Tuesday, February 28, 2012

speaking up for domestic workers

"this one's for the workers who toil night and day
by hand and by brain to earn your pay
who for centuries long past for no more than your bread
have bled for your countries and counted your dead..."

-Dropkick Murphys, "Worker's Song"

Last Thursday, my organisation made submissions at a public hearing to the National Council's Standing Committee regarding motions on the plight of domestic workers.

the beautiful Parliamentary Gardens

One of the recurring themes of my work in Namibia has been that the country has decent comprehensive legislation, but inadequate implementation/enforcement. The situation for domestic workers is no difference. The Labour Act is quite comprehensive and includes a lot of important rights and legal protection for all employees, including domestic workers. The problem, unfortunately, is enforcing those rights and obligations. Domestic workers remain one of the most vulnerable, underpaid groups of workers in Namibia.

This has to do with the specific environment of the domestic worker. For one thing, these domestic workers work in private households, whether as nannies or housekeepers or whatever, where they are isolated from other workers and may not be as aware of their labour rights under the law. Also, because employers tend to be private individuals like you or me just needing help around the house, rather than big professional corporations who might have lawyers and HR consultants, etc., the employers of domestic workers aren’t necessarily informed about what their obligations are under the law either. The number of inquiries I’ve handled at my office from employers wanting to know what they are allowed to do with their workers is a testament to that fact.

And we can’t ignore the gendered nature of domestic work. Obviously, many domestic workers are female. Housework and child-minding, as “women’s work”, tends to be undervalued all over the world, not just in Namibia. Before Namibia’s Independence, domestic workers weren’t even recognized as employees under labour legislation and therefore had no legal protection. Luckily, after Independence, the Labour Act was changed to include domestic workers in the definition of employee. Nevertheless, it has been a constant struggle to convince people that domestic workers are real legitimate employees deserving labour rights as much as any other worker.

These problems were not helped by the fact that the domestic workers' union fell apart and became defunct, and was later absorbed into the union for farmworkers, who are also subject to frequent labour violations, but face different types of problems than domestic workers, who must deal with issues like sexual harrassment on the job.

My organisation, which has been shortlisted this year for the prestigious Women Deliver 50 list of the 50 top inspiring ideas and solutions that deliver for girls and women, has been advocating for the labour rights of domestic workeres for a while now. We've put out some publications on labour rights, including fact sheets and, of course, a comic book...two, actually.

At the public hearing, we proposed the following recommendations regarding domestic workers to the National Council:

1. Raise awareness about the rights of domestic workers. Especially to employers, who often do want to treat their workers properly, but just don't know what the law is. Personally, I hope this awareness-raising comes out in form of more comic books.

2.Do a better job of enforcing the labour rights of domestic workers. As I mentioned, the laws are there, but the implementation is not.

3.Minimum wage for domestic workers. As my organisation pointed out at the hearing, it's kind of hard to believe that farm workers have a set minimum wage but domestic workers don't.

The public hearing was a pretty neat experience and I'm glad I got to be a part of it, even though I was suffering from a huge migraine that day. The National Council, which is kind of like Namibia's Senate, is housed in a beautiful modern-looking building on the Parliament grounds. I was also impressed by the state-of-the-art technology of the room where the public hearings were held, with comfortable chairs, carpet and wood panelling, modern interior designs, and microphones...although strangely enough, the only person who didn't get a microphone was the witness testifying at the stand. You'd think they would be the one who'd needed the microphone the most.

It was also interesting to learn about Namibia's specific labour issues regarding domestic workers, especially since it seems like each country deals with its own unique problems. Canada, for example, has hundreds of live-in caregivers that come from foreign countries like the Philippines to live with and work for Canadian families in their homes. These workers are also vulnerable to exploitation and labour violations. For my International Labour Law class in law school, I wrote a paper comparing the various labour legislation governing live-in caregivers in Canada, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. In that paper, I also argued that the biggest problems with the legal mechanisms in all three countries was the gap between the law, setting out workers' rights on paper, and the reality, the enforceability of these rights - partly due to the very nature of live-in domestic work. Kind of like what we are seeing here.

Anyway, our submissions at the hearing went well, and R. even ended up being broadcast on national TV by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation. Hopefully we will start to see some change.

"We're the first ones to starve, we're the first ones to die
The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
And we're always the last when the cream is shared out
For the worker is working when the fat cat's about..."

-Dropkick Murphys

Monday, February 27, 2012

weekend parties in the townships

"When it's time to party, we will party hard."
-Andrew W.K.

My original plan for Friday night was to go see Gazza play in Katutura, but Mark’s nice Herero friend Nelson warned me against it, informing me that it was being held in a venue that was far too small for the crowd that was going to show up, and that it could get ugly. I imagine that could have ended up an interesting story to tell, but remembering what happened the last time I saw Gazza, decided not to and instead called up F and L to see what they were up to.

me and frieda

I met up with the girls at Jokers, and from there we moved on to Nessi Park bar, this little hole in the wall that wasn’t much more than a shebeen, deep in the heart of Katutura (the black township). There we joined the rest of the guys who were passing around biltong and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. This was the first KFC I’d eaten in over half a year. It was delicious, especially with a side of biltong. The KFC in Katutura, by the way is one of the few places that are open late at night, and the drive-thru is as busy and packed as a night club on a weekend night.

It was a cosy bar, lively despite its modest size, with a jukebox chained to the wall where for one rand, Namibians could play their favourite songs from albums with titles like Vaar was Jy?. Even though I didn’t recognize any music from the jukebox (they didn’t seem to have Gazza), I was reminded of how much I love jukeboxes, and wish they were more prevalent in North America.

It was a pretty fun night, chatting up various folks, although for some reason the conversation kept turning to the subject of death. I remember reading in Heather Keachie’s blog that sometimes people in the Gambia just die, and you have to accept it as part of life. With the high rate of both HIV/AIDS and road accidents in Namibia, it seems like Namibians have to face death more often as well, especially since the average life expectancy is so shockingly low, around 50, for a country that was relatively developed as Namibia. Anyway, it means that I’ll often have surprising conversations like this:

Me: How are you doing?
Person: Oh, not bad. Kind of hungover still.
Me: Oh yeah?
Person: Yeah, my cousin shot himself last weekend, so we had the funeral.
Me: What?
Person: It’s not that bad. We partied. He told us to, in his suicide note. He said, Live life. Have fun.
Me: What?
Person: Should we get more tequila shots?

Or this:

Person: …And that’s where they found him.
Me: Hey, what are you guys talking about?
Person: My ex-boyfriend died in a car accident a while ago.
Me: ....what?
Person: Well, he was my boyfriend at the time. Of four years. But you know, you have to move on. At first I thought I could never love again, but you just have to move on.
Me: That's terrible to hear!
Person: Would you like another drink?

Anyway. Eventually the gang decided to move back to Jokers to shoot pool and shoot tequila. Thaddeus insisted on dancing, even though it was a pool hall. I ordered pizza.

this beer ad is kind of weird. why are you watching me?

Saturday was my coworker E’s birthday party. It was a proper Namibian birthday party, as in it started at noon and ended around sunrise the next day. Namibians have a party stamina like you would not believe. The party was held at S’s house in Khomasdal, the township that was originally designated for coloured people. It was about twenty women and Dean, who for some reason decided to spray his head like a half-hearted blind clown.

the smoking section at the party

little boys trying to sneak into the party

me and the birthday girl

singing happy birthday to emmerentia

As usual there was a lot of music and singing and dancing. S has a karaoke machine, so people went to town on it, even the baby.

At one point, someone put on Gazza's song "Seelima" and everyone was doing the dance around the living room. It was pretty awesome, almost as good as be able to see him live. I love watching people here dance.

teaching the baby to dance

even the little boys are amazing dancers

My favourite part of the party, however, was waiting for potjiekos. I have come to the conclusion that potjiekos is basically culinary torture. It's a southern African stew that is cooked outside in a cast iron pot called a potjie that seriously remind me of the Korean stone pots that my favourite dish soondubu chigae (soft tofu stew) is cooked in. Anyway, potjiekos is absolutely delicious but it takes a long time to prepare and it's cooked very very slowly...for hours. and hours. Basically, you sit around the pot, drink beer, chat, throw some more ingredients, drink, chat, dance, throw more ingredients in, and wait and wait and wait and wait for it to cook. And the whole time it smells absolutely delicious. It's torture, I tell you.

soondubu in traditional Korean stone pot



If anybody would like to buy me a potjie as a wedding present, they are totally welcome.

let's get a party going
now it's time to party and we'll party hard
let's get a party going
when it's time to party we will always party hard
party hard party hard, party hard, party hard party hard,
party hard, party hard party hard, party hard, party hard...

-Andrew W.K., "Party Hard"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

not getting eaten by crocodiles

"Do you want to go on a six hour hike?" I asked Mark. No answer. Apparently Julia and I are the only ones who want to entertain such ideas at 7:45AM on a Sunday morning, so it was just the two of us setting off for adventure in Okapuka.

Okapuka is a magical place located about forty kilometres north of Windhoek. When you pull in from the highway, you pass families of warthogs and ostriches and springbok all grazing peacefully side by side. There is a nice restaurant with beautiful scenery, a swimming pool, and opportunities to go on game drives...but what Julia and I wanted to do was the six-hour hike.

The owner was skeptical. Even though Julia and I are both experienced hikers, by appearance we just looked like two petite tourist women, and I was as usual completely inappropriately dressed for hiking in my bikini top, jeans, sunglasses and wool hat.

I swear, it works for me.

Oh yeah, it was also noon, because for some reason, Julia and I like hiking in the hottest part of the day.

"Are you sure you want to do the long hike?" he asked.

"Yes, it looks pretty," we said cheerfully. "How long is it?"

He was a big friendly Afrikaner man with big eyes, a big nose, and a big beard, kind of a living personification of Captain Haddock from Tintin. He scratched his neck and squinted into the sun. "Maybe thirty, thirty-five kilometres?"

Somehow I doubted that. It was being advertised as a six hour hike. The last six-hour hike we had done was twenty kilometres, and we moved at a constant pace. I could tell he was just trying to scare us off.

His next words did succeed in alarming me, however. "When you reach the end of the route, be careful around the crocodile dam."

"The crocodile dam?" I had seen warning signs in the lodge about the crocodile dam. Mainly, that visitors should stay away.

"Yes, try not to get too close to them," the owner replied.

"Does the hiking trail go near the crocodile dam?" I asked.

"It goes through it," he answered.

"Through the crocodile dam?"

"Usually they are not on that side of the pond, but these days they have been wandering. Well, you girls have fun! Drink lots of water!" And then he drove away in his truck, leaving us on the path.

Five minutes earlier, Julia and I had had the following conversation.

Julia: "Did you know that crocodiles can run really fast?"
Me: "On land?"
Julia: "Yeah, they're like one of the fastest animals."
Me: "Oh, crap."

Oh crap.

The hiking trail was a beautiful one, nevertheless, even though it was oddly designed to thrust hikers straight into a pit of crocodiles at the end of a gruelling hike. It was a bit unnerving to keep the thought of crocodiles at the back of my head but I still managed to enjoy myself. The hike took a lot of endurance, especially in the heat. Like the Hakos mountain range, it was not a simple climb up a single mountain, but up and down and up and down a series of mountains.

Like most of our hikes, we were the only hikers on the path and there was not a soul around for miles.

We managed to do the trail in much less time, under five hours. As we approached the lodge ahead of us though, we still had one challenge left: the crocodile dam.

yeah, that's the hiking trail leading right up to the crocodile dam.

Or so I thought. A sudden movement in the bushes caught my attention and made me realize that we'd have to deal with a different obstacle first: baboons.

Blog readers know that I hate baboons. Seriously, I really hate baboons. I'm looking forward to going back to Canada where the only scary animals I might run into while hiking are bears and wolves, which, although scary and dangerous, do not have opposable thumbs that they can use to rob you, and other creepy human-like habits. But there they were, sitting right in the path, with no intention to go away and give my baboon-phobia a lot of space.

Suddenly I heard a loud yell. "Oh thank God, someone's here to chase the baboons away," I thought.

"No, that was the baboon," Julia said, reading my thoughts.

What? Baboons have human voices? Well, that was just freaky. And this one was yelling at us.

"It's a good thing you haven't watched Planet of the Apes," Julia whispered.

I was feeling really nervous about trying to nonchalantly walk past them, especially because I still had a lot of food in my backpack. Instead, I pulled out my mobile phone and called up the lodge. I told them there were baboons on the trail. What did they advise us to do? Wait? Walk?

"Ah, they should just go back to the restaurant," the Namibian staff member told me, which made me think that he didn't understand my question.


"They should just go back."

"Look, I don't know if you mean that the baboons should go back, or if I should go back the other direction to do that five hour hike again, but neither advice makes any sense," I said.

I heard some movement on the line and then a female voice came on the phone. "You should just walk through the baboons," she told me.

"I have food in my bag though - do you think they will try to take it?" I asked.

"You can give them the food, and then they will go away."

This sounded like a stupid idea. I thought about Julia's earlier remark about how hikes in North America feel pretty safe because we're such a litigious society that park authorities go out of their way to remove any potential dangerous risks that might cause a lawsuit. Here in Africa, however, things were different. LIABILITIES EVERYWHERE.

Eventually I decided to hang up on the lodge staff and bravely walk past the baboons, sticks and stones in my hand. By that point the baboons had moved to the side of the path, although I could feel their eyes watching me at all times.

Finally we had reached safety, past the baboons....at the crocodile dam. Oh right, I had forgotten about the crocodiles.

We could still hear the baboons yelling angrily at us. "I think right around now, we can stop watching out for the baboons and start looking out for the crocodiles," Julia said. This is a line that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life.

Wonderful. "Well, I've got this stick," I said weakly, waving my little stick about.

"I think that if the crocodile is that close to you at that point..."

"I was thinking maybe I'd put it in his mouth and then run away...Kind of like that scene from Peter Pan, with Captain Hook."

But the movie that I was actually thinking about was the penultimate scene from Adaptation. I shuddered. I decided that I was not a fan of close encounters with wildlife unless I was in a car.

"What does that sign say?"

It was not a very good sign. I could tell it was trying to warn me about something,but I couldn't read anything except "LIONS AND CROCODILES ON PREMISES." Oh right. I forgot that there was a lion feeding tour here too.

"I think the best case scenario here is if the crocodile ate the baboon, and then the lion goes after the crocodile," I whispered. "Then we run past."

"I'm sure there are better scenarios," Julia replied.

Even though we had just finished a five hour hike, we walked pretty darn quickly past the crocodile dam.

By the time we reached the other side, we heard the roar of a truck. Approaching us was the owner, bringing a truckful of tourists around on a wild game drive. I eyed them with disdain. Bunch of weaklings, doing the route in a car. I had just finished wrestling baboons and crocodiles and lions with my bare hands - in my macho mind, at least.

The owner bowed to us. "My compliments to you, ladies," he said, impressed that we had done the whole hike.

I smiled and waved, hiding all of the fear that had been swelling inside me for the last twenty minutes. "It was easy," I said, shrugging casually. "Piece of cake."

I tell you this: nothing has ever tasted as good as my cocktail that awaited me at the lodge bar at the end of my hike.

Friday, February 24, 2012

vote for my organisation!

As I've mentioned before, my organisation produces comic books to promote gender equality issues such as domestic abuse, pregnancy options, and marital rape. This is a great way to reach out to the public, because, really, everybody loves comics.

We've been shortlisted for the prestigious "Women Deliver" List. We're so excited about this that our work administrators have unblocked Facebook for one day so we can all vote (YAY FACEBOOK!). Please take the time to vote for us!

Also, consider helping out my colleague Heather, who is teaching law in the Gambia, bring a team of Gambian law students to Washington DC for an international mooting competition. Come on, you know you want to do it. They even have a website for their moot team.
I personally would like to hear all about their adventures.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sneakers on the red carpet

The folks of Ogopa Butterfly Records invited me to perform on Saturday night at the launch party of the latest issue of Red Carpet, a Namibian entertainment magazine. This launch party was an exclusive members-only event with quite the guestlist that included the Dogg, Lady May, Gal Level, Lize Ehlers, and a number of NAMA Music Award winners and nominees.

It was a pretty fancypants event, with beautiful women showing up in trendy ball gowns and rappers wearing suits (I love seeing rappers wear suits). I was wearing sneakers. There was also a sweet spread of free food and drinks. I always find it curious that fancypants events like law firm receptions and these media parties seem to feature all this free stuff, when their guests tend to be the very people that could afford to buy food. I'm reminded of the central line from Min Jin Lee's novel "Free Food For Millionaires". Not that I was complaining about the buffet spread. I could always use a fourth or fifth meal.

The party was held at NICE Restaurant which was, of course, very nice. The room was beautifully designed too, except for this really inconveniently placed palm tree that blocked the middle of the stage. I can't say I've ever had that problem before though.

the stage

that's quite the palm tree

nice nice very nice

The party featured performances from various different musicians, including a gospel hip hop artist, Lize Ehlers (whose new album was reviewed in the magazine), and some R&B singers. There was also a Russian guy based in Namibia named Smokey who did kwaito rap, which was quite the sight. He kind of looks like he belongs in a neo-Silverchair rock band, and yet there he was, executing the kwaito rap perfectly. I was impressed. But if a China (me) could sing a country song, why not a Russian doing kwaito? Why not?

gospel hiphop

My own performance went decently, although that unfortunately placed palm tree really was, well, unfortunate. We certainly had a completely different sound from the other acts and were one of the few live performances that didn't use a backtrack. I think the audience appreciated that we were different. Afterwards, many of the other musicians approached me to see if I was interested in working on some collaborations. I'm always impressed by the friendliness of Namibians, especially Namibian artists. It's always a pleasure to roll with the Namibian music industry folks, even if I wear sneakers on the red carpet. Gloria Guns is not what you would describe as "fancypants".

musicians from the Rusch Street Sessions


me...and the palm tree.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

how to talk to a survivor of domestic abuse

a song based on a beautiful poem written by a woman in support of her friend in an abusive relationship. After that woman was killed by her boyfriend, the writer found the courage to leave her own destructive relationship. The poem was then turned into a song.

As you know, I work in the Gender Research & Advocacy Project of my organisation, and one of the things that I have been working on is a report on the relatively new Combating of Domestic Violence Act. Our study looks at what works and what doesn't under the law in terms of providing victims with protection. It's been interesting stuff, but I've been mainly working with statistics, files, reports - paper, rather than people.

While living in Namibia I have met several women who are survivors of abusive relationships. Like survivors of sexual violence, you might know and see these women regularly, but have no idea about their sad secrets because they still manage to go about leading relatively normal lives, at least on the outside. Some of them are still in these destructive relationships.

Domestic violence is a major problem in countries all around the world, and Namibia is no exception. Namibians in particular have to struggle with enormous inequalities of wealth, shifting cultural identities, and changing ideas about gender relations. Laws may reflect perfect equality between genders, but that doesn't necessarily always translate to reality.

Despite the fact that I've been working in human rights for a while and have been a strong advocate of women's issues, I have actually had very little training in dealing with survivors of domestic abuse personally. Recently, after one of the women I knew informed me that she was going to return to her abusive ex-partner, I sought out the advice of Canadian anti-violence activist Julie Lalonde, one of the founders of the Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Centre. She gave me some very useful insight which she has given me permission to reproduce here.

Here's what Julie writes:

"Hi Gloria,

"Situations like this are always icky. The person outside the situation sees it so very differently and so it's easy to sit on the sidelines and say 'Are you f---ing kidding me?!' The reality is so much different.

"You can sit down with her and explain how you think that what's really best for her kids is to grow up in a home without violence. Statistically, male children are more likely to become abusers themselves if they witness violence. However, it's important to state that you understand why she thinks this is her only option because raising children on your own is tough stuff.

"I wouldn't engage in a conversation with her at all unless you have alternatives to provide. And if you don't have alternatives, then she is unfortunately making the best decision for herself in that moment. Do you know of any financial assistance she can get? Shelter system? VAW centre? Just showing up and saying 'I think this is a ridiculous decision' and not having a back up plan for her just states what she already knows: I don't want to do this but it's all I've got.

"The other important element is ensuring that she knows that you may not support her decision but you support her and will do whatever you can to be there for her. Otherwise, she will feel that going back to him means that she is surrendering to more abuse, she is deserving of it and that she is asking for isolation.

"People in abusive situations feel hopeless enough already but if they feel like people having given up on them, then they are more likely to stick to the abuse because they feel like they have no other options.

"Take care of yourself.

- Julie."

I have written about gender-based violence before. In my opinion, everyone should learn how to talk to a survivor of domestic abuse. One might think it's common sense, but the reality is, it's not. There are all sorts of aspects of domestic abuse that we might never think about, so it's important to educate ourselves so we don't end up alienating the very women that we are trying to help.

(you can stop reading here if you get bored easily by nerdy lawyers talking)

Why do we need to educate ourselves about survivors of domestic abuse? Because it's not common sense.

In law school, I wrote a paper on the battered woman syndrome for my Advanced Criminal Law class. I'm going to post my section summarizing the Lavellee case, because I think that case is a great example of how people think they understand domestic abuse victims and therefore have the right to judge them for not leaving or for returning, when in reality, there is a lot we don't understand at all.

Here's what young law student Gloria wrote:

In the landmark case R. v. Lavallee, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 852, the accused Lavallee had a long history of an abusive relationship with the deceased, whom she lived with. On the night of his death, the deceased had assaulted the accused and then informed her that he was going to kill her after everyone left the house. She shot him in the back of the head as he left the room. Although the accused didn’t testify at trial, a psychiatrist did testify with a psychiatric assessment of the accused, describing the situation of battered women, particularly noting that she had been terrorized by the deceased “to the point of feeling trapped, vulnerable, worthless and unable to escape the relationship despite the violence” and that in his opinion, her shooting of the deceased “was a final desperate act by a woman who sincerely believed that she would be killed that night.”

The Crown brought an application to have the psychiatrist’s evidence withdrawn, claiming that the jury “was perfectly capable of deciding the issue on the admissible evidence and that expert evidence was therefore ‘unnecessary and superfluous.’” The trial judge rejected this application, and the jury acquitted the accused. The Court of Appeal overturned this, and the matter was then brought before the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is important to contextualize these events in order to understand why expert evidence on battered women was brought forward in the first place. In this situation, the accused was claiming self defence, but it was quite apparent that the concept of self defence as it was then was not suited to the situation of battered women. Gillespie has adeptly pointed out that the common law on self-defense was written not by legislature, but by judges, virtually all of them male, in cases predominately involving male defendants (Cynthia K. Gillespie, “Justifiable Homicide: Battered Women, Self-Defense, and the Law” (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), at 182). The result has been a law that permits men to exercise their right to defend themselves in the situations in which men have customarily felt the need to do so, but it does not permit women to exercise their right to self-defense in the situations in which they believe they must do so.

Schuller and Rzepa note that battered women, in attempting to use the defense of self-defense, often face difficulties stemmed in the misconception that people have regarding battered women in their context as well as “the male gendered norm of ‘reasonableness’ inherent in the laws of self defense.” (Regina A Schuller and Sara Rzepa. “Expert Testimony Pertaining to Battered Woman Syndrome: Its Impact on Jurors’ Decisions.” (2002) 26 L. and Human Behavior 655 at 656). Certainly female-perpetrated homicides are substantially different from male-perpetrated homicides, since most cases of the former involve the male partner as the victim. However, since the majority of homicides are committed by males, the overall patterns tend to mask dimensions that are specific to women.

To illustrate, the relevant statutory provision for self-defense can be found in s.34(2) of the Criminal Code, which contains a temporal requirement that the apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm be imminent. This is difficult to translate into the battered woman context. The “imminent threat” temporal requirement may make sense in the context of a “one-time bar-room brawl between two men of equal size and strength”, as explained by Justice Wilson in Lavallee, because it would suggest a motive of revenge rather than self-defence.

However, in Lavallee, the deceased had been walking away, and was not in the process of attacking her; there did not appear to be an imminent threat. But the Court itself noted that it would be unreasonable to expect the accused to wait until the deceased came back to assault her, and pointed out that the cyclical nature of the abused allowed a certain predictability of the onset of violence in a way that is absent in a one-time fight between two strangers.

Furthermore, the elements of self defense contained an objective standard of reasonableness on the apprehension of death and the need to repel the assault with deadly force. But who is the hypothetical reasonable ordinary man in this case? Justice Wilson noted that men typically do not find themselves in this situation, and therefore the definition of what is reasonable “must be adapted to circumstances which are, by and large, foreign to the world inhabited by the hypothetical ‘reasonable man’.”

Also problematic with the battered woman situation is the prevalence of misconceptions about battered women. Often people will ask why a woman would put up with this situation instead of leaving. Is it because she was not actually beaten as badly as she claimed or because she enjoys it in some masochistic way?

Ultimately, Justice Wilson in writing for the Supreme Court rejected the Crown’s submission that the expert evidence on battered women was unnecessary because judges and juries are already knowledgeable about human nature. Instead, the Supreme Court recognized that the average person may not understand the battered woman syndrome, and why women would remain in such relationships. As a result, trained professionals may be needed to understand this, and expert evidence may help dispel the prevailing myths about domestic violence. Essentially, expert evidence on battered women was needed in order to allow the situation of battered women to better “fit” with the gendered common law of self-defence.

thunder road

"oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road
lying out there like a killer in the sun
hey, i know it's late, we can make it if we run
oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road..." - Bruce Springsteen

I'm the new scribe for the Windhoek Hash House Harriers. Here's my report on the last hash for the Hash website:

Hash No 995

Hares: Mountain Goat and Wine-ita 'Nother Drink

Nine brave Hashers set off in the Waldorf School area despite the ominous looking storm clouds overhead, and the sounds of rolling thunder in the distance. One Hasher assured everyone that this was just the sound of God moving his furniture around in heaven. A light sprinkle of rain was welcomed by the Hashers as it was a cool relief from the hot humid temperature. Hare Mountain Goat led us through an interesting windy route. Many flies were accidentally eaten along the way (perhaps this Hash should have been called the "Fly In The Eye" Hash?)

OnOn was held at Mountain Goat & Wine-ita 'Nother Drink's beautiful home, where all the male Hashers were impressed by Mountain Goat's extensive train set. It continued to rain and thunder, but the Hashers were brave and continued to eat outside. Wine-ita served chili con carne and vegetable quiches, which was so lekker that some hashers went back for thirds. The Hares also shared with us their unique liquor collection. Thank you Mountain Goat & Wine-ita.

setting off on our hike

Mountain Goat leads the way...because otherwise he might get lost.

dog attacking a chameleon!

really cool looking plant

group shot!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gal Level offers to be my valentine

Gal Level, "Kom Speel"

These women are being paid to be here, I tried to remind myself. All the beautiful women working at the night club were making me feel intimidated, not to mention underdressed. On the other hand, I was glad that my day job has never required me to dress like a saucy French maid.

I was at this new Windhoek night club called D-Club, where Namibian musicians Gal Level (sometimes called the Destiny's Child of Namibia) were throwing a belated Valentine's Day party. I had spent my actual Valentine's Day thousands of kilometres away from my valentine, doing laundry by hand because I'd run out of money. Romantic. So now here I was on the first Friday night after Valentine's Day, seeing if Gal Level could show me a better time than my laundry.

I was also eager to check out Gal Level, the winner of last year's Female Artist of the Year at last year's NAMA Music Awards, because I had spent some time last year recording guitar parts for their new album at the recording studio. Now that their album was going to be released this month, I wanted to hear the new tracks.

The last time I was at D-Club, it was for Gazza's album release party and it was full of so many partiers that my friends and I got pickpocketed and we'd barely notied it. I was wary of being robbed again at the same place so tonight I showed up carrying almost nothing and storing my cash in Wi11be's breasfteeding bra, which apparently has pockets.

Tonight it was like a completely different club though. D-Club is actually a really trendy classy club, the kind of place you might spot on King Street in Toronto. We had our own white table and white sofa by the VIP section, and our server Dean (not the same Dean) was constantly hovered around us to make sure we were well taken care of and well-watered, compliments of Sula, from Gal Level's Ogopa Butterfly Records who had invited us to the show.

There were also impressively huge platters of fruit skewers and all sorts of cheese. This was awesome because sometimes when I am dancing on the dance floor, I find myself craving cheese. And then I would turn around, and lo and behold, a cheese plate! Then I would go back to dancing.

The opening act featured three bellydancers shimmying it all out to "Jai Ho". They were much better than all of my attempts at my bellydancing lessons. This also only confirmed my suspicion that there was a highly disproportionate number of beautiful women in the club.

Gal Level came on stage around midnight, dressed in gorgeous red floor-length dresses. Opening with their new single "Your Love" (featuring guitar from yours truly), they beseeched all the couples to hit the dance floor, although it actually turned out to be mostly women coming on the dance floor, beautiful women.

They put on a great show, full of coordinated dancing and romantic atmosphere. At one point in the show, Daphne from Gal Level came over to dance with me. It was thrilling to hear my own guitar tracks on their ballad "Missing You", because it made me feel like I was a part of something very cool. It was a pretty sweet way to spend a belated Valentine's Day, even if it was without my valentine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DIY rocking out in Namibia

My new Namibian band had our first show last night.

I've been involved with a group of musicians in Namibia. Most of it hasn't been anything too structured or formal, just people stopping by, drinking my beer on my patio, and jamming on various instruments, singing our favourite tunes. We started recording some of our stuff, but then my house got robbed, which prompted me to write several songs about being annoyed at being robbed. Luckily, our spirit is strong (and so is our love for Gloria's beer), so we've just borrowed more instruments, recorded more songs, and continued to have fun.

Eventually we decided it was time to stop drinking beer on the terrace and move our sessions on to a stage in the city where the public could enjoy us. Advertising ourselves as the musicians of the Rusch Street Sessions, we booked ourselves a gig at Zenso Lounge and began rehearsing.

This whole experience has been an interesting cultural lesson for me, and as much as I love music, I think I've gained about a half a dozen extra grey hairs and worry wrinkles from the process. Unlike in North America, in Namibia it is the musicians that are responsible for bringing in their sound system. This was a nightmare. I have been performing in public for over ten years, but I have never rented a PA system and I certainly don't own one, even back in Canada. Not to mention that the costs of renting a sound system drastically reduces the chances of a musician making any profits for the night. And it certainly doesn't make sense to own a sound system if you're just going to get robbed, repeatedly.

Micheal and I went all over town, trying to find cheap places to rent speakers, microphones, and a mixer. There weren't any. The one place that gave us a reasonable quote, the National Theatre of Namibia, cancelled on us the day before the performance and rented the equipment out to someone else. And so there we found ourselves the day before the show, still with nothing to sing out of.

Luckily Sula from Ogopa Records stepped in to save us. He offered to lend us the studio's equipment for free. This was amazing. I like to think it was my superior lawyerly negotiating skills, but it's more likely that he has become fond of hearing my Canadian country song and wants to keep hearing it.

Sula saves the day. Repeatedly.

The other thing about Namibian gigs that is vastly different is advertisement. Back at home for my Ottawa band Scary Bear Soundtrack, the main way we spread the word about our shows is through the internet - Facebook, e-mail, twitter, blogs, website listings, the whole social media thing. In Namibia, the internet is not actually the best way to advertise your shows. Here, the main way is through old fashioned postering and - surprisingly - text messages.

You mean there was once a time when posters were something that you actually physically posted?

So Wednesday rolled around, the date of our show. This was the first time that I had ever run my own sound for my show. I have a basic understanding of how sound systems work but I've definitely never been trained as a sound guy (sound gal?) before, and I still don't understand what feedback is. But here in Namibia, it's all about grassroots, do-it-yourself elbow grease, and so I found myself digging around the storage room of the recording studio, learning exactly how to put the scattered pieces of a PA system together.

...which was why by the time I made it to the venue, it was half an hour before doors were supposed to open. And we were still missing a microphone. I reassembled the speakers and the mixers to the best of my ability, and, with the help of the other musicians Alex and Felix, ran a quick sound check, which was more or less:

"Man, that distortion sounds awful."
"I don't know how to fix it."
"Okay, we'll just make do with that then."

The problem was, we were still without a microphone. Eventually Sula came to the rescue, sending one of his guys to bring two wireless microphones. Unfortunately, I had never used a wireless microphone before - when you're a guitar player, you usually keep your mic on the stand anyway. We also had a larger problem with the microphones. I ran after Sula's guy.

Me: "Er, sorry, but there's a problem with the microphones' XLR cable."
Him: "Is it?"
Me: "Well...the microphone has a female input, and the mixer's input is also female."
Him: "Is it?"
Me: "Yeah....and like, not to be heteronormative, but a female input needs a male connector."
Him: "Is it?"

Followed by awkward hand gestures, me demonstrating what happens when you try to connect two female inputs, as opposed to a male-female connection. I felt like a heterosexist bastard, betraying generations of queer feminist ideology. Happy Valentine's Day.

Eventually, we just decided that Micheal and I would just sing out of the same microphone, like 1950s doo wop girls. It wasn't an ideal sound, since it was a condenser microphone that was meant for recording, not performance, but this is Namibia, dammit, you do it yourself and then you make do.

The next problem we ran into, five minutes before the show was to begin, was the fact that there was no lighting in the room. We were working in the dark. I was completely unprepared for this. Namibia is developed enough that most places in the city have electricity. And, to be fair, the room had electricity - there was a flat screen TV on the wall playing the rugby game - just no lights.

seriously...a flat screen TV, but no lights.

but you do it yourself and then you make do. We set up candles around the room. It felt very homey and naturey and stereotypical Africa-y.

And so the show happened. It didn't run as smoothly as we would have liked - the sound definitely could have been better - but the audience was receptive, warm, and friendly, and we as musicians were comfortable enough performing with each other that we had fun. Folks wandered on and off the stage throughout the set to join as guest musicians. We played requests and repeats. At one point I walked off the stage while Micheal was soloing so I could order a beer and some pap. An American and a French guy staying at the local hostel asked if they could play a few songs, so they took the stage and played Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, making every foreigner in the audience sing along at the top of their lungs. They started playing a blues jam so Micheal and I ran up to join in. Sula showed up with stage lights and an extra microphone. I sang all of my songs about being robbed, plus a song that was a thinly disguised rant about being Asian. Ten Ten showed up and played a few of his reggae songs. We ended with a blues jam, paying tribute to all the classic Namibian musicians, including Lady May. I may or may not have done a live impression of Lady May's NAMA Music Awards acceptance speech. I am probably as a result also banned from the NAMA Music Awards for life.

It was an amazing time.

look! A China singing country music!

our awesome audience

dancing to the music

Ten Ten pulls out some reggae tunes

Wi11be, our lovely and amazing band manager / band mom