The next night I camped in front of the only shop in the village and watched the town go about their business. Women collected the firewood, prepared all the meals, fetched the water from the borehole and tended to the children. The men were drinking homemade spirits under a tree. Perhaps the hunter-gatherer theory is to blame? Whilst hunting has been taken care of with supermarkets and packaged meat, someone still has to cook, clean and fetch water. Men really have lucked out on this one. Alas, next time Tamika complains about me not doing enough chores I might have to remind her, ‘Babe, at least we’re not in Africa’.
I’m sure she will understand.
The Kunene River marked Namibia’s northern border with Angola. I had cycled the length of the country over some pretty average roads, and my bicycle had copped the brunt of it. On the way to Ruacana Falls, along a dry season only road, it all crescendoed into one of the worst days on the road.
The indiscreet shop I slept next to turned into a boisterous bar and played music until 3am, affording me an hour sleep. I woke to two slow leaking flat tires that took a considerable amount of time to fix. I was now starting late and decided to skip breakfast in the hope of the markets selling fat cakes. The market was shut. I started cycling on a pitiable packet of biscuits along one of the worst, most remote roads so far.
Three cars had passed in the last two days and the road’s hazardous conditions continually made me dismount and push through patches of sand, big rocks and steep inclines. I couldn’t even cycle five minutes without hopping off the bike. After pushing tirelessly through the midday heat an instant flat tire was a sign that I should have some lunch after fixing it. My bicycle pump leaver snapped at possibly the worst time of the entire trip, effectively leaving me stranded. I accepted my dreary fate and mulled over Nutella and bread. Attempting to cut another slice I felt the sharp, serrated blade of my Letherman knife slice deeply through the top of my thumb. Blood started to rush out as I clenched my fist trying to put pressure on the cut. Whilst blood filled my one hand, my other was unclipping my pannier and digging through for my first aid kit. I’d eventually applied Betadine, followed by gazettes, and then wrapped it in Band-Aids and strapping tape. The blood still seeped through but eventually stopped, which was lucky as the next passing car was nearly four hours away. I used my good hand to scoop Nutella whilst I waited.
Two Namibians loaded the bike and I into the back of a Hilux and drove me to Oshakati in haste with the strong smell of marijuana seeping from the cabin.
“Be careful bro, in Namibia you get more jail time for stealing or killing goats than you do for manslaughter,” one of them remarked whilst unloading.
I shuddered at the thought of a drunken Namibian choosing to run over me, rather than the goat. Surely I add more value to the world than an animal that has rectangular pupils?
After purchasing another pump I made a slow transition from the tribal west of Namibia to the eastern Caprivi Strip. Dangling off the edge of Namibia in obscurity, the strip was named after German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi, who negotiated the acquisition of the land in an 1890 exchange with the United Kingdom in order to give Germany access to the Zambezi and a route to Africa's east coast, where the colony of German East Africa was situated.
For the lonely bicycle traveller, it provided a soft transition from German influenced Namibia, to a more stereotypical Africa. I had to cycle through a national park. I stayed in police stations to avoid wild camping with elephants. Music blared from every village, people were more curious, and unfortunately, more young people began begging; this is more what I envisaged Africa to be like. As I sat by the roadside on sunny afternoon eating peanuts by a tree a teenage girl approached;
“Give me your food”, she said abruptly with her hand stretched out
“Because I am hungry!!”
“I’ve cycled for six hours already, I’m hungry too. So no, I’m not giving you anything”
“Please! Give me!”
Many people at home might be wondering how I can be so callous and not give to people who seek something. Firstly, it sets a bad precedent that white people are glorified money machines - and whilst my standard of living is drastically better than those begging – if I gave to everyone that asked, I’d be broke. Secondly, the teenage girl weighed more than me. She wasn’t starving, she just wanted something for nothing; a problem that has organically grown ever since NGO’s and aid agencies started arriving in Africa.
After cycling out of Namibia, I entered Botswana for a total of two hours. Cyclists aren’t permitted in Chobe National Park and I had to load my bicycle onto the back of a truck for the 70km’s to the boarder. The Zimbabwean drivers showed me their ink-died pinkie finger, a testament to voting in a Mugabe free election. They hoped for a new dawn by voting for the opposition, but felt melancholy with predictable news of election rigging by Mugabe’s former party.
“The same Mugabe party, with the same Mugabe problems,” one quipped.