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The Final Countdown October 9, 2007

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

Alcohol gives you AIDS July 24, 2007

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

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A country drowning July 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Danger, Devastating, Namibia, Violence.
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Prior to my arrival here in Namibia, I had a stint temping at The Portman Group and Drink Aware Trust, both non-profit bodies, the former taking corporate responsibility for the UK alcohol industry, the latter campaigning and educating to reduce alcohol harm. Importantly, they don’t say drinking is evil or not to drink, but promote alcohol awareness. Having just graduated from university, I had, like most students, just finished a 4-year education on alcohol consumption, but found my work at TPG and Drink Aware very insightful. I learnt a huge amount about how alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking, is crippling the UK workforce (through hangover days), and turning my country into a throng of reckless, aggressive alcoholics. Any weekend night out in any town in the UK, around 11pm, you will find either a drunken brawl, a body passed out in the street, vomit paving the ground or a mascara-smeared girl crying. Through my work, I learnt about how alcohol can ruin people’s lives, but also how it is possible to drink responsibly and have a good time without getting hammered.

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World Music Day June 29, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Danger, Education, Namibia, Oh..interesting, Time out, Windhoek.
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The 21st Of June is World Music Day. Originally founded in France in 1982, as Fête de la Musique, it is held each year in many countries across the world, celebrating the diversity of music from all different corners of the world. And Namibia is no different. Well, a little maybe. For starters, the Namibian World Music Day was held on Saturday 23rd, typically late, and it was more a celebration of Namibian music as opposed to that of other countries.

Being originally founded by the French, the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC, a fine establishment offering art and French classes, hosting many shows and exhibitions of local and international artists and boasting a rather good library) sponsored the all-day event. (more…)

Crazy Season June 27, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Danger, Devastating, Namibia, Transport, Violence, Weather, Windhoek.
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I have been struggling over the last few weeks to find something interesting or funny to write about. I often pick up inspiration from things I have seen, places I have been and as a last resort, The Namibian, the English-language national newspaper, which occasionally churns up a farcical article worth a giggle. But recently, all the news is pretty gruesome, about the Khomas Ripper who is offing young women and dumping them in bits around the city, gun-wielding taxi drivers chasing each other through downtown Windhoek during lunchtime, or various cases of child or gender abuse which are just too upsetting to talk about.

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And from a local perspective… June 5, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Danger, Devastating, Gender, Home and away, Namibia, Raaah!, Tradition, Violence.
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Following on from the previous posting about rape in
Namibia, I thought I would share a few findings with you…

Whilst I was in Botswana, I was chatting with a manager of the campsite we were staying at one night. He was talking about how they provide transport for each of the female staff members to get home after dark because it isn’t safe for them to walk around, as the likelihood is that they’ll get raped. Understandable, I thought, from what I have heard of stories in Namibia. He then went on to tell us that he had chatted with the male staff and other local guys, asking them about rape. Apparently, for these guys in Maun, if they see a woman walking alone at night, she is fair game, like it is their right to rape her if they so choose. Furthermore, they reckon that the woman is asking for it by walking alone at night, so she should expect it.

Sadly, this is pretty common in this part of the world. Whilst at home, rape is often socially held as a rarity, done by psychos and sadistic crazies (although the statistics will prove otherwise), out here it is common behaviour. Men often see sex as a right, for them to take whenever, however and with whomever they choose. Rape by a husband or boyfriend is often not recognised, because if a woman is with the guy, it is her duty to be sexually available for him. In many parts of the country, the head of the house will offer his women to visiting guests like at home we offer a cup of tea and a biscuit. The question of consent goes out the window.

Women and children are at risk almost every moment of the day. A few months ago, I was walking to the shops with my boss’ maid who was walking to the bus stop. We passed the nearest one, so I started to say goodbye. She looked me in the eye, “Are you crazy? There is no one else here, and we are by a riverbed. I am not waiting here. Guys will make me trouble if I do”. So we walked on and I left her at another bus stop on the main road. She went on to explain that the men here are so highly sexed that they would just grab her in broad daylight if they could.

Whether it is a rural or an urban area, it happens everyday, everywhere. With young children, babies even, young women and old. The blame seems to fall with the victim as well, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Victims can end up carrying their rapist’s child, or contracting HIV, as a rapist would hardly think about using a condom. And sadly the myth that you can cure AIDS by having sex with a virgin has spread to Namibia, so the youth are at even more risk. But sadly they are anyway as paedophilia doesn’t seem to be recognised in the same way as it is back home, and child abuse is, again, regarded as a given right by some.

My sources of this information is mostly through friends, colleagues or the news and research papers, as no one likes to admit that it goes on so habitually. As a young woman, I do feel at risk, and take safety precautions (since my recent mugging, I don’t go anywhere without my new pepper spray), although my black colleagues and friends do say that I am of lower risk being white. A lot of development programmes boast female empowerment, but it is hard for them to move forward when women in this country face such dangers which are out of their control.

An article of interest… June 5, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Danger, Devastating, Gender, Namibia, Violence.
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Rape – a topic that is bouncing out of Namibian newspapers on a daily basis, with particular importance of late after the release of a new research paper. Instead of trying to interpret it myself, I found an article on the very informative AlertNet (definitely worth a peek), which put it much better and more objectively than I could. Read on, but I warn you,… it is rather upsetting….

NAMIBIA: Most rape victims know the rapist

WINDHOEK , 4 June 2007 (IRIN) – Two thirds of rape and attempted rape victims in Namibia know their perpetrators, a report released ahead of this month’s national conference on violence against women and children said.

The report, ‘Rape in Namibia’, investigated how the promulgation of the Combating of Rape Act seven years ago was working in practice and noted that between 2000 and 2005 99 percent of reported rape victims were women. (more…)

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…)

An update May 16, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Danger, Devastating, Eh?, Namibia, Raaah!.
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 Yesterday I got a call from my boss saying a woman had called him saying her son had found my bag in the river bed. Matthias and I had actually searched the riverbed the following day and found nothing, but we suspected that they would dump what they didn’t want somewhere near the scene of the crime. I took the number, and found out this lady lived just round the corner, right near the riverbed. Still paranoid, I only took nothing but the spare keys, and cycled the 200m there.
I was confronted with a little old German lady, holding my ripped bag, containing ALL of my cards. I was so relieved to have my driving license back, and even my cancelled Namibian bank card. But the wallet, keys, lip balm, etc were gone. Then this older black man comes out, who she introduces as her son. He didn’t speak much English, so I was unable to find out where and how he found it. Not comfortable standing around in the street, I said my thank-yous and cycled off home. When I got in, I started thinking that it was a little suspicious. What was he doing in the river bed? How did he find it amongst the reeds? Were my cards and bag all he really found? And why did they so keenly ask where I lived (to which I was warily vague in response)? He was too old to be her son, and the wrong colour at that (although I know that genetics can do some wondrous and surprising things). It sounds a little set up. Or that might just be my overactive imagination…

What a mug May 16, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Danger, Devastating, Eh?, Namibia, Racism.
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People have said recently, “oh, Isabelle, you’re really not having much luck recently, are you?”. Starting with the tragic demise of our puppy, Winston, I have since lost faith and focus in my work, suffered from various illnesses – including a tooth infection that swelled my cheek like a chipmunk, and a bout of feverish tonsillitis over the long weekend when my house mates were away – and an unsuccessful trip to Botswana, leaving my morale slumping somewhat. But I try to shrug off these pity comments about my luck as I get to live out here in Namibia; I have good friends here, I sometimes have my health, and I have a job that I love (most of the time) and it is a spectacularly beautiful country. Sure, things haven’t been that easy recently, but last week I was back on form, with a spring back in my step.

Saturday morning, I was a little bleary-eyed after a night out with friends but spritely as I got ready to go to meet some friends at the mall. With Jill at the salon and Matthias still in bed, I opted to walk out to find a taxi, like I have done many a time. The sky had become suddenly overcast and the air a little muggy, and I was thinking about spending the afternoon in the cinema as I walked down the Ludwigsdorf streets. A steady flow of traffic passed as people went about their Saturday morning business, and a few other people were milling about in the street. As I went down the hill to where the road crossed over a dry river bed, I saw two youngish guys ahead of me; one wandered into the riverbank for a pee whilst his friend waiting on the other side of the road. As I warily passed him, I greeted him, “Walalepo, tate”, looking him in eye and holding my bag tightly. He just looked back at me blankly, which was when I knew I was in trouble. (more…)