well, my christmas/new year's vacation has just about ended, i am now back in lusaka and am heading up to mansa tomorrow. the time away flew by, of course, but i had a wonderful trip and have no complaints. so much happened it would be impossible to recount them all in an email, but i'll try to give you some of the highlights.
namibia is far more developed than zambia and has a very western feel to it as it is a big tourist destination for germans and south africans. it was strange to suddenly be surrounded again by wealth and so many modern conveniences: the running joke throughout the trip was that it was like an extended episode of the "beverly hillbillies" as we wandered slack-jawed around gas stations and exclaimed about things like how many different types of candy bars there were. we also discovered a kentucky fried chicken restaurant in windhoek; if you've never seen a group of male pcv's descend on a kfc after having spent months in the african bush, it's a ferocious sight...we ended up eating there 5 times. the first time three of us, myself, parker and brad, split the family meal which was 12 pieces of chicken and a bunch of sides. the lady actually rolled her eyes at parker when he made the order, but she obviously didn't have any experience with peace corps as we finished it off without breaking a sweat. the best kfc moment involved brad several days later, however, when he tried to eat a 21 piece bucket all by himself. at about piece 13 he began to look as if he'd taken a suckerpunch to the solar plexus, and he declared defeat at piece 16 and spent the next several hours walking about in slow motion. ari and parker had split a 21 piece in a show of solidarity and managed to struggle through to the end, but not before i had to give parker a peptalk and ari appeared to be taking a nap. so, a bit humbled but much wiser about the advisability of trifling with the 21 piece kfc bucket, we took a several day hiatus from the colonel. (endnote: later in the day richard went back to kfc and they were closed with a sign hanging on the front saying they had run out of chicken...i swear. also, parker counted it up and realized he'd eaten 24 pieces of kfc chicken during the trip).
skydiving was the most fun i had on the trip. eston, doug, and i along with our tandem instructors and 3 soloists all climbed into a small plane and began the ascent. there was very little talking or movement as we were all crammed closed together and the wind whistling by the open door made it difficult to chat. i spent most of my time craning my neck to look out the window at the ocean and desert stretching out all around...it was an incredible view. suddenly, the plane erupted into a flurry of activity as we reached the drop point 12,000 feet in the air. the soloists went first, striding to the open door and leaping out one after another with arms and legs spread as if they were belly-flopping into a pool. as they jumped the rest of us, strapped to our instructors, were frantically scooting our way across the floor and towards the door. i barely had time to give eston a thumbs up and doug a slap on the back before they were gone so abruptly it seemed like they'd been sucked out the side of the plane. then it was my turn and i was sitting with my legs dangling out the side of the door with the wind screaming by and my heart in my mouth. we rocked back as we discussed during our breif training session, then forward, toppling out the side of the plane. the ocean where it met the horizon tilted up towards me and then slanted diagonally as our momentum caused our bodies to swing until we were falling with our heads pointed straight towards the earth several miles below. we both flung our arms out, arched our backs and bent our legs at the knees and plummeted for about 45 seconds towards the ground. the wind was whistling by my ears so fast it sounded like a mechanical hum, and i could feel the air around me grow noticeably warmer. i opened my mouth to let out what i hoped was a manly whoop but the air pounding up at me almost instantly dried my mouth and throat. stretched out below me was sand and ocean and the town, swakopmund, a perfect view until we dropped into cloud cover and everything was partially veiled by a gauzy haze. then we were through the clouds and the instructor yanked the rip cord, my shoulders were jerked back and my legs swung forward and we drifted slowly for about 5 minutes until we touched down. there was a lot of backslapping and whooping back on earth, and shouted exclamations like "that was awesome!" and various other profundities. i've had some time to think about the experience but that word is still the best i can come up with with: it was simply "awesome."
there were a lot of other interesting and fun things that happened as well. i ate a ton of food, hamburgers, pizzas, chinese, mexican, indian, basically everything i could get my hands on. we saw ostriches, kudu, meerkats, zebras, and hardly any insects, which was a pleasant change. we went to sossuvlei, home of the world's largest sand dune at 350 meters high. i'm too lazy right now to convert that into feet, but take my word for it, it's a lot. we hung out on the beach (first time i'd seen the ocean in 7 months), went fishing, saw 3 different movies in a theatre (DO NOT SEE "Deja vu," it's awful. the girls liked it but the guys hated it, which, as parker pointed out, is a classic case of taste vs. extreme irrationality), and basically bashed around windhoek and swakopmund and enjoyed a lot of amenities we'd forgotten were so nice to have.