Day 21: I remember what I loved about Africa

We were sitting in the rental car in Opuwo waiting for Pascal to come back from looking for the Namibian Peace Corps volunteer we were supposed to be meeting. It was a dirt road, with massive piles of dirt in front of and behind us. So, of course, (as happens in most countries where toys and educational games and intellectual stimulation aren’t really an option for kids, they find something that amuses them and go with it) there was a group of ragtag Namibian kids spending their afternoon climbing all over these piles of dirt.

I paused only for a moment before jumping out of the car and chasing after them, the sound of their giggles and yells surrounding me. 

Day 28: Border crossing

There’s something about crossing the border between Namibia and South Africa at 4 a.m. when there are no other lights besides the one street lamp outside the office where we officially leave Namibia and the only other people are the people who are also on this Intercape bus and the lady who’s stamping my passport says nothing and looks like she also just woke up from what she intended to be her full night’s sleep and the headlights of the bus that reveal little about the landscape around us as we enter South Africa that makes the whole thing feel like we’re sneaking in the country. 

Day 17: Meat!

The past six years, I’ve casually called myself a vegetarian. (While always hoping to be able to sneak a piece of bacon off the plate. One of the worst days was the discovery of a bacon bar at my cousin’s wedding. And the first time I went home after I stopped eating meat and my mom already had the bratwursts thawed and ready for the grill. I was, perhaps, one of the worst vegetarians ever.)

I stopped eating meat because one day in college, I just didn’t have the desire to eat any more eat. I watched Food Inc., and I read Michael Pollan, and then, I really didn’t have the desire to eat any more meat.

I kept it up when I came to Benin. There, it was easy. There really was no meat to eat. (except for the occasional can of Skyline chili).

Then I came to Namibia. Where there is a lot of meat to eat: oryx and zebra and kudu and the ambiguous “game.” Three times a day and sometimes in between meals. We told a campsite owner once that we weren’t planning on building a brai that night. He was baffled.

But, like in South Africa, Namibian meals are more about the preparation than the actual eating. Hours spent building a fire and drinking wine and having conversations while the food cooks. What’s on the brai doesn’t matter as much as the people who are around it.

So, I’ve started eating meat again. Because it’s (usually) fresh and (usually) local. Because it’s part of the cultural experience. Because oryx steak is good.

I think I kept up my vegetarianism for so long because I had gotten used to it. And  maybe a little because I didn’t want to have to deal with the comments about me eating meat again. Then, one night, as I was being poured another glass of red wine and handed a plate of food that had just come off the fire, I decided that nothing other people would say would make this steak less delicious. 

Day 22: Morning in Opuwo

The first time it happened, we were at a supermarket. I was standing in the checkout line with the Swiss couple who, in one of those moments that comes from a hostel’s atmosphere of camaraderie and adventuring, had adopted us for the previous two weeks. Behind us was a girl of about ten who was holding a loaf of bread and ten one-Namibian-dollar coins. Exactly the amount that she needed. When the girl laid her money on the counter, Pascal, our dad, casually slipped the cashier a N$10 bill and slid the coins back into the girl’s hands.

The second time was outside this supermarket. As we were climbing into the rental car, a man in a dirty black windbreaker and old jeans that did not look like they were doing anything against the cold wind asked Pascal for money for “watching” the car while we had been inside. When we opened the trunk, he immediately focused on the empty five-liter plastic bottle we had in the back. He asked if he could have it, and Pascal handed it over.

A Namibian volunteer called it “compassion fatigue,” this feeling of after two years of people constantly (and I don’t say that as a cliché or a literal meaning, but in almost all my interactions with Beninese people this would happen) asking me for things or asking me how to get to America or taking things out of my house. I, looking at these same two Namibians in Epupa, was over it. I was over the begging and the swarming and the constant badgering.

I looked at Pascal and Tabitha the rest of day and tried to think what they were thinking. Tried to find the same source in myself where they found their generosity and their compassion. Tried to find the person in me again that would have also paid for that girl’s bread and happily handed over the water bottle to the man.