Dame Jenny Shipley’s Charitable Trust to benefit children in Namibia

In August 2007, Dame Jenny Shipley travelled to Namibia in south West Africa as part of a Televison New Zealand travel programme "Intrepid Journeys" and spent two weeks travelling throughout the country.


It was her first visit to Namibia, during which she came across Ehomba School in the northwestern most part of the country.  


Below is an daily account of her experience.


Jenny Shipley Intrepid Journey to Namibia - August 2007

 

30 hours of flying marks the beginning of this adventure!

This is my first trip into Southern Africa and I can’t wait.

Met the crew in NZ and think they will be fun. I’m filled with anticipation.

Have some reservations about the climbing of the dunes, the heat, the capability of my guide, the dust and the long distances. But I’m determined to approach this experience as a wonderful opportunity to meet the real people and explore the varied landscape of Namibia.

I will attempt to tell her story as best I can. t will be fun for me to be traveling as an anonymous person so I can just be myself.

 
Windhoek airport is basic but adequate. 20 years ago if I had been arriving here the white travelers would have gone through one entrance and the black population through another. Up until 1990 Namibia was part of Southwest Africa and governed by South Africa with its apartied system. Today it is Africa’s youngest democracy. I am keen to find out if the perception of the locals is positive or negative re the prospects for their country.

I are greeted by our enthusiastic guide, George, his boss Mike, assistant Ruben and “the truck” which is to become home for much of the next fortnight. Normally it could seat 12 but to my relief there are only 4 of us traveling so there’s heaps of room to spread myself around!

Finally get to our hotel and I crash into bed exhausted at 9pm and sleep the sleep of the dead!

 

Day 1.

 

The sky glows in the morning, promising a clear, cloudless day and some sweltering midday heat.

We hit the road early and go to visit a breakfast market in a poor part of Windhoek. It’s really a cross between an abattoir, a farm kill butchery and an early morning BBQ! Its Saturday morning. Traders bargain. Women are buying the weekends meat, carefully picking out their preferred pieces. Some locals eat breakfast from the sellers at the drum BBQ’s which are cooking beef straight from the beast. Many of these locals have been up all night at the local bars. They assure me that the salty beef is good for hangovers and will set them up for their next drinking session prior to lunch! We beat a haste retreat when one young man saw an opportunity to be paid for having been filmed and when we declined to oblige he became animated and then increasing agitated!

As the day was to progress it was obvious that alcohol is a problem for some parts of this population like most areas around the globe but the abuse is raw and some of the material consumed lethal!

The development township was fascinating. George explained that as people come in from the rural areas there is a housing plan they can participate in. For a small deposit a family can get a tin clad 2 roomed house which they will pay off. Once they have paid NZ$6000 they can move into an improved version. This area was a hive of activity and while very poor by NZ standards, filled with hope.

At 8.30am there were still signs of bars open. It was hot already and I was keen to find some coke to kill the salty taste that lingered in my mouth {and deal to any stomach risk} from my having sampled the beef BBQ with the locals at my previous stop!

I found a bar that would sell me some drinks. One coke for me, two beers for my guides for later and some Fanta as reserve! I found 4 cute wide eyed local children who shared my coke with me while the bar music blared out across the town.

I was approached by Jonathon who wanted to show me his house and so took the opportunity. His wife and 7 children lived in the one bedroom! Yet he was full of hope and had plans, literally, which he showed me of the house he hope to have in the future. He was seeing that his kids were educated even though he had to pay for taxis and fees yet was determined to cope. It was very humbling to see how optimistic these people are when they have so little compare to myself and other New Zealanders.

Late morning we hit the road for the long drive to Serium to prepare for my Dune assault the next day!

The landscape was fascinating as the light and heat of the mid day gave way to the setting sun and the soft peach, pink, orange, blues, grays and blacks hues which made up this visual feast, were very memorable. Saw my first baboons, oryx, spring boks and jackals!

Feels like I am finally in Africa!

 

Day 2

 

Drama!!!!

We woke very early to be in the Dunes for sunrise but the truck was stuck in the sand!!!!!!!! It is a heavy beast of a thing and had sunk into the sand overnight. We spent ¾ of an hour with George trying every trick we could including pushing but it took a bunch of locals to heave and dig to finally free us.

There was no point in fussing even though we missed the sunrise on the dune!

We finally were on the road soon after 8 and wound our way to Dune 45. The hot air balloons floated silently over us with their precious tourism cargo on board.

The Dune looked huge as we got to the carpark! I seriously doubted if I would get to the top as I took my first steps on this fiery red moving sandslide. It was one step forward and two backward! There were some early stumbles but I quietly fell into a rhythm and as I did so increasingly believed that I might be able to ” Knock the bugger off”. It took me almost an hour and I was delighted when I reached the top. It felt as if I had climbed my Everest!….. in my head at least.

I sat there for a long time taking in the magnificent views that rolled out in every direction. The dunes were like sensual bodies resting. The clarity of the lines and the light were wonderful to see. And then came the choice, down the way I had come or straight off the face of the dune on virgin smooth sand. Hair-raising as it was there was really no choice. I had seen film of others hurtling down theses faces and I decided I may not be back so would be mad to miss the chance! The first step or two had me wondering if I would be swallowed up in a sand avalanche. But once I got the sense of the fluid movement of the sand it was very exhilarating as I plummeted down the 250 metre high sand face.

The balance of the day was very relaxing as we tried to adjust to and cope with the sweltering heat which then melted into a beautiful sunset, a clear star filled sky silent night other than howls of jackals’, followed by another sunrise which I feel I will never tire of.

 

Day 3 and 4

 

The Truck pounded its way across as desolate landscapes as I have ever seen for much of the day. We could have been on the moon! Yet there were surprises. I crossed the tropic of Capricorn. I drove through dramatic rocky gorges and on roads that looked as if they were paved with diamonds in the restricted mineral rich areas.

We finally hit the coast at Walvis Bay in the late afternoon to be confronted with a huge harbour filled with flamingos, kite board sailors and mineral shipping activity that reflects the importance and the No1 status of the mineral wealth of Namibia.

We wound our way along the coast to Swakpodmund; a town that I couldn’t help feeling is a cross between Oamaru, New Plymouth and Hawke’s Bay! Or it could be a coastal town hugging the eastern seaboard of England yet it has this very odd mix of Germans, Afrikaners, British and Black African people all making there home here.

The Atlantic pounds in on this coastline making it its own. A lighthouse towers over the town and protects the interests of the current fishing industry, the second largest source of earnings for the Namibian economy.

I got up early this morning and walked the seawall as the waves rolled in and crashed on the rock embankment sending their spray high in the air. It felt wild and refreshing. The high spray and the salt sticking to my skin reminded me of when I was young and I would go
Surfcasting at Rarangi Beach in Marlborough with my father, mother and sisters.

Later this morning, with Georges help, I found Malangui surf casting and he agreed to take me fishing. I had to meet him at his village and we went through the most hilarious rig moral getting our surfcasting rods tied on to the back of our bikes. We entertained the locals with our antics but eventually were organized and rode off to the beach near a fishing boat wreck. We fished for 3 hour with a few bites but no luck. Thank goodness I had decided to cover my bases by buying a fish at the market so that we could have it at the beach if we were not successful. Wow it was wonderful!!!! George had a hand in the cooking and we had a feast! I was freezing when I got back, such a stark contrast from yesterday when I was sweltering in 38 degrees! This is a country of extremes!!

All that salt air had me in a sound sleep in no time.

 

Day 5

 

The salt road up the coast heading north was flat and fast! I understood for the first time why this area is called the skeleton coast. This morning had a misty fog swirling in and you could not tell where the sea ended and the land began. No wonder this has been a graveyard for ships and men. Many have been confused by what they thought was the horizon and come to grief in this hostile place. If you were lucky enough to survive the capsize, the barren nature of the landscape and its wild animal inhabitants may well have finished you off.

This was well illustrated to me when I visited the Cape Cross Seal Colony. I love seals and am used to seeing them in NZ in their un challenged environment. Today there were some 200,000 seals present despite them having been actively culled recently. The Namibian Government allows this in order to protect the fishery and have made a viable industry out of the culled animals. The genitalia of the culled seals go to Asia, the meat to Taiwan and the pelts to Europe!

I spent ages wandering around the colony watching very persistent mating sessions, active feeding sessions between mothers and their calves and huge numbers of seals basking in the weak sunlight. Others were fishing amongst the kelp and surfing the waves at sea. I was fascinated to observe the role the Black Backed Jackal played cleaning up the beach but was horrified to observe a jackal attack a baby seal that had been left nestled in amongst the rocks while its mother had gone to feed. It was a murderous attack and the jackal literally ate the seal alive!!! Awful!

The whole experience reminded me of the cycle of life and George rather pragmatically commented that while I might not like this, we couldn’t see the massive impact that the seals were having on the fishery and that it was all about balance! He was right of course but I felt shaken by the brutal reality of it all.

The truck rolled me on through Darmaraland, the home of the Desert Elephants. We didn’t see any but you could imagine them in this stark habitat where many species have adapted. Namibia apparently has more unique species of plant and animal that have adapted to these harsh climatic and environment conditions than almost any other country and I could understand that having seen the diversity of the landscape that I have seen in less than a week!

We got to our camp in the dark and for the first time had to set up our tents. Very remote setting with basic flush bush loos and shower. George helped me set up my tent thank goodness and after another one of his great meals I scrambled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep with a soft desert breeze blowing the side of the tent and stars sparkling through the top vent. It was a while since I have been camping but felt relaxed and comfortable!

 

Day 6

 

A cool dawn as the sun hit the tent. I was up promptly but had to wait for George to put the fire on in the furnace beside the outside shower in order to heat the water. I was intrigued by the bamboo shower surround, the open air and dawn light as the setting for my very invigorating morning shower. Cheeky crew took film of the shampoo filled head peeking over the top of the fence!

The morning was filled with a fascinating adventure to a Himba village. Not sure if I should be inspired or worried about what I have seen. Yako, the white headman told us that he was taken into the tribe and gifted the headwoman after she came to him sick and he arranged for her treatment. This was many years ago and he now had 3 wives, was tolerated by the village, shared his land with the Himba group to graze their cattle as seemed very much at home. He was also adopting abandoned children and had several beautiful Himba babies there with his group. This 3000 year old tribe has some great traditions and still live as they did centuries ago. The women are bare breasted and Ogre covered from head to foot with an ogre and butterfat pigmentation used on their skin for moisturizing, sun protection and insect deterrent. And it clearly worked.

They lived in huts in a very simple way and carried out their farming practices valuing their cattle and goats highly. The children were beautiful!

The balance of the day involved a teeth chattering drive to the Kunene River Lodge on the Angolan boarder.

What a beautiful place but phones don’t work because someone has stolen the solar panels!!!!!! You have to be a special person to survive in this environment.

I am fine and standing up well to the travel. I like to feel I can still speak to Burt each day though and feel cut off when I can not!!!!! I won’t be near an internet for some days so will just have to manage. We take much for granted in our daily lives!!!!!

I have had a very interesting day!

This morning I set off to visit a Himba school. It was in a very remote area and the school was actually a disused military base. There have been several wars not the least of which was the Angolan Civil War which has only ended since 2004. The Namibian Govt allowed the Angolan government forces attack the rebels in South Angola from Namibian soil so the whole of the northern Namibia was affected very much. It seems so tough when these gentle Himba people live in such simple and modest ways that they would have this disruption imposed on them.

And so I was a little shocked when I visited the school to find 130 kids, no power because the generator shed had burnt down 5 months ago and no phone yet the Principal and 5 teachers were doing their best to give these young people a chance. Many of the kids walked 20km to school on Sunday and walked home on Friday afternoon. They need so much including more food, mattresses and blankets, an improved water supply and resource materials to inspire the children yet the teachers have to manage with very little. Despite this these kids still had that sparkle in their eye and a strong desire to learn. They deserve a chance and it again reminds you that we have so much and Africa has so little.

The Principal pleaded for help. He is keen to get his Ministry to do as they had promised and fix the power issue but he is looking for a sponsor to help on this and other projects. I am not sure what I can do and who’s help I will need but it is one of the things I will have to do when I get home! It appeared that $NZ 10,000 would solve the power problem if you could be sure that the money would go to the project! Hilary and Peter from the Kunene Lodge will be valuable eyes and partners on the ground. I will see what I can do.

I visited another Himba village and with the help of George who is a talented fluent speaker of several languages, had a profoundly interesting conversation with the headman where he explored his anxiety over the future of his culture, his cattle, his people and his kids. I sat on the floor of his hut with he, his wife and daughter as they prepared for their day. It was wonderful that he opened up so much and the conversation we had was as insightful as any I have had the privilege to be involved in. The headman was tall, dignified and strong yet I could see in his face that he bore the weight of years of demanding living. The average life expectancy in Namibia is 58.8!

As our conversation came to an end I got the camera man to turn the view lenses so that it was facing them and they could see the image of themselves moving. They had never seen moving pictures before!!!! They were curious and cautious at first but were hilarious once they worked out that it was them. There were shrieks of delight and pointing and gestures. It was very special to see such self discovery! These people were very poor in financial standards yet rich in many other ways.

I rested this afternoon as it was 38 degrees again then set off on the Lodge boat for a sunset cruise on the river that divides Namibia from Angola. It was perfect. We motored up river and saw Crocs ,baboons and monkeys as well as birds like I have never seen before. They even served a G & T which was delicious!. Once we were up river it was engines off and we drifted down in silence other than the animals doing their evening engagement calls. The sunset was another beauty! Namibia never gets that wrong.

Dinner on the deck ended another day of extremes in terms of the experiences I am having.

 

Day 7.

 

The truck, ably driven by George, wove its way along another bone shaker of a road as we followed the Kunene river to the east. I found the coolness of the river and its vegetation a welcome relief. I saw a large troop of monkeys and tried to get close to them but they took exception to my intrusion and fled in spectacular style through the canopy of the forest that hugged the river.

The huge power dam that supplies most of Namibia and Angola’s power was an impressive sight and the isolated and unconjested road then gave way to  densely populated townships and in some instances traffic mayhem.

I was most entertained by the pubs. Tin sheds on the side of the road with the most remarkable collection of names amused me as we traveled. It was a long day which concluded with something of a treasure hunt as we tried to find the village where we were to stay with a local family. All the roads looked the same and each group of locals had different instructions and directions for George. I thought I might be putting up my tent in the dark again!

This was Rubens home area so he helped with language and between he and gorgeous George, we got there in the late daylight. Whew!. No power, no running water, a long drop in the cattle paddock, dust and wattle trees in flower set me something of a challenge but a wonderful experience.

The camp fire with the family was memorable as the kids told me what they hoped to do. One wants to be a doctor and the other a teacher. They were bright and were going to school with great enthusiasm and commitment….. after they had done the chores!

 

Day 8 and 9

 

Farm life again!

I was up at the crack of dawn as I wanted to understand what these people’s lives were really like. At 7am I helped the family take their 4 cows and a calf, 4 donkeys and 30 goats for their daily water. Old farming skills to the fore! The cool morning air made the kilometer and a half walk with the stock to and from the wells, a very pleasant experience. Down dusty lanes, through a small village and on to the buzz and bustle of the watering hole.

The boys were very efficient and mammy came to. A 20 gallon bucket out, rope attached to it and the well bar, bucket dropped down the 20 meter well, bucket fills and the wind begins. The trough is hauled over and filled and the animals know cows first, then goats, then donkeys. They drink their fill as it is their only drink of the day in this arid land and the animals seem to have adjusted.

What amazed me was that several farmers and their animals were at the watering hole at the same time but there was no confusion. These wells also provided all the water for the family. This was put into barrels and bought home in the donkey cart. I got involved but I didn’t know how to answer when the oldest son asked me if this was how we drew water for our cattle in NZ. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that when Burt and I owned the farm 20 years ago our irrigation and house supply well was a 12 inch bore that went 200 feet down and pumped 1200 gallons a minute! I told him we were lucky and that we used pipes and a pump. He accepted the answer with a hint of curiosity.

Its Sunday so chores done it was time for church. The headman had invited me to go with him so I hunted out my one and only skirt to attempt to do my Sunday best! The families had their Sunday best on and were sparkling clean which was remarkable considering the washing conditions.

What an experience! As we approached the church there were streams of people making their way there along well trodden tracks from every direction. Inside this simple but substantial building, over 300 people were singing their hearts out. While I could not understand the language I recognized the joy that they experienced as they worshipped their Lord and the hymns were familiar so I just sang along in English. Over 90% of Namibians are Christians.

2 and a quarter hours later it was over. 2 sermons, lots of singing, a speech from the health nurse while she had the community captive and some comments from me as they asked me to explain why I was there. I don’t think its common for white locals or foreigners to drop in. I did my best to explain what I was doing, extended Christian greetings and was grateful to the All Blacks for their fame in terms of being New Zealanders. Many Namibians know about them as they are also playing in the world cup!

This afternoon was so hot. I made the mistake of seeking refuge under a wattle tree for shade and set off some hayfever that has continued to bother me!!! I was distracted briefly later in the afternoon by a short visit to the Headman’s compound but he wasn’t home so we went for a beer in the late afternoon at the local bar, ironically situated close to the watering hole!

What an experience. There was a duke box and what occurred was the most spontaneous African dance party.  What rhythm, colour, laughter and style. I joined in and we had a one year old and several eighty year olds rocking!!! It was a great party local style but more fun than I had had in a long time.

 

Day 10

 

After another early drive George finds me and internet café. Something’s are hard to do without! After an hours catch up with the world George loads me into the truck and we head for treetop camp, home of the San people. Back thousands of years in time!!!!

More camping, crippling hay fever, great camp showers and toilets and an interesting social exchange in the evening unlocked an insight into this very old tribe, one of the 7 Namibian tribes. The holy fire, the dance, the traditions and the rituals were very African. Many of the old beliefs are still kept live to day as was very evident by the 10 year old who has for a number of years been trained by his Grandfather as a tribal healer.

This has been a tough day for me as I have had to dose myself up with anti-histamine to get myself back on an even keel. But thank heavens its working!

 

Day 11 and 12

 

Heading for the National Park at last!!! George asked me this morning what I wanted to see most during my 2 days in the park. While I know I will love it all, I hope to see elephants.

I have scanned the landscape over recent days and nothing. George has promised me up to 20 elephants so here’s hoping.

The Etosha National Park has been around for 50 years. It covers over 5 million acres of mainly dry and arid lands dotted with waterholes.

My first visit to a watering hole was a triumph! Several elegant giraffes, many spring bok, Oryx, hyena, birds and zebra all drinking in the late afternoon light. It was beautiful. Our second watering hole also stuck gold with 4 young male lions. They were only 6 feet from the truck! I was both delighted and scared!

After a great game drive we went back to the compound and just before dinner an excited George came to tell me that there was an elephant and a rhino at the water hole just by the camp. We were treated to a great display as this elephant bathed himself. That trunk!!!!…… as dexterous as a hand and a drinking straw to boot.

The second morning we set off across the park and saw a feast of wild life. Vultures, eagle, another elephant ( 2 down ), and wildebeest, zebra, boks and many, many more varieties. Sweeping plains, vast salt pans, dense thickets and some small lush oasis around some of the water holes made up the landscape.

We came upon a herd of elephants standing under the shade of a large tree escaping the sweltering heat of the day. There were mothers, tiny babies and some busy adolescences making trouble (16 elephants have been accounted for now and still counting).

The highlight of the trip in animal terms came late in the afternoon. George’s shriek of delight alerted me to a huge herd of elephants. What unfolded over the next hour and a half was an experience I will never forget. 20 male elephants were at the water hole and the social engagement was mesmerizing. Gentle, cheeky, nurturing, bossy, assertive, commanding. Some busy drinking and bathing, while centuries guarded the group on each outer corner of the hole.

Next thing in the distance I see another group of about 20 approaching. Extraordinary social exchanges and only 15 to 20 feet from me……. then finally another 10, mothers and babies and a large bull elephant approach and a similarly amazing and complex ritual unfolded. I took 200 photos and still don’t feel I could do justice to the exceptional event I was seeing.

This spectacle alone was worth coming to Africa for!!!!

I will never forget it. George was very pleased with himself. Promise delivered many fold!

 

Day 13

 

As we drove from the park we were treated to two large male lions coming in for their morning drink. These beautiful, powerful cats were in wonderful condition and bare witness to the fact that the park is in great shape with a bountiful food chain.

We drove back toward Windhoek as this adventure draws to an end.

Today however we confronted one of the most shocking events in Namibias history. In 1904 the Herero people became very frustrated and angry that the colonial German settlers were taking the best cattle land. A Herero chief got the Nama people to assist and attacked and killed over 100 German settlers. The Military were ill equipped to deal to the Herero people but sent to Germany for reinforcements.

6 months later a huge battle occurred which resulted in 80% of the Herero population being wiped out. Those who were not killed immediately were driven into the desert and starved and left to die of thirst.

Each August there is a month long festival to commemorate the Chiefs who tried to uphold the Herero people’s rights. The holy fire burns on the battle site for a month in the central square in the middle of Okjhander. No development is allowed on this special site. You can feel the pulse of the event even today as you see this site watch the local peoples reverence for the area, visit the graves of the Herero and Germans killed and take in the history. Today, this event is the subject of a financial claim by the Herero people from the German Government for the genocide that occurred. An apology as made by the German Government in 2004 for the wrong that was done.

In some respects it reminds me of some of the issues we have and continue to face in NZ.

Cattle dominate so much of Namibian history and culture. The Herero women in traditional costume represent the prime cattle beast both in form and in character right down to the walk.

George arranged a “special treat” for me by taking me to his sisters home to give me an opportunity to observe these outfits and have them tell me their stories. What a treat and a fascinating insight to their traditions and beliefs.

They then delighted in dressing me in traditional Herero costume!!!!

Four petticoats later tied under my bust to accentuate uplift, the gown, the lace and the hat to represent the head of the cow where all ceremonially put on me. I then had instruction as to how to walk slowly and swaying like a contented but demure cow. The broader the beam, the better the resemblance of a prime cattle beast!  Their dignity and confidence was impressive. I joined in this fun but its not a fashion choice I am likely to take on in the future and hope not to be confronted with the photos too often!

 

Day 14

 

I am back in Windhoek where I started and don’t know where the fortnight has gone. I feel so fortunate to have had a chance to feel the heart beat of the exceptionally unique people, seen the pulsating natural beauty of the landscape and the light as it plays on its surfaces, and observed at close range the remarkable game of the National Parks of Namibia as these animals roam freely within its vast boundaries.

For me Namibia fills up your senses.

Overall I found it a wonderful country where of a people reveling in their young democracy and trying to make the best of things and move forward……… but they have lost so much of their wealth to others as a result of wars, the reallocation of assets post victory and the social cost of the imposition of apartied. Some of these things are lingering shadows.

Yet I have felt encouraged that every conversation I have engaged in with the local Namibian people and there have been many, they have all expressed optimism about their future and that of their country. For me that was so positive given the standard of living they currently experience and the challenges they face as they weave the mew thread which will shape the Namibia of tomorrow..

I hope this is the new Africa!……….. And gorgeous George is a wonderful example of the face of its rapidly expanding tourism industry today. Professional, funny, diligent and considerate but brilliantly informed as he unlocked the stories of his life and his country to allow  me to gain an understanding and take a glimpse.

This trip has delivered more than enough to have me hope to be back to this country of extremes and endless sunsets. I would love to share some of these remarkable experiences with my family and I suspect they would love it as much as I have!

 

Kia kaha Namibia! Stay strong.