My father got an old television set once. I stayed with the rest of my family in the village without electricity, but every now and then, we’d make the trip to town to see my father and his television set. The picture was black and white and fuzzy all over, but the novelty of such a modern machine was fascinating to a village boy like me. I was glued to it for weeks, and eventually only watched it for one singular program- a nature documentary program. I was in awe of the animals that apparently lived all around me. My love of nature grew not from the long Ohambo (cattle post) walks I was tasked with, nor the hunting trips we took into the bush with bows and arrows hoping for just a small morsel for us kids to eat, but in front of a television screen where I could see the sheer awesomeness of the lawless natural beauty in Namibia. Wildlife was all around me as I grew up. As a small boy, I was a cattle herder. I slept outside next to the fire without so much as a blanket. It was my job to make sure that predators did not attack the cattle. I never really thought about why I should be so concerned with someone else’s cattle. Sometimes I would catch leopards lurking around, and we would hold the acacia bush close to us in those moments, hoping the leopard would become stuck in the thorns before reaching us. Sometimes they succeeded in their hunt for the cattle. The hyenas were cheeky, though. They would just grab the tails when they came, never really making a real kill. We didn’t know anything about conservation, but we just went into the bush with the dogs at night when we needed to eat some small animal for meat. It was in high school where I started to learn about the importance of respecting nature and interacting with it appropriately. Education was transformative for me, and through it, I learned to love this country, its peoples, and most of all- its vast expanses of natural wonders. Like people, nature doesn’t follow rules. As I defied the expectations and desires of those around me by studying at university and eventually getting an advanced degree, I returned day after day, week after week to the nature parks in Namibia. A voice inside my head said, “all is well” when I was observing the wildlife, and surely here was my destiny. Nghilifavali (my middle name) means cattle herder in Oshiwambo, but I knew I was not destined to the cattle-herding path of my youth. It was through the inspiration I found in Namibia’s natural wonders that I was able to overcome the poverty and hardships of my childhood. I eventually worked in conservation, and spent every free moment I had driving around to observe and photograph any animals I could find. I found the conservation of these magnificent spaces vital for the preservation of our heritage and for our future as a nation. Through my nature photography, I hoped to share with others just a piece of the beauty and wonder I felt when in those spaces.
I am now living the documentary television program I’d seen so many years ago, sitting rapturously in front of a television for the very first time. Except this time, the program is all around me in vibrant color.
by Jason Kandume