Posts Tagged ‘Namibia’

The time we missed Independence Day

When I lived in namibia, I was 18. We have all been 18. Therefore, I hope you not judge me too harshly after I tell you the story about Independence Day, the biggest day of the year in Namibia.

They had worked hard for their independence and it was in everyone’s recent memory. I was 18. I didn’t appreciate the importance of this day. The night before Independence Day was the Crayfish Derby in Luderitz. This was more for the Afrikaners than anyone else.

We got there mid-afternoon and watched all the men go off in their fishing boats and we then had about four hours until the men would come back with a crayfish and have them weighed to see who had the biggest and who would win. In this four hours, we were given free drinks and food because people recognised us as the poor volunteers in town. We had a town meeting to go to so we stayed for about an hour then walk back into town to go to this meeting.

It was when we were walking back that we realised we were a little drunk. Our dog, Diaz, was with us. She was always with us. And so she came to the town hall with us. We hoped that we didn’t appear too drunk and decided to stay silent and smile a lot. When the meeting started, we had chosen two seats on the end of a row and sat silently scribbling notes for the local town newspaper, which we ran.

They decided to do that thing where everyone introduces himself and they started at the end of the row that we were at. So much for keeping out of the way. Lucy stood up, giggled a little and introduce herself. When I stood up, the giggles had grown and I was almost laughing out loud. It suddenly all seemed so hilarious. I said my name, pointed at lucy and said, “yeh, the Buchter News as well,” and sat down. It had not started well.

After everyone else introduced themselves and we took a few obligatory photographs, the dog made an appearance. We had left her outside but someone must have opened the door and she had snuck in. She came over and sat down near us. We knew what she was like but we hoped she would behave today. She did not behave. She wound her way in and out of everyone else’s chairs and then some empty chairs which caused them to move a little and scrape on the floor. It sounded like a fart.

We giggled. We were not professional.

The meeting lasted 2 hours and we didn’t really listen to anything. We left and headed straight back to the Crayfish Derby. The men would be back in a few hours and until then, there was eating and drinking time. We whipped out the camera a few times to take photos and then people remembered that we were the poor newspaper volunteers and fed us again for free.

When the men had come back, they all weighed their crayfish and we spent the evening celebrating and dancing.

The next morning there was a big celebration in the nearby stadium. It was Independence Day for the whole country. We had not been clever to stay late at the Crayfish Derby but we got up and we made a way to the stadium with good intention. We got there at 9 o’clock, found a seat and sat down to wait. It was supposed to be starting at about 9.30. We waited. 10 o’clock came. We waited. 10.30 came.

I don’t know what we expected. we had been living in Africa for long enough to know that 9.30 does not mean 9.30. We were suffering. We had not had enough sleep. We were totally exposed, sitting in the hot sun and dehydrated from our night out. We realised it would probably be midday before anything significant happened.

We decided to go home for sleep. Just a little one. Just a nap. Just for an hour or so. We’d be back at mid day. As we were leaving the stadium, our close friend, George, arrived and why we were leaving. We told him that we just needed to pop home for something quickly. We didn’t want to tell him we had to sleep because we were dehydrated and knackered from our night out. We said we would be back before anything got going.

We went home, headed for the front room, sat on the sofa and fell asleep. When we woke up, it was quite late in the afternoon. We ran out of the house into the street. We lived on a hill so we could see down into the stadium. There were not many people in the stadium. They were leaving.

The celebrations were over and we had missed the entire day.

The entire Independence Day. The most important day of the year in Namibia and we had slept on the sofa instead.

But we were the local newspaper volunteers. We ran the only town newspaper. If we didn’t report Independence Day, it would look strange. So we got the two or three photographs we had taken of the decorations at the stadium and some of the photos of the town major and a few of the other people we knew had made speeches and we wrote the article for the newspaper as though we had been there.

It went something like this – “The Independence Day celebrations were enjoyed by all. This day marks a special day in Namibia’s history. Since 1980, Namibia has been free of outside control and its’ people are free to pursue their own goals. The town mayor encompassed these feelings exactly in a speech in which she praised Namibians for their resilience and talked of the wonderful things that have been achieved under a free Namibian government.”

I mean that’s probably what she said, isn’t it? We said there had been performances by children from the local schools, which we knew because we also worked as teachers in a few schools and had seen groups of children preparing their performances for the Independence Day celebrations.

And with nothing else to do but go with it, we let the newspaper go out that month with the main story a kind of hashed together patchwork blanket of guesses and photographs we had taken of other things.

No one said anything. No one commented on the lack of detail about the celebrations or about the mayor’s speech. No one noticed that the photographs didn’t look like they were taken in an outdoor stadium.

And it was fine.

I must reiterate, readers, I was 18. This seemed like acceptable behaviour. Please do not judge me.

The time we went to see the penguins

When I was 18, I decided that Africa would be a good idea. And so I moved there. I lived in a little town called Luderitz on the Namibian coast and loved it. My friend Lucy and I worked hard producing the local town newspaper and working in some of the schools.

We had been there a few months when it was time to decide what to do for Christmas. A whole load of other volunteers were heading to Cape Town for it and before leaving England, I had had this romantic idea in my head of climbing Table Mountain on Christmas morning and sitting on the top sipping a hot chocolate. It was decided then. We would head to Cape Town and join in the fun.

It was lovely. It was a lovely way to spend our first Christmases away from home. At the Long Street Backpackers, where we stayed, all the guests gave about £3 each and a few people went to the shop and got loads of food and we all sat round a massive long table, relative strangers, and had a wonderful muddled Christmas day together. Later that evening, we got it into our heads that everyone needed to be thrown into the pool. And so everyone was thrown into the pool. Fabulous.

We weren’t exactly partying hard or anything but we were letting our hair down after an intense few months. One night, we went to a club called Jo’burg and this one girl decided she was going to have a ‘dance-off’ with one of the local South African guys. We recoiled in horror and ran off, leaving her to her own silliness in the club. So you see, we were being a little bit silly.

One day, however, we decided to have a more sedate day. We were a bit tired from the partying and felt a little off-kilter being around strangers at a time when people were usually with their families. We withdrew from it all and made a plan to get the train out to Simonstown, about an hour away, and walk along the coast a little and see the penguins. There was a massive colony there, apparently.

We boarded the train and made the journey but, given our state of tiredness, were struggling not to nod off. By the time we got to Simonstown, we kind of wanted another sit down. We walked along the seafront with its lovely old high street and started our walk out to see the penguins. It was going to be half an hour’s walk. After about five minutes, we spotted a cafe and agreed en masse, that sitting down and having lunch was quite quite necessary if we were going to make this walk.

And sit down we did. We ordered most of the things on the menu and scoffed them then had to sit very still for fear of exploding. One of the group had developed a crush on the waitress so of course we lingered for longer.

By the time someone was brave enough to mention finishing the walk out to see the penguins, the rest of us kind of looked at our watches and huffed and puffed a bit and said we didn’t know if we’d make it there and back in time for the train back (I’m sure we would have, it was mid afternoon, not midnight) and our little legs certainly didn’t want us to go.

So we walked the five minutes back to the train station and got the train back to Cape Town.

That’s what happened the day we went to see the penguins.

In conversation with my 18 year old self

Ok, 18 year old me, I’d like you to calm down a little bit. Just…. calm down. You’re a bit crazy and all over the place. You’d do well by scaling it back a bit.

Also, I don’t want to ruin the dream but that ambition you have, to marry Michael Jackson… That’s, um, it’s not going to happen unfortunately. I won’t tell you why. The other ambition, to see him in concert, also doesn’t come true. He does plan a tour in England but, um, he doesn’t make it. Again, I won’t tell you why.

Also, your expectation that you will have a terribly meaningful and world-changing role in life… yeh, turns out you’re a bit ordinary, like everyone else. What a thought, hey?! After all that time being convinced of your own superiority and differentness.

O, and your thing about being ‘boring’, you hate that idea, right? Hate it. Urgh, imagine being boring, that would be the worst! Well, you’re not that bothered anymore. You enjoy the simple pleasures in life – cooking, being outside, growing vegetables, seeing other countries, having lunch with nice friends. Just calm down about the ‘boring’ thing. It’s going to happen. Get over it.

You know how you love going out dancing? In a few years, you won’t really ‘go out’ at all. You hate the idea of being squashed in next to a load of sweaty strangers, actually. You dislike the drunken nonsense that you talk and that other people talk to you. In fact, in about ten years, you’ll barely consume alcohol at all, a few times a year maybe. It’s better that way, trust me. We both know what we get like with a drink in us.

And you don’t wear make up at all. I know, after all that time poking your eyes out, trying to work out how to wear eye liner. No, you don’t wear anything now. You’re too lazy. Sorry to break it to you but you’d rather spent the time in the morning having a cup of tea and blogging than poking your eyes out.

Yeh, you’re a ‘blogger’ now. You’re mad for it! You’re one of those. One of those sad people who thinks others want to read about the minutae of their everyday life. Yup.

And tea is very important to you. Very. Important.

You’ll run off to Africa soon, little Laura. And it will be fabulous. You’ll be enthused. You’ll be good at something. You’ll be in your element. For the next ten years after your gap year, you’ll refer back to it as a time of excitement and adventure. Just a few words of warning though – don’t get too excited by your new friends who take you in on the first night, they’ll drift away in a few months; also, please try and eat better – a plate of rice with some sweetcorn mixed in does not constitute a real meal, unfortunately; another thing, you’re going to mess up the article for the Namibian Independence Day by sleeping through the celebrations, shame on you.

And now, last but not least, F. Scott Fitzgerald still rocks your world. That fact is unchanged throughout your life. They make a new film of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m going to let you watch it for yourself and make your own mind up….

Hilarious memories

After an evening of reminiscing about my gap year with a friend, I just had to share some of this nonsense with you. The highlights of the evening discussions were:

1. The time a friend flipped his car and was all stressed that the police would get him so ran off into the sand dunes. We had heard about it and been given a lift to where he was. We also ran off into the desert and were covering his white shirt with Lucy’s long skirt, to avoid him being seen by a helicopter….! When one has consumed much alcohol, this seems to make perfect sense, that in a place where there is no ambulance service, they would be sending a helicopter out in the night to catch a man who had flipped his car. He was quite shaken so in my 18 year old mind, I decided the best way to be supportive was to declare my love for him. (I didn’t love him at all. I’m not even sure what made me say it.)

2. The time Lucy and I got in a car with a total random who drove us to Cape Town and, right before the border, while stopped at a petrol station, both went to the toilet at the same time. We suddenly realised what we’d done and rushed outside. Thankfully he hadn’t driven off with our stuff.

3. The time our friend, Ramon, came over and we made up a story about a purple fairy who lived in the garden called Finesse, then went down to the tree and started calling out to her.

4. The time another of the gap year volunteers went off with some random guy after two days in Cape Town, then came back one day, told us his name was Rudolph and he’d asked her to marry him and she’d said yes! (She didn’t end up staying and marrying him, much to the annoyance of the other girl at her project, who had to deal with her for the next year.)

5. The time I tried to climb up on the ledge round the house to look in the bathroom window, where Lucy had locked herself and fallen asleep after a night out. My arms and legs couldn’t handle the exertion of the climb so I just let go and fell straight backwards on to the ground. I’m surprised I survived that fall, actually.

6. All the times we ate plates of rice and faux dumpling-things or the peanut butter sandwiches the kids used to make as part of their activities at school, cause we couldn’t afford anything else! A box of Frosties was BIG news in our house! We only bought those when we’d just been paid and were feeling really flash with our money.

AND to China and Namibia

Ok, everyone, it’s time for Rambler5319 to take over again as it is Wednesday. Get your thinking caps on as last week’s challenge is answered….

First off remember how we finished last week:

And finally on a lighter note – can anyone tell me how it is possible to use the word “and” five times consecutively in a sentence? That means you have to write a sentence that will have “and and and and and” in it with no words in between. Answer next week folks – you didn’t think I was going to give it straight away. Have a think and see what you come up with.

And the answer is:

In UK we have a lot of pubs with names like the “Coach & Horses”, “Dog & Partridge” and so on. Sometimes there are companies called, say, “Smith & Jones”. The answer to the puzzle goes something like this. The owner of the pub called the Coach and Horses was having a new sign made to hang outside. When speaking to the sign writer who was going to do the job he said to him, “the old sign was badly done so when you make the new one I want you to make sure you put a proper space between coach and “and” and “and” and horses. I’ve put quote marks round the “and” just so you can see that when it appears like that it is being treated as a noun (i.e. a word on the sign) and when it is without it is being used as a normal conjunction just joining parts of the sentence together. In ordinary usage the quote marks wouldn’t be there and you would have the 5 consecutive ands in the sentence and it still makes sense. It’s all in the way you say it, where you make a slight pause. You read it as “between coach and and (pause) and and and horses.”

Now onto this week’s subject: China. No not the country of China, the material for making cups, saucers and things like a china tea service or dining set. It can also be used to make mugs. I was given a real china mug recently. Now I have plenty of ordinary mugs: they have a fairly thick lip compared to a cup. Cups can of course be just ordinary thickness or they can be china cups in which case much thinner and more delicate to use. They also often seemed to have handles I couldn’t get my finger into to hold even when I was younger. My gran would only ever have a cup of tea in a china cup. Also my Mum used to leave a china cup at my house, along with a tea cosy, so that when she came over I would make tea (of course brewed in a teapot with the cosy on) and hers would be poured into her own china cup. She didn’t like to use a mug or an ordinary cup. They both said the tea tasted different depending on whether you drank out of a china or non-china cup. Of course I thought it was all just psychological and there was no difference at all. That’s how it continued for many, many years until recently – until I made a mug of tea in my new china mug. Because the lip is thinner and the material it’s made of being different I think I too can actually sense a slightly different taste or at least a different experience. Are there any china cup/mug folks out there?

I’m not a coffee drinker but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk of wanting to drink coffee out of a china cup/mug. Btw, a couple of days ago, I had a pot of tea at a local National Trust Museum place where they made it using those old fashioned things they call tea leaves. I ordered the same type of tea I drink at home and I tell you what – there’s definitely a better flavour from the leaves when compared with tea from a tea bag. Anyone out there a “leaves” person?

Here’s a pic of my new (china) mug.
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(You will notice my standing in the family has now been recognised – I was overcome with emotion as I realised I have now been recognised as a GENIUS!)

Here’s a pic of my normal mug

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Those of you who know of the Pink Floyd album Dark Side Of The Moon will recognise the mug decoration. (Worldwide sales of the album up to 2005 are estimated to be around 50 million. In 1998 the Recording Industry Association of America certified it as 15x Platinum meaning 15 million sales in the US.)

Because of their heights and different thickness of the sides the mugs are of different capacities: China mug smaller in height but larger in diameter.

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I was curious to see what their different volumes would be so I got the ruler out as they’re quite similar but you can see obvious differences:

Ordinary mug (inside measurements) – 8.8cm high/deep, 7.5cm diameter

China mug (inside measurements) 8.2cm high/deep, 9.0cm diameter.

Now do you remember back to your school maths (or math in US) for the formula for the volume: πr2h.

Substituting my figures gives –

ordinary – π x 3.75 x 3.75 x 8.8 = 389cc

china – π x 4.5 x 4.5 x 8.2 = 522cc

where π=3.14

Now I know you wouldn’t fill to the brim but it does mean I have to fill the china one to a lower height or I could be drinking nearly a third more with every mugful!

So what’s special about bone china? Basically it’s to do with how it’s made. It has a very strong construction which is why it can be made thinner than other porcelain. It is called “bone” china because quite simply bones from animals go into the making of it. (This is why some ethical/green folks won’t buy porcelain made like this.) The first attempts at making it were in the late 1740s but it wasn’t until the 1790s that Stoke-on-Trent based Josiah Spode developed what turned out to be the best mix of the various elements required to make it: 6 parts bone ash, 4 parts china stone, 3.5 parts china clay. (Some of you may have heard of Spode china.) That mixture has remained the standard ever since.

Sadly in 2009 the company went into Administration (bankrupt) and was bought by the Portmeirion Group (which owns Portmeirion Village). Head of this group is Susan Clough-Williams who is the daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who was the architect of the Italian style village called Portmeirion in North Wales. Some of you may remember that the 1967-8 TV series called The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan (as Number 6) was filmed on location at Portmeirion.

(A 2009 updated version, starring Sir Ian McKellen & Jim Caviezel, which aired on the American cable channel AMC, was filmed in Swakopmund in Namibia. It’s about an agent who wakes up in a strange place and doesn’t know how he got there or why he is there.

If you didn’t catch it here’s part (10 mins) of the first episode to give you a taster.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LXsb4COaEM

Perhaps, I wonder, has LLM been there or know anything of the place? (He gets to the Village at about 4m 10s so you can see the residence buildings then a bit later the town itself.)

And there you have it: this week a journey from AND to china to the Dark Side of the Moon to Portmeirion to Namibia.

Hobbies and resolutions

The last week has been a good one for my new year’s resolutions. The travel agency I worked for in Namibia send two people over to a big travel show in the Exhibition Centre in Earl’s Court in London every February. I went to see them on Friday and Saturday and spent both days also working on their stand with them, talking to people about Namibia and Botswana and South Africa and Zambia and about when to take holidays and about whether to take anti malarials and how to travel around etc etc.

In amongst all of that, I managed to have a little chat with my old boss about my own planned trip, as per my new years resolution. The plan is as follows – a 14 day self-drive trip, seeing as much as possible, with a sprinkling of crazy fun here and there, eg, hot air balloon rides over the desert. It will have to be next year because of the following, which will happen this year.

Some friends are moving to Australia this summer so a trip to that side of the world is in order. Given that I dont often get over there, I’ll be making a stop in to see the little girls I sponsor through Plan International, in Vietnam and the Philippines, as I haven’t visited in years. This, then, covers the second of my new years resolutions, to plan a trip to Asia.

Next, I made a point to go up to the local butcher at the weekend and order a rabbit and asked him about which rabbit choice is more ethical, farmed or wild. We had a long discussion and I then ordered a rabbit, which I will pick up tomorrow. I also went up today and got two beef fillet steaks, which were amazingly soft and tender when I cooked them for dinner tonight. So that’s three new years resolutions dealt with.

Next, some fun. I got me an electric piano! Well, it’s not mine. Yet. I’m hiring it from the man in the music shop at the moment. I might decide I want to actually buy it from him at some point. I set it up immediately that I got home and got started on trying to learn How Deep Is Your Love by The Beegees.

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It is tons of fun! Even Danda, who had been unsure about the whole idea until I kind of forced it on him, took a seat and gave You Are My Sunshine a go. He has the first two lines memorised. It falls apart after that.

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All in all, a fabulous few days. Bring on the holidays and the rabbits!

My favourite Namibia memories

Making pizzas on Friday nights with one of our student’s mums.

Stuffing our faces at the Nest Hotel because we were pretty poor and ate mostly rice at home.

The time Fiona and I took a road trip round the whole country and had no radio so had to sing to each other all day.

Our comedy dog, Diaz, barking at the kids at school or following us around or weeing on the floor.

The time we were stranded in the desert with no water, no money or bank card, no ID, no suncream and no keys to get back into our car.

The time Lucy and I were painting murals on the wall in the creche where we taught and the kids started singing Atomic Kitten to us.

When I used to jump in the freezing cold swimming pool every morning at the guest house where I lived and worked in Namibia.

The time we walked out to Diaz Point, which took hours and hours, and we had three apples between us.

The time I lost control of the car and went on a little spin off the road with Fiona yelling “Steer into the spin!” and clinging onto the dashboard.

Singing the Amarula song with the kitchen staff at Grootberg Lodge.

One of my students, Zara, saying “Thank you for teaching us,” after a class.

Bungee jumping, like a loony, over the Zambezi River during a stay in Livingston.

Sleeping through the most important day in the Namibian calendar, their independence day, then making a story up for the newspaper afterwards (we ran the local town newspaper and we had to make up the main story of the whole year. Shoddy).

Climbing into the big wardrobe in Lucy’s room with our friend, Andre, to look for Narnia. We were sober, by the way.

Packing a tent, some sleeping bags, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a knife and walking to the campsite just out of town, Shark Island, and camping for the weekend to get away from it all.

Flinging ourselves in the pool to cool down after a hot sweaty bus journey back from Victoria Falls to Windhoek.

Taking a load of disadvantaged kids away for an activity week in the desert and, among other things, teaching them how to swim.

Drinking cups of rooibos tea and watching the sun set over the Atlantic ocean and the clouds and sky turning pink and purple and orange.

Fiona and I going to the coolest bar in town, Rumours, and graffitiing our names behind the bar.

Cutting my own hair because I had no money for hairdressers.

Going out to an old abandoned town in the desert with our friend, George, and him giving us Namibian names. Mine was Naufiku, which means ‘born in the evening.’

Fiona chucking a glass of triple shot Jaegermeister and coke on a car.

Going to badminton club on Tuesdays and being rubbish at it.