Laura, a friend and fellow PCV, was grousing to me one Saturday. “Every time I get in line at the ATM the people in front of me insist that I go to the head of the line,” she lamented. “It’s like they’re afraid I’m going to fall over dead before its my turn.”
Laura is in her mid-sixties and keeps in shape by doing a weird aerobic two-step while wearing headsets and singing to whatever tune only she can hear. The exercise helps to keep her body on par with her extremely sharp mind, and keeps the local children entertained.
“It doesn’t matter how much I protest, they won’t take no for an answer. I guess I’ll have to live with it,” she concluded.
The “they” she referred to are the people of Namibia. They are the Herero, San, Nama, Ovambo, Colored, Basters, Whites, and the dozens or so other tribes and sub-tribes that inhabit this country. Their cultures and histories intertwine and are as diverse as their languages and appearances, but they all share a deep seeded respect for those they believe have been around a while.
I’m also in my mid-sixties, though time and life has been kind to me physically I’m starting to hear “Papa” or “Tate Kulu” associated with my name. These are titles of respect for older folks, though I guess they don’t respect me enough to usher me to the front of the line just yet.
I’m finding that Namibians view older people differently that we do in America. Back home everything is youth focused and advancing in years is something to be continually fought. We can’t do anything about the passage of time, but we’ll be damned if we have to look like it! We envy the smooth skin and firm bodies of the young and when we see seniors who have become comfortable with themselves we assume they’ve just surrendered to nature, they’ve given up the fight.
Here in Namibia, that you’ve been around a while seems to be cause for congratulations. Life here is naturally tougher, but its also hard due to created conditions. That you’ve managed to dodge death for so long means that you are either very lucky or very smart, and both should be respected.
But there seems to be more to it than finding ways of fending off one’s eventual demise. Namibians seem to understand that the longer we’re around the more we are changed. Our experiences make us different as we go through them. Some changes are subtle while other are fundamental, but that we are changed is the key. And the changes accumulate, they are integrated into ourselves so that we become something more than what we were. So, here, the passage of time isn’t just aging, it’s maturing.
That concept is applied to everything. For instance, in America our cheeses are ‘aged’, here they are ‘matured’. The flavor of matured cheddar is bolder, the color is richer, the smell is more pungent. It’s the way cheese should be experienced.
There’s a matured (2014) South African pinotage that I’ve found that, unlike younger pinotages, is smooth and flavorful, and relatively inexpensive. It’s become my ‘house’ wine.
It’s not just things, time and experiences enriches one’s ability to produce as well. Music expertly played on real instruments sounds far more intimate than the throbbing beats of canned tunes DJs push out. Shoes made by sewing leather soles to leather uppers seem to mold themselves to your feet, something plastics can’t do. Jewelry designed and painstakingly made by artists carry with them a bit of the creator’s soul. These and more require skills one only gains through time and experience. And the same is true for those of us who can truly appreciate them, us matured folk.
It could be that my time here in Namibia is forcing me to slow down a bit and see things through matured glasses. It could be that what I’m experiencing is just what everyone goes through when they’ve packed on a few years. I’m thinking it’s a combination of both.
And I like it!