Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Party in Mpungu

looking back to October 2016:

A. timed his workshop, fortuitously, with a marathon in Swakopmund and... his birthday!  He's also a great cook every day, and M. and Y. are not bad with a spatula, either, which, combined with the success of our workshop and the dramatic change in landscape for me, made for a stellar visit.

A.'s breakfasts are some of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.

I live in a town of concrete homes, purpose-built for the men who worked the mines and their families (the mining concern, in 1970s and 80s apartheid, was trying to build a 'non-racial' company, which is kind of cool though of course one wonders how the white men in charge defined 'non-racial' in both their heads and their hidden-most hearts), and they all have electricity and water available.  Only people who can pay for electricity and water can avail themselves of such, of course, but most people here swing it.

The compound has cold running water and electricity most of the time.

Mpungu was settled naturally, by herders from the Kavango tribe.  Most of the population of this region, also called Kavongo (for political administrative purposes, there are two regions:  Kavango West, where Mpungu is, and Kavongo East), lives in the northern stretch of the territory, along the Kavongo River, which is a PERENNIAL river.  That's very rare around here; most rivers are ephemeral, and show usually just as depressions in the earth, filling only in a serious rainy season.  There are a few other perennial rivers in the north, kinda-sorta connecting with the Kavongo (Zambezi, Chobe and Kunene, which got dammed years ago so a large part of its flow is underground now), and then the only other perennial river in Namibia is way south, the Orange River.

It takes a lot of wet (relatively) to keep the country this green.

So a lot of Kavongo people fish and grow crops with river water and stuff like that.  But not in Mpungu!  The village is about 25km from the river, so folks stick to cows and goats and maybe a sheep or two, plus perhaps a spot of gardening.  It's a tiny town, with a clinic and a few small shops, a post office and primary school and a handful or two of shebeens, which often double as shops.  If you need serious groceries, or a bank (the post office provides some banking services), or a secondary school, you have to head those 25km north to Nkurenkuru.  We stopped in Tsumeb on the way into town and picked up supplies, and then M. showed up carrying everything necessary for a Diwali feast, and Y. was packing some birthday surprises, so we were in good shape.

Getting a group together is a good excuse to fuss around with pizza-making.

Mostly we worked on our workshop, and talked about what we'd do the next day, and sat by one of the shops to offer business advice if anyone wanted.  We cooked and cleaned and at some point did some laundry in A's family's semi-automatic washing machine.  Walking to and from the constituency office where we held the workshop took some time and offered views of all those trees, and a decent workout through the deep sand that subs for dirt in much of Namibia, and a chance to make up horror movies in which we might, unknowingly, be acting.  Just hanging around the compound was a thrill; it's so very different from my town and the tourist hotbed of Swakopmund, where I do my big shopping once or twice a month.

And sunset watching, of course.

At some point the three of them did a spate of interval training.  We celebrated A's birthday with a song from the workshop participants in the morning, and a man-bonding experience at the shop/shebeen for M. and A. while Y. and I (but mostly Y.) concocted white-chocolate chip and macadamia cookies, which she knew A. had been craving.  She had the chips shipped in from the US.  I think white chocolate is an abomination against nature, but those cookies were delicious.  And one night A's Kenyan colleague's wife had us all over to dinner.  That was one of the best meals I have ever eaten in my life.  The pumpkin dish!  Eish!!

The chin-up station.  M. was worried by significant weight-loss in his first
six months in Namibia; I offered tips for keeping the pounds on.

On the Saturday night, we had a bit of a bacchanal at a local shebeen, with help from Mpungu's PC teacher volunteer and many locals.  The Kenyans gave A. a kind of cloak that may be Masai; he loved it.  Kept stroking it.  It's really meaningful, somehow, when your village friends show an overt sign of respect or appreciation like that.

Birthday card, cooky and embraces

Bush beer, Saturday afternoon warm-up

Pre-Kenyan shebeen time

I think not usually worn with a t-shirt, but that's kind of A's thing.

I left hoping to go back, but it looks like that won't happen.  Maybe someday.  Mpungu is really, really different from my home, and I'm so glad to have experienced it.  And as I waited by the car for Tate Joseph to give us a ride to the hike point, he gripped me by my meaty upper arm and told me, "You are fat, Frede," in an admiring tone, with a warm smile.  It's a compliment.  It really is a compliment.  I know it's a compliment.  Nonetheless, I couldn't get to, "Thank you," and had to settle for (an only-slightly-rueful), "Yes.  I am fat."

And here's a cool flowering plant in front of the stockade-style fence.

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