Monday, November 9, 2015

Week Seven: To Swim in the Storm

By: Annie Dierberger

The view from standing on the dock.
The desert lying just beyond the ocean in the distance.
It was the first Thursday we arrived in Swakopmund, a beautiful city on the coast of Western Namibia, and our frantically absorbing eyes matched the tapping excitement of our feet. For the previous two weeks we had been daydreaming about our trip to Swakopmund, an escape from classes and a routine that we had yearned for at the start of the trip but now craved the absolute abruptness of adventure. That night for dinner we sat in Jetty 1905, a restaurant that sat on the edge of a long wooden dock amidst the ocean. Through the glass of the wall behind us the waves crashed violently below a sky of grey that seemed to disguise itself into the ocean. The weather was dark and ominous and being seated in the middle of the mayhem while classical music played around us felt like someone picking flowers in a warzone. I followed by gaze back to the murmur of conversation within the guests and then up to the bustling movements of the waitresses and waiters. There was a different kind of pandemonium happening inside, a one thickly veiled in misconception. The bright lighting and clinking of glasses seemed to assure me that the roaring ocean just below us was just a figment of my imagination. I swiveled behind me and sure enough, there it was. I looked around the room to see if anyone else was noticing what was happening just outside of the thin glass but there eyes seemed stuck within the confines of the luxury around them. It wouldn’t be until Sunday afternoon until I thought of this night again.

Within the next couple of days we would take full advantage of our fleeting vacation around us. Many people in Windhoek had told us about the town’s stunning beauty but seeing the startling contrast of the vast ocean on one side and the blazing desert on the other was truly magnificent.
Us climbing Dune 7

On Saturday we ventured out and climbed Dune 7, no let me rephrase that, we crawled like confused infants up Dune 7 and then continued to act like children at the top. As we all tumbled down as ungracefully as possible and acquired what seemed to be most of the sand of the desert in our hair and mouth, life at the moment was playing our own sorts of classical music. Sure it was mixed with our shrilling shrieks and belly flopping grunts, but it was a song of bliss nonetheless. As I looked around and saw all of my friends, once tentative strangers in the airport but now close companions, all laughing with giant grins on all of their faces, I couldn’t help but feeling fortunate for our friendship. The tune continued playing as we went ATV’ing the next day in the dunes. All eight of us traveling in a line through miles of sand, and our R.A. Attila trailing dangerously far behind with his scarf billowing through the wind, his upright posture and slow speed making him look like an elderly person on a motorized scooter, weaving through the streets of Paris.

That night we all went to bed smiling from a satisfactory day, a day that was filled with events offered on the front page pamphlet of Swakopmund. The following day we would experience things that weren’t commercialized for the average visitor, things that required a detour off of the main road. It began with a tour through Modesa, the main township in Swakopmund. For those who are unaware what a township is, I will regretfully inform you that they are a commonality throughout Africa. Townships were segregated areas of living for basically everyone who didn’t have white skin during the Apartheid era and yes, they still exist today. The houses consist of three or four rooms and the farther in the township you venture, the smaller the houses become till your eyes are squinting from both the sun and the reflecting tin of shacks. SWAPO flags fly proudly and people greet you warmly, but viewing the conditions that were emplaced forty years ago still continue in the present brings a certain sadness that melts into anger. We were shown the empty houses that sit in the distance, substantially larger and according to the people, substantially so far more expensive that no one can even afford to live in them. How cruel that an empty promise can be your next door neighbor and how different the music can begun to be heard. 
Unfortunately, throughout this trip, it’s been the same realization: that while there is beauty that surrounds us, there is immense despair in both the history and the present. That here, like in life, you can choose to ignore the harsh reality of things if you wish, and listen to that classical music while completely avoiding the storm outside. And that the sad truth is... many people do.

That Sunday afternoon I thought back to the first Thursday we arrived in Swakopmund, sitting in the restaurant we sat stretched on a long dock amidst the ocean. I thought about people and how they differ. How there are those who choose to ignore the storm that is roaring just beside them. How there are those who intensify and add havoc, and those who see it but only talk about it. William Blake once said, “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.” I believe it’s a bit like sitting amidst the ocean studying the waves and their intricacies and then doing the same within the scorching desert. They are there to show the gap of difference between their existence and it’s up to us to bring these places that act as two different worlds together. That instead of having one road that shows the pleasant and another which shows the pain, we must walk the same one together. That there is a song that all should hear and it is the song of justice, so please excuse me while I stop talking, unplug the classical music from the wall and dive headfirst into this ocean instead.

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