Our island

Jay and I are reading a book right now (we like the same kind of books and it was just easier to read together than read over the other’s shoulder) by Linda Greenlaw of The Perfect Storm fame, about her life on “a very small island”.  Jay and I have always envisioned ourselves living on an island and our conversations on the topic have reignited while reading this book.  The less people the better, we figure, even if it were just the two of us, plus the cats and Sniffdog, obviously, for company and entertainment.  The peace, solitude, and freedom sound ideal to us.  Running around naked, living off the land, free to be ridiculous. But I realized, when it comes down to it, we basically do that already on this place we call a farm that is located just west of the middle of nowhere.

Although it would be fabulous if we needed a boat to get here, we do need to drive quite a hefty distance (about 45 minutes) from the nearest town where our mail is delivered and beer is bought.  The journey even comes with dangerous animals to avoid, though they have legs and not fins.

We hunt for our meat (and by “we” I mean “not me”) and scavenge for fruits and vegetables in the wilds of the garden (but I am learning wild edible things).  Fresh water is up to us to haul out of the ground and we are not hooked up to an outside source of electricity.  Solar panels and a generator, though not homemade, power our fridge and computer.

Occasions do pop up when we run around naked.  Usually when it is very hot and the farm workers have (hopefully) left for home.  In fact, we would probably be naked more often if it were considered an acceptable form of attire and would not frighten the people who have to work with us.  Our ridiculousness is also reigned in as to not lose all respect of the staff, although I’m quite sure they already think I am completely weird, like when they catch me talking to the cats.

Sometimes we even get time when it is just the two of us, no sounds or sights of other people.  We are surrounded by our animals, with a beer in hand, as the sun is leaving for other parts of the world.  It is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been or can imagine.

So while our farm is fairly remote, private, and serene, I would not be upset if a big, fat body of water were to take up residence at the edge of it.  It would be swell indeed to run for beer in a trusty lil’ sailboat.

I think I’ll have to keep dreaming on that one.

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Namibia’s secret lakes

Don’t be fooled; Namibia really does have water.  It is not this dried-up-raisin of a country that it pretends to be.  That giant desert?  Just for show.  Check it out:

Apparently, this was the best picture I took of it.

Lake Guinas.  One of two, count ’em, TWO, natural lakes in Namibia.  I was astounded to hear of their existence (and a bit perturbed that no one told me about them earlier), but lo and behold, there they were on the map, practically neighbors.  As we were already in the region for a business excursion, it seemed sacrilegious not to visit.  Besides, it was hot, and we wanted to swim.  The time had come.  The girl from the Great Lakes state, the fresh water capital of the US, was going to see the oasis of her adopted desert home.

In the car on the way to the first one, Lake Otjikoto, Jay and I became as excited as two little kids talking about how we could camp there for the night, cook our dinner over the fire on the beach, go swimming under the stars, etc, etc.  It would be perfect.  Pulling into the parking lot was already a relief; big trees hung down low as if to take pity on us weary travelers.

As Jay approached the park-rangerly-dressed lady, I got sidetracked by the snakes-in-the-jars.  There, outside the gift shop, was a bench with five or six rather large snakes coiled up inside big glass bottles with some kind of yellow liquid preservative.  I must apologize, however, for the lack of photograph.  I was so excited to go swimming, I forgot I even owned a camera.

I then turned around and the ranger informed me that the dog had jumped out of the car.  “He’ll be ok,” I said and waved my hand like “no big deal”.

“No”, she said, “no dogs allowed”.

I looked around at this big, green, shady (and empty) park and then at Jay, hoping he would tell me this was a joke.

It wasn’t.

“No camping or swimming either”, he said.  I felt my heart implode.  The lady informed us that a man had drowned in the lake in 1927 and no one has been allowed in since.  Just to see the lake was N$25 a person.

So we respectfully declined, put our offensive dog back in the car and drove for the second lake, Guinas.

These two lakes are sinkholes, something like 110 meters deep, says a geophysicist friend of ours.  Rumor has it that they are actually connected underground- when a colored dye was put in one it eventually surfaced in the other.  What a trip that must be.  They even have their own endemic fish species, the Otjikoto tilapia, listed, not surprisingly, as critically endangered.

After a few long dusty roads we arrived and found a big white sign that said “Welcome to Lake Guinas.  No fishing, no swimming, no shooting.” So, it turns out, although Namibia has water, no one is allowed to use it for any sort of fun-inducing activity.  You just look at it.

Look, water.

At this point we were too hot to bother with frivolous things such as rules and since this lake was on private property, there were no rangers to scold us.  Besides, the sign was in Afrikaans and if asked, we decided, I would promptly reply in my best American accent that all I understood was the “Welcome to Lake Guinas” part.  So in we went.  At long last, relief from the heat.  Floating around, I envied the birds cheeping from the cliff edges.  How lucky they were to have this natural wonder as their home.

Sniffel, not a fan of swimming, wonders why we would do such a thing.

On our way out we brought with us a few of the many beverage bottles that littered the path down to the water.  Apparently, the rarity of this landscape in Namibia was not enough reason for people not to trash it.  We could only imagine how many had been chucked in and sunk forever.  And wondered if this was the reason all fun had been banned.

Visiting the lakes made us curious what else Namibia was hiding underground.  Once back home, we immediately began looking for cave entrances in the hills around our house.  I am quite determined to find our own massive body of water so we can go swimming whenever we want.  And the sign out front will read:

Welcome to Lake Scorpion.

Dogs and camping welcome.

Drowning and littering prohibited.

Violators will be fed to the tilapia.

Okambihi

I went to see an old friend yesterday.  Unfortunately, she was not in.  She was in the bush catching mice.

Okambihi, Herero for “cat”, came to the farm last year.  She was given to retirees living in the back pastures from their children living in town.  I was thrilled upon our first meeting.  Everyone has dogs around here for guarding or hunting.  Hardly anyone has cats and when mine were still in the States, the visits to the little, fuzzy, orange lady filled the hole just a little.

Soon, I extended my burgeoning Herero vocabulary to be able to ask the old folks “Okambihi uripi?”, “Where is the cat?”  Eventually, when we stopped by to bring them sugar or meat, they would just automatically bring the cat out.  She was always very accommodating, and would even purr as I scratched and squeezed her.  Everyone else talked about the weather or the cows, I played with the cat.  I got the feeling her owners thought I was not playing with a full set of marbles.

Her stomping grounds, there by the deep green trees. To the right are goats and chickens, to the left, the cows, below is a neighbor, and otherwise just many miles of wilderness.

These days it is still fun to see her even though I have my own cats here.  She’s always in a good mood and comes over to say hello.  Although she has never gotten very big, she is fearless. 

Quite comfortable on the roof
Inspecting the underside of our car

Just recently, we discovered her people have given her a name, Meid.  It means something like “servant girl”, in Afrikaans.  I assume it comes from her mousing duties.  I don’t know if it’s better or worse than “cat” but I think I’ll stick to Okambihi.  Nonetheless, I think they appreciate her company.  They say if we want any more pictures of her, we’ll have to make a copy for them. 

Meid and her mom

A tear in a cow

Yesterday morning, apparently, a very large cow attempted to jump a fence and ripped a hole in her side about a foot long.  It was a very clean tear, sort of like a rip in your jeans.  However, no one saw what happened so we don’t actually know.

So, out in the bush, you don’t call the vet every time an animal gets hurt or sick because it’s much too expensive.  You learn quickly how to do stuff on your own.  Jay is an amateur veterinarian if there ever was one, but even he had never before sewn up a cow.

As the sun was setting, the two of us walked out there, trailed by Sniffel of course, with a knife, disinfectant water and syringe to clean the wound, and a leather sewing needle and thread to sew it up. 

First, we needed to get the cow in the chute.  She was in pain and did not want to move.  Through a lot of yelling and arm-waving we got her in.  Sniffel had run alongside and now pranced around proudly expecting praise for his job well done. With a little more effort we got her head in the clamper.  It is a metal contraption that closes on their neck so they cannot move forward or back and is probably not called a clamper.  It doesn’t hurt, it’s not tight, unless they flail about.  Luckily, she was a rather well-mannered cow.

The wound was dripping blood.  It had a chunk of innardskin hanging out which Jay began to slice off.  “Can’t you just stick it back in there?”, I asked, grimacing in pain for the cow.  “No”, and the chunk came off and the cow swung her head toward the sky, eyes very big.

After squirting many gushes of disinfectant water into the wound, which she didn’t like much either, we had to start stitching.  With the first stitch, we realized how very thick a cow’s skin is.  It hurt Jay’s hand too much to simply push it in, so I offered my shoe.  The needle went through my shoe instead of the skin.  So he used a rock.  Then once in the skin, he could not pull it out.  He had to run back to the house for pliers. 

So there sat the cow and I.  Her side was dripping bloody water and I did not know how to comfort her.  So I scratched her head.  Time passed, Jay was not returning, so I scratched behind her ears and told her a story about when I got stitches.  About the time she was getting antsy, Jay returned with the pliers.

They did a good job until three stitches in and the needle broke.  We had only closed about half of the foot-long hole.  So I ran back to the house, grabbed all the needles we had and some dental floss.  Jay thought the floss might move through the skin easier.  It did but was not as strong.  So we switched back to the string.

After another broken needle, seven stitches in total and a lot of kicking from the cow, she was closed.  She never did vocalize her pain.  Then she squeezed her big belly out of the chute and stiffly sauntered away like she had just dropped a load in her pants. 

Later that night, she was still standing there, calmly chewing her cud.  She was a tough cookie.  If it had been a person, they would’ve been lounging in a hospital bed, doped up on drugs, slurping down blobs of green jello.

Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of the cow. Have a sunset.

First day back in Namibia

There was a rabid kudu attacking the cattle at the corral by the house.  So Jay, Sniffel, and I trudged down there, me still half asleep since my body had no idea what time it was, and Jay with a rifle over his shoulder.  Sniffel bounced along in his usual, jolly, all-is-well spirit. 

The kudu thought it was hiding in a bush, but we could see it perfectly clearly.  One whistle from Jay and it looked directly at us.  One quick bullet to the head and it collapsed, dead, to the ground.  Normally, when we shoot an animal on the farm, it is for food and I still have never gotten used to it.  When it is rabid, it’s not so hard; I know we are releasing it from an agonizing death.  And when I say we, I mean Jay, while I stand a few feet back, restraining the dog from bravely bringing down the animal by his tiny self. 

We tied it to the back of our diesel pick-up truck by its long, twisted horns and hauled it to the vulture restaurant, a self-descriptive place not far down the road.

One cow had already been infected. (Usually, they are bitten as the rabid animal fights to get to the water trough.  Rabies lames the throat muscles thereby causing an insatiable thirst which is why the animals seem crazed).  She couldn’t stand anymore but to scramble a few steps in any direction.  She was drooling at the mouth.  She had miscarried.  Where the calf should have come out was then only blood.  We propped her up with a few small boulders; at least she wouldn’t be on her side.  Their bodies shut down faster when they are on their side.  We shot her up with the last of our rabies vaccination and hoped for the best.  Two mornings later, we found her dead.  Overnight, jackals had taken her eyes, udder, and some of her internal organs after ripping open her backside.  She, too, was hauled to the restaurant.  We scared away many vultures, resting after feeding on the kudu.  We laid the cow to rest next to the skin and bones which was a live animal just 48 hours ago.  Vultures hovered for yet another day.

I’ve done these things before, they are not uncommon on our Namibian farm.  It was simply an abrupt and blunt welcome back and a reminder how far I had traveled from the city life of the past three months in the States.

                     Earth to earth, so easy to see in Africa.