Mid-Service is a conference that takes place around the full year mark for all the volunteers in each group. Group 32’s AVC this year took place during early July, right before the All Volunteers Conference. We are once again sent back to the lodge on the top of a cliff right outside Windhoek for two days, bombarded with sessions after sessions, with themes that runs along the line of “What have you learned?” “What are you expectations?” “In what area do you need more support?” These sessions quickly became soporific after a while, and many of us concentrated our efforts on hoarding free mint candies and doodling on the margins of handouts.
However, a few heated exchanges between volunteers and Peace Corps staff woke highlighted the two-day conference. In particular after an escalating debate over the issue of site-evaluation, one Peace Corps staff member made a comment along the line that some sites don’t really want volunteers, which was why getting support to the site was difficult. That comment instantly caused a murmur around the room, since most of us believed that Peace Corps should only send volunteers to site that have real needs for our support. If the site does not want a volunteer, why should Peace Corps send us in. Regardless of what that staff member meant by that comment, and whether or not we believe the comment, it created a lot of discontent amongst the volunteers. Even if the statement was completely untrue, it is still a very callous thing to say to those of us who gave up two years of their lives in this country, shedding much sweat and tears in belief that our efforts are not wasted.
The next day, the Country Director came in to patch up, restating that our presence at every site is greatly appreciated by the host country, and he regrets if any staff member’s comments had led us to think otherwise. Nonetheless, it was a very unpleasant experience for us volunteers
After the Mid-service conference ended, all group 32 volunteers were trucked to an upscale hotel in the suburbs of Windhoek to attend the All the Volunteers Conference. The AVC has never happened before in Peace Corps Namibia, nor most of Peace Corps Africa. One reason was budget limitations, while the other was the unpleasant experience of PC South Africa a few years back. Rumor has it that too many people got drunk and reckless during the event, making AVC a liability. Fortunately, 2011 is the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, so a special budget for celebrating the anniversary was given to each country, and our Country Director decided to use this money to host an AVC. All the volunteers in Peace Corps Namibia were invited. Even though we lodge in the economy rooms, Safari Hotel was still one of the most westernized accommodations in Windhoek. The gym was beautiful with snow-white towels, a jaccuzi, and a steam room. There was free internet, room service upon request, and hot showers with free shampoo and soap. But what drew our attention the most was the buffet. A BUFFET! ALL YOU CAN EAT! We descended upon the buffet like lions set upon a flock sheep. There was even ice cream!
The AVC itself took place in the auditorium and lasts for two days. The event started with an ice breaker, then various introductions, speeches and thanks. Various workshops involving experience-sharing, stress management, administration and security debriefs. The event I enjoyed the most was sharing experiences with PCVs from other groups, especially Resource PCVs who had been in the country for more than three years. They are not only a source of hilarious stories but also an inspiration for those of us who still had another year to go through. A senior volunteer gave one of the most hysterical PCV stories ever:
This female PCV’s father decided to send her daughter a little bit of cash in USD. Knowing the frequency of mail pillaging, he decided that he should hide the cash in the most discrete fashion. The said volunteers received the package and managed to extract USD180 from various crevices of a box of tampons. She was a little suspicious, since 180 seemed an odd number to send. Nonetheless, 180 was all she could find. A few months later, a Namibian colleague came to visit her at her house. During the visit, she asked for a tampon o from the PCV and went into the bathroom. While the PCV was cooking in the kitchen, she heard a blood-curdling scream from the bathroom. Her colleague rushed out, holding what appeared to be a black pebble in her hand. “What is this? It’s so HARD!” The PCV gingerly took the pebble then commenced to unfold it 7 times to reveal a 20 dollar bill. She gave the bill back to her colleague. “Keep it. If you ever have the chance to visit America, give this to the waiter of the restaurant with the most terrible service.”
Us junior PVCs listened with mouths wide open, perfectly aware of where the story was going, but still gasped with horror at the way the story unfolded.
The last of AVC saw some illustrious guests of honor, including Namibia’s vice minister of education, the US ambassador, and former Peace Corps Namibian volunteers who had continued to work in the humanitarian field. The speeches by the latter is particularly inspiring, showing what we could do in a few more years if we persevere.
Prior to the conference, we were asked to wear our respective ethnic clothes to demonstrate our effort to integrate into Namibia’s diverse cultures. Obviously, I could not miss this chance. I borrowed the leather Tswana bikinis from my school’s Culture Group and went the all nine yards. Observe the pictures. For you information, Namibian reporters were present, and when I went back to site several teachers told me they saw me in Tswana bikini on television.
That evening we were invited to the ambassador’s house for a pizza dinner. The house was located in one of the most affluent blocks of Windhoek amongst several other ambassadors. There were multiple checkpoints on the road, and bags were searched before entering. It was truly an opulent house even by American standards, complete with a pool and a billiard room furnished with a bar. There was free wine and beer and napkins emblazoned by golden US seals. A few moments later, the pizzas were brought in. The grandeur of the pizza can only be told by pictures. One of them was the size of tire. People eager inquired where the pizzas were from. Not a single slice was left within 30 minutes, and somehow the ambassador was able to produce fairly genuine chocolate chip cookies for dissert. It was a spectacular evening.
We were transported back to the hotel at around 9:30. The buffet was still open. I thought I was going to be the only one who was disgusting enough to go in for more disserts after a pizza dinner, but apparently great minds think the same and the buffet was quickly filled up by volunteers looking for a second dinner.
The next day sadly bade goodbye to our fellow volunteers, the luxurious hotel and genuine spring mattresses to return to our respective sites. I teamed up with another volunteer to go watch Harry Potter 7-2 in the local cinema before heading out. The cinema’s quality was atrocious, with frequent blackouts or random mutes, and you can clearly see the break where they had to change the rolls. Nonetheless, I think the movie itself was great and I look forward to watching it again on more accommodating settings. The epilogue was not persuasive at all despite the makeup, since all three of them still looking like they’re 23. Only Ginny Weasley’s actress pulled off the mother look, which may or may not be a compliment.