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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.

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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…)

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…)

Alcohol – the Aftermath August 9, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Fame, Ovitoto.
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As I wrote before, I held an Alcohol Awareness Campaign in the Ovitoto School a few weeks ago, which was also attended by a journalist from “The Namibian”, the national English-language newspaper. She was incredibly passionate about the issue of alcohol amongst youth and was terribly excited about what I had to say.

“Keep your eye on the Youth Paper on Tuesday” she said, the Youth Paper being a weekly supplement of the national paper, focussing on youth issues.

Needless to say, the following Tuesday, there I was, plastered across the front page of the Youth Paper, rather unglamourously scratching my head whilst supervising a group of learners as they scribbled down ideas on why people drink. No story this week, but a caption explaining that the story will be followed up the next week.

Inside the supplement were lots of the kids who were in the Youth “Faces and Places”. Since I was visiting Ovitoto that morning, I dashed out and bought three copies for the school, as no newspapers are available within Ovitoto. At break-time, I presented the papers to Mr Katuvesiauena (try pronouncing that one), the school’s Principal. For the first time, he actually agreed to and seemed happy to talk to me, and I swear I caught a glimpse of a smile.

“Yes. Very good. You are putting this place on the map of Namibia. We here are very grateful. Yes.”

He went shouting off to the staff room to show his colleagues. I hope the kids were able to see the copies.

Knowing that the story would be followed up the next week, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. But having spent Monday night in the village in preparation for the DRFN’s Workshop on Wheels visit (see next story), I wasn’t able to get a copy until I returned to the main road. The workshop visitors however had a copy on the bus, and as we drove the gravel road from Ovitoto after their visit, he thrust a paper in my face, saying “Is that you?”. It wasn’t that he’d read my name, or the mention of Ovitoto, but that I was wearing exactly the same clothes as I was in the photos, and being an oshilumbu amongst a crowd of black kids, I stand out quite a lot. And there were a lot of photos. I was in 4 out of the 5. In fact, they had a whole page about the workshop, explaining about the issue of alcohol, the activities we did and where the idea for the workshop came from. There was however an embarrassing number of “Isabelle said that….”, “Isabelle then explained to the learners…”, which made me sound like the national guru on all things alcohol related. But the coverage was excellent, and alcohol abuse amongst youth is now on the forefront of news headlines.

The workshop was even mentioned again this week (making it three weeks in a row!!), with a copy of the Responsible Drinking brochure that I prepared for the workshop.

All this coverage has also boosted the profile of the K J Kapeua School in Ovitoto but also my profile. I’m a mini-local-celebrity. A few of my friends have commented “oh, I saw you in the Youth Paper this week”, but the place I first got recognised was my local bottle shop (which I go to for phone credit and juice, rarely booze!). And when I went out on the Friday night to our local club.

“Sista, I saw you in the paper. Alcohol Awareness, hey? You going to be teaching us something then?”, slurred one friend, as I try to hide my G+T under my coat.  

I do practise what I preach though. I rarely over-do it anymore, am aware of how much I drink, and take responsibility for my actions and behaviour. I have never thought that “I was drunk” as an excuse to justify any inebriated behaviour, such as getting overly emotional, aggressive, fighting, bitching, being an idiot, getting sick, drink-driving or inappropriate hook-ups. My opinion is that if you can control yourself, then don’t drink. It’s a lesson that the binge-drinking culture of my homeland, and some of the alcoholic expats, could learn from.

Bootilicious August 6, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Culture, Gender, Namibia.
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“Sista, are you African?”

“No, I’m from the UK. I’m English”

“Ahh. I can see you are white and what-what, but your body, it is like an African, not a white person. Are you sure you are not African?”

Unlike back home, a big round bottom is highly appreciated here and the African women sure have them. And apparently so do I. (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.

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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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