My neighbor, let’s call him Shiveli since he is the first born, is just days away from finishing 8th Grade. Lately, he has been too busy studying for his final exams to visit me, as he normally does. When he visits me, he does it in proper African fashion. That is, he shows up, he greets me, and he invites himself in. I admit that sometimes this peeves me if I feel too busy for conversation. But, each time my self-important busyness fades away when Shiveli shares his stories.
The first conversation that I can recall jumped like a grasshopper from one idea to another, without warning. Shiveli told me that my skin was weird, then he asked me if there is a river in the United States, and then he acted out the final scene of Rambo. He also likes to recount all the times that he has recently seen me. This was creepy at first, as he described my backpack and the long sleeves I wear when I’m walking in the Namibian sun; but then I came to realize that it is his way of letting me know that he cares to keep track of me. In that first conversation, a quiet moment finally came while I started to make myself dinner on the gas stove. I took the opportunity to ask Shiveli what he wants to do after secondary school.
“I want to be a principal. Ah, but that is hard … I would like to be flying planes,” he said as his hand glided above the horizon, soaring as a hand-plane does through imagined, hand-sized clouds.
“Yes. A pilot! Then, I fly the planes and travel to America!” He concluded with a smile.
Shiveli is also a prolific businessman for the age of 13. One evening, he took me to see his collection of doves that he keeps in a makeshift coop on his mother’s homestead. He threw one dove into the air, and it circled the homestead twice before returning straightaway to its coop. His plans for these doves change slightly each time that I see him, but they usually involve earning a profit through their sale or consumption.
And, speaking of consumption, Shiveli was head chef on a day when I returned from town to find five schoolboys butchering some meat in my front yard. He proclaimed that they were going to cook the meat in small pieces, and then sell it to all the villagers from a nearby cuca shop. He selected the cuca shop, because then no energy need be used on moving around. Rather, everyone would come to them since everyone stops by the cuca at some time or another. He insisted that I come try the meat when it was finished. A massive pot sat over a fire in the sand, and Shiveli’s friend lifted the lid with a wooden ladle. The pot held my host mother’s dog, cut evenly into a hundred pieces. Shock based on cultural customs aside, it is worth noting that these boys–none older than 14–cleanly butchered an animal, burned off the hair, divided the meat, cooked it (and, well!), and hatched a plan to make a profit from all of this. I was impressed, and I took a piece of dog meat when it was offered to me.
“Mwa ninga nawa,” I told them; well done, you all.
The meat sold out quickly, and the boys made almost 500 Namibian dollars.
The next time Shiveli came to visit me, he was more quiet than usual. He explained his grumpy outlook came from a disagreement he had with our neighbor. They went hunting rabbits and sold the rabbits to women in the village, but the neighbor boy kept all the earnings to himself, even though they put in equal time and effort. After asserting that they did indeed share all the burden of work, I shook my head disapprovingly; and I decided to throw my privileged weight as enigmatic foreigner around a little. I told him to go straight to the neighbor boy and demand half the funds. I told him that he was free to cite me, Mr. Timo, as having said this was the right thing to do. He smiled and walked off, hope in his eyes.
This morning, I decided to share my privilege again with Shiveli. You see, this morning, I left our village. I went to town with my host father, and tomorrow I will go to the capital and await a return flight to my “home of record.” After a job search, my mind gradually departed Namibia. Soon after, my heart followed. My passion is–and always will be–good, accessible education. But for now, the passion lies for education stateside. When I came to Namibia, I brought a small collection of books with me, including my English copy of The Little Prince. I collect this book in all the languages I can find it in. It was the first book I read start to finish in a language other than my first one, English. But enough about me, this is about our friend, Shiveli.
I did not say goodbye to Shiveli when I left this morning. For this, I am not proud. Suddenly, he will know that his enigmatic, American teacher and friend has disappeared. There is no explanation good enough for him. There is no excuse for him. However, there is a small book for him about a pilot and remembering friends and their stories. And, I hope that he enjoys The Little Prince. It’s about time I shared it, anyway.