In Namibia, we have an abundance of space. For all of its 825 000 km 2 only 2.5 million people call Namibia home, making it the second least densely populated country on earth. From the perennially cloudless skies of the south, to the jagged and twisted mountains of Damaraland and the frigid waters of the Atlantic, we’ve been given our own world to explore.
As I pulled up to a set of lights in Windhoek, population density was not on my mind, as a young boy, no older than 8, extended his grubby hand to my car my window. His shirt barely held together, his pants, browned and torn to the point where you’d be foolish to even try and guess their original colour.
That childish glint of innocence in his eyes had long since faded.
His was a face I’d seen before.
In December 2014 I joined a group of 7 other Namibians on a trip to the Kunene Region to take part in a leadership come conservation-based initiative aimed at helping orphaned and vulnerable children in Southern Africa. This particular group of children aged 10-14 came from Sesfontein and Warmquelle. As they stepped off the bus, their faces were racked with apprehension. These were kids who had seen too many hardships for their young years, endured too much disappointment, and been let down too many times. I knew it was up to us to give them a life-affirming experience they would never forget. The next 6 days passed in a blur of laughter and happiness. Enveloped in the stunning vastness of our natural world, they were free to become who they always were.
On the last night of the camp, it was my job to prepare the main event. I waded through thousands of pictures, of us playing soccer in the local village, racing up sand dunes, seeing elephants from mere metres away. In all the pictures there was one commonality. Smiles. These were children who could express themselves without worrying about where their next meal would come from. As the stars danced above our heads I stretched out a bedsheet and let the pictures play. Their smiles lit up the night.
I had heard that giving these ‘street kids’ money was not always the best thing to do. I was told that it only further encouraged their begging. Would the money even make a difference to their lives?
His desperation was accentuated by the frequent passing of Range Rovers.
Namibia is a land of contrast. I’ve slept in the Kuiseb River on nights when the temperature has plummeted to well below zero and at noon the following afternoon you could cook an egg on the bonnet of a Land Rover. There is only one place in the world where swathes of towering, ever shifting sand-dunes abut the ocean. Namibia. As desert adapted lions and elephants roam freely in the Namibia’s northwest, closer examination reveals so much more. Tok-tokies scurry in the grass and snakes slither away from the scorching sun. Each is made more beautiful when contrasted to the other. The heat of the desert is amplified when you feel the icy waters of the Atlantic. The might of the elephant made all the more awesome by the fact that it shares its world with a beetle no bigger than my pinkie.
That’s not to say having something in common is a bad thing. Last year a security guard was stationed at the end of my street. He seemed so friendly but what could we possibly have in common? One day I asked him if he watched ‘the game’, and low and behold we support the same football team. Every time I came home from training, he would ask me how my day was. On Mondays we would make the street corner our studio and discuss what had happened in the footballing world over the past weekend.
The light will turn green in about 10 seconds. I reach into my pocket and pull out N$20. Today, the boy will eat. I’ll let you decide if that was the right thing to do. If only you could have seen in that moment the smile that spread across his face.
In Namibia it’s possible for one person to make a difference.
Would I call my country perfect? No. There is space to improve. Namibia is far from the finished article. A child should never have to beg at a street corner. But more than having space to improve, there is an undeniable desire to improve. People make the absolute most of what they have. I joined 7 people who left their homes and jobs for over a week to make a difference in the lives of others. I’ve seen children unafraid to embrace the unknown and truly live. This country fosters an environment where a student and a security guard who’ve never met can come together and talk as if we had always known each other.
Namibia has a lot of empty space but there is dense concentration of humanity in its people; comradery, strength, compassion, hope, these are the traits I have seen woven into the souls of so many Namibians.
More than the beauty of the landscape, the majesty of our animals, it will be the small moments of humanity that I will always hold close to my heart, the friendliness of a stranger ,the smile on the face a child, feeling the warmth of old friends as we watch the sun vanish beyond an infinite horizon.
As I drive away from the lights I know that I’ll be leaving Namibia soon, but I know that Namibia will never leave me. I am forever tethered to this land and its arid soil. In a country of 825000km2 and 2.5 million people of every creed and colour you may think there would be a lot to separate us, but what inspires me about Namibia is that there is so much more that connects us.
By Kimber Brain