There is a definite shift in atmosphere as the truck moves into South Africa. Namibia, of course, is rife with South African connection, much more so than I realized upon entering Mondesa – the township of Swakopmund. Apartheid is so closely associated with South Africa that it is easy to forget how it affected all the countries surrounding. Township tours themselves seem to have a certain stigma about them – no one wants to be seen as a privileged white tourist snapping photos of a black slum. And thankfully, it wasn’t like that at all. Because of the warmth of the people we met and the depth of meaning I acquired from the experience, it proved to be one of the most worthwhile outings of the entire trip so far.
Mondesa is divided into four tribal areas, the largest of which is the Damara clan (although they are not the most populous tribe in Swakopmund, they dominate this particular township). Despite these divisions, which were set in place by the government specifically to cause conflict, there is little tension between the tribes. Everyone is free to intermingle and live as they wish. Our guide, Castro, was Damara, and he kept us at ease throughout the tour. Only three of us ventured out on this adventure – myself, Ben and Gabriella.
Mondesa is built up of low-walled brick houses. Some of the buildings seem more like prison cells than homes – many of the walls have no windows at all. But Castro informed us that they build the walls that way so it is easy to extend the houses once a homeowner has more money. It is small details like this that keep us from becoming overly cynical — people wait many years to be allowed into the township, and life is happy and enjoyable, for all the troubles.
We are taken to the home of the Damara chief, Oma Lina. She is the first female chief in Damara history. She is eighty years old and a formidable character — she dominated the small living room with her presence. With her grandchildren crawling over her knee, she politely answered all our questions and drew from a vast fountain of South Africa, Namibian, German and Afrikaans historical knowledge.
From there, we moved on to a so-called “temporary” settlement for people waiting to be allotted land in Mondesa. The settlement was only supposed to last for one year, and so far has been around for over twenty. The people there are much less fortunate and must make their homes out of items they recover from the nearby landfill. Generally, the homes do not have electricity, however there are very strange street lamps on every makeshift corner. We entered the home of a local artisan, whose bright neon home certainly stood out amongst the dusty browns and greys. There, we met one of the brightest children I have ever known, a twelve-year-old boy named Daniel. He grilled us about the nature of our trip and where we were from – he is desperate to travel himself – and he taught us the four clicks of the Damara tongue. We exchanged addresses and I will send him the pictures I took of us in his home, and of him playing Professor Daniel. I can only hope that he has the opportunity to take his education as far as he wants to… it is children like that that are not only the future of Africa but of the world.
A brief stop at a local medicine woman’s store and a few bites of a local meal ended our journey. The mopani worms were delicious (surprisingly, since I hated them in Zimbabwe) but the rest of the meal came with the unpleasant aftertaste of gritty sand… an unfortunate inevitability in the desert!
Amy and Daniel
Getting click lessons from Professor Daniel
Mopani Worms… mmm