Words and Photographs: Nina van Schalkwyk
Words and Photographs: Nina van Schalkwyk
During a drive down to Windhoek, Nina van Schalkwyk stopped in the dusty little town of Kamanjab, where she was charmed by its surprising creativity, cheerful inhabitants and a sheep that can’t keep its pants on.
Namibia isn’t a very big place. Wait, let me start that again… Namibia is a VERY big place – but it’s not very ‘big’. That doesn’t make any sense, does it. Let me try to explain. Namibia as a country may be quite large, but somehow it still feels like a small town. So when you find something new, some little place or establishment or a funky little corner of enthusiastic originality, it’s quite a surprise, a reminder that there are people occupying spaces that they’ve made interesting and unique, which otherwise would have blended into the surroundings. Kamanjab is a nondescript settlement en route to the famous sights of Damaraland or the Kunene Region in the northwest. There wouldn’t be much reason to stop, except to fill up with fuel, heed the call of nature or grab some snacks. Distances between one destination and the next are large, and many travellers would be tempted to try and get to their destinations as quick as they can, with no stops in between.
I, however, am not in the habit of rushing anywhere if I can help it, and if there is the scent of a story somewhere, I try to sniff it out. It was my colleague who first introduced me to the funky little shop adjacent to the Total Garage on Kamanjab’s main road. She called it the Atatatata shop, referring to the wooden sign with that word which hangs over the entrance of the shop. Of course, any Namibian would tell you Atatatata is a bit of slang that basically means wow! or hectic! Or even: you are in big trouble, mister. The steps leading up to the shady stoep in front of the shop are covered with Namibian number plates, plus a lone South African one. Bottles hanging from the corrugated roof chime cheerily in the breeze. The stoep harbours a medley of objects. Treasures. Two wire-and-bead sheep, thigh-high, are well camouflaged between the grey concrete floor and the tables and chairs set out for weary travellers. “Look at the sheep: she went to the beach for the December holidays, but she lost her bottoms!” Sure enough, the woolly creature wrought from wires wears a bright red bikini top, fastened around its neck in a ludicrous way.
The establishment, I find out, belongs to Willemien and Oom Jan Strauss, both well-known in the community. Sergeant Basson, who directs me to the fuel station after a bout of car trouble, comes to the shop later in the afternoon. His previous formal attitude at the roadblock outside town has given way to a casual friendliness that is mirrored in the faces of the owners, despite the difference in age and background. You can tell that Willemien and Oom Jan are comfortable with the town they chose, and have opened their hearts to it.
Namibia, let’s call it that mysterious Namibian magic, beckoned them north across the Orange River and, through some kind of madness, caused them to settle in Kamanjab. Between a rock and a hard place. No pun intended: Kamanjab literally means ‘Place of Stone’. And yet, between the stones the size of a man’s head, the couple created not only a home for themselves but last year also set up accommodation facilities among the koppies in the form of six simple campsites and four chalets for the intrepid travellers. Willemien gave us a tour of their new project, pointing out the little details. She can’t help herself, she said wryly, after I noticed a wire gecko fixed onto the ogiesdraad (chicken mesh) cupboard in one of the chalets. Other quirky details like an antelope horn for a door handle and metal monkeys in the trees reflect Willemien’s light-hearted eye for detail that turned a run-of-the-mill fuel station into an interesting stop-over to tempt the photographer’s eye.
Before I realise more than an hour has passed. I leave Willemien and Jan seated at one of the little tables on the stoep in front of their shop, chatting to friends from South Africa who stopped for a visit, a man with a white beard from a nearby farm, young born-frees in deep conversation. I look around and realise that this little space has become a gathering place for all. A welcoming venue that makes locals as well as the array of people who pass by feel comfortable like family in the company of Willemien and Jan.
This article was published in the Winter 2018 edition of Travel News Namibia.