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Cows rule March 16, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Cows, Eh?, Raaah!, The job.
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March is a busy month. Phase 1 of our project ends at the end of the month, which means all our activities need to be completed, and all the money spent by the end of the month, so everything that we haven’t done needs to happen in the next two weeks. Although it will be a bit rushed, and I have been working evenings and weekends to get everything done in time, things were going to plan – or so I thought.

There is no telephone at the ECO-C in Ovitoto. Communication with anyone in the area is tricky, as there is also no cell phone reception, let alone internet. And since Milly, our Field Officer, left us in December, it is down to Tjono, our ECO-C caretaker, to coordinate things from his end when I am in Windhoek. So when I see him, I arrange that I will phone him at the Regional Councillor’s Office (about a 10 minute walk from the ECO-C) at a particular time a few days later. He should be there to receive the call; sometimes he isn’t. This gets rather frustrating. So I leave messages with the ladies at the RC Office, saying Tjono must call me. I know they see him, so I know he gets the messages. Last week he didn’t answer my calls or return them. This was particularly frustrating as yesterday we were meant to be running follow-up trainings for the trainees of the Home Garden and Shack Insulation Workshop and the Tso-Tso Stove Manufacturing Workshop that we ran late last year, and I needed Tjono’s help. Since communication is such a nightmare, we communicate with the community by sending out radio broadcasts on the National Otjiherero radio station, advertising our activities, or calling people to come to our trainings. And since I don’t understand Otjiherero, I needed Tjono to say whether the broadcasts had gone out, and whether people were planning on coming.

On Wednesday, he phones the office.
“When are you coming next?”
“Tomorrow. For the follow-up trainings. Remember? I asked you to do X, Y and Z for it.”
“Ooooh. Yes, yes. I heard the radio broadcast (phew). Is it tomorrow?”
I explain what I had explained to him the week before, and the week before that, about the follow-up trainings.
“Tomorrow is not good. There is a cattle auction in Okahandja (the nearest big town). People will not come to the training.”
WHAT?
I apply some anthropological rationality to the situation and remind myself of the importance of cows and livestock to Namibians, but especially the Hereros. Cows come first, they are indicators in so many aspects of the Namibian social world, you can’t compromise people over their cows. For example, you can get 20 years in prison for Cattle Rustling, but just 6 years for raping someone.
I try to keep my cool, and start discussing alternatives with Tjono. He suggests Monday or Tuesday as alternatives. The main issue is that next Wednesday is Independence Day, a big Public Holiday, and therefore most people will take the week off to eat, drink, sleep and watch their cows – not a huge difference to normal weeks, but with higher spirits, or so I’ve heard.

We settle on Monday. I’m not happy about it. Nobody does much on Mondays, and nobody knows that it will be on Monday. I fish out the Otjiherero radio broadcast, change what I think is the date (it’s all in Otjiherero) and fax it off to the radio station. I also send a fax to Tjono at the RC Office, with directions of what he must do I preparation for Monday. He’s left the office. I still don’t know if he got the fax, and he hasn’t been around to answer my calls.

The rest of the day, I was depressed, disappointed and frustrated. Having to postpone the trainings by a few days may not seem like a big deal but I had been working so hard to get everything done in time, and sure, it’s done way before it’s due now, but I was so excited about it, and now it’s all changed because he didn’t think to mention the cattle auction to me before. I think I need to either give him a lesson on communications skills, or move to Ovitoto full-time. But for now I need to prepare myself to spend Monday sitting under a tree in a hot dusty field waiting for trainees to not arrive, as they will likely be sitting under another tree in a hot dusty field with their cows and goats, eating, drinking and celebrating their Independence. Oh, the irony.

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