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The Loo Lady September 29, 2006

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Namibia, Uncategorized.

The Loo Lady I’ve been working for more than a week now and am getting a real grasp of what my job entails. And since many of you begged the question, ‘what exactly are you going to be doing?’, I thought it’d only be fair to share. Officially, I am an Organisational Development Advisor (oooh!), which great, makes me feel very grown up, and makes a nice change from being a ‘student’ or ‘graduate’, which is generally sneered at by all.

I will be working in the Ovitoto conservancy, a marginalised strip of land, between vast white-owned farms, where the Herero people have been allowed to pick a humble living. There are 19 villages there, with a population of around 3500 people. And I made my first visit there with my boss Alessandro and Nadia, to visit our ECO-C (Environmental Community Outreach Centre). Heading north out of Windhoek, towards the next major town of
Okahandja, we took a dramatic turn off onto a dirt track, which took us on a wiggly route round desert peaks and over dried river beds. 40kms later we arrive in Okandjira, the main ‘town’ of Ovitoto. My classification of town will be severely altered by the time I leave. This ‘town’ consists of about 15 metal shacks (which few of us would tolerate as a garden shed), a dirt track, a primary school, and two brick buildings – the police station and the regional councillor’s office. The latter is where our FO (field officer) Milly is based, with whom I will be working closely; mainly because I don’t speak a word of Otjiherero, which is her and the conservancy’s mother tongue.
On the edge of town is the ECO-C, which wasn’t quite what I expected (to be honest, none of this was). Within a dusty, gated allotment was a very new, very nice metal shack and a shipping container. The shack is where the caretaker, Shauno, lives. The shipping container is divided into three small compartments, to become our Business-in-a-Box, space to be rented to anyone wanting to set up a local enterprise. It is also the site for any training sessions we will run.So what use is this to the community, I hear you ask. Now the main structures are in place, the action can begin. The aim of the centre is to showcase and offer training in appropriate and affordable, environmentally-aware and energy-efficient technologies to the Ovitoto people. For example, we shall be offering training in shack-insulation (as they are like ovens in the summer, but freezing in the winter), recycling and gardening. Gardening? Yes, part of the dusty allotment will be transformed into a Home Gardening Scheme for the community to learn to grow vegetables, for subsistence as well as commercial reasons. Another reason for the visit was to inspect the new irrigation system, which will supply our Home Gardening Scheme. Anyone interested in using this training to develop an enterprise will receive culturally-aware business support and space in the Business-in-a-Box. 

And why do these people need all this hippy technology?Well, when I say there are a few metal shacks, each one is where a family of up to 6 live. And these shacks have no water, no electricity – not much more than 4 sheet metal walls, a metal roof and a dirt floor. They cook around a fire outside, and I haven’t learnt yet where they wash or pee, as I didn’t see any taps or toilets. Whilst we can’t help with the water situation, we can help with the cooking and toilet situation, which can then lead onto income-generating activities. I have been introduced to a new cooking ‘stove’, called a Tsotso stove, which uses 75% less firewood than an open fire, and is also more efficient in cooking, far safer and affordable. Firewood is becoming scarcer and is expensive to buy. So I’m currently in touch with a new lady about coming along to train our keen Hereros in how to make and use these amazing stoves (Mr Difficult from my previous blog has been scrapped). I spoke to her today, she’s very excited about our project, but her baby’s due next week, and so she won’t be able to meet me til the week after (they deal with pregnancy very differently over here to the way they do back home!)!! 

And finally toilets. At the moment, they don’t have such a thing in Ovitoto. But due to the desert/lack-of-water situation, our common flush system isn’t likely. So I have been researching compost loos all week, which are ridiculously expensive; but yesterday, I was introduced to the Otji-toilet. I never thought I would get so excited about a toilet. Nor did I think that ‘UDS’ aka ‘Urine Diversion System’ would become a common part of my rapport. ‘The Otji-toilet’ is a Namibian-designed, crap-in-a-bucket-whilst-in-a-shed loo. No water needed. And if you leave the… err…’product’ in a well-ventilated bucket for a few months, you can use it as fertiliser…for the Home Gardening Scheme (do you like how it all links together!?!). I do personally have my reservations about using human poo as veggie fertiliser, especially with the huge amount of meat and total lack of fresh fruit and veg these people eat, but I chatted with a very enthusiastic lives-in-a-tree German eco-scientist about it and he reassures me that it’s fine, and not even that smelly. Er, lovely. When you start realising how much an obscene waste of water a flush toilet is, it is quite horrifying. I must say that I have learnt more than I’d ever like to know about human waste and its decomposition in the heat of the Namibian desert, but it’s all part of the job.We’re going to get one of these wondrous Otji-loos installed at the ECO-C, using local resources, as well as run a training workshop for anyone wanting to build their own.And no, it’s not a colonist-tainted attempt to ‘civilise these people’, they asked for the toilet, and are very excited about it. Anyway, there are cows and goats wandering everywhere; I can’t imagine you would get much privacy round the back of your shack whilst doing your business. But these folk sure love their cows. There are further plans, involving solar power, a super low-cement local-material brick that interlock together like Lego and some biogas production system, which I’ll keep you posted on. It is very exciting, because there really is bugger all in Ovitoto. I was only there for a few hours and it really struck me. I’d hate to say that what I felt was pity, but I truly felt sorry for these people, because they scratch a living from nothing, whilst I have had the luxury of so much more that they aren’t even aware of. And that could be said is the difference…it’s not as black and white (pun intended) as rich and poor, but more haves and have-nots. 

I’m going there on my own the week after next for 4 days to get to know people. I need to be presented to the Honourable Chief Kapuuo (they like their titles) before I can start anything, and then negotiate my way around the different villages (I have a feeling a donkey might be my transport) with Milly. She’s lovely, with the cutest little boy. It’s quite daunting, as it is proper hardcore out there, and I bet someone will try to feed me meat. But I need to get on with organising this training, and find out what these people really need and want. It’s just so exciting to think of it all together, and the benefit to the community could be incredibly positive. I just hope it works.  I should also explain that this project is being funded by the GEF/SGP – UNDP, which stands for the….Global Environmental Fund/ Small Grants Programme, which is part of the United Nations Development Programme. Development is acronym central. And if you are interested in finding out more about the super-eco technologies that I will be working with, do visit the Habitat Research and Development Centre at www.hrdc.org.na . Truly brilliant things going on here that we can all learn a lot from.



1. Alison - October 6, 2006

Couldn’t get into http://www.hrdc.org.na. Could you check it? Thanks… this is all sooo interesting. You are doing a wonderful job. xxx

2. Lauren - October 7, 2006

I’m so proud of you miss risso-gill. namibia is lucky to have you!

3. Mike - October 9, 2006

Hey love, sounds like your having a real great experiance. Best of luck w/ everything!

4. Isabelle - October 9, 2006

the link should work now.
I’m only back in town overnight, after a week up north, and am now out to Ovitoto til the weekend, so no updates til then. but i’m hoping on electricity, so should be able to draft emails whilst away, to upload on my return.
Alison: thanks so much for your messages..i’ll write properly when i have a chance.
much love xxx

5. Gaz - October 11, 2006

i want some photos! no more excuses about squishing your camera or whatnot! get them on here! x

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