Roads are long and empty…
I’m heading toward Tsinsabis. Roads are long and empty, especially after I’ve passed through the ‘Veterinary Gate’. Northern Namibia is more tribal, the tiny village and shack kind of Africa. Beyond the the Veterinary Gate it’s mostly large farms, it seems. So I’m traveling abandoned roads, fenced of by a nearly invisible barrier surrounding mega-farms. The environment is still bushlike, nature appears similar to what I’ve seen before. Along the way it’s mostly cows. No corn fields or vegetable pads. Probably too dry out here. Nope just lots of bush bush and nothingness. Hardly any people.
Just outside Tsinsabis, a tractor appears on the horizon.
I stop over to say hello. Kill the engine and jump off to shake hands. I’m looking for local bush people and maybe these guys can help. As I’m exchanging pleasantries, I notice a subtle ‘tssssssssssss’ behind me… I turn around and realize that one of the front tyres is actively in the process of becoming an empty nuisance.
Before I can speak, the men make gestures indicating that I should follow them. We head for a side track labeled ‘Muramba Bushmen walking trails’… Could this be what I’ve been looking for?
Both tractors pull up by a little straw-roofed building. I rush toward my tractor case and pull out the jack and mending kit, someone takes them off my hands and carries them to the front.
As I return to the front myself, five guys have already started lifting the tractor and are currently stripping off the tyre. Within an eyeblink, they’ve extracted the inner tube!
I help out by inspecting the outer tyre for acacia thorns, just fast enough to be of some use pumping air back in. And that’s it!
My first flat tyre.
Later that day, I make a song: ‘Help is on its way, before you know you need it!’
That same night I make camp under the trees of the ‘Muramba bushmen walking trails’. The manager invites me for dinner by the fire, along with his German guests.
He tells us of the book he wrote, about local life and tradition, and the stories of the local bush people. He grew up here, has lived here his whole life, speaks the ‘click-click’ language (Lots of clacking noises in there, so that’s what I name it).
He set up walking trails for tourists, teaching them about local customs.
Quite a historic trip, ’cause bush people aren’t exactly what they used to be. The peaceful hunting tribe (see the film ‘The gods must be crazy’) hasn’t been allowed to hunt for years now. Not even on this territory, alotted to them by government, and they are slowly driven away by other tribes competing for their well.
These people aren’t the kind that fight over it. They can’t survive in their traditional ways and are gradually switching to more ‘western’ standards. The other tribes have introduced bars to the village and alcoholism has become a real threat.
Learning how to herd cattle is a hard task when your people have been hunters since the dawn of time. Instead of killing it, you have to feed and groom animals for years on end…
I’d love to do something for these bush men. Support any project
that help these people out. Out here, culture and tradition have vanished. The same goes for most of southern Africa. Tribes that have been here before anybody else, before Dutch Boers, before Northern tribes moved southward.
So I listen to stories from the recently finished book. It has taken years of labour. Twenty years of cooperation and communication with local bush men. Tales of 80- and even 100-year olds, invaluable knowledge, collected and recorded!
Valuable world heritage, also for the tribe itself. Remembering and learning what they used to be. Be proud. Stay proud.
An essential tool for the progress of these people, because of their modest attitudes.
So where’s the publisher of this book?
There haven’t been any yet.
Is it political fear of having to aknowledge that these people deserve more space, more rights? Haven’t got a clue.
Hopefully a publisher, and publicity will come soon.
(I’ll be taking the story with me to South Africa)
…bushmen fixed my first flat tyre!
In Tsinsabis, I want to visit the Arts and Crafts centre, which supports the bush people by selling their ‘art’. But I’m stuck at the huge, beautiful gate. The buildings are quite chique. (I must have gone slightly native, I guess). I return to the little sign by the road, indicating a local art & craft centre…
Bushmen Trade and Craft, Tsinsabis…
On the plain, under a few tiny trees, are some shacks. It’s where Rudolf runs his little shop, next to the wooden cottage he shares with his wife and kids.
He turns Ostrich eggs into jewelry, an ancient tradition. He breaks its shell down to tiny particles, turning them into beads.
Part of them are being put over a fire in a can. These are burnt light or dark brown. This way, all sorts of coloured beads come to life. From these he creates bracelets and necklaces. Pretty!
He also makes necklace hangers out of certain tree seeds, cutting off the brown skin to create drawings on the orbs.
I purchase a necklace and a bracelet, and two pieces of wood that make fire. I’ll never be without again!
So here’s how he makes fire:
It’s as if his son sits inside the egg!
I arrive at the big, main road. Make camp at the ‘Sachsenheim’ campsite (between Tsumeb and Oshikati). I receive a warm welcome (even though they were expecting me to arrive three days earlier). The site is quite occupied, it’s summer holiday and the Etosha National Parc has its entrance close by.
The next day, some people point out at my tractor. Something’s wrong.
I check it out.
I look again.
Another flat tyre.
Together with the campsite manager, I struggle with the wheel for hours. My hammer expires after three firm blows. My spare inner tube hasn’t made it through the last three years unscathed, and the current tyre isn’t in such a healthy state either. Three times, it comes off and goes back on. pffffff. When, finally, it’s back in position, I notice a tear in the outer tyre. That one used to be quite ok, but the long distances and the heat have hardened the rubber too much for it to withstand all this pushing and pulling. i don’t like this a bit.
The desert, the deserted territory is coming closer now. I have to make sure I’ll be safe there…
I pick up the phone to call Nicolette (of the Republican). She had texted me that in the next town, there’s someone with a sleeping place for me: someone managing a construction company, who also owns tractors. I’m hoping he can tell me whether I’ll be able to buy new tyres there.
I look at my phone’s screen.
It tells me the area I’m in:
It says ‘Luck’
I probably am lucky that this all happens now, and not is some forsaken bit of wasteland 300 clicks along. Must be the guardian angels in the back again.
Namibia is a highly organized country. The man I’m calling tells me he can order new tyres in Windhoek, that they’ll be sent by courier and they’ll be waiting for me in Odangwa, tomorrow morning! On a saturday!
I have to confess to him that it’s a practical impossibility to materialize there at the same time: 180 clicks takes me a minimum of 2 days. ‘I’d better be off then, see you tomorrow night’.
New front tyres, and a shampooing… at Roadhart Road Construction Company
The new tyres have the same profile as the rear tyres. I never knew they existed for 2 wheel-drive tractors, it’s great for the sandy roads ahead of me. And the rocky tracks… I am totally completely ready for this!
Reinhart and his crew do a spontaneous check-up on the tractor. Petrol disappears from the tank at a faster rate than before. The wires of my flashing light are being upgraded (vehicles tend to go FAST, out here)
I notice Reinhart inflicting something on my ex-hammer.
The one without a grip.
He’s welding a new grip.
Tears flood my eyes.I had intended to just get myself a new one. Had to cry about something I haven’t mentioned before: (It’s been a learning exercise: Guilt and responsibility work both ways) The mechanic and friend that helped me to outfit the tractor, and provided me with spare parts, has been quite a tremendously bad dissapointment.
He had followed the technical course that I should have had before taking off. He was supposed to teach me in turn, during the journey (the first three months I travelled with a follow-up truck). But he hardly taught me anything. As if he really didn’t want to. Pretty scary even then. Frustrating, dangerous.
All my alarms, flashing lights and sirens unanymously exploded into mayhem when we were reviewing the spare parts he had ordered from italy: I questioned him about those issues my feebly developed mechanical expertise would allow for, like: ‘Where’s the tyre pump, why, basically, does the whole batch of spare part consist of light bulbs?’
So he threw a fit.
So I threw a fit, but tried to contain it in an attempt to maintain some shreds of constructive cooperation.
When the follow-up truck and I parted ways, somewhere in sudan or ethiopia, I immediately sought help and advice from a tractor company. There, I found out that my ‘mechanic’, had sent me on my way with a completely inadequate tool box.
I didn’t even have the right set of wrenches to unmount a tyre.
Didn’t have a jack.
I was having seriously paranoid sentiments about him plotting to get me killed by default. It made me feel powerless and sad.
Especially since, from the start of the journey, many people and media had bestowed upon me the slightly doubtful label ‘frightfully naieve’, not to mention ‘total basket case’. The ‘Antwerp Incident’ hadn’t really helped upping the esteem-o-meter either…
Even though I think I’ve thorougly proved to the world and myself that I’m neither dumb nor a flake, it wouldn’t do to kick the bucket in some god forsaken place just because there’s no one around, and some guy supplied the wrong toolage for mending tyres. They wouldn’t call him a loser; that predicate would be mine for all eternity.
And yes, I admit that I might have been a bit of a thicko. It might not have been the brightest idea to put ones life in the hands of someone you don’t fully trust.
So I’ve learned some independance along the way (and to look for help in the right places). Friendship complicates some issues, business being interpreted as personal matters etc.
Had to learn to seek out the people who actually admit it when they’re not sure of something.
Which has been a rather valuable and simple lesson!
Again and again, I asked mechanics to run through my materiel, my knowledge. Gradually, all my tools were replaced. Learned a lot. Especially the fact that people who know stuff have the fun tendency to not be able to shut up about it
Well, I guess I knew that before I set off.
Today I found out that my spare rubbers are the wrong size. As I tried to replace the built-in fuel filter with a spare, it turned out to be the wrong one. So when someone started reanimating my deceased hammer and even provided it with a rubber grip, yes, tears have been known to have been spilled. And now, the last issue has been dealt with. Up till now there’s always been people around, but I can’t afford to break down in the vast and empty plains of Namibia.
What magical people, seeing what’s missing, helping out without a word!
Baie Dankie, beautiful people of Odangwa! Baie dankie.