“Coming from Seattle, a rainy metropolitan city in the US, [Aimee Allworth, Group 44 Peace Corps Namibia] had been a vegetarian for more than a decade, but changed that when she decided to come to Namibia.”
Excerpt from “Volunteering Experience in Namibia” posted in The Namibian, October 2016
During our interviews with Peace Corps, Eric and I were both told about how being vegan in another country is possible, but could hinder our integration. One interviewer told me a story about how a girl remained vegetarian in Panama, and after she left, the community talked about how weird she was for not eating meat. With those stories ingrained in our minds, and knowing that Namibia was a VERY meat-heavy culture, Eric and I were not sure if we would remain vegan once coming to Namibia.
However, after getting here, we just could not bring ourselves to consume animal products. After all, being vegan ties in with our moral stance on many issues, and we were not willing to break our moral code just because we were in a new country. In addition to keeping our morals, Eric and I feel great by following a vegan diet. I no longer have problems with eczema, my acne has cleared up, I feel like I have much more energy, and I no longer get heartburn. Staying vegan just seemed like a no-brainer.
So, what is it like being vegan in a culture where an average meal consists of a large piece of meat and some pasta?
Before I go into my daily food routine, I want to say that although meat is a large part of Namibian culture, so is acceptance and generosity. Namibians are some of the most welcoming people and want everyone to feel at home in their country. In my experience so far, people think that not eating meat is strange, sometimes astonishing (that I have not had meat for 7 years), but they immediately try to find something else for me to eat. It’s more about the community than the food on the plate.
During the week, I wake up at 6:00am to get ready for school. I usually pack up some leftovers from dinner the night before to take to school. If I have time, I will make food. Typical breakfast brunch foods include, beans, potatoes, spinach, granola, bananas, or oranges. Fresh spinach can sometimes be hard to come by, but frozen spinach is often available. Canned goods are widely available in standard Namibian grocery stores. Potatoes are very common in Namibian cuisine.
School starts at 6:45am with a staff meeting, and classes begin at 7:10am. Most, if not all, Namibian schools have a half hour break built in around 10 or 11. This is when teachers and learners like to have a snack. I eat my leftovers at this time and if it is not too hot, I enjoy a mug of rooibos tea. Older women from around the community come to the school and sell food to the learners like ice pops, fried fish, or fat cakes. Sometimes I will indulge in an ice or fat cake (basically a plain doughnut hole). At 11:00am, classes resume until 1:00pm.
I walk back to my house after school and have a light lunch. It is so hot in the afternoon, that I like to wait to cook until around 4:30pm when it starts to cool off. For my snack, maybe I will have some more leftovers, fruit (papaya and avocado are my favorite), or olives and crackers. Olives are grown here near Swakopmund so they are relatively cheap. Avocados are also pretty easy to come by. The best deal that I have gotten so far was 6 avocados for $2.18 USD.
I love to cook and I have found that there are plenty of ingredients in Namibian grocery stores to make delicious vegan food. I tend to start cooking around 4/4:30 and try to eat dinner no later than 6:00pm. Some notable meals that I have made include:
veggie flatbreads with hummus, pickled red onions, smoked cherry tomatoes, and parsley
One night I even had vegan schnitzel (found in the grocery store freezer section) with lentil gravy and sauerkraut. Faux meats in Namibia, who would have guessed?!
What day is complete without dessert? Eric and I have found vegan chocolate in Windhoek and we have found one common chocolate brand that does not contain milk (midnight velvet – best sounding flavor ever). If I am feeling really ambitious, I like to bake! Since being in Namibia, I have made cookies, coconut milk chocolate pudding, blueberry cupcakes (with Aimee), and banana bread. The chocolate pudding cookie parfait was a BIG hit with Namibians. After dessert, it’s time to get ready for bed. Bedtime here is around 9:00pm. If I can get 9 hours of sleep, I am a very happy person!
I can’t have all this food without drinks! Since it is so hot and dry here in Namibia, I tend to drink A LOT of water. However, I have also tried a local drink called Oshikundu. It is millet meal and sorghum mixed with water and then fermented overnight. It is usually consumed for breakfast. Eric and I made our first batch a couple of weeks ago. If you like kombucha, you will probably enjoy Oshikundu. Speaking of kombucha, Eric and I saw kombucha sold in the store in Windhoek and Okahandja, we decided to buy one and use it as starter. We now have a thriving kombucha mother. If you are in Namibia and looking for a SCOBY, let me know! And finally, on fancy occasions or nights out, Eric and I like to indulge in a bottle of South African wine. A very good bottle of wine costs about $7.30 USD.
So that is how my day goes, food wise. Everything revolves around food anyway, right?