Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On This Day Last Year...

After a cold night in Swakopmund on the coast of Namibia, I drove into the desert at the suggestion of a local white man. I have to go see the black people in this remote area. They don't buy into the begging that so many other black people come to town for. In fact they don't come to town but to sell their lifestock once a year, he told me. They live on their own, he said with approval.

Clustered out on a stretch of grey sand with the backdrop of a ribbon of emerald green and towering red velvet sand dunes, the houses looked to me at first like quilts strung on an invisible wash line, hung out to air. Or Bearden collages.

I parked my little white car and wandered across to the houses where young men gathered around me to ask questions and maybe answer a few, and old women sat in doorways, their elbows on their knees. One old woman took my wrist, like my grandfather used to, and led me to her bedroom inside one of the houses. There was no roof, just a series of scraps flung across the uprights over a tattered, ubiquitous blue tarp. She owned few items, each hung from a nail in the wall. Her bed was off the dirt floor and draped with cartoon sheets, undoubtedly once donated by some western country like the nearby school, water pump and outhouse. She pointed at the vivid blue sky from her bed. I wondered how often it rained there. I wondered how many stars she knew the names of.
Behind some of the houses, more women gathered to cook in a round enclosure made of unfinished logs driven into the sand in a 10 foot diameter circle. Half circles of bark had been nailed on the wind side to protect the fire within. The interior's dark edges hid a bare shelf of three sections of plank nailed together like an upside down U, a few cups and tin plates on top. The women sat on stumps set near the fire and looked at me without expression.

Rusted car frames without Chamberlain's angle.



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