupying the 30ish kids in the police garden, this was by the corridor to the prison cells and the gate was open, as you can probably tell the security isn’t great here. The girls told me they’d seen a woman and baby in one of the cells and that the officer had told them that they’d just arrested another woman who’d tried to kill her baby; the police visit wasn’t as fun as the bakery one!

On our way through Outjo we went to the hospital which was actually really clean and modern. This visit was nearly as disturbing as the police one; the nurse showed the kids the psychiatric ward, telling them that the dark room with no windows was for the ‘crazy patients’ and that if there were windows they’d want to jump out and kill themselves.. We then saw some premature babies in incubators; their parents were in there almost in tears whilst the kids just wanted to see the cute babies. One was practically the size of my hand and you could see its heart beating through its chest, this was definitely the closest I’ve been to crying since I’ve been here. We then greeted all of the sick patients in the hospital which was really sweet and the children sang to some of them. I left the hospital feeling very grateful that I was teaching rather than doing social care because being surrounded with sick people made me feel depressed very quickly.

Our second last stop was at Outjo museum; I’m not really sure what the museum was about but the kids seemed to like it and we got to stop for lunch! The mattresses were laid on the grass and we all ate massive burgers, bread rolls, bread slices and ice cream then slept in the sun.

Lastly we drove to Retoma Taxidermy; the smell of dead animals hit us quickly (it didn’t help that it was the hottest day yet since we’ve been here). I loved seeing all the animal skins and things they made out of animal parts. A guy who worked there showed me an elephants foot which they were making into a bar stool with zebra sikn on the top; it was kind of messed up but really interesting at the same time. I found a massive stuffed giraffes neck and head, a baby rhino, cheetahs, baboons, springbok, oryx, a lion, snakes and so many more animals. I felt like I was in a fashion designer’s heaven; there were endless zebra and leopard skins and even a whole giraffe skin. I don’t know why I loved it so much but the taxidermy was definitely the highlight of my day. We went for a ‘quick stop’ at OK foods which turned into an hour of sitting in a boiling car waiting for Tabs and some of the kids to go shopping. An angry parking man shouted at me because a lorry wanted to park in our space but he didn’t seem to understand or care that I can’t speak Afrikaans and I can’t drive. I slept on the way back but woke up every time tabs had to stop for a warthog to cross the road which I find hilarious but everyone else thinks its annoying. When we arrived back to school I felt like I was coming home again, Giovanni told me that Fran had been crying all day because she was lost without me, I knew it was a massive lie but it was really strange to spend the day without her! Going to Outjo was so much fun but emotional when you realise that so much is different to England; from letting 15 kids sit in the back of a van on oan hour long drive to standing opposite murderers with just a metal gate between you. It’s only when you leave Otjikondo that you remember that you’re living in a completely different culture.

I hope everyone in England is well,

lots of love