I will leave tomorrow for Cape Town, so I thought I should cover my last day in the North and wrap-up the WorldTeach experience so I can party my brains out for the next two weeks.
One of my favorite Peace Corps volunteers, Lisa, invited me to come to her village and to accompany her to a traditional wedding on my last day in Ovamboland. Though I kept half-expecting my colleagues to throw me a farewell, give me some kind of parting gift, or even just a card, they didn’t, and my frustration quickly turned into apathy, so I took a break from packing and writing goodbyes to put on a skirt and meet up with three PCVs to go to the wedding. It seems fitting in a kind of pathetic way that my last day would be spent with fellow volunteers, but I digress.
In typical Nam style, as I was leaving the village I came across ‘John the contractor’ (who as you might recall is actually named Mathias, or, as he introduced himself to the PCVs, Matthew), who was driving a H2 with Angolan plates. The car was smashed to bits, including three different breaks in the windscreen and smashed mirrors. His explanation: “A bridge broke when I was driving on it in Angola. The Chinese are building shit, man!” Anyways he insisted that I ride with him to Ondangwa and went home to change into a suit for the wedding he would be attending. I went up to the road to purchase a bottle, which was to be offered to the family that had put on the wedding (I thought it was the least I could do, considering I didn’t know the people at all) and then met up with him at the shebeen, where we grabbed Savannah Dry for the road and were on our way.
The H2 might have been in good shape at one point, but this guy drives like a maniac and the car had reportedly fallen off of a bridge, so it was a little shaky. He didn’t seem to notice, and continued to pass people on the side of the road (off the road) and stopped twice more for ciders, at one point leaning out of the car window waving a ten-dollar bill and calling “Hellooooo, black people! What’s wrong with you; how did you get so black?” and after retrieving his cider bowing out with a “Goodbyeeee, black people!” I tried as hard as I could to disappear into my seat; unfortunately even the strong Namib sun hasn’t tanned me to the point where this comment didn’t make me feel pretty uncomfortable. “Helloooo, black people!” has become an on-going and never-ending joke between me and S (Mathias’ cousin); the perfect example of just how crazy ‘John’ is.
We carried on to Ondangwa, where he insisted on picking up the others and taking us to the wedding. Upon arrival, we set up the tent for the others, as I would be leaving that evening in order to get to Ondangwa and en route to Windhoek with Ministry transport, ate our first meal of the day, and settled in with babies and ciders and meekulus, who were all decked out in their fanciest traditional gear complete with horse tails and ostrich-shell beaded skirts. Lisa, who I envy for her fluency in Oshiwambo, and her colleague Julie both donned their ondelelas (traditional dresses) and started chanting with the Memes. Some of the chants:
Ye-lo! Ye-lo! Ye-lo! Ye-lo! Ye-lo! (Yelo is a universal celebratory word not to be confused with Yebo, which means thank you.)
Hango Hango Hango Hango Hango! (Wedding Wedding Wedding Wedding Wedding!)
Walakasha. Walakasha. Walakasha. (Don’t remember the translation of this one, but it’s my favorite.)
The punctuation mark to any of these is the infamous “Wilililililililililililililili!!!!!” which is like a high-pitched tongue-flickering whistle-type thing that drove me mad earlier this year, but is pretty awesome and super tribal – very ‘African’ if you catch my drift. One day I will be able to post an awesome video of Lisa going über-Vambo with some Meekulus, I hope.
Basically to chant traditionally you hop around stomping your feet, waving your hands around in the air and saying any of the above things over and over (of course there are likely hundreds of others that I will never hear). It is important to include that a traditional Ovambo wedding lasts about a week. The first part of the week is primarily cooking and preparation, while the last two days (Saturday and Sunday) are the actual ceremonies and traditions, which include a church ceremony (a more modern addition), walking around to each village homestead (not unlike a stretched-out receiving line) and a gift procession, along with a huge dinner (think reception) followed by more drinks and dancing than you are likely to even encounter in an American wedding. Most of the women chanting are about 70 years old and, by the day we arrived, had likely been pounding White Horse (whiskey) for at least 3 days. They go until about 3am dancing, chanting, eating, and telling stories, jokes and then wake up, cook and clean and do it all again – and you never see anything on their face but a huge, exuberant smile. And these Memes love to dance (and drink, but mostly hop around and chant).
Another awesome and foreign concept to Westerners allowed us (five random white people) to show up at this wedding: everyone, and I mean everyone, is invited to a wedding. If you see a wedding tent, you naturally go over and at least eat some food and greet the people you inevitably know there (Namibia is a sparsely-populated country). If you feel the urge, you set up a tent and stay for a while. No one asked why we were there, though we were interviewed for the couple’s marriage video (that was a little awkward, considering we didn’t know their names). We went and listened to the village headman pray over the wedded couple and I was struck dumb by the size of the wedding party. There were two whole fleets of bridesmaids – one of ages about 20-25 and another of the younger generation, 10-15, who were all accompanied by similarly-aged men. They wore matching dresses, shoes, and hairstyles. The bride wore a huge, puffy white dress – the pictures are pretty funny and globalization is really obvious sometimes – but in typical Nam style, no one in the wedding party smiled, even for pictures. They tend to look very serious in photos, which I can kind of respect, as the American “Smile for the camera!” is pretty fake most of the time.
After enjoying another meal complete with popping champagne bottles, an entire Vambo chicken (imagine an entire chicken as an appetizer – only Vambos), 5 different ‘salads’ (think macaroni and mayonnaise, not lettuce and veggies), 4 different kinds of meat, and unlimited drinks, I had to bow out to get back to Ohangwena and finish packing. It was the perfect way to go out – an experience I will likely never have again – and a beautiful and hugely cultural one, to say the least.
I walked down the road and was eventually picked up by other wedding-goers on their way home. I watched the sun set from the back of a bakkie, savoring my final sundown as a teacher in Ovamboland.
It is December 14. In my World Teach life, this was supposed to be the end of my time in Namibia—the end after the end—and it’s not. I can’t say that I’m sad about it, but goodbyes suck, plain and simple. Though I was not close to the semester volunteers it is still weird to think that soon they will be at home, sitting around their kitchen tables with their parents and friends and family, enjoying the holidays. Some are coming back to Namibia to continue working, but the majority is not. I wish them a quick and painless transition back into their American lives, and hope that the ones closest to them at home at least try to ‘get it’ a little bit.
End of Service was anti-climactic at best; Sarah and I spent the majority of the time doing her Christmas shopping and, after looking for two months or more, I finally found a new purse. Now I am tackling unpacking and repacking everything that I own into some boxes to be sent via courier, some bags to stay at S’s house in Windhoek, and a singular bag that will travel with me to South Africa.
At End of Service I heard about some of the fears and anticipations of those volunteers who are going home. Mostly they are excited about food, family, and the holidays; they are scared about reintegrating into understanding the language, trying not to judge people for what we here call ‘First World Problems’ and transitioning between rural isolation and being the center of attention to being just another girl in the street. What will we do when people don’t ‘get it’? That is my biggest fear – that, and that I won’t be able to take anyone’s challenges seriously after seeing how hard life can be, and how happy people can be despite those hardships.
My parents came and then I left them in the middle of the night, a day and a half before they left the country, because I thought that I had to get back to school to give my reports the following day. That ended up being a misunderstanding as I actually had three days to do the reports, but whatever. I got back at around 12am and spent four hours marking, etc. and eventually finished. My work as a subject teacher was over. All that was left was to give out reports, pack, and say goodbye to my colleagues.
Anyways I should back-track a bit to my exit from Ponhofi and my village. The kids came back to Ponhofi to receive their reports at the end of last week, which was a slightly traumatic experience not only for them but also for me. If they don’t turn in their textbooks, they don’t get reports – and because I wasn’t around to get them, almost none of my learners had returned their books. They should know, regardless, that they have to turn in their books, but they didn’t, for whatever reason… and that meant no report for them. This led to hysterical crying, tantrums, and psychotic breakdowns from at least half a dozen learners, including some of my favorites, but there was really nothing I could do. Of course, due to the typical lack of organization, some who didn’t have their textbooks turned in still got their reports, which the others used as leverage to receive theirs. Perhaps the strangest part of the day was when my favorite learner, who I have been off-and-on supporting financially, showed up with a few hundred dollars to pay for her books. Where did it come from? and why doesn’t she have money for anything else? By the end of the day – being chased after by learners demanding their reports, trying to comfort others who wouldn’t receive Christmas presents because they didn’t have proof that they passed, and saying goodbye to a few grade 11s who sought me out, I was exhausted, physically and even more so, emotionally. I went back to my room, cracked open a bottle of wine and a melted chocolate bar, and cried.
I was summoned back to school for a department meeting where we discussed who would take over which classes in the 2012 school year. One teacher got a new job in Katima, so we were short one teacher, and then there was the issue of the volunteer. The Head of Department, who is very dedicated and an awesome guy, turned to me and indicated that I should just ‘pretend’ like I was the volunteer and to take whatever classes I thought they would want. I responded with an inquiry, “What volunteer?”
I told WorldTeach long ago, as did the volunteer before me and the one before her, that Ponhofi does not benefit from having a volunteer after five years of non-sustainable assistance by untrained teachers. They looked at me quizzically, “The one that will come when you go.” I replied, stone-faced, “WorldTeach is not sending another volunteer to Ponhofi.” It is not sustainable to have a volunteer year-in and year-out, and they have had Peace Corps volunteers, JICA (Japanese Peace Corps, basically), and WorldTeach, back-to-back, for more than 5 years. Ponhofi is apathetic to volunteers’ needs and wants and therefore, despite the convenient location of Ohangwena, should not be given preference when it comes to new arrivals in my opinion. Like I said, the previous two volunteers said the same. Their response shocked me:
“Well, you didn’t request one, and all of the placements have been made, and there isn’t one assigned to Ponhofi; I checked weeks ago.”
“Of course we would have requested one; that doesn’t make any sense, we request one every year.”
“Well, no one did this year, and now it’s too late.”
“We will call Monday and request.”
“Well, alright, but it’s too late, really, they already did the assignments for next year and they have been placed at other schools. There aren’t any more.”
“We will just order more.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are always people wanting to volunteer; we will just order another one.”
To think that they honestly believe that they can simply “order more” volunteers – not unlike a textbook – without even having to request them on time makes me nauseous. I have told them numerous times that we pay for the experience, that we want to teach and to come to Namibia and to learn about a new culture and to be challenged. For some reason they still think that we simply have nothing else to do. They feel entitled to a volunteer and do not realize what we sacrifice to be a part of their community. Not that we are martyrs – I don’t mean that at all, since we do want to do it and have a desire to change ourselves and our communities through our work – but we do re-wire our brains for the duration of our stay here that we are here to help others and ultimately do what we are told. We often work harder than our colleagues with no thanks. Simply put, Namibian teachers do not understand the ‘volunteer spirit’ or why we come here, because they would never have the opportunity to do such a thing and likely even if they did, they wouldn’t, because they typically don’t travel and don’t see the value in it.
I’ve cried a lot here, but, as I tell people, I’m a crier. I think it’s healthy to cry and I don’t often try to stop myself from doing it. Sure, it’s a supposed sign of weakness, but I know that I’m a strong person and I don’t need to prove it by not showing my emotions when they come. But this day I cried and cried and cried. My colleague boyfriend showed up at my house in a dry moment to see why I hadn’t been out and about and I cried all over again. The wine probably didn’t help much, but I cried on and on, in spurts – sometimes sobbing until I laughed at how ridiculous I was being.
I felt sorry for myself. Sorry that I had put off my college graduation to please a principal that had no intention of saying goodbye (let alone thank you) to me. Sorry that my learners hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye. Sorry that they hadn’t gotten their reports, so their minimal Christmas would be cut down to likely close to nothing. Sorry that I hadn’t visited any of them at their homes. Sorry that I hadn’t fed them more; taught them how to make chocolate chip cookies; enjoyed a cold sweet tea in the afternoon with them. Sorry that I had wasted time getting to know some colleagues that only wanted to use me and beg for my belongings instead of getting to know the ones that have ended up really caring about me and my teaching; the stresses and strains of my Namibian life. Sorry that I hadn’t taken on more, but sorrier still that I hadn’t insisted on teaching what I love. Sorry for the ones that didn’t have shoes, that wouldn’t have dinner, which slept on the floor; sorry for the ones with no parents, whose only hug this holiday might have been one on the last day of school from their foreign English teacher.
Then I drained the bottle of wine, turned up my “Get Up Cheer Up” playlist, and started to pack. The end had come. The next day I would attend a traditional Ovambo wedding, and the day after, I would be on a combi on my way to my Namibian ‘home’ – a single family house in Dorado Valley where I lived beyond comfortably with S and slept late, took hot showers, ate avocados and cheese on crackers and drank beers whenever and wherever I pleased – a life that my learners most likely couldn’t begin to imagine in Windhoek, lying in wait for the big move to Aus.
Entry #5, Swakopmund, continued:
Leslie needed to mark papers, so we walked to the Crystal Gallery, where huge samples of mined tourmaline and such were on display; resisted the urge to spend money in the gem store, but bought a few souvenirs in the gift shop. From there we headed for “The Mole,” a spot featured in the guide book which didn’t pan out to be much, but we were able to catch close sight of the Atlantic Ocean “on the other side.”
The three of us drove to Walvis Bay for lunch. Parasailers were preparing to launch from the desert dunes. There was a police stop (probably the 7th or 8th on our trip; they are common but largely benign), only to discover that Leslie (our driver for this leg) had forgotten her ID! We prepared for “big trouble,” (whatever that might be in this mostly happy-go-lucky country), or at least the need to change drivers, but in the end the soldier’s response was the typical Namibian, “…o-kay…….” Lunch was at The Raft, which poked out over the Bay. The oysters, we all agreed, WERE TO DIE FOR. We dedicated that dish to my dad, oyster lover extraordinaire, and enjoyed a visually beautiful and gastronomically tasteful lunch of salads and monkfish. I drove back; Peter and I continued shopping; I helped Leslie mark papers. Dinner at The Tug (yes, we did a lot of eating on this trip; the food was wonderful just about everywhere); we finished the marking; tried to decide if/when we would be able to explore any more of the Atlantic coast, but were deferred by road conditions. We were all thinking about how close we were getting to the end of this adventurous journey, with only Windhoek left for touring.
Saturday, 3 December:
We checked out of our bungalow, dropped off Leslie’s laundry, and ate breakfast at the Village Café. Stopped at Clicks (pharmacy), where Leslie managed to go all American on us, and turned into the right-hand lane of oncoming traffic! We sat there for a few minutes waiting for a break, evoking chuckles from the gas station employees. The laundry was ready, so we got back on the road through the desert, through the towns of Usakos, Karibib, Okahandja, to Windhoek, where we had reservations at Chameleon Backpackers, somewhat daunting by its locked gates and high security measures, but pleasantly staffed by young people and hosting plenty of PCVs and other young people. There were several restaurants on Leslie’s list of choices, so we walked to Fusion for more local delicacies. Took a cab back, however, since that walk was a little longer than we expected, to find that Chameleon’s posted “last call” was, indeed, at 9:45! No worries, we were just planning to be hospitable, didn’t really need any drinks.
During the night there was a huge thunderstorm, lots of rain (? – this is the DESERT!), but the morning cleared up promptly. We drove over to Leslie’s friend Sackie’s. A note about Sackie: he grew up in exile in Angola, received his college education at LaRoche in Pennsylvania, and is now Executive Producer of Sports at NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Corp.). He started our tour of Windhoek with the “haves,” a true example of the 1%, and finished it in the huge area known as Katutura, miles and miles of shacks and huts that house the true 99%. Very interesting sociological observations were made here, and lots of photos were taken. This “location” is referred to as “Las Vegas,” everything is available here, and is considered a “move up” from the villages and homesteads throughout the northern part of the country.
From there Leslie wanted to shop at the mall, but stores close at 1:00 on Sunday, so we missed out on that experience. Sackie has a lot of connections, one of which was a thorough car wash, so Leslie took the Tiida for some major detailing. It was a miraculous job for NAM $35, she gave them NAM $50, which works out to be about $7.50 American. Whew! Maybe the Thrifty people will be impressed with this vehicle after all! We headed for the other mall, where Leslie met her new employers from Aus, the Swieger family. They made final decisions and arrangements for her upcoming position while it rained extensively.
Sackie met us for dinner at nice (Namibian Institute of Culinary Education), where WILLIE NELSON was included in the piped-in music! Talk about contrast! Leslie dedicated our dinner to her brother, Kyle, we took pictures of more beautiful, tasty food, drank wine, and enjoyed great conversation. Leslie had to pack up AGAIN (I swear I have too many photos of our daughter packing up and leaving us), as she discovered Sackie also had connections for a combi driver who would leave in the middle of the night. She made those arrangements and left us around 3:00 a.m. It seemed impossible that our two weeks was already exhausted and we were watching her climb into the back of a pickup truck with her backpack and additional bag for a 9-hour drive back to the north, leaving us to our own devices in this foreign land.
We went back to sleep until neighbors woke us around 6:45, I with an earache that had started in Swakop. After a little breakfast, we walked a couple of blocks to the Market for our last chance at looking at local crafts (no purchases!). We did, however, find the coffee and apple crumble that Leslie suggested, and the two of us were unable to finish a single serving! We shared a few text messages to keep up with her progress through the day, contacted Sackie so he could come and get the rest of her belongings (what a sweetheart he is, taking good care of her AND storing her things while she finishes her time in Ohangwena!), and took our own driving tour of Windhoek one last time. We planned to go to the Hilton (another recommendation from Leslie) for the sunset, but more clouds and rain set in so we decided on Luigi & the Fish instead – our ONLY disappointing meal of the entire trip. At least I was able to get a couple photos of the palm trees in the surrounding skies. Decided to spend some time at the bar at Chameleon, met some young Americans hiking their way around the country/continent, and enjoyed those pleasant conversations until it was time to call it a night. Tomorrow would be a long day of travel, and we wanted to be prepared for it.
Thus ends our journey. Suffice it to say the car passed inspection with flying colors! Even the tire was not damaged, so we were not docked for that. (I say this with trepidation, as that credit card bill has not yet been received.) There were a couple of patches of monkeys along the side of the road on our way to the airport. And as I originally promised, I will NOT include our trip home, since it was nearly traumatizing in its 40-hour length. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will not be forgotten; in fact, the details are just starting to emerge on a daily basis. We thank our daughter for expanding our geographical knowledge and cultural experiences as she gets her education around the world; we are equally as grateful for the family and comforts to come home to. Me, I am grateful and elated at this grand insight. Sorry it’s so lengthy, but I hope it gives some essence of our two weeks, which included 16,000 miles of air travel and 2195 miles in the car!
[Note: Sorry I don’t have many pictures for this section! I think my camera must have run out of batteries or something. I’ll have to get more from the author herself!]
When we got to Opuwo, a rough-and-tumble cowboy town filled with a mixture of Himba, Herero and others, the ROAD WAS PAVED! Such comfort! We stopped quickly for some MTC credit for the girls’ phones before Sarah took the wheel. Once out of town, she could pick up speed and we could attempt to make it to our reservation on the west/south side of Etosha by the 6:00 deadline. As the km/h reached about 50, the car began to shake almost violently. Uh-oh! Front end alignment? Thrown rod? Axle? Tires out of balance after all that mud? How many kms before we might reach a town with a mechanic? Will we be on the side of the road before we get there? Kimanjab (I, ever the map-reader, referred to my huge road map that we picked up in Freeport, Maine in November constantly) looks like it might be large enough to offer help. The guide book lists a 24-hour Shell station as well as possible lodging in case we need it. OH! But there’s the entrance to Etosha, we almost missed it, go back through the gate to the locked fence. There’s a uniformed woman sitting there, maybe she can help? Leslie gets out to try to communicate our need for our reservation to be honored and entrance to be allowed. No luck. Back on the road to see if we can make it to Kimanjab and find help there. Leslie called “Oppi-Koppi,” which has a decent listing in the guide book, perhaps this will be our oasis for the night. And indeed it is! Belgian/German owners, now Namibian residents; daughter studied in Germany, is now working at this rest camp. We get shown a series of possible bungalows, and decide on the most basic one for Leslie and Sarah (no bathroom) and another one next door for ourselves. We unpack and the girls take the car to a tire/wheel place we saw to see if someone is still there to help us with repairs. Pete and I go to the restaurant for some relief, refreshments and a look at the extensive menu. We decided on zebra steak, kudu steak, Oppi-Koppi pizza, all of which were very good. There is even a baby springbok named “Bambi” on the premises. While we’re relaxing, Pete has an idea about the car: Maybe the mud is all dried and caked up, and he can jack up the car, remove the tire and thusly remove the mud; maybe this action will take the shake out of the car? “Tink-tink-tink” as he chips away at probably 3 pounds of mud he removes; he takes it for a spin up to about 80 km/h, and….NO SHAKING! Success, once again, by being an independent repairman!
We check the spare in the morning and then get on the road. Sarah needs to get somewhere far enough south to find a ride, a “free hike,” hopefully, since she is already a day late getting back to work. We need to get to Etosha, a day late but forgiven our missed reservation (another common stroke of luck in this country). Sarah finds a ride in Outjo while we do our grocery shopping for our night at the campground. Hugs, kisses, goodbyes, and then on our way to Etosha National Park. The vast expanse of land between destinations offers us the opportunity to see warthogs, giraffe, baboon, springbok, eland, termite mounds which are extraordinarily huge. We enter the Park and drive toward the Pan, a huge savannah where there is first seen a jackal, then many springboks, some ostriches, gemsbok/oryx, wildebeest, giraffes, zebras, and a WHITE RHINO!! (one of only two in the Park). We drove to “Olfontsbad,” where there are no elephants, but there are giraffes, ostriches and a huge vulture. We see impalas and steenboks. We arrive at Namutoni, where we have a reservation to camp and a view of huge rainclouds (? – this is the DESERT!) overhead. I think they will pass, we decide to go forward with the camping idea. (Yes, this is Gail speaking about camping!) We set up our two tents, grill our steaks and corn, drink our Windhoek lagers, and set off for the local watering hole, where Pete insists he sees a couple of birds, but other than that there is a dearth of animal activity. To bed on hard ground early.
Wednesday, 30 November:
Up early, broke camp, headed out to view morning animal activity. Zebras, wildebeests, guineas (!), giraffes, kudu! Leslie was stressing about getting her papers marked, so we left the camp to check into the Mokuti Lodge just outside, to get her set up while we reentered the park to observe more animals at watering holes.
We drove to Chudop, ate breakfast bars and saw a warthog. Not much else going on today, but plenty of zebras and giraffes. We left before we would have to pay another entrance fee, and set off to find Leslie in one of the two rooms we had at Mokuti. Lovely lunch at the pool bar, then started to organize and repack. Whew! A little rain in the afternoon (?- this is the DESERT!), then took a shower in this, our most luxurious accommodation, relaxed, sent postcards, checked email at the gift shop, and had dinner at Marula: a 5-course preplanned menu of beef soup and ORYX for the main course – a HUGE cut of meat that neither Leslie or I could finish, so Pete did us the favor of batting cleanup. Back to our rooms for continued conversation and plans to leave by 7:30 for Tsumeb. The breakfast buffet was largely ignored by us after last night’s feast, but it was lovely. We stopped at Tsumeb for souvenir shopping at the artisan craft market; then on to Omaruru for a wine tasting and souvenir shopping at a shop of art made from recycled materials. The drive on the B1 is gorgeous, the sky is immense! The road to Swakopmund on the Trans-Kalahari Highway includes views of the Erongo Mountains in the distance. It is chilly in Swakop, and our first night in town proves to be largely uninhabited. We get into our bungalow at the Municipal place that could only take cash since their credit card machine was broken (luckily, we still have NAM dollars to cover it!), then delicious dinner at the Ocean Basket and a walk around the downtown shopping area. It’s a good thing everything was closed; all we could pick up was ideas for what we could shop for tomorrow. A quick stop for ice cream, and then back to the bungalow. Leslie wrote notes, I played solitaire, and Pete read his book. Music from the local disco helped put us to sleep.
Entry #3, continuing Sunday, 11/27:
Leslie and Sarah fixed curry over a campfire for dinner, we ate around 10 p.m. There was a lot of stuff in that one-pot meal! Didn’t take much after that for our heads to hit the pillows for a good night’s sleep.
Leslie came into our cabin early in the morning not feeling very well. She tried, but couldn’t make the trip to visit the Himba family/camp nearby, something I know was high on her bucket list, so she really wasn’t feeling well. The pictures will tell the Himba story. The proprietor of Kunene River Lodge helped in changing our Etosha reservation (or at least made the attempt!), so we packed to leave and prepared for only 4 km of rocky road, as promised by same proprietor. Ha! Not exactly sure where that 4 km ended, but the rocks, boulders and water continued for quite some time. We even had a chance to use our karma when we came upon a Church of the Nazarene bus under a tree, with several people enjoying the shade while they obviously suffered some engine trouble. We made room for Adolph the rest of the way to Opuwa, as he was the designated survivor to arrange for help for their vehicle. (Side note: When we first moved to South Carolina and ventured on a trip to the beach, I would muse on who would live in these rural shacks? Where would they work? Why are they here? These questions would manifest themselves to an exponential degree on the “roads” of Namibia. Nothing for kms on end, and then a goatherder? Random person sitting on the side of the road? Someone to observe the infrequent vehicle bound to have trouble?) At any rate, along the way we could observe occasional ostriches and warthogs.
Day 4 continued (26 Nov ’11):
(At this point, I (Leslie) have enough photos of the Tiida in rough conditions to complete an awesome ad campaign for Nissan, “Tiny. Tiida. Tough.” I hope I take a marketing class where it will come in handy one day.)
We continued along the B3700, the non-road to Kunene River Lodge, with similar boulders, rocks, water-over-the road conditions. A couple of motorbikes, a pickup truck met us from the opposite direction, answering our query as to whether or not our little Tiida would make the trip with, “Yes, you can make it.” Good news! It seemed like a very short while when Pete attempted the impossible swerve to miss a soft spot when, there we were, unbelievably, STUCK IN THE MUD. No joke. We had just passed by a bushman walking the path, so the girls went back to see if he could possibly help us through this dilemma. He agreed to recruit some friends, and eventually made it to our location. The friends included one guy with a machete and two women, one of whom had a baby strapped to her back! “…Okayyy…..,” as they say in Namibia. I, for one, was NOT getting into the mud. Leslie, Sarah, Peter, they all dove right in, knowing there would be no escape without all hands being on deck. My silent mantra was, “This will be okay. We will get out of here somehow. What in the hell are we doing here? Why didn’t I insist this road was impossible? This will be okay. We will get out of here somehow.” As dark prevailed, Machete Man was hacking branches from the trees, placing them under all four tires, making a road where there wasn’t one for the car to be backed out of. Um, great idea, but IT DIDN’T WORK. Now it is nearly dusk. There must be some other alternative. Leslie and Sarah decide the only option is to start to walk/run ahead to the Lodge, which we have no idea how many kilometers there are to go. In a little while they return with new friends, who say even if they ran, they couldn’t make it to the Lodge before 2 a.m. But these people have cell phones and the impression that perhaps if they all walked far enough in the opposite direction that they may find some service. Fine, I think, you go right ahead; sure; good luck! Sarah was gone for quite some time, and returned with the bad news of no cellular service. But these are legit bush people, they are solid and have promised that we can camp at their homestead for a good night’s sleep and then possible road assistance in the morning. My answer to this: you go ahead and camp if you want to, Dad and I will stay with the vehicle. Kisses, hugs, good night, good luck, see you tomorrow, LOVE YOU!!! Oh, and let’s everyone go rinse off in the river, since we’re in mud up to our thighs. “NO!” the helpers admonish, “there are crocodiles in the river!” I heard those tails flapping in the water all night!
(Sludge Hotel, hour 1.)
Pete and I settled into our “Sludge Hotel,” he on the low side, I on the driver side, seats reclined, and pretended to sleep. It could only have been 9:00 or so, TOTALLY DARK, windows cracked in hopes of some air circulation. Some time later we hear the voices of several people coming toward us, beautiful singing, happy voices. What in the world are these people doing walking in the middle of the darkest night, singing? We didn’t open our eyes to ask. They passed the car, stopped singing, and had a little conference about our situation. (Amazing what you can infer by tones of voice, they were not speaking English!) After a couple of minutes, they continued on and resumed the beautiful singing. Okay, we’re still safe. But if none of us gets out of this alive, KYLE INHERITS EVERYTHING. I don’t know why that was the thought that kept rising. A while later, Peter purring soft snores, but I wide awake, there is another group approaching, but they’re not singing, they’re joking, talking, and when they come upon us they also have a little conference about the situation. Then they continue on their way. I’m wondering what the name of this movie might be. By the time daylight arrived, there was another pedestrian approaching, then another and another. We could no longer pretend to be asleep. Finally we exited the vehicle and tried to converse with this team of helpers, who insisted finally that we must give them the opportunity to help them, and “by the grace of God, perhaps we can do it!” Well, “…okayyy….” If you’re going to bring God into the equation, then by all means, let’s see what you can do. 8 – 10 guys, all up to their thighs in mud/sludge, digging out first all the branches that the previous team had cut and placed under the tires, then digging out all the wet mud, down to solid sludge, before asking me to start ‘er up and back out of it all, DAMN, it worked! We were saved!! Paid them the asking price (NAM $50 each, a total of $1000 – Leslie said we should have negotiated it down to half of that) and went on our way. About one km ahead, “There’s our tent!” and the woman who had tried to find cell service the night before. Laughing, she explained the girls weren’t up yet, and poked around to rouse them. Two little heads peeped out; “You’re OUT!!” Yep, pack up your stuff, let’s get going. While they broke camp, left gifts of apples, we tried to make friends with the hosts. Soon, the Rescue Team showed up and we took their picture. A couple of days later I realized, they were perfectly clean, no mud on them at all! They must have known what part of the river they could use without crocodile threats!
(Team Himba: the car-digger-outers and the Kwanyama family the girls spent the night with.)
We continued carefully the remaining 26 km to Kunene River Lodge, arriving around 9:15 a.m., looking just a little the worse for wear, I’m sure. One nice thing about these parts, if you don’t make it in time for your reservation, there is forgiveness, a bottle of water, and an offer of a good breakfast! I’m sure the other campers took a look at us and were glad they had other destinations for the day. We were a mess. Not to worry! We decided on appropriate accommodations, unpacked, scheduled a rafting trip for the afternoon, sent the car off to be washed, and regrouped. From here on, there was promise of less adventurous travels. Well, we’ll see about that!
(Finally: Kunene River Lodge! Sanctuary in the middle of nowhere.)
(Sarah and Leslie pray to Mother Namibia from the lovetent for her blessings in further travel.)
a guest blog for Leslie Williams by her mother, after visiting her in Namibia.
Me, I am not a writer of the caliber of my daughter, but she has assigned me the task of sharing our experiences and impressions of our 2-week visit. I’m sure she will edit out anything she finds superfluous or unnecessary to the story, as well as add photos from her collection where appropriate. I will try to avoid all my journal entries regarding airline travel, and stay “on topic.”
General impression as I recount the experiences: “Choirs of Angels,” sometimes intended, other times not, but welcomed nonetheless. The whitest, brightest, most perfect toothy smiles, contrasted by the darkest, richest skin. Friendly greetings from every passing person, help from anyone and everyone.
Arrival in Windhoek, 23 Nov ’11:
Leslie and her friend Sarah Goose met us with a Namibian Welcome Basket, which included Peri-Peri sauce, edible worms, biltong (jerky), Windhoek lager and various camping supplies. We were late, so had to hurry to obtain the car before they closed and exchange currency for our travels. We had to get on the road to Otjiwarango for our first stop, at “Out of Africa,” somewhat misnamed because we were definitely IN AFRICA. The drive there was just the beginning of getting conditioned to the driver sitting on the right and driving on the left side of the road. It took almost the whole two weeks to adapt to that. We were hungry and tired, and fortunately able to get a light meal and room for the night. The girls described it as “the nicest place we’ve stayed in Africa.” Breakfast was included (almost everywhere we stayed had breakfast included in the price of the room), so we enjoyed that before heading back onto the road for Ohangwena, Leslie’s home for the past six months.
(the welcome basket also included mopane worms, toilet paper, kapana, fat cakes, sunscreen, candles, amarula, and The Namibian newspaper)
We stopped at a nice grocery and got gas in Otavi, then drove on to Tsumeb, where there is a local craft center, the only city park in the country, and a self-tour of “Harmony,” the home of Leslie’s friends Graham and Judy Commerford. Graham has built a beautiful stone home; also a home for some rescued baboons, surrounded by lovely plants, shrubs and trees. When we got to the “Red Line,” the division between north and south Namibia, we were stopped by a police roadblock. The guard saw that I was taking photos of this phenomenon, and came around to my side of the car to INSIST that I delete my picture of the “control building.” This seemed rather comical, as the check appeared to be mere protocol, but Leslie being the youngest, female, and driver is rather unusual in this culture. Moving on, we traveled farther north, picked up a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who needed a ride back to his location near Oshikango, and then on to Leslie’s house at Ponhofi Secondary School. It was Leslie’s RED BIRTHDAY, and Thanksgiving, so the four of us sat down in her shared space and had a celebratory drink while she could open a few gifts. Her brother Kyle called; her friend Imms came over; her dog, Shekupe, found her way home; and her roommate Olivia was there to meet us. We visited some of the classrooms on our way out, where learners were doing their evening studies. We got introduced in each room, and the looks on the kids’ faces indicated that perhaps they doubted that “Miss” really had parents! All of them politely said hello, never moved from their stations, and looked at us as though it was impossible for us to actually be there.
We found a room in town at the Country Lodge, “Gateway to Angola,” then ate at “Hong Kong Restaurant,” where no English was spoken and it took a few minutes to explain that we were there for a meal. (There were no other customers.) We enjoyed several dishes, as this was our Thanksgiving dinner, and then the girls dropped us back at the Lodge before heading out for some birthday drinks at a local shebeen.
(Skekupe gets in on the birthday celebration at Okahafo)
I did not sleep much or well (and as of this writing, several days home, I am still not sleeping much or well!), so I got up, showered and read outside the room while Peter continued his sleep. Leslie joined us for breakfast, and then we got busy shopping for groceries for her big birthday feast. We visited three markets, not much unlike American groceries, and took them home to be prepared for the big party: defrosting the chicken, peeling potatoes, meeting colleagues and learners stopping by to check on progress.
(Author gets a tour of Ponhofi courtesy of a few of Leslie’s learners)
While the preparations were being made, Pete and I drove to the village of Ohaingu to meet Leslie’s friend Jen and get a tour of a homestead owned by a woman entrepreneur named Cornelia. It was here that we got our first up close glimpse of real life: huts built from homemade bricks held together with cow dung, children pounding open marula nuts, straw being gathered and tied for thatched roofing, with full explanations from Cornelia, all questions answered completely, and full permission to take whatever photos we wanted. Cornelia is considered quite the entrepreneur because she not only has this homestead, where she is from, she has built other living quarters (where Jen lives) and owns her own shebeen. Quite remarkable for a Namibian woman! She is also a teacher, having come from the area as a top scholar who was able to travel on exchange to the sister city of London and had even been to New York City.
By the time we returned to Leslie’s, most of the food was prepared, and soon guests started arriving. We met so many people! PCVs Nick and Spencer; colleagues Katundu, King George, Mari; friend Biggie; WorldTeachers Kyle and Jen, all enjoying the American foods and birthday celebration. This was a night I was able to sleep well!
(the menu included green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, some Asian eggplant treat brought by friend Frank Li, cranberry sauce, chocolate cake, funfetti cake, watermelon, steaks, and many kilos of chicken)
On Saturday, we left in the late morning to continue our tour of the country. We stopped for a traditional lunch in the huge market in Oshakati (porridge and what I believe was donkey meat), and then drove to Ruacana Falls, a huge waterfall on the border of Angola which had NOT ONE DROP of water in it, as Angola has the power to decide when to share that resource.
This is when the real fun began. I double-checked the road to our next stop, the Kunene River Lodge, and redirected the current driver (Peter) to a dirt/rock/boulder/water road that within the first 100 meters I had GRAVE misgivings about. I didn’t say anything, however, because I had the map and could see that this was the only plausible route AND I didn’t want to appear to be the old meme in the back who couldn’t hang with the brave young folks. Maybe I should have listened to my inner voice and spoken aloud, but then we would have missed the adventure!
(seemingly un-passable ”puddle” that people assured us the Tiida could manage)
Despite the slow, deliberate manipulations and Sarah and Leslie getting out of the car every few meters to move large rocks out of the way of our little Nissan Tiida, Peter went a little too fast at one points and blew out a tire and bent a rim. There is only one way to put it: “SHIT!!!!” Leslie had rented a Tiida before, with Sarah and another friend, and we had already heard about their bent rim and blown-out tire escapade. So here we were with the same circumstance. Only one thing to do, and the girls knew exactly how to do it: empty the trunk, get out the jack and spare, and change the tire. As they were doing so, little children dressed in only their native attire approached from their homestead to watch. This was where I felt surrealism set in. Was I watching a movie? Was I in a movie? These beautiful children! And then there were four, then five, and finally six, ranging in age from about 2-3 to about 11. Leslie found it unusual that they didn’t offer to help, just watch, and no adults ever made themselves apparent. Finally, the tire was changed, the trunk repacked, and we made it back onto our route to Kunene. Peter was quite put out with himself for having the flat. Little did we know that our fun had just begun.
(Tiida troubles part 1 or “our first Himba experience”)
Stay tuned for more!