Rolbos has, purely through circumstances, an overwhelmingly European population. A small one, it is true, but still. It is extremely rare for them to play host to ‘other’ races despite the fact that they view themselves as ‘very modern and open-minded.’ The subjects of gender equality, same-sex marriages and mixed-race relationships often lead to lively debates, but the group in Boggel’s Place has long ago adopted the motto of live and let live. They’ll be equally critical of the national teams’ performances or Oudoom’s sermons, simply because these things afford ample opportunity to explore diverging views in a safe environment. The exception is the government and the president: these they don’t have to debate at all. There’s no need to overemphasise the obvious…
Despite this, the group lapses into a surprised silence when the Herero lady enters the little bar in Voortrekker Weg on this sunny morning.
“Good morning,” she greets after her eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the building. “I wonder if you can help me. I seem to be lost.”
Her accent is pure English, despite the traditional dress she is wearing. Gertruida (who else?) immediately gets up to offer her help after introducing the group.
“Oh…I am Fia. I’m on my way to Namibia but I must have taken the wrong turn somewhere?”
Gertruida quickly figures out that she took the wrong turn-off at Grootdrink and explains the way back.
“We don’t get many visitors, especially not Herero’s like yourself. Please, come in and enjoy something to drink? It’ll be our pleasure and our treat?”
An opportunity to listen to a stranger – hopefully with new stories – cannot slip through their fingers. Anyway, Gertruida’s curiosity won’t allow Fia to escape without learning where she is from and where she’s going. The group listens with rapt attention as Fia tells them about her visit to America.
She promotes ethnic art, she tells them, and often travels to the far-flung corners of the globe to seek opportunities for local artists. “So this year, I went to Los Angeles to attend the World Championship of Performing Arts. Man, was I proud! I watched the Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers dance their way to three gold medals! Not with modern dancing, mind you, but with the oldest dance form in Southern Africa. Riel dancing originated with the San people and was handed down from generation to generation. They were even asked to dance again, at the closing gala event!”
The conversation drifts to Namibia, its beauty and it’s history. Fia is a natural conversationalist and well versed in the history of her country. She tells them of the years of war – reaching back to the Herero massacres by Germany in the later 1800’s. “But now we are a free and prosperous country. Our president isn’t like yours at all. Hage Geingob is a fair man and a devout Christian. And he’s married to only one woman.”
“But what about South Africa and Germany? After all the bloodshed – don’t you hate them?”
Fia laughs. “Hate the Germans? Are you crazy? Sure there were a lot of atrocities, but that was long ago. They left infrastructure, songs and music and for many years German was the lingua franca. They did exploration, mined minerals and built many churches. Today we play host to many, many German tourists every year – making a significant contribution to our economy. ” Her gaze grows distant before she adds, “The Germans were hard taskmasters, yes, but in some ways they left more than they took.”
After she leaves, Gertruida says that’s how history should be handled: with forgiveness and tact. But even she gasps in surprise when a letter arrives a week later.
Thank you for your kind hospitality. I really enjoyed my little visit and would love to entertain you in my B+B in Ondangwa sometime. Feel free to visit whenever you are in the vicinity.
Note: The money was raised. They went to LA…and they did it!!