Springbok, Elephants,Seals and Big Skies

The last time I went looking for animals in the wild was in Malawi when I spent one day at Llwonde National Park. We got up at 5 am and by 5:30 we were on the safari jeep. At least two hours later, we had seen a few elephants, a few bushbuck and some hyeanas, definitely not the high point of animal watching. But everyone here in Namibia promised that there is wild life to be seen in Etosha ( if you are lucky).

The first day we drove around Etosha National Park, a huge elephant at a watering hole began walking toward our vehicle. Giraffes made an appearance and springbok, from the antelope family, were plentiful and as graceful as dancers. The second day at Etosha National Park we went out around 4 pm, to search for wildlife. Within ten minutes of leaving the camp site there was a traffic jam on a dead end road . We pulled off the main road and turned right into a double line of cars bumper to bumper. People became aggressive in their trucks, refusing to move and blocking both sides of the road. When the tourists get this worked up in the park there must be lions somewhere in the bush. My two German tour mates were ecstatic; they had climbed on the seats of the minibus, raised the roof and were trying to get me to look at a bunch of sleeping lions at least 50 feet away. People were hanging out their windows with lenses longer than Pinochio’s nose, trying to find a lion to take a picture of. Finally after staring at sleeping lions for 45 minutes, the German girls agreed, with tears in their eyes to leave. I felt so cold hearted, deciding it was easier to go to the zoo.

After animal gazing we drove another 150 km to visit the Himba people, one of the oldest tribes in Namibia that have maintained their traditional way of living. The women rub their bodies with butter fat and ochre, turning their skin red and protecting themselves from the sun since they cover only their genitals. With a translator as our guide, bringing a gift of school supplies for the children, we were able to photograph without hassle. I was getting weary of the tourist stops so I begged out of cave drawings but agreed to see the seals at Cape Cross.
The fog and the wind and the smell of the seals created a less than enjoyable moment at the seal park. There were thousands of these shiny black creatures, climbing on each other, nursing their babies and barking like dogs. Looking at the waves breaking in the ocean, I realized the black spots were seals swimming with the tide. Since seals bite hard, we kept our distance on a boardwalk that ran along the sea. I think I prefer dolphins or wales.

We arrived at my favorite very German town on the sea called Swakopmund. It’s a mouthful to pronounce and many tourists I spoke to, hated the place. Comments like its too quiet, too German, too touristy. I immediately warmed to it. Since it was on the ocean, very manageable and possibly because I had found an amazing guesthouse with a claw foot tub in my room. Hot baths by night and huge breakfasts in the morning, with architecture reminiscent of the Greek islands.

I asked Job, the cook, after our camping trip, to take me to the slums outside of Swakopmund . Ironically the suburb was named DRC, which is the abbreviation for the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country in a continual state of chaos and war. He had a cousin who had a taxi so they picked me up in the morning and we drove to the township. As we got further from town, the houses became more and more rundown, until there were only wooden shacks with sheet metal roofs.
With a black Namibian at my side, I was able to ask questions about their lives and take photos. There was an apathy and hopelessness among adults. I spoke with a group of 20 year old women who were sitting on wooden crates, one feeding her baby.. she had two children.. all the others had one.. single women who quit school and had no special skills to earn a living. History repeats itself… The Germans commited genocide against the black Namibians in 1902-07.The black Namibians lived under apartheid until 1990 since the country was a protectorate of South Africa. Now since 1990 there is a black government, but the majority of black Namibians are still living in squalor and the whites are still the power brokers.

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