I’ve spent a week here in Namibia now, though it feels like much longer (in a good way!). I have met such amazing, warm people, and despite being thousands of miles away from New York, feel very much at home. Much of the land in the south western part of this country reminds me very much of the south western U.S.
My guide and I started off in the south, visiting the towns of Keetmanshoop, Mariental, Gibeon and Hoachanas, a region where many Nama live.
In Gibeon, we pulled over and spoke with Damara and Nama locals, who invited us into their neighborhood. Several locals were congregated outside the main storage house, where grain is housed and delivered to other nearby communities. Anushka, a lovely young Nama girl, was on break from school and was helping to deliver food supplies. She spoke English, and as the rest spoke Afrikaans, and my guide was able to translate.
Anushka & Anna
Naturally, our meeting turned into an impromptu photoshoot. I soon noticed that beyond storage house house was a German graveyard, where the graves of fallen WWI soldiers lay.
I did not see graves for any fallen native Namibians, however.
Anushka in front of German WWI memorial and graves, Gibeon.
This German imprint, laying in the shadow of the local Nama communities, was all too common in the Namibia I’d experienced thus far. Much of the land in Namibia is still owned by Germans, leaving many local groups (including the Nama) to live on smaller plots of overcrowded land. Namibia happens to be one of the largest and least densely populated countries in the world. There is so much seemingly empty land throughout the country - you can drive for dozens of kilometers and not see a single car.
We asked Gerson, one of the locals at the Gibeon storage house, how he felt about the Germans having so much control over their land. Pointing to the railroad tracks behind him, he explained the benefits. The Germans had provided infrastructure and transportation networks that greatly aided their local communities.
After Gibeon, we headed on towards Hoachanas to meet with a Nama village. They were so incredible! They put on an amazing show for us, showcasing their traditional dance and showing us traditional Nama artifacts. Several Nama girls and boys were keen to pose for photographs.
The Nama community at Hoachanas.
Many of the people I met lived in homes with multiple family members. When I spoke with Daniel, a member of the Hoachanas community, about the genocide, he noted that it was in the past - he believed in moving forward. His wisdom and profound insight were inspiring.
After our day with the Nama communities, I thought about both Daniel and Gerson’s words. Their forward-looking outlook seemed to speak to much of the consensus of this country. Optimistic, forward looking and strong. In my short time here, it is already very clear that the German imprint largely overshadows that of the local communities, though. Whether or not a deliberate attempt to blot out or just gloss over what happened, Namibia certainly does leave only historical traces of German prowess behind, while ignoring a dark past. Many local Herero and Nama rightly feel they are entitled to recognition for the crimes committed against them in the early part of the 20th century.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to meet with local Herero and Nama and document their fight for restorative justice.