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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…)


Like Disney September 17, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Hot, Weather.
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Spring has officially arrived in the southern hemisphere. The skies are still bright and blue, but now the sun is shining stronger and the winter chills are no more. The Namibian newspaper weather report now reads “hot to very hot” with temperatures at a comfortable 25-30oC. I no longer have to worry about layering up, and can now ride around on my bike in just a t-shirt and flip-flops.

This change happened overnight. One day it was sunny and cold, and now it is sunny and hot with all the trimmings of the beginning of summer. The sun sets at a more reasonable time, allowing us time to dash from the office to a decent bar to catch sundown. The burning sky over the mountains at the end of the day feels so much more powerful when the air is warm and the wine is cold.

What really gets me is the nature. Bougainvillea sprawls over fences and buildings, bright pink and red with fresh green leaves, clashing brightly with the purple jacarandas which have sprung into bloom. Jasmine headily fills the air, thick and sweet, encouraging me to bend over and smell all flowers that I pass. As I cruise around the neighbourhood on my scooter, parades of luminous yellow, blue and green birds burst out of trees and bushes; mongooses race along the street ahead of me before ducking into redundant rain pipes. Hornbills and fat doves chill together on the telephone wires, chattering away about their winter holidays.

I think Walt Disney might have had a hand in designing Windhoek in the springtime.

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.

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.


Brrr…. June 8, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Namibia, Peculiarities, Weather.
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I am currently sat in my office, wearing furry boots, two sweaters and a bodywarmer, a scarf and gloves. I just took off my woolly hat. The girl I share my office with has a fan heater whirring under her desk and today is hugging a luminous yellow hot water bottle. We have the warmest office in the building.

I am also slightly annoyed because she still refuses to open the blinds because the sunlight clouds her computer screen. I beg to differ – a little light reflection is a small price to pay when we could let the sun in and warm the room naturally. But I’ve only just moved into the office so I can’t really start changing things yet.

The lady in the office next door just popped in to “feel the warmth” and tell us that this morning it was -11oC at her farm. I can certainly believe it. Winter has properly arrived here in Namibia and I am struggling to get my head around it. It started a few weeks ago when I realised that I could no longer wear sandals to work as my feet were freezing under the desk. So I went shoe shopping. Next was when I cycled down the hill to work one morning and realised that life would be much better with gloves, scarves and hats. I am now undecided on whether I can justify spending £50 of my meagre allowance on a winter coat, or whether I should get a new duvet instead. Yes, I am still in Namibia, and no, I wasn’t ready for this.

I was warned that it gets cold in Windhoek. At 3000m altitude, in the middle of the desert, in Southern Africa, it’s not really surprising. Cold but gloriously sunny. Everyday I find crisp blue skies; frosty mornings melt into warm days of around 20oC, and then the temperature dramatically drops with the sun around 5pm. I haven’t seen a cloud in weeks, nor rain in months. The strange thing is that people keep saying “Oh it is cold today” like they are surprised. I am surprised, it’s my first winter, and I did not expect it to get like this; but the locals should have caught on already.

And even stranger, not a single house or building seems to be built with any adequate insulation or heating methods. Winter seems to surprise them every year, and they don’t seem to cotton on that some form of insulation in a building would make life a lot more comfortable. For example, my office has no heating system that I have noticed. Our apartment has huge single-glazed sliding doors and ceiling fans in every room. We do have an ineffective under-floor heating system and a fireplace in the living room which is currently being put to good use (Matthias and I have a little bit of fire-making competitiveness between us). But the cold dry air hangs inside every room. I dread washing my hair because it is so damn cold, and getting out of bed in the morning is agony. In addition to all this, the air is so dry that I keep getting nose-bleeds. I left work early the other day because the impromptu popping of nasal blood vessels became too much of an embarrassment and was messing up my desk.

So whilst everyone at home is looking forward to the longest day of the year and some global-warming-induced barmy weather, I am counting down to the shortest day of the year so that it can start getting lighter for longer, and hopefully warmer too. Unlike my years in Edinburgh, where the city is designed for crappy cold weather and refuge can be found by the fireplace of any pub, there are no warm places to be found in this city, public or private, there is no escape.

It really makes me wonder how the informal settlement dwellers are surviving in these conditions, with draughty tin metal shacks, and possibly not enough blankets to go round. I hope at least for the Ovitoto lot that they learnt something at our Shack Insulation Workshop and are keeping that little bit warmer this winter.

Winter is coming April 27, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Hot, Namibia, Out of the city, Weather.
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Whilst the sun is breaking out and global warming is letting itself be known with unusually early heat waves, down in the southern hemisphere, winter is approaching. A few weeks ago, the clocks went back (we are now the same as the UK), which means it is dark by 6pm. This is more of a nuisance than annoying, because it limits the amount of time I have to do things, as it is not so safe to walk around at night.

It is also getting colder. After months of 30oC days, and 25oC nights, temperatures have started to plummet, and I am beginning to notice the effects of living in a desert climate at a high altitude. I’ve started to wear more long sleeves and trousers and even wore a jacket out the other night. Although each day is blissfully sunny, this morning I felt a distinct crispness in the air, giving me a waft of nostalgia of English summer mornings.

To confirm my observations, I saw an article in The Namibian today, titled “Winter extends its chilly fingers”. This is what was said…

“Temperatures were expected to drop significantly last night as a cold front moved in from the south. Odilo Kgobetsi at the Windhoek Weather Bureau said yesterday that today’s maximum temperatures in southern and central Namibia wil be below 25oc.
Tomorrow’s maximum temperature in Windhoek is not expected to exceed 20oC.”

I hope you can all understand how significant this is. Winter has certainly arrived. I’d better pop out and buy some cheap polyester jumpers and plastic boots. But not this weekend. On hearing about the imminent arrival of the Day-After-Tomorrow-esque weather conditions, some friends and I are fleeing for Botswana’s Okavango Delta, which promises a pleasing 30oC. It’s only 8 hours drive away and we will be there until Tuesday, taking full advantage of the May 1st Public Holiday. And there’s a lot of water there, which will be a change from the desert.

Happy May Day. Anyone running around the May Pole or morris dancing?

Pathetic Fallacy April 3, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Eco-goodness, Food, Peculiarities, Raaah!, The job, Weather.

Friday was our big Open Day for the community. The whole community was invited. I’d spent weeks preparing awareness material about the centre, with big colour posters in English and Otjiherero and various brochures which had to be painstakingly folded 3-ways.

I arrived fresh at 9, ready to start at 10, with our brochures neatly laid out on tables and posters adorning the Energy Trailer. Two local guys were lounging on benches with Tjono when I pitched up, and didn’t move for 2 hours. Whilst waiting for visitors to arrive, I got to try my hand at goat herding, which is much harder than first assumed (they can go 0-30 in a matter of seconds, and you can’t predict in what direction).

Our first visitors were 2 Australian tourists who were on a village tour with Milly’s boyfriend, Israel, who is a tour guide. Mother and daughter were terribly earnest and excited from their visit to a real homestead, where they had seen how the poor people live and had their photo taken with all the little black children (I am becoming ever more cynical towards these whistle-stop ethical tours to “where the poor folk live” but that’s a discussion for another day) and gushed with praise as I showed them round the project. They are in fact the only tourists I have seen in Ovitoto since I arrived.

Eventually the two loungers decided they wanted a tour of the centre as well, despite having spent many a day squatting under the tree. And that was it on visitors for our grand Open Day. I repeatedly asked Milly and Tjono where the people are, to be told “ah, people will come”. Around 1pm, I asked again.

“Oh, the people, they will not come.”

They then went on to explain that since it was the last Friday of the month, and therefore Pay Day, everyone will be either in the nearest main town of Okahandja, or in Windhoek, and therefore would not come to the Open Day. Strangely, this differs from what they said about 6 weeks ago when I started planning this event, saying that since it was a Friday and also Pay Day, lots of people would be passing through Okandjira, and would stop at the ECO-C to see what was going on. When planning these events, I had repeatedly asked people in the village about how and when to plan these events to make them appealing and convenient for the community to attend. I had questioned the date and style of the events during every week of preparation, and each time I was told that it was a good idea and that people would come. After 6 months of building trust and developing relationships in the community, I thought that they had overcome the whole agree-with-the-person-in-charge school of thought, and started asserting themselves; I also thought that I had mastered my questioning methods to extract real opinions from people who were all too ready to agree with me. I was clearly wrong, and the result was a fubar Open Day.

As it sunk in that a second of the week’s events had become a disaster through the confused concept of communication, thunder began to growl from the darkening sky on the horizon. Realising that packing up would take a while, it was all hands on deck to pack everything up to go before the rain struck, particularly the Energy Trailer. We were nearly done when the rain began to sweep in. Just as I was battening down one of the hatches of the trailer, metal rod in one hand, gripping the metal door of the hatch with the other, lightning struck the ground barely 30m from where I was standing, just on the other side of the large tree from where I was standing. Terrified, I tossed the metal rod into the hatch, slammed the door and secured the latch, before running for cover in the shack. Since many of the trailer doors were still open, I spent the next 10 minutes dashing out to secure another hatch, by this time, being pelted with icy hail stones the size of thumb nail, then cowering for shelter in the shack. It was an hour before the rain let up enough to even think about leaving. We passed the time eating the rice we had cooked in the solar stove (but was only almost cooked due to clouds and rainstorm) with baked beans and ketchup, soaking and shivering in the dark shack.

Finally the torrential rain lightened to a light drizzle, enabling us to pack up the now sodden army tent and fasten the trailer to the car. And finally we were off, crawling along the buttery gravel road, packed in with soaked equipment. My T-shirt was still soaking when we arrived back in
Windhoek 2 hours later, and I was splattered and smeared with mud.

It took another hour to return the trailer to the DRFN, the army tent and then drop Milly home. I was expecting to return buzzing after a week of empowering people, sharing skills and spreading eco-goodness, but instead felt deflated and just relieved that it was over. I go through phases of feeling heel-clicking-happy and positive about work, rejoicing when the community shows interest in the project and motivation to work with us to improve their livelihoods, which gives me hope that the project will be a success and sustainable in a few years. I felt that on Wednesday after the learners visited, but it vanished by Thursday. Bar knocking door to door in the community to personally invite them to our activities, I did everything in my means possible to make these events successful. It’s just so disappointing when people in the community show that they would rather hang out drinking Windhoek Lager, watch cows or sleep than actively learn or participate to improve their livelihoods. I know that there is a plethora of reasons behind their perceived apathy, which goes deep into their history and culture, which is strangling their momentum. I shouldn’t take it personally.

Phase 1 is now over. We have a range of activities to bide our time with until the funding for Phase 2 arrives. Activities focussing on community involvement, capacity building, enterprise set-up and empowerment. And hopefully, by the time Phase 2 starts, I can confidently sit back and say, “Ah, yes, the people,…they will come”.