A memorable Township tour!

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Day 50: Swakopmund, Namibia (27 October 2009)

We woke up this morning and as breakfast was not included we once again got to have our favorite on the road brekky of oatmeal and peanut butter and a cup of tea…thankfully this room also has a kettle which was awesome! We finished our breakfast and got ready for the day. We got our laundry together as this lodge had washing service for 60 rand per basket (that’s about 10 bucks) and we dropped off our clothes and headed out for a little bit of internet time down the road as we had to be ready for our 10am pickup for the Township Tour.

Castro picked us up at 10 and we drove for about ten minutes from Swakopmund to this Township. It was so unbelievable to think that just on the other side of this resort town with expensive hideaways and seaside prices is this area of such poverty. Now, if you don’t know, the Township is where during the South African rule of Apartheid all of the blacks were placed. Now Castro explained to us that the reason that we were seeing different types of housing was because the government at the time built different types of housing for different tribes in order to create disunity amongst the people and try to foster some resentment in the township itself. There were some houses on the edge with full electricity and running water and a roof and siding that would keep out the elements and then there was the other spectrum; houses held together by rubbish tins and boards of timber with no electricity, no running water and absolutely no protection from the elements at all. As soon as we arrived and got out of the car we were met by a few little children (without shoes) who came running straight towards us to be picked up and played with without a care in the world. They were adorable. I was asking as to why they weren’t in school and Castro said that they start school at the age of six but also that there is an AM and a PM session at the school since it’s not large enough to hold the children as there are too many children in the township to be accommodated in just one session. One little girl took to our hands and pleaded with us to lift her up and flip her as so many young children do and of course we accommodated her wishes. Others came straight up to me and loved my hair and wanted to hold my hand while a little boy of about ten ran right to Mathew and grabbed his hand instantly. And then they saw the camera. The deal was that you were able to photograph children under the age of fifteen but any older we had to ask permission. The amazing thing was how much the children wanted their picture taken and how much they wanted to see it once the photo was captured. Castro told us that very few people in the township have any access to cameras and so the photos taken by travelers are often the only ones they ever see of themselves. We took many and asked for the address to send them to as we promised them copies upon our return home, it was the least we could do for such welcoming hospitality. After many photos and hugs we said goodbye to our little friendly friends, went to a small craft market in someone’s home and then headed to the home of Momma Lena, an 84 year old woman who was the chief of the Damara tribe and an elder in her church. She welcomed us into her small home and shared some stories about life under South African apartheid rule as well as the German rule of Namibia. She spoke in the click language (but was able to understand English) and Castro translated for us. She explained that she had been a nanny for a German family in Namibia for 43 years and they were the ones who kindly helped her to expand her home to accommodate her daughter, son in law and three granddaughters. (The entire home with expansion was no bigger than half the size of my house growing up) It was just incredible to be in the presence of such a wise woman who held so much significance with her people. She was incredible, and at 84 had such a vitality about her that showed she had so much left to do in this world. As we left the home of Lena we made sure to do the handshake on the way out; as you do a triple handshake on the way in and only one on the way out.

We then headed over to a third grade class at the township primary school. The moment we walked in the children, dressed in their uniforms-some without any shoes, burst into song in English and continued to be incredibly sweet and polite. We spoke with their teacher and then proceeded to let the children ask us some questions. We were told that they receive their instruction in English because there are many tribes in one classroom and if and when all students come to school they could have as many as 45 children at once. There were kids without shoes and the walls were barren, completely unlike any elementary school that I’ve ever seen. Castro explained to us that by a young age these children already know as many as four languages; their own tribal one, one of perhaps their close friends, English that they are taught in and Africanz as well. We listened as they sang, took pictures of their smiling faces, marveled at their well-behaved demeanor and answered their questions as they so politely answered ours. They wanted to know the animals that America had as they knew that Australia had a kangaroo. They wanted to know what students in my school were like as I told them I was a teacher, too. We made sure to say our goodbyes and get the address of the school from the principal to send them their photos and perhaps some extra supplies that they were in desperate need of from the looks of things.

From the school we went for a drive through the poorest end of the township where there is no water or electricity in the houses and many are made from refuse and timber. There are water well-like taps that are available in certain places and are shared and there are shared makeshift showers that are outside and not fully well enclosed at all. People make small fires in outside barbecue pits for light but there is such a danger with the winds that the sparks could not only catch fire but literally burn entire homes and areas. We went to the home of a medicine woman who showed us many herbs/plants she uses to help people or to heal them from ailments such as asthma or the flu to larger situations as diabetes and pregnancy. It was awesome! Castro also translated as she understood English but spoke in the click language like Momma Lena did. Castro and the son of the medicine woman tried to teach us the clicks and how there are four distinct clicks and how it completely changes the meaning of the word just by the click that you place in front. For example, you use the same word for love and for kill but the only thing that makes the determination is the correct click before the word.

When we were finished with our lessons we went to a bar in the township for a drink and Mathew played a game of pool with a Zimbabwean man and won and then we went into a little hut for the traditional Otijawara meal completely made of all things found in nature and eaten only with your hands (now that part I liked). There was beer made from millet as well as porridge also made from millet (which felt like play-doh). The porridge was eaten by grabbing a piece, rolling it into a ball and then dipping it into a sloppy spinach mixture; needless to say Mathew said that it tasted like a glue stick (I know, don’t ask how many glue sticks he’s eaten in his lifetime). Oh, just wait, there’s more…much more. There were beans and berries and a few different nuts, one that according to my husband tasted like eating a tennis ball…I know, I know, don’t ask. Oh, and don’t let me forget the caterpillars…yup, you read right…caterpillars! They were cooked or baked or something but they were definitely caterpillars and there was not any chocolate to be seen anywhere so no way! Simply because they’re not vegetarian fare, right? (haha)

Anyway, we didn’t eat much but were appreciative of the effort and the experience to be in the typical setting and see the typical food. That was our last stop and Castro then drove us back to the hotel. We thanked him profusely as that tour was an experience different to any other either of us have ever had and we were so glad that we did it. We stopped in our room for a second to find all of our laundry done and nicely folded in a basket which was lovely. We headed into town for some lunch at a café and did a quick walkabout back at the craft market since we were really looking forward to purchasing a giraffe but were concerned with carrying it for the duration of the trip and how much room there was on the coach. We wandered a bit, Mathew went to look at a rugby shop and then met me at the internet café where we stayed until dinner. After showers we went to dinner with the whole group at Kuckis (pronounced cookies)- which in German means small chicken, had a nice dinner and then went back for a sleep. Tomorrow: the possibility of GIRAFFES!!!!!

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