One of the first tasks to undertake with my Ohalushu-based host mother was to do some shopping in Ondangwa. Ondangwa is the sprawling town just south of home via the B1 highway, which spans all the way from Angola to South Africa. After school ended, we met another teacher at the wheel of her massive pickup. Two primary school students were also present, and I heard them mention being sent to buy fish. The two little girls floated up into the covered truck bed, followed by my awkward and gangly self-hoisting.
Our first stop in the city was at a fish distribution center with the slogan “Power in Fish.” Only about ten customers were allowed to enter at a time, so our driver and the two girls took their places in line. I sat with some strangers and bargained for apples. After a small eternity, we continued on our journey. The truck bed received me, the girls, and four bags of frozen, salted fish.
The next stop was the mall. Malls are appearing all over Owambo’s cities, like a developmental virus–inexplicably reproducing and multiplying. This particular one hosts four different ATMs, a bank branch, a number of South African chains, all of the clothing you could ever need, and a giant grocery store. The grocery store, ShopRite, was my chosen destination. In a delirious frenzy; I filled my cart with ginger, packets of peri peri, lentils, a cheap wok, and a thermos, among other things. I caught glances of the older women and their own carts, but the young students were noticeably missing. When all was purchased and packed into bags, I returned to the truck to find the girls sitting quietly on the tailgate. All of my bags were placed in the back, along with just as many bags from the ladies. I climbed back in, and found a place between yogurt and the spare tire. We continued.
The girls were held captive all the while. Their smartly planned money spent, their mission completed long ago when the fish was bought . They were patient, and never complained. Occasionally, they fought over the one book that they were sharing. As the truck bed filled to impossible capacities, the girls’ eyes widened but their mouths held silence. Throughout the evening, we visited four more stores. Everything found its way into the truck bed: two electric fans, gallons of juice, bags of bread, cartons of eggs, and bag after bag of meat. I also couldn’t resist contributing frozen blueberries after discovering them sometime around dusk.
With determined grace, the three of us inserted ourselves into the bounty now contained between driver and tailgate. The vehicle turned northward, and we made our way home. The girls soon fell asleep; little, black feet resting on loaves of white bread, one head on a bottle of dish soap, the other on a bag of oranges, hands strewn over canned fish and peas.
When we reached the village, they wiped sweat from their faces. Readjusting cramped limbs, they sent a bottle of mango juice rolling from underneath a knee. They looked exhausted. However, they were quiet as they descended onto the familiar village sand.
Finally, the older of the two stated, “It’s too hot.”
There was a guttural murmur of agreement, and we went our separate ways.