Up north October 14, 2006Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Namibia, VSO.
Last week, I had my second week of in-country training (ICT2 – we love our acronyms) up north in Oshakati, which explains my lack of update info. Not only did I get to discover another part of the country, but I learnt an incredible amount about Namibian culture, society, politics, economy, health, education, creatures that will kill me given half a chance and eating habits, that I just don’t think it is fair to write one mammoth post to explain it all. I was quite moved by our visits to TKMOAMS, an HIV and AIDS group run by positive people for positive people, and the NFPDN (National Federation for People with Disabilities in Namibia – I think), and so have decided to add pages explaining the HIV and AIDS and the Disability situations out here for anyone keen to learn about these serious issues that affect millions worldwide. These will be added when I find the time, and also find a way of explaining it in a politically correct and inoffensive way.For the rest of it, I’ll drop bits and pieces in as I get round to it.
And here’s a quick summary of the week…I drove up a day early with the VSO trainers from
Windhoek, which took about 7 hours. The roads here are good; tarmaced, uncrowded and often just one lane. You can go for a good hour without seeing another vehicle. Most of the journey was past vast farms or game parks, mainly because the whites still own a disgusting 75% of the land here. But that all changed when we hit the Red Line – the line that ‘used to’ divide the marginalised black-owned North, from the white-owned farms across the rest of the country – that is a whole history lesson in itself, watch this space. Beyond this line, cows, goats and donkeys casually graze pretty much everywhere, and you start to see the traditional wooden homesteads of Ovamboland.
Oshakati is the main ‘city’ of the north, and the second largest in
Namibia after the capital, but with a population to match. I was expecting to find a decent sized mini-city – I wasn’t so much disappointed as baffled. What I found was more of the same straight highway, lined with huge hypermarkets, shopping malls and other brick buildings, still with the donkeys, cattle and goats idly grazing around. I failed to identify any centre as such, as it was just a few kilometres of hypermarkets until nothing. Dirt or gravel roads turned off the highway to lead up to informal shack housing or wooden homesteads. I found this place very confusing.
The other new volunteers arrived on Sunday from their various destinations, mostly flung around the North. It really was a great week of swapping stories, cultural ‘faux-pas’s and confusions. It is amazing how quickly we have settled into our new lives and how much each of us have learnt. Most of the others are working for the Ministry of Health or Education, which is fascinating to learn about for me, and deserves its own write-up. The training was held at a lovely guesthouse, where we had ensuite rooms with TV, lovely gardens with rather evil guinea fowl and friendly owners and staff. I mention the TV because I haven’t seen one since I arrived, and was stoked to find CNN, as news coverage here is appalling. Even the national papers provide little more than incomplete nonsense in their international news section. And don’t get me started on the radio. Needless to say, TV was a perk of the training, even if it was just CNN (not quite BBC now, is it!?)
Training itself involved a variety seminars and visits, with VSO staff and guest-speakers, some better than not. But generally very informative and enjoyable, in not exhausting. Social time was spent sharing big bottles of Tafel beer (50p!) and huge Wotsit-type crisps that we all became addicted to – must be the E-numbers – in the garden, fending off mozzies. We also visited the local shebeen, informal local bar, which is quite an experience, and again will be saved for its own entry. We did have group presentations to work on over the week, which was great fun and fascinating. Each group was given a topic and a list of people or organisations to visit, and to then construct a presentation to share with the whole group. My group got Health, and we had to find out what the people of Oshakati felt was the biggest health issue in the region (other groups covered Education, Rural Development, Economic, Politics). Our visits included a pharmacy, Catholic AIDS Action, the
Namibia and the local hospital. Aggressively eye-opening at times, but I felt I got the most out of talking with people in the streets. The Ovambo people are incredibly friendly and warm, as are almost all Namibians I have come across. But living in
Windhoek, people are much more wary and unfriendly, like any city, so it was great for me to see a different scene. All women are referred to as Meme (mem-eh), and all men as Tate (tat-eh), meaning ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’ respectively. Love it.