They say that when you travel to northwestern Namibia, you have to choose your travel companion very carefully. In this rough, barren landscapes with its extreme temperatures you’ll be tested to your core, and to be stuck with someone you do not get along with really well, would simply amount to nothing more than spiritual and emotional suicide.
Every journey starts with the familiar, the known and the comfortable. From there it moves ever deeper into the unknown. And with every unit travelled the familiar diminishes and becomes the unfamiliar, until the traveller is completely encased in discomfort – emotionally, spiritually and physically.
Which is perhaps why some people travel, and others do not.
It is common to measure the distance between place of origin and destination when planning a journey. Yet, we soon discovered just how misleading this could be.
In this part of the world, most roads are no roads at all. They are merely guidelines. Instead of providing firm parameters as to where to drive, they offer only suggestions. Vague proposals that contain very little details of what might lie ahead.
As in life, you are confronted with choices and these choices have consequences – good, bad and in-between. But, it is only after pursuing a particular option, that the consequences are revealed, never before. And that once you have embarked on that road, there is no turning back. The destination is reached only by moving forward with perseverance.
Here, as in life, you’d be better off understanding that it is the duration of the journey that matters, not the distance covered.
Life here moves at a much slower pace that what we’d grown accustomed to. The more we hurried the slower we moved. Until we surrendered and gave up speed. We began to understand that each journey has its own rhythm and timeframe, and that trying to change that would only slow us down. So we stopped regularly to look and learn. First there was the flora: the Python vine, the Purplefruit Terminalia, Mopani trees and Makalani Palms, the Kaoko Sesame bush, and the majestic Baobab.
Then there were the people. Fiercely proud to be who they are. When a pick-up arrived with eight or nine ladies at a clinic, I assumed they all came for treatment. Turns out I was wrong. Only one was in discomfort, the rest came along for the ride, to keep her company and to relax in the cool shade of the clinic’s veranda.
We stopped to ask for directions from a young man sitting by himself under a shady tree. He asked if we could take him to where we were going. We could only smile, as we had at no stage revealed our destination. That did not matter, he was only too keen to go somewhere. Travel with strangers to an unknown destination. To undertake a journey just for the sake of it.
Completely at ease with the unknown and unfamiliar that we so desperately try and avoid.
I found many heroes in this, god-forsaken, part of the country. People whom I can look up to. People who inspired me, and taught me the real meaning of life and living.
A teacher who regularly stops to wipe the dust from his shoes and dresses smartly, because it gives him dignity. Something he would not get from his superiors, because they never come to visit him.
Health extension workers who cover a great many kilometers on foot to visit those who might require their help.
Nurses who live in great isolation and without basic luxuries, who treat the sick with only the barest medicine and a sparkle in their eye.
Small children who run, barefoot and in crippling heat, to be in time for school.
Young boys who, from old plastic milk bottles, a few sticks and makalani fruit, crafted the requirements for a game of 8-ball pool, using the barren earth as a table.
An old man who stopped to inform me that he’d taken a stranger to hospital to be treated for a snakebite, expecting me to spread the word about the unfortunate man’s whereabouts just in case someone was looking for him.
The Zemba traders who fled from the civil war in our neighbor to the north, to make a living selling crafts.
In the border hamlet of Ruacana, I discovered a small, informal restaurant that serves pig’s heads and ears, when nobody in the capital city is brave enough to do so.
And then there is Fatima. A self-taught cook at a lodge who infused me with her curiosity and enthusiasm and who desperately wanted to learn who make ice-cream-in-a-bag, only to discover that the nearest shop to sell fresh cream is nearly 500 kilometers away.
My journey to the far north-west is over and I am back in my familiar surroundings but I don’t feel comfortable. In this world, where people have so much, they complain: about nothing, and everything.
The past, the present, the future – all are defined by discontent.
Nothing is the way they want it. They don’t want what they have, and they want what they don’t have.
Everything is defined by time and no one has enough of it. Price is confused for value, and deprivation has no meaning.
For now, I have decided to make my presence in this world small – to disconnect from those whose life has been put on hold because they simply do not know better.
My quest for a pig’s head remains unsuccessful. But I did find some trotters.
This recipe pays homage to the remarkable people who crossed my path on my recent journey.
It takes time to cook, but of that they have enough. It requires soy sauce, but I have noticed that even though the local supermarket does not stock fresh cream, they do have soy sauce. But most of all, this dish should be eaten without regard for tomorrow or yesterday. It requires little money, and lots of commitment. It is sticky, and sumptuous, – a journey through bones and gelatinous goodness. But then, you have to choose your companion well.