Vanda Kujbus

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Donkerbos - Getting to know the community

Written by Vanda

Coffee tree

The typical morning tent heat wakes us up and it’s not even 8 in the morning. I wonder how much the temperature can increase during the day.

I have the opportunity to experience how would it feel to live in a corrugated iron house when I pay my first visit to the toilet, and I have to say that was one of the longest minutes of my life. It felt like it was as warm as in the deepest pit of hell and I just wanted to get out asap. No wonder why everybody is sitting outside!

At least the cold „1 girl-1 cup shower” has never felt better ever before!

Today is bead delivery and restocking day. Belinda is already on her way, collecting women who have produced some, to get paid. While we are sipping our morning coffee, Oba shows up. We ask him if there are any coffee trees around to see what we are about to deal with, and luckily enough, one just happens to be right by the „corner”. What they call coffee tree, rather looks like a random tree which yields peas. Green and puffy, I could easily be fooled if I wouldn’t have anyone to describe it. Although this one needs to mature a bit more, until around winter time, which starts from late May-June in here. Then the seeds need to be removed from the pod, then dried, crushed, roasted, boiled in water and voilá! there we have coffee. Yumm, I can’t wait to try it out. I have a good feeling about this plant.

Oba with coffee

Bead string selling

We just manage to finish the educational converastion, when Belinda is already back with a handful of people and their bags, crammed in the cargo area. Wherever I look I only see bushes and sand, where did all these people come from?

They take their seats around the tree, women and their children on one side, men on the other. Each and every one of them has at least 2 kids, one is usually recently born, resting on mom’s back. They are just so many! They are chatty and I’m just sitting there, listening to their clicky language. I love the sound of it, and keep thinking that if someone would have told me that once I can hear it not only on a youtube video, probably I would have laughed. Yet here I am. How awesome is this!

string selling men vs women
Women with kids

Based on what I had heard about San people before, I was expecting very undernourished, starving thin people with very dirty clothing, but surprisingly (and fortunately that was not the case). The children looked healthy, women were well-dressed and clean. Can it be that it’s not that bad after all? I mean, of course, they are obviously not well off, but at least they don’t look like as if they would collapse in few seconds.

Some women have a few bags full of ostrich eggshell beads hanging on a meter-long string in front of them, which they are getting paid for. One string would bring 50 NAD (1100 HUF/ 3,6 EUR), so if they are very productive, they can earn up to 2000 NAD (44 000 HUF/1080 DKK) a month. Considering they live in the middle of nowhere, almost completely locked out from civilization, it is a very nice source of income.

string selling girl

However, Belinda points out some issues with these ladies. As it is fairly time consuming and boring to produce those beads, no one really wants to do them and they hardly bring a few meters. She says this attitude is not only towards beads, but basically towards everything around. She names several projects going on there, eg. an attempt to establish a community garden, where everyone can plant and then everyone can harvest, but they don’t take care of it. Another project was to bring a herd of goats to give them dairy products and meat occasionally, but there is only 3 people taking care of them. In a summary, she tells they are not doing anything, especially the youth, and they will always have an excuse, which is hard to distinguish when is it made up and when is it real. For example, if one is out on other commercial farms, working hard, or has tuberculosis, then it is obvious that they are incapable of productive work, but this is usually not the case. We just stand there, puzzled and don’t understand why these people don’t want to do anything, especially if it would make their life a little bit better.

Although this is not our problem, so we grab Oba with us to introduce us to a lady, who is known to be a coffee tree harvester, who can tell us more about the plant. Oba warns us though that she lives a bit far, 2 kms away from the office. We bravely say no problem, and if he doesnt mind, we can walk. Again, as proper tourists, at the hottest part of the day at 1 pm. I feel boiling even under the tree, I don’t want to imagine a 2 km road without any shade.

Meeting Dina

While the others are collecting the beads, we depart, and we early experience that the way there does not only feel extremely long in this heat, but the also it’s fairly hard to walk on the sandy road without extra energy investment.

After walking for a good 30 minutes we pass by a homestead. Happiness starts to sparkle in my eyes but Oba disappointingly says that we are only half way. Gosh, I’m boiling! I have to let my shirt sleaves down otherwise my arms would fry. Our drinking water is also boiling, I don’t feel like having any sip from it. Luckily enough, I don’t really feel thirst, and I pray that it would stay like that. 

Walking to Oma
Walking to Oma

Finally we arrive to the place and Oba introduces us to the old lady and her family. It’s extremely hot, so everybody is just resting under the tree. The old lady, Dina, seems like only bone and skin and so old, life-experience has carved its marks onto her face. Her grandkids are also around, 3 bigger sons and one little girl who has just learnt how to walk, accompanied by 3 men. They also have some dogs, which are so skinny, and starved that I can see their bones, and have a few wounds around their bodies. I’m not a fan of starving unleashed dogs, but they look at me with their big sad eyes that I almost feel more sorry for the poor things than the people. I want to take one home!

Oma's family
skinny doggy
Oma interview

We start asking questions regarding the coffee tree, which escalates into a 2-hour long chat, mainly led by Oba.

We are  told that the seeds are not only drunk as coffee, but also serve as a snack when there is nothing to eat. They also compare its taste and harvesting possibilities to another plant, marama bean. ’Oppá! About that one I have heard before, and in my blurry memories it appears as a good food source and they say they even trade with it. This whole idea is getting better and better!

I don’t really like this setting however, that Oba takes over the whole conversation, but what can I do... I don’t speak the language and just hope that what he says is reliable. We learn there are plenty of trees available, and she would show us how to prepare it if we come back next day when it’s not painful to stay under the sun anymore. Because of that, the conversation transforms into other issues regarding everyday life, that’s when we find out that government aid is going to finish in 3 years (THREE!) and then they have to rely on themselves if they want to survive. Oba says they need more projects in the area otherwise very hard times are waiting for them. We ask if they have tried to start anything by themselves, and the answer is no.

At this point we feel we took more than enough of Dina’s time, so let’s not bother her and go back home. Half way Oba disappears and we hope we won’t get lost. Although it’s Namibia, there is only 1 straight road to follow no matter where we are, so it should be find. We have time to „gossip” about what we have just heard, and just keep asking the same question over and over again... If they are aware that they won’t receive support soon, why don’t they try to do something? Why?

In the meantime is even hotter, we sweat like a horse and the way back seems so far... The worst thing about this is that it sucks all the energy out of you and you are incapable of doing anything for the rest of the day. I start to understand their attitude towards work. I wouldn’t want to do anything either! The only thing I can do is just to collapse in front of the office (as the tent is still so hot that eggs could boil in it).

walking back home