"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 27, Namibian Village

The Africa Journals

Chapter 27
Namibian Village

I never saw a discontented tree.   They grip the ground as though they liked it…
—John Muir

I lay in bed the next morning thinking about all the elephants we had seen on our Chobe River cruise.   I had given up counting them.  I thought about how excited Henry had been when he saw saw a single elephant approaching the river.

When I enter the outdoor dining room, Henry and his group are seated at the first table.  I can't help myself.   I go up to Henry and say, "Boy, Henry, I'm sure glad you saw that elephant yesterday morning.   Otherwise we might not have seen any at all."   Momentary silence and then everyone laughs and comments on the multiple herds of elephants.  Good way to start the day.

Mid-morning we board a small skiff and are greeted by Emett, who is our local guide for an excursion to a Namibian subsistence fishing village.   So down the river we go.

Our destination is across the river, but first we have to go through passport control for Botswana, go across the river and through passport control for Namibia.  Photos aren’t allowed at either place, which is really, really too bad.   The dock is primitive and the walkway dangerous.   The building is very modest and utilitarian.

Seven miles long and three miles wide, Impalila Island is near the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers.

Emett pulls the skiff up to a dirt bank and we disembark.  I note that he has turned the skiff sideways to the bank, apparently so there is no possibility of us getting wet.   I wonder if there's another reason, like making sure a crocodile can't reach us.

Namibia passport control is a short distance away.   Even the natives who live on the island must go through passport control when they return from grocery shopping in nearby Bella Bella, Botswana.   A form must be filled out and a line waited in before we can pick our way along a trail turned into a quagmire by recent rains and vehicle travel.


We are on Impalila Island, home to about 500 people. 

We pass a cattle kraal, the fence made of native thorn plants and branches.


Eventually, the village comes into view and we are greeted by several grinning children, a few dogs, a bunch of goats, and a few chickens.  One of the dogs immediately attaches itself to me and we are instant buds, so long as I continue to pet him and scratch behind his ears.

Note the blue Crocs.


My new pal.

The kids are delighted to pose for photos and want to see them.   One of our group uses his iPad to take a photo and then kneels down to show it to a very young boy.  The boy smiles, then reaches up and swipes the photo to see what’s next.   First clue that many, many tourists visit here.

The homes are made of poles and termite mud, sometimes reinforced against wind by whatever material is available.

Beginning a new hut.

I have no idea how this squash plant has stayed safe from the goats and chickens.

Emett points out the pride of the village, a gigantic baobab tree he claims is 3,000 years old.  From the back of our group comes a mutter, “Must be 3006 now.  A friend of mine was here six years ago and it was 3000 years old then.”   Emett doesn’t hear this, but I doubt anyone has been keeping track for 3000 years.

Ever since Disney built that big tree with animals at Disney World, and called it the Tree of Life, Africans have been calling the baobab tree the same.  Sources differ as to who started that first.  When you’re a tourist, you never know for sure.

Anyway, that’s what the African guides call it today and it’s easy to see why.  The largest known baobab (in Limpopo Provence) had a circumference of 154 feet and a diameter of 52 feet before it split into two sections and made room for the also-rans.   On-line sources say the oldest tree is over 1,000 years old, but maybe they haven’t heard about the one on Impalila Island, the one that's 3006 years old. 

A single tree can hold up to 1200 gallons of water, though I haven’t been able to verify any source that squeezed the water out of the tree and measured the volume.  If that’s true, the residents of Impalila Island should plant a whole forest of baobab trees along that muddy road we’d just waded through.

Fruit of the baobab, also called monkey fruit.

The fibers of the baobab can be made into rope and clothing, and the leaves are edible.  The fruit is especially nutritious and contains lots of calcium, Vitamin C, and antioxidants.   In 2008, the European Union cleared the fruit for use in smoothies and cereal bars, and the USDA is allowing its use.

We walk through the small village, past modest huts with sticks for fences, the interior yards clean and spotless, cooking utensils carefully piled.

Across the compound, lies another baobab, this one blown down by wind but still alive.

The fallen baobab.

The impressive baobab from the other side.

There’s a water tap for the village to use.   The water line, from nearby tourist lodge, was provided after several children were killed by crocodiles when going to the river for water.

While we wander around and take photos, several women are busy laying out mats and blankets and arranging baskets and other souvenirs on then that they hope we will buy.  Most of the items appear mass-produced.  I wonder how the carved animals could have been made without electricity nd electric tools for the fine detail finishing process.  Later on in this trip, we see the same items by the thousands elsewhere and everywhere.

Perhaps it's simply a way for the women to supplement their husband's income.

Huts without reed fences are inhabited by bachelors.   According to tradition, only married couples are allowed to fence their huts.

We were supposed to meet the chief of the village and perhaps be invited into his home.  Ement hails the hut, but there is no response.  He questions the women, then tells us the chief is working in the fields.

So back we go along the quagmire, meeting other villagers toting groceries and supplies.   



When I first saw these two termites, it looked as if they were cooperating to carry this four inch long piece of straw.   They carried it about a foot in one direction and then stopped.  When I showed the photo to Brian, he said they were probably fighting over it.

I took this photo of the African woman in her lovely skirt, and forgot the Namibian passport control was beyond her.

Near Namibian passport control, a couple women are selling fresh bream.

One of my favorite photos.   I'm told this is an exceptionally large bream.

Dug out canoes full of water, apparently no longer used.

Emett pulls the skiff farther up the beach and we climb aboard with our muddy shoes and boots.  Then two of our group out and help Emett push the boat into deeper water.

A light rain falls at Botswana passport control as we go in once again to be readmitted into the country.  The rain has turned the already difficult approach to the dock into a treacherous approach, but we make it back safely to the boat.


 All in all, it’s been a pleasant and interesting insight in how things were, even if they aren’t now that primitive.

I want to swish my hiking boots in the water to clean off a few pounds of mud, but Emett discourages me from doing that.   Back at Chobe Game Lodge pier, I want to do the same there, but again I’m dissuaded.

And then I remember:   There are crocodiles in the river.


  1. I don't think I'd feel very comfortable walking around looking at the way the people live and feeling obligated to buy something. The one lady vendor didn't look to happy either....for whatever reason. Loved the baobab trees.

  2. You are showing us a part of the world and way of life that few of us get to experience. It is hard to comprehend that people still must live in such conditions. We have it so good in the U.S. and so many don't realize it. We don't even need passports to go from one State to the next. I am enjoying your trip very much.

    1. Thanks, Bud. I will admit that I wondered if this village was authentic TODAY. I'm sure it was at some point. When asked, Emett told me he lived in another village on the island. If these people really live here, it is subsistence living at its most authentic...except for the souvenirs. I suspect they either purchase them to sell to the tourists, or the items are there on commission.

  3. I wonder how many followers reading-along-here think to themselves: "What a lot of effort it must be for Gullible to run ahead of the group so she can then turn around in order to photograph the group as they all walk past her. And having to deal with the mud as well. She can not just run ahead .. but has to run ahead while slogging through that MUD!" GO GULLIBLE!!

    You write that the children love to be photographed and to then see the photos taken. You then write one child .. after seeing a photo .. then swiped the photo to see other photos commenting they are used to tourists. In India you MUST BE CAREFUL that IF you show a photo to a child .. the child does think "Heck with the photo!" and SWIPES THE CAMERA AND RUNS AWAY WITH YOUR CAMERA.

    No comment about what looks like the steering column from a vehicle with sandals in the foreground. Did a crocodile eat the vehicle and the driver?

    Interersting that married couples can put a reed fence around their hut and the bachelors can not do so. Why?

    Smiles from Cap and from Patti .. LOVING THIS .. JUST LOVING IT ..

    You wrote that the children love being photographed and then want to see the photos. Then you wrote when you show a child a photo the child then 'swipes the photo' to see others commenting the children are used to tourists.

  4. What astounded my travel companions was that the child knew to swipe his finger across the screen of the iPad to see more photos, indicating he wasn't as tech ignorant as one would think considering his circumstances. In retrospect, I'm sure many, many tourists have visited there with iPads.

  5. I loved the juxtaposition of the steering column, flipflops, and empty can on the swept and raked grounds.

  6. We stayed at the lodge for a few days and visited the village and a much older/larger baobab supposedly aged as 2000 years - LOL. I enjoyed my stay and got to know the villagers that worked for the lodge and some of their family. Lovely place. The lodge owners are pretty awesome too