In Namibia, there aren’t many people and there are even fewer cars. Thus, when I needed to go anywhere I relied on fate. I donned long sleeves and a hat, and I set my feet to walking on the sandy road. Without fail, some other traveler eventually crossed my path. Sometimes the driver was headed in a different direction, so we smiled sadly and parted ways. Other times, our itineraries matched up–at least in part–and I hopped into a truck bed or a backseat. Surprisingly often, my automobile-owning saviors transported me for free, especially if my desired destination was on their way, anyway.
This was the typical process when I was going from home to town. On the reverse trip, things were challenging in a different way. When I got to the turn-off where the paved road ended and the dusty, gravel road continued on for about five kilometers before reaching my homestead; I sometimes stood under the camelthorn tree for a full hour before getting lucky. The sparse branches were just enough shade without hiding me from view. It was crucial to be visible because that’s how I got home. Janitors, teachers, and farmers who recognized me from the village would stop and beckon me over with a cheerful “Mr. Timo! Wa uhala po ngo?” before we proceeded home to Ohalushu. While this last leg of the return trip was a test in patience, the first was one in tolerance.
Leaving town, taxis aggressively make their presence known. Drivers pull U-turns and risk accidents the moment they spot a body walking with a heavy backpack. Rolling luggage is another trigger for honking and shouting of potential destinations. White skin especially stands out, like a pink highlighter on black text. To Namibian taxi drivers, it usually means money from tourism or money from pre-independence. Either way, it means money. So can you blame an entrepreneur for spotting an easy opportunity?
One such entrepreneur in Ondangwa had a surprise in store for me after I gave in to his persuasive shouts of kOngha! kOngha! and slid into the backseat.
“You want to have this girl tonight?”
For half a second, I held his gaze and did not process his words.
For two-and-a-half more seconds, I held his gaze because I understood his words. Without looking away, I said, “No. I want to go home tonight.”
Devoid of amusement or gratitude, I added, “Thank you.”
He chuckled, frowned, and circled around to the driver’s seat.
I sat forward and witnessed the young lady sitting next to me. She could not have been older than 17. Her makeup was done; she had a short weave in, and a very short skirt on. She did not look at me, but turned her body toward the door and held her face in her hands.
I wanted to assure her that I meant her no insult by turning down the nasty boy’s offer. But, I knew this couldn’t help. I wanted to give her cash and tell her that she didn’t need to do work like this–at least not today. But, I knew that wouldn’t help either. She would probably slip some of that cash to her “entrepreneur” friend in some twisted way of winning his favor. I wanted to do something, but instead I sat silently until we reached the gas station in Ongha. Then, I waited for fate under the camelthorn tree.
Despite all our best intentions, some things are just not under our control.