Here’s our adventure through Namibia last month! We covered over 2,000 km on this week long trek through Namibia. We made stops along its Atlantic coastline in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Cape Cross, and the Skeleton Coast Park. We then headed inland to Damaraland and Etosha National Park. We finished our journey in the capital city, Windhoek. If you’re not sure where in the world Namibia is, stop what you’re doing, look it up, and book your tickets there now!
As we had written last month, we spent our winter break enjoying summer. We flew south to spend a week in Namibia and 2 more in South Africa. We came back with full memory cards and whole new perspective of life on that side of the planet.
After nearly 36 hours of travel, we landed in one of the smallest international airports I’ve had the pleasure of visiting – Windhoek, Namibia. In case you haven’t a clue where Namibia is located, it’s the large formerly German occupied country northwest of South Africa. (If you’re unsure where South Africa is located then you made need to enroll in my 5th grade geography class.) To give you a sense of how small this airport is, the airport actually closes at 9pm. It closes. Anyway, we were soon driving west in our rental truck to Swakopmund with our friends from Egypt, Matt and Layla. Our trip would include 3 main areas of Namibia and 6 nights of camping.
In Swakopmund we met up with an Egyptian friend of ours, Martina, that moved to Namibia last year. She and her husband are a fantastic couple and we enjoyed spending some time with them. We also visited a bay full of flamingoes, climbed a massive sand dune that toed the Atlantic, and enjoyed the cooler coastal weather before heading back inland. After two nights of camping atop our truck, we headed north along the Skeleton Coast – a long gravel road where the desert is on your right, and the ocean is on your left the entire drive. After hours of not seeing anyone on the road, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we made a left-hand turn toward the beach. And there, in the most desolate area, we stopped at one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever witnessed; an entire coastline filled with thousands of barking seals.
The seal colony was super interesting, but soon the stench that hung in the air began to be too much. We continued our trek northeast along salt/gravel roads and miles and miles of untouched terrain. We would sometimes drive for over an hour before seeing another car let alone any sign of human life. Namibia is a beautiful country and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that there is so little development outside of the few major cities. After a long day of driving, we finally arrived at our rest camp in Damaraland just as the sun was setting. Our home for the next two evenings was easily the coolest place I’ve ever camped. Our site was complete with an indoor/outdoor shower and toilet as well as a mini kitchenette. We were nestled between massive boulder piles so that you felt totally isolated from the world. Imagine Lion King, only it was real!
The next couple of days we visited a few of the area’s treasures including a petrified forest, Twyfelfontein (2,500 year old rock engravings), and a local Namibian farm. It was fun getting to interact with local Namibians and learning about their way of life. At the farm, we witnessed how an entire extended family were all within stones throw of each other and worked together as a small army to provide for one another. They told us about their “elephant problems” and a couple of boys even sang for us. This wasn’t your typical touristic stop and we were happy that the family living there wasn’t putting on a show for us.
Our last stop in Namibia was Etosha National Park, a massive game park in the north of Namibia. En route to the park, we patched 2 flat tires we’d acquired from the brutal gravel roads. We camped in Okaukuejo the first evening in the park and were entertained by wild jackals that ran about looking for unsupervised food. The next evening would be honey badgers! The camp’s water hole had visits from an elephant, a black rhino, and zebras. The next morning we loaded up the truck and drove around Etosha looking for more wildlife. Ostriches, springboks, and onyx were aplenty. We also found some hyenas, water buffalo, a white rhino, and the day’s highlight, a pride of lions. That afternoon we arrived at our next stop, Halali, and fought off the heat with some poolside R&R. It was Christmas Eve so we decided on cooking a Christmas feast for ourselves- a breakfast skillet, grilled cheese, green beans, and orange juice. The perfect Christmas Eve meal.
Our last morning in Etosha, we got up early and started our journey back toward Windhoek. The early start awarded us some more unique animal sightings and we left the park feeling happy with our results. KFC made for a delicious Christmas lunch as it was the only place open, and we made it back to Windhoek late that afternoon. We managed to find a steakhouse that was open at the mall, so we proceeded to enjoy T-bone steaks to celebrate the completion of our Namibian journey. The next day we flew onward to Cape Town, South Africa.
When asked about our time in Namibia, we can’t help but share with others the beauty in this country’s untapped landscapes. There are few countries that afford you the opportunity to see such wonderful places with so few other people around. We highly recommend to any who’s looking for a trip a bit more out of the proverbial touristy box, to consider this large African nation to the south. We know that you’ll leave with many of the same good impressions that we still feel today!
Another month is in the books for us here in Cairo and so far this year has been anything but slow! Each of our first 3 months have been highlighted by visitors from back home and the many treats and goodies they bring along.
We love to share our home and way of life with the many friends who’ve made the trek to Egypt and always enjoy getting to show off this unique country we live in. We’ve been encouraged by our visitors and the way the leave us with a whole new positive perspective on this region of the world. A perspective that impacts not only them but also influences their friends and families back home through the sharing of their experiences.
Living in a part of the world that is heavily influenced by Islam and the influx of refugees, it has been challenging to follow along with the negative media we’ve seen surfacing back in the states. Living in this country, our opinion on such matters has been significantly impacted and while we are not experts on such issues, we feel that our point of view gives us a perspective that is lacking amongst many Americans. We feel especially discontent with how many Christians, and so called Christian leaders, have been manipulating the Bible to suit their agenda. Islamaphobia and anti-refugee movements weigh heavily on us and we pray for wisdom and clarity from those who seek to know truth.
We’re thankful for our connectedness to friends and family back home. The internet is such a gift that, despite the many miles between us, it allows us to remain a part of others lives. It also makes us miss “home”. Especially during this holiday season, we long to be surrounded by our families and enjoying this festive time of the year. But, we do what we can to get in the Christmas spirit here. An artificial tree stands proudly in our living room and we take every opportunity to play our favorite Christmas songs while at home.
However, the Christmas mood won’t last long. Next week, we are traveling to Namibia and South Africa for our winter break. We will be spending the holidays first safariing around the raw Namibian landscape and then cruising along the coast of Western Cape. We look forward to this adventuresome trip with our friends Matt and Layla and reporting back to you with all that we see along the way!
Lastly, we have some exciting news to share with everyone. We’ve decided to stay in Egypt another year longer! This decision comes after many months of discernment and prayer. While the idea of leaving Egypt was certainly on the table, we didn’t feel at peace with going anywhere else. Additionally, we both felt like the work that we’re doing here just won’t be yet complete after just 2 years. So, the Hatfields will continue their African adventure until at least June 2017. We miss everyone and look forward to seeing you all again soon! Merry Christmas!!
We hope you enjoy there pictures from the last few months here in Egypt…
Hello Friends and Family!
The summer has ended for us and we’re back into the swing of things here in Cairo. And with that, back to the blog! It was such a great summer for both of us. We started off our summer visiting the Prieb family in California, then spent a week in Colorado with the Hatfields, having some family time and doing some hiking (I won’t mention the fact that we hiked 5 miles in the wrong direction). We then jetted off to Florida for an amazing cruise with 8 of our best friends from college, followed by a week in Charlottesville, Virginia, and lastly some time in Indiana. It was an awesome whirlwind of a summer, but I think living out of a suitcase for 2 1/2 months made us eager and excited to begin Year 2 here in Cairo and have a little normalcy again!
We touched down in Cairo after a long 24 hours of travel, tired and dirty, but glad to be back. We had a friend waiting for us at the airport, and as we drove to our new apartment we couldn’t help but feel how wonderful it was to be back in the midst of this loud, dirty, full-of-traffic city that now strangely feels so much like home. We’ve moved into a different apartment that’s about a 15-minute walk from where we were living before, and is actually right across the street from the church we attend here. It’s a little dated compared to our last place, and has a few (thousand) more ants, but has an awesome living room space, and most importantly, a super-huge balcony with a great view! After some much needed deep cleaning, the place is getting more and more spruced up and we’re slowly making it our own. 🙂 Here’s the view from our balcony that I just took as I’m typing now. Not too shabby! And if you can count the satellite dishes, you may just get a prize…
A couple weeks ago, Caleb started back for his second year teaching 5th grade at AIS. It’s a nice feeling for him to be back at a job that he already knows the ropes to and how things work at the school. He’s co-head-of-department for his grade level, meaning he has the school’s permission to officially boss people around…kind of. 🙂 It’s been great being back with old coworkers, as well as meeting a lot of new faces that have just signed on. A couple of weeks ago we stayed at a resort on the Red Sea with many of the teachers and staff from AIS, which was super fun and super relaxing. We met some awesome new friends that we’re looking forward to getting to know better over the year!
Although I was teaching at AIS last year, I decided to do something different this year and am keeping busy helping to organize short-term medical clinics here in Cairo. It’s been great being back in the medical world a bit more, and I’ve loved getting to experience and serve in some very needy areas of Cairo and the surrounding area. I’ve also gotten to work on my Arabic a bit more, which if you know me, you know I’ve been picking it up VERY slowly. 🙂
Tonight (at 3:30am) we get ready to head BACK to the States (Arizona, specifically) for my awesome brother David’s wedding! It’s going to be a whirlwind of a trip, but we’re so thankful we get to go and spend this special time with family. And so super thankful that God brought him and my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Michele, together. We’re excited, but it’s safe to say that both Caleb and I are praying we aren’t just walking zombies the entire time we’re there! 🙂
Thanks again for all your thoughts and prayers for us. We are so thankful for each one of you and that God has placed us in your lives!
And incase you haven’t seen it, in true Caleb fashion, he made a little video showing some highlights of our summer. Feel free to take a look!
With our first year under our belts, we’ve finally taken the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what we’ve experienced living in Cairo. It changes you. Sometimes in ways that you don’t even realize until further down the road. And even now as I write this, I probably don’t know all the ways that my life has been impacted and changed.
Our first year was filled with a lot of firsts. Most of them good, but I’ve got to be honest, some weren’t so great. It’s a challenge living in a place like Egypt. It’s rough, it’s raw, and it thickens your skin. A simple errand such as going to the grocery store takes twice as much energy as it would back in the States. The traffic, the pollution, the yelling, the heat– they all take their toll. All of that is to say, this is our home. These people are our neighbors, these streets are our neighborhood. We aren’t simply passing through but we are investing – building relationships with those around us, pouring our emotional energy into the people and making small ripples wherever we are.
We’ve learned to slow down. Showing up late is something that’s practically engrained into the culture. Punctuality and efficiency seem to be backwards ways of thinking. Things just aren’t going to go your way 100% of the time. So we say “malesh” or “nevermind” to the 101 little things that, if we let them, could grind our gears and frustrate us. We’ve learned that there is need– physical need, emotional need, spiritual need. People are searching for something to fill themselves. They are, after all, humans just like you and I. So, the revolving question that we are asking ourselves is, “What are we doing about the need that surrounds us?”
We are really excited about returning to Cairo at the end of August. There will be new opportunities for Becca and I to serve the people surrounding us. Becca will be stepping into a new role in partnership with an organization that hosts week-long medical trips each month. She’ll be able to finally put her nursing skills to work in communities that don’t have equal access to medical care. We are excited to see how she is stretched and challenged in this new position! While we will both miss being able to go to work together, we know that this is where she is supposed to be.
This summer is a bit of a whirlwind tour de America. We’re currently spending about 3 weeks in California before we start our slow descent east. We’ll fly to Colorado for a week with family in mid-July, followed by another week off the coast of Florida on a large boat with some college friends. Late July will see us returning to the Hoosier state for the remainder of our time. We’ll visit Virginia for about a week somewhere in there before heading back to Cairo on August 26th.
We really appreciate all your thoughts and prayers as we travel from place to place. It’s not always easy being so far away from the many people we love scattered throughout the world. We’re thankful for your support and words of encouragement. If it’s possible, we’d love to see you, so please reach out to us and we’ll make it work! In the mean time, enjoy this short video I made to sum up our first year living in Egypt. Until next time, “Ma’a Salama”!
Thinking back on 5th grade, I remember the “big field trip” we took was a day at Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio. We had to drive for over an hour – across the state line in fact. I think we may have even gotten charter buses, which was always the tell-tale sign that you were on a “big field trip” in elementary school. Now the roles have reversed, and I’m playing teacher. So, I took my 5th graders to Istanbul, Turkey for 4 days.
Last month, Becca and I took our students on some pretty unique field trips. She visited the Pyramids of Giza with her 2nd graders and acted as her students’ tour guide for the very hot Cairo day. Despite many of her students being Egyptian and growing up in Cairo, this was the first trip to the pyramids for several of them. Check out the pictures below to see more of the action!
For me, 4 straight days in Istanbul with around 14 hours of contact time with 11 year olds can be pretty exhausting. Especially when you’re parading them around historical sites in a foreign city you have never been to. But it was all totally worth it. Yes, this trip took an immense amount of planning– everything from arranging the particulars of where we were going, how we were getting there, and how much it cost, to communicating with school admin, contacting parents, and creating a specially designed curriculum. It’s a huge responsibility. Not to mention that these parents are entrusting you to take care of their child abroad. For the majority of my students, this was their first time traveling without their parents.
I can honestly say the trip was a huge success. Students were engaged in learning and were too busy taking in the city to even think about getting in trouble. On our journey we visited the Galata Tower, Galata Bridge, ITU Science Center, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Gulhane Park, the Bosphorus Strait, Topkapi Palace, Camlica Hill, Chora Church, Suleymaniye Mosque, Hagia Sophia, a Whirling Dervish show, Dolmabahce Palace, and at last the Grand Bazaar. I’m looking forward to taking next year’s 5th graders!
Italy was everything we were hoping for and more. We’re probably not the first people to think this, after all, it does have one of the largest tourist economies in the world. For good reason, too! The culture, history, landscape, and food…they’re all incredible. For us, it’s not a question of if we’ll go back, but rather when we’ll go back. We feel like we’ve just scratched the surface that is this great beautiful peninsula!
Reflecting on our trip, our favorite parts weren’t necessarily the most iconic places but rather the times when we could feel like we were in Italy…not the forced manufactured version that caters to unassuming tourists. We especially enjoyed our time in Milan and Lake Como with Becca’s friend from high school, Carlotta. We were able to spend Easter weekend with her friends and family, enjoying great meal after great meal. Our day trip to Lucca and Pisa was also a highlight for us. Biking around Lucca and enjoying the gorgeous landscape of Tuscany is a time we’ll look back on with fond memories.
I’m happy to share with you our trip in motion picture. I loved filming it! Now, enjoy five-hundred video clips compressed into 3 ½ minutes! And don’t forget to turn the “HD” on! 🙂
Waking up at 6:15 am isn’t the easiest thing to do when it’s your day to sleep in, but it’s certainly worth it if you’re heading to the desert for the weekend. We met up with our friends outside the local McDonald’s (which isn’t open at 7 am, grrr…) making our group 12. We piled into a white 15 passenger van and headed south out of Cairo for a 5 hour journey to Bahariya. We arrived at Camp Sahara – a cozy camp in the desert with bamboo huts for guests to sleep in. As we were served a delicious Egyptian lunch, our guides were preparing two 4×4 Toyota 4Runners with the necessary supplies for a night under the stars. Shortly after, we climbed into the 4Runners and were off for the desert.
For about an hour we cruised down a 2 lane paved road with the windows down and the Egyptian music up. We reached our turn off point – both from the road and from the last remaining evidence of civilization. Our driver and guide, Ahmed, floored it as we whipped and weaved between intricate rock formations which increased in number the further we drove.
Though I saw little sign of one, Ahmed seemed to be following some sort of trail. He was a fantastic driver, knowing exactly how much to slow down over rough terrain and exactly how much speed to travel at to avoid getting stuck in the sand. In the next 24 hours, neither of the SUVs in our caravan would get stuck, amazingly! We finally reached the top of a massive valley punctuated with large, mountain like formations rising out from the sand. We stopped along side the hoards of other tourist groups to snap our pictures and have a little fun.
We left the valley and headed further into the desert. Ahmed was kind enough to let us hang out the car windows and even let Mark and I stand on the back of the 4Runner. We held on tight as we were racing the sun to get to a great viewpoint for the sunset. We made it, barely, and enjoyed a surreal image of the sky’s colors mixing with the unique white rock sculptures scattered along the foreground. These sculptures, as we learned, are chalk, and are the leftover remains of an
ocean that used to cover the land a long, long time ago. You could see the evidence from the masses of seashells that were stuck deep in the rocks, with only the ends of them sticking out of the sides. As dusk turned to night, we drove to a secluded patch of desert where we’d be camping for the evening. As early as 7 pm, the stars were already starting to fill the sky and we couldn’t help but gawk at a sight which was all too foreign after months of living practically starless in Cairo.
Meanwhile, our guides were already hard at work setting up camp for the evening. We offered to help but they insisted that we just relax. Shortly after they started a campfire and began making dinner – roasted chicken, rice, soup, and 7-up. It was as late as 9 pm before we actually started eating, but it was well worth the wait. Later that evening we were visited by an unabashed desert fox that came searching for whatever remnants remained from our supper. We hit the hay (err, sand) about midnight and drifted to sleep to the sound of distance drums and singing at other camp sites. The evening was a bit chilly, but the sleeping bags and heavy blankets our guides provided us kept us warm as we all we laid huddled in a Tetris-like square.
We woke up to the sun and to opera music (thanks, Mark…) around 7:30 the next morning. We strolled around the immediate area, snapping pictures and climbing up the chalky slabs of rock all around us. Meanwhile, our guides were preparing our breakfast over propane stoves. As we gathered to eat, we noticed the day beginning to heat up, so many of us began to shed our heavier layers for more desert appropriate attire. A table full of bread and jam, and a dozen or so Nescafes later, we began tearing down camp and packing up the vehicles for our next destination.
Once again, our guides let us hold onto the back of the SUVs as they raced us through the White Desert. Eventually we came to the main road and climbed back into our seats. We drove to the nearby Crystal Mountain for a quick stop. Crystal Mountain is what geologists call an exhumed cave, that is, a cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites that has been thrust upwards by earth movement. With time it has lost its roof to erosion and has almost weathered away. Probably not helping with the natural erosion of the feature is the human impact made by the large groups of tourists that climb all over it on a daily basis. *points finger at self*
A few desert miles later, we found ourselves standing at the base of one of the Black Desert’s many mammoth hills. Naturally, we all started to climb. What makes the Black Desert black are these millions of volcanic rocks that scatter its expansive surface. This large hill had no shortage of the micro-boulders. The view from the top was impressive. After a rather quick decent back down, our guides drove us over and around a rather abruptly placed dune. They appeared to be having more fun than us while they whipped their 4×4 chariots diagonally up the sides of the dune, showing off their years of desert driving experience. I was impressed.
Back to Bahariya we went for two last stops. The first, a salt lake, which we may have spent a whopping 5 minutes at. The second, ruins of an old stone British fort atop a mountain overlooking the city. Time was quickly running out on our day, and it wasn’t until nearly 5 pm before we had lunch! The concept of when meals are eaten are a little different in this country…
Bellies full from another delightful Egyptian style meal, we made our way back to Cairo as the sun dipped once again below the sprawling desert horizon. I was looking forward to a peaceful drive home, but I would have no such luck. Instead, I was violently woken to the speeding up and slowing down of our van driver passing and then being passed by another van clad with a tourist group with way too much energy. Complimented with flashing lights, honking horns, and loud Bedouin music, I may have managed a meager 15 minutes of shut eye. As they say in Egypt, “malesh”, or whatever. The desert was amazing. Probably one of the best weekends we’ve had in Egypt, or anywhere for that matter. We will be returning soon…Insha’Allah (God willing).
We work for the American International School of Egypt. That’s right, I said we. Becca started working there back in October after she long-term subbed at another local school. I teach 5th grade, she teaches 2nd. Working in a school abroad is similar to working in the States in a lot of ways. And then again, it’s completely different.
You may have picked up from the title that our work day is far from traditional. We greet each morning at 6:45 am, walk to the bus, and – judging by how well we can see the buildings across the street – decide if it’s going to be a really air polluted day, or just a normal polluted day. An hour or so later (depending on how many donkey carts and pedestrians get in the way) we arrive at school. From there, Becca and I go our separate ways. I’m on the second floor of our 4 level school and Becca works on the ground floor. Some nights we won’t get home from school until close to 6 pm. Yuck!
I teach solely social studies and science, which I love. In fact, it played a major factor in our decision to move to Egypt. I wasn’t really expecting to get my dream job when moving abroad, but 5th grade SS/Sci is about as close as it gets for me! My morning consists of grabbing a cup of coffee from fellow 5th grade teacher, Patti, who is a true veteran of the job. Following the “joe”, I have some planning time before I teach 5 classes in a row with a break for lunch in the middle.
Becca’s day is a bit different. 2nd grade means she is teaching all of the subjects to one class all day. I’m so proud of how hard she has worked this year. Considering how little experience she has had teaching in the past, she has really proven to me and everyone else how capable she is at managing a room full of 7 year olds. The kids adore her as well. It seems like every week she is bringing home a bag full of goodies that one of her students brought her.
While my school is an international school, the majority of the students are in fact Egyptian. They are loud, eager, frustrating, and lovable kids. Not much different than my students back in Virginia. Obviously, there are some stark differences between them and my kids from years past. For example, they speak Arabic. This can be problematic at times since they’re forced to speak English and aren’t allowed to speak their first language. Additionally, most of my students are Muslim. Meaning no Christmas, no Easter, and no assuming that they even know what those holidays are. They’re also hard workers. They have to be. Their parents pay a pretty penny to have them attend AIS and they aren’t just going to let their children slack off. Oh, and they love soccer. Seriously. Each morning I get an update of results from the previous evening’s matches.
All in all, I really enjoy teaching in Egypt. The school does a pretty good job of making sure their teachers are taken care of. When I need any supplies, I fill out a form, and a worker brings it to my room by the next day. If I have technical problems, an email to the right person gets it resolved before the day is out. They’re even letting me organize a field trip to Istanbul for my 5th graders this May. Istanbul…with 11 year olds! Our contracts with the school are for 2 years. While we still have no idea what we’ll be doing when that 2 years is up, we’re happy to be at AIS for now.
A 3 week journey to Germany wouldn’t have been complete without half a dozen Christmas markets, connecting with extended family, and eating and drinking lots! Our good friends, Marco and Jessi, showed us their favorite parts of their homeland and we loved it all! We can’t wait to go back when it’s a little warmer!
If you missed it, read our blog about the trip here! wp.me/pY68v-iu