Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work I go… September 24, 2006Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Namibia, VSO.
I started on Monday. It’s just me and my boss Alessandro, in an office at his house, which is about a two mile hilly walk from my home (good for the bum and thighs). I have my own office, laptop and phone, which I wasn’t expecting. The first 3 days I spent reading project reports and proposals, policies, Namibian history and ethnographies of the Herero and Khwe (aka San bushman) people, with whom I will be working. Oh and learning all the new development jargon, acronyms (that never make any sense)Alessandro supervised me and introduced me to his organisation, Africa 2000 Trust (A2T), for which I am working, and the nature of working in development in Namibia. Thursday morning, we had a meeting with Nadia, from our partner the Omusema Unity Foundation, about the role I will play in the Ovitoto project. Ovitoto is a very poor area, both economically and in terms of natural resources, about 200km north of
Windhoek. The conservancy has 19 villages, of mostly Herero people, and a population around 4000. Most people live in metal shacks, with no electricity, water or toilets, and make a living from cattle herding. With help from the UNDP, A2T and Omusema have constructed an outreach centre, where our field officer, Milly, works. She will be my partner in the field. An important aspect our work is that we don’t give them anything material. Our work is to offer eco-sustainable, energy efficient technologies which are affordable for these people, which will make their lives a bit better, and offer opportunities for them to earn a sustainable living. We have already helped them set up a Community Saving network, whereby the community saves money collectively, from which people can take out loans for capital in setting up businesses, as well as a fund for developing the community. It is early days but it’s working, and people seem happy with the results.There’s so much to say about the work we have and will be doing but my role is based around compost loos and Tsotso stoves. Not very glamorous, but these people need to poo and cook like everyone else. I am trying to research affordable compost toilets, where the ‘product’ can be used to fertilise the vegetable allotment that we have helped them arrange, which they can earn a living from selling as well as improve their nutritional intake (I’m a bit apprehensive about using human poo on vegetables, but I’ve been reassured that it is perfectly healthy). So watch this space.Another job of mine is arranging training for the building and use of the Tsotso stove, a cooking stove that uses a huge amount less firewood than open fires. The idea is that is will make cooking a lot cheaper for the local people, but also that some of the trainees can set up a business making and selling these stoves across the region; they would get the capital for this from the Community Savings, and the business training from us. So I am arranging the training for 15 people, using a trainer from the other end of the country. Far easier said than done. My first communications with him were somewhat confusing and inconclusive, as it is impossible to get a straight answer out of any Namibian. For example:
Me: when are you available to come down and do the training?
Him: ahh, soon.
Me: when might that be?
Him: before the rains come.
Me: (being new, I don’t know when this is) which is when?
Him: ahhh, soon.
Me: could we confirm a date for this? How is October for you?
Him: No, too soon. Maybe February.
You see, I don’t recall thinking that February was that soon, and previous discussions had concluded that training would take place before Christmas. I won’t bore you with the rest of this painful conversation, but I was assured that I achieved quite a lot, although I certainly didn’t feel it.I have been warned that much of my work will go like this. A lot of waiting, a lot of dead-ends, and lot of miscommunication. To test this out, Alessandro volunteered that I go with Nadia to observe a Community Banking workshop in Omaruru, which the Ovitoto lots would be travelling over for – a great chance for me to informally meet the people I will be working with.So at stupid-o’clock on Friday morning, Nadia and I are in a taxi heading for Omaruru (public transport is done here by taxis – but they only go when they are full, so departure times vary, depending on whether anyone else wants to go where you are going – we only had a 45 min wait). The Ovitoto lot should be there, ready to start the training with the Omaruru folk too when we arrive there a few hours later. But Nadia can’t get hold of anyone to confirm this. When we’re about 100km from Omaruru, she gets a call saying that the Ovitoto lot aren’t coming (still not sure why, they just didn’t come), and then another call to say the trainer isn’t there yet, and that the key Omaruru people don’t know about the training. This is typical apparently, but still doesn’t make it easy to deal with.On arrival we go to the township to find a few of the trainees, and after much waiting can only find the one that doesn’t speak English or much Afrikaans. Translation is done through a very talented young girl, then some others than Nadia knew wandered by, but they had no idea what we were talking about. We head back to town (if I can call it that!) in hope that the next morning everyone we are expecting will turn up for the workshop. We spend the rest of the day waiting around for the trainer to arrive. Saturday morning we turn up at the meeting point at 8am, to find only two trainees and the trainer (hurrah!) there. The others are apparently ‘on their way’. This seems to be a constant state for Namibians, as they are always ‘on their way’, but it took two and a half hours before everyone arrived. And no, they didn’t have more than 1km to come. But the good news is that the training started as expected. Since it is in Otjiherero, the Herero language, we didn’t stick around because we couldn’t understand a word of it, and came back to Windhoek to enjoy our shortened weekend.
But I learnt so much. Just seeing the conditions that people live in. Small concrete houses or metal shacks, dirt roads, under-funded infrastructure and schools. But these people seemed happy. They are poor and have very little, but there was so much laughter, smiles and fun going on all around, in a way you just don’t get in poor areas at home. Kids play in the dirt, with huge smiles and laughter ringing out from every house. I’m not saying that they don’t suffer or that they are oblivious, but they seem to just get on with it and make the most of it. It really is quite inspiring.Also the older Herero women wear quasi-Victorian dress, with upto 6 petticoats, on a daily basis. They are very proud people and are very smartly turned out in Victorian-styled dresses in more African-print materials. They also knock out their bottom two front teeth, and wear a cloth headdress resembling cattle horns. It’s quite a sight. And the best thing about the Hereros is that the families are predominantly matriarchic, i.e. run by women. How refreshing! I also learnt about the Bah’ai faith. Our partner, Omusema Unity Foundation, is based around the Bah’ai faith. Nadia is Bah’ai, as were the American family we stayed with in Omaruru, as well as many of the Herero people I met. I seems to be an all-encompassing religion that accepts all other religions. I had a very long chat with the Americans and Nadia about it, and I must say it has some very interesting concepts. But rest assured, I am far from being converted.It was also great to spend time with Nadia, as we will be working closely together and she taught me so much about Namibia,
Africa, development and lots more. I think I’ve learnt more in the last week than I have in the last year. There’s so much to take in and understand, but I’m getting there. And I’m just so stoked to be doing something that I feel strongly about, and feels like it fits. Finally at the age of 23, I have found something worthwhile to do with my future. Oh Mum and Dad will be proud! And finally, in answer to a few queries I’ve had:Yes it is hot. It’s spring right now, and is about 30 degrees during the day, but drops down to about 14 degrees at night. It is due to get hotter. A lot hotter. And I haven’t seen a cloud in over a week. I will let you know if I see any (sorry – I’ve heard it is miserable back home!).And yes, I am taking care. I found a shop selling Mace, and intend to buy some, just in case. It’s that or a 500V stun-gun. Seriously though, I am being extra cautious. It’s a matter of survival out here.And no, I haven’t caught any diseases or been really sick yet. No malaria here as it is too high up, only seen one mosquito at that (it met a tragic end). And you can drink the tap water, safely. And no falls, accidents or displays of numptiness. Although I did manage to sprain a finger handwashing my clothes. It’s better now though. Life is harder without all the machinery that we’re used to. I’m learning…