Another day began. We had eaten a late dinner the night before, in the old dining room which was dimly lit with pale fluorescent bulbs and candles…eland and kudu game steaks, which were unbelievably delicious…fried potatoes and salad, and good, inexpensive wine from South Africa. We were leaving the guest farm, Kalkfontein, where we lodged that night after our late meal. We awakened to brilliant sun in the sky and breakfast outdoors on the veranda. After the last of our toast and coffee, we jumped at the chance to take a morning hike before climbing into our 4×4 again for the day.
Hot and dusty after our hike, we washed down our anti-malarial drugs with a fizzy Sparletta soda and climbed into the camper…rolling slowly down the gravel driveway. As we drove through the gate, there stood three girls, one carrying a big bundle of firewood on her head. They had stepped aside, waiting for us to pass so that they could continue walking on the gravel road. We slowed to smile and say hello. They were shy and standing close together in the shade. My daughter wanted to make a photograph, but she was shy and unsure about speaking to them. With a little encouragement from the rest of us in the car, she asked them if she could. They smiled brightly at her and said yes – smiles ensued all around and it was a nice exchange – memorable for all of us – touching our connected humanness.
Picking up speed with John behind the wheel, we kicked up our first dust of the day. High clear sunlight filtered down through a ground layer of particles. Dust in varying degrees of thickness – ubiquitous every day – everywhere. It really described a lot of our trip. Sometimes it was the color saturation of the dust, on the things around us. Sometimes it formed a haze and other times it coated our vehicle in a pale orange layer…our shoes changed color and were filled with it.
Looking out beyond the dust and haze was the strangeness of the mundane in another world. People walking out on this rural road – carrying bundles of firewood, buckets or packages on their heads. Men and children loaded into a two-wheeled cart, pulled by a pair of donkeys, or a man on a bicycle were all parts of blurred pictures as we drove on. We turned off of the smaller gravel roads onto the tarmac, the B8 highway to Rundu on the northern border between Namibia and Angola. No matter what type of road, we would see kraals (villages) carved out of space between camel thorn and acacia trees. Brush fires burned adding smoke to the haze. People walking…always walking.
The afternoon became late and the sun drew long lines across the landscape and the road. We were about 20 kilometres south of Rundu and we started to see more and more people. What was going on? We had always seen people walking but the numbers here were in the thousands. Crowds of all ages walking, gathered at bus stops, hitching rides in pick-up truck beds – all heading into Rundu. Many were school kids in uniforms and the line of traffic finally slowed to a stop on the edge of town. We rolled down our windows and asked them what was happening. They told us that an important chief had passed away and was being transported to Rundu, the town from which she came. She was to lie in state for four days and be buried there. Thousands were pouring into the town for the four days of ritual and ceremonies. The energy was palpable, the noise rising, the dust swirling.
We were torn between our curiosity to stop and participate in this unusual experience and our race to beat the sun before it set. We crept along with the traffic into Rundu and found a Spar grocery store, needing some things before camping that night…with kilometres to go and sparse directions to get there…we made our choice to keep moving.