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Moving to and cooking in Namibia


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Yesterday I found out that I've been accepted into the United State Peace Corps. I'll be teaching computer science to middle and highschool aged kids for the next 2 years in Namibia, on the west coast of southern Africa.

Along with piles of paperwork the Peace Corps also included a brief description of Namibian food. From the sound of it, it is the land that taste forgot. Food is a means of survival, lots of rice, very little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetable. Meat only on special occasions. Lot of what they'll call sauce, aka ketchup. A typical meal consists of rice, topped with ketchup.

Things I will supposedly have access to (but I wouldn't count on):

- A gas powered fridge

- A stove with pots and pans

- Some simple canned vegetables, maybe.

With all that in mind, if you had to fill a small shoe box with some essentials, what would they be? Anything I bring needs to last at least a year, if not 2. What things would you bring to jazz up rice and similarly bland food? Spices? Dried anything? Preserved/canned anything? Small bottled sauces?

Looking forward to some great ideas,

Rashid

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I could be getting it mixed up with another African nation starting with the letter "N", but isn't Namibia a popular tourist destination for Europeans? I've several friends in Germany who've been there on holiday.

I guess it depends on what area of the country you're going to but it's entirely possible that familiar foodstuffs might be attainable within the country.

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Yesterday I found out that I've been accepted into the United State Peace Corps. I'll be teaching computer science to middle and highschool aged kids for the next 2 years in Namibia, on the west coast of southern Africa.

Along with piles of paperwork the Peace Corps also included a brief description of Namibian food. From the sound of it, it is the land that taste forgot. Food is a means of survival, lots of rice, very little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetable. Meat only on special occasions. Lot of what they'll call sauce, aka ketchup. A typical meal consists of rice, topped with ketchup.

Things I will supposedly have access to (but I wouldn't count on):

- A gas powered fridge

- A stove with pots and pans

- Some simple canned vegetables, maybe.

With all that in mind, if you had to fill a small shoe box with some essentials, what would they be? Anything I bring needs to last at least a year, if not 2. What things would you bring to jazz up rice and similarly bland food? Spices? Dried anything? Preserved/canned anything? Small bottled sauces?

Looking forward to some great ideas,

Rashid

congrats, sounds like an exciting assignment. in trying to think of small things that add taste and keep well. i think i might take along some packages of knorr buillion cubes in different flavors, dried onions, cumin, chili powder, soy sauce powder, seasoned salt, even butter flavored salt. maybe a bag of popcorn. dried meats and poultry and dried fruits like cranberries, cherries strawberries and blueberries would also be good. if there's enough room i might take some baking mix like bisquik along. not sure about bugs or the heat being a factor but would try to take things that are well sealed and not prone to melt or have packaging that bugs could easily burrow through. quart and gallon sized ziplock freezer bags will add an extra layer of protection. is it possible that once you get there family or friends can send small pakages to supplement what you carry over there yourself?

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I'd say don't take anything if you try to bring what you know/ are comfortable with into the equation you render yourself inable to fully grasp the food of Namibia.

Also Rice with ketchup, come on, it sounds delicious!

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I think you better bring a couple of indoor tomato plants. Think about an herb garden. Start looking for sources in South Africa that will ship to you. Learn how to cook with dried fish and look forward to sardines.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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One of my friends just finished a stint in Nakhon Nowhere in Central Thailand. While you'd think you can get most anything in a country with tourists (and Namibia is on the tourist radar), expect to pay through the nose - when you do get into the big city. What you can bring with you up front will be a big help.

I'd back up Sous' advice. Bring seeds for herbs (hopefully you don't have a black thumb like me), but check first with the Peace Corps on agricultural restrictions (generally not a concern in sub-Saharan, but you never know). Self-sufficiency is the best course of action.

Otherwise, go with light, dry goods. Don't bring things that'll require continual refridgeration (they promise you a fridge. Don't count on continual power). If you can find a meat tenderizer, that'll be a help (but you can use mashed papaya, too). Bring a selection of dried herbs.

If it was me, I'd also bring dried kaffir lime leaves, and 5 spices powder for some variety. Bottled stuff gets really heavy, but consider a can of soy sauce and a can of sesame oil.

For equipment, bring a good sieve for your flour.

Can you get a contact for someone already working on the project there? They'll be the best source of info, and you'll do them a big favour bringing something for them, too.

Otherwise, relax. You should have fun with this. Lots of mortar and pestle work, and grilled meats around the fire.

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Nambia, with its relatively stable political climate and proximity to South Africa is a fairly popular destination for the eco-tourist types. But it's also twice the size of California, so I can't bet on being able to run to the tourist towns for supplies.

I definitely like the idea of bringing seeds. I'll pick up a simple book on gardening before I go, I'm not so good with plants. I'd really like to get some tomatoes and herbs going. How do you think a small jar of sun dried tomatoes would do without refrigeration? Chipotles are a great idea, and I can't believe I almost forgot sriracha!

Keep the ideas comin!

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Congrats on the adventure! If you seriously only have a small shoebox worth of luggage space you can dedicate to foodstuffs, I'd say you might want to hit one of those places (online or brick-and-mortar) that sell dehydrated foods--mainly catering to backpackers and/or survivalists. :biggrin: Actually, when I used to go car-camping I'd always pack along a bag of dehydrated mixed-vegetable mix I'd get from the local food co-op. They could perk up almost anything.

Definitely bring spices--and I'd say, preferably whole, not ground, plus appropriate hand-powered grinding gizmos. If you can spare room for a few bulkier items, my go-tos would be dried mushrooms and dried chiles. Plus several flavors of bouillon cubes.

I don't know what if any access you'll have to flour, but it would be nice to have some kind of leavening agent along just in case.

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Check out Melissa's and Penzeys website for all your dried spice, tea, dried fruit and veg, and mushroom needs.

even if their prices are steep you may at least be able to see what you would like to bring and find things cheaper at camping stores or sites like Cabellas. Small pack of thing are usually more expensive but reclosing something may speed spoilage.

Tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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Hi,

I am with an organization you may know called Voluntary Service Overseas, or VSO. We are very similiar in size and scope to the Peace Corps except we're a non-profit agency and place Americans and Canadians.

As we also work and place volunteers throughout Namibia, I've copied the relevant section from our country-specific handbook for you below. It's safe to say that in Windhoek you'll find almost anything and for most of our volunteers their trip is usually in search of things like cheese and chocolate...almost certainly not available where you'll be or if it is it's past its expiry date. I'm a bit hesitant to recommend bringing seeds for agriculture since those you'd be bringing are not for Namibian climate, and you'd have to declare them and very likely go through hassles at the numerous borders you'll cross.

Namibian food is not a gourmet’s delight. In rural areas, the staple diet is likely to be some form of porridge made either from mealie (maize corn) or mahangu (millet) flour, usually eaten with a meat stew and occasionally with vegetables such as pumpkin or spinach. The most common types of meat are goat and beef, sometimes chicken. In towns (even quite small ones) there is usually one or more take-away serving chicken, fish, hot-dogs and burgers with chips. Restaurants are pretty steak-centred (it’s good steak though!) although Windhoek has a couple of Chinese, Portuguese and Italian restaurants. This is obviously bad news for vegetarians and those desirous of a varied 11

diet. The good news is that shops are fairly well supplied, especially in urban centres, so if you have a good cookbook and are willing to travel to buy a few ingredients, you can rustle up pretty much anything in your own kitchen.

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I worked for a while on the Zambian Copperbelt.

The local diet was also very heavy on mealie-meal porridge (n'shima) and oil-based 'relishes' (with dried fish, chicken, chillies, whatever).

However, even though the Government of the day imposed daft import controls (every shop in the country had C sized batteries, but anything else was basically unavailable commercially) a wide variety of foodstuffs were available - though not necessarily everything you might think of, and not necessarily all the time. In various different accommodations I had avocado, papaya (pawpaw), lychee and banana trees in the gardens. (Don't park under an avocado tree.)

Gardening is a fine idea, but first find the local markets. And make sure you have plenty recipes for squash and courgettes/zucchini.

You may find the cuts of meat (butchering) unusual. The Namibian coast (though dangerous, etc) has lots of fish.

Your experience is going to depend a lot on just where you are going to be staying/working.

Is Swakopmund still in a teutonic timewarp?

But concentrate on taking decent binoculars rather than jars of chillies, IMHO.

Travel with an open mind, a credit card for mail order (Government import permission dependant) and take decent specialist kit with you - like kitchen knives. But beware that the local electricity is likely to be 240 volts at 50 Hz and not 110 at 60 - so beware taking power tools...

And, hey, if you are lucky, you'll find fantastic new and strange ingredients and dishes...

... which you can spend ages searching for on your return!

Be prepared to shamelessly use others, whether going on holiday or to a different town, as carrier pigeons.

Excellent idea to contact those there already to see what you might bring with you (and for them - can't start too early earning favours in return!)

Probably reckon to buy practical clothes locally - so you blend in better!

And if (as I'd guess is highly likely) you don't have internet access at home - then be sure to take a short wave radio.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I would not bring any supplies, If nothing else they won't last, and storage in that climate is doubtful.

I would bring expertise and tools - for example your favourite cook book, or a basic self help book and a digital thermometer, good knife, scale, measuring spoons etc.

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My spouse was raised in socialist Zambia and his suggestion is to bring your favorite snack foods because every country has a different idea of what snacks are. As an example he mentioned how many Brits come into our store for Cadbury Flake - which Americans don't think much of but the Brits go bonkers for it.

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I'd probably bring a bunch of dried chiles (habanero, chipotle, piquin) and some ground red chile powder--lightweight, a good addition to stews and much bang for the buck.

Do you know if fresh citrus will be readily available there? I recently saw some lemon/lime salt for sale (haven't tried it) but that would provide another major flavor to help stave off repetition in flavors.

I like the idea of growing some of your own herbs, etc. Perhaps chiles would grow well in the climate there as well.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I live in Zambia, which actually borders a small part of Namibia. I can't speak for Namibia, but I can say that you'll be able to find much more of a variety than you expected. The prices for some products are really high - a single 8 oz block of Philadelphia cream cheese costs the equivalent of 6 USD here. What I've heard Americans miss most are chocolate chips (but you can buy chocolate bars and chop them up), sugar (available here, but the white sugar tastes of molasses, which doesn't translate well for some recipes, and the brown sugar is dry and very darkly flavored), pepperoni, marshmallows, cherries, and blueberries. There's quite a list of prepared foods I've heard people say they miss as well: American doughnuts, Debbie cakes, apple pie, ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, Americanized Chinese food, etc.

You should definitely have ready access, if you're in the capital city, to a wide variety of groceries. There are onions, potatoes, tomatoes, citrus, apples, bananas, passion fruit, greens, lettuces, cabbage, garlic, bell peppers, and such. The beef in Zambia is excellent and very cheap. I've found some really nice cheeses as well - they have local dairies that make an interesting variety, plus they sell Kerrygold cheeses. Shrimp are insanely expensive here, but we're landlocked. Perhaps it'd be cheaper in Namibia. You should be able to buy seeds - I've seen a wide assortment here. They also have Knorr bouillion cubes, and the only spice I've not been able to find is chili powder. They have soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil and popcorn.

The biggest thing to get used to is not being able to get any product any time of year. Strawberries are seasonal here, as are mangos, and many other fruits. The second biggest thing you'll notice is much less "convenience" food - like boxed macaroni & cheese, or frozen microwaveable meals. In fact, a lot of the frozen foods here are freezer burned. The meats are oddly, and often sloppily butchered. The chickens often come with quite a bit of stray feathers still attached and shards of innards still clinging to the insides. If I had to bring a small amount of foods I'd miss, I'd bring dried cherries & cranberries, chili powder, and pepperoni. I'd also bring some of those Hefty zipper food storage bags. They don't sell them here and the substandard approximations are really expensive. Lots of people here wash and re-wash those bags until they're completely unusable.

Good luck and kudos to you for your Peace Corps venture! I've hosted a few Peace Corps workers for overnight R&Rs and I'm in awe of what they do.

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How do you think a small jar of sun dried tomatoes would do without refrigeration?

I dont know about a jar, but you can buy dry sun-dried tomatoes (in a plastic bag). If sealed well away from bugs etc, they last a very long time.

FWIW, the weevils/foodmoths we've experienced can eat thru plastic bags in their search for food. As can mice (that was a camping experience). So you might seek out a tightly sealing box to keep your supplies in.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I was in a similar situation to you some yrs ago...if the fridge is gas powered just make sure there is a bakup cylinder available to you can change it when it runs out. I am guessing that you will be in a reasonably remote area as the place is not on the grid so power will probably be generator supplied. I had a wood fired stove which was fantastic for making bread and pizza so you could bring some yeast with you. I'm guessing bread will be in short supply.... you will need the sieve Peter suggested to get rid of the black bugs in the flour :smile:

Actually on second thought, as Namibia is so arid you may not have a stove fuelled by wood, not many trees there, maybe dung fuel?? (also soil may not be up to growing your seeds), anyway, it was not so much the food I missed, as the other stuff...and you will be travelling in the hols anyway so stock up then when you know what you need, South Africa very close if you find yourself craving western food. Good luck, a great adventure.. (have you read Paul Theroux on Africa?)

edited to add, I got a few chickens and had access to a cow but beware of TB

Edited by insomniac (log)
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... I'll be teaching computer science to middle and highschool aged kids for the next 2 years in Namibia, on the west coast of southern Africa.

...

Ummm, I'd kinda think that anywhere with

1/ a high school

and

2/ computers

isn't exactly going to be at the dung-powered end of Peace Corps postings...

Heavens, you may even have some sort of internet access from work!

I think its important that you distinguish "general Namibian info" from the specifics of your own locale. Especially distinguishing advice for prospective water-drillers so far out in the bush that there's nothing much to mark on their map, from the advice appropriate to high school computer science teachers.

If you crave sun-dried tomatoes, I can think of few better places to learn and practice the craft of making them than Namibia.

Like Jackal10 said "take expertise and tools".

Don't take chocolate to a hot country (even if inland nights can be damn chilly).

Expect to be able to buy cooking knives locally, but also expect fancy japanese steel and tricksie sharpeners to be unheard of.

So take good, rugged, zero (or user-) maintenance stuff. But avoid the flashy, ostentatious and that which might be too tempting for others.

Things like binoculars and info on local wildlife will help you to maximise the experience of being there. Similarly, open yourself to making the most use of whatever local materials you encounter. And rest assured, they will be diverse - and occasionally surprising. For example, in coastal towns, expect availability of fresh (but occasionally deeply strange) fish... Anyone for Snoek?

As a mindset, think of going to the market to see what they have and what looks good - rather than going out to look for something specific that you remember from home...

... and enjoy the adventure!

Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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dougal, you'd be surprised...I've been to schools in certain African countries with IT depts and NO computers, and schools with a computer and IT lessons that cooked the food for their students outside over a fire....hopefully fliplap will be at a school with computers and power, but in Africa it's not a given....

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