In the beginning of 2015 I applied for a job at a company called Tennis Analytics, which is situated in Park City, Utah. I got the job shortly after that, but then about 11 months passed before I actually got approved for my visa and could start making traveling plans. So on the 31st of December, 2015, I was finally on my way to my new home for the next 18 months.
I remember the hours before I left my home in Windhoek (the capital of Namibia) so clearly. By that time, I already had to say goodbye to my family and friends at our holiday home at the coast, and everything was so quiet and depressing back in Windhoek. No people, no pets, just my parents and I. We were sitting outside drinking coffee, and I was trying to take mental pictures of the surroundings on that perfect summer day (I was about to travel to temperatures of -15 ‘C). Suddenly I couldn’t understand anymore why I ever wanted to leave that place, but I reminded myself that I felt very excited about my new adventure not so long ago, so I convinced myself to follow past Mariska’s dreams, instead of current Mariska’s.
I’ve been to the states a couple of times before, in fact I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of places before, and I went to University in a different country too but this time it’s different. This time, I’m doing the grown -up thing, starting a new job and basically a new life, in a place where I don’t know a single soul. In this day and age, that’s really not a surprising thing anymore, I mean, a lot of people are doing it and because of that, it actually doesn’t seem to be a big deal anymore. The more I think about it though, the more I realise (yes that’s the British way to spell it, which is how we as Namibians are brought up) that it is actually, a very big deal. Yes, technology makes it a lot easier than it was for people who did it 10 or more years ago, but still. For some reason you expect yourself to be fully adjusted within a month, and that’s just not realistic. I keep getting flashbacks of my friend Karlien telling me to give myself 6 months to adjust (which at the time I thought was ridiculous) and I find it really comforting that someone who adjusts so easily to new surroundings and who is such an extrovert and such a social being told me that it’s OK for it to take a while. Some days it feels like you’re completely settled in and have everything under control and on other days you feel like your failing at this epic adventure that you had in mind. That’s life though, everything is temporary and so are the harder times which must be out shined by the good times!
I’ve already been here 2 months now, so that means that I’ve already experienced a lot of firsts. The first time I saw snow, saw what a snowflake looks like up close (this amazed me for the whole first month), first time I went skiing, first time I went to a film-festival (Sundance) , first time I went to a Superbowl party, first time I thought I got frostbite, etc. What interests me the most though, are the cultural differences that I notice. I have always been very interested in cultures and diversity and believe that we have so much to learn from each other and that sometimes you don’t even need to learn something from someone else, but just appreciate how different they are.
Here are some of the things that I noticed:
1: Something I find very convenient is the way that everything here (in the USA) is made so easy for the consumer. Cheese- already grated/sliced. Fruit-already peeled and cut. Basically you can get any type of food ready-to-go:Rice, baked goods, whole meals. Sure you get ready-to-go meals back in Namibia too, but this is just a whole different level! DO Americans think it’s weird when they get to Africa and they need to grate their own cheese? And I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m making fun of them, because I’m really not, I just wonder about that. Personally, I’m a big fan of the grated cheese thing, but it’s always fascinated me! Back home, we actually have a person assigned to grate the cheese when we make sandwiches. It’s someones job! Anyway, moving on from the cheese, there are some things that I do find ridiculous, like a snowball maker? When did that become too hard to just make snowballs with your Jesus snowball makers, aka your hands? All in all, the amount of products here are just astounding – I don’t know if I will ever look for something here and not find it (although I wish there was Bovril and 5 roses tea here), or not be able to have it delivered right at the front door, which is not the case at all back home. Since I’ve been here, I’ve already had a couple of requests for things that I need to bring back home because it couldn’t be found in Namibia, or in South Africa (our go-to for anything not available in Namibia).
2: Public transport here is amazing! In Park City, the buses are free and it takes you all over town, which makes it perfect for someone like me who just started out here. Life without a car here is very doable even if it is less convenient at times. And in the other states that I’ve been to, the options range from buses and trams to subways and taxis (cabs), you just take your pick. In Namibia the public transport options are unfortunately quite limited and also quite expensive and definitely less prompt. I have to admit, that in my 25 years of living in Namibia, I have never used the bus and have maybe used a taxi 5 times, so I might not be the best person to comment on the system. In South Africa there is a much larger demand for public transport than in Namibia though, and traveling by train, bus or Uber has become quite popular there.
3. Saving the environment. It is so interesting how differently people think about this. Growing up in Namibia and probably most other places in Africa, everyone knows how important it is to never waste food or water. Demand for meat is the biggest contributor of Carbon Monoxide emissions by cows, and therefore, throwing away something like meat is considered a huge waste and rather selfish. In Africa, and most places in the world, there is always someone in need of your left-overs anyway so food rarely goes into a waste bin if you don’t feel like eating it. In terms of water, baths are only ever drawn to a certain level and kids mostly share their bathwater. Watering your garden is done with consideration to how good the rainy season was. Taps are NEVER left running when you rinse something, or brush your teeth or wash your hands. Washing (of dishes and of clothes) is done as water-efficiently as possible. Overall, we just grow-up with the mindset of “water is a precious thing”. Needless to say that is not the case over here. I will admit though, that I probably also would have wasted water and food had I grown up here, because if you grow up in a place where the water is so abundant and you never see people who go hungry, obviously it will not be on your mind in the same way. With regards to letting food and water go to waste, I think that that is actually one of the things that Americans can learn from Africans. Then, when you look at things like environmentally friendly products, America has it all and really tries to make a difference in that aspect. Everything, from clothes to packaging to transport is made to be more friendly towards the environment and they have so many campaigns that work towards improving the quality of the environment. Did you know that green cars get better parking spaces here? Like I mentioned before, the public transport used a lot, which decreases the amount of harmful emissions by cars.
Things I’ve missed about home:
Tea-time. Braais. Binnelanders. Afrikaans.
- Just to clarify, I don’t mean to ever generalise. All Namibians are not like me and all Americans are not like you.
I want to conclude by saying that from now on I will try to write a little every week, with the goal of sharing things that I learn by living abroad and sharing the adventures that I embark upon. I plan on sharing personal reviews of wherever I go, tips and more interesting things about the culture. Since I will be writing more often, my future blogs will be more specific in terms of events and people and will also contain pictures.