Wow. Africa! Once again you leave me so happy I’m speechless.
So many impressions still dance in my head, my heart filled to the brim with memories. For almost two weeks I’ve been trying to weave a tale for this blog post, but with no success. So I decided to just start writing and let myself be surprised by the outcome.
Where do I begin…?! It’s Tuesday afternoon, and with more than enough time on my hands – classic Bahia travel planning – I’m on my way to Munich airport. My first stop is Frankfurt where I meet up with my mom, her husband Michael and two of my cousins, Lara and Mona. Three hours and 45 minutes before departure I check my luggage in (having already checked in online the day before) and successfully pass through security. Happy with how smoothly everything is going and deeply relaxed with how much time I have, I sit with my book and have a coffee with a bite to eat. A colleague of mine sees my post on Instagram and responds that she’ll be in transit in Munich a few minutes before my departure. We still joke about my flight being delayed by a few minutes so that we can meet for a quick hug. Be careful what you wish for… Boarding starts on time and as I was taking my first steps down the tunnel to the plane Theresa comes up the stairs, right at my gate – too bad! So we just missed each other by a few moments.
Boarding completed. A few seconds later there’s an announcement: „Due to thunderstorms in Frankfurt our start is delayed by up to 60 minutes. The runway slots have to be reorganised due to the storm, and hopefully we will receive our turn shortly. If we’re lucky we can leave within the next 30-45 minutes as we’ve declared ourselves ready for takeoff.“ Wow. In Frankfurt I actually have exactly 50 minutes to catch my connecting flight. As a precaution I write to my mom, so if necessary she knows to notify the flight staff or, if there’s a ridiculous delay, I will fly a day later. But for now we’re all still very relaxed, you can’t change everything and there’s no point in making something out of nothing. After 40 minutes of waiting we finally get the go-ahead to take off. To stop myself from checking the time every two seconds, I try to distract myself with a new audio book of „Three Investigators“, keeping my pulse at a reasonably healthy level.
The flight is shorter than expected and we land in just over 30 minutes. The stewardess goes over all of the flights that are reached or not reached…except mine. Tied to my seat and too far away to ask about my flight, I do something I never do, I take my phone out of flight mode. In order to plan a rough sprint route I try to research a map of the Frankfurt airport transit area. Of course, there’s no chance because of security reasons. Plan B: I skim over as many travel blogs as possible which report on the Frankfurt transit area, and this works better. Now I have a very rough plan in my head. While all of this happens I keep my family – whose boarding has already begun – up to date while I’m literally suspended in midair. Just milliseconds after the plane lands at around 9:45pm, the first passengers jump up as if bitten by a snake and open the overhead lockers to pull their luggage out. I’m not one of them, knowing that the plane can’t move along the tarmac unless all the passengers are seated and luggage stowed away. Promptly on cue, flight staff instruct passengers to return to their seats.
With a heart rate of 390 I watch the seconds tick by, the minute hand on my watch has become irrelevant. It’s 9:49pm and my next flight should take off at 10:05pm, with boarding already having begun at 9:20pm. The 50 panicked passengers had finally sat back down when another announcement rings out: „We can only make our way to our final parking position once all of your luggage is out of the aisles and safely stowed above you in the designated luggage compartments.“ I take advantage of this brief, helpless moment and jump up from my seat, run eight rows forward into a free seat while vaulting over two abandoned suitcases in the aisle. The young man next to me looks at me very confused and dumbfounded, then we both laugh – his connecting flight is at 10:10pm so he can understand my actions completely.
The plane finally parks and all the passengers jump up at the same time to try and get to the exit as fast as possible. It’s 9:53pm and Gerhard and his wife Kunigunde (these names are fictitious) clog the aisle while rummaging around in their luggage for chewing gum. After politely requesting many times to let us pass, and being ignored… another passenger from further down the plane more firmly asks that all passengers not trying to catch a connecting flight please sit down to allow everyone else a chance to catch our flights. Of course, nobody does.
It’s 9:55pm and my mom sends me a voice message to tell me in a tearful voice that she’s doing everything she can, but the ground crew want to close the boarding gate. Just as mothers develop undiscovered powers to protect their child, children discover powers when they hear their mother’s cry. Undiscovered powers and also hitherto unknown extremely rude behaviour – sorry again at this point to all who I have run over the heaps. I am actually very nice, but after Gerhard brought down the fourth suitcase (which doesn’t belong to his Kunigunde) and stowed it back in slow motion, I squeezed past without any regard for them.
It’s 9:56pm and I have to get from gate A11 to gate B44. With my mother’s last voice message in my head and two messed up knees (which are absolutely not made for jogging) I break Usain Bolt’s world record over I-don’t-know-how-many-meters in Frankfurt’s transit area. 10:01pm on the clock and I see the passport control in the distance (since we’re travelling to Ethiopia), I call out „Sorry guys, I have a flight to catch!“. Boxing my way through people, trying to jump over belt stanchions (which really doesn’t work so I simply run them over) I plonk my passport and boarding pass on the counter in front of the police officer, panting and hyperventilating. Why I wasn’t arrested remains a mystery to me to this very day. Since I can’t even get a single word out, nor even put my thoughts into words, the officer responds with a perplexed expression and says „The boarding is already over“. I manage a barely understandable “ I do not care“, so he lets me pass and I continue running.
It’s 10:03pm and I finally reach my gate. With a throat as dry as sand, speechlessly I place my boarding pass on the counter, breathing heavily. It’s the wrong one. But don’t worry! I had only given her the wrong one of both. The lady takes a closer look at the new boarding pass and from behind I hear her colleague amazed: „Is that her?! Did she actually make it?!“ This time it is me who looks irritated and is asked: „Could it be that your family is waiting for you inside?“ Much more irritated I affirm her question. „Go inside quickly! You’re eagerly awaited.“ And with a beaming smile, her colleague adds „I’m so very glad you made it!“. My pulse is racing too fast to worry about it and I have to concentrate on keeping my jelly legs under control. I walk through the turnstile and am met by three policemen with the same bright smile and a „Wow! You really did it! Go through quickly!“. Okay… what’s going on here? I enter the plane, puffing hard and at my wits‘ end, I hand my boarding pass to the flight attendant. First she wants to send me towards the second corridor, then looks back at my name and pulls me back with tears of joy in her eyes. Two of her colleagues shout „OH MY GOSH IS THAT HER?!?“. Who am I being confused with?! The first flight attendant quickly sends me down the first corridor and whispers a „Your mom will be so happy to see you“. After I fall into my mother’s arms, crying with joy, I hear Lara laugh a few rows further away and my name being called. In the background there’s applause from the other passengers, and loud shouts of bliss. No kidding! As it turned out my family, and especially my mom, really tried EVERYTHING to stop the plane, already started a sit-in and wanted to fake a heart attack. In the end the entire plane was on the edge of their seats, praying and finally starting Mexican waves as I entered the plane. All the while the extremely dramatic Ethiopian Airlines jingle played in the background (you can listen to it here), making my performance perfect. Wow! My mom and I were so pumped up with adrenaline that we spent the first six hours of the flight watching Disney movie after Disney movie (Aladdin, of course… maybe twice) to calm down.
But why are we even flying to Namibia? For one of the most beautiful reasons: my sister Mel is getting married! After my Werner passed away, my mom remarried in May 2018 and it could hardly make me happier. My Michael brings not only himself into the family, but two new siblings. As a child, his parents moved from Germany due to development assistance with him and all his siblings to Namibia, where he grew up and spent most of his life. His children, Christopher und Melanie, were both born and raised in Namibia. That’s why his daughter is getting married there.
*A side note: I talk about „my Werner“ and „my Michael“ because the term „step dad“ does neither of them justice. Both men are, and will always be more than that to me.
After about 20 hours of travel we land in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia – even my backpack made it, which I really didn’t expect! Before we set foot on official Namibian soil, even before immigration, I witness how valuable Michael has become, not only to me (emotionally, not for the following reason), but to this country. While ordinary mortals spend half an eternity getting through normal passport control, we are ushered to the diplomatic entrance where our passports are checked and Michael has a chat in Afrikaans with a Senegalese ambassador whose daughters I get to know a few days later at the wedding. At the airport I buy, as always, a national SIM card (3gb/week for about €4.00/week) and have it activated on site to ensure everything works. We pick up our rental car and make our way to Nina Farm, where the wedding will take place in a few days. There is no address, only GPS data to guide us.
Nina Farm belongs to the mother of the groom, (Martin) Shali, who is named after an important Namibian General. Shali’s mother (Meme Aune) herself was one of the freedom fighters involved in SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) and fought for freedom against the Apartheid regime of South Africa (and still does) – so I met some special guests at the wedding. Nina Farm was built on the site of a former gas station operated by a racist white minority. In order to set an example, Meme Aune (Shali’s mother) bought this land and built her cattle farm here. Racism is still a very big issue in Namibia. Another reason why Mel and Shali’s wedding is something very special for everyone on so many different levels; it’s setting an example. For some, it’s the first time they see a white woman kiss a man of colour.
(Don’t they look like movie stars?!)
We spent the first few days setting up (and planning) the wedding, accompanied by many LILILILILILILILI calls every time the bride was spotted. An African wedding is not like a German wedding, planned twelve months in advance – especially not when Mel is the bride. And so it happens that, in reality, nothing more has been planned or thought out than the guest list. Even the guest list is more of an open invitation to the whole country, so no one knows exactly how many people to expect. Explicitly uninvited wedding crashers included! But hey, as a descendant of Nelson Mandela you can do that. How I managed to disguise my typical, meticulously-timed organisation and planning and simply go with the flow… I can only explain myself by stating that this country and its people have simply enchanted me. The journey here is anything but my first trip, and I am not one of those people to say that one of the 43 countries I have visited so far has stood out. Every country offers something special; I love the Portuguese oranges, the Polish massages, the hospitality of the Cambodians, the coffee in Albania and Kosovo, the Norwegian moose sausage, the Vietnamese fruits. But Namibia has offered me something not even Germany has managed to offer so far; I’ve never felt more comfortable outside of my comfort zone, more myself, and arrived. So maybe I can now answer the question of which country is my favourite so far. Maybe I’ll call it „home“ soon, we will see…
Not knowing exactly how many guests are coming to the wedding would be a real problem in Germany. Not here. A cousin-of brings 365 eggs as a wedding gift, a nephew-of-somebody-else brings 400kg of beef steaks, and so on. In conclusion: everyone was more than full and there was even food left over. My mom conjured up Persian foods and desserts with Michael’s sisters, one of the bridesmaids made the wedding cake the day before, someone else brought mopane worms (Yup. I tried them.), and much more which I unfortunately could not identify exactly. It was all delicious – even the worms.
The civil marriage ceremony is more of a formality. To do this, one must be at court as early as possible, because first come first serve. Friday morning at 8:00am we all arrive and wait about 45 minutes in the waiting room until we are allowed into the courtroom. It looks like it comes from an US series. Not quite as new and modern, and with the AC set way too cold, but basically the same. It doesn’t resemble the German romantic registry offices much. At 9:00am, the judge enters dressed in black robes and blue glittered high heels which flash a little under her robe with every step she takes – the scene reminds me a bit of Sex and the City 2, in which Carrie and her girls must hide amongst a group of fashionable ladies wearing burkas. She is so soft-spoken that we don’t understand much, except that she is very surprised that we are such a large wedding party. After all, we number about 20 people. The other couples-to-be have brought only their two witnesses. The usual questions; „Can you confirm that you are here of your own free will?“, „Can you confirm that you are not related?“ are accompanied by an „Obviously! I mean… look at them?!“ by Meme Aune, not worried about keeping her voice down. Mel and Shali are now officially married, and the judge throws them into a somewhat awkard „Now… say something nice“. To the contrary. LILILILILILILILILILILILILI! For us (Mama, Michael, Lara and Mona), we go back to Nina Farm to continue preparations. The others go to another farm between Windhoek and Nina. There, surrounded by free-roaming rhinos, they relax and have a picnic. Before we get in the car, Meme Aune gives me a warm hug and whispers to me „Now I’ve gained two daughters at once and you, my love, got another brother and another momma“. And I did.
The first night we all slept on Nina Farm. The second night we stayed with Roya and Hanso at Finkenstein. Finally I get to know the parents and brother of the two golden treasures Kyana and Layla, which I have been allowed to hold in my arms so often in Germany! Goodness! We slept at Auntie Lena over the next two nights. Auntie Lena, with her husband Eric and their daughter Erica, run a farm about 15 minutes drive from Nina Farm. Every one of these places feels so much like home because it’s filled with family, hospitality, love, life and laughter. It’s all starting to sound really cheesy, I know… but no kidding, it was really like that! Auntie Lena welcomed us all (Mama, Michael, Lara, Mona, Mel for a night, Tobi and Shiva, Michael’s brothers and sisters with children and so on…) not just making their house available, but filling the fridge too, all of this offered with the most open arms in which I was ever allowed to cuddle. In the evening we cooked together, and were happy to have Auntie Lena and her family with us for dinner so we could repay at least some of their hospitality.
The big day arrives! While Michael, along with Mona and Lara, went to the farm early in the morning to prepare the bridesmaids and groomsmen for the evening, we prepared the rest of the food, sewed the wedding dress (yes, on the wedding day), helped Mel put together an outfit for the after-party (yes, also on the wedding day) and whatever else was needed. Namibia has been dealing with a drought for almost three years now, and with no clear end they have to somehow cope with things (Hello climate change!). With the first sign of clouds for months, it happens… the skies open and it starts to drizzle! What would have ripped the ground from beneath the feet of a German bride brings tears of joy to the eyes of an African bride. Here, they say, if it rains on your wedding it is a sign that your deceased ancestors and family send their blessing for your marriage. Goosebumps. The day is already off to a great start before it’s even begun.
Before Mona and Lara drive off to the church they quickly conjure up a hairstyle… right, also very spontaneous. Luckily they are both there otherwise I’d be completely overstrained.
Ten minutes before going to church only Mama, Michael, Mel and I remain on the farm to help Mel get ready and we are doing really well for time. Mel only needs to put her shoes on before we can start driving. Mel bends down to tie the loop around her ankle… and her dress tears a good ten inches on her back! I take a deep breath and try to stay calm. „Mel…uhm… do not freak out, but… your dress just ripped.“ And Mel?! Peace personified. I keep my fingers crossed for all concerned, that one day I will be such a deeply relaxed bride. Moments later I found a needle and thread that, fortunately, Michael’s sister Rosi had laid aside in all her wisdom, and called Mama. Together with Michael, she sews Mel into her dress.
The church is a few minutes drive from Nina Farm, and the ride takes about 20 minutes along the gravel road. When we get to the church I gather up the bridesmaids so that we can get our bouquets and enter the church together. The church is full, and we could have filled it at least five more times with all the people who wanted to participate. The speeches and vows are heartwarming, eye-opening and goosebump-inducing. Since I cannot reproduce them or put them into words, I will upload them as soon as I collect them all. But one thing becomes clear to me again: As long as I cannot say the same thing about and to a man as Mel can say about and to Shali and as long as no man can say the same thing about and to me as Shali can say about and to Mel, I will remain a me with a clear conscience. THAT is what love between two people should be, activate in two people and activate two people in love in others. (Props go out to all my relationship role models: I dunno if you realise, but you have a huge impact on me).
[addendum, Nov 3rd 2019] Mel’s vow I can share already, I’ll submit Shali’s as soon as I have it:
„Hi babygh! This… this right here is the most comfortable I’ve ever been. And I’ll tell you why. Your warmth is radiant and ever sharing. And therefore I can never go cold. Your eyes focused, unafraid and truth seeking. I can never be distrustful. Your third clear, patient and forgiving. I can never be lost. Your hands firm and aware. I can never be dropped. Your smile big and never shy. I can never be faithless or unsafe. Your mind ridiculously curious and rebellious. I can never be bored. Your voice humble and careful. I can never be drowned. Your ears present and waiting. I can never be silenced. Your heart honest and playful. I can never be misled or put down. And the rest of you is so damn squeeeeshy! I can never be uncomfortable. This this right here is the most comfortable I’ve ever been. So thank you for sharing all your powers with me. I’m so excited to be sharing mine with you. Now comfort is an interesting thing because I think it’s one of our most basic feelings we strive to achieve – a feeling of comfort and safety, throughout our joys and our fears, that knowing “everything will be ok”… as my papa says. BUT at the same time the uncomfortable things life has to offer are often the moments where we learn and grow the most… as my mama says. “this is a good learning opportunity”. And we all know full well that revolution doesn’t happen when we’re comfortable. That “in this life nothing gets handed to you, you have to work and go get it” as Meme says. Oh our beloved parents! Thank you for teaching us to walk into life and this love with all our eyes wide open. Meme for raising an incredible man in a world that fights so hard for men not be. Mama and papa for raising me to see with my heart in a world that tells me to see with my fears. Because of you, we are. And because of you, I am. I am standing here today, in front of you and all of our loved ones, and I feel fierce and so full of life and love. Clear minded and more sure of who I am and what I want to become than I have ever been. Because of you, my love, I am. And I hope, trust, know that with me, you are. We’ve already started building a home together, setting up strong foundations, making sure we have enough air and light coming in. Having an abundance of plants! As long as we’re careful about how we use water in this drought. We are empowered, safe and comfortable to be ourselves in our home. I’m so proud of us. Comfort can be as small as the simple act of breathing. Breathing is all we have to give rest to heads and to give rhythm to our chests. Without it we can’t be a part of the playing or the learning. Now this is the comfort I am talking about. We breathe so beautifully together babygh and I love that we laugh every time we notice. We are divinely placed here “see the signs, they’re all around us” as Freddy says. He’s right. It would be unwise to ignore them. “I’m ready, and it’s ok, ok?” as Chris said. And I am too babygh. I am ready to gracefully fall into this new world with you.. trusting that we will be wiser and better for it. Maybe even big enough to have kids one day. Because “ME Me I love you man” as you say and “I love allllllllll of you” as I say and will always say.“
With the religious portion of the wedding now over, the traditional African part begins. The bridal couple must now walk together from the church to the groom’s mother’s farm, accompanied by friends, family, dancers and music, where at the entrance gate they (hopefully) are allowed in by the mother and thus officially become part of the family. Meme Aune tells us, with a smile, how they used to take an endless amount of time, sometimes leaving the bride and groom to wait for hours at the gate. But not Meme Aune, she can’t wait to finally welcome them onto her property! Now the traditional handover of gifts begins: this should have taken place within a circle built of stone and clay especially for the wedding, but with so many guests there isn’t enough space, so a quick solution is devised. Gifts include a Bible, a bow and arrows, an axe and other traditional gifts with very profound meanings. The whole ceremony is accompanied by music, dancing and lots of LILILILILILILILI!!
The evening starts with something to eat, before the big party begins. Food from many different cultures and countries – but the most important thing I learnt this evening: Braai is fly! (Braai means BBQ) As already mentioned, everyone was more than full, and with filled stomachs the dance-floor could be inaugurated. Note to self: I urgently need to learn these amazing dance moves from Tara (Guuuuuuuurl!!!). Mel, herself an artist and musician, also performed some of her work as a mixture of jazz and poetry slam – and there they are again…those goosebumps. The party is over for me at 2:00 in the morning, my body still feeling the effects of some jet-lag and of the past few days‘ events. For the others it continues a little longer, until the sun rises again. But they don’t have far to go, because they simply camp on the fairground.
It’s really difficult for me to put all the emotions and thoughts of this wedding into words, and then onto paper. Me, who is never at a loss for words. Even weeks later, I still search for them. This wedding, for so many reasons, will live longest in my memory – no offense to all the other weddings at which I have already had the pleasure to dance at! The way friends and family have tackled, gathered and pooled all their reserves of strength and nerve to make this day as perfect as possible. The love, openness and hospitality that each individual has shown me and us all. The little big chaos of everyone’s helping hands that has turned into something so beautiful. The humour none of us lost through all the stress we endured. All those people who made my heart grow a hundredfold because each one of them has a very special place in it.
After we slept in a little bit the next morning, we had breakfast together and say goodbye to everyone on the farm as Mama, Michael, Lara and I drive up to Tsumeb in the afternoon. In Tsumeb, Michael and his family built the Tsumeb Arts and Crafts Centre many, many years ago, where residents can sell their art to earn money. For some years, this arts and crafts center has made it onto the top of must-do lists of well-known online and offline travel guides – and rightly so! Not only can you buy something created with real passion, but also something which embodies the whole area. We felt comfortable here from the first second, and could not be happier spending the next five days here (with a little break in between).
The next morning, after breakfast, we drove to Etosha Pan. It’s about an hour’s drive from Tsumeb. I got the little Tippi from Africa jumping inside my heart (A book from my childhood which tells the tale of little Tippi, the daughter of two researchers in Africa, growing up in the midst of cheetahs and elephants – of course I always wanted to be like her). Somersaults of anticipation: Finally we get to see wild animals! Which is not quite true… when we drove back and forth along the gravel road between Windhoek and Nina Farm we were presented almost everything Namibia has to offer in flora and fauna; giraffes, springboks, zebra, warthogs, ostriches, monkeys and even an almost-wild-accident with an oryx! What would we have told our insurance company in Germany? Fortunately, Michael has very good reflexes and in contrast to us, the road in sight instead of the animal-filled landscape.
Wow! The Etosha Pan. Wow. Fun fact in passing: None of the following photos were taken with zoom, and none of the photos in this entire blog post have been retouched. With a lot of patience, peace and respect for nature you will get the best photos. But see for yourself:
When we arrived back in Tsumeb in the evening everyone is waiting for us: Mona, Jürgen (Michael’s brother), Alex (Jürgen’s son), Rosi and Biggi (Michael’s sisters) and even Oma (Michael’s mom). We spend the evening and the entire next day cooking, eating, playing cards, eating biltong (Snapsticks ftw!), shopping for sunglasses in a china shop, doing minor repairs on the property and lots and lots of laughing. A day’s break after all the hustle and bustle and the countless impressions is really good. Since it’s a bit warmer in Tsumeb than it is in Windhoek, we sleep – to the delight of all the mosquitoes – outside.
While writing this I notice two things: First, I just cannot keep my superlatives in check (#sorrynotsorry), and secondly I totally forgot to feed you information about this country. But I’ll catch you up with that quickly.
Namibia is home to about 2.2 million people. That is significantly less inhabitants than Berlin has, and that in a total area of almost 830,000 km². By comparison, Germany is less than half as big. Until the end of the First World War (1884 – 1915) Namibia was still called German Southwest Africa and was a German colony. For another 70 years, Namibia had to thrive as a UN territory until, in 1990, it gained its independence from South Africa and its current name through strong international pressure. To this day, many streets have German names (and signs), there is an Oktoberfest, Carnival and also the gherkins from Thuringia can be bought at Spar around the corner. A bit crazy, but you get used to it quite quickly – after all, it feels like home. At least in Windhoek. If you travel, like us, even further north, you’ll quickly pass Black Forest Cherry Cake and Birkenstocks. Windhoek is not only the capital of the country, but also the biggest. Namibia’s second largest city is Rundu, on the border to Angola, where we will go the next day.
Namibia currently ranks 129th out of 189 countries worldwide in the Human Development Index. Since independence the country has made great strides in combating poverty, but in no other country in the world are wealth and poverty so unequally distributed as here. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough to form a clear opinion on the colonial history of Namibia, which is why I will not say much here. But what I know and can say is that unnecessary blood has flowed and I’m glad that Germany has been engaged in dialogue with Namibia since 2014 in order to work through the past.
It’s already Wednesday, and after breakfast we drive to spend a night in Rundu. Rundu is located on the Okavango river in the Kavango region, right in the north of Namibia. In Rundu, Christopher and Mel grew up, and Michael spent much of his adult life there. The ride is absolutely spectacular! Mom and Michael didn‘t promise us (Lara, Mona and I) too much when they said that this is where the real Africa starts. Meter by meter it gets warmer, but the landscape gets a bit greener. Lined up at the side of the road are small villages made of clay, or corrugated iron huts. Michael remembers story after breathtaking story from years past which leave us amazed. Wow! It’s impressive what he has already done for this country, and what he has experienced here, especially in Rundu. And so we got the chance to meet a few of his friends on site – either for a coffee or to repair our rental car because it didn’t like the gravel roads too much.
Speaking of car hire. I definitely recommend renting a 4×4, otherwise you probably won’t have much fun. Whether in Etosha or somewhere off the few paved roads, with another car you will have little chance if you end up even a few meters off the road. If you’re driving on the left side of the road for the first time you should do it outside of the cities, on the straight roads, as the transition isn’t easy and you won’t have to worry about other cars on top of the animal slalom. Also to be recommended: A Michael as a passenger, always calmly pointing out if you turn onto the wrong side of the road, or giving you good advice ahead of time.
The Kavango region is named after its inhabitants, who are known for their wood carving art, which can be found, among other things, being sold on the side of the road. They are river people, divided into five tribes, which until today ensures its survival mainly by fishing. The capital of this region is Rundu. Throughout the area and as a natural border with Angola, the Okavango flows about 40km across the continent. This provides the livelihood to the poorest region of Namibia.
We actually wanted to sleep in the beautiful Tambuti Lodge, which used to be Michael’s home in the old days, and which he then expanded with other buildings before selling the land, the current owners turning it into a lodge. Unfortunately – everything is booked out – and rightly so. We decide to drive down the Okavango and look for a place to sleep. And behold! We land in another little micro-paradise.
We have our dinner at the Kavango River Lodge, with the most beautiful view over the Okavango. So nice that we manage not to say anything for minutes, and so beautiful that even I (eventually) pack my camera away. In the background we hear the go-away bird, which I have wanted to see and hear since my childhood and the 128th time watching „Animals are beautiful people“.
With a full stomach and sparkling eyes, we drive back to the lodge to end the day – as always – with 10-penny rummy. A power line somewhere has probably broken so we are left in the dark. Since this is normal here, candles are quickly organised and Lara gets into the horror story mood. Even today I get nightmares from a story she once told me as a kid, so I quickly get the playing cards. A short time later, the light and fan are back on.
In the morning for breakfast we get a visit from another of Michael’s friends, who has become headmaster at a school in the region. He tells us about his development programs he is currently implementing. Among other things, a program that aims to highlight the importance of hand washing, and another that sponsors sanitary napkins so that students can attend school while on their period and therefore don’t miss any lessons. Again, I become very humble when thinking about my life in Germany. Actually THE thing I love most about traveling: The more I am allowed to see of the world, the more humble and grateful I become for my life in Germany. At least I feel that way, it really grounds me regularly. We are really damn lucky in Germany.
Before we head back to Tsumeb, Michael shows us a bit more of the city. Among other things, a former (now vacant) mission station. He explains to us the politics of how to deal with a hompa (tribal chief of the respective Kavango tribes) or what you should and shouldn’t do on the border with Angola if you want to survive here. Once again he leaves us speechless before we ask him a flood of questions.
We also discovered my two favourite African drinks up here, but you can actually buy these drinks throughout the country. Number one is the super refreshing and thirst quenching Rock Shandy. My favourite is Country Club. Rock Shandy is a blend of soda, lemonade, ginger ale and some non-alcoholic herbal liqueur.
My absolute favourite, and our drink of the vacation, is definitely Farmdudler. Rarely have I laughed as much as the moment mom spotted it at the gas station. Farmdudler tastes like Almdudler, just better somehow.
We have one more night in Tsumeb before going back to Windhoek for the last few days. As much as I look forward to seeing Roya, Hanso, Vahid, Rosi, Don, Mel and Shali again, I will miss Oma (btw almost 98 years old) and Biggi, who live in Tsumeb. Our last night is made even more perfect by Jürgen and Alex; they organised mosquito nets and hung them over our beds. OUR HEROES! That night I slept so well that in the morning I woke up completely confused, not knowing where I was at all. We tried to make the farewell as short and painless as possible. After all, it’s not a farewell, it’s a see you soon. A big chunk of my heart has definitely stayed in Tsumeb.
We made another small touristic detour on the way back to Namibia’s capital. Once we are here, we can’t resist seeing the largest meteorite ever found on Earth. A truly lovingly constructed area surrounds this 50-60 ton colossus of iron, nickel and cobalt. The Hoba meteorite hit the earth in the Otavi mountain, about 20km west of Grootfontein, about 80,000 years ago and will probably remain there forever. It’s estimated to be 190-410 million years old. If you stand on top of the meteorite, everything you say has a strange echoing sound that is hard to describe. Just try it! We discovered this only by accident, because I could not stop talking again. Obviously.
Arriving in Windhoek, a dinner awaits us along with everyone else. Gosh, how much I miss a full house. Okay okay, also the delicious food the ladies conjured up every night. On our penultimate day, we have breakfast at the Everyday Organic German Market and then plunder the Arts and Crafts Center in the city to buy some final souvenirs. With a heavy heart, we enjoy our last big family dinner and try not to think about having to return to Germany the day after.
Phew. Well, what should I say in conclusion… I think you could read the underlying tone within the last 6,000 words about how much this country has enchanted me. Once again I am so grateful that I was able to get to know and experience this country (with absolute certainty not for the last time) through family’s eyes, and again I did not have to be just a normal tourist. I am grateful for this country – not because I have seen so much misery and I am glad to be in Germany, but because I was allowed to be part of it and always will be. I am grateful for a family that is so great that I once again can’t find the words. I am grateful that each of these places feels like a home. I am thankful that I forgot all of my worries and fears, and re-learned to enjoy and live within the moment. But above all, I’m grateful that you, Michael, brought Namibia into my life.
While writing this text, I’ve taken the train several times around Germany, drank Paulaner Spezi, ate doner kebabs, organised appointments and other German things you can do to embrace your Germaness… but not for one second have I felt like I really arrived back in Germany. Will I ever again?