Sunday, November 27, 2005

Day 20

Day 20 (26-Nov 11h50)

Wow, what a day; So much to write. What I was expecting to be a middle-of-the-day event turned out to take the whole thing. Mr. Hoxobeb (aka Absalom) invited me to a church choir party, which I accepted earlier this week. I decided to take a taxi to the school (where we would meet) rather than be picked up because I wanted to get the experience. Little did I know just how much of an experience it would turn out to be…

I started the day by sleeping in. This was a difficult chore since I went to bed no later than 9:30, but sleeping until 7 was accomplished. I had the most vivid dream that the PeaceCorps sent all of us home for a week to visit our families before CBT (community-based training). I don’t remember the details anymore, but I do remember waking up surprised that I was still in this flat.

Once up, I laid in bed for another half an hour. The fact that I needed to accomplish nothing collided with knowing the inevitable work we will be doing in the next four weeks, and I took this morning to be as lazy as possible. After finally getting up, cleaned, and dressed, I walked downtown to find an Internet CafĂ©. This was a little more challenging than I thought. I picked up some batteries for my camera at the corner store, which had a coffee shop attached, however I couldn’t find the entrance to the coffee shop. I could see people inside, but no door. Not wanting to look like a tourist, I just kept walking, which to my surprise led me down a street I wasn’t anticipating on going down. Not wanting to look like a tourist, I just kept going, pretending like I knew what I was doing. I managed to make a large loop, finding a nice indoor mall along the way, but no Internet. Once I made it back to the store with the coffee shop, I went inside (not wanting to look like a tourist standing like a dope on the corner). I managed by sheer luck to notice the store went back further on the left side than it seemed at first. Daring to step into the unknown, I walked past isles of candy and chocolate to a hot food deli along the far left wall. I stopped to pretend I was inspecting the food options and saw in the corner of my eye the opening to the coffee shop. At last! I purchased a coke (when they say coffee shop, they mean just coffee, no mochas or espresso) and sat to read. Oh, and no Internet.

After that long detour to nowhere, I enjoyed a bit of my Stephen King novel, then headed back to my flat. I needed to speak with the head master about some of the problems with my flat (no light in the bathroom, leaky faucet, door to patio locked, etc.) and figured I could ask him about the internet. When I hauled my lazy ass back up that hill I was disappointed to learn that the head master was, yet again, marking exams (he had been doing so the last two days when I tried to get a hold of him). This time I left him a note detailing the problems and will leave it at that.

What better way to round out the morning than to sleep some more? None; so when I got back to my room, I laid down and took a quick nap. It’s so easy to nap here. The heat drains you during the middle of the day. One needs only to lay down and the sleep just comes. Once it was time to walk back to town and catch a taxi, I shook the sleep from my body, put on my nice sun hat, filled up my water bottle (I still haven’t managed to drink enough water yet), and headed out. Hailing the taxi was the easy part, enduring the ride: a whole other story.

So traffic in Namibia is quite a bit different than what I’m used to in the states. In the states, when you come up to a big red stop sign, you stop. Here in Namibia, stop signs are more like yield signs, traffic slows just enough to tell who is going next; stopping is nowhere in the definition. Also in the states, when you have one lane and you want to pass, you have to wait until there is no traffic coming toward you, then carefully pass. Here in Namibia, if you want to pass, let’s say a huge, wide garbage truck, you just do it, traffic or no, using parking space on the side of the street in available. On coming cars are expected to do a little swerving to accommodate these maneuvers. Lastly, in the states a car always yields to pedestrians. Here in Namibia, pedestrians are obstacles, and the logic is something like if you don’t want to die, move. Pulling into parking lots, crossing intersections, wherever you find pedestrians you find cabs pulling right in front of them. It’s amazing more people aren’t hit by cars here, although maybe I just haven’t seen it yet.

Picture this: you hail a white sedan, probably a late eighties model, rust lining the hood and doors, the taxi sign taped with packing tape to the dash. After getting in, you tell the driver where you want to go, and he nods. Everything’s cool, right? Wrong, you see if the back seat is empty, then there is a lot more work to do. My cabby drove up and down International Drive (the main strip here) twice to look for more passengers before leaving town. Even then, we cruised down side streets at blistering speeds (dodging pedestrians and slowing only for stop signs) rather than take the free way, just to find someone who wants to ride on the roof (well, that’s the only thing I could think of…). When you finally get close to where you want to go (all the time passengers are being dropped off and picked up) you only then find out the cabby has no idea where you want to go. In this case, neither did I. I had seen the school before, but never navigated to it. With the help of a passenger and some poor dude on the street, we eventually made it. Needless to say, I was happy to get out of that car. On the bright side, the whole trip was just six bucks (like 90 cents US).

Whew. I was feeling a little sick after the ride to the school but the day had barely begun. Absalom was waiting for me there, and after a half hour tour of the Windhoek getto (called the “location”) looking for various choir members who where all “not ready yet”, we we’re dropped off at someone’s house to await those not ready (i.e. the girls).

The house was cement, cracked from floor to tin ceiling, covered in what I counted to be at least six coats of different color paint. Inside, the door frames marked where solid wall once was, but time and elements had done their work, leaving only rounded edges above the doors. On one wall prominently hung the electrical box, which is a pre-pay system. Residents go to the local market to purchase electricity codes, which they type into their boxes to get more time. The water works in a similar way, but I wasn’t able to see it. The room was actually quite clean, not a trace of dirt was visible on the bare cement floor. Four arm chairs adorned the main room, tattered beyond any possible resale value. There was a TV, sitting on a simple wood stand, and constituted the most elaborate and expensive thing on the property.

I was welcomed into this house by the owner, who took my by the hand, looked right into my eyes, and said “Come in! Please! Come in and sit!” I obliged, introduced myself to the half-dozen bodies in the room, and took an empty seat. No sooner had I sat, everyone else jumped up and started bustling about. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I thought it best to say put until given further instructions. Two kids, no older than seven sat with me. We talked a bit, and I took their pictures as they shared a piece of raw meat. I showed them their picture on the camera, and they immediately asked “when do we get it?” referring to a copy of their picture. I had to disappoint them.

Soon it was time to leave the house. I learned that the commotion was over lost keys to the large blue van parked outside. We all piled into the van (they insisted I sit in front) and went to the local market. I accompanied them as they collected food for the dinner. This market was different than others I have been in. The isles were barely three feet wide, and pallets of food were plopped down anywhere additional space could be found. To make it even more interesting, the place was packed. I spent the entire time in the market pushed up against strangers. It took me a while before I realized that “excuse me” was not necessary in this place. You just push through.

Now about 13h30 (an hour and half after meeting Absalom at the school), we arrived at the park where the church choir party was to take place. Absalom approached two security guards posted just inside the park to let them know what was planned. The guards informed us that no cooking was permitted at the park. After a few phone calls to the park manager, we found ourselves without a place to eat as the guards would not relent. We ended up going to one of the choir member’s houses nearby to have the party.

Now this place was truly amazing. This time the first thing I noticed was not the house, but the owner, a little old lady that barley came up to my elbows. She was blind due to some sort of disease, and here eyes seemed sunken. She wore a long flowery dress of green, white, and yellow, and had a healthy look to her, despite her years of at least seventy (very old in Namibian terms). I introduced myself, and before long I was being whisked to the back yard. This house was much like the first, made of cement probably back in the late fifties when the south African government instituted apartide, forcing all black and colored people into “locations” outside the cities. The foundations for the house were exposed due to decades of tromping feet, high winds, and land-scraping rains. The entire property was no bigger than a foundation for a three bedroom house in the states, maybe sixty feet long and forty feet wide. In this property stood a three bedroom house (very small), a good sized back yard with a large tree in the center, a small shack where one of the residents lived, and an outhouse. On every edge sprawled a make-shift fence composed of bed springs, construction rebar, sheet metal, and wood pallets. You know that saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Well, this is where the other man lives.

We sat on amazing diversity of seating contraptions; metal chairs, barrels, empty paint cans, a car wheel (the metal part), some bricks, and the good old up-side-down bucket. Everywhere on the ground protruded rocks that had endured enough weathering to convince me they were the tops of large boulders. Watching the two year olds run around in this yard should have put my nerves on edge, but knowing that this was life here, and walking around barefoot on a near gravel surface was normal. I do shudder to think of what kind of damage a small rock would do to the head of a falling child.

This yard was clean; well kept. There was no trash laying about, and even the berries that recently fell from the solitary tree had been raked up into a neat pile. Everything in the yard had a purpose. From the assortment of seating options to the old tarp used as a play mat for the toddlers; from the orphaned seat cushions used as child seats to the half of a metal barrel used as the barbeque.

The kids kept themselves busy playing with a handful of toys: a small ball, a small doll, and as many sticks as could be snatched from the tree when adults weren’t looking. The kids really enjoyed eating a home made popsicle-like treat made from ice, sugar, and some sort of flavoring all poured into sandwich bags and frozen. The kids would first soften the bag by beating each other with them, then make a small hole in one of the ends and squeeze out the contents. A two year old enjoyed playing the same game I remember playing with Cheli, holding a cell phone to the ear and pretending to talk to someone. Most of the older youth (teens and pre-teens) played with the younger kids on and off, and there was never a moment they were bored.

Most people in this group spoke some English, but only a few could manage a conversation with it. I spent a better part of the afternoon sitting in a chair, watching the kids play, watching the adults make jokes, and watching clouds go by. It was a pretty hot day, and constant adjustments had to be made in seating in order to stay in the shade. While the food was being prepared, we also waited for some choir members who had not shown up yet. It wasn’t until nearly five (17h00) that the ceremonies began.

First, there was singing, wonderful singing. What made it amazing was the language these Darmara people speak. Imagine a typical church choir, harmonies created with bass, altos, and sopranos. Now add to that an assortment of clicks which come in varying speeds and intensities, depending on which part of the choirs is making them. Also add a unique time signature where it seemed that every fourth measure was cut in half. Tapping your feet to it was easy, but counting beats was impossible. The range of the choir was impressive. The bass had a solid deep tone that stirred in the gut. The sopranos had chillingly high pitched tones that closely resembled squealing, though always on note. The songs were church songs, and you could easily pick out the words “Jesus”, “Hallelujah”, and “Amen”. They were amazing singers.

After singing came praying. After praying came speeches. None of this I understood. I had to watch the person across from me to take cues on when to bow my head. Luckily, all prayers ended with “Amen” so I was never left behind with my eyes closed. Once the ceremony was over, the choir held their annual vote for offices. A new choir leader, treasurer, and so on were nominated and voted on. This all took about an hour. After new officers were chosen, dancing began. This was great fun to watch. First they formed two lines, chanting as one person at a time jumped in the middle and shook a little booty. Then, they formed a circle and danced around with great fun. Describing the dances here would do them no justice whatsoever, so I’m leaving it at this: the dancing was half tradition, half plain old fun. It was very entertaining.

After dancing came certificate presentations, which I was asked to aid with. After massacring half the names (and drawing endless laughter, which I’m sure is why they wanted me to read them) it was time for the final ceremonies. The choir board were asked to come to the middle where they all made some speeches, presented a gift to the head lady, and finally, after much ado, and nearly seven o’clock, we ate.

I was presented with a plate of food that seemed to weigh at least five pounds. In the center was a six-inch long, two inch thick sausage, which sat on a thick steak, next to the fist-sized meat ball. All this was cuddled by a scoop of potato salad and some sort of red vegetable with a sour taste. Oh, and the whole thing was topped with a small loaf of French-like bread, split down the middle and heavily buttered. It all tasted amazing, but I could only down half the steak and half the sausage before my stomach started screaming “whoa there buddy! Remember the bus!!” and I stopped.

I had a short conversation with one of the band members who filled me in on a lot of what happened earlier. He also told me that this choir, formed in 1997, tours all of Namibia and other parts of southern Africa; a sort of evangelical tour. They sing songs and perform dramas about stories in the Bible and “spread the good news.” Most I talked to made it very clear that they were Lutherans, not to be confused with the Catholics who instituted indulgences some centuries ago, thus forever marking themselves as ungodly.

When sunset came, I knew it was really time to get going. I have to say that as much as I enjoyed the whole experience, I really was looking forward to getting in the cab and heading home. So many faces, so many people, so many stories. Even now, as I type, I’m leaving out half the day; things that would just take too long to record; the drunk guy trying to convince me to go out drinking with him, the old guy on the street who wanted my chocolate bar, the fire in the foothills that lacked something… oh yes, a gaggle of fire trucks, planes, and helicopters like in the states. So many stories, such a long day.

The cab ride home was uneventful, although the cabbie tried to charge me too much. I wasn’t up for an argument, so I compromised at ten bucks. And now, after a twenty minute call with my parents, an hour and half writing this journal entry, I’m looking forward to a couple of episodes of Family guy to round out the night.

Tomorrow I meet some of the others at the PeaceCorps HQ downtown to get a ride back to Omaruru. Back to the ranch. I wonder what stories will be told tomorrow night…

No comments: