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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.

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The Himbas September 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Cows, Culture, Education, Home and away, Namibia.
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It was in Damaraland where we visited one of the last surviving, truly traditional groups in Namibia, the Himba people. The Himbas are a group of matrilineal nomadic cattle herders known for their defiance against the pull towards modernity. Despite the rapid developments in towns across Namibia, the Himbas continue to live in a traditional way, abiding by their tribal laws, dress and rituals, despite the discrimination they face from other Namibians for being “the ones left behind”. In order to be accepted into society or to send their children to school, they are expected to conform and reject their traditions. But it is their traditions that define their identity and existence, and so their children remain uneducated, unemployed and unaccepted. With their life in the village, it is easy to forget that a world of technology and development exists, and whilst the Himbas are self-sufficient and live a more-or-less sustainable lifestyle through their cattle herding, they do encounter modern life when they visit the growing towns around Namibia, which they find challenges their ethos. (more…)

The Bank of Cow July 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Cows, Culture, Home and away, Money, Namibia, Oh..interesting, Ovitoto, The job.
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As I have mentioned before, Ovitoto is a rural farming community. This is not the ploughs-and-tractor type of farming, but more livestock farming. Especially cows. The Hereros are well-known for their love of bovines. Cows are everything: money, status, livelihood, food, gifts. The women even traditionally wear hats which resemble cow horns, coupled of course with an abundance of Victorian-style dresses, layered one on top of the other.

Hereros, like many African groups, don’t tend to use banks as readily as people do in the West. They instead use the Bank of Cow, with their money tied up in cows and other livestock. This makes a lot of sense really. Livestock grow, they reproduce and create offspring which will also reproduce, which means your investment will increase naturally – a better inflation rate than any bank will offer. (more…)

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…)

What I learnt last week in the field… April 2, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Cows, Creatures, Gender, Namibia, Out of the city, Peculiarities.
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        that animal blood left to solidify in a very cold fridge is very difficult to remove.

        that said blood can make a hot sealed room smell like an abattoir if left for more than 3 days.

        that the cleaning of said congealed blood from the fridge, fridge door, kitchen floor, wall and ceiling (did they have a fight with it?!) could reform a recently-lapsed vegetarian back to her non-meat-eating ways – err, apart from chicken.

        that cows can run amazingly fast .

        that a traditional Herero delicacy is sour milk, which is made through a similar process that I experienced as a student when some milk was left in the fridge for far too long, except without the fridge.

        That this sour milk leaves a decidedly putrid taste in the back of your mouth after consumption, similar to the one previously experienced at the front of your mouth when first tasted.

        that, unlike most African groups, Hereros buy their mealie meal (aka pap or nshima) from the supermarket instead of growing it.

        that a wheelbarrow is incredibly comfortable to sit in.

        that Herero children will never say thank you to an elder, even if you spend weeks preparing a fun field trip for them and then let them watch a movie.

        that it is very inappropriate for a real Herero woman to ride a horse.

        that a female Herero can become a woman by either: giving birth, getting married or maturing to a certain age.

        That I am not a real woman in Herero standards, and am unlikely to ever be accepted as one during my stay here (I can therefore ride a horse if I so choose).

        That the strength of eleven under-7s can push-start a pick-up truck on a flat sand road (especially impressive when most of them are too small to climb into the pick-up truck).

        That the kindergarten children (all under 5 years old) in Ovitoto walk themselves to and from the nursery, about 1 mile from where most of them live.

        That I will never get a grasp of the Otjiherero language, no matter how hard I try.

        That I am terrible at predicting the rain.

        That the African sense of time-keeping extends far beyond my comprehension or expectation.

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.