By: Annie Dierberger
She had deep wrinkles that ran asymmetrically through her face like a thousand roads on a map, but the destination came together like a meticulous work of art. Each line etched into her skin seemed to hold a story or a memory that I desperately wanted to understand. Her eyes were lulled in the shape of half moons but held a sharp glint of youthfulness wherever she happened to look. Her name was Meme Albertina. She was the village headman, and yes, I had no idea what that meant and maybe I still don’t, but I thought of her like Yoda, full of wisdom and perfectly executed one liners. Now that last part I may have fabricated a bit, seeing that I actually had no idea what she was saying and it was evident from the start we had a language barrier. I spoke English, she spoke none. She spoke Oshiwambo, I knew how to say the How are you? and the word snake, making our conversation limited beyond the context of “the snake is good”, which it ultimately never is. The woman I am describing was my host mom for the week in the town of Outapi, a rural community about nine hours north of Windhoek. All of the students were living with various families and this was to be mine.
|What inside the homestead looked like. Various huts for|
different purposes surrounded by an endless maze of sticks.
As midday approached, so did the blazing heat. Almost every day the temperature would hit 100 degrees or higher. Shade became your close companion, and water was your new best friend. I was fortunate that my classmate Henrik lived close by, so most afternoons, we would meet up and endure the heat together. We would find a nice spot of shade that wasn’t overpopulated by donkeys and sip, no, chug on ice cold coke from one of the local shebeens.
|Henrik, avoiding malaria at all costs.|
At 8:00 pm the whole family would gather around the fire and watch enticingly as dinner was prepared. The little kids would climb on my lap and sing Amazing Grace repeatedly until flying into one of their own songs and dances. When we weren’t singing or dancing, I had my notebook out and was learning Oshiwambo from Tina, one of the eldest kids who was in school. I would write words or phrases, she would translate and then laugh at my pronunciation. Without any electricity or lights, the world would turn dark and to see my hand in front of my face I would take out my flashlight. There was one night when I took out my light to see where I was stepping and my grandmother looked at me and shook her head repeatedly. She then began speaking in Oshiwambo and pointing up to the bright stars that littered the sky magnificently. She kept pointing up to the stars and then took my flashlight and turned it off. We both smiled in understanding and looked up at the stars together.
|Trying to make friends with the donkeys and not succeeding.|