After our Damaraland expedition that took us to the wildest landscapes of Namibia, we drove from Khorixas to Opuwo. This was a long drive, more than 4h, to the north. While approaching to the borders of the Etosha National Park we started spotting wildlife. At sompe point police stopped us in the middle of nowhere. A big sign informed that we were crossing the Red Line.
The Red Line, also known as Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF), is a pest-exclusion fence that separates the northern Namibia with the rest of the country. South of the fence today there are commercial farms where the farmers, many of which are white, own the land. Most of these farms are fenced in and are accessible by constructed farm roads. North of the line, on the other hand, all farm land is communal and operated mostly by black farmers. Livestock is not constrained by fences and often ventures onto roads.
The police asked us to open the trunk of our Nissan 4×4 Double Cap and checked our fridge. They where looking for fresh meat, which is forbidden to cross through the Red Line. After crossing the line without any issue, we had lunch in a rest area while looking to the wildlife. Some kudus came to visit us.
When we arrived in Opuwo we realized that this town was different. It was full of people walking in all directions: Himbas, Hereros, Namas… all of them belong to different old tribes in Namibia and all of them where in the streets, some half nacked, others wearing colourful dresses, men sitting on the back of a truck with some goats with them… We were driving through the streets of Opuwo and the environment was unique. It was the first time for us to see that kind of mixed African cultures.
We stopped the car in front of a supermarket. We needed to buy some food. Inside the supermarket was also impressive to see Himba women wearing only leather rags and free breasts with a baby on their backs while queueing to pay. The smell of leather when waiting behind them was noticeable.
After buying some stuff we drove to the hill in the north of the town. Up the hill we found the Opuwo Country Lodge, where we had booked a camping site. It was time to have a rest. We had nothing planned for that afternoon and we decided to enjoy the views from the swimming pool while swimming in the fresh water or drinking soda.
The orange African sun started to go down and a magic sunset appeared in front of our eyes. We were so relaxed and also tired from the previous journeys through Damaraland, that we decided not to cook for the dinner. We ate in the terrace in front of the swmming pool and a palette of colours danced in the sky with the first stars of the southern hemisphere.
The next day we had booked a visit to a Himba village. The Opuwo Country Lodge organized it for us. Himba are very proud of their culture and philosophy of living, this is why they have acheived to continue living in their old way although some things are changing. They still live in fenced villages with tents made of wood, mud, clay and straw. But many of the Himba villages have started earning money, not only from farming, but also from tourism.
When we arrived to the Himba village we didn’t know how to behave or what to do. We felt bad. We wanted to understand their life and culture, we wanted to know. However, for doing this we needed to break their peace. And we saw that they were not welcoming us with passion but our feeling was that they were just doing that for money. On the other side, children behaved in a natural way and without sharing the same language, we were able to communicate in an easier way with the younger members of the tribe than with the adults.
The chief of the village explained us, with the help of our Herero guide, that Himba people got an agreement with the national government, that states they get some money and easy access to drinking water while their children go to school with the rest of Namibian children. Due to this Himba lives are much easier nowadays and they are richer than before. However, the chief also showed worries because the youngers were starting to know and see a lot of the world out there, which lead them to consider old traditions and old ways of living something bad and not important for life.
Then we went in a tent where a young lady explained us how they create that colour they have on the skin. Himba people paint themselves with a mixed of oil, ash and soil which makes them look red. The lady showed us all the process of creating that paint and we were able to paint ourselves in the same way… but only a few touches on our arms.
She also explained us how they process the leather and how they create the smoke for cleaning them. This surprised us… of course they don’t have washing machines, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have ways to clean the clothes. They use the smoke which deworms the leather and home clothes. This is why they smell so strong with a mixture of leather and smoke. It is not a disgusting smell, but it is neither perfume. It is a pity that we cannot share smells through the blog.
And after this session of Himba knowledge all the women and children of the tribe sat in a circle in the middle of the village. They prepared typical Himba and African artcrafts in front of them and tried to sell you everything. It was a little bit stressing. Of course we wanted to buy something as a souvenir, but we are not used to bargain. We felt preassure from some of them to buy their stuff and not the artcraft from the next.
Anyway it was a nice experience. It was sad to see how we are influencing them in a bad way but it is nice to see how they can benefit also from the modern society. It is a hard work for them and for us to be able to keep their traditions without losing the main benefits of the new world like learning in schools, having access to public health, drinking water and enough food. Hope we can succeed!