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Archive for the ‘Interns – 2008’ Category

A Weekend in Bushmanland

I’ll let the pictures tell the story (click here for more photos), but we had an amazing time in Bushmanland in northeastern Namibia this past weekend. Here’s a little background on where we went and why:

Historically, the San (Bushmen) have faced chronic marginalization from the governments of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Through forced resettlements and protracted legal disputes, the San, considered the oldest people in the world (a genetic “Adam”), have been relocated onto some of southern Africa’s most inhospitable and undesirable terrain, devoid of water and natural resources in the midst of the Kalahari Desert.

The San tribe of northeastern Namibia

The San tribe of northeastern Namibia

Our destination for the weekend was N#a Jaqna Conservancy (N#a is pronounced with a click), one of two communal areas in Namibia where the San live, only about 125km from the nearest semblance of civilization. As a governmentally recognized communal area, you can think of N#a Jaqna as a semi-autonomous region, at least in terms of resource management, and governance to a lesser degree. The discrimination and ‘special’ governmental status granted to the San is somewhat analogous to American Indians and the reservation system.

As a communal area, N#a Jaqna plays an important role in local governance and economic development. The conservancy has a constitution, which was drawn up by elected village representatives, and all income generated by the conservancy’s activities is distributed according to the benefit distribution system agreed upon within the constitution. The conservancy thus acts as both a governmental unit and a diversified business conglomerate. By acting as a producer’s cooperative, the conservancy is able to unite the population’s activities and link them up with domestic and international markets.

For example, sales of Devil’s Claw, an endemic medicinal plant, account for 54.6% of the conservancy’s income. N#a Jaqna sources Devil’s Claw from the communities and is therefore able to provide enough product to meet the needs of international buyers, who purchase in bulk direct from the conservancy. The role of the conservancy is magnified within N#a Jaqna because, of the areas’ approximately 4,000 inhabitants, 40% of the population lives below the internationally recognized line for extreme povery, $1 USD/day.

Artisans in Grashoek, Namibia

San artisans in Grashoek, Namibia

The purpose of this weekend’s journey was to set-up a distribution network for artwork produced in Bushmanland. The San are well known throughout southern Africa for their ability to craft jewelry from ostrich eggshells. The shells have an extremely elegant appearance and are sourced from local materials—sustainable, innovative and highly attractive. Yet, to date, no one has attempted to sell their artwork overseas.

Breaking up the eggshells

Breaking up the eggshells

Aislinn Pearson, a British researcher and volunteer who lives with the Bushmen for four months every year, arranged our partnership with the conservancy. So, we stopped through her village, Grashoek, on our way to meet with the conservancy’s directors. In Grashoek, we took our time with Aislinn and the village artisans to select ten separate necklace and bracelet styles to purchase for our initial inventory of San jewelry. We carefully selected the items based on how feasibly they could be replicated (given slight variations between individual pieces) and how consistently the materials are available. Additionally, we had to keep in mind import/export problems associated with restricted materials.

Drilling holes to slide the shells onto necklaces

Drilling holes to slide the shells onto necklaces

We left Grashoek with sample products in hand and drove to Mangetti Dune to meet with the conservancy’s directors. There, we hammered out a plan for ensuring stock availability and discussed shipping logistics for the final products. Altogether, the conservancy was excited by our proposal and we look forward to building a longer-term relationship with them. We placed our initial inventory order, leaving our samples in Grashoek, and will have the jewelry in Tsumeb by early December.

San Bracelet made from Ostrich Eggshells

San Bracelet made from Ostrich Eggshells

Necklace made from Ostrich Eggshells - Grashoek, Namibia

Necklace made from Ostrich Eggshells - Grashoek, Namibia

So, we took care of business on Friday, leaving the rest of the weekend for exploring. Aislinn arranged a weekend trek with two of Grashoek’s best trackers, so we all left Grashoek early Saturday morning and headed out into the middle of nowhere, and I mean nowhere. Bushmanland lies in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. The only villages that exist in the area survive because they’re built around wells. But, because the Namibian government invests little in the area, these wells are the remnants of South African military presence during Namibia’s independence war. So, unless you know where these wells are, you don’t know where the villages are. Villages are often 40-50km apart, between which nothing exists but sparsely vegetated desert. So, get lost, and you stand little chance of making it out unless you’re lucky enough to find a sand road and walk in the right direction.

Into the bush

Into the bush

Understandably, the contrast between the leaders and followers was palpable. The trackers’ knowledge of terrain and ecosystem was incredible. They missed nothing, acutely aware of ground surface contours, cloud coverage, wind direction and speed, plants, animals, insects and tracks. We stumbled through the bush, making noise, walking past water, missing tracks, oblivious to elephants downwind from us.

On one occasion, we were walking in the midday sun we they suddenly stopped, stooped on all fours, and began digging frantically. Of course, we didn’t have a clue what was going on. But after thirty seconds in the sand, their efforts quickly paid off, removing from the earth a root with two “bush potatoes,” as they jokingly referred to them.

bush-potato2

Bush Potatoes

On Sunday morning, we were at a water hole, getting ready to wrap up the weekend and head back to Grashoek, when the trackers came out of the bush carrying a pigeon with a broken wing. We came to find out that in San culture, you are not permitted to pass by food in the bush and not eat it. In fact, food is so sparse that anything edible is viewed as a gift from God. Had the wing not been broken, they would have set it free. But, instead it became their early afternoon meal. We watched as they wrung its neck, defeathered and cooked it. They remained conscientious of their interactions with the bird’s body, both before and after its death, respectful of the gift they’d been given.

Throughout the weekend, their patience and humble servitude shined through in a unique, nonverbal manner. They were simply there to instruct through example. We had a translator with us, but his services were often unnecessary, as words frequently weren’t needed to convey the purity of our interaction with one another. Their indifference to our presence was inspiring. They frequently stopped to sit down and enjoy a smoke, unconcerned with the group’s thoughts on the matter. It made us feel as though we were simply accompanying their daily existence, nothing out of the ordinary for them.

Looking out across the pan (salt flat)

Looking out across the pan (salt flat)

Before agreeing to go out with the trackers for a couple days, we were a little wary of paying an “authentic bushman tracker” because we thought the authenticity of tracking would certainly be eroded through the commercialization of such an activity. But, after seeing the degree of cultural integration that Aislinn has immersed herself in, it’s not surprising that we were able to capture a small glimpse into a lifestyle that is rapidly under pressure from globalizing forces.

Overall, we had an incredible experience this weekend, and we’re happy to be working in the region to promote San artwork and support economic development in the area. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for our upcoming field visits to northern Namibia!

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A considerable amount has happened in the last month, so we’ll recount a few of the better stories/the ones we remember the best. On October 6th, we left Namibia for the Lake of Stars (LOS) festival in Malawi. As the LOS film crew, we wanted to gather compelling promotional footage for the festival’s organizers and some live performance footage for the Deep Roots Malawi documentary we’ve been working on. So, we (Adam & Benjamin) spent three grueling days traveling 3,000km overland each way from Namibia to Malawi. Along the way, we stopped in Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Benjamin, on the edge of Victoria Falls

Benjamin, on the edge of Victoria Falls

You have to take a taxi from Livingstone to the actual falls, which are on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. When we got out of the taxi, I had bananas in one hand and chips in the other. Benjamin had a backpack on and only had room for the bananas, so I proceeded to carry the chips in my hands, which turned out to be a mistake. As we were walking down the hill (Benjamin, per usual, was delivering a long monologue about something academic), an alpha-male baboon climbed over a fence and came sprinting towards us, a little drunkenly as if he were rabid. I began tapping Benjamin and saying there is a really large baboon sprinting at us….Benjamin turned to look at it right as it stopped just a foot short of us. The baboon stood on its hind legs and stared us down, blocking our path.

I, seeing the whole process, had time to plan my actions. Once I alerted Benjamin, I looked at the baboon, turned and ran. Benjamin, caught completely by surprise, looked at the baboon and took at a swing at him with his Nalgene bottle. The baboon dodged his swing and suddenly lost interest in him, instead taking off in hot pursuit of me. After getting about ten yards, I looked over my shoulder and saw the baboon chasing me. In front of me there was a tractor-trailer truck and I decided to try to juke at the truck and fake out the baboon.

Well, I was wearing sandals and running rather quickly on gravel. The juke was an utter failure. I slipped down and slid under the truck in a large cloud of dust. As I climbed out from under the truck and got to my knees, I looked up to this baboon standing over me. At this point cab drivers were throwing rocks at him trying to scare him off, but he didn’t budge. Completely disoriented, I realized that I had chips in my hand, so I threw a shovel pass in the air, and straight out of a playbook, the baboon caught them, jumped the fence in one leap and was gone. I got up and continued walking to Victoria Falls with an insane heart rate and abrasions all over the left side of my body. By the time we got to the falls, I was almost to the point of fainting, not from the beauty of the falls (while they are nice), but from looking at blood dripping down my arm and leg. Long story short, Adam got mugged by a baboon.

Luckily, a day later we arrived at the the Lake of Stars festival in beautiful Senga Bay, Malawi, aptly nicknamed ‘the land of a thousand smiles.’ The set up of the festival was brilliant…the stage backed up to a large rock, a smaller and yet still impressive stage similar to that of Red Rocks amphitheater. The best part however was that the stage was adjacent to the beach. So while listening to music and dancing, people were able to hang out on the beach or jump in the water during the daytime heat. We camped about 50 yards from the beach.

The Lake of Stars music festival in Senga Bay, Malawi

We filmed three days of music, and because we had press passes, we were able to get some great on-stage footage as well as interviews with the musicians backstage. And, since Lake of Stars is a relatively small music festival, there was much more interaction between the performers and the spectators than at other festivals, with several performers during the weekend collaborating for impromptu acoustic jam sessions right on the beach, inviting anyway who could sing or play to join in.

Feeling the rhythm

Feeling the rhythm

It was a pretty special environment, and we felt more connected to music than we have in a very long time listening to those jam sessions on the beach. There were probably about 3,000 people in attendance at the festival, most all who were camping on the grounds. Many of the people were from the U.K., but there were also many Malawians there, as well as Canadians, Americans, and people from other parts of western Europe.

Sunday morning gospel

Sunday morning gospel

During the festival, a cut on Adam’s foot from the baboon got infected and continued to swell until he could barely walk. Our first night there, a guy at the beach bar saw his bandages and inquired as to what happened. Turns out he was a doctor, the festival doctor. With a beer in hand and who knows how many in his stomach, he doused Adam in iodine and bandaged him up. After which, he offered us cigarettes; we said no thanks doc. By the end of the festival, Adam knew almost all of the medical personnel in attendance. Also, throughout the weekend, we would meet new people who would ask what happened to his arm and foot. Often, before he could respond they would say, “wait, are you the guy that got attacked by the baboon? Oh wow, that’s awesome dude. I heard about that last night. Great story!” Then Adam would hobble away…great story…

On our way back to Namibia, we traveled with two Scottish girls who are doing a year of travel around the world and were heading in the same direction. On crossing the border into Zambia, we had to get a cab ride for 20 km to the next town. About halfway into the ride, the driver pulled over. He told us that there was a roadblock ahead and he didn’t have an official taxi license. He said that the roadblock would be removed within thirty minutes, so we waited. While waiting on the side of the road, we became somewhat of a spectacle for the village kids, so we put on a show, borrowing bikes from two kids and racing up and down the street. Benjamin won…but keep in mind, I was injured :).

Finally, a police officer came walking over the hill. He saw us pulled over to the side, and asked the cab driver to get out. They talked for a bit. Finally, the police officer, at the peak of irritation, asked for the cab driver’s keys, jumped in the car and drove off without the driver. While parked at the roadblock waiting for him, Benjamin jumped in the driver’s seat and drove about a 100 hundred yards down the road as a joke…the police weren’t amused. After a long wait at the roadblock and a trip to the police station, we arrived at our hostel three hours later.

The rest of the trip back went pretty smoothly. We went on a cruise down the Zambezi River, where we saw hippos, elon, and crocodiles. It was beautiful. After traveling, 7,000 km, a distance equivalent to Miami to Seattle and halfway back, we arrived back in Otavi ten days later around midnight. The next morning we took twenty-four middle school age kids four hours to the coast for the national marathon.

Sunset cruise with hippos on the Zambezi River

Sunset cruise with hippos on the Zambezi River

We are now in our new apartment in Tsumeb and have been here for about two weeks. We’ll give more details about our home, daily lives and the work we are currently doing in the next update. Sorry about the length of this one. We like to write more than we thought.

Hope you all are well,

Adam & Benjamin

P.S. We’ve been out of the loop…was there some sort of election in the states?

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The Trip Home

I’m knackered after five days of overland travel, but the past two weeks have been two of the most memorable of my life. We finished filming the 15th of August, after which two friends from Namibia flew up and backpacked Malawi with me. Having spent the previous two months traveling the country and scoping out my favorite spots and making a list of the places I hadn’t seen enough of, we quickly left Lilongwe in search of quieter grounds. The highlights of our journey included four days on Mt. Mulanje, central Africa’s highest peak, and two days at Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Mulanje, well, was incredible. The massif rises up out of the earth much like the Tetons of Wyoming or Europe’s Dolomites. On approaching the range, it’s almost difficult to imagine any mountains amidst the gently sloping surrounding area. Then, you’re suddenly forced to crane your neck upwards as the range clears the clouds before you. At first, all you can see is the enormous plateau that lies 4,000 feet above base camp. So, it’s easy to misjudge the size of the massif or the density of the range because you have to climb up onto the plateau before you get a clear view of what lies above. Here, dozens of peaks rest in close proximity, large enough to pull moisture from hundreds of miles away and alter the region’s storm systems in the process.

Sunrise over Mulanje Massif

Sunrise over Mulanje Massif

Rising at 3AM, we summited Sapitwa Peak on the morning of the third day, managing to catch sunrise from the summit ridge. While the view from the top was amazing (and cold), we quickly made it back down to our high camp, spent the night, and hiked out the next morning, catching a bus to Lilongwe.

Sapitwa Peak, the highest point in central Africa

Sapitwa Peak, the highest point in central Africa

After saying goodbyes to friends in the capital city, we started the long journey back to Namibia, hoping to land ourselves in Lusaka on Day 1, Livingstone on Day 2, and back into Namibia on Day 3. Well, that was the plan, but planning doesn’t always work so well when you’re hitchhiking on terrible roads and reliant on the compassion of people paying $11/gallon for gasoline.

Our first test was our ability to talk our way into Zambia. Because of the political instability in Zimbabwe, the Zambian government realizes that they have a monopoly on tourists operations to Vic Falls, the country’s main tourist destination that rests on the border of Zam/Zim. Therefore, in the past 12 months, the Zambian government has jacked up tourist visas from $25USD to $135USD and seemingly eliminated all transit visas.

April and I have both been to Zambia multiple times and had no interest in paying the exorbitant visa fee, but unfortunately, Zambia represents the only other route for overland travel back to Namibia from Malawi other than going through Zim. So, Zambia it was, although we figured there must be a way around the $135 tourist visa if all we wanted was a transit visa to pass through the country in three days time. Sure enough, there was.

We arrived at the border playing stupid, unaware of the need for a visa. Then, we explained our situation as volunteers in Namibia, confident that there must be a way we can work something out so to get a transit visa. After 45 minutes of negotiation and smiles, we paid $50USD each, got stamped with transit visa, and off we went, happy that we were able to navigate the delicate, flexible immigration policies that we had anticipated encountering.

Our adventure took a turn for the less desirable in Lusaka, when, after standing on the side of the road for eight hours, we decided to jump in the back of an 18-wheeler. The only problem was, this particular truck was used to haul coal, and the previous load had included several drums of oil. So, we cozied up inside the sealed container with a coal heap and oil stained floors for 11 hours of bouncing along pot-whole ridden roads. We got sick and dirty, but after a while, just gave up hope and endured, arriving in Livingstone after midnight.

The next day we decided to take a well deserved rest, opting for a hike to Victoria Falls and sunset booze cruise rather than hitting the road to Namibia. The water was much lower than my past two visits to the falls, but because of this, we were able to hike right up to the water’s edge and stare down the falls. Also, we walked out onto bridge that connects Zam/Zim, where we met a few Zimbabweans and chatted with them about their country’s difficulties. Consumption items of any sort, whether food, pens, hair ties or really anything, are in such shortage in Zimbabwe, that people are desperate for anything. We parted with a couple hair ties and pens, and in return I brought back a couple 50 billion Zimbabwean dollar notes as reminders of the country’s hyperinflation. After walking around the falls for most of the day, we jumped on the afternoon boat headed upstream, and downed a few cold ones while watching elephants play on the banks of the river while the sun set behind them.

The next morning we unfortunately selected another unreliable transport vehicle, breaking down 6(!) times in 190km. The last break down occurred at 5:45PM, only about 20km from the Zambia/Namibia border post that closed at 6PM. Fortunately, as soon as we pulled off the road, another vehicle was passing, which we flagged down and paid to run us to the border.

We made it to the Zambian side around 5:55, and surprisingly, they hadn’t checked out yet. But, being so close to knocking off, they didn’t even check our documents, just waved and stamped us out of their country. But, unfortunately for us, the walk between the two border posts is about ¼ mile, and as we made it to the Namibian side of no-man’s land, the guard had already closed the gate on us. So, there we were, stuck without food in no-man’s land with no way of legally entering either country.

April quickly made the decision for us, and within 15 minutes, we were illegally in Namibia and in a cab headed for Namibia’s border town. We spent the night in Katima and returned to the border the next morning, calmly explaining our situation to the immigration officers, who mercifully and legally admitted us into the country. From Katima, we managed to make it back to Otavi (900km) in one day, thankful to be back in a country with good roads and reliable transport.

Now that I’m back in Namibia, I’ve been busy looking for an apartment to move into, as Adam Hinman, another UGA graduate, has just joined me from the states. More to come on this later, but I hope everyone is doing well. Cheers.

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We titled this blog after our favorite song that we hear almost nine times a night. But seriously, it actually is over, and we couldn’t be happier with our experience. On Friday, we presented in front of the director of NTA (the Namibian Training Authority), which COSDEF is under. We had prepared a written executive summary for all of the Support Unit members as well as a powerpoint presentation. We also provided examples of the marketing materials we had made–a general COSDEF brochure and handouts for each course offered. The purpose of our presentation was for the Support Unit to know where to allocate funds they recently received. We were a little nervous because it was our first business presentation. However, we felt like it went really well. At the end of the presentation, they individually thanked us for our efforts and honest recommendations.

Overall, we learned a lot about development. We have formed our own opinions about how the government should be involved and how efforts should be cohesive. Because this internship was so specific, we both have a better idea of where we fit into development work. In addition, we have experienced how race relations are in another country and how they differ from the U.S.

Even though we have only been here for two months, we feel that our experience has been very complete because there have been many phases to time here. We have experienced being tourists, working, volunteering, and living in a developing country. Maia is on her way home, and Eli is off on another journey to Zambia for two weeks. We are both looking forward to coming home, but we know this is not our last time in Africa.

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Back in Tsumeb

After running around the country we’re finally settled back in Tsumeb! It’s amazing to look back on the past two months and think about all the traveling we’ve done and all the things we’ve seen. It’s really nice to be back in quiet Tsumeb, to finish up our project and actually get a feel for the town.

We finished our final audit last week in Otjiwarongo. Being the last center we visited, we knew exactly what we were looking for. We could evaluate what works best and critically examine the center’s organization. We have been treated with great hospitality everywhere we have stayed and have been recieved warmly by all the people we have worked with.

We are preparing for our final presentation which will be in Windhoek this coming Friday. We’ve made marketing materials in the form of brochures and success stories. We also have compiled all our findings from each audit into an executive summary, which will be given to the foundation. It will be exciting to present our ideas and recommendations.

We’ll give you a final update after our presentation. Until then, send us good vibes! ciao!

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In my last hitchhiking adventure before leaving Namibia for Malawi, I got a ride from a pair of Angolan smugglers in their $150K BMW. While clinging to my life at over 150mph, I managed to gleam from my broken understanding of Portuguese that they illegally haul cheaply bought Angolan petroleum (less than $2 US/gallon in Angola, whereas it’s almost $7/gallon in Namibia) into Namibia.

The same trucks and runners are then used to buy bottled Namibian water, oysters and fish from English fisherman offshore from Walvis Bay, Namibia and then transported back to the northern Namibian border. There, they have a great working relationship with the border patrol, who happily agrees to look the other way in exchange for a nice bribe while tons of fish, bottled water and oil pass across the border. True economic integration for you–the markets will find a way. Thankfully, I safely completed my short journey with them, able to cover 225 miles in less than two hours.

I’m off to Malawi this afternoon to begin filming Promote Africa’s latest project, Deep Roots Malawi. Check back to learn more. Cheers!

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Swakopmund

Hello from the sandy shores of Swakop! We’ve spent the past week in a cute beach town. Although the weather does not encourage sun bathing and swimming, it’s been so nice to walk by the ocean and see sand dunes from the desert in the background.

The center is one of the largest we have audited so far. Because Swakop has a lot of tourism, most of the courses focus on hospitality and crafts sales. The management at the center has been very professional and thorough while still maintaining a friendly and comfortable work environment. We were especially impressed by the guidance of the head of center. This center also has courses specifically for business development to support growing businesses in the community. They are trying to develop a Small and Medium Enterprise support center for the community to encourage entrepreneurship and business skills. Another interesting part of this center is that it incorporates Early Childhood Development classes for pre-school students. Although this is not a typical aspect of COSDEF centers, we think it makes a unique impact on the community and integrates a wide range of ages in one center.

Finally, we got a tour of a new Vocational Training Center that is becoming the model for future centers in Namibia. As a reminder, VTCs are similar to COSDEC but at a more advanced level. We were thoroughly impressed by how complete the complex was, having everything from student accomodation to fully stocked computer labs. It looked like a miniature college campus and would be a place that we would be proud to attend. It gave us many ideas for what a COSDEC should continue to strive to become.

We will be staying in Swakop for the weekend to enjoy the beach some more before we head off to our last audit in Otjiwarongo.

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