Botswana / Namibia:
Cultural Sojourn

Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 13 - Nokaneng


women with a basket, Etsha Botswana We determined that there was a rideable back road from Etsha 6 to Etsha 1, and true to form there was more life along it than there had been along the tar road.  First we had a pleasant meeting with a woman carrying a beautiful basket.  Later we stopped and talked to a group clearing bush from along the side of the road.  It looked like a lot of the focus of their activities was uprooting the small acacia bushes.  The crew described the work as drought prevention.  Usually clearing vegetation exacerbates dehydrating the soil. I can't connect the objective as a logical consequence of the activity, unless the acacia is a huge drain on the water table, which I have not heard of.  (Eucalyptus on the other hand is an example of a tree with a deep taproot, and a thirst that can suck a water table dry.)

Through Namibia and up until Etsha in Botswana we hadn't see many horse or donkey carts.  Early there had only been a few ox drawn sleds, but this was the extent of animal traction.  In any case we had definitely seen a greater number of horses and donkeys in the last few days. Evidently there was a development project that introduced the carts into this area, but we couldn't quite get a full story.

Someplace south of the Etshas, certainly in Gumare, we started to see Herero people.  Whereas the Biyeyi are the river people, who also farm and keep some cattle, the Herero, at least historically, have been almost exclusively cattle people.  The Herero are probably most noted for their formal wear which reflects nineteenth century German dress.  The link being that the Herero were originally from the area that is now north central Namibia, which, up until the end of World War I, was a German colony.  In the last century and a half some of their populations have moved east at various times to escape persecution, and to find more land.  The dresses take volumes of cloth (11 meters) that seem less than practical in a region with scorching summer temperatures.  We were also told that it takes a half-hour to fix their head-tie alone.  The language of the Herero is Otjiherero.  A simple greeting is "tjike" (hello).

Gumare had the first restaurants and substantial commercial center since Shakawe, more than 100 kilometers up the road.  The restaurants were run by Chinese, Pakistanis, and locals.  All the restaurants had essentially the same menu.  While Gumare seemed like a likely candidate for an Internet Café, continuing our perfect record, there was none available.

communications attenea The communications masts along the road became a friendly beacon.  With few exceptions they signaled a settlement with at least a small store. In several cases there were orange colored cell phone antennas at the top of the tower and a sign with orange on black lettering welcoming you to the town, and an orange square which is the Orange cell phone company's logo.  Was all of this orange just a coincidence? We were told that Orange offers the best cell phone coverage in the area.  My assumptions is that Orange is responsible for raising the poles and nothing is coincidence -- it is their marketing plan. Which reminds me: we had seen and talked to a marketing team for "Be" mobile phones in Etsha.  They were handing out some swag and promoting their service as "newer and better". "Be" uses the color kiwi green.

  While most of the buildings in the area were made of clay walls, we also saw the occasional building made with reed walls.  I have read that the !Kung would make houses from grasses, but this didn't seem to be a !Kung area.  There would be a lot of reeds available in the delta, so it is plausible that the Biyeyi utilized it for some of their other construction needs.  But this building, near Gumare, is quite a ways from the water.  The story behind this house will remain one of hundreds of unanswered questions pondered during the trip. Any explanation that I can offer is only speculation.

Within our group there was some discussion of how sophisticated the animal husbandry was in the Botswana cattle industry.  In the herds along the roadside there was evidence of systematic cross breading.  Outside Nokaneng we came across a sign to the "Department of Animal Health & Production, Animal Breeding Section, Artificial Insemination Center, Nokaneng A. I. Camp." Checking the map, this is a huge installation.  There is probably more being done in the area of animal husbandry than meets the eye.

We arrived in Nokaneng on what can be described as the monthly pensioner pay out day.  We had come across this before near Kongola, Namibia.  It seems that both the government of Namibia and the government of Botswana provide monthly cash payments to their senior citizens. The line seemed to move slowly so the disbursement process seemed to involve considerable waiting for many.  Fortunately for us they were agreeable and eager to be photographed and enjoyed seeing themselves on the displays of the digital cameras.  Perhaps not totally obvious, the local residents were from at least the Yeyi, Herero and !Kung ethnic groups.

Strolling around town, of the many things that caught my eye were: the construction of new classrooms at the school, the extensive grid of power lines above the community, the dish antenna outside a traditionally constructed clay and thatch building, and the general store / bar / butcher shop / water tank.

It has been noticeable in Namibia and Botswana how much of the housing still uses traditional construction materials -- largely abandoned in other places for lower maintenance corrugated zinc roofs.  It is probably not accidental because the construction with clay walls and thatched roofs tends to be warmer in the cold season, and cooler in the hot season.  The same properties would hold true in other places where adaptive architecture has been abandoned in the pursuit to be "modern".

Similarly, for southern Africa, the Herero women are notable for maintaining their pride in traditional dress. 

Our accommodations for the night were arranged through the Khuta, or municipal authority.  We were told that we were the first travelers since 2002 to stay in the community, and the previous group didn't come by bicycle.  The clerk at the Khuta also put us in touch with Odirereng, who agreed to prepare dinner for us.  It was a rather open ended arrangement. We provided some upfront money for food, asked for a nice traditional meal, asked her to tell us when it was ready and to let us know if she would bring the meal to us or whether we should come to where she was to eat.

The call that the meal was ready came about 5pm, a bit before we expected it and we were invited to come over to the house.  We were not disappointed.  The dining table and chairs had been brought outside on to a nice patio between two houses and the whole family (five generations) was there to see us.  From all that went on, they seemed as excited to have the strangers as their guests as we were to be with a family enjoying a wonderful meal.  The menu was papa, chakalaka and meat.

The congeniality didn't stop with the meal.  One of the guys in the group got invited out to the bar with a couple of the women later in the evening.

  Our view of the sunset over Nokaneng.  Goodnight.




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