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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.

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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.

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…)

Closing down May 28, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Money, Namibia, Ovitoto, Reality, The job.
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As I mentioned before, Phase 1 of the Ovitoto Environmental Community Outreach Centre (ECO-C) Project came to an end at the end of March 2007. Since then, I have been working on the report, evaluation and financial report for the entire project, which was finally handed in last week. Hooray! Well, kind of….

Since my role since I’ve arrived has been assisting with and then managing the ECO-C project, and that we now have no money left, I’m in a bit of a limbo. There are various interim activities that we have planned, like follow-up business training for anyone wanting to set up a business using the skills that they learnt in our trainings, and also an alcohol awareness campaign, for which I received some money from the British High Commission through VSO. But it is all a bit tricky when we don’t really have enough money to pay for the petrol for me to get up there, let alone stay there for a few days. The pressure seems to be off for the moment, and I do have the chance to tidy up a few bits of the project, so long as it doesn’t involve any money.  (more…)

An Easter Break to Civilisation April 20, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Food, Home and away, Out of the city, Reality, Time out.
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For Easter, a group of friends and I took a trip down to Cape Town, SA. My housemate’s parents have a house down there, and a cheap flight package including car rental made the trip easy and feasible. So on Good Friday morning, a minibus came to collect the 8 of us and whip us off to the airport (which is 50km out of town along the Trans-Kalahari Highway, in the desert).
Prior to the trip, I was a bit worried, as most of the people I go with work in the private sector or for some branch of the UN, and therefore earn a lot more than I do. They regularly go for sushi (in fact, one of the two sushi restaurants in town is owned by my landlord), it is not unusual to find good wines or champagne offered at their house, and many social activities involve eating expensive imported food and drinking a lot. Easter weekend was also the weekend of the Two Oceans Marathon, which other friends from Windhoek were participating in. The runners named themselves Team Run; a Canadian in our group named us Team Drink (they like team names). I was fearful that the weekend would be lost in hangovers and heavy nights.

With the house, the cars and flights taken care of by others, I suddenly got the fear that I would be washed along at the whim others for the whole weekend, so sprung into action and made a list of all the touristy things I wanted to do, with the help of a borrowed Rough Guide. It’s been a while since I had a proper tourist holiday, and even longer since I went anywhere with other people (I normally travel alone); 3 whole days, a lot of ground to cover.
Cape Town has so much to offer, and I wanted to do it all.

On the minibus ride to the airport, the boys pulled out 2 bottles of champagne. Uh-oh, this certainly set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Then our flight was delayed, scuppering our plan to visit the Aquarium. But all was not lost. Just the flight into Cape Town would have been enough; to see the ocean, the mountains, and Table Mountain guarding over the city, with fluffy clouds pour off the top. And the house! Wow! Nestled on the hill of Camp’s Bay, under the 12 Apostles, this modern house of glass and clean white lines was heaven. Each morning I woke to the sounds and smells of the ocean. After months living in the desert, it was incredibly powerful to be near the ocean again. Just to be down at sea-level, with humidity and real greenness. I was keen to go for a surf, but sadly there were no waves at all. Gutted. But maybe just as well…on our last day, some swimmers got picked off by a shark at the next beach down from us.

Coordinating 8 people with different plans is much like (as my mother says) trying to herd cats. Two of the guys hired Cobras each for the weekend, and got great kicks out of driving these incredibly powerful and dangerous sports cars up and down the windy coast roads. It did give us more flexibility on getting around though. We went to the Waterfront, and shopped. We had an incredibly relaxing day driving down to Cape Point, stopping off at
Boulder’s Beach to see the penguins, and in Simon’s Town for some yummy oysters. We also had a go at wine tasting around Stellenbosch, leaving me feeling incredibly uncultured as I simply couldn’t taste the honeysuckle, nor the wet dog, nor the coal bucket in any of the wines (to me, wine either tastes nice or it doesn’t, I just don’t see the point in being all pretentious about it). We did have a lovely afternoon tea with real scones, cream and jam at a stunning vineyard on a lake. So colonial, darling. Much of the weekend revolved around food, and eating all the things that we can’t get in Windhoek. We discovered Woolworth’s Food, which is owned by Marks and Spencer; the sight of fruit smoothies, pesto, real cheeses, etc almost brought me to tears. Much shopping was done too, although I struggled to find anything I really liked.
Our last day was a finale of shopping, finished with a sushi and champagne lunch, before racing to the airport. As a friend wisely put it: “You can’t run a marathon without a sprint at the end”.

We were all sad to leave. After being in a place with real restaurants with good food and service, shopping malls with clothes made from materials other than polyester, streets people walk on, nice places where blacks and whites mix and hang out, skyscrapers and a real city infrastructure, Windhoek looked like a little country town. To be fair, Windhoek is far cleaner and more stable and developed than most African capitals, and there are few material things that we can’t get there; but Cape Town reminded me so much of home in a funny way. The whole time I was there, I felt nostalgic for something, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
On my return, people asked what I did in CT; if I went up
Table Mountain, go over to Robben Island, go to the townships, etc. I didn’t do any of it, but I don’t really mind. After the first day feeling that I wasn’t getting done what I wanted, I decided that I was there to relax, to enjoy the scenery, the food, the fantastic weather and the excellent company, and not to race around with a camera and a Rough Guide strapped to my wrist (a well-known “Mug me!” sign to thieves). I got to have a semi-relaxing, semi-partying weekend, which I thoroughly needed and enjoyed. I think I will save the true jewels of Cape Town for my next visit of many.