Hugh Paxton’s Blog continues the bi-daily serialisation of his book, the Diary of Abbot Buggly, an account of a young girl’s first year of life in Namibia.
My father received a phone call from Autowerkstadt garage this morning. He and the people at Autowerkstadt have become good friends and meet regularly.
What brought them together was “Nocerina”.
Our silver Isuzu Trooper.
He bought this car last year for $100,000 Namibian and for the first 190 kilometers things went well.
My parents decided that they would drive to Cape Town, spend a week touring the wine route, then dawdle their way along the coast to Kynsna national park to see if it was true that there were still elephants in the forest.
As I say for the first 190 kilometers all went well. My mother was dozing, Bill Bryson was being amusingly uncharitable about American bureaucracy on the cassette player, my father was chuckling and saying “You’ve got that right, buddy !”and the Trooper was just eating up the road.
Then the engine caught fire. Blew up actually.
Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining and the cloud of stinking smoke that was pouring from Nocerina’s bonnet did have at least one thing going for it.
It erupted opposite a garage in a dusty little village called Palmquell.
The odds in favor of breaking down (or in this case, exploding) right in front of a competent mechanic with a tow truck in Namibia are astronomical. Something like winning the Irish Sweepstakes and then finding the betting slip that actually proves you’ve won it.
All but impossible.
Windhoek has garages aplenty; hundreds of garages, body shops, scrap yards, windshield shops, welders, crank shaft people… but out there, where the city stops, so do most of the country’s garages.
The mechanic towed my parents back to Windhoek. He brought his family along for the excitement of seeing the big city and then when he’d seen it became unnerved and began muttering about how it was too big and when he was younger it had been smaller and much better that way.
Through no fault of the mechanic (my father was at the wheel) the vehicle was then reversed into a concrete bollard ensuring further structural damage.
And thus it began. The Sad Ballad of Nocerina.
And thus it went on.
It took nearly four months to find the parts and rebuild the engine. It cost over thirty grand.
Then the crankshaft went. And the radio. And lots of other things. Almost everything, actually.
The people at Autowerkstadt began to worry if they did not receive a phone call from my mother or my father at least once a month.
They answered the phone with quips such as, “Need a match?”
They became rich.
Two weeks ago, my mother stuck a piece of paper on the windshield. The writing on the paper listed mileage, date of production, and a price. $80,000. FOR SALE.
Despite the absence of a line reading something to the effect of “Only one careful, elderly female owner with excellent mechanical background and no interest in taking the dust cover off her cherished Isuzu Trooper, apart from for regular mechanical efficiency checks, and loving waxing and polishing” the response was overwhelming.
After a mere two hours parked on Independence Avenue the phone began ringing. The thing about Nocerina is that the car looks good. She’s the devil in disguise. One Angolan was particularly keen.
“Perfect,” my mother said. “It can explode in Angola! The poor fool will die! Even if Nocerina doesn’t blow, the guy’s going to hit a land mine or some UNITA bandits will hijack it. End of problem!”
My mother’s not normally like that – and she certainly doesn’t normally talk like that – but Nocerina has taxed her patience sorely.
My father’s principal concern was personal safety.
Not the poor buyer’s personal safety. His own. He was worried that Nocerina might not make it to the border; might crash and burn before even managing to clear Windhoek city limits, leaving him with a scorched and vengeful Angolan diamond smuggler to deal with.
So another – yet another! – phone call was put through to Rolf at Autowerkstadt.
Nocerina’s last physical.
The news at first was good. The car was sound. “Hardly surprising!” my father cackled triumphantly. “We’ve had to replace every moving part! At least twice!”
Then Rolf from Autowerkstadt was back on the line. He’d just noticed that the rear left brake calipers and brake pad had gone.
“Oh dear,” said my father. “The Callibrasses, eh ? Gone, you say ? Left ? For where, I wonder ? And the pad’s broken? “
Autowerkstadt are used to my father pretending to know something about how cars work and humor him.
“More or less. ”
“I’ll have to find parts.”
I’ll have to find parts. Just five little words. But oh so often has my father heard them.
The interesting thing about our Isuzu Trooper is that it appears to be the only Isuzu Trooper in the whole world (or Africa, at least) that has ever required “parts.” And the interesting thing about Isuzu is that while they make Isuzu Troopers, they don’t seem to make the parts that make an Isuzu Trooper.
ABBOT BUGGLY ISUZU TROOPER PARTS ADVISORY.
If you ever find an Isuzu Trooper “part” anywhere in Africa, for God’s sake hang on to it. They’re rarer than gold dust.
Furthermore if anyone actually buys Nocerina they’ll need loads !
And so to this morning’s call.
It was Autowerkstadt with the news that Nocerina was now back on the road.
The bill ?
A trifling $8895.76.
My father grimly remarked that he’d have to go out and rob a bank.
For the first time the good people at Autowerkstadt sounded alarmed.
“No! Don’t do that! You’d get arrested… and we’d be stuck with your car!”
We have two other cars. One is a rhino gray Mazda Proceed; a battle tank of a vehicle christened Nocera.
In Tokyo, where logic is often in short supply, many housewives do not feel that life is worth living if they do not own a vehicle the size of a Humvee. And if their neighbor then buys a vehicle that is bigger than a Humvee, they are plunged into despair and rush out to find something bigger yet.
The narrow streets of Tokyo are clogged with state of the art mechanical monstrosities that could handle the Paris-Dhakar rally but that rarely wrack up more than 30,000 kilometers before they reach a state of prestige obsolescence.
“Did you see Kato san’s still got that Toyota Land Cruiser ?”
“I did ! I did ! It’s nearly four years old !”
“Ah, the poor Katos. Must be hard times there. One can’t help feeling superior – no, sorry – for them.”
“Yes, Yoshioka san, life for the Katos is truly a Vale of Tears…”
“I’m looking into the possibility of buying a Nissan Buffalo Stampede. It’s got a periscope that enables it to ford rivers of up to four meters in depth and a cigarette lighter that speaks and tells you when it’s hot enough to light your Mild Seven.”
“Ah. The Nissan Buffalo Stampede.”
“Did you hear that Yoshioka san’s thinking about buying a Nissan Buffalo Stampede ?”
“Not that old thing that came out last year with the snorkel and the lighter ? The lighter that apologizes for keeping you waiting until it has reached the appropriate temperature to light your Mild Seven ?”
“The very same.”
“Oh, how sad. It’s probably the recession and you know how her husband drinks and pays school girls to sell him their soiled underwear. Let’s go to the supermarket in my new Mazda Godzilla. It’s bullet proof and if you press the right button it has a hovercraft function that lifts the rear axle enabling you to… ”
“Yes, I noticed your new Godzilla. It was blocking the driveway. So sorry, but I was unable to maneuver my imported Ford Ludicrously Long Wheel Base Lightning Python Strike With Fuel Injection Ppi Ex 45, past your Godzilla. It took me nearly three minutes to walk to the supermarket. They’ve got a special. 10 yen off Tiger prawns…”
“I’m sorry to have to say sorry – and three minutes walk must have tired you immensely – but my Godzilla is hardly to blame for the congestion in this tiny alley. If Chubachi san had been able to move her Toyota Rampant Matador, past Suzuki san’s Hyundai Engorged Behemoth with multilateral lighting…”
“Oh, she doesn’t still have that Engorged Behemoth ? No, and surely not ! It’s Korean ! What a tragic case! And didn’t she…wasn’t she the one… who had that Mazda Proceed?”
“What happened to it? The thing was eight years old! It had nearly fifty thousand kilometers on the clock! Not that I was checking of course. I just happened to notice when we were in that fifty seven kilometer traffic jam on the Izu peninsula. It didn’t even have toilet facilities. I had to bring my own Piss In The Bag. Specially developed for our uniquely globally impressive Japanese traffic jams, but you know that.”
“Oh yes, I always sit in my traffic jam with my Piss In The Bag. Its odor free if you don’t spill it. She sold it to Japan Africa Marketing out in Kanagawa. JAM. JAM sold it to some people in Africa.”
“Oh, how sad. Africa must be a poor country. Desperate. I often think of the orphans and those sort of things. Incidentally, is it true that Saito san has just bought a Dodge Demented Desperado with five wheel drive, a shampoo dispenser, bull bars and a turbo thrust alternative to conventional sex ?”
Our Mazda Proceed arrived from Yokohama by ship container at Walvis Bay port with a growl of frustration and impatience. Built as an off-roader, it hadn’t had a chance to move on a road.
Let alone get off a road.
That changed from day one; touch down in Africa. Rrrrr ! Rrrr!
Nocera wouldn’t fetch much in a Tokyo car show room. You have to wind the windows up manually, ditto if you want to change gear. Frightfully inconvenient. And correspondingly cheap. That’s why my parents bought it.
Nocera has since clocked up a further 50,000 kilometers in under two years without requiring major surgery.
A door fell off, true, but it had every excuse for its bad behavior. A friend of my father called Simson was driving it up something very close to a cliff at the time trying to follow a black rhino as part of a seasonal rhino population survey for Save The Rhino Trust.
Apart from that little glitch, no problems.
Our other car is a Toyota Hi-Lux. It, too, died the fashion death in Tokyo and JAM shipped it over for a ludicrously low price. Works a treat; like most of the countless Japanese cars that end up in Africa.
Still on the subject of cars I, too, have my own transport. My parents check a website called Baby Center that offers free monthly advice on what sort of progress a baby should be making (with the proviso that every baby is an individual and therefore has its own quirks and pace).
Raising a baby is not a race. Though some bone headed parents seem to think it is.
This month the Baby Center brought up the issue of toys and infant stimulation. My parents reviewed my current and beloved collection – the well-chewed octopus that Godmother Emma gave me, and the rattly Pooh Bear, Teddy, and grinning Tigger that a retired Scotland Yard detective sent out. His name is Cliff Wrate and he once worked The Great Train Robbery case.
“We should get her some new toys,” my mother decided and went out to do just that.
Toy one was an “Intelligence Toy.” Or that’s what it said on the packet. It’s a gaudy thing with plastic wheels that spin. If you can be bothered to spin them. I used the repulsive object as a club, first to beat my mother and then to beat my head.
The second toy was a “baby walker.” It’s a sort of ludicrous podule with a suspended seat that lets my pudgy feet touch the ground. It also has a control panel with knobs to push that make noises and play tunes. There are rings to twiddle and a couple of things that squeak when you squeeze them. Or crash when you rip them off and throw them away. The control panel does the same thing. Crash. Not squeak.
I was placed with great reverence in my podule and I immediately pressed a button. This yielded a tinny Taiwanese rendition of Fur Elise. Another button furnished a Chinese voice failing to pull off a convincing American accent. “Assume the target!” it said. Then there was the sound of an artillery piece discharging, the whine of a shell, then an explosion and distant child-like howling. I pressed button one (Fur Elise) again.
My parents were delighted.
So I did it again.
And again, and again, and again.
“Well, she’s certainly got the hang of that,” my mother said. Half an hour later.
“I’m taking those bloody batteries out. Right now,” said my father.
I forestalled this act of sabotage by ripping the entire control panel off and chucking it away. Crashhh! The control panel said, “Action !” in a fake American accent. There was another burst of gunfire and what sounded like a woman screaming in mortal anguish. Then it went dead.
Exhausted by my work I sagged forwards and head-butted the wrecked dashboard.
“You know what ? Her taste in music is repetitive, lousy and loud. She’s got whiplash. There is not one feature of her vehicle currently in working order. And it hasn’t moved an inch. What we have here is a very promising Namibian taxi driver !”
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Security (PT II). The Gate.
It has now been well over two months since the UN security consultant visited and nothing has happened. Maybe he’s still looking for his stolen car. Or has had his socks ransacked by a pick-socker. Or is unable to move the heavy furniture that he stacked against his hotel room door.
Not a J-lock, not a remote sensing beam, not a secure area nor a panic button has shown up, let alone been installed.
It is as if the whole encounter had been a dream.
The day before yesterday my father decided to go it alone. Phone calls were made and this morning (early) a veritable horde of Basters turned up with welding gear, sheets of metal, hangovers, winches and widgets.
Mally was there, too. And Wendy, of course – in a state of furious indignation about conditions at Katutura Hospital (Maria’s back in and nobody’s changing the bed sheets).
“In the old days…” Etc.
We also had John and Barbara who now rent Flat B but aren’t normally anywhere near it.
They live and work in a remote research/parks administration complex on the Skeleton Coast and very rarely come to town. John is the park warden and looks exactly as you would expect a Skeleton Coast park warden to look; large, rugged, tanned. Nice couple, John and Barbara.
They’d brought two charismatic and highly energetic dogs with them. Spliff and Widget. While Spliff and Widget romped around on the lawn eating the grass – green grass is unheard of on the Skeleton Coast which is why Hollywood studios film post-nuclear holocaust worlds there – Wendy, who has a fear of dogs, sealed Number 11 Wurlitzer street’s main house, tighter than Fort Knox .
But back to the Basters.
If anyone who is reading this book is simultaneously wondering who to cast for a movie involving pirates, please get in touch. We now know the perfect people.
One interesting thing about installing a remote controlled security/safety gate is the way so many different people, parts and sub-contractors are involved. Another interesting thing is the way the crucial people, parts and subcontractors fail to arrive in a fashion that could be described as ever so slightly co-ordinated.
The Basters were here but the door motor people were not. Work stopped. Then the welding guy’s drill exploded. Work stopped. Then the Basters were called away. Work, well you’re probably ahead of me on this one, work stopped.
By the end of the day we didn’t have a security gate, we had a security hazard. Nothing attracts hordes of murderous botsotsos and footpads more efficiently than a half built security gate. My father stayed up for most of the night tapping away on his computer accompanied by a maglite and a meat cleaver.
Neither were intended for use against botsotsos. They were for the subcontractors.
Today Mally turned up, Wendy, too, but they were the exceptions.
By two o’clock still no-one had turned up despite increasingly vitriolic phone calls to True Techno asking what the blazes was going on.
Then the gate fell down. Or more accurately tilted at a 45 degree angle, cutting off all escape from the driveway.
“Right!“my father announced grimly. “Ball-cutting time!”
“Hello is this True Techno? Yes? Good. ‘Tis me again. Yes, that poor fool who lives at Number 11 Wurlitzer St. Is Johann there ?”
“Yes no ? The hell does that mean ?”
Already my father was losing momentum. He tried again.
“Is Johann in?”
“Where is he ?”
“If he’s not in of course he’s out! Out where ? Khomasdal ? Windhoek West ? The Marshall Islands ?”
“Just send someone round to fix the damn gate! Your workmen should have been here at eight! It’s now nearly three o’clock!”
While at first the tilting gate was merely an inconvenience it shortly became life threatening.
Mally who had been shouting and singing and waving his paint brush suddenly began to reel more dramatically than usual then collapsed. Weakly he explained that he couldn’t see anything, that this was an attack of high blood pressure that he must get to the hospital, get pills.
Wendy summarized the situation. “Mally must not die here.”
Under normal circumstances my father would have just bundled the wretched figure into the car and hightailed it for the hospital. But the safety gate was blocking the drive.
“Neighbors! Must get the neighbors to help shift the gate!”
The neighbours were out.
“Taxi! Must call a taxi!”
The taxi companies were either busy or engaged or not prepared to pick up the phone.
“He must sit!” wailed Wendy.
The dazed and squinting figure of Mally was wandering in confused anguished circles muttering deliriously that he mustn’t let us down. Must finish painting the door. That he couldn’t see. That his head was hurting. That the Springboks were playing the All Blacks and that Wales was looking good against England. And that his paintbrush had broken.
My father fought him into a chair.
Mally started moaning and saying he would help fix the gate. My father informed him that in his current state he couldn’t fix a cheese omelet. “You’re as limp as a rag, man.”
Wendy appeared with a cup of cold water and a handful of peri-peri chili flakes. Enough peri-peri flakes, in fact, to blow your average Vindaloo enthusiast’s head off. Mally swallowed them down.
Whether the Surgeon General would endorse this treatment for high blood pressure and imminent cerebral hemorrhage or not, it seemed to work. Mally abandoned his feeble attempts to get up and finish painting the door and subsided, babbling incoherently about an occasion during the war when he’d stepped on a landmine that failed to explode.
He made for a wretched picture. His wrinkled face was twisted in pain, all the Mally stuffing – the “ags”, the “foks”, the exuberant blather, the cackles, surreptitious raids on my father’s drinks cabinet, and “what what whats” – was gone. He suddenly seemed terribly small, his home done convict style tattoos of skulls and cross bones, child-like and infinitely pathetic (despite the gruesome subject matter).
“True Tech? Would you PLEASE send someone round to shift this bloody gate ! There’s a guy here’s going to die !”
“They’re on their way now.”
“They better had be otherwise I’ll come round and insert a two ton safety gate in you!”
I’m afraid that all this commotion and upset was contagious and I began howling. Indeed I was inconsolable.
One True Tech executive plus yet another new subcontractor turned up five minutes later, looked at their workman’s efforts in horror and then, with my father, fought the gate out of the way.
“I love people,” said the subcontractor when they’d finished.
“He doesn’t mean it,” said the True Tech man.
“Whatever,” said my father.
Mally was loaded into Nocera and driven off at a reckless speed for the clinic at Khomasdal.
We’re wondering whether we’re going to see him again.
Wendy thinks, “He’s on the way out.”
If Edward Shibongo had seen him he would have said, “We are not here on earth to stay.”
When my father got back he just said, “I hope the poor Bastard makes it.”
Mally turned up two days later and went to the Perolin Paint Shop with my father to order more Lime Froth and Piney Woods.
While they waited at the counter, Mally announced loudly and apropos of nothing that our great president Sam Nujoma was a pile of “fokking ka ka!”
This caused general amusement among both shoppers and staff. Black, White and Coloured to use the now defunct Apartheid racial classification system.
Quite a significant section of Windhoek’s population has mixed feelings vis a vis the president . Sam Nujoma is one of those African leaders who regard themselves as fathers of the nation. And therefore indispensable.
He’s already readjusted the Constitution to allow him to be president for a previously unconstitutional third term of office. It’s possible that he may do it again to allow him to remain president for a currently illegal fourth term of office.
He’s bosom buddy with Robert Mugabe. He’s that rare thing, a fan of North Korea.
Whenever he opens his mouth, people hold their breath. No-one’s sure what’s going to come out of it.
He’s also building himself a new presidential palace, The State House at a cost of … well, estimates vary. 500 million? 600 million? And he’s imported a bunch of sinister-looking labourers from Pyong Yang to construct the thing..
Given the fact that people like Stephen, our second gardener, are living hand to mouth in small shacks made of corrugated iron (known as “zincs”) without electricity or access to fundamentals such as sewage or garbage collection or clean water, and that upwards of 50% of the population is unemployed, this State House, those North Koreans, have rankled.
But there’s apathy in the air, politics-wise, in Namibia. Perhaps it’s just too hot to vote. Maybe people are cautious.
Someone declaring that the president is a pile of fornicating feces in public is rare.
But it certainly cleared the air. Prior to Mally’s arrival people at the Perolin paint shop had been buying and selling paint and looking serious. Now they were laughing.
Sam Nujoma! Author of “Where Others Wavered”(soon to be filmed at massive public expense with a cast of 30,000 extras)! The man whose beard and smily pearly white teeth grace every government office wall in photo form. The great leader, scourge of international gayism and neo-colonialism, veteran of the Freedom Struggle, the nemesis of donkey farmers (he’s got a bee in his bonnet about donkey farmers), the man who told the West to keep its aid in an over-excited outburst at the Joburg Earth Summit !
Sam Nujoma ! Fond Father of The Nation ! A pile of “fokking kaka!”
“Ag! “ Mally continued. “The SWAPO say the Boer is bad because he made us work! With the SWAPO we don’t have any work ! It’s ka ka !”
Mally for President !
“I struggle !” said Mally.
“When Mally’s around we all struggle. Particularly me,” said my father. More laughter. It was becoming a very jolly paint shop.
Lime Froth paint finally mixed and it was back in the car for home .
Twenty minutes later Mally collapsed again. Covered in sweat. Lime Froth was everywhere.
“Jesus, man. I didn’t ask you to paint the floor! And how did you get that stuff on the ceiling ! Go home, lie down, rest, eat well, and don’t come back until you’re better. “
“I must finish painting the door. You are my friend! I must paint this door!”
“How? You can’t even see the door. The damn flat looks like a paint ball tournament venue. Go home, lie down, rest, and don’t come back until you’re better. I’m serious. I don’t want to see you till your well. ”
“Yes doctor boss. Also I will eat some vegetables. Can you help me out man, can you help me with 400 bucks? My woman needs bread! I must get rid of this woman ! I’m sick and all she says is give me money!”
Exit my father (spattered in Lime Froth) all but carrying Mally.
My father came home with a thinner wallet and called up Stephen. Finishing the paint job on Flat B – or, at the very least, repairing the exuberantly delirious damage done by Mally – is a priority.
There’s a Japanese woman in town for a couple of months. She’s doing a PhD on 1930s Nazi influence on Apartheid thought.
Fascinating no doubt. A great read I’m sure
But more to the point, she might rent Flat B on a time share basis with John and Barbara.
The Nazi/Apartheid-huntingwoman looks like a morbid rice pudding wearing a wig according to my father.
And if she’s interested in Nazis she ought to be on the road not nestling in the safe and democratic haven of Number 11 Wurlitzer street. Here and there, Namibia still has Nazis – the genuine article. Prior to Independence, one of the Windhoek streets was named in honor of Hermann Goering. Come to think of it, there’s still a Heydrich St. just round the corner from here. There used to be parades to commemorate Adolf’s birthday in the coastal resort town of Swakopmund. They went on a long time after he’d shot himself in Berlin. Probably still do, out in the desert.
But morbid rice pudding or not, if she rents the place it will offset Mally’s medical bills.
So Stephen was retained as a painter. He’s to come on Tuesday.
Young as I am, I know what will happen next.
Stephen will come and do the painting. Mally will recover and he’ll come and do the painting, too.
And we’ll have two painters to go along with our two gardeners. Number 11 Wurlitzer Street will continue to fill up.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Saturday.
It’s Saturday and on Saturdays we sometimes go out to lunch. Today we went to an African restaurant that lies a couple of minutes drive past the Welcome To Windhoek sign on the Trans-Kalahari Highway.
It’s a strange thing that highway. It makes you think. You can take your car and drive. Not hundreds of miles but thousands. Thousands and thousands. There’s a lot of space out there. A lot of Africa. You can sense it waiting for you. And if you’ve driven the highway you never forget it and where it can take you.
Or so my parents say.
Haven’t done it myself yet. Still too small.
My father selected the African place because they have a moat with a crocodile in it and there are herons and ibis and meerkats in the garden.
They also serve a very good fish curry and there’s some sauce from Tunisia that they put on lamb chops that works well. Adds a hint of North African influence to my milk.
Yes, it is a very pleasant place to lunch and while away the early afternoon and watch the birds. Namibians like lengthy lunches if they can afford them. Some last long after dusk and into the sweet, clean desert night.
My parents like long lunches if I allow them.
Today I did.
Maybe it was the Trans Kalahari Highway or just their habitually itchy feet but they spent a lot of time wondering whether it was feasible to take me to a place called Purros in the Kaokoveld.
From what I could glean from the debate Purros is a long way north and is reached with difficulty and after several days drive “if we go slowly when the road stops.”
It sounded an interesting enterprise. I’ve heard my parents talking about desert elephants and how they are the biggest in the world and how they saw these elephants in a gorge at Purros.
There aren’t many babies who get to see desert elephants. I’m beginning to suspect I’m rather lucky. Assuming I don’t get killed, of course.
After the bowls had been cleared we toured the garden and its orderly little menagerie. My parents introduced me to two bat-eared foxes, some rabbits, and a sleeping porcupine.
All very nice.
When we drove back to Windhoek, it had gone to sleep.
It does that every weekend.
Saturday mornings are busy. Families drive in from the distant farms and load their pickup trucks with sacks of meal, and cases of beer, and tires and crates and cogs and bags of nails. They often look a little awkward, these farmers. Too many people around. Too much bustle. Too much traffic.
Better out in the bush. In the still and hidden hills. Quieter. Out there you can be yourself, by yourself.
They buy what they need, many dress well, as if for church, but some walk barefoot.
Mind you, walking barefoot is not necessarily a rural thing. Quite a few Windhoek residents prefer the feel of the ground to the feel of patent leather or rubberized soles. Particularly when it’s hot.
The shoppers gather at standing tables in the supermarkets and drink beer or coffee, munch black forest ham rolls, smoke a lot, renew acquaintances, grunt in agreement when they see more bad news from Zimbabwe, deftly grab wayward kids, herd them back to the table, and gossip in a guarded fashion.
But the tug of their farms is there.
And when the shops close, which most do shortly after one o’clock, they get back into their dusty pickups (or “bakkies” as they are known and I’m sure you remember me mentioning) and they’re off, with relief, to their land and where they belong.
Many won’t be back for months.
Unless they’ve forgotten the long-life milk. It’s always a bit of a pain when you’ve driven 300 miles, get home, have discovered that some itinerant opportunist has rustled your eight breeding rams and stolen your generator, and then realize that you’ve forgotten the long-life milk.
Some farmers never come to Windhoek. Hard, religious, self-sufficient people, sometimes rich, sometimes inbred, ignorant, poor, sometimes incredibly creative and successful, sometimes just plain weird, they extract a living from the arid land, raising cattle and karakul sheep and game. Some are virtually hermits. The now famous sign reading “Trespessers (sic) will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” was photographed somewhere in Namibia. Or if not, somewhere very like it in northern South Africa.
Some farmers operate “farm stays” for tourists. Many are good. Some are, ahem, a little rough around the edges.
ABBOT BUGGLY FARMSTAY ADVISORY.
This type of farm stay is a must.
My parents spent a night at one with my English grandparents. The beds were in a lightless converted livestock shed surrounded by what looked like a junk yard. The swimming pool was bright green and had furtively squirming organisms in it. The farmer called it a bio-pool. My father referred to it as a bio-hazard. Whatever anybody called it, no-one went swimming.
There was a “cave” on the property that had once housed typhoid-ridden bats that had infected a group of trekking Boer pioneers.
The advertisement for the farm stay boasted that the cave contained a “calcified multipede.” No doubt it did. But after one glance at the cave entrance, a manhole-style vertical shaft accessed by a ladder that looked as if it had last been repaired in the 1930s, my father decided that a multipede (no matter how calcified) was not worth becoming an embittered quadriplegic for.
My grandfather did go down in the interests of maintaining the British reputation for “stiff upper lips” not to mention “stupidity”. He described the spelunking as “memorable.”
The promised “cheetah feeding” involved the farmer’s son slinging a road-kill jackal into a corral, then watching the incensed cat trying to break the fence down and maim the observers before rushing off with its meal.
Mein host, the farmer, then laid on a special braai (BBQ), drank heavily, launched into an extraordinary series of anecdotes generated by his time as a corporal in the Independence War and while thus engaged managed to actually set fire to the maize porridge as well as burn the lamb cutlets ; all beneath a million glittering stars.
It’s easy to forget how many stars there are when one has electricity.
The experience was, again in my grandfather’s words, “memorable.”
“Be sure to say hello from me to all those beautiful people in England,” was the farmer’s parting shot. “Tell them they’re welcome at any time.”
So, be advised, all you beautiful English people. Not only do you have a big hello from Namibia. You also have a place to stay, very reasonably priced. With a calcified multipede thrown in free of charge.
Address/contact details are available in any of the many free accommodation guides provided in the Windhoek tourist information offices.
After most of the shops shut, so does Windhoek. The people withdraw behind their walls or traipse off to the suburbs or the shanty town area that lies beyond.
The streets are empty and quiet. You’d hardly know that most of Windhoek city central had a human population; just a few dozing security guards slumped in the shade of trees, the occasional solitary ice cream man, sweating and pushing his partially functioning mobile fridge, dinging his bell…
I quite like Windhoek when it’s like that. My parents sometimes drive me around. It’s peaceful.
They always buy an ice lolly from the ice cream man because he’s struggling. It’s hot.
Then they give it to a street security guard. Because he’s struggling (to stay awake). And the ice lolly’s melting.
And it’s hot.