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Time for Training June 27, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Cows, Eh?, Food, Home and away, Out of the city, Ovitoto, The job.
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Getting anything done in rural development takes forever. It is six months since a small group of Ovitoto residents took part in the Tso-Tso Stove Manufacturing Workshop, training them in the technical construction of this wood-efficient stove. Since then, we have run a follow-up training for them to see who is really interested in making stoves for a living, and making a business out of it. Out of the 7 trainees, only four turned up, which wasn’t too bad for Ovitoto. That training was more to see who turned up, who is a little business-minded and assess the group dynamics, and get them thinking about the commitment and motivation needed to run a business. This follow-up training needed another follow-up, which is why I spent yesterday sat in the freezing Regional Councillor’s Office, trying to understand where my boss was going with his activities.

On passing by the ECO-C, a motley crew was gathered, but not the crew we were expecting. Tjono was there cooking on the Tso-Tso stove (good boy!), whist with another trainee, his girlfriend and some girl who wanted us to hire her. The workshop was due to start at the Regional Councillor’s Office, so we head on up there, with the knowledge that Tjono and his crew “are coming now”. I now understand that this means that they will be coming when they are ready, which will be once the pap has cooked and been eaten. 45 minutes later they arrive. I find this phrase quite entertaining, as it is almost always said when people are leaving with the intention to come back. The concept of “now” is vastly different from what I understand it to mean back home. Only with the repetition, “now-now”, does that mean what I understand “now” to be, and even then it can vary from immediately to in 3 hours time. African Time, my dears.

On our arrival at the RC’s office, we find it deserted, but the meeting room is full of metres of piping. There were also no trainees to be seen. We sit on the sunny veranda, watching a congregation of people over at the bar, music blasting through the still hills. As people were loading up their cars, vast Herero ladies in their extraordinary Victorian-style dresses and cow-horn hats clambered into the vehicles. After a while longer, the cars depart along the dusty road, the music stops and stillness is only broken by the mooing of cows, squawking of birds or laughter of children at the nearby school.

Until the motley crew arrive. Two other trainees arrived also, making 3 trainees, Tjono, a girlfriend and some other girl wanting a job. And a child, not sure whose. The pipes are soon put to one side and the trainees assemble a school-room type set up in the meeting room, notebooks out and ready to learn. Their expectations for learning are very formal, with a teacher-pupil relationship, passively sitting back hoping to absorb something. Not if we’re running the show though. And with the vast language barrier, spontaneous interruptions from the child in the corner and the local crazy man shouting through the window, the show is going to be a little slow. As we say: TIA, This Is Africa (a good response to anything, cheesily taken from the film “Blood Diamond”).

Alessandro launched into a torrent of questioning and exercises.

“Do you want to start a business?” he asked, hopefully. Ah, good, yes they do.

“Why do you want to start a business?” he pursues. They weren’t expecting this one. Silence follows. They throw out a few community-goodness reasons before someone even thinks about mentioning money. They don’t want to seem to be greedy, but in all fairness, you need to have a desire to earn money if you want your business to generate profit and survive. 

This form of questioning continued for 5 hours, trying to get these 3 trainees to start talking frankly about what they want to get out of this business and how they want it to operate, and no, we aren’t going to give you the answer. The costing and pricing exercise was quite problematic when we realised that their newly designated Financial Manager seemed incapable of simple multiplication.

It was a painfully slow process, especially since every person present at some point stood up and said, “I am coming now” before leaving the room for a fair amount of time. I even got to say it when I left briefly to visit the local school teacher with Tjono. The teacher wasn’t in, but I always enjoy walking around the village, waving at people, being introduced to yet another member of Tjono’s family (he has between 15-25 siblings of sorts) and talking about cows and his special ram, that should win a prize at the Farming Show this weekend.

On my return, Alessandro seemed decided that they were finished, and that, fingers crossed, the group will manage to be vaguely operational by next month. I am facilitating this operation now, and I really hope that they can get on and work nicely together. If they do, they could supply the whole region with these excellent stoves and would be a great way to get Ovitoto on the map; but if it doesn’t, it will just be another failed development project, like so many. It’s a pretty tall order, but I am optimistic and hopefully for them.

On the ride home, I thought back about the day, and realised how normal it has all become. Having no trainees, then the wrong ones. The room not being open and then being full of the wrong things. The random child in the corner, and the tag-along girlfriend who does nothing but giggle or sleep. Cows everywhere, and being such a topic of conversation. The way the trainees attack a plate of biscuits like they haven’t eaten in a year. And I don’t even find it so baffling or stressful anymore.

I do fear however that when I return to the rat-race of London later this year, I will be incapable of holding down a job, due to my Africa Time tardiness, informality in the workplace and ability to confuse everyone around me by announcing, “I am coming now”, before leaving the office. Or I will bore them all to death by my effusive chat about cows.

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