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Opuwo! (“The end” in Otjiherero) October 15, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Cows, Culture, Eh?, Home and away, Ovitoto, VSO.
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It was time to make my final visit to Ovitoto a few weeks back. I had this nagging feeling that there was something really important that I’d forgotten to do. I also hadn’t heard from Tjono in weeks. No matter which phone I called in the village, I either found the line disconnected, or received a response of “Oh, Tjono…. He is not here,…. He is in the place” (where “the place” really is often depends on who you are talking to, but all I knew was that he was not where he should have been, on the end of the phone to me).


Having set up a last minute meeting with the Regional Councillor, so that he can meet my replacement and that I can say cheerio, we made the immediate decision to drive up that day and take our chances with having the room to stay at the school and that everyone we needed to meet would be there. I felt pretty groggy as I took the turn-off on to the gravel road to Ovitoto, trying to give my successor a crash-course in Herero customs and greetings, whilst choking on the dust that blew in through the broken cover of my friend’s Jeep I was borrowing.



Benevolence September 25, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Goodness, Home and away, Namibia, Ovitoto.

Since I found out I would be coming to work in Namibia, my parents’ church in London, St Mary’s of Kilburn, has shown incredible support towards my placement. The parish and congregation were so generous in helping me with my fundraising prior to my departure, and have shown keen interest in my activities whilst I have been away. Every week they pray for “Isabelle in Namibia”, wishing me well and that I am kept safe from danger. I find this most overwhelming though, as, whilst my parents are active members in the congregation now, they have only been in the area for a few years, and I have only turned up on the rare occasion that I have been in London on a Sunday. But the parish overlooks time, and sees any new member as part of the family. (more…)

Playing tour guide September 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Home and away, Out of the city, Raaah!.
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I’m now back from my holiday with my family. And what a holiday it was.

My mum, two of her old housemates from when she was my age living in San Francisco, my dad and I, squeezed into a double-cab bakkie for a 10 day whirlwind tour of Namibia. We covered 3000km, driving an average of 7 hours every other day, and amazingly, not one (major) argument.

With this ratio of women to men, parents to child(ren), and that we are all know-it-all seasoned travellers, there was bickering, mostly along the lines of “are we nearly there yet?”, “are you sure this is the right way?”, “I haven’t seen another car in hours, where are we?”. But tensions were soothed away by the vigorous beauty of this amazing country, constantly changing dramatically every hundred kilometres in ways that are beyond anyone’s imagination.

After almost a year anticipating this visit, I wanted it to be perfect. I had planned the route and booked the accommodation, researched activities and sites to be seen and even mugged up on the history and geology of the country so that I could inform my visitors as we charged around the country. I’d sent emails of recommendations, web links and advice for preparations to my 4 visitors, and even printed out an information pack, tour-guide style, with a map, itinerary and information on each place we visited. Whilst this may seem like a benevolent and caring thing to do, it was actually a selfish attempt to reduce the amount of questioning I would get, anticipated at around 20 questions an hour. Even with the information sheet, I was receiving about a thousand questions an hour, about everything from the climate (“How hot is it now?”), geology (“What altitude is it here?”), flora and fauna (“Are there snakes here? What do warthogs eat, are they vegetarian?”, “In knots, how fast do pelicans fly” – Dad, do you seriously expect me to know that?!), and a lot of questioning of my driving, the road and the route (“Where are we? Are we nearly there yet?”).

Whilst I have now lived here one year, I had saved visiting the highlights of Waterberg, Etosha National Park, Damaraland, The Skeleton Coast, and the Sossusvlei sand dunes for my family’s visit, and so the only place I had been to before on our trip was the coast. Needless to say, I was expected to know everything about each place, and be able to handle a power-steering-lacking, heavy truck on buttery gravel roads whilst explaining the political stance Namibia has on the Zimbabwe situation over the roar of the engine and washer-women-style nattering from the back seat. In addition, I was also recovering from the flu and a huge lack of sleep, and found my chirpy tour-guide demeanour degenerating to that of a fierce pedagogic school mistress, berating her students for asking too many questions (I did actually tell my dear visitors on Day 2 that they were only allowed to ask every second question that they thought of). I then started to feel guilty that I was being snappy and sharp with my dear family who had travelled so far to visit, and were just enquiring about the wonderful country that I live in, which in turn got me all paranoid that the trip was going horribly wrong (which was actually total paranoia, as everyone had a great time. Or so they told me.) After so long without any family around, or in fact anyone that I have known more than 12 months, it’s quite emotional to then have the five of us sharing 10 square feet of space for many hours a day. All the tolerance, patience and humility that I had developed over the months would evaporate the moment someone repeated a question I had answered half an hour before. As we rolled around the country, my emotions also rolled around, switching from euphoria to despondency to confusion and back in a matter of seconds.

But my psychotic meltdown aside, it was a truly magical trip. I am still in awe of the exquisite landscapes which make up Namibia, and moved by the strange beauty of this country. It was a true pleasure to catch up with my parents after so long, and to get to know my mother’s friends better. Their visit also reminded me of home. I’m leaving soon, finishing work in a month’s time. Prior to their visit, I was feeling distinctly unhappy about leaving, and whilst I will still miss this place and the life I have built here, my parent’s wittering about their church, the restaurant around the corner, what my brothers are up to and diatribes of the other residents at Kings Gardens reminded me that there is just no place like home.

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). (more…)

So much to say, so little time August 22, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Home and away.
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Things are extraordinarily hectic right now. With less than 2 months left of work, I am beginning to feel the pressure. There is suddenly so much to do. I think I am feeling this pressure because a good handful of my closest friends are leaving this week or next, and I am seeing them go through the “argh, I’m leaving” craziness, which keeps reminding me of things that I need to do before it’s my turn. It also reminds me that I have limited time to write more blogs about things here, as the “in Namibia” section of my title will be a little invalid when I return home. And I doubt anyone will be very interested in hearing about how depressing London is in November, how hard it is finding a job in development as a semi-recent graduate and how I will be feeling like a teenager again living back home with my parents.

Aside from that, I was away much of last week, in Ovamboland, the northern part of Namibia that really does feel like the Africa tourists come to see. this was great, as I got to work with a different group of people in a totally different type of setting. And then after a 6 hour drive home on Saturday, I had what turned into a massive party at my house, to welcome our new housemate and to celebrate my birthday. I also had some other YfD volunteers visiting from Zambia and Malawi. All in all, I have a great deal to write about. But with all this rushing about and double-ended candle-burning, I have landed myself with the flu. Fever, shakes and a lost voice has kept me off work, and thanks to my doctor, I am highly medicated, which also means that it has taken me half an hour to write just this much. But I am bored, so I will persevere.

I am also a little stressed out because tomorrow morning, my first visitors arrive. And not just any visitors, my parents. I have been anticipating their visit for months, saving as much holiday as possible to spend with them. And on Saturday, my godmother and my mum’s other friend arrive to join the party for our Grand Tour of Namibia. 5 of us in a car for 10 days, visiting Namibia’s highlights. I would be more excited, but the painkillers I’m on have numbed me into a state of indifference, because I don’t think I will last very long on this grand tour feeling the way I do right now. And without my voice, I feel like a superhero without their super-power, like someone slipped some Kryptonite into my tea.

On that note, I will retire back to my bed, like the doctor told me to. So for now, you won’t hear about my exciting trip north, or my fabulous birthday party, or the visit from my fellow volunteers who brought the flu down from Zambia for me. Nor will you hear from me for a few weeks, as I will be hopefully surviving the tour with my first and only visitors.

Ciao for now.

Alcohol – the Aftermath August 9, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Fame, Ovitoto.
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As I wrote before, I held an Alcohol Awareness Campaign in the Ovitoto School a few weeks ago, which was also attended by a journalist from “The Namibian”, the national English-language newspaper. She was incredibly passionate about the issue of alcohol amongst youth and was terribly excited about what I had to say.

“Keep your eye on the Youth Paper on Tuesday” she said, the Youth Paper being a weekly supplement of the national paper, focussing on youth issues.

Needless to say, the following Tuesday, there I was, plastered across the front page of the Youth Paper, rather unglamourously scratching my head whilst supervising a group of learners as they scribbled down ideas on why people drink. No story this week, but a caption explaining that the story will be followed up the next week.

Inside the supplement were lots of the kids who were in the Youth “Faces and Places”. Since I was visiting Ovitoto that morning, I dashed out and bought three copies for the school, as no newspapers are available within Ovitoto. At break-time, I presented the papers to Mr Katuvesiauena (try pronouncing that one), the school’s Principal. For the first time, he actually agreed to and seemed happy to talk to me, and I swear I caught a glimpse of a smile.

“Yes. Very good. You are putting this place on the map of Namibia. We here are very grateful. Yes.”

He went shouting off to the staff room to show his colleagues. I hope the kids were able to see the copies.

Knowing that the story would be followed up the next week, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. But having spent Monday night in the village in preparation for the DRFN’s Workshop on Wheels visit (see next story), I wasn’t able to get a copy until I returned to the main road. The workshop visitors however had a copy on the bus, and as we drove the gravel road from Ovitoto after their visit, he thrust a paper in my face, saying “Is that you?”. It wasn’t that he’d read my name, or the mention of Ovitoto, but that I was wearing exactly the same clothes as I was in the photos, and being an oshilumbu amongst a crowd of black kids, I stand out quite a lot. And there were a lot of photos. I was in 4 out of the 5. In fact, they had a whole page about the workshop, explaining about the issue of alcohol, the activities we did and where the idea for the workshop came from. There was however an embarrassing number of “Isabelle said that….”, “Isabelle then explained to the learners…”, which made me sound like the national guru on all things alcohol related. But the coverage was excellent, and alcohol abuse amongst youth is now on the forefront of news headlines.

The workshop was even mentioned again this week (making it three weeks in a row!!), with a copy of the Responsible Drinking brochure that I prepared for the workshop.

All this coverage has also boosted the profile of the K J Kapeua School in Ovitoto but also my profile. I’m a mini-local-celebrity. A few of my friends have commented “oh, I saw you in the Youth Paper this week”, but the place I first got recognised was my local bottle shop (which I go to for phone credit and juice, rarely booze!). And when I went out on the Friday night to our local club.

“Sista, I saw you in the paper. Alcohol Awareness, hey? You going to be teaching us something then?”, slurred one friend, as I try to hide my G+T under my coat.  

I do practise what I preach though. I rarely over-do it anymore, am aware of how much I drink, and take responsibility for my actions and behaviour. I have never thought that “I was drunk” as an excuse to justify any inebriated behaviour, such as getting overly emotional, aggressive, fighting, bitching, being an idiot, getting sick, drink-driving or inappropriate hook-ups. My opinion is that if you can control yourself, then don’t drink. It’s a lesson that the binge-drinking culture of my homeland, and some of the alcoholic expats, could learn from.

Alcohol gives you AIDS July 24, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Danger, Namibia, Ovitoto, Violence, VSO.

My intention of doing this alcohol awareness campaign wasn’t to tell the kids not to drink; it was to educate them on what alcohol is, how it effects you physically, socially and emotionally, and to open a discussion on how alcohol is used in their society and what the consequences of these activities are. The legal age to drink alcohol in Namibia is 18, same as back home, but having been an underage drinker myself, I know that kids start drinking at a young age, and that by telling them not to will just encourage them to go out and try it.

I used some of the excellent resources that the Portman Group and Drink Aware Trust produce to figure out ways to develop this workshop. But the reasons and situations of kids drinking alcohol in the UK differs hugely from why and how kids drink alcohol here in Namibia. After weeks of research on alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and HIV and rape statistics, I decided to scrap most of what I had found out and get the kids to tell me what they knew. They weren’t going to care about statistics, or understand about the function of the liver or how many units were in a bottle of beer. I had to go local, and so roped in Milly and Tjono for translation (and later proven, crowd control).


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. (more…)

The morality of being a cleaner June 18, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Eh?, Food, Home and away.

Being an “ex-pat” in a developing country, I’ve learnt that certain things are expected of you regarding your lifestyle. For example, you are expected to have a cleaner; show some support for the local workforce. Ours is called Natalia. She comes three times a week, from 8-ish, until she has done all the cleaning, washing and ironing that us lazy housemates have left for her. She’s quiet, returns a smile and gets on with it. We are good to her, by not being total pigs, leaving her money for a taxi home (instead of the bus), and giving her advances if she’s a bit skint in the middle of the month.

I’ve not really had a cleaner before, and so found it quite hard to leave things for her to clean or do. I’m used to it now, and agree that it is nice to have my bed made, my clothes ironed and so on but still find it strange to have my stuff moved around, reordered and reshuffled by someone else. I wouldn’t mind so much if she was consistent with where she moved my things, but every day she finds a new storage option for my books, laptop, make-up and even rearranges my clothing shelves in a rather erratic order.


Violence in the dark June 1, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Danger, Devastating, Ovitoto, Raaah!, Reality, Violence.
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On Tuesday, I rang the Regional Councillor’s Office in Ovitoto, hoping to speak to Tjono. It had been a while since I’d last spoken to or seen him as I have been heavily tied up with office work over the weeks, but I needed to check up on the project. For once, he was there. “Ah, yes, the centre is fine. Aaaah, everything is ok.” Good, good. I then ask Tjono how he is, is he keeping warm now the winter has come, has he any news. He starts explaining about a funeral he had been to in Okahandja last weekend, and he was waiting for a taxi to go back to Ovitoto, and something something and he had to go to hospital and is still very injured. !?!?!?!?! I ask him to repeat  but don’t get much more information other than he is hurt, but “ok” (although his English is ok, he is quite difficult to understand on the telephone).

I wanted to visit Ovitoto as soon as possible. In any case, I needed to give Tjono his salary (£45/month), which it sounded like he would need right now. The earliest I could manage was yesterday, Thursday, so Brian my trusty taxi driver took me up there. (more…)