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My birthday September 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Creatures, Culture, Namibia, Time out.
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For the first year in many, I spent my birthday with my parents. Being an August Bank Holiday birthday, I’m often away, but this year, my parents decided to join me. And being such a unique event, I thought I’d share it.

I woke up in the Bush Chalet at the Waterberg Plateau, with all sorts of clattering going on as my Godmum, Louise, friend Cynthia and my parents set about preparing breakfast for their first morning in Namibia. Considering we’d driven the women pretty much straight from the airport to the Waterberg Plateau, they had far too much energy. I stepped out bleary-eyed to a chorus of “Happy Birthday”, before being ushered out to the patio of our chalet, which had the most incredible view, positioned half way up the wall of this stunning plateau. For once, I had presents to open, and in the warm sunshine no less (it almost always rains on my birthday – British Bank Holiday timing!).

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No Larium necessary July 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Eh?, Reality.
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I have had problems sleeping for a few years now, and am quite used to having active and memorable dreams. But since moving here they have just got plain silly. On arrival, I dreamt a lot of here with aspects of home (like finding a proper pub along the side of the road), or of home with aspects of here (like giraffes and kudus running around London). Also dream a lot of surfing and the sea – probably withdrawl symptoms.

Over the months I have had a lot of pregnancy dreams. One was that I was that I was about to leave and was having a quick holiday in South Africa with lots of friends, but I was pregnant and was trying to figure out if I could surf with a baby belly. I was also discussing with my friends how best to tell my mum that I was having a black baby (don’t worry, Mum, it was just a dream).

Most recently, I dreamt that I gave birth to a tray of nine assorted cakes, including a few cream buns and sheaf of flapjacks. This was of course totally normal, so I then went out shopping with my mum and when we came back, my cakes had turned into a little baby boy who was locked in a conservatory, and the owner was being really slow and letting me see him.

Last night I dreamt that I saw a baboon sharpening a pencil.

I left my dream dictionary at home. I would be very grateful if anyone can help me translate these.

And no, I am not taking any anti-malarial medication.

Late night safari drive June 11, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Eh?, Namibia, Windhoek.
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A lazy quiet Friday night. Having just enjoyed an Indian takeaway, my housemate and I were driving over to the neighbouring suburb to collect a friend to go out for a late night drink. Unlike many capital cities, the streets of Windhoek on a weekend, or in fact any night, are often deserted. Cruising down through the residential suburb of Eros, we see some police cars pulled up on a side street, with some policemen standing with torches, assessing something with great interest. We passed on by, assuming it was an attempted or successful robbery.

On our way back past, we slow down for a better look. Not believing my eyes, I tell Jillian to reverse back so I could check again. Yep, I was right the first time, it was… (more…)

A global education May 29, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Eco-goodness, Education, Home and away, Hot, Namibia, Oh..interesting, Out of the city, The job, Time out, VSO.
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One of the perks of being a VSO in Namibia is that we get Global Education trips (other VSO countries don’t get them!). VSO subsidise trips for about 30 volunteers to go to a particular part of Namibia to learn about an aspect of the country. The trips are decided and arranged by volunteers, and are a great opportunity to meet other volunteers from different backgrounds and living in different regions, as well as a chance to catch up with some of the group that I came out with. This trip was to look at Desert Conservation and Tourism, based in Swakopmund on the coast with a night camping at Gobabeb Desert Research Station in the er.. desert. And being a Global Education trip, and the VSO motto being “Sharing Skills, Changing Lives”, I feel it is appropriate to share my findings and learnings with you.

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The beetle and the wheel April 13, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Eh?, Namibia, Peculiarities.
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Nose-picking is a national past-time here in Namibia. Across the country, throughout the day, people protract their index finger and insert it into one of their nostrils for what ends up being a long excavation to discover and remove whatever is causing them discomfort. I have taken taxis where the driver has managed to steer through city centre traffic with one hand implanted up his nose. Important people in business meetings pick their noses as readily as they would rudely and noisily answer their cell phones. For children and the elderly, blacks and whites, men and women alike, nose-picking is an activity of necessity, to be conduct in public and at any chosen time, and demands strict and undivided concentration.

Coming from a rather prudish and up-tight culture myself, I still find this activity rather alarming. To see someone publicly picking their nose in England is a diatribe worthy of sharing with friends and family (“Urgh, there was this bloke on the Tube picking his nose opposite me. So gross. Totally put me off my lunch…”). In fairness to Namibians though, the air here is very dry, we are at a high altitude, and nose-bleeds are common, as is having a dried-up and uncomfortable nasal passage. It was even mentioned in detail during our medical brief in our VSO In-Country Training. Nose-picking and blowing is a necessity as it can be incredibly uncomfortable, but really,… in public?

 The other night, I was chatting to a Namibian guy in the bar. Suddenly he came out with, “Do you know why Namibians always pick their nose?”. Despite knowing the medical explanation, I was keen to understand it anthropologically and asked him to explain.

“You see, Namibians have a little wheel inside their head, and on that wheel is a beetle. The beetle pushes the wheel round, which is what makes the person’s brain work. Sometimes the beetle falls off the wheel. That’s when the person needs to stick their finger up their nose, to push the beetle back onto the wheel, or their brain won’t work.” He then starts demonstrating the motion to me.

“Ah, that’s better. My beetle is now back on the wheel”.

 Now I know that nose-picking is an important requirement for Namibian cognition, I will try not to be so affronted by this behaviour. I may even join in.

Man’s best friend? April 3, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Devastating, Dogs, Raaah!.
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Just before we moved in together, my housemate Jillian got a wee Jack Russell puppy. He was a tiny little thing that just shivered for the first few days, and at just 3 months, had not quite enough hair and far too much skin for his little frame, with massive ears pricked up on his tiny white and brown head. As he got to know us, his excitable and adorable character started to develop more. Playful, loving, loveable but shy enough in public to be manageable.
But he was also a little Jack Russell puppy – prone to shitting and peeing everywhere (especially outside my bedroom), chewing everything and later humping guests’ feet and using his growing teeth a little too aggressively when playing. I must admit that I developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with him, as he was too cute to not love, but wound me up something rotten with his defecating, destruction and constant demand for attention, when I was already uptight during a busy few weeks at work. But puppies don’t know any better, and it takes a lot of time invested to get them trained properly. We were both out at work all day during the week, which meant when we were in, he just got crazy. But I always stood that he wasn’t my dog, and therefore not my responsibility. Then Jillian went away for a week, leaving me as his guardian, and we bonded. Just this last week, he has mellowed, his toilet training improved and it appeared that the worst bits of his adolescence was over.

Early Saturday afternoon, Matthias, Jillian and I were sat in the garden, chit-chatting lazily in the sun. Matthias had moved in the night before, and we both had only just emerged after a late night partying, whilst Jill had just got back from a more pro-active morning. Winston was jumping about, and playing around the garden. He would often run down to the bottom of the garden and bark at our landlord’s two rottweilers, Che and Queenie, through the low wall and gate which separated our garden from theirs (these are the rottweilers that ruined my swim the other week – see previous entry “Doggy Paddle”). We have often speculated on what would happen if they were allowed to play in the same area. Little did we know that we were about to find out…

Jill and I had just gone back inside when Matthias let out the alarm: Winston had jumped into the landlord’s garden through the fence. We all sprinted down the garden to see Winston being chased by Queenie, whilst Che guarded the only bit of fence low enough for wee Winston to jump back through. As we approached, Winston was scrambling up the wall, trying to crawl back through the gate. He had wedged himself between the wall and gate, when Queenie caught up with him, and plucked him out with her jaws. The rest was a blur, as Jill darted through the gate to retrieve Winston from Queenie’s violently shaking jaws, as I tried holding back Che. Next Jill had Winston in her arms, being chased by Queenie towards the gate. Jill passed Winston over the gate to Matthias, who was then bitten nastily by an agonised Winston, who then fell to the ground. Holding the Rottweilers back, Jill and then I pushed through the gate, and picking up Winston’s crippled and bleeding body, carried him up to the house, face gurning and eyes aimlessly searching.
We frantically phoned our landlord and the vet’s emergency number, and Jill and Matthias arranged to get down to the vet’s, and I would follow once I was dressed. I went to pick up Winston to pass to Jill, and his head rolled round limply, eyes glazed, tongue lolling. Jillian was willing him to come back as she and Matthias ran down to the car, before speeding off to town.
Our landlord arrived just as I was dressed and leaving and we drove in convoy down to the vet’s.
As I pulled up, Jill, Matthias and the vet were standing in the car park. Winston’s body had already been taken away for disposal. We sat down on the wall, shaking and crying, shocked by the events which had just taken place in the last 20 minutes. Matthias went to deal with the payment and to get some antiseptic – his hand was bleeding quite badly and Jill’s was bleeding and swollen from tackling the vicious jaws of Queenie. Jillian was incredibly brave to take on the rottweilers like she did.
There was nothing to be done. Winston had had his back broken by Queenie’s thrashing, and died within minutes, before we had even left the house.
We went back home, and packed up Winston’s bed, food and toys to take to the SPCA. Devastated and shocked, Jill and I went out and spent the evening at a friend’s house. The house is very quiet now. There’s a void where Winston’s bed used to be. I still expect him to come bounding out the door when I get home. But he’s gone. No one is to blame.
Tough little Winston just thought he would take his chances against two of the most territorial and aggressive dogs, and lost.

Rest in Peace, wee Winston. My favourite flip-flops will certainly miss you.

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.

Doggy paddle March 12, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Raaah!.
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The sun was setting as I got back late from the office. I was a bit wound up from a last minute rush at work and unenthusiastically anticipating an early start the next morning to get out to Ovitoto before the cattle auction started. I got home in a slight sweat from the up-hill walk back in the early evening heat and slumped on the sofa. I needed a swim, and what a blessing it is that there is a small pool at my new place. The pool is actually in the garden of our landlord, Edwin’s, house, which is also where his beautiful big rottweilers, Queenie and Che, hang out.
Jillian and I let ourselves through the gate and are greeted by the fierce-looking-but-actually-gentle-as-teddy-bear dogs. The dogs follow as we walk around to the pool, and I dive in whilst Jill hangs out on the side having a smoke. As I surface, I find both dogs barking furiously around the edge of the pool. They normally bark a bit as we walk past their gate up our path to our house, but this time they were frothing at the mouth. As I swam to the edge to calm them down, they upped the ante, and start clawing at my arms, leaving big red scratches. Slightly frightened by these large dogs feverishly guarding the edge of the pool but exhausted by the day, I decide to stay in a bit longer to unwind until I can be bothered to deal with them. So I turn around and duck under the water. Next thing I know, I have 150lbs of rottweiler on my back, as Queenie had leapt on to my back as soon as I had submerged myself. Struggling to the surface, Queenie is by my side, scraping claws down my arms and back as she paddles to stay afloat, slobber dissipating across the water’s turbulent surface . I’m out of my depth and she is pushing me under by my shoulders. Finally resurfacing, I grab her front paw, and drag her as I paddle over to the edge where I push Queenie on the shallow ledge. Whilst she shakes herself dry, I clamber out, to be greeted by Che (the size of a small bear) who just ups on me and starts chewing and pulling on my bikini straps. Jillian came over to the rescue, just as Queenie started jumping up on me, and Che began chewing frantically at my towel. He pulled it from my hands and ran off into the garden to begin a tug-of-war game with Queenie with my nice towel. Rather terrified by what had just happened, with news stories of ‘Rottweiler attacks’ from home rushing through my mind, I stand dumb-founded whilst Jillian goes to face them and at long last retrieves my chewed, filthy and soaking towel.
Grabbing it, I run through our gate, leaving the dogs behind and up to our house, shortly followed by Jillian. Reflecting, I realise that the dogs were scared for me when I was in the water, and when I swam under, instinctively thought to try and rescue me. Just as well I wasn’t really in trouble.
In my bedroom mirror, I see long red welts developing from my shoulders right down to the top of my bum; my forearms are also criss-crossed with long red lumps. At least there is no blood.
I go to show Jillian.
“Yeah, Edwin did say that when using the pool, it’s best to keep the dogs out, as they tend to go a bit crazy. But I didn’t think they would be like that…”
Although I have made my peace with the pups, I haven’t been near the pool since.