Farm baby pictures

It’s something like spring here on the farm.  The weather is nothing to judge it by, it does whatever it wants to; cloud poofs or clear blue sky, gale force wind or dead still.  But in between the meteorological absurdity, life is springing up around the farm.

Check out the new:

Donkey

Oranges

baby orangesPrickly pear cactus

baby cactusChickens

baby chickensPomegranates

baby pomegranatesFrogs

tadpolesAnd the cats abandoned by their mom on our yard

kittensOne died, but after a brief adjustment period, the other got the hang of life with humans.  This was the first time she purred.

purrAbout ten days old, she opened her eyes.  Soon she was creeping around.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m still not sure what to do with a fourth cat, an African wild cat, nonetheless.  Even if she doesn’t act like one.

bottle timeMaybe she’ll grow up and follow her instincts into the bush.  Or maybe she’ll help with mouse duty on the yard.  All I know is that life on the farm is one day at a time.

That, and the weather better get its act together and bring us some rain.

Sun

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Oh My Africa – June 2014

We’re all guilty of stereotypes.  I believe it is human nature to categorize things, especially unfamiliar things, into nice, tidy standards.  But in a self-perpetuating cycle, publishers are using our stereotypes to sell products which further the stereotype, because as it turns out, we really do judge books by their cover.

The folks over at the blog Africa is a Country recently posted about a meme created to show how African literature routinely gets the “acacia tree treatment”.  Basically, they write, “the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”

Their proof:

bookmeme

As if all of Africa exists in a permanent state of sunset.

After reading the blog, I was compelled to see if it was true for Namibian books as well.  Though there aren’t many works of literature set in this country, there’s a whole heap of photography books.  Let’s hope their contents vary more than their covers:

So, Namibia is a sandy, lonely place with elephants, trees, and a sun.  Like all stereotypes, that frustratingly ignores all the rest the country has to offer.

According to a book cover designer interviewed on this topic by the Washington Post, publishers package books based on readers’ expectations because that makes them comfortable.

It won’t be the publishing houses then, who step up and teach people how other parts of the world really are.  So, as the Post points out, we’ll have to do it ourselves, through social media and blogging; show the world through our own words and pictures how life on our side actually is.  We’ll have to be brave, honest, and open.  But readers will have to be, too.

Maybe then, by the time my book is finished, they’ll be ready for a bit more unconventional photo for the cover:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

In pursuit of the elusive Namibian kangaroo

The sun had long ago set, it was probably nearly 9 pm.  Usually, we try not to drive at night because headlights, even brights, will only do so much when an antelope the size of a refrigerator decides his road-crossing must be done in front of your speeding car But my flight got in late in the afternoon, and it’s three hours to get back to the farm.  Staying in Windhoek wasn’t an option either; Jay and I both prefer the farm to the big city, especially when there are cats waiting for you.

The one good thing about driving at night is, although the wildlife is oblivious to mortality, they are active, and for the most part, it’s a whole other set of creatures than we normally get to see during the day.  There’s the owls and night jars that hang out on the road and the jackals and rabbits that fling themselves into the road.  On rare occasions, a porcupine or honey badger might waddle by.  But this particular night held something in store that I never knew existed.

We had just come to the neighbors’ farm, only another 5 minutes to go, and the headlights captured movement ahead of us on the left.  My eyes focused in on it; a small, reddish-brown furry thing, about the size of a big squirrel, with a long, black-tipped tail.  And then it raised itself onto its lengthy hind legs and hopped away.

“Huh”, I said in my tired, travel-dulled state of mind, “I didn’t know Namibia had kangaroos”.

“Yeah”, answered Jay, “it’s a springhase (said shpring-HA-zeh).  I don’t know what they’re called in English”.

“Oh.  What’s a springhase?”

“It’s a rabbit.  It just jumps on its hind legs.”

And there you go.  I may not have seen an aardwolf, a desert lion, or a lechwe, but I have at least heard of them.  Never, in my 6 years of traveling to, through, or living in this country, had I ever heard of a springhase.  There was a brand new mammal in my world.

The next day I looked it up in my animal books, but found nothing.  It didn’t help having only it’s German name but none of the pictures looked like what I saw.  So I turned to the trusty internet and googled “springhase”.  And there I learned, sensibly, that their English name is spring hare.  But in the nonsensible world of naming animals, they aren’t actually a hare.  They’re a rodent.  But a very special one, as they are the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae.  Which may be why I’ve never heard of them.

the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae
the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae

If you haven’t already yet googled it yourself after buckling to curiosity, here’s a link to a site with some good pictures of the spring hare.  I want you all to know though, that being the authentic blogger that I am, I went out that night, camera in hand, in an attempt to get my own photo of this unusual animal.  Jay and Sniffeldog came too.

As we had never seen one on our farm, we drove back to the neighbors hoping they’d still be there.  Jay hauled out the giant spotlight for more precise lighting and we called the neighbors to let them know that the weird flashing out front was just us trying to get a picture of their jumping rodents.

Each time eyeballs appeared in the distance, Jay zoomed forward and I snapped a photo.  Here’s the winner from that chaotic series:

Which may just be a normal rabbit.  Eventually we reached the end of the field and only thick bush lay ahead, which I had learned from my extensive internet research, was unsuitable spring hare habitat.  So we turned around and headed for home, hoping for another glimpse.

When we saw more eyeballs, I leapt out of the car, determined to get a better picture.  I landed, however, directly in a short, unseen thorn bush and got stuck while Jay sped ahead to keep them in sight.  So while I was bumbling about with the bush, Jay got our object of pursuit directly in the spotlight as they slowly hopped away.  By the time I freed myself and caught up to them, this was the best I could get:

If you look really close you can see the long tail.

So this authentic blogger and abysmal photographer is getting on with life in Namibia and wondering what other bizarre creatures are lurking in those bushes, waiting for fortuitous discovery.

Rain or death: in pictures

The rainy season in Namibia, roughly November through March, is by far the best time of the whole year.  The otherwise dead and dry land, with just a bit of water, suddenly turns into a lush, green (almost) rainforest.  When the clouds hang low over the hills, I half expect to meet a mountain gorilla out there.

waterberg

When it rains, work out on the farm becomes something to look forward to.  Not only do the clouds give us a break from the heat, but once out of the front gate, life turns into one big treasure hunt.  For the rainy season is omajova season – the termite mushrooms are out.

omajovas

I could write a short book about the joy that is the omajova, one of the most peculiar yet fantastic things about this country.  And I might.  But for now it will have to suffice to say that searching for omajovas makes every day more interesting and finding them, spotting that bit of white through the green, is like Christmas; a feast is sure to follow.

truly namibian feast

Once infected with omajova fever, you are always on the lookout.  Trips into the bush become devoid of conversation; everyone is far too busy looking for mushrooms.  And with this heightened awareness, you see much more than termite mounds.  You fall into a trance of the life that rain created.

rain road

You’ll see the oryx, hartebeest, and eland have given birth to fuzzy and awkward calves.  The warthogs too, have their wartlets at their side, all of them covered in a fresh layer of mud.  And with newborns come predators.

leopard!

The flowers are out; fire lilies creeping through the bush, their charm belying their fatal poison.

Fire lily

For me, it’s as if all the plants and animals are saying exactly what I am thinking, it’s a great time to be alive in Namibia.

Or it was.  Before the rain disappeared.

At first, I thought it was maybe my fault, that I had pissed old mama Namibia off with my recent post about the garden.  But we were actually the lucky ones.  Most parts of the country look as though they skipped the summer entirely and went straight back into winter.

crispy namibia

With the new year, the sun that Namibia is famous for, so characteristic that it’s on the nation’s flag, that ball of fire insistent on baking us all to raisins, came back.  For days, and days, and days, only sun.

SUN

With time, the clouds began to pop up again and there was hope.  We’d talk about very little except the latest development in the sky.

“The clouds are pretty fluffy today.”

“Yeah, but it’s a west wind.  No good.”

“It’s almost new moon, maybe that’ll bring rain.”

But it didn’t.

moon 'n clouds

Then came the army worms.  Appropriately named, these inch-or-so-long worms moved through the fields like soldiers, systematically eating each blade of grass down to the nub as they went.  Thousands of them filling their ever-hungry stomachs.  All the grass we watched so happily spring up after the rain, the thick, green grass we were saving for the winter, turned into a horde of worms.

worms, worms everywhere

Word on the street said the only way to get rid of them was rain.  Buckets of rain to wash them away.  The one thing we didn’t have.  And so we regressed into the dead brown phase just like everyone else, reminded of it with every step.

goo shoes

But the clouds kept coming.  Every afternoon we watched with utmost anticipation as they grew thicker and darker.  A few droplets, prayers that they wouldn’t stop, but they always did and the sun returned and the worms ate on.  Eventually, hope conceded to the sun.

dark vs. light

Yesterday brought blue skies and the same old story.  By late afternoon, the same puffy clouds.  As they grew bigger and bigger, hope bubbled up again, but I did my best to ignore it.  And then just before sunset, this:

rain art

Not just water, but a painting.  As if to reward our patience, and remind us all is not lost.

No one can say if it’ll stick around, relieve us of worms, return us to green, but I do know one thing: whoever wrote that “rain, rain go away” song never lived in Namibia.

Grocery shopping in Smalltown, Namibia

I think I utterly confused a few folks last Friday while working on this story.  The looks on the faces of the local supermarket customers asked “Why is this really tall white girl taking pictures of our corn flakes?”  I smiled and nodded and tried to act as though I was a professional and this was completely normal.  A writer’s got stories to tell and stories need pictures.  So I set aside my self-consciousness to introduce the world to our Pick-N-Pay supermarket.

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I grabbed a cart on the way in.  The carts, called trolleys, are not the mammoths from home that can flatten small children.  These are much daintier and more practical.   Whoever decided to make trolleys simply double-decker basket holders was a genius. 

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First stop is always the produce, as it is in many food shops.  One will find the usual fare; squash, taters, apples.  But nowhere else have I seen robot peppers.

It took some brain power to figure out this moniker.  Then I remembered that in South African English, traffic lights are called robots, supposedly because they are the robotic form of policemen who used to direct traffic.  In any case, I find them quite entertaining.

Another South African vegetable specialty are baby marrows.

You say they look like zucchinis.  Yes, yes they do.  They are zucchinis.  South Africans, however, prefer their zucchinis to be miniature and so harvest them early and call them something no one else does (except, you know, Namibians).  It doesn’t affect the tenderness or flavor, nor have I found any other reason to do this.  Nor do I know what a marrow is.

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After the produce comes the meat.  I never spend much time in this section.  But it also has some regional flair.  Boerewors.

Afrikaans for “farmer’s sausage”, this is a staple around these parts.   A braai (a barbecue) is not a braai without them.  Bring this if you’re invited to one and you’ll make friends.

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Into the packaged foods next.  First aisle: jams, jellies, Nutella (even in Namibia), and just below that, the fish paste.

One even has multiple fish paste options.  Anchovies, unidentified, or tomato flavored unidentified.  I have to try it before I can say anything but it’s said to be a popular breakfast smear.  Available online for South African expats worldwide.

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One will be hard-pressed to find a bakery or sandwich shop in this country that does not offer broetchens, German “little breads”.

They are cheap, versatile, and tasty.  What more can one ask of their bread?  Healthy?  Whole wheat/grain broetchens, while less common, do exist.

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I regret to report that the Namibian markets have been corrupted by American corporations.  Shelves are stuffed with such products as Kellogg’s corn flakes, Doritos, Coca-Cola, Tampax tampons, and Colgate toothpaste, of which there was enough to paste our town’s teeth for years.

And the Christmas fruitcake tradition was, unfortunately, not lost in Namibia.

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Then, you’ve got your chunks of dog which never cease to amuse me.  Note that any size dog can be a cannibal.

And specials signs which could be considered discriminatory against tall people.

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In the end, I will embrace all of Pick-N-Pay’s wide variety of products and cultures represented, and I’ll make an effort to try those still foreign to me just as long as they continue to carry my one trip-to-town treat, the all-important, ever-delicious cheese flavored maize snacks.

Working on my inner morning person

We were up late last night watching the final Women’s World Cup games.  Jay’s dad taped the series for us off his satellite TV since our TV only gets one channel and they did not deem the Women’s World Cup worthy enough to displace their soap operas.  So this morning, I was a little slow.

Jay, the unwavering morning person, woke me up, “Hey babe, wake up.  The weather is just right for flying.  I’m gonna make breakfast, then we’ll go”.  I think I managed to open my eyes and mumble something.  He bounced out of the room, I went back to sleep. 

 Fifteen minutes later, my subconscious reminded me that I was supposed to be doing something and forced my eyeballs open.  I got dressed, brushed my teeth and headed out into the world.

In the kitchen, Jay had made tea for me, coffee for him and pap, a traditional Namibian corn porridge.  I stumble in.  He says cheerily “Ready to go?!”  He had fulfilled his promise to make breakfast but reneged his offer to let me eat it.  I stared at him for a few seconds to see if he was joking or not.  He was not, unfortunately, so with the intention to take pictures for a blog story I grabbed the camera, and quickly begin slurping down my tea.  I had no shoes so I put on a pair of his and clomped quickly toward the hangar, spilling tea all over myself along the way. 

 Jay knows how I feel about wasting gas, so now he always tries to fly his microlight with a purpose.  This morning’s objective was to celebrate the renewal of his pilot’s license, scan the farm for a missing bull, locate a run away donkey and check the water levels of the dams in the back of his land.  We hauled the plane out to the runway, aka the dirt road in front of the house, and prepared it for takeoff.  I realized at this point that I had not tied my hair back and it is going to blow all over my face.  Awesome.  I chug some more tea.  I put on my flight suit for warmth in the cold air up there, Jay swings the propeller.  Seatbelts, goggles, headsets on, I wave goodbye to the dog waiting faithfully in the back of the pick-up, and we accelerate down the road until the air lifts us and we head skyward. 

 Riding in a microlight is an unusual experience.  It’s like riding on a really fast motorcycle in the air.  There is nothing but a seatbelt holding you onto your seat and nothing between you and the sky you are flying through.  Your feet have only little metal posts to rest on.  You become very aware of your mortality.  If you are afraid of heights, it may be utterly terrifying.

Immediately, I began to snap photos.  The bright sun and rushing air and my fear of dropping the camera into oblivion prevented me from seeing what I was photographing so I just pushed the button and hoped for the best.  In between, I scoured the model-train-world below for a feral bull.  Over the hills we flew.  We saw the old, dilapidated hunting camp on one peak.  I noticed how the dominating tree species are different from one side of the hill to the other.  We saw a group of oryx galloping in one direction, then a warthog family dashing in the other.  Wildlife does not seem to enjoy loud, neon pink, flying people interrupting breakfast. 

Here’s a good one of the pilot’s head just after take off. I don’t know what I was actually going for. It’s a nice view of the high-tech cockpit though.

Without locating the bull we set off through the farm.  We saw the fire bushes beginning to bloom.  Spring is coming.  More oryx, and now eland, guinea fowl, and kudu.  I tried to take a picture but was never prepared and we flew by all the herds before I got the damn camera on.  We saw warthog digging up a leaking pipe we tried to fix yesterday.  We saw the cattle we moved into a new camp the day before who still hadn’t found their water trough.

 
The farm house from above. And an arm.

We reached the dams, they had another two months or so of water left.  The last one had an eland drinking from it.  With the sun gently lighting the scene, it was a picture perfect moment and I turned on the camera just for it to tell me the batteries were dead.  “No awesome picture for you, lady”, it said.  I wished I had my tea.

A leeeetle crooked.

So the dams were full, the bull was gone, we never found the donkey and the pictures are far from professional.  But we did get a smooth flight through the early morning and a different view of our everyday world.  We landed safely and I even got to eat breakfast.  I think the day, and my brain, will turn out ok.

And here’s the ground! Probably just past something really spectacular.