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

Use it or lose it: a novel concept

Rainwater harvesting.  One of those ingeniously simple ideas, probably soon- to-be new green-living fad, that should just be common sense.  I mean, how many zillions of times have I watched water run through the streets, or collect in ditches, or create little rivers in the sand?  Yet it never occurred to me to catch it and put it to use.  I think it was because I grew up in a place wealthy with water; we took it for granted.  It took desert-country living to get the idea through my ignorance shield that it is true wealth falling from the sky, not pretty little shiny things to watch disappear.  And even then, this discovery was an accident.

Somehow with my innate mixture of environmentalist and cheapskate (my desire to lighten our load on the earth and stop spending so much money on diesel to pump water), I began researching permaculture.  This is a practice of designing land systems that are sustainable and self-sufficient.  Yet even though the creator of this concept hails from fairly dry Australia, the bulk of permaculture information is for temperate climates.  And understandably so; it’s much easier to do there.  The one book I eventually found for dry climates was about rainwater harvesting and how the author, who lived in Tuscon, Arizona, one of the driest and hottest places on earth, turned his desert home into a green garden using not much more than rainwater.  Although Arizona gets rain throughout the year and not in one seasonal clump like Namibia, they often get less than our farm, so I figured this could work for us, too.  And naturally I recruited Jay, a native Namibian, a man famous for putting buckets under leaky gutters, a born rainwater harvester.   Also a guy with a bulldozer.

Our farm is big though, and long neglected in this department, so it’s going to take a while.  The good news is, we are at the foot of a huge hill so although we are now well-eroded, we also have a lot of runoff to work with.  We’ve started then, with the water which is always running straight through our yard and out the front gate.  It wasn’t complicated work, only about two days work in all, and Jay does not consider it “work” when he gets to use the bulldozer.

Here’s a before shot featuring the dozer and the huge hill in the background:

The water would always come down the dirt paths, one of which is visible in the picture, and continue left, flowing right out the front gate.  Our plan was then to rather have it head straight down past the gate and into these citrus fruit trees:So employing one of my newly learned rain-harvesting strategies (berms) and a channel Jay plowed in front of the gate, we turned this:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAinto this:

2013 1003And a month later, without watering, this:

For lack of a more sophisticated expression: it’s awesome.  In the meantime, another gutter has gone up on an old shed with a big roof.  An abandoned diesel tank is waiting dutifully underneath ready to catch, and later pass into our veggie garden, what falls.  I am now eager to launch more transformations and curious if we’ll see even a glimpse of the current farm ten years down the road.

So thanks, big momma nature, for giving us rain.  And thanks for the plants that grow food.  And also for the intelligent people, to help the rest of us figure out what to do with the first two.

The unexpected harvests

Jay always says “Namibia is full of surprises”.  While it’s true, they tend not to be surprises one would appreciate (like this).  Now and then, though, this country comes through with something pretty cool.

It started with the oranges; a significant happening for us because last year we got to eat exactly zero oranges, thanks to one of Namibia’s plagues that it periodically inflicts upon people.  Some sort of citrus fruit fly stung each and every fruit on our ten trees, causing them to rot from the inside out before they ripened.  So this year fly traps were constructed out of old two liter soda bottles collected from the dump.  These were then filled with cow poop, spoiled milk, moldy meat, and other smelly things and hung amongst the baby fruits.  I never found many bugs inside them but there were lots of maggots.  Don’t know whose maggots, but certainly it was better to have them in there than anywhere out here.  And it seemed to have worked.  Though a few fruits are still lost, many more hang on the branches awaiting our stomachs.  We eat armfuls everyday which I plan to continue until we, or something else, have consumed them all.

Then there’s the honey, which is a small chunk of miracle.  The drought this year didn’t do great things for our bees’ pollen supply.  Every time we checked on them the combs were nearly empty.  As a result, we’ve been safeguarding our last bucket of honey, expecting no more until November when things begin to bloom again.  The bees, however, have defied the lack of rain and suddenly found a mysterious yet plentiful source of food and filled their boxes up anyway.  Leaving a bit behind for their winter reserves, we’ve harvested over 100kg from our 13 swarms.  Everything in the kitchen- the floor, the counters, the stove, all the silverware, the refrigerator, the dog- was covered in honey for about a week, but it was worth it.  And only one sting in the entire operation, on my foot, when I stepped on a little guy roaming the floor for spillages.

Strangely, the last harvest came at the same time as the other two, and though it was more of my own doing, it contributed greatly to my bewilderment.  For a while now I’ve been trying to wrangle mycelium, the parent organism of fungus, into growing oyster mushrooms for me.  I took a class at the University of Namibia back in November and have been bumbling through the process ever since with very little success.  Until this week, we’ve reaped a total of 5 mushrooms from my efforts.  Somehow, my temperature, humidity, water, nutrients, light, oxygen, hairdo, or facial expression just wasn’t right.  Eventually, the mushrooms got tired of waiting for me to figure it out and just went ahead and grew without me.  Normally, I would need to open the bag of mycelium and the surge of light, water and air would stimulate the oysters to sprout.  Mine, however, sprouted inside the closed bag which I didn’t know was possible.  When I finally caught up and got them opened and watered, they provided Jay and I with three scrumptious meals with more still on the way.

It’s been a crazy week with not a small amount of work, but well rewarded.  And delicious.  It seems Namibia either took pity on us after the past few months she put us through and thought we deserved it, or she’s busy plaguing someone else at the moment and will be back with us at her earliest convenience.

I return to Namibia, Namibia returns to life (two unrelated events)

Springtime in Namibia.  I used to be under the impression that it didn’t exist.  Coming from a region of the world with summer thunderstorms, fall colors, winter blizzards, and spring bursting to life, I could not distinguish truly separate seasonal entities in this country.

Sure, one was a little colder or a little warmer than the previous.  A little windier or wetter.  But when someone would mention what a typical spring day it was, I’d look around, look at them, look around again and then nod my head and smile, totally confused.

Now I’ve got a couple years of Namibia under my belt, and upon my recent return from the States, I could actually see this mysterious springtime taking shape.

First of all, as I mentioned earlier, it is slightly warmer than “winter”.  We’re dressed in the usual Namibian attire of shorts and a t-shirt.  The jeans are in the closet and jackets are needed only occasionally.

Then there’s the trees.  Theoretically, it’s the rise in temperatures that triggers their blooming, and rumor has it that they have a mega-root that pulls water up from deep underground, but when everything else around is parched to utter crispiness, these acacias and their poof-blooms deserve a medal of valor.

A yellow life boat in a sea of brown.

They provide pollen for the bees, and so, honey for us.

The white variety.

The wildlife is sharing the little water there is to be found i.e. the cattle troughs:

And the acacias are making ludicrous numbers of poofs out of secret, underground sources.  Wacky.

With everything else as dry as earthly possible, tis’ the season of fires.  They break out randomly and unexpectedly, dotting the landscape with flames and towers of smoke.  The sky has a near constant haze.  Sometimes, if it’s close enough, it even rains ash.

If any of you have stuck with me so long, you may have read about last year’s fire.  Thankfully, the one that visited us this year wasn’t so bad and I’m hoping we’ll only have the one (knock on wood).  As before, it was due to someone playing with fire in the bush and carelessly letting it free, bringing us the late-night-tortoise-rescuing-smoke-inhalation-racing-to-beat-the-fire-at-its-own-game fun once again.

Standing by with the hose lest the fire break should wander.

Sniffel rode with me in the firefighting car. He had no idea what we were doing but he liked it.

A tortoise huddled on the spare tire as we shuttled him to a safer spot. Notice the ash everywhere.

And the tortoises aren’t the only ones resurfacing these days.  Frogs pop out of the garden beds as I plant cucumbers

and serenade us from the swimming pool at night.

The snakes are out, too, and lucky for us, they feel it necessary to come visit.  Yesterday, lunchtime, I ran into this guy.

What in the name of Steve Irwin is a snake the size of Manitoba doing in our cactus patch?  Does the bush not have enough birds, rodents, elephants for this thing to eat?  Funnily, the snake book said this estimated 2.5 meter (8 ft.) dude wasn’t even maximum python size.  No, no.  6 meters (nearly 20 ft.) is full grown.  Those are the ones that eat crocodiles.  I suppose someone should, but crikey.  Please, just satisfy my morbid curiosity from afar.  Thank you.

So, snakes and all, I’ll admit it.  I can see the signs of a spring, the land returning to life after a winter, even here in Namibia.  The good news is that after any spring that I’ve ever heard of, comes a summer, summer brings rain, and that is when life damn near explodes out of this place.

If it’s anything like the spring, it should be quite a ride.