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Just so I don’t keep you hanging in suspense, I did find that glass of with my name on it and it was surprisingly good! (Jon Kheer Private Cellar Pinotage 2012) More on that latter.
As I mentioned in my last Quick Update post, I’d made it to Luderitz and got settle in and got some food in me, and was able to stretch my legs, which felt amazing.
The morning after arriving Travis took me around town, and since it was a holiday and with the power out in his office, we wound up spending the whole day out and about.
First stop was a brisk walk to Shark Island, oddly name since it’s a peninsula and not an island. The Island is a manicured campground with an old lighthouse standing sentinel. It nicely laid out and, when Travis and I visited first thing that morning, we could see that it was well used. But there’s a very dark history associated with Shark Island, a history you won’t find referenced on any placard on the campground. In the early 1900s the Island was the site of the first concentration camp where hundreds, perhaps thousand of Herero and Namaqua died at the hands of Colonial Germany. In fact, lessons Germany learned from Shark Island were later used with horrifying effectiveness in the Jewish death camps during World War II. Not seeing at least a reference or something that speaks to the memory of those who died there made for a somber start to the day.
Travis and I continued our morning with breakfast and a hike up a hill that might have been a high point within the town of Luderitz because there were water tanks and phone towers there. From that vantage point I could see all of Luderitz, and, like seacoast towns everywhere, I could see that the houses closer to the water belonged to the more affluent residence and the further a house is away from the water the more modest it was.
After verifying that the power was still out in Travis’ office, we were about to head back home, but was stopped by a guy in a large tow truck. I was introduce Boyd, a local resident and owner of several businesses in and around Luderitz. Boyd drove us around through some of the poorer neighborhoods and, since it was nearing lunchtime, stopped at a kapana stand. (Kapana stands are everywhere in Namibia. They are small grills where marinated meat, usually beef, is chopped up and cooked while you wait. The meat is sometimes served with finely diced tomatoes and onions in a vinegar sauce and reddish-orange seasoning powder that is savory and spicy. It is eaten by hand and usually shared with anyone who happens to be standing around. It is VERY tasty and I intend to bring the recipe and eating style home with me.)
On an impulse, Boyd took us up into hills just outside and to the north of Luderitz to a site where the first large scale wind turbines in Namibia were being installed. The current project calls for three turbines, enough to power all of Luderitz. Only the massive bases of the turbines were install, but it was an impressive site. Even more impressive was the view. To the north I could see where the Namib Desert blew its sands into the air and waters of the Atlantic, seeding storms that can cause so much beauty and damage in the Caribbean and Florida. To the west was the blue Atlantic. To the south, Luderitz and to the east was more desert stretching as far as the eye could see. The sky was so blue, the desert so stark, the sun so bright that it felt like I was top of the world. It was a feeling a pure, unfettered joy and I reveled in that moment.
You might think that after experiencing such moments anything afterwards would be anticlimactic, and you’d be right, but this is Namibia! This is Luderitz! Earlier, while he was showing me around, Travis stopped in a shop owned by Liz, a sweet little German lady who stood behind the counter of a shop full of Namibian trinkets, art, and other merchandise. Liz was wearing a large moonstone suspended around her neck by a simple chain. It was clearly the best object in a shop full of wonderful objects. I asked where did she got it. Liz explained that she gets shipments of stones from The Crystal Market in Arandis. Turns out Arandis and working with The Crystal Market is my duty assignment! (Friends and relatives, prepare to get stoned!!!)
Later that day Travis and I ran into Paul, a fascinating man who has sailed around the world several times and claims to be a, “…collector of useless trivia.” We met Paul as he was leaving his “workshop”. To call it a workshop is like calling the Queen Mary a boat. The workshop’s yard, easily the size of a football field, is littered with salvaged boat and ship parts. A half of hull here, a cabin there, all were wrecks pulled from the sea. He reuses the wood and other parts. Some people want stuff for decoration, others have more practical purposes in mind.
The actual workshop is a huge warehouse divided in two. The front half had been cleared and is to be a movie set for a project I didn’t quite get the gist of. The back half contained at least three sailboats and catamarans in various states of disrepair, one of which had to be forty feet, four cars and a sundry of other nautical and nice hardware and equipment.
What I like about Paul is that he likes conversation, which is different than those folks who talk just to hear themselves. Paul likes to tell tales, but listens to others tell their stories too, then adds appropriate commentary which makes for great conversations.
After interviewing one of the many small business owners in Luderitz, Travis and I ambled over to Liz’s home for dinner. To describe her home as beautifully eccentric would be an understatement. Like Paul’s workshop, Liz’s yard contained a collection of this and that with a boat and the part of another dominating the scene. Plants were everywhere. It was like an oasis designed by a wayward seaman.
At Liz’s I met Janet, an ex-PCV recently returned from the The Republic of Georgia. She liked Luderitz so much that she decided to stop in for a bit before heading back to the States. Paul and his significant other, Ingrid, and another couple whose names I forget were also in attendance.
Dinner was fantastic. Like her yard and her house, Liz’s dinner table was set with a huge collections of tasty dishes and guests just sat around chatting, eating, and chatting some more. It was great to chat with intelligent, witty, and unpretentious people! Such a grand time!
Though I was beat, Travis had one more event planned, a ‘braai’ (barbecue) on the beach.
Though I was looking forward to it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Luderitz can be very windy and its late Fall here. I sincerely doubted there’d be frolicking bikini clad beach babes, nor was I expecting to be huddled around a huge bonfire roasting bits of meat on sticks, drinking some local alcoholic concoction and singing Kum Bah Ya (which, after several weeks of language training, sounds suspiciously like Afrikaans).
As it turned out, there was just three guys, Travis, a guy named Phil who drove us and built the fire, and I. It was very dark when we arrived, and very windy. Phil managed to get a fire started in one of the standing concrete braai-pits and soon we were roasting meat. It seems that building and maintaining a fire in adverse conditions is part of the DNA of every Namibian I’ve met so far. Most don’t bother with store bought charcoal, they make their own with scrap wood, of which there seems to be plenty of.
I said it was dark when we arrived, but the quality of the darkness was so deep that though the fire was bright, nothing was illuminated by it more than a few feet away. It was like the air was sucking the light and warmth from the blaze.
And in the darkest there were stars. AHHH, the stars!!!! I really wish I had a way to take a photo of that tiny fire against the backdrop of a sky full of stars. Even the memory fills me with awe.
So, what do three guys do while standing around a small fire, drinking beer, and waiting for meat to cook? Campfire philosophy, of course! More great and fun conversation fueled by alcohol and mellowed by roasted beef.
What a day!
This is getting long and there’s lots more to tell.
AND I have 12 days left in training!!! In less than two weeks, if all goes well, I will be a bonafide Peace Corp Volunteer!
I write Part Two later this week so…