Thursday, June 22, 2006

death in the village

If you want to be precise about it I don’t actually live in Otjituuo. To be understood by a Herero I have to use the more specific, Okatjoruu, the place of the sweet plant. Otjituuo just refers to “the bend in the river” and represents a host of villages; the greater area including Coblenz. Okatjoruu is the proper way of saying exactly where I live. Last night Okatjoruu played host to the quasi-bi-monthly cattle auction for the entire area. To give you a taste of the difference this makes in the village, we go from have one or two trucks lumbering around to maybe forty or fifty. People set up tents in the fields across from the school and congregate at the various cuca shops and shebeens. You can see little fires and the squatting outline of the various Herero women attending their three-legged pots.

The “main street” is about 20 yards from my backdoor. Directly across the street from me is Andima’s Restaurant, the general store. It doesn’t really serve food like you’d expect although you can get a piece of cooked goat and maybe some porridge with sour milk. I sometimes go over there to help one of the women that runs the shop (the owner, Mr. Andima is from the north so he’s not really around all that much) with her Excel spreadsheets. It’s the most “legit” bar around, like there is a “snooker” table and probably the least bootleg sound system of all the dozen or so watering holes that range from mud/dung huts to tin roofed sheds. I went over there on Tuesday to pick up some cool drink; after 5pm the store part closes down and the bar opens up which includes a fenced in area for dancing and what not.

I don’t really frequent the shop that much, I’ve been there but I’m opposed to drinking too much in the village. There’s an unspoken rule among the school’s staff to refrain from “taking alcohol” except during home weekends when the kids aren’t around. Well, this month the payment for government employees happened to coincide with the auction. In common parlance here there is a term called “End-of-Month Weekend,” it’s like the “Day-After-Thanksgiving” sales in the States – the population doubles and the towns get kind of unpleasant to be in because there are so many people around that getting ripped off is a lot more of an issue (otherwise there’s rarely enough people around to warrant any precaution as such). Needless to say, between the auction and the payment of salaries this meant that there was a lot of money floating around. My supervisor, Motata, was at Andima’s shop later in the night. Just as he stepped out to get a piece of meat when one of the sons of Mr. Andima took a sword and started stabbing another boy. A little while later he died in the clinic.

The staff were aware of the killing after all “he was here,” a former learner from the school who was working as a field hand on a local farm, but not really saddened or upset. The news is as tragic as it is ridiculous. It indicates a certain level of desperation, and on the part of the staff a level of fatigue. There is a funeral every week. People are inurned to feeling pained at death. Mr. Tjiriange left today after breaktime for a funeral for his brother who was stabbed to death by his girlfriend in Windhoek recently. Another brother of his drowned to death in the “fontein” that’s developed in the low veld here a couple weeks ago.

Tjiriange and Uandara claim that this kind of thing didn’t use to happen. They echo the sentiment you hear on the “Chat Shows” that NBC plays during the day. Lots of callers like to hearken back to pre-Independence Namibia, I am not sure if it is misplaced nostalgia but they believe there is something that has hurt the psyche of the country, whether it be Apartheid, AIDS, or poverty which has left people helpless. A dream deferred or something like that.

I think it is interesting to compare this to the kinds of complaints that 90% of the callers express which is the new policy of the government to close down unlicensed shebeens that has lead to protests in the North at Omuthiya and on the coast at Walvis Bay. The callers’ main point seems to be that these shebeen owners are not able to support their children or families without the money from their illegal shebeens and the government’s policy reminds them of the bad old days of white rule. This is a particularly cogent point when the case is so clear-cut, and surely some of the illegal shebeen owners have applied for the appropriate licenses and were unable to attain them because of various restrictions. But I think the wider statement of the government that shebeens are not a positive element in Namibia is a good one and should be enforced.


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