The Journeymen

As much as I’ll complain about not being able to drive while in the Peace Corps, not doing so (driving, not complaining) has afforded me the opportunity to meet some interesting people while taking ‘public’ transportation. (I emphasize public because the system is very different than what I saw as public transportation in the States. Here, getting around requires you to ‘hike’, which is catching a ride in anything from a private car to private trucks, or going to a hike point and catching something going in your direction. I’ve talked about hiking in earlier posts.)

Yesterday, while at Rhino Park, a more orderly hike point in Windhoek, I struck up a conversation with a group of German Journeymen. I’d seen their kind before in Swakopmund, but thought they were a group of oddly dress young men celebrating something. In reality they are apprentice graduates who travel around the world living off their trade and gaining experience. The group I met yesterday were carpenter journeymen. 

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German Carpenter Journeymen in full regalia

There were 7 of them, all dressed in traditionally styled, heavy black cotton denim or corduroy bellbottom pants, a heavy, pocketed waistcoats, white cotton collarless shirts, and an assortment of odd hats. Everything from bowlers, to top hats, to wide rimmed carpenter’s hats, always black. I felt bad for them because they had to wear that outfit in the hot, humid Namibian sun and while stuffed in the back of a crowded kombi.

This groups, as I found out from our chat, was heading to the coast hoping to find work. I pointed them to Walvis Bay where they may find dock work, and to a backpacker’s inn where could sleep cheaply.  

To say they stood out would be an understatement. 

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No, I didn’t get their names. Yes, I should have.

One of the things I think we Americans lack are traditions like this. We have apprenticeship and journeymen ranking in some trades, but they only play lip service to what the terms mean, especially journeymen. The very term says what those who choose that route should be doing, journeying, discovering the world and using the skills you’ve learned to make the world a better place, and in return, gain experience in your trade.

I wish I had time to talk to these guys some more. I’d like to find out the depth to which they were committed to the years they traveled. I did learn that some had gone far and wide, to Japan, Brazil, and other African countries. Did they learn new techniques in their craft? Did they find themselves in places where their craft could be used to help, like hurricane ravaged Dominican Republic, or earthquake damaged villages in Tibet? These are places I can see where you gain the most experience while helping. Accommodations would be extremely limited, conditions would be hard, resources scarce, and they’d have to think beyond the textbooks to solve real world problems. What better way to advance your knowledge in a trade?

I did wish these boys luck on their journey and hope they gain and give as they go.

Ahhh, the people I meet!

Stay tuned.

Vern 

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