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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.

Morning drink driving September 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eh?.
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It’s a reverse scenario. I’m driving, with Dad in the passenger seat and Mum in the back, asking them to be quiet as I negotiate our chunky 4×4 rental bakkie out to the highway through Friday-morning-before-long-weekend traffic. It’s their first whole day in Windhoek, and I am taking them up to Ovitoto to show them what I’ve been doing for the last year. And my dear Field Officer is getting married, so we are dressed rather smartly, and they have the excitement of children at the beginning of a long road trip holiday. As I am trying to point out the game park, the abattoir and outline of the Khomas Highlands as we cruise down the highway north, I notice the traffic is backing up greatly from Police Road Block leaving town. Traffic jams are rare, never more than 5 cars in a row, so this stream of 20-odd is rather alarming; especially at a Road Block, where you often have to search the redundant police caravan 10 metres away for a half-hearted arm to wave you through.

As we crawl forward to the barrier, the two cars in front and our car are asked to pull over and wait. A little edgy at driving my parents around in a massive truck-of-a-car, and not knowing what time the wedding was starting or where in which village it was, I could’ve done without this. I sit patiently, as my parents start their questioning of why we have been pulled over. My dad even suggested that he filmed it on him camcorder – “Not if you want to keep it”, I warn.

Finally, the officer in charge works his way down to us, and asks me to step out of the vehicle.

“Good morning, madam. Can you please blow into this tube?”  holding up a breathalyser kit. Seriously? At 10.30 in the morning?! Not only this, but there is also a TV crew from One Africa filming the whole episode. I comply politely, muttering about being late for a wedding, a little concerned that my flu medicine would incriminate me, but I pull through with a 0.0 blood-alcohol content.

“Well done. Thank you. Now can you tell us what you think about this road block? We are doing an alcohol awareness road test”, chirps the TV presenter, shoving a microphone under my nose.

Taking any opportunity I get, I spring into action, advocating my work on alcohol awareness and berating the evils of drink-driving, before finishing with, “Yeah, your campaign is a great idea, but perhaps better implemented at a time when people are more likely to be drink-driving? Right, I’ve a wedding to get to! Bye”.

I am still to find out whether my little episode was included in the actual broadcast, and whether anyone could understand a word of my babbling, but at least it gave my parents a great story to tell all their friends, how their dear daughter got breathalysed at a police road block in Africa, at 10 in the morning!

At least I passed.

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…)

Where am I again? July 26, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eh?, Home and away, Out of the city.
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On more than one occasion in my time here, I have had to pinch myself to remind me where I am and what I am doing here. It’s not because it is so far removed from what I am used to back home, or that my work often involves cows and wood, or that I live in a strange African-German hybrid city in the middle of the desert. It’s because I often find myself not living the life of a volunteer. For starters, I live in a nice apartment with digital TV, wireless internet and a lady who does my laundry. And I have some expat friends who have a lot more money than I do. I have been known to eat sushi, drink champagne and lounge in hot tubs on more than one occasion. This is not the life of a volunteer.


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.

Windy Corner July 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eh?, Namibia, Weather, Windhoek.
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Namibia is well known for being windy country, hence the name of its blustery capital, Windhoek. Now it is winter, high pressure systems push up from the Cape, not bringing a drop of moisture, but firing up the gales from the south. It is also the driest of the seasons, meaning that the earth is whipped into a cycloning frenzy whenever a fresh gust blows in. Dust is everywhere. Little piles of dirt can be found around the office and house where a draught has ushered the beige grains into orderly mounds. Massive dust-laden gusts blast through on a whim, blurring your vision and adding to your flu-induced cough and sneezing. This is particularly hazardous as I zip around on my scooter, threatening to unbalance me, blind me and choke me in one go. The winds are channelled through the mountain peaks, mischievously causing havoc in pockets around the city. And regardless of where I’ve been, any inch of bare skin will be coated in a layer of glittery gold sheen by the evening.

Outside the city, these winds reach gales force speed as they sweep across the desert plains. Our drive to the coast last weekend was a constant battle to stay on the single-lane highway, dodging the pressure bursts from passing trucks or overtaking maniacs. On the coast, there was just a warm breeze flowing out of the desert to the sea, giving us a taste of summer in the depths of African winter.

This is until the sandstorm from the east swept in. All quad-biking and sand-boarding activities were cancelled and we were prisoners in the hotel. The storm was pounding the pass along the coast up to the road back inland so badly that we were warned that the paint on the car would be sand-blasted off if we were stupid enough to tackle it – that is assuming we don’t get blown off the road in the attempt.

Even Ovitoto has a constant breeze whistling through. As I pulled up at the school to stay recently, I admired how patiently the children were waiting to be let into the dining hall in a neat queue. Suddenly they scattered across the yard, screaming as they sought shelter from the towering cyclone that was tearing through the field towards them, pregnant with dust and debris. I too dashed into my room, and closed the windows, just as the force hit, causing the windows and tin roof to rattle. My freshly-made bed was coasted in a fine layer of dust, as was everything else in the room. For my 3 day stay, my room resembled a sand pit (this is however a vast improvement on the abattoir that I encountered last time I went to stay, when the entire room was inexplicably splattered with animal blood).

I dream of rain.

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.