Thursday, 20 October 2011

Horovats and Haircuts

In Armenia, they call barbecue 'horovats', with a slight growl on the 'h'. They love their meat, in any shape or form - especially a famous Armenian dish served at special parties, where cows hooves are boiled for over twelve hours in a mushy soup and served with so much vodka that you can't taste anything (probably a good thing, really). It serves to keep out the cold, and consolidate friendship.

Here in Namibia, they share a similar love of meat. Not to keep out the cold, of course, but because culturally it's important. If there isn't any meat, then it isn't a meal. I wonder if it partly stems from the fact that it's hard to grow anything in this dry, arid country. Meat is then an important staple food.

So is it hard being veggie here? No, actually, it's quite fine. Our proximity to South Africa means I can buy imported veggie burgers if I want (quite expensive and not like the veggie burgers back home, but so good in the microwave when you don't want to cook), but I'm also able to get lots of different veg, rice, soup and pasta too - so really, it's fine. Of course, I haven't yet travelled beyond the 'red line': the famous line that divides most of Namibia from the very north, where roads disintegrate into gravel and you can't drive at night for fear of the elephants, animals and people crossing your path. Alex and I will travel beyond the line this Sunday, to Rundu in the north, and then into the Caprivi strip to Katima, 5km from Zambia. So we will see then just how easy it is to eat veggie throughout the country.

The reason we're travelling is two-fold. When I popped into the VSO office a few weeks ago, a staff member asked if we would be interested in undertaking a gender research project into male involvement in Community and Home-Based Care: what motivates men, what keeps them doing this work, what kind of care work do they get involved in, etc. Eventually, a report will be written and published to make recommendations on how to get more men involved in CHBC. The issue of CHBC is fraught in Namibia. Policy-makers feel that care workers should do it for free and give of their time. What they don't understand is that these workers are fulfilling an essential health service - essentially a service that government should be undertaking - and doing it for free. This is very convenient for government, who say 'fantastic, do it for free, you know you should' - and then spend their money on extra cars for their ministers. How many of us would do our jobs if it was for free? We are motivated, hopefully, by passion of course, but how are these care workers supposed to eat?

Alex and I visited Dordabis last week, a village on the outskirts of Windhoek, primarily Damara speaking (the click language) with Catholic AIDS Action, who support a group of care workers there. The men in the group were kind, softly-spoken, and described how they are motivated by the thought of helping their communities and families. One man walked 20km each way to see one client. It will be interesting to see the difference in perceptions of male care workers between Damara groups and more traditionally 'macho' groups such as the Hereros, who reside principally in the North.

The workers in Dordabis receive N$50 a month (about 5€) for the work they do from Catholic AIDS Action, not even the government (although the government has pledged to support care workers with between N$250-500 a month). Bear in mind that most prices here are comparable to European prices and you can see that this money might buy some soap and bread but nothing else. The workers told us how when they are given soap by Catholic AIDS Action, they cut each little bar into seven pieces to give to the people they care for, and they give them mealie-meal out of their own houses. It's a case of the poor helping the destitute.

I wonder how scathing of government we can be in the report we'll eventually write?

The second reason we are travelling to Rundu and Katima (although maybe I should say the principal reason) is that Alex, his colleague from LAC - Gabes, and Kat, another volunteer working at NANASO, are travelling there to give follow up training and support on advocacy work to NGO's in the area. VSO staff suggested that I hop into the car and go with them to save on costs as the budgets for both projects are tight and conduct my research at the same time. Conveniently, Alex is working on both projects (or maybe inconveniently as it means double the stress and organisation for him). Since he has a PhD, he is overseeing the research methodology for the project and has created some fabulous question matrix and we co-wrote the concept paper. My colleague Loreen from Friendly Haven will also be involved - she will come with us when we visit Rundu and Katima for a second time in February as she currently has her social work exams at the university. So this visit, I am hoping to set up the relationship and visit some groups, and the second time do what I missed the first time. We will also be visiting Walvis Bay on the coast, Ongwediva, and Karas region in the south. I've contacted Catholic AIDS Action in each of these areas and they've been amazingly helpful. So fingers crossed it all goes well...

Otherwise, we've had a few quiet weeks in the last month, spending a lot of time skyping families as important anniversaries have come around and gathering our thoughts. I've had a haircut and it wasn't nearly as scary an experience as I thought it might be. The shelter gets new clients every other day and old clients move on. It's sad seeing the little ones go as we become fond of them, but I remind myself it's not about me, it's about them.

We're also planning what we'll be doing over the few weeks at Xmas. Now we've decided not to return to the UK over the winter period, we've decided to hook up the car and go camping for a few days in Botswana, and then up through Zimbabwe into Zambia and back. We're really looking forward to it - so we're putting the car in for a full service while we're in the North. Minimum disruption for us, maximum benefit for the car. It took AGES finding a decent garage here, that does both car electrics and mechanics, and has Isuzu car parts.

We've also had some good news - my mother and sister are visiting in November-December! I am so beyond thrilled that they're coming. They booked their flights and will visit during the Friendly Haven gala. I'm using some of my overtime to take them to Etosha National Park, Swakopmund, and Omaruru. I'm really looking forward to seeing them and showing them what I'm up to here. Roll on the next couple of weeks - exciting times ahead!

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