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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…)

Benevolence September 25, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Goodness, Home and away, Namibia, Ovitoto.

Since I found out I would be coming to work in Namibia, my parents’ church in London, St Mary’s of Kilburn, has shown incredible support towards my placement. The parish and congregation were so generous in helping me with my fundraising prior to my departure, and have shown keen interest in my activities whilst I have been away. Every week they pray for “Isabelle in Namibia”, wishing me well and that I am kept safe from danger. I find this most overwhelming though, as, whilst my parents are active members in the congregation now, they have only been in the area for a few years, and I have only turned up on the rare occasion that I have been in London on a Sunday. But the parish overlooks time, and sees any new member as part of the family. (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…)

Namibia, the Land of Contrasts September 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Home and away, Namibia, Weather.
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As I drove around the country with my family, I was continually surprised and amazed by the stunning scenery that makes up this wonderful country. In just a matter of kilometres you can find dramatic rock plateaus and a giant underground lakes in the middle of the flat veld, to vast salt pans of an ancient prehistoric lake. Damaraland alone is totally indescribable in beauty and contrast. The geology of the area lends plays tricks with your eyes, as the formations around you morph in shape and colour as you pass. Huge clusters of smooth and spherical Dolomite balls litter the plains like piles of giant beans. Other outcrops are aggressive and sharp, the result of thousands of years of techtonic activity and baking sun. (more…)

Playing tour guide September 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Home and away, Out of the city, Raaah!.
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I’m now back from my holiday with my family. And what a holiday it was.

My mum, two of her old housemates from when she was my age living in San Francisco, my dad and I, squeezed into a double-cab bakkie for a 10 day whirlwind tour of Namibia. We covered 3000km, driving an average of 7 hours every other day, and amazingly, not one (major) argument.

With this ratio of women to men, parents to child(ren), and that we are all know-it-all seasoned travellers, there was bickering, mostly along the lines of “are we nearly there yet?”, “are you sure this is the right way?”, “I haven’t seen another car in hours, where are we?”. But tensions were soothed away by the vigorous beauty of this amazing country, constantly changing dramatically every hundred kilometres in ways that are beyond anyone’s imagination.

After almost a year anticipating this visit, I wanted it to be perfect. I had planned the route and booked the accommodation, researched activities and sites to be seen and even mugged up on the history and geology of the country so that I could inform my visitors as we charged around the country. I’d sent emails of recommendations, web links and advice for preparations to my 4 visitors, and even printed out an information pack, tour-guide style, with a map, itinerary and information on each place we visited. Whilst this may seem like a benevolent and caring thing to do, it was actually a selfish attempt to reduce the amount of questioning I would get, anticipated at around 20 questions an hour. Even with the information sheet, I was receiving about a thousand questions an hour, about everything from the climate (“How hot is it now?”), geology (“What altitude is it here?”), flora and fauna (“Are there snakes here? What do warthogs eat, are they vegetarian?”, “In knots, how fast do pelicans fly” – Dad, do you seriously expect me to know that?!), and a lot of questioning of my driving, the road and the route (“Where are we? Are we nearly there yet?”).

Whilst I have now lived here one year, I had saved visiting the highlights of Waterberg, Etosha National Park, Damaraland, The Skeleton Coast, and the Sossusvlei sand dunes for my family’s visit, and so the only place I had been to before on our trip was the coast. Needless to say, I was expected to know everything about each place, and be able to handle a power-steering-lacking, heavy truck on buttery gravel roads whilst explaining the political stance Namibia has on the Zimbabwe situation over the roar of the engine and washer-women-style nattering from the back seat. In addition, I was also recovering from the flu and a huge lack of sleep, and found my chirpy tour-guide demeanour degenerating to that of a fierce pedagogic school mistress, berating her students for asking too many questions (I did actually tell my dear visitors on Day 2 that they were only allowed to ask every second question that they thought of). I then started to feel guilty that I was being snappy and sharp with my dear family who had travelled so far to visit, and were just enquiring about the wonderful country that I live in, which in turn got me all paranoid that the trip was going horribly wrong (which was actually total paranoia, as everyone had a great time. Or so they told me.) After so long without any family around, or in fact anyone that I have known more than 12 months, it’s quite emotional to then have the five of us sharing 10 square feet of space for many hours a day. All the tolerance, patience and humility that I had developed over the months would evaporate the moment someone repeated a question I had answered half an hour before. As we rolled around the country, my emotions also rolled around, switching from euphoria to despondency to confusion and back in a matter of seconds.

But my psychotic meltdown aside, it was a truly magical trip. I am still in awe of the exquisite landscapes which make up Namibia, and moved by the strange beauty of this country. It was a true pleasure to catch up with my parents after so long, and to get to know my mother’s friends better. Their visit also reminded me of home. I’m leaving soon, finishing work in a month’s time. Prior to their visit, I was feeling distinctly unhappy about leaving, and whilst I will still miss this place and the life I have built here, my parent’s wittering about their church, the restaurant around the corner, what my brothers are up to and diatribes of the other residents at Kings Gardens reminded me that there is just no place like home.

So much to say, so little time August 22, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Home and away.
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Things are extraordinarily hectic right now. With less than 2 months left of work, I am beginning to feel the pressure. There is suddenly so much to do. I think I am feeling this pressure because a good handful of my closest friends are leaving this week or next, and I am seeing them go through the “argh, I’m leaving” craziness, which keeps reminding me of things that I need to do before it’s my turn. It also reminds me that I have limited time to write more blogs about things here, as the “in Namibia” section of my title will be a little invalid when I return home. And I doubt anyone will be very interested in hearing about how depressing London is in November, how hard it is finding a job in development as a semi-recent graduate and how I will be feeling like a teenager again living back home with my parents.

Aside from that, I was away much of last week, in Ovamboland, the northern part of Namibia that really does feel like the Africa tourists come to see. this was great, as I got to work with a different group of people in a totally different type of setting. And then after a 6 hour drive home on Saturday, I had what turned into a massive party at my house, to welcome our new housemate and to celebrate my birthday. I also had some other YfD volunteers visiting from Zambia and Malawi. All in all, I have a great deal to write about. But with all this rushing about and double-ended candle-burning, I have landed myself with the flu. Fever, shakes and a lost voice has kept me off work, and thanks to my doctor, I am highly medicated, which also means that it has taken me half an hour to write just this much. But I am bored, so I will persevere.

I am also a little stressed out because tomorrow morning, my first visitors arrive. And not just any visitors, my parents. I have been anticipating their visit for months, saving as much holiday as possible to spend with them. And on Saturday, my godmother and my mum’s other friend arrive to join the party for our Grand Tour of Namibia. 5 of us in a car for 10 days, visiting Namibia’s highlights. I would be more excited, but the painkillers I’m on have numbed me into a state of indifference, because I don’t think I will last very long on this grand tour feeling the way I do right now. And without my voice, I feel like a superhero without their super-power, like someone slipped some Kryptonite into my tea.

On that note, I will retire back to my bed, like the doctor told me to. So for now, you won’t hear about my exciting trip north, or my fabulous birthday party, or the visit from my fellow volunteers who brought the flu down from Zambia for me. Nor will you hear from me for a few weeks, as I will be hopefully surviving the tour with my first and only visitors.

Ciao for now.

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…)

Workshop on Wheels August 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eco-goodness, Education, Home and away, Namibia, Oh..interesting, Ovitoto, The job.
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Last week, I was involved in the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia’s (DRFN) “Workshop on Wheels”. The idea is simple yet genius. Hire a coach, fill it with people with an interest in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, and travel around the country looking at different Energy focused projects. All expenses paid. I approached the DRFN a few months ago about the wonderful wood-efficient stove, the Tso-Tso Stove (meaning Twig-Twig, referring to the small amount of wood needed for cooking on it), and they decided to include us as one of the visited projects.

As I have previously mentioned, we did a training for seven community members before Christmas on how to make these wood-efficient stoves, with the idea that they can set up a business in manufacturing these stoves. Since many people cook on open fires, even in urban areas, and wood is a non-renewable and limited resource, these stoves are important towards tackling desertification as well as global warming (on a very small scale though! But every little counts!). As so little wood is needed for cooking on them, as they are incredibly efficient, it saves the amount of money people spending on firewood, or on the amount of time they spend collecting firewood from the veld (some people walk up to 15km to collect firewood). The stove is also a lot safer to use, especially around children, and incredibly quick to cook with.

As you can tell, I like this stove a lot, but it isn’t so easy to convince people to use them. People traditionally like a good ol’ fire to sit around: for heat, for light, for the communal aspect of it, and for many, the religious aspect of the Holy Fire. Whilst the Tso-Tso Stove is cheaper, safer, quicker and healthier, for the general public, nothing beats an open fire under the stars. (more…)