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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.



The Final Countdown October 9, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Danger, Eh?, Home and away, Reality.

I fear that I won’t have time to properly finish writing this story of me in Namibia. I officially finish work this Friday, and I am feeling this huge burden of ‘all the things that might not get finished in time’ pressing down on my time-constrained conscience. My nights are haunted by psychedelic scenes of unfinished reports chasing me through filing-cabinet forests, of arriving home to realise that no one remembers me anymore, of losing my passport on my way to the airport, of not being able to understand the basics of getting a Tube ticket, and not understand English or English customs anymore. And of course, lots of dreams about being pregnant, some of which are actually progressing to giving birth now (I did look this up, and it means anxiety over a new beginning or change – although a colleague told me yesterday it means someone is going to die! At least no babies for me).

The last few weeks I have been plagued by huge anxieties about leaving: leaving behind the work I have so firmly dedicated myself to over the last year; leaving the friends I found over here; leaving my slow way of life; leaving the sun that shines everyday; leaving the frustrations and cultural confrontations that make life that little bit more complicated, but which makes me feel more alive. And not just about what and where I am leaving, but what I am going back to. Unemployment, uncertainty and a home that no longer feels familiar.

This is the first time that I haven’t had anything to move on to – I have always had the next step planned. I am facing a huge career crisis of “where am I going”, and the pressure of “argh, I’m skint, I need a job”. I started scrawling through job sites months ago, and am struggling to find anything that really grabs me. Having had so much responsibility in my job over here, I am reluctant to go back to being an office monkey, and so many of the skills needed for higher posted jobs seem so alien. Whilst I have hugely developed my skills and experience during this fantastic experience over here, I am wondering how my rural farming community experience will fit in in a London-based NGO. They are hardly going to need me to create a workshop under any trees with only a stick as a resource, or discuss with traditional authority leaders about how their love for cows is heavily degrading the environment. I wonder whether my now slow pace will leave me behind the rest of the eagerly competing development graduates, and how valuable my knowledge of cattle herding will be in the cut-throat world of development.

 I am lucky though, as there are plenty of worse places to be going back to than London and the comfort of my parents’ home; although after living in a country which has only just got their population over 2 million, I do fear that life in London will push me into developing the early symptoms of agoraphobia. People will push and shove me for walking too slowly (something that I have perfected over the last year), commuters will mutter and tut as I struggle to get the ticket machine to work at the Tube station, and when my cheery ‘Hallo, how are you?’s are met with blank stares by all, I will probably run home, crying at the soulless world I have returned to.

Home seems so distant to me right now, and so I am trying to relax and concentrate on my immediate plans: planning my last night out in Windhoek; arranging my trip up North to visit my friends there next week; planning my beach holiday in South Africa with my housemate. Nice things, that make me forget that I am going back to the cold, low grey skies of London, a fast pace of life cluttered with objects that I no longer see the purpose of and an ocean of anonymous faces.

Don’t get me wrong, I am ready to leave, for so many reasons. But it is always so difficult to say good bye. I really think that leaving to the unknown is so much easier than returning to the familiar.

Ethical giving September 25, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Goodness, Home and away, Money, Namibia, VSO.
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Earlier this year, my old housemate Matthias went home for his father’s 60th birthday. It sounded like they had quite a party, but with a warming message: instead of receiving any presents, Matthias’ father would rather accept money to donate to worthy causes that Matthias knew of in Namibia. Together they raised over 3000 Euros, a hefty amount by any standards. (more…)

The Himbas September 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Cows, Culture, Education, Home and away, Namibia.

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…)

My birthday September 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Creatures, Culture, Namibia, Time out.

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!).


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…)

The Bush Bar August 14, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Eh?, Home and away, Namibia.
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“Oi, shilumbu”. All faces turn towards me, as alerted by the incredibly observant token drunk. As all eyes look on, he continues yabbering on, the only word I could pick out being shilumbu (meaning white person). After his wildly gesticulating arms rest on his lap as he leans uneasily on a high stool, I reply, “Yes, I am a shilumbu. Hallo”.

Peels of laughter erupt over the heavily beating kwaito, and the resident drunk springs back into life.

“Yes, You are shilumbu. Al Quaeda forever. Bush must die. We will not release your hostages. We will not. Taliban. Ja!”, Tate Drunk announces, arm punching the air, swaying and bouncing off the bar and other punters. (more…)

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.

Bootilicious August 6, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Culture, Gender, Namibia.

“Sista, are you African?”

“No, I’m from the UK. I’m English”

“Ahh. I can see you are white and what-what, but your body, it is like an African, not a white person. Are you sure you are not African?”

Unlike back home, a big round bottom is highly appreciated here and the African women sure have them. And apparently so do I. (more…)

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).