Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Bushman land, learning the traditonal ways of the Bushman, and making fire with sticks. (Feb 4-5)

Current Location: Omataco Valley, Namibia.

Highlights: Meeting Bushmen and going on a bush walk to learn about how the bushman survive, plus I made fire with sticks, and a mission of mercy to get a very old sick Bushman woman to a medical clinic.

Upcoming: Back to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo, then on to Botswana and the Central Kalahari.

Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 19 17 53 LONG: E 19 16 43

After leaving Etosha in the afternoon we headed east towards Bushman Land and a camp set up to teach visitors about how the Bushmen used to live. This meant driving towards Rundu in the dark, the focal point of the fighting in northern Namibia and where 4 French tourists were recently killed. I was somewhat apprehensive as the Landy resembles an army vehicle being green and having bars at the windows, and Africa is just so unpredictable. We turned off the Rundu road about 200 km from Rundu and headed east into Bushman Land
along a dirt track. It had now started raining and we were in the midst of a storm with thunder and lightning making travel very slow. I was nervous of any headlights we saw, although few, even those of Police cars. As had become usual, we camped at the side of the road to save money on accommodation, not that there was any here at this time anyway!

Next morning we drove to the Bushman camp and were greeted by children and adults who spoke no English. The camp was not what I expected. It had an office and craft shop which were thatched round stone structures, and a huge solar powered water pump and water holding tank. Everyone was dressed in T-shirts, trousers, and shoes, all of which had seen better days. They spoke in a Bushman dialect with the clicks or Afrikaans. This is certainly a reflection of what the Bushman have become, no longer a traditional people still living a traditional way of life, but a people whose culture and traditions have been lost or blended with a western way of living. Its ironic that western people and a western lifestyle which corrupted the
Bushmans traditional lifestyle is what is keeping alive the last remnants of their culture as white visitors pay to see tours of how they used to live. I am unclear on the cause of this loss of culture and its certainly multifarious, but when Namibia was under South African rule, the Bushmen eventually became classified as colored, much of their homelands taken away, and they were placed in sedentary reserves. I don’t think it takes many generations of not using ones cultural skills to loose those skills which have taken decades if not centuries to accumulate and learn.

Anyway, we decided to go on a bushwalk with two of the Bushmen, one spoke English and wore the traditional dress of a leather loin cloth and leather shoulder bag with bow, quiver and arrows. His non-English speaking companion was older and spoke only in the traditional Bushman language. On the walk we learned which plants were edible, how they made poison for the arrowheads they used to hunt for game. We also leaned which plants were used in traditional medicine, and which tree wood was used to make fire sticks. We
even ran into a huge spiders web and narrowly missed the huge spider which they said could kill a man if it bit you. It was a fascinating tour, the highlight of which was when we returned to the village and was shown how to make fire with sticks. The old man took about 2 min before he had flames. I then had a go. It took me about 4 min and BINGO; I had made fire with sticks. This is an immensely satisfying accomplishment for some reason; to know that one can actually make fire without matches, a lighter or flammable liquid.

It was at this point that an old man came to the one who spoke English. After a short conversation, we were asked to take the chiefs wife to a clinic about 24 kms away, as she was very sick and very weak. All they had was a donkey cart and she was too weak to travel that way. So they carried her into the Landy and I drove both her and her husband to a rural clinic at a large village nearby. I felt very sad to see this very old and incredibly frail, very tiny old woman look so sick. I have a feeling that she did not make it through the night, but I hope she did. I often think of her.

When I returned we were ready to leave after paying the fee for the bush walk (N$35 = US$6 each). On our bill they had added another fee for a village tour. I questioned this and he said that we walked back through the village, but removed the charge. Aaron also said that while I had been gone, he had been asking for items like batteries, sugar, and other things. This brings up a somewhat touchy issue and a ethical dilemma. How should we handle the constant requests for things from people who obviously have much less than we do? I have debated this issue in my own mind, and asked a number of people how they would react. First I should point out that we are
constantly bombarded with people asking for things that they see on or in the vehicle or things they think we might have and for money. We could not possibly accommodate these requests, as within about a week we would be destitute with nothing! I even asked an American woman who had lived in Namibia with local people for 10 years, if we gave away everything we had to the point we had nothing and no means to live ourselves how the people would feel about us, if they would feel sorry and stop asking for things. She said no, they would think you were stupid and take it all! We did bring a number of items to give to children, things like pencils, key rings (from ASU and
Nike), and T-shirts (from ASU), and had some things to trade, but we were not prepared for this bombardment of requests for everything we have. We have decided that we will not give things away under most circumstances (except for the things for kids) but will either trade things for crafts or for a service. This way hopefully people may no longer ask or "beg" for things, which is demeaning, but will give something in return. I actually have a problem with this, as I believe that you should give without expecting something in return, but thats an added complication I will have to deal with. But it means we will not promote people begging for things or money. If someone comes up to us and asks for some money, I sometimes ask
"why?" and they generally walk away with a puzzled look! Just one more morsel of food for thought, we were asked for medicine for a baby with a fever. How should we have responded to this request?

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