Jonas, my childhood friend.

Jonas, my childhood friend.

“Meet Jonas. He will be staying with us. The neighbours found him walking along the road a few weeks ago. He said his mother died and he has nowhere to go,”my father introduced a boy of mixed blood, to us. Mother, Benita, my younger sister and I looked at the thin, scrawny boy. The tiny, leather breach clout was old and worn. He was shy and didn’t look up.  We later learnt that his mother was a Bushman and his father a Nama. When the mother died his father’s Nama family came and took him with them, but he ran away.

Nobody knew what happened to the father. We guessed Jonas must have been eight to ten years of age. Mother took one look at him and asked Joseph, our Ovambo house help to get hot water and soap and give him a proper cleanup.  She went to look for some clothes and after a while he emerged from the storeroom, shiny clean and dressed in oversized khaki shirt and trousers. “He doesn’t want to put the shoes on. Also he doesn’t want to take his necklace off. “The sandals were dangling from Joseph’s hand.

Jonas never took his ostrich shell necklace off. He later told us his mother made it for him. A smaller storeroom at the back of the house was cleaned out, painted and furnished with a bed and chest of drawers. This was his bedroom until we left the farm. Later he put a bow and the small little arrows the Bushmen used when hunting, on the wall.

At the beginning of his stay he followed Absalom, the senior Ovambo, around.  Absalom showed him how to take care of the cattle, sheep, goats and chickens. Absalom was also fluent in Afrikaans. Jonas learnt from him to speak the language and soon we were able to communicate with him.  That is when Jonas and I became friends. He was given the responsibility to take care of the chickens.

Later he also had to take care of the vegetable garden. After letting the chickens out in the morning he had to clean the chicken coop. I had to help him fill the water troughs and check the fencing of the coop to see if it was safe from night predators, like jackals. Only then were we allowed to play. After afternoon tea it was time to collect the eggs, feed and get the chickens back in the coup again.  It was fun chasing the silly red cockerel who never wanted to go in with the other fowls. He would spread his wings and pretended to challenge us. Jonas would go and sit inside the coup and made clucking sounds, only then the red cockerel haughtily walked into the coop. Benita was scared of the red cockerel. He chased her one day.

Father also bred horses. I desperately wanted to ride one of the thoroughbreds but he said, “As soon as you can ride your donkey you can ride one of the more docile horses.” Jonas helped me to look after Jessie, my donkey. He never wanted to ride her. He preferred to run alongside when I was riding. She was sometimes very obstinate.

After the rain when the soft grass sent up green shoots, Jessie got an upset tummy. She would run away, defiantly kicking both hind legs high in the air, throwing her head to the side and let out a loud bray.We knew then it was no use running after her and trying to catch her. When she recovered Jonas went into her enclosure and talked to her. Only then would she allow him to saddle her, hold her reins, ready for me to get up and ride.

We also brushed and fed her in the late afternoon….to the amusement of my friends. “A donkey?” they would ask. “We only take care of our horses like that. The donkeys live in the veld.” But Jessie was a special donkey. Her mother died soon after she was born and she had to be bottle fed. She stayed around the house and would often lean over the bottom of the kitchen door and beg for a sugar treat. Jonas and Jessie quickly formed a bond. He always gave her a little extra helping of the horse feed.

After the rain, big white mushrooms grew on a huge anthill near the cattle kraal.Jonas showed me how to harvest and carefully pack the mushrooms in the basket so as to not damage the fragile ‘umbrellas’. Mother fried the mushrooms in butter.Always a special treat. “The poisonous mushrooms don’t grow on the anthills,” Jonas said. I don’t know whether this is true or not. Later on I was allowed to accompany my father and Jonas when they went to check on the fence or just walked in the veld.  I persuaded Asnath, my Herero friend to come with us.

Her mother came every Monday morning to wash our clothes. Tuesdays she did the ironing. Later on the three of us often spent these two days exploring in the veld. Jonas did not want to wear his khaki clothes when we went out in the veld. He was scared it might get torn by the thorns. The Bushmen who occasionally stayed at the farm, gave him a new, soft, skin breach clout.

He liked wearing it. “Now I’m a real bushman,” he would say, swinging his digging stick high above his head. Jonas never wore shoes and wanted Asnath and me to take our shoes off in the veld. “You must feel the sand tickle your toes! Also you can’t get a grip when you climb the trees to get the gum you like to eat. The juiciest and biggest blobs are always too high to reach from the ground. “We tried on a number of occasions but always ended with thorns in our feet as the sweetest gum came from the thorn trees.

After a thorough foot scrubbing that night, my mother would positioned herself on the couch with a candle and the Coleman lamp. She sterilized a needle in the candle flame and started to delicately pick the skin around the embedded thorn until it popped out. Sometimes it was quite painful, but mostly a great relief once it came out. Jonas just used a penknife to worry the thorns out of his thick calloused feet. Jonas showed Asnath and me how to carefully break an ostrich egg shell into little pieces for a necklace.

It was quite tricky making the holes in the tiny pieces of egg shell. Father used to help us doing that. He also gave us some sanding paper to take the sharp edges off. It never looked as nice as the necklaces we saw the Bushmen wore when they came to the farm!  But Asnath and I were happy and proud with our ostrich necklaces, although Jonas’s looked much nicer.

My father sold the farm in 1952 and we moved to the Free State. We lost contact with Jonas but I will never forget this young boy who taught me about the veld, nature and my homeland forever – Namibia.

by Zonie Williams