This time last year, I moved in with a family in quiet Okahenge, Namibia. I arrived comically; dragging a set of rolling luggage meant for airports through half a foot of shifting sand. Snowshoes would have been more effective than my brown sandals which slid around and gave me the appearance of a newborn calf with unsure legs. I could only laugh at myself and trudge onward.
Most of my host family was inauspiciously absent at my arrival. But, Tatekulu–Grandfather–was found in the center of the homestead. In that structure, there were two plastic lawn chairs and a daybed. Tatekulu sat in one of the chairs and his radio sat in the other. I lowered to one knee as my language trainer had told me to do ahead of time. We clasped hands and I placed my left hand under my right elbow, bowing my head. He thanked me for nothing and everything, and he called me “my son.”
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.
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.
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.
On my second day as volunteer, one of my fellow teachers approached me with questions about the United States. In the past (cf. Tanzania), questions like “Is Canada a state?” and comments like “But you are European” annoyed me. However, my fellow teacher changed the way I feel about these seemingly ignorant questions.
enforced by men in brown suits.
North North once again
Not every story I hear is a pleasant one.
During last month a neighbor—I’ll call her Tina—often came to visit me and her grandfather, who was the patriarch of my homestead. Tina is fashionable, very intelligent, and runs a cuca shop a few nights per week. She also attends church in order to help fill seats, as she puts it. Tina’s most boisterous performance occurred while I was writing a lesson plan in a small, hot room on the homestead. She began with a question to engage me, her captive audience.