ICT and Initial Impression

First day in the office had a leisurely 10 o’clock start so we had some breakfast and strolled in (it’s about 300 metres from where we’re staying).

Various introductions, tours of the office, emergency gubbins etc etc. All the local staff are very nice and the office is quite a cool fun place with lots of coming and going etc.

The office internet was the speed of a dead frog so a bunch of us decided to head into town afterward to find an internet café. This we accomplished successfully with only a brief stop in the foyer of a supermarket as the heavens opened and a proper torrential downpour took place.

Well meaning plans to buy food and cook it etc never seemed to quite materialise and so five of us went out for a leisurely dinner on the way back. We walked up to the girls’ apartment (seven of them are sharing this huge apartment with loads of bedrooms, a living room, balcony, TV but… only one shower and toilet) with them and went in for a coffee – all very civilised.

Day two was an 8.15 start in the office and a glorious morning. This was the “drop off exercise” which is pretty much what it sounds like. We split into small groups (four people in mine) and were dropped off in one of the “locations”.

The locations are the “official black housing” from apartheid – small one or two-room brick built shacks (called townships in SA) and are distinct from the even newer slum/shanty dwellings.

Honestly – and I say this as someone who likes to think they are quite adventurous – if I was here on holiday I wouldn’t have walked down those streets in a million years. I would have done all I could to avoid driving down them.

The truth though of course is that people are people and at no point did we feel even remotely threatened, we bought stuff from kerbside shack vendors and received directions from very helpful locals in broken English and sign-language.

Our exercise was to visit four places within the area and find out what they’re up to.

First off we went to the Catholic AIDS Action charity which does sterling work raising awareness (prevention), testing and supporting those infected or affected by AIDS through community volunteers and practical assistance.

Having a negative view of CAFOD etc and the Catholic approach to AIDS prevention which doesn’t involve condoms it was very refreshing to find out CAA absolutely recommends condomisation (as they call it here) and points people to the Red Cross who distribute them.

From there we went to a primary school for 1400 children. At one point, trying to get the quintessential VSO picture I went into one of the many playgrounds with my camera causing absolute mayhem. As a result in the pictures I look more startled than relaxed as I was literally mobbed by about four and a half trillion kids. I was quickly rescued by a few of the older prefects who were waving belts around shouting “get back or I’m going to hit you”. Luckily I wasn’t the cause of any actual hitting through and everyone came away smiling and with all limbs intact.

After that a visit to a secondary school for about 850 students was much more peaceful and I learnt some fascinating things about education in Namibia post-apartheid which I shan’t go on about here.

From there we managed to find our final target – a multi-purpose Youth centre. This is a massive complex that caters for ages 14 and up (14 to 100 was how they described it) doing everything from CVs to study groups to a gym and a theatre. By now time was pressing so we jumped into a cab and made it back to the office late.

I had three missed calls from worried VSO staff members. Before we went they assured us very few people went missing in the drop off and those that did were found, alive, pretty quickly. The tone of voice on the answerphone when we were thirty minutes late (from a four-hour trip) might imply something different but nevertheless all groups returned unharmed.

After a meet-and-greet with the country director just returned from SA we did some programme-specific stuff and then I spent an hour and a half trying to learn the Otjiherero language. Unsuccessfully of course.

Out for a big Indian dinner to meet other Windhoek based vols and a few hangers on. A couple of the crazy kids headed out on the town but I came back and went to bed – how exciting am I.

Ok so first impressions…

Namibia is great. The people (to generalise about an entire country) and friendly as anything. I wore one of the Lawrence of Arabia hats today (baseball caps with flowing sheets out the back) when I walked back to the office after lunch and the kids outside the gate said hello as usual and then had the good grace not to piss themselves with laughter until I was a good ten metres away (I like to spread happiness).

The poverty gap is extreme and pretty obvious everywhere but even wandering as pasty-faced foreign devils through the poorer areas (again – something I would not have ever done had I not been made to) was absolutely fine.

Windhoek is very clean and very quiet. Apparently crime is a bit of a problem, there are bars on all the windows etc and there is the always present risk of street robbery but I feel confident on my own to wander through town and certainly in a group of a few people we felt safe even walking back after dark.

As the most obvious tourists (I had my huge backpack and we were all snapping away with cameras) we were approached by beggars only two or three times during the several hours we were walking through the centre and not once in the locations. When we were approached a simple “No, sorry” sufficed and there was no malice or feeling of threat.

I would sum Windhoek up as a first-world city with third-world pretensions (or maybe that should be the other way around). There are lots of restaurants and nightclubs etc and honestly it is sometimes very hard to believe I am actually in the “developing world”.

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