The Kindness of Strangers

I catch my first ride with a local farmer, Sam, who's going as far as Groonfontein (only abut 60 kms) and kindly offers to put me up for the night. His wife, he says, would surely love to meet me, since her grandfather was a fellow Brit. But I want to push on...the Caprivi strip is 550 kms long (although only 30 kms wide) and my aim is to get to Rundu - a tiny outpost above the Okavango Delta before nightfall. I don't imagine there's much going on there, but it's bound to have a campsite or hostel where I can base myself. Dropped at the main intersection by Sam, and told to come and visit him, should I ever find myself back in the area, I wave him farewell. Twenty minutes later, I'm picked up by another farmer, who's en route back to Lusaka, Zambia after a business trip to replenish supplies. When I tell him I've got round most of Namibia by hitching, he shakes his head in disbelief. Either I'm very brave or very stupid he says...which is it? I really don't know what to say...

welcome to rundu.jpg

Dropped at the intersection to Rundu, I trudge into the town centre.  I already feel I'm in the tropics. It's sticky, sultry, no real breeze and the sky is overcast...I sense heavy rains are on the way. I spy a market closing up for the day (I'm told this is a great place to pick up wood carvings), a solitary grocery store and, to my amazement, a tourist information centre. If anyone can advise me on finding a bed for the night, it's them.

Only, to my horror, inside I'm told that I'm out of luck, because there's no campsite within walking distance, no youth hostel in town and no reasonably priced guest house. All they can suggest is a luxury lodge, about 20 kms east, which isn't just way out of my price range, but completely inaccessible since I've arrived on foot.

“There's really nowhere to camp? What should I do?"

I must look really forlorn because she tells me to hang on and goes outside. She returns, a few minutes later, accompanied by a woman she says is a friend of hers called Fiona. Fiona lives on a farm not far away and will put me up the night, and even throw in dinner too, for a few US dollars. I'm so grateful, I want to hug them both. Saved, once more, by the kindness of strangers.

So I spend a strange and pleasant evening out at Fiona's place. She's in her 50's, her husband owns the town garage and the mechanics there are this three sons. At 6 pm, punkt, they all traipse in from work, smudged in oil, with greasy overalls, and head off to the shower (which we are making for them). All in their 20's, they still live at home (saving money to buy their own land). Fiona confides in me that despite the noise and chaos of their presence, secretly she's pleased they haven't yet left the nest.

Over dinner, and a beer, the family ask me question after question (Why do I travel like this? Am I lonely, on the road alone? Do I want to get married? If I do marry, will I give up this nomadic lifestyle? Aren't I afraid, hitching around Africa?) I answer as best I can and then start pressing them for details of of their own life, out here in the boonies. Of course, they have plenty of good stories - camping trips out in the bush, growing up without tv, few modern appliances and a lot of electricity outages. Ah yes, and constant bouts of malaria.

symptoms of malaria.jpg

I look shocked and they reassure me.

“We catch malaria here like people in Europe catch the flu," Fiona's husband informs me, casually. "When Old Harry down the road caught it bed, they airlifted him to hospital. But he shook it off pretty quick...”

I ask the boys if they would have liked to have lived in another country for a bit, or at least the capital, Windhoek? They shake their heads collectively. They like the quiet life; they like it very much, they tell me.

At 10 pm (a late night for all of us...) Fiona takes me to the guest room – pink walls, a teddy on the bed (it's hers from childhood) and the obligatory mosquito net under which I gratefully climb. She hugs me goodnight warmly and tells me she'll wake me for breakfast, before the boys drive me back to the main road so I can continue my journey to Livingstone. I read for a while but after a while submit to exhaustion and urn off the light. As I lie there in the darkness, the ceiling fan whooshing comfortingly above my head, I can feel myself drifting off to sleep. I'm looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings me in the Caprivi Strip.