"South & East Africa 2011" story # 26

Walvis Bay, Namibia           August 13, 2011

Strong winds and sand of the Namib Desert surrounded the port town of Walvis Bay, where I sold stories one day. I then determined that the safest place for me to sleep would be on the library.
     At seven p.m., bright spotlights illuminated the municipal courtyard surrounding the library. I would have to act quickly if I wanted to get on top without being detected. The roof was eleven feet off the ground.
     I successfully lobbed my bags just over the edge of the roof. Then, I balanced myself on the back of the bench. I bravely leapt up six inches and caught the roof with my hand. Hanging from this overhang, I swung my feet onto the side of the wall underneath. But, I lacked strength to pull myself up. Uh, oh. I couldn't get up. And all my bags were stuck up there!
     I realized I couldn't drop back down to the bench, either, because I'd hurt myself. In desperation, I put my foot on a picture frame hanging to my side. Surprisingly, it held me! I climbed up to this portion of the roof, which was narrow and boxed in by another roof only two feet above. This second, zigzagging roof closed to within six inches of the roof I crouched on. I had to crawl to the open spot where my bags lied. But - in my box on a ledge - I was facing the wrong way! I lay down and scooted backwards like a worm.
     Freedom! I stood up, collected my bags, and found a groove to sleep in, safe from the wind and from detection. I knew no one was going to bother me here!
     Other writers were just in the library - ha ha - but not me!

It was easy to sell my stories in Walvis Bay, on streets lined with rocket-sized palm trees and full of sandy air.
     Whites - who otherwise seemed xenophobic - bought stories and insisted on giving me donations. Black businesses and consumers lived well. Pregnant, coloured Juliana bought a story, then asked me to name her unborn baby. (At first, it looked like the girl's name I came up with was going to be the best; but now, we were hoping for a boy!)
     Government employees even invited me to the town's mayoral fundraising dinner. I tasted oryx meat: gray and pink and succulent, sometimes so tender my teeth cut it like butter. I tasted Namibian traditional foods: wet spinach that seemed to have sand in it; chunks of dried beef that tasted like drought or famine; yellow fish strips full of tiny, malicious bones; and worms, whose insides tasted muddy and whose outsides were made up of staples. Hmmm ... the traditional food wasn't that good!
     (Further up the Namibian coast, the owner of restaurant Fishy Corner in Hentiesbaai would treat me to some better food. A crisply fried fillet of kabeljou (cob fish) with lemon. Light and soggy, fried rings of stretchy calamari, with a cucumber-tomato-mayonnaise sauce. Creamy green "mossel" soup with meaty plastic clumps on hard mussel shells inside, with buttery garlic bread to dip in it.)
     While in Walvis Bay, I moved from the library's rooftop to a church's laundry room. I'd been invited there, this time.
     Black Father Kapena and I discussed his country's struggling economy.
     He said international mining companies in Namibia used to take all the diamond revenues, but they now thankfully only took half. He said the country's unemployment rate was about 51%.
     I said the workers should work less hours, so the unemployed could share in the work and in the pay.
     He said the workers wouldn't do that. He added, working people often supported their unemployed relatives.
     I thought: even more reason for them to share in the work! George Orwell had written: "A man receiving charity almost always hates his benefactor - it is a fixed characteristic of human nature."
     Kapena added: the unemployed lacked skills.
     I said, the employed should be required to teach the unemployed.
     He said, this would eat into the profits and productivity of the companies, and they'd never do that. I said, companies must make sacrifices. But, I doubted they would.

A black Angolan family invited me to stay with them, after I'd met them at the church. As the sun rose on the day I would leave the church, it cast a wavering shadow of a bushy-headed sea anemone monster (a palm tree) on the wall. My new hosts would also help me understand "the life of the struggling African".
     Malu, the warm-hearted mother, told of when she'd seen policemen arresting an illegal street vendor. She'd excitedly defended the man - probably an immigrant like herself. She told the police: "Let him go! He's just trying to make a living." She asked, "How much money are you going to get, for turning him in?"
     I felt bad for the street vendor. I knew that I was getting away with selling things door-to-door. But, I realized I rarely saw people selling things from sidewalk tables in Africa - specifically in towns with many white-owned businesses.
     I recalled that the streets in Santa Marta, Colombia had been full of street vendors. People rarely begged from or bothered me there, as many now did in Africa. The Colombians had calmly earned their living.
     I brought up Walvis Bay's lack of street vendors, at a social gathering that included many young philosophical minds. A coloured girl who studied accounting explained and argued that street vending was rightly prohibited, in order to protect shop owners' business. I was the only one who disagreed.
     I thought to myself: Was THIS free market capitalism? I believed the poor should be given every opportunity to compete and empower themselves, even if it came at the expense of wealthier people. (Similarly, I believed the fairest way to manage international immigration would be to just let people move freely; soon, more people would live in better places, and less in worse places, and eventually every place would ascend or descend to a middle level.)

"It is the Way of Heaven to take away from those who have too much
And give to those who have not enough.
Not so with man's way:
     He takes from those that have not
     And gives it as tribute to those that have too much." - Laotse

I mentioned my love of Colombia to the young philosophers. Levy, an economist, said he wasn't surprised Colombia had a lot of street vendors because, as he said, it didn't have much of a government. This reminded me of another quote:

"When the government is lazy and dull,
     Its people are unspoiled.
When the government is efficient and smart,
     Its people are discontented." - Laotse

I eventually left my philosopher friends and Angolan family behind and traveled from Walvis Bay to Hentiesbaai. I was told that, in this small town, locals were unkind to new residents who opened businesses. And I traveled from here to the Cape Cross seal colony.
     I, like many tourists, just wanted to see the seals. But, other people, in the early mornings, came here to club seals to death as part of Namibia's seal-culling industry. Still other people - animal rights' activists, some associated with Greenpeace - came to protest and report on the killings. Yet another group of people (policemen and army soldiers) came to ensure the activists didn't interfere with the clubbers.
     Personally, I didn't know enough to care if the clubbers came here, nor if the activists came here. I just wanted to see 100,000 cute but smelly seals.
     I was forced by army soldiers to buy a US$6 permit to go and see the seals ...
     -- Flashback: to my first week in Namibia. In order to see the red Namib Desert near Sossusvlei Lake, I should've paid US$11.50 for a one-day permit. I tried to sneak in, got caught, and said I couldn't afford the permit. A park employee of Wambo origin, round-lipped Martin, paid for poor me to enter, though this was a day's wages for him. --
     At Cape Cross, the desert was made of broken chocolate ground leading to a midnight blue ocean. Fog or clouds hung darkly overhead. After paying my $6, I walked along the beautiful coast towards the seals.
     But, more soldiers stopped me. They said I had to walk on the ugly road to reach the seals, though the path was twice as long. Why? It was simply the rule. They kindly offered to give me a ride in the closed back of their truck, but I would've had to scrunch my poor back to get inside. So, I reluctantly said I'd walk on the two-mile-long road. But, after a moment, I thought: How stupid. I was PAYING to be oppressed!
     I went back to the office and asked for my money back. I'd wanted to see the seals - maybe even to swim with them. But, rules and law enforcement had caused me to change my mind.
     "If you know you must do something and you don't do it, you are not free." - Dr. HF Verwoerd
     I would later be told that the seal colony was an amazing experience. I learned that tourists, upon reaching the seal colony, were allowed to walk among the seals and go down to the coast. This surprised me. And it reminded me that:
     Laws were so terribly arbitrary!
     But, I regretted my decision to miss out on the seals. I felt sad.
     That night, I dreamt that I was crawling, face-down, in a shallow river. The river's bottom was full of snakes and scorpions. Because my head was below water, I held my breath and couldn't breathe ...
     Maybe the river represented my journey. And the snakes and scorpions represented people trying to stop me.

Don't mind the snakes!
And enjoy holding your breath,
Modern Oddyseus!

Thanks to Pieter Willem & Rita; Karlos, Emberth, & Sandy; and Emberth, Karlos, & Sandy (again) for rides!
Much thanks to Father Kapena, Fr. Heller, & Stella Maris Catholic Church; Malu, Xanana, Vanilda, Helder, Vasttouch, & Veronilda; and Hester, Margaret, "Jockey", & "Cindy" for places to stay!

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