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More poo, mushrooms and a test of my sanity October 25, 2006

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eco-goodness, Namibia, Out of the city, Raaah!.

 ‘Proud of our deserts, but combating desertification’ read the poster at the hotel. That’s why we’re all here. The workshop is an annual meeting for all projects which have received funding from the UNDP GEF/SGP (see other post for explanation of acronyms). Even the Minister of Environment and Tourism flew out to open the workshop, and I got to shake his hand (ooo!). It’s an opportunity to share ideas, discuss project problems and look at ways of improving or expanding our projects. Well that’s what I was there for. It seemed most of the other grantees were there just to stay in a nice hotel, to eat every morsel of food available and get drunk on the $70/day stipend we got for turning up. I’m not saying it wasn’t informative and interesting, but the cooperation of other participants was lacking as they whimsically wandered in and out of sessions, openly chatted on their mobiles or slept.

Everyone was late for everything, which I have learnt is not seen as rude here but culturally necessary. Introductions used 5 times as many words as necessary, and it was hard to find any key points in some of the presentations, and every session ran over, which lead to the cutting down of other sessions which I felt were more valuable. Some of the sessions were interesting, like learning how the funding from the UN gets channelled down to our projects, the structure of the UNDP and about some of the other projects around the country. For example, I learnt how to protect your crops from rampaging elephants using chilli powder, how to use human shit to make cooking gas (I wonder what Freud would say about my new-found knowledge on the recyclable uses of human poo..), and how to grow mushrooms from a tiny piece of mushroom skin. There really are some great projects happening, and I learnt so much more about eco-ness and energy-efficiency that I could probably live in a tree for the rest of my years.

One thing I did struggle with however was that I was one of only 3 women on the workshop, out of 44 people, and the only white girl, which put me at various disadvantages, mainly that my opinions mean bugger-all to the men. I found this particularly frustrating in the lectures about Gender in the workplace, and HIV and AIDS, where the majority of participants made comments so outrageous that I was left speechless, which is just as well, because I would have just embarrassed and exhausted myself if I had even started. But hearing men who are upstanding members of their communities seriously say that they are often too drunk or lazy to wear condoms, or that women are useless apart from for cooking and shagging and have no place in the workplace, I was left exasperated. And the most frustrating thing is that these are commonly held cultural beliefs and I can talk it through with these guys til I am blue in the face, but it was do bugger-all good.

Location in Henties Bay

 Over breakfast one morning, I got chatting with a guy about witchcraft, which was fascinating, as almost all Namibians I have met admit that it exists in their culture, by not one will admit to believing in it. Apparently there are witchcraft classes, where people can become better at casting spells and curses, but are underground and noone knows who runs them or attends them – my comment about Harry Potter and Hogwarts didn’t go down too well. Anyway people can witch one another, ‘throwing curses like missiles’; if it goes on too long it will be taken to court, which rarely resolves anything as all the evidence is intangible. ‘But then someone will die’, one guy said.
‘Die? How?’, I ask.
‘HIV. People witch each other with HIV, and then they die. That is the worst curse.’
‘They do know that HIV is commonly caught through unprotected sex, right?’
‘Ah, no. it is not. Only if someone witches you will you catch HIV.’
‘Is that what you believe?’, I ask tentatively, trying to contain my bubbling anguish under the guise of a calm, objective anthropologist.
‘Yes, only if you are witched by someone else will you catch HIV’.
This discussion went on for a while, and became quite heated, and no, I wasn’t singly attacking this delusional chap over his bockwurst and eggs, but the whole table became involved in this discussion, for and against. I ended up going for a walk in the end, because I just couldn’t understand how these supposedly educated men could hold such obscene notions about such a serious disease and preach this to their communities, despite all the HIV and AIDS awareness campaigning. It’s quite scary really.

The workshop was really eye-opening, about deserts and all that, but mostly about the culture here. Antoher interesting insight into Namibia culture was from a guy who seemed really interested in my project, asking me lots of questions about it and saying he wanted to learn more. So I gave him my business card before we left. ‘but you’re out of the office a lot, aren’t you (which is very true) so could I have your cell number?’, which I innocently handed over. I now have a stalker, calling me and sending texts from his rural homestead, where he lives with his wife and kids and no doubt lots of goats and cows!! I really (naively) didn’t see that coming, and have had to set him straight on the difference between a personal and professional relationship. Tut-tut, men.



1. terry simmons - November 5, 2006

Hi Isabelle, awesome website.
Fascinating info on the male attitude to aids. Does this mean that people will have sex with a poor soul who announces that she has aids, if they are sure she will not witch them? That is the ultimate in male stupidity!

Keep up the good work

2. Cousin Kim - January 17, 2007

You can see how far Kathe and I have progressed thru your site. Really enjoying it. Thanks again for sharing your experiences. Have to say that we’re sitting back to back at our computers reading separately , but together, commenting back and forth about what we’re reading. Also, we have a map of Africa out so that we can see where the %$&^@@#! you are.
About the witchcraft and Aids. I can see why it is so wide spread in Africa. Maybe the best way to deal with it is to fight fire with fire. You know, start a rumor that the only way to combat Aids witchcraft is with a garlic coated condom.

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