Friday, July 26, 2013

Take a Hike

Hike: A ride back to the village from town with whomever you can find that's willing to take you.

I'm going to take you on an adventure. This is a fairly typical Saturday hike back to the village after morning errands. Ready?

You get in the taxi and tell the driver to take you to Okamini, which someone told you is the nickname of the hike point that everyone knows. Of course the driver has no idea what you're saying. You struggle to explain where you mean until one of the other passengers takes pity on you and chuckles while telling the driver, "she means oka-meenie". Oh, ok. You pull up to the mini-market and haul all of your bags on your shoulder while fumbling for change for the taxi fare. The driver takes off and you amble awkwardly up to the tree outside the market that is the official hike point for your village.
"Wa uhala po" you say to no one in particular, butchering the local greeting.
"Eehh" someone says back, the typical response.
"Anyone going to Onamutai?" you ask the group gathered around the tree.
At this point, usually one of the small boys (any unmarried male) that runs one of the fruit carts will sympathetically tell you that no one is going.

You drop your bags because you know it'll probably be a long wait. You stand there awkwardly, hoping that one of the two bakkies you recognize will pull up soon. They don't. You keep your ears peeled, hoping to hear the word 'Onamutai' amongst all the unfamiliar Oshiwambo chatter, but you don't. People are staring. Some whisper (or shout) "oshilumbu!", the not-exactly-PC word for 'white person', at you. You ignore them.

After about 45 minutes, one of the fruit vendor guys tells you that "that tate is going to Onamutai" while pointing in the general direction of about 3 bakkies. You finally figure out which one and walk over to it.
"Wa uhala po, tate" you greet him "You are going to Onamutai?" "Eehh" "Can I come?" "Eehh" "Thank you."
No one seems to be getting in, so you continue standing there with all your stuff until someone tells you otherwise. Finally people begin piling in and you hop in the back. This is where the fun begins. At first, there are only a few people in the back and their assorted belongings, but this quickly changes. Foodstuffs are being added by the second: a rack of frozen fish, 3 10kg bags of mahangu flour, a giant plastic bag of snack bags, 10 cases of Tafel, grocery bags, and more people. 'We must be going soon, we can't possibly fit anymore in the back of this truck' you think to yourself each time something else is added. And each time, someone shuffles things around to add more while directing you in Oshiwambo. You give them your best apologetic look and try your best not to look like an idiot while everyone else performs this well choreographed dance of rearranging.

Finally, 45 minutes after you first climbed in the back of the truck, with the sun beating down on your pale Irish arms and the bag of cold food tucked somewhere under your legs, the driver gets in the truck and precariously makes his way onto the road. You assume he's taking the new gravel road, since that's the fastest way back, but to your chagrin, he turns down a side street and you know you'll be taking the alternate, longer, sand road home. At the end of the road, you pull into the bar where the driver stops for what he promises will be a "small beer". For a reason unbeknownst to you, he makes you get out of the truck to wait while the others stay in the back and then proceeds to order a 750mL Tafel which he shares with a friend. When he finishes, he motions for you to get back in. You do as you're told.

You take off down the sand road, stopping every 15 or so minutes to let other passengers off. You and the others dig around for a while to find everyone's belongings before setting off again. Eventually you are the last person left, and you realize that the driver probably lived in the last village, and only is taking you all the way to Onamutai because you're white. That also means he'll charge N$15 instead of N$10. He tells you to come sit in the front now that you're the only one left, and you gear up for what is likely to be an awkward last 10 minutes. Sure enough, you're only in the truck for about a minute before the driver, who is old enough to be your father, starts hitting on you. It starts out innocently enough: he asks where you're from, then responds that he's always wanted to go to America, but it soon turns into him asking to come back to America with you, and if you don't have a boyfriend, can he be your boyfriend? You reject his proposal several times and avoid answering his questions of "why not?" You know he's harmless, but it's still slightly uncomfortable. He drives you to your door (even though you never told him where you live-- everyone just knows where the white girl lives) and you thank him for the ride, pay him the fare, haul all of your belongings out of the bakkie once more, and go inside where you promptly collapse from exhaustion. All you did was grocery shop and go to the bank, but it's already 3:30 (despite leaving at 8AM) and you're exhausted. You decide it's time for a nap.

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