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Oop North August 22, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Eh?, Namibia, Out of the city.
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“Drive North, and a few kilometres before Omuthiya, turn left onto the gravel road. We’re on the right a few kilometres down. You can’t miss us.”

It took me a long time to find a map with Omuthiya on it, but his directions to the Okashana Rural Development Centre were spot on. Drive 700km due on the only road north from Windhoek, take a left, then a right, and you’re there. Spot on.

Since it’s been a good few months since our project in Ovitoto ran out of money, and it looks like a few months more til we get any more money, we have started taking up consultancy tenders to bring in some extra well-needed funds. This was my first tender application and I was very chuffed that we got it. Our mission: to financially assess this long-standing rural development centre, and suggest strategies and activities that could make it financially sustainable. My boss, being a whizz with numbers and spreadsheets, was in charge of all things numerical; I got to deal with the community. Out comes my VSO Participatory Tools Handbook (aka my workshop bible).

For 2 days, I was rushing through interviews with local stakeholders, staff members and just about anyone I had the energy to talk to. My boss dealt with the men with big bellies, whilst I audio-typed the interviews (I know my place), if I wasn’t attempting to facilitate group workshops, which was far easier said than done. After almost a year of working with Hereros, I was now amongst the Ovambo people; whilst similar in many ways, they are equally different in others. Their lifestyle, ethics and approach to life differ for starters, and I had to be careful to show respect for this, and not to offend anyone, in order to get as much information out of them as possible. (NB: even after a year working in Ovitoto, I still manage to offend people without even breathing – here I didn’t even have time for a warm-up practice-run).

My first mistake happens at the beginning of the Stakeholders’ Workshop. Only half an hour late, the Regional Councillor, Village Traditional Leader, Priest, Policeman, school teacher, local business woman, and various other stakeholders, community and ministry representatives were present and, I thought, ready to start the workshop. I greet them all “Wa la le po” which seems to go down well, and launch into who I am and why I am here. After a minute or so, the centre Mananger interrupts me, “Err,…Meme, I think we should sing the National Anthem first”. Doh!

This, I suddenly remember, is very common in many parts of Africa, but having never seen it in Ovitoto, I forgot about this custom. I have also failed to learn the words, so mumbled my way through, joining in for “beautiful Namibia, our countryyyyy”.

Anthem over and done with, I try again, picking up where I left off. “Er,… Meme, I think it would be good if our Reverend here could lead us through a prayer.” So now I am an unpatrotic, God-less shilumbu. Great start to the day!

Despite this car-crash of an introduction, and being a young, unmarried (my status as such was announced early in the workshop) female wearing trousers trying to facilitate a group of important local, predominantly male, stakeholders, the workshop actually went very well. I only managed to offend the Reverend one more time, and got a huge amount of bountyful information from this eager group, all keen to see their stake upheld in the future development of the centre. Knowing that we are consultants representing the centre’s donors, asking their advice on what development initiatives could benefit the area not only made them feel important for being included in the discussion but also gave them air-time to express their needs/wants. Whilst I don’t see how a swimming pool as a leisure facility could benefit the area that they themselves described as “drought-striken”, nor how “tractors” are a solution to the problem of unemployment amongst the youth, they did come up with a lot of very valid ideas which will be taken into account when putting together our strategies.

Whilst I haven’t spent much time there until recently, I am realising how different and real the North of Namibia is, the part above the Red Line. It was a part of the country which wasn’t taken by colonists and divided up into white-owned farms. It is the most heavily populated region in the country (which isn’t much for the country with an average of 2.5 people per km squared), the land is flat and constantly busy with people farming and livestock grazing. People up there are busy, making good and bad, but to just see people doing something is a difference from the south. The people up there seem more Below the Red Line, people always seem to be squatting and fidgetting on marginal scraps of land between the large commercial farms; above the Red Line, people stroll and wander, seeming more content and relaxed as they are on their own land. They have practical hopes and dreams for the future, as they know where they stand right now. They are less like the others who have been chased off their lands and left to exist in marginal areas that the whites didn’t want, who don’t know where to start and so don’t know how to plan for the future. I see hope for the future in the North. Others could learn from it if they put their pride and tradition to one side.

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