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Text and photographs Christie Keulder
Anyone who’s ever travelled through the north-western part of our country will know that it is extremely barren and harsh. This world is old, very old. About two billion years old. Gneiss and granite in truly spectacular formations seem to be the only things that have managed to survive centuries of nature’s stubborn forces.
B ut take a closer look. “N’tumbo” is what locals called it. Welwitschia Mirabilis is how it is known today.
It seems to have no real natural enemies (other than humans), which explains why it lives for a thousand years or more. Then there are the various types of Commiphora and the Moringa. The list goes on.
Animals have adapted equally well. Nature’s biggest land mammals – elephant and rhinoceros – live here and most plains game are found in huge numbers.
When you travel through this odd old world make sure you have the right companion. Especially if you’re a photographer who demands frequent, unscheduled stops along the way. Then, returning to the vehicle 30 minutes later claiming that all the good light is gone, can only make things worse.
Just like life itself, this is no casual journey and no amount of synthetic companionship will do. Someone who cannot appreciate personal and natural space and requires continuous verbal communication to avoid the embedded silence of this part of the world stands a good chance of being murdered along the way. By me personally, that is.
Someone who thinks the essence of life is about demanding and taking will go the same route. For in this old world you are a mere visitor, a temporary presence caught in an ancient rhythm.
It requires patience and selflessness, for here only the humble can be free.
Human impositions often fail. Hillsides are dotted with half-completed lodges inspired by dreams of grandeur and wealth. Over there is a newly-built, already abandoned clinic, rejected by its foreign sponsors because it was built with crooked walls. Access to health care and crooked walls are incompatible in the eyes of foreign aid, or so at least it seems.
It was early afternoon when we arrived at a campsite. Looking for some shade and cover, we spotted him. A man truly at home in this old world. A prospector and poet. Sitting on a canvass chair with his back to the river and, as always, surrounded by rocks.
It had been awhile since I’d last seen him. His hair and beard had grown, covering most of what was once a young man’s proud torso. It was no longer black but grey. “I have tried making your olive bread several times, but each time it was a fuck-up”. Such is the manner of his greeting. Handshakes are deemed superfluous…
“She does not like mosquitoes”, and with a nod to the side he introduced his companion. She’s from a faraway land with no real command of English. Let us call her Nom.
At sunset our friend quietly took an electric rice cooker and headed for the camp office. Dinner was approaching.
I watched Nom as she collected a large box from the car. In no time she’d unpacked a vast array of ingredients and containers. In a blur of chopping and mixing, and over a single gas flame, she produced a number of dishes from her exotic land: stir-fried noodles with prawns, deep-fried omelets with marinated sweet cucumbers, rice with small, pea-like aubergines and a fragrant chilli sauce called nam prik. The crackers and cream cheese that concluded the meal were a special concession to us.
Later when she turned the car around so that the open back was no longer facing the river, our friend explained that she’s scared of elephants, too. As it turned out, her fear stems from past experience when a few of these majestic giants paid this very campsite a surprise visit.
Back home I thought a lot about our little reunion. I am sure that Nom with her fear of mosquitoes and elephants will be fine in the old world, for she understands that she cannot impose herself on it. Minor precautions are the limit of what we can achieve.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2016 issue of Travel News Namibia.