Sometimes the universe is with you

Motivation is not always easy to find.  In my case, I had a big idea rambling around in my head, waiting to be put into action.  I sat on it for a while, wondering if it’d stick with me and prove itself legitimate, not just a passing thrill that I got excited about after a couple of beers.  It did, but still, I wasn’t acting.

Fresh off the plane from a visit to the States, where I spent time with friends and family, the number one thing I miss about life in Namibia, I was in a bit of a low this week.  Returning to a country where, besides my man and our animals, I’m pretty much on my own, can be disheartening.  However, I tried to light a fire under my butt, saying, “Look, you’re not going to live in Namibia forever.  Make the best of it while you’re here, and then when the time comes to move on, you’ll know the years weren’t wasted.”  And so, I gradually pumped myself up for the year ahead and tackling my big idea.  Although I was still half-exhausted from the long, nearly-sleepless flight, I stuck with the mantra “make the best of it” and pushed forward.

But as the first days slipped by and the load of farm work waiting for me quashed any productivity I had for my personal plans, I began wondering if I’d dreamt too big.  Thoughts like, “you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re gonna screw it up”, and, “stick with the projects you’ve got, and maybe later you can start something new when you have more time”, totally deflated my let’s-go attitude.  And even the current projects, like writing a blog post, seemed monumental.

But this morning I knew I had to post something, I’d neglected it the whole time in the States.  I just had no idea what to write about.  So, of course, I procrastinated and piddled around on the internet, rather than committing to writing.

Slowly, though, a message started to reveal itself.

My sister’s boyfriend posted something on Facebook about no more zero days.  An email from a writer’s mailing list had a quote from Amy Poehler about taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, doing what you’re afraid of, even if you think you aren’t ready.  And here on WordPress, a (again, writing) blog I follow, talked about taking little actions until you get the results you want.  The message was persistent: do something everyday towards your goal, even if it’s small.  You’ll never know if you don’t try and even if you fail, you learn something new.

I got straight over to my blog and started typing.  My butt was lit.

It all sounds so trite, I know, but sometimes the trite stuff is exactly what you need to hear.  The cosmos knew it, and loaded me up with a big helping of it.

So, moral-of-the-story #1 is:  Procrastination isn’t always what it seems.  If you’re paying attention, you might just find what you’re looking for.

But, don’t forget moral-of-the-story #2:  No giving up.  Do something everyday, no matter how small, that moves you closer to your goal.  Because we all know, a little bit, over time, adds up to a lot.

As for my big ideas, small steps, alongside the farm work, are making me feel that they’re achievable.  Maybe, I’ll even make some friends along the way.  Or at least find better conversationalists than my cats.

The cat face

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

Oh My Africa – May 2014

This month’s OMA is brought to you by our one and only neighbor to the south.

I just recently discovered this comic strip but, apparently, it’s pretty popular down there, possibly even the most popular South African comic strip, despite the fact that its premise is a black woman (Eve) working as a maid in a white woman’s house (Madam).  The website claims they “have become icons of a changing South Africa”.  I don’t understand…

Anyway, here’s a recent one in honor of President Jacob Zuma’s re-election.  As far as I know, Zuma has no musical inclinations – it’s supposed to be a metaphor.

This might have something to do with the claims that the national South African television broadcaster, SABC, banned campaign ads from parties competing against the ANC (Zuma’s party), or ads that spoke negatively of them.

Just a guess.

Bees battle more than just pesticides

When news of the struggle bees are up against worldwide with neonicotinoid pesticides and colony collapse reached us down here in Namibia, we were grateful that the bees around us seemed healthy, happy and populous.  Here on our farm we had 15 swarms living in boxes with an extra one always strategically placed for a house-hunting swarm to pass by.  But this year our bees had their own struggle and, sadly, lost.

We should’ve known – last year was just too good.  Although Namibia was sick with drought, our bees scrounged up food from somewhere and produced a miraculous 150 kilograms of honey.  It was ridiculous, but we were delighted, nonetheless.

This year, we prayed for rain, dreading the thought of another dry year and what it would do to the farm.  Luckily, the rain came – over double what fell last year.  That rain awakened all the bugs which had stuck it out underground, waiting for humid conditions to return.  And the skies went black.

Well, not really, but the bee boxes did.  Big, black beetles called chafers, began swarming, bullying their way into any hole they could fit their fat butts through, to get to the juicy bee larvae inside.  We tried our best to plug any holes, leaving only enough room for the bees to pass, but the beetles bulldozed through anyway.  We’d try to bat them out of the air and squish the prowlers on the outside of the box, but that often ended in getting stung by a pissed-off bee.  During subsequent box inspections, we’d find 50+ beetles lumbering around.  And no honey.  The bees were spending more time fighting them off then collecting food.

The beetles...

The beetles…

...ready for squishing

…ready for squishing.

Later in the season, the death’s head moths came, so called because of the skull image on their back.  Clearly, an unfun bug.  They are big as far as moths go, but fairly flat, and so can squeeze through narrower holes that the beetles wouldn’t fit through.  Sometimes they did us a favor and got stuck in one of them and died, effectively plugging that hole against future invaders.  But when duty called to smush them manually, they made an awful, alien screeching sound – a new sound effect for my nightmares.

The jerks, next to my pocketknife for comparison.

The jerks, next to my pocketknife for comparison.

As if that weren’t enough for our bees to battle, then the wax moths showed up.  These are much smaller, about the size of a blueberry, but white and dull.  They lay their eggs in the box which hatch into equally bland worms.  The worms, however, grow big and plump, eating and pooping their way through the beeswax.  It is not uncommon to find a box deserted by the swarm, yet full of worms, their poop, and their cocoons.  On our last inspection, that’s exactly what happened.

Inside a bee box, showing the frames upon which they build their combs, covered in cocoons and tiny worm poops

Inside a bee box, showing the frames upon which they build their combs, covered in cocoons and tiny worm poops…

...and the butterballs themselves, whom I take great pleasure in feeding to the chickens.

…and the butterballs themselves, whom I take great pleasure in feeding to the chickens.

Box after box was silent and empty.  We had checked on them only a few weeks before, and they were still strong, but the parasite triumvirate was too much.  From 15, we are now down to 5.

Even from the surviving boxes, beetles, moths, and worms were hauled out and stomped.  Though, with cooler weather upon us, they seem to be slowing down – hopefully, the worst is over.  The swarms that are left now have a few weeks to stock up for winter.  If they do manage a bit of honey, it will be well earned and they’ll get to keep it.  Our dwindling supplies will have to hold until spring.

As with many things, we can now only wait and see if the bugs exhausted their forces this year and if whatever comes next season is a load that the bees can handle.  Otherwise, we’ll need a serious consultation in pest control; pesticides clearly not an option.  Any advice from fellow bee folk out there is most welcome.

Sweepings from just one room of the three-room bee house - beetles, moths, and the bees who gave their lives to fight them.

Sweepings from just one room of the three-room bee house – beetles, moths, and the bees who gave their lives to fight them.

I am not your enemy

Dear Namibia,

You crushed my dream today, one I’ve waited for for five years.  It was going to be a stupendous day, when the fighting to stay with my husband was finally over.  When the three month visas, desperate border-hopping, long stories for the immigration officers, years of putting life on hold because life revolved around visas, came to an end.  I figured it would be a day to celebrate, a new holiday to observe each year; the day I got domicile in Namibia.  That day has now come and gone, and it turned out to be, after all that dreaming, nothing at all worth celebrating.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAPlease note, Namibia, that Dictionary.com, my official dictionary since the one I had in the States was too heavy to schlep over here, has two definitions for the word “domicile”:

1. a place of residence; abode; house or home.
2. Law. a permanent legal residence.
This piece of paper from your Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration has given me neither.
The cream color and ribbed texture give it a deceiving air of importance, as if it were something I should treasure for the 8 months that it is good for.  The words emblazoned across the page – unity, liberty, justice – beneath your country’s coat of arms, apparently do not apply here; they only mock me as I read what I was given.
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAYou could’ve saved your money, Namibia, and just given me a stamp in my passport.  Then I could’ve saved my money on those photos you required, now attached to the bottom, and would not have had to walk around Windhoek all day with a purple thumb, after you took my thumbprint, too.  These pieces of identification aren’t necessary, anyway.  If anyone is going to go through the effort of stealing an identity document, they’re going to go for a legitimate Namibian ID, or something that will actually allow them to stay in the country.  The only good the photo and thumbprint actually do, is to add to the official appearance of the paper, which has less worth to me than its own receipt.  With that, while you processed my application, I stayed in Namibia for a year and a half.
The point was driven home when I was handed an application to reapply for domicile upon my exit.  Besides the ludicrousy of reapplying for something that is supposed to be permanent, it happened to be the very same form I’ve filled out for years, asking you to let me stay.  It meant, for five years, you and I have gone in a big, exhausting, expensive circle and achieved exactly squat.
The real irony however, is that, like many countries, you are belligerently fighting foreigners like me for fear we will take jobs away from proper citizens.  In reality however, we provide loads of them.  The amount of people employed at the airport and border crossings to hassle and interrogate me, and at the ministry to review my relentless applications for months on end, to take my money, take my picture, take my fingerprints.  These people would constitute a small army.  Yet, if this time and energy was instead focused on providing productive work for Namibians, not harassing folks like me trying to make a life for themselves, and better the lives around them in the process, we would all be moving forward, not ending up back where we started.
In a shrinking world, fighting foreigners is futile.  Let it go, Namibia.  Let’s give people reason to celebrate.

Mambas, mambas, everywhere

Snakes are common neighbors here in southern Africa.  We’ve got lots; from tiny blind snakes that live underground, which completely baffled me the first time I found one, to egg-eaters that put on a big show but are harmless, unless you’re an egg.  There are semi-dangerous ones like the pythons with a vicious bite and a tight grip; they can kill a person if they’re big enough.  And we have the lethal line-up too, including multiple varieties of cobras, the bad-tempered puff adders, and to top it off, Africa’s largest venomous, most aggressive, and easily most dangerous snake, Dendroaspis polylepis, the black mamba.

Although I would rather not, these are the neighbors I run into most often.  Or maybe it’s just that the occasions are so vividly burned into my mind with adrenaline and fear.  Take for instance the latest encounter:

Jay and I were checking on our bees in the bee house out in the bush.  We had to stick them out there in an old worker’s dwelling because we ran out of room here by the main house.  The building consists of two small, separated rooms containing a total of five bee swarms.  We’ve been on alert lately when working in that house due to a run-in during a past bee-check that Jay was lucky to survive.  He had bravely (word choice debatable) gone in ahead of me, without a suit, to smoke the hives (smoke makes bees believe there’s a fire, so they suck up loads of honey for safe-keeping and get too fat to fight when we open the box).  When I heard a shriek from within, I figured he’d lost his bet of not being stung.  But when he came flying out the door, arms and legs flailing, his enormous eyes spoke of something much worse than a bee sting.  Indeed, although he had checked before entering, he overlooked the large gray snake against the gray floor in the dimly lit room.  Only once the 2.5 meter (8+ feet) body was slinking its way between his legs did he spot it.  Hence the shriek.  Although there was only one escape route, the door, the snake, possibly befuddled, disappeared behind the door, allowing Jay to run through it.

So this time, as he was preparing the smoker, I went in full-suited (though I don’t know if that would make a big difference against a pissed-off mamba) and peeked around for a giant venomous snake.  I found none, so I returned to Jay in the other room.  As I watched him, crouched over, back to the door, try to coax the smoke out, death turned the corner.

I had the enviable position of facing the door where I could see the mamba accelerating toward us.  My words, “ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod” were probably not the most useful warning to give my partner, alas, they were the best I could come up with at the time.  At least they got him to stand up and turn around, just in time to see the thick black tail disappear past the other side of the door.  It seems we had frightened it as much as it had frightened me, and it decided against joining us in the tiny room.  I then found a few more words “Closethedoorclosethedoorclosethedoor”, which Jay did.  I glimpsed the snake again as it slid past the room’s one window which the bees fly through.  It then occurred to me that we should leave the wee room, now filling with smoke, in case the mamba decided to climb in through the window.  It was gone by the time we got outside, so with great haste and apprehension we finished the bees and fled for home.

The bee/mamba house

The mamba is feared for many reasons; its size, speed, and aggression (it has been known to chase people); the fact that it will spread a hood (in case the person has not already shit himself); and it will deliver multiple bites if deemed necessary (even though one bite can kill a man in an hour).  Once bitten, your brain will remain alert while the rest of your body succumbs to paralyzation and you slowly suffocate.  This according to in an oft-consulted book on our shelf, The Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa.

The author notes that large quantities of antivenom may be required to save the victim’s life.  That is if the victim has access to antivenom.  An employee of Jay’s uncle was bitten by a black mamba last year on a farm a couple of hours away from us.  His co-workers loaded him into the truck and rushed him the 100km into the nearest town.  The man arrived at the hospital alive but the facility had no antivenom and no heart-lung machine to keep him alive.  He died within the hour.

The book also mentions that most snake bites occur on the limbs and that pressure bandages can be applied to prevent the rapid spread of the venom.  Tourniquets, however, should be avoided, except in the case of a black mamba bite.  But what if the bite is not on a limb?

A neighbor was once cruising his farm on a motorbike.  Up ahead on the dirt road, he spotted a black mamba.  Long as they are, they often cover the entire width of the road, leaving no room to go around.  He may also have been driving too fast, and on dirt, braking hard results more in sliding than braking.  In any case, he drove over the snake, effectively triggering a defense response.  Since he wisely did not stop, all he saw of the mamba’s reaction was that it had raised up off the ground, as if to strike.  Once back home, he found two teeth punctures in the seat of his bike, right behind his butt.  He sold his bike after that and has never ridden since.

My best shot of a mamba

Despite the fact that the sight of them stops my heart, or maybe because of it, I am strangely fascinated by black mambas, especially when I can observe them from a healthy distance.  Jay and I have found them on the road before too, and we turn off the car for a couple of minutes to watch as they glide into a nearby tree and camouflage as just another branch.  We ran into one once on foot as well as we searched a field for mushrooms for dinner.  I think both species were surprised at how close we had unwittingly come to each other, but it didn’t charge us and we slowly retreated to the car.  We each had the capacity to kill the other but we rather went our separate ways.

And that’s the choice we have.  Black mambas and humans are never going to be roommates but we’re obliged to be neighbors.  Conflicts (i.e. shootings and/or injections of lethal neurotoxins) arise when we aren’t respectful of each other’s boundaries but, in general, Namibia has enough space for us to be those neighbors who simply avoid each other.  Greet politely when our paths inevitably cross, back away slowly, and then observe inconspicuously from behind the curtains.

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.