Vanda Kujbus

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gobabis - Working with the DRFN, the beginning

Written by Vanda

At the office

Fortunately the office is just a 15-20 minute walking distance away from the camping. Small cities have their advatages. :)
Belinda is the only representative of the DRFN here in Gobabis. She explains what projects is she involved in. She starts telling a sad story of a very remote, and thereby forgotten resettlement farm, Donkerbos, and says a few issues, what local San communities facing:

DRFN office
  • they are despised by the rest of the society in Namibia
  • negative discrimination in official authorities (police, hospital, court etc...)
  • high dependancy on government food aid
  • perceived as too lazy to work,
  • alcoholism, etc...

It makes me feel sad about them and wonder how is this even possible, until I realize something... Do these problems sound familiar?  Yeah, of course they do, Belinda has just gave a short description about our gypsies in Hungary, and they are not treated any better.

As a side note, she also mentiones some „random” tree growing around the farm, which’s fruit is used as a local coffee substitute. In my mind this instantly rang a bell that... „hey! up there in Europe we drink coffee as if we would be paid for it. If it tastes good, and would also have some healthy components in it, we might have just found a new product sold to European market!” I mention this to her, she also seems interested, and says she knows a person, Oba, who is from the farm, speaks perfect English and could be a perfect guide for me if I decide to stick with Donkerbos. He also happens to be in town at his relative's place, as he needs to arrange a medication for his son. She also mentiones that the owner of that place works for the government, has even a car and is a bit better-off than the rest of the people there. He is not there at the moment, so Oba and his family can use the his house.

She proposes to visit him, as currently he is here in Gobabis, to get to know each other, so we hop in the car and start driving.

At the "location"

We drive out of the city center for a good 10-15 minutes, and the scenerey suddenly starts changing. Well kept apartments and tall buildings turn into tiny, not so well-kept family houses. Some of them don’t even have plaster. What is this neighborhood? I have a feeling that I am just about to enter a different world where I wouldn’t want to walk alone even in daylight, let alone after sunset. The number of churches around also escalates. Belinda explains that this part of Gobabis is called the „location”, and is also a legacy of the apartheid system, where the Africans were exiled. She tells that the churches function as a kind of last resort, and keeps people away from sinking into alcoholism and gives them hope. I sank deep inside my thoughts about how unfair the world is, and how lucky I am for what I have, we drive deeper into the location and the view changes again. And not for the better.

The tar road disappears, it is exchanged with sandy road. Brick houses are changing into... How can I call them... tiny „houses” bungled together from corrugated iron sheets on the two sides of the road. Property boundaries are marked with some wooden sticks and ropes around them, making up a „garden around the „houses”. This is an informant settlement area, where anyone could come and set up their property and just... live there.This is an informal settlement area, where anyone could come and set up their property and just... live there.

Houses on the location

There are no signs of electricity nor running water and people are sitting around under tree shades. People walk in clothes which have obviously seen better times, and cry out for washing. They chill out and sit in front of their „houses” in better case, in worst case staggering around next to a „shebeen” (a little pub). Because what can you do? You can’t afford to go to school, and thereby you are not qualified even for low level jobs, you can’t work, and even if you would decide to have your own garden, the only thing around is sand, nothing can grow apart some grass and fruitless trees. At least they give shadow so that you won’t boil up completely under the sun. Your best hope is to clean someone’s house or shop for coins. And from those you cant afford to buy normal food, not even water, when beer is 2-3 folds cheaper. Life is really boring like that. What can you do? Of course you drink! Sometimes alcohol is their only "food" for the day, and since it's cheaper than water, they even give it to kids!

What people can afford reflects the type of „businesses” around: there is a shebeen at every corner, whereas I have not seen any grocery stores since we left the border of the city. The closest they can get to food is a local „market”, which is nothing similar to the ones we are used to at home. It is an area full of building with little booths inside, where you can get your clothes fixed, get your hair done, and finally, buy some frozen meat or eat a full meal in a buffet. If you want to run errands you have to walk to the city center. In a car it is of course not a distance, but these people can’t even afford a bike, let alone a car. They are starved, they are weak, and the closer option seems much better.

Poverty around punches me in the face and I feel that we are seeing a truer face of Namibia, well hidden from tourist eyes. How can they live like that?? What surprises me is, that even though things are so miserable here, the neighborhood is still relatively clean. I think about my comfortable bed, full fridge and high speed internet in my room in Denmark and start to feel even more grateful for them.

We keep driving in the land of despair and suddenly we stop at one of the iron-huts which looks exactly the same as the others, and Belinda says we have arrived. Really? I thought you said he was better-off! She tells, that if you already can afford a house like that, you have already achieved something! Well, he indeed has an iron gate around. Very nice perspectives I have to say...

We enter the gate and greet two elderly ladies who are resting under the only tree in the „garden”. They seem older than time, their faces are criss-crossed, like spiderwebs, with wrinkles, but they greet us with a big smile and we don’t feel unwelcomed. They are considerably well-dressed (their dresses don’t seem dirty and overly used), so there might be indeed something in what Belinda says that this family is a bit better-off, they probably help each other financially. I still digest these types of achievments in life. „I have clean clothes and a roof. Wow, I have accomplished something.”
As they stand up I notice that they are around 1 head shorter than me, and with my 165 cm I am already being mocked to be a midget, they seem like children.

Meeting Oba

Finally Oba arrives and Belinda introduces us. He is wearing an oversized, dusty shabby shirt, and sandals which are kept together only by the Holy Spirit. He looks up at us, as he is also not taller than a 13-14-year old kid would be and kindness shines through his eyes. I am amazed with his English, it is fluent and grammatically correct, considering he never learnt it from books.


We quickly go through the same topics we were talking about in the office, and he agrees to be our guide and we are happy that we can learn from him. He is so nice and polite, kind and friendly that he instantly stole his way into our hearts.

Oba's daughter
Playing with Oba's daughter
Taking pictures of Oba's kids
Oba's kids

But time is flying, we have to move on, think about what we have heard and decide to go to Donkerbos for the weekend. I’m looking forward to it, and wonder what is goind to await us there, if, according to Belinda, these people here are living like kings compared to them on the farm.

We return to our comfortable life to the camping brainstorming on what could we do in these 2,5 months, and at least start something, which can potentially be picked up by someone else after our time here is over. The problem is, that I see these people, I want to help them somehow, but at the same time I know that 2 months are not going  to change the world. We try to figure out a way how could we improve their lives, but have to wait until we see the farm.

In the meantime the rain starts falling, for the very first time we are here. So far it is a nice rainy season, it’s polite enough not to disturb anything during the day, only at the time when everybody have already gone home. We listen the drops on the roof while thinking about some people who don’t even have proper seaming nor floor in their „houses” and now probably are flooded. We go to sleep with a deep sigh to be fresh and ready for action for the next day.