The Chinese Are Here

What have the Omusati Regional Council, the Crafts Centre being build, the recently opened 100km tar road C41 between Okahao/Tsandi and the Opuwo/Ruacana junction, the ‘Outapi Times Square – Outapi’s newest and biggest shopping complex – and our region’s showcase school Onawa near Annamulenge in common? They are build and sometimes also financed or donated by the Chinese.

I’ve read a lot about the People’s Republic of China and their increasing presence and interests on the African continent during the last years. Recently I also watched the rather humorous BBC documentary ‘The Chinese Are Coming’. You easily could shoot another episode in Namibia.

Except when supervising their ‘China’ shops in Northern Namibia, where clothings, electronics and miscellaneous stuff of poor quality, are sold you barely see them in public life here. That they are numerous also in Namibia I had to hear the first time when I was listening to someone working at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at a cozy dinner in Windhoek. In construction business they are simply everywhere here in the North. At Onawa, our newest school, roughly 40 Chinese workers, a few local labor, and even fewer ‘boers’ working there seven days a week – the Chinese are even not resting on public holidays. A tour on the construction site is a tour into a different world: earth moving vehicles, most building materials, engineering drawings, staff quarter kitchen (they do make delicious steam bread) and the toilet paper. It all comes from China. At the Omusati Regional Council things went into absurdity: even the emergency stickers on the water hose boxes are imported and have exotic phone numbers on it. Luckily they have their own fire truck.

There are many good articles on websites of relevant economical magazines trying to get to the bottom of PRC’s involvement on the African continent: explaining why comparatively simple work is done by ‘imported’ Chinese labor in African countries with high unemployment rates. So no need to philosophise about that. My only observation is that they work at a breathtaking pace. But the constructions have low quality standards and will not last long it seems to me.

Much more interesting is what locals up here think about their new neighbors. Whenever I had a good chance I’ve tried to bring up the topic or was watching, for example when waiting at the car wash or gas station and I Chinese store owner drove up. More black than white. Not surprisingly many locals are critical, sometimes even adversarial and express it verbally, when it comes to it. In the Omusati Region we have an unemployment rate of ~75%. Most people work for the government. Private business comes down to small shops, bars (shebeens – go on a building picture tour here), taxis or the car wash. The Chinese are competing exactly in that very first category with their shops which are flourishing. So they are, and are seen, as competitors and the same goes for the construction business. Some of my colleagues are on the other hand in favor of the Chinese and say they are doing good for the country. It is hard to say what their opinion is based on.

The Chinese itself don’t have it easy on the African continent. When staying at a friend’s place in Oshakati in the evening I often end up outside the apartment of Mr. H with a bunch of his friends eating and talking (as far as the language barrier allows it). H and his lovely wife and daughter own well running stores in town. He is in his mid-thirties. If you meet him the first time you would not think that. He had been in two African countries before. Several times robbed at gunpoint and injured with a knife. It is not a secret that Chinese store owner make a lot of money in cash. Crime has drastically increased in overcrowded areas around Oshakati since I came in 2010. Staying in Ongwediva (when Oshakati is L.A. – the adjoining Ongwediva is Beverly Hills) I heard several times shots fired at night – close to the police station. Due to that H. and most of his friends legally carry a gun with them all the time.

Construction workers at remote sites in the bush, for example at our Onawa school, are contrary to shop owners not exposed to the public at all and usually cannot speak a word English. They virtually never leave their barracks at the construction sites, where traditional food and phone calls via Internet help against home sickness. During my inspections at Onawa I also always felt welcomed and experienced a great deal of hospitality.

Namibia here I am: T plus 3 years

Before coming to Namibia at the beginning of 2010 I had a preparation course back in Switzerland. One of the things we had been warned of is that at some point during the assignment one would experience different cycles during the three years. Closer to the end time would run fast. But you would most likely also experience stretches where things would be quite sticky and days only pass by in slow motion.

Looking back I realize that I luckily never had those days. The three years had been flying by at the speed of light. However this is not the reason that my last blog post was published half a year ago. This is because the things you do at work and in your free time become normality after a while. Regardless where you are – routine takes over. So you start to think that they are not worth to be mentioned on any blog. Another reason will be explained in a following post on the tightrope walk of a development worker embedded within a large government institution.

So how does it feel to leave in a few weeks? To be honest this is not easy to answer. At work I had a smooth start from the first day. On the other hand the time off had been rough at the beginning. Compared to other parts of Namibia the 4-O-Region makes it tough in many regards (lack of cultural & culinary choice, dead nature, limited shopping facilities – to name a few). I always referred Outapi as the place to work – not the place to be. Although still going to Oshakati, which is 100km away, almost every weekend I refer Outapi as home by now. The reason for that is NOT that the town and Omusati has become more attractive in any of the above mentioned departments (to be honest shopping has improved also here). It is the amount of people you know after a while and friends you have up here. Your network. For work this is crucial to get things done. For your free time and emergencies like having your head stitched at midnight it is everything. And it is everything but easy to leave all those people back after three years. Happy new year!

What applies to blog posts also applies to taking pictures. At some point you stop doing it. Nonetheless a random selection of pictures taken in 2012.

lunch break stories: dad with the big needle

shot #4, despite the look Ellie still loves his single parent, Anamulenge, OutapiSince his mother Lorie died at the age of ten (most likely a record for the North!) I’ve become the main parent for two and a half year old Ellie. Not an easy job. It is not a secret that pet animals outside the Western world are treated differently. Most people at Anamulenge love the hairy guy with his friendly character. Trouble is that he sometimes leaves the premises. Most villagers consider him as he threat for their goats. Two weeks ago he came back with an leg injury and stopped eating. The first anti-inflammatory shots were difficult to give: chasing, talking, petting and poking Ellie. The last two we had to do it the hard way by forcing the poor guy down as he developed a good flair for the shot hidden in the jacket.

lunch break stories: reminder that you’re in Southern Africa

Winning the battle, loosing the war?..., Anamulenge, OutapiAt cozy home in Anamulenge with (almost) all goodies (stove, fridge, AC, Internet) I sometimes miss the fact that the Omusati region is quite rural. Besides an army of ants doing regular night marches through the house (almost forgot the tough cockroaches at the old NHE place) I’ve been lucky so far. Three weeks ago I discovered a colony of termites behind the back of the kitchen cupboard – or what was left from it.

Calm before the storm?

Around 70 of our 284 schools are closed since last week due to the impact of the rain the Omusati Region (west of Ogongo) received so far. The main reason for the closing is not that the school premises are flooded. The problem is that the schools are hard to reach for the learners which often have to walk huge distances. The government is not concerned about wet shoes. Learners had been drowned on the way to the schools during previous floods.
For the last couple of days the weather has changed: non-stop sun shine and rising temperatures have brought down the water level noticeable. However rainy season is not yet over. Locals say it will most likely start fiercely to rain again next month. Even by this time the biggest threat for the North is still to come: the torrent of water coming from the Angolan rivers. Already now the basin at the Ruacana dam is filled quite well.

Home! Sweet Home! – Outapi

Wesrand farm capmping, ~15km south-west of Otjiwarongo (C38 to Outjo, C33 to Omaruru)Back in the country since the 12th. After taking care of my Hilux (what else) I made it finally out of über-boring Windhoek the next day. C35 between Kamanjab and RuacanaThe fastest way up to the North is the B1. As have seen that route by now too many times and it is always packed I decided to take a detour West via Outjo, Kamanjab – a small side trip off road – and Ruacana. Biggest surprise ‘home’ at my house in Anamulenge: everything still there where it should have been. This was everything but sure. School holidays, the house ‘in the wild’ and just a few people around in Anamulenge. Lucky me.

Anamulenge ‘zoo’: reptile section

'kitchen view', Anamulenge'take-out-the-garbage-view', AnamulengeUsually it’s Ethosa for the bigger animals apart from donkey, cattle and goat. For reptiles it seems I am living in a pretty good spot. At least two geckos are part of the house (cleaning) inventory for quite a while. Outside after the rain the small guys definitely have taken over. Unfortunately the same goes for their bigger, legless counterparts. Fortunately they are camera-shy and gone a few seconds after you have encountered them.

Happy 260k Raider!

hopefully many more to come, C46 between Oshikuku and Outapi On the way back from Oshakati Saturday night I realized that the Hilux’s odometer reached 260’000km. Would have been time to celebrate. Neither the vehicle nor the driver are drinking alcohol. Therefore we skipped the party at night. Instead the Hilux got a special treat Sunday evening from me: five liter of Toyota’s finest 75w-90 oil for the gearbox assembly.On the way back from Oshakati Saturday night I realized that the Hilux’s odometer reached 260’000km. Would have been time to celebrate. Neither the vehicle nor the driver are drinking alcohol. Therefore we skipped the party at night. Instead the Hilux got a special treat Sunday evening from me: five liter of Toyota’s finest 75w-90 oil for the gearbox assembly.gearbox drainage, you better choose another color for your house, Anamulenge, Outapi
Although I am really happy with the Raider and did not have any major problems for the last 30’000km I drove the maintenance is time consuming and becomes more expensive the older the car gets. Biggest issue in the North is the lack of reliable mechanics: the only garage I trust is based in Ongwediva. Bringing or leaving the car there is always a hassle. Doing the maintenance on your own with a good manual is not rocked science and queuing up at Cymot has become my favorite Saturday morning activity. But the trouble comes in when you’re back at the monastery and a special tool or spare part is missing.

lunch break stories: Namibian summer vs. Ben – 0:1

 19:00: cold shower, 300g pasta and we call it the day..., Anamulenge, OutapiUsually 35°C up in the North in the afternoon. Becoming a couch potato would be so easy. Since I’ve been in the North I am trying to avoid that and found several activities to stay in shape. One and a half hour exercise at the Yap gym in Ongwediva on Friday. 30min swimming at Bennies entertainment park (it is owned by someone else:-) Saturday morning followed by another two hours gym in the afternoon. After a lazy Sunday morning in Outapi I went out with my bike on the road to Ruacana at 4.p.m. Almost three hours, 60km and a whole Camelbak load later I came back to Anamulenge. Probably a bit to much at the end: the next two days I’ll try to stay in our cozy office not moving an unnecessary inch and for sure skip basketball practice.