Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Return of the Prodigal Puppy

What would I ever blog about if I didn't have a dog? Here's Shaka's latest adventure.

When I left for school on Monday morning, I left Shaka in the yard. When I came home from school that afternoon, Shaka was gone. I wasn't too worried. I assumed the children had taken him out to play, or that my host mother had taken him to visit her friends. I expected him to follow my host family home shortly. However, as the hours passed and my family trickled back to the homestead, there was no sign of Shaka. He didn't scratch at my door, nor did he whine outside. Still, I wasn't too concerned. He was friendly with the new neighbors, I thought he might spend the evening over there. I put out his dinner and went to bed.

The next morning Shaka's bowl was empty and while Shaka was nowhere in sight, my host mother assured me that she knew where he was and would go and fetch him that afternoon. Any worries I had disappated and I marched off to school, fully expecting to see Shaka waiting for me at home at the end of the day. Late afternoon rolled around, I arrived home and my dog wasn't there. I was finally worried, although my host mother assured me that there was nothing to worry about and that Shaka would be found.

By Wednesday I started asking around the village if anyone had seen Shaka. No one had, but they promised to keep an eye out. While lost dogs are generally not a big deal to residents of Loopeng, most people were very supportive of my mission to save Shaka. Several of my students and colleagues volunteered to help me search and offered suggestions as to his whereabouts. By this point it was becoming clear that Shaka wasn't hiding just around the corner. I needed to expand the search.

Unfortunately, all of my cross-cultural training failed to provide me with the tools to iniate a "lost dog" campaign in a rural African village, so I relied on what I knew as a suburbanite American. I made signs. I whipped out Microsoft Word, inserted a black-and-white photo of Shaka, listed my phone number and offered a reward for his return. I surreptiously made copies at school, and nipped out during my lunch break on Thursday to begin posting them in tuck shops around the village. (Tuck shop windows are common places for local announcements to be posted. There are lots of notices for cattle sales, as well as local job openings and government notices.)

Outside one shop, I was hailed by a learner. His grandfather knew what had happened to Shaka. He had been stolen and taken to a cattle post outside the village, on the road to Kuruman. Not to worry, the learner would go fetch him that night and bring Shaka home.

I waited, and waited, and waited, and nothing. I was afraid the learner had gone to the farm, only to find that Shaka was dead or lost. Luckily enough, none of that was true. As I found out the next day (Friday), the thief had moved Shaka to another location in the village. The learner went to the new location, only to find that Shaka had already been moved back to the farm.

Saturday dawned, and my morale was low. It seemed that everyone knew who had taken Shaka, but the thief was hell-bent on not returning him. I went to school, taught a class, and then went on an epic journey through the village, asking everyone I encountered about Shaka. No one knew anything until I reached a tuck shop outside the school. A neighbor of mine who sells magunyas (fat cakes, similar to fried dough) was sitting on the porch. She had some good news for me.

The thief had agreed to return my dog that very day. If he didn't, she knew exactly which cattle post he was at and encouraged me to get a ride out there myself. As much as I wanted Shaka back, I wasn't keen on traveling to an isolated farm alone. I opted to stay home that afternoon.

Once again, I waited, and waited, and waited. The sun set, and I thought I would never get Shaka back. Then, there a quick knock on the door. I opened it to find a neighborhood kid excitedly pointing and saying, "Shaka's back!" We ran around the corner of the house, and there he was. Tied to the end of a disgusting rope was Shaka. As soon as I got the make-shift collar off him, Shaka ran to my door. I paid the man who returned him and went off to play with my returned puppy.

He's in pretty good shape, considering the level of abuse most African village dogs endure. He's got a rather large patch of bloody, matted fur on his upper chest, along with a few hairless patched. Whatever his injuries may be, they don't seem to bother him too much although he is spending most of today asleep. We tried going to a walk, but after a few minutes he turned around and went home. I'm just so glad to have him back! It took a real community effort for him to be returned, and I feel so lucky to live in a village where people band together to defeat the evil forces of dog thieves.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Truth and Lies: A History of Loopeng

There are books about the history of South Africa. There are even books about the history of Kuruman. But there are no books about the history of Loopeng. In fact, there are no authoritative historical records whatsoever. Loopeng's history is recorded only in the minds of its residents, and memory alone is a notoriously imperfect source. Still, I feel that Loopeng's history is worth noting and so I want to record as much of it as I can here. I make no guarantees about accuracy, but this is the truth as I've found it.

Loopeng, or Lop City as it affectionately known to its young people, is like the Atlanta, Georgia of rural South Africa. It is a city of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood was once its own village, but the population has grown to a point where the villages have melded together. To the east, there's Tlhaping. Tlhaping is, and was, a farming community. (Cultural note: The Batswana are *historically* cattle herders.) Tlhaping has been around for generations. If you wander around the fields that side, you're sure to stumble upon the remnants of a farm house or two, and maybe the rusted heap of a motor vehicle.

Just down the river is Agrico. Agrico is not really a village. It refers to the collection of homes around the Loopeng Agricultural Cooperative (basically, a farm supply store and the office of a deparment of agriculture official). These residences are a result of Loopeng's growing population. They are relatively new and laid out in a neat grid pattern, like an African village version of suburbia.

Across the road from Agrico is Slough. Slough is the site of an enormous resettlement that dates to the years of apartheid. Here is where the history gets tricky (and remarkable similar to that of my former village). The most detailed version I've heard is that in December of 1976, several thousand people were moved from the village of Gatlhose to Loopeng and surrounding villages. Those who were removed from Gatlhose and sent to Slough were given R500 and a tent (or in some cases, a tin shack) and instructed to use mud, sticks and cow dung to build a more permanent structure for themselves. They were allowed to bring along any livestock they owned, and the primary school from Gatlhose was even torn down, transported and rebuilt in Slough. Deorham's history is the same, right down to the date.

Gatlhose was not the only village to suffer a forced removal in the area of Sishen, there were others. Once all residents were removed, the region was taken over by the South African Defense Force and renamed Lohatla. It you look up Lohatla online, you will find it in reference to the military presence there. I have found no mention of the forced removals that took place there.

The primary motivation behind the forced removal of Gatlhose was to move its residents to the homeland or Bantu state of Bophutatswana, thus depriving them of their rights as South African citizens and removing them from the responsibility of the apartheid government. The removals had neither the consent of those forced to move, nor their new neighbors. As bad as it was, the end result was virtually no change in the standard of living of the peoplef from Gatlhose. They lived in mud houses in Slough. Well, that's what they had in Gatlhose. They had taps in Gatlhose, the government built taps in Slough. There was no electricity in Gatlhose. Well, neither was there in Slough, or all of Loopeng, for that matter. It would come after the end of apartheid.

While Slough greatly increased the size of Lop City, at first its residents lived in remarkably similar circumstances to their neighbors. Gradually, life there actually improved. With the help of a Catholic mission, the government built a clinic and a middle school before brothers at the mission built the high school I teach at today. While Slough is still rough around the edges, it has morphed from the least desirable part of the village to the one with the most amenities. Similar to Agrico, it is also laid out in a formal grid pattern.

Less grid-like neighborhoods are found on the other side of the river in Mampestad and Loopeng proper. Yes, the name Loopeng does have a namesake. Squished across the river from Slough and between Agrico and Mampestad is Loopeng. It is home to a "downtown" district of two tuck shops, a tavern and a bottle store, everything a rural South African village needs.

Tucked right next to Loopeng is Mampestad. Mampestad gives Slough a run for its money in terms of size, and is also the home of another primary school. The roads in this part of the village are little more than glorified pathways and they wind in and out of fields and more tightly-packed residential areas. The further west you go, the windier, sandier and generally unkempt the "roads" get. Pretty soon, the paths start crossing over to the other side of the river and you're in the final neighborhood of Loopeng. I wish I could spell it. I can't even say it. I know it starts with L.

Anyway, L is basically a reflection of Tlhaping. It is generations-old and traditionally a farming community. While Tlhaping hugs tightly one side of the valley, L meanders along both sides of the riverbank. L slowly peters out into a series of farms before the next major village in the valley is reached.

And there you have it, a guided walking tour of Loopeng today! While it is difficult to find where one neighborhood ends and the next begins, native Loopengians are very aware of the distinctions. Neighborly relations are increasingly difficult as the government gears up to distribute R57 000 to each family who lost land at Lohatla due to the forced removals. The residents of Slough are now looked at with increasing envy. The schools and clinics might be shared with all residents of Lop City, but R57 000 is a lot of money to be distributed to only one portion of the local population.

Oh well, I live in Slough. I know some people who plan to buy cars with the money. Now there's something I can get onboard with!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Election Day

Last Wednesday was municipal election day across South Africa. It was a holiday, so school was closed and transformed into a voting location. I was a bit surprised, as the community hall was previously used for local elections. It seemed plenty big, although set back from the main road. Anyhow, these elections were a bit of a disappointment in how calm and normal they were.

I walked past the school twice during the day and while there were more cars parked in the road than I'd ever previously seen in Loopeng, everything was quiet. The quiet might be explained by how few people in Loopeng actually voted.

I had expected a certain degree of hoopla around the fourth municipal elections since the end of apartheid, but no one seemed particularly enthused and the winner for Loopeng's ward was all but already elected months before the actual polling took place. Still I was stunned to learn how few people I knew were voting. Most of them couldn't vote in Loopeng because they were registered elsewhere. For the most part, they were students and teachers whose residences are anywhere from 10 to 1000 kilometres away. Sure, absentee ballots can be obtained, but who really does that? (Confession: I don't. That's right. I haven't voted since coming to South Africa.) In any case, while I can understand the lack of voting on the part of educators with homes in other provinces, I was shocked by learners whose technical homes are villages just down the road. The learners don't live at home because Loopeng has the nearest high school and they board in the village. They had neither the time nor money to travel home just to vote.

If I were a local politician, I would have hired a taxi or two just to take them to their official polling station, or made some other arrangement. These students were denied the opportunity to exercise their rights as citizens of a democratic republic because of their poverty. As these students represent actual votes, I'm surprised that there was no effort made to get them to the polls. Oh well, I think all the non-voters enjoyed the day off!

Burnt: Trash Disposal in Africa

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a visitor to Moshaweng asked me where he could find a trash can. He had a scrap of paper in need of disposal. I looked about. We normally keep a cardboard book in the corner of every room. However, at this point in time, I could find no box. "Just throw it outside," I said. He was horrified by my suggestion and refused. I have no idea what he did with his garbage. Maybe he carted it all the way back to town with him. The point is, while I'm normally more environmentally conscious, things are very different here.

I suggested that he just toss the paper outside because that's what everyone does. Everyone. And not just paper. Cans. Styrofoam. Wrappers. Chicken bones. The box they came in. Everything. This is especially noticeable aboard taxis. Whenever someone finishes a snack, they open the nearest window, reach over and toss out their trash. In the city. In the country. Wherever, whenever. This frustrates me on taxis from one urban area to another. There are usually trash cans at either end of the route, would it kill anyone to hang onto their garbage until they could dispose of it properly? However, I have much more sympathy when traveling between villages.

In the average South African village there are no trash cans, no garbage trucks, no municipal dumping ground. One's trash is one's own responsibility and "properly" getting rid of it is a time-consuming and imperfect process. Garbage is collected, sometimes in a small container but frequently in a large pit in the yard and then burned. Paper, plastic and everything else you can imagine. Just tossing trash out the window is probably more environmentally sound than burning it. In my opinion, what rural South Africa needs most in terms of infrastructure improvement is a a garbage collection system. It would clean the place up and provide the kind of low-skill employment that is so desperately needed. Are you listening, ANC?

As it is, I do burn my own trash. I absolutely hate doing it, mostly because I'm terrible at it. I just spent half hour trying to get a cardboard box to burn. Darn you, cornflakes! I can build recreational fires, but a fire that will turn an empty bag of dog food and other grocery remnants into ash is still far beyond my skill level. Sometimes I get it right, other days I run out of matches trying. On those days I often suffer the humiliation of dragging my trash home. My family doesn't burn their trash in the yard, we burn it by the side of the *very* public road. It's quite a show. My old host family had a pit. It was quite nice. I threw my trash in, and a few weeks later someone else would burn it for me. I can't believe I just called that "nice". In just a few months, I'll never burn trash again. That will be truly "nice".

By the way, had the visitor found a box to dispose of his paper it would have eventually been burned by the general worker. At school last week, I glanced out a window to see a massive bonfire in the field beyond the garden. It is a testament to how long I've lived here that I thought absolutely nothing of it and went back to work.

Ahh, burning plastic... It will always remind me of Africa.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Garden State

I was leaving school last week, when the general worker stopped me and said, "Resego, your shade cloth!" He pointed at the floor of the computer lab. There was a giant pile of silvery mesh. How I had stepped over it for weeks and not once registered its presence, I'll never know.

"My shade cloth?"

"Yes, for your garden!"

As much as I enjoy gardens in general, the school vegetable garden has become something of a metaphor for my entire service that I do not particularly enjoy being reminded of. Every moment I've spent in the garden or talking with a colleague about the garden has in some way encapsulated an aspect of rural South Africa or Peace Corps that I strongly dislike.

To begin with, let's talk about community buy-in, or my lack thereof. If I had any, no one would call it "my" garden. It would be "our" garden. I had hoped everyone would feel a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility for the garden. Alas, it is "my" garden and without my constant badgering it would never have been planted this year to begin with. I don't like my pestering, but it's what I've been reduced to. Everytime I make a suggestion, the most frequest response is "Yes, let's do it!" However, months will go by without anyone lifting a finger to help until I finally crack and start harassing someone. Whatever we had agreed upon will finally get done and all will be well, until I notice something else in need of attention and the cycle begins anew. A perfect example of this is the shade cloth fiasco.

Moshaweng's school garden has long been partially covered by a shade cloth. When I first arrived, I thought, "We need more shade cloth!" As it turned out, we had some, but it just wasn't up yet. It was in storage. "We should put it up," I said.

"Yes, we will. Tomorrow?"


Tomorrow turned from days to weeks to months. Tomorrow was about to stretch into forever, when, sensing my frustration from a counterpart project gone wrong, my countpart pulled things together and the shade cloth magically appeared.

The garden was planted, most of it was shaded. Life was dandy. Sure, no one watered it unless I issued reminders at regular intervals and sure, I could no more convince anyone to use compost than paint a donkey pink. I had no community buy-in, but I did have a dozen tomato plants. I made an uneasy peace with my quasi-failed garden.
Quasi, because it is home to some delicious looking green peppers, but failed because it's inspired exactly no one to keep it going.

And now, I have another shade cloth. There is a section of the garden that remains uncovered. I inspected it recently and despite the sun, it doesn't look too shabby. I think the far bigger problem for plants in Loopeng is the sandy soil. In fact, a department of agriculture official said that the soil was so bad in the area that it was totally impossible to grow crops. Water drains right past the roots, sun or no sun. The tomatos look especially pathetic, even though they're fully shaded. I'd love to try a hydroponic project here in Loopeng, but if few people are interested in traditional gardening I doubt anyone would care about hydroponics. Besides, the only local hydroponics project, about 90 km away, was a total failure so it's not like there are a ton of local experts available to help. Anyway, as tempting as it is to leave the shade cloth right where it is, I think I'll make an effort to put it up. It looks like there's quite a bundle, and if there's extra I may sneak it up to the creche. They also have a tiny garden, of which they are quite proud. Failure, as they say, isn't getting down, it's staying down.


Before I get to my present day griping, I would like to begin with a short history of Peace Corps funding. Since its inception, funding for the Peace Corps has steadily risen. However, when adjusted for inflation, funding remained the same for the first 40-odd years of the existence of Peace Corps. The first significant increase to Peace Corps funding was ushered in by President Bush and continued by President Obama. Between 2008 and 2010, funding rose from $330 million to $400 million. This was the largest increase in Peace Corps history. It was meant to help expand the agency and put more volunteers on the ground. Specifically, the goal was to double the number of currently serving volunteers in time for the agency's fiftieth anniversary in 2011. Indeed, the number of volunteers has risen since 2008, though not quite so far. It was set to grow even more with President Obama's $40 million increase in the Peace Corps budget for 2011. However, that did not come to pass. Congress not only eliminated the proposed increase, but slashed $25 million from the previous year's budget. Peace Corps was expecting $440 million and received $375 million. I am all for fiscal responsibility, but this is insane.

While Congress was busy squabbling they funded government agencies through a series of continuing resolutions. These resolutions authorized the Peace Corps to continue spending at 2010 levels. Thus, the agency operated with a budget of $400 million for 7 and a half months while Congress took their sweet time passing the federal budget. Now there are only 5 and half months left in the fiscal year and suddenly Peace Corps is expected to make $25 million worth of cuts. All budget cuts are painful to some degree, but this one is being greatly exacerbated by the limited time frame and a lack of foresight.

Some cost-saving measures have no impact on me, such as a large reduction in the number of new volunteers. This will save Peace Corps substantially on stipends and medical expenses in the long-run, as well as reduce training costs in the short-term. However, reducing the size of incoming cohorts has not been enough to close the budget gap and other measures have trickled all the way from Washington to my hovel in Loopeng. When Congress told Peace Corps to cut $25 million from their budget, headquarters passed some of the burden on to their regional offices with the result that South Africa is expected to cut $150 000 from their budget. The cuts have hit home.

My close of service conference, where my cohort gets together for the last time to reflect on our service and prepare, mentally and medically, for repatriation has been cancelled.

The volunteer travel allowance has been slashed from R1345 to R250, an 80% decrease that is a significant reduction in take-home pay.

All committee meetings are cancelled.

I would love to talk to a Congressperson right now. I have a few questions:

1) Where did they think an organization that funds over eight-thousand volunteers living on stipends would find $25 million in 5.5 months?

2) How will pinching pennies from the Peace Corps address the $1.6 trillion deficit?

3) The next time they decide to be more fiscally "responsible", will they consider taking the budget cuts out of their own pocket instead of mine? Or even better, address the money-sucking herd of elephants in the room, the wars in the Middle East?

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Last week was hectic, and I have much to blog about but my energy has been pretty much sapped lately. So I'll just share a funny little story to let you know that I'm still alive.

Yesterday I arranged for an educator at Moshaweng to give me a ride to the creche at the far, far western edge of the village. We stopped at my house for me to load a package into the bed of her bakkie and then took off, rumbling down the road. Shaka took off with us. I assumed he'd get tired and turn around eventually, but after we had gone pretty far and he was still keeping up with us M'am suggested that we give him a ride in the back. Her dogs did it all the time, no problem. We stopped, I picked up Shaka and loaded him up. We continued on our merry way.

It seemed like Shaka was having a great time in the back at first. He hung his head around the side to catch the wind. He put his paws up on the roof of the cab and looked over. M'am and I thought it was hilarious. We were driving slowly, and watching his antics when he suddenly leaned over one side of the truck, seemed to stare straight at ground for a moment, and then slipped right over the edge. There was one quick yelp and then silence. M'am stopped the truck and I leapt out, prepared for a bloody mess, but Shaka just stood by the roadside, tail tucked between his legs. I called him, he backed away. I stepped towards him, he stepped away. I think he was afraid I'd try to put him back in the bakkie. We left him there, assuming he'd find his way home.

By the time I arrived home that evening, Shaka was there too. With no motor vehicles in sight, he let me near him. I inspected him for injuries and saw nothing too serious. One paw was a little bloody where he lost a nail, so he's limping a bit, but overall he's fine albeit slightly traumatized and probably happy to never ride in a vehicle again.

Shaka's road accident was the icing on the cake of, err, a dramatic week in Loopeng. I'll try to write about that soon, but in the meantime I've still got spiders to ruthlessly murder and papers to mark.

Friday, May 6, 2011


The South African school calendar was a bit bizarre in April. There were so many public holidays that fell outside the official school break that we ended up with only 11 school days required by the department. Two of those days fell randomly into a week chock full of holidays. No one at Moshaweng particularly wanted to come back to work for those days, especially considering the great distances many faculty members must travel to see their families. The department allowed us to skip these days, so long as we provided a recovery plan.

The recovery plan was implemented this week. It brings me back to the very beginning of the school year, when all was chaos and confusion. Educators must make up for 14 lost hours, so we've added an hour to every school day (in addition to Saturday classes). This extra hour is divided into two periods and classes are allotted to educators via the "recovery timetable". This timetable tends to be hastily scrawled during the school day, and handed to educators at the last possible moment. It is chock full of impossible conflicts. For example, I've taught one grade 11 class several extra times and never seen the other. The result is obvious. One class is light-years ahead, and the other is lagging far behind.

Today, just as the bell rang, I was passed a timetable and saw I was supposed to be in a grade 10 class. They've been particularly (and miraculously) studious of late and I was out of new material for the week. What to do? What to do?

Play Hangman, of course.

I explained the game using "slope" and "graph" as examples. I was happily surprised to note how many learners really got into it. They were focused on the game, payed close attention and caught on quickly. I really enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm, especially from learners whose poor math skills often leave them itching to escape from my regular class. Writing on the board was also a great opportunity for the class hams to use their time in the spotlight constructively. While the game may seem a bit juvenile for a grade 10 class, it encouraged individual thinking and participation in ways that are not common in typical South African classrooms. Additionally, everyone benefitted from the extra English practice. Best of all, both of my grade 10 classes are still on the same page.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


As most of you are aware, I'm embarking on a new Peace Corps medical adventure. I have dysphagia. Now before you get too concerned, I've had it for a couple months now. It's not too serious. I mean, I'm unlikely to die from it, but it does present new challenges when it comes to food.

Dysphagia literally means "difficulty swallowing" and that sums up my problem pretty well. I swallow, and then begin to choke. It doesn't happen everytime (you swallow almost 600 times per day, I begin to choke just a few of those times), but it happens frequently enough that I decided to ring Peace Corps' medical office to have a very awkward conversation.

"Um, hi, this is going to sound kind of weird, but, uh, when I swallow, err, sometimes I start choking and, well, it's been happening for a while..."

Peace Corps is on it. They seem to believe it's anxiety-related (though I don't feel particularly anxious), and they're following up shortly. In the meantime, nobody panic. I'm an Olympic-level cougher.

While I sit in my shack, hacking food down my pathetic excuse for an esophagus, how about a delightful read on "development"? Though I tend to agree with many of Illich's statements, I'm still going to graduate school (SAIS-Bologna 2012) for international development. At least I'm a hyprocrite who's very self-aware.

Happy reading (and swallowing, for those of you well enough to do it properly).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Namibia Style

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Swakopmund, Namibia. While it was certainly a place I had never dreamed of going before Peace Corps, I had a great time.

Getting to the country was ridiculously easy. I hopped aboard the Intercape bus in my shopping town and headed west. Instead of switching to a bus pointed south to Cape Town from Upington, I went north to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We crossed the border in a drenching rainstorm, but by the time we arrived in the city it was looking clear and sunny. I may have been delirious though. It was very early, and sleeping on a bus is even more difficult for me than sleeping on a plane.

In Windhoek, at the backpackers, my traveling companion and I were lucky enough to run into a cabal of Peace Corps Namibia volunteers who were headed to the same place we were the next day. They pointed us in the direction of a Mugg and Bean coffee shop/restaurant, and we set off to explore the city.

As it was a holiday, most everything was closed up, but the cultural museum looked interesting from the outside and the gardens at Parliament Park were lovely. They were also home to a large collection of fearless lizards who vogued for numerous photos. Windhoek also has a large and exceptionally beautiful church set on a hill overlooking the city. It's also the focus of a series of photos.

Following our day in the "big" city, we set off with several Namibian volunteers to find out way to Swakopmund. It was quite an exciting trip. The first leg of the journey passed by a game park, and M was an excellent spotter of oryx and a warthog family. Please note, the warthog family was not in the game park. They were just having a stroll along the road, not too far from a warthog crossing sign. Yes, they're real.

The landscape changed dramatically from the green hills of Windhoek to a desert moonscape outside of Swakopmund. Northern Namibia was flooded earlier this year, so the landscape was substantially more lush than normal, but the Namib desert was still desert. Little but sand and the odd water pipeline for as far as the eye could see. I didn't even see Swakopmund until we were practically on top of it.

Swakopmund is an old German colonial town, built on the Atlantic coastline just north of some giant sand dunes and the more industrial town of Walvis Bay. Swakop is super-touristy and a very popular seaside destination for Africans and foreign tourists alike. We we first arrived, it was cloudy and overcast, but the weather cleared and we enjoyed clear skies and sunny days for the rest of our trip (even if the Atlantic sea breeze was a bit chilly at times).

Most of our time was spent eating. There were oysters galore, and too many pastries and desserts to count. Okay, that's not really true. I had 1.5 chocolate mousse, 2 ice cream cones, 3 cherries jubilee, 1 rum ball and several slices of cake. It was all delicious, but nothing beats oysters at a classy restaurant on the jetty during sunset. That was definitely a highlight.

It was well-deserved after an hour spent quad biking in the dunes. I had never been quad biking before, and I found it rather unsettling. I'd sooner go skydiving again than quad biking, but it was a worthwhile experience. The quad bikes were basically roofless golf carts with the handling of an old, rickety golf cart. It had been long, long while since I last operated a motor vehicle, so the quad bike took me a while to get used to. I was driving pretty slowly as I tried desperately to figure out how to steer. Thus, I began falling behind the rest of the pack. Our guide's brilliant solution to this problem was to place me straight behind him. Great, because now I'd be lost, but an unfortunate event for everyone behind me because I'm terrible at quad biking.

The guide would speed up a sand dune, turn, and fly back down. I'd grit my teeth, start going up, feel the pull of gravity on one side, slow down due to paralyzing (and utterly irrational) fear, and proceed to flail wildly in order to get myself back on even ground while remaining upright. I'm sure it was quite theatrical, but it was probably pretty annoying for the more serious thrill-seekers behind me.

The intense concentration on staying alive meant there was little time for sightseeing. According to a few photos I blindly snapped during a short break, the scenery was pretty spectacular. It was all giant, reddish sand dunes with occassional glimpses of flashing ocean. There are certainly uglier places to die, but I'm quite glad I lived to go back a few days later, on foot, and soak in the sights in a more relaxed environment.

The next day we hopped aboard a shuttle to the nearby town of Walvis Bay where we boarded a catamaran for a cruise through Sandwich Harbour. I love sandwiches and I love harbours, so it was basically the perfect trip.
Not only did we see seals, but two actually boarded the boat. The first was cute, but the second was a bit scary. He seemed to think the first seal on board was getting a bit too much attention, so he hopped right up. The captain couldn't get him to behave himself either. He just wandered where pleased, bumping into passengers (myself included) at his leisure. I guess there's a reason wild animals are best left in the wild. Still, I did get to pet a seal and that was pretty neat.

When the seal finally did leave, we headed out into dolphin country and saw at least a dozen bottle-nose dolphins. Then we spotted a jackal lounging on a patch of sandy beach. He looked a bit confused when he saw the boat coming, and he stood and trotted into the waves. It was strange to see an animal I strongly associate with land standing in an ocean, but apparently jackals are seal predators and we were just one historic lighthouse away from a seal colony.

Our vacation in Swakopmund was over much too soon, and it's been difficult to return to my one room and my spider infestation and my long trips in taxis. Oh well, only a couple months until my next trip!