In Germany when I was growing up my grandma played a game with us roughly translated to “Who is afraid of the black man?” and my parents have pictures of me from a family vacation to Kenya, when I was just 4 years old, that prove how Africans scared me a little. But here it is just the other way around.
On a regular basis kids are running from me in horror, bursting out in tears when I’m approaching them or avoiding eye contact and one maybe three year-old actually peed her pants when she saw me standing in their courtyard talking to her grandparents. Also I found some kids being curious about me. One day 3 little boys walked by and saw me hanging in the hammock. I waved at them and they started laughing and waving back. When I got up to go over and talk to them, they started running. The next day they showed up again, but this time they had brought their friends to take a look at the sirumbu. And I was sure that they were saying things like “See, I told you there was a white person here” or “Look at her, she is all white” or “Let’s watch what weird things she is doing”. This time when I approached
them they were more confident and didn’t run away. I tried to talk to them but all they could say was hello and that they were doing fine. But I noticed that they were very eager to touch me so I shuck everybody’s hand some were a little skeptical but when their hand was released I think they discussed wildly what my skin felt like. I suggested to Joseph that we should start a sirumbu zoo and charge them N$ 1 for taking a look at me.
One of the reasons why they are scared of me is that some of them have never seen a white person in their life since not many tourists make it out to Mayana or only stay at the one and only lodge which is about 3km away from my house. Another reason is that they have been hearing horrible stories about white lodge owners or farmers or made their own share of experiences with white people. And how can you blame them if you hear those stories which are not a relic of the old colonial times. I was told from former farm workers that the mostly white South African farm owners pay hardly any wages for the hard labor, beat their employees or even have them dig their own graves and then shoot them. Even though the farmers are being arrested for their crimes since they do have money they will be released after very little jail time – maybe they will just be locked away for 2 weeks. Also the lodge owners chase their staff around and treat them badly or if a kid gets onto their grounds they will release the dogs or run after them with a stick. First I wondered why they just don’t quit the job, but even a horrible job and less than minimum wage is better than no job at all. And the employers don’t have to worry about hiring a replacement since the next person will just be waiting for a job opportunity around the corner.
I have to say that I have never been so aware of my skin color and sometimes I feel very ashamed for it and also hate it that I am being associated with the behaviors of those “Buren”. When I was at the Ngepi Camp I also talked to a tourist from South Africa and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He asked me what I was doing in Namibia and I explained to him how I was assisting the local team at the center. He basically replied that it was a waste of time what I was doing because all the villagers would be so primitive and they would never make it out of their misery since they are just too dumb. I quickly ended the conversation and left him behind there was no way to even debate with him.
But to be honest sometimes it comes in handy to play the sirumbu card, because it also speeds up running errands, getting served or getting appointments. If we enter a store, none of the clerks addresses whoever I am with but they all come running when they see me or let me cut lines. Also I am noticing that they treat me with much more respect and are much friendlier to me. When entering a store security will check your bag or ask you to leave it behind. Also they pad you down when exiting. Not once I had been asked to leave my bag outside or was padded down, ’cause you know, whites don’t steal. I have also never been addressed with “Madame” this much in my life like in Namibia – actually never ever. Apparently in some stores it is the policy to serve whites first and be very kind to them because they can do more harm if complaining.
It is sad to see that Apartheid and all the racism linked to it still are very much present these days – on both sides. It also bothers me very much that everyone always distinguishes between black and white. Of course there are differences but if they continue to point them out and specifically assign certain charecteristics or customs to one another, they will never reach equality. I therefore try very hard to overcome those prejudice by setting an example, taking action and showing the right attitude towards all being human.