Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wonderful Hospitality: Donuts and Driving

Today is Monday and we are driving to Nkurenkuru to visit the ELCIN Lutheran High School there.  We may see our previous shipment of books and desktop computers in action, but more importantly we will deliver a gift of eight laptops.  Thanks, by the way, to our partners in the Luther LIS department for their sale of these dandy used Dells to Empowering Learners – these machines have come a long way!

We start out by picking up Pastor Henok who will direct us on our way and make all of the necessary introductions.  We have picked him up early (7:00 a.m.) and now are driving the first 40 kilometers on a gravel road as we head to the Kavango Region.  The road is all washboard and Pastor explains that during the war, the Namibians would never drive on this road since it was riddled with land mines. 
This part of the trip is slow going and it’s a bit hard to converse, so I am jumping in to write some more.  Along the roadside are donkeys, herds of goats, dogs, long-horned cattle, children on their way to school, and memes carrying loads mostly on their backs and sometimes on their heads.  Donkeys, goats, and cattle dramatically outnumber the people, and clearly these animals have the right of way – we have stopped many times to wait for a steer or two to move from the center of the road.  This is Africa, and you can’t be in a rush! 

The farmsteads have changed over from being corrugated metal buildings with stick fences around the farmyards, to all stick buildings with thatched roofs.  The danger of fire in these farms during this drought is great.  Pastor Henok announced yesterday in worship that three parishioner families had their farmsteads destroyed by fire, and now have nothing.   Cooking over the open flame, of course, is de rigeur. 

All along the way … people wave.

Pastor Henok just told us as we passed a small grouping of homes, that we were passing through Oshango, and that the Lutheran parish there has 11,000 members.   Goodness!

Our dear friend, Pastor Henok, has had a very busy three days.  On Friday he presided at a funeral of a great lady, who passed away at 83.  People told us she had been an Ovambo Queen and her husband had been one of the first Namibians to receive a degree from the University.  The parish was filled to over-flowing and the celebration of her life lasted six hours.  We heard the music from the church well into the night – and we know those hymns!  Then the next day, Saturday, there was another funeral of another great lady, and another long service.   Pastor Henok said he looked forward to having us at worship on Sunday, but that we should not be disappointed if there were not many people there, since the funerals had occupied the community.  HA!  The church was wall to wall with worshippers – some 700 in attendance. 

At the beginning of the service, we were graciously introduced, and right after we returned to our seats, a dashing man (perhaps in his thirties) came to sit with us – bible and hymnal in hand – and he served as our translator for the whole three hours.   His name is Paul Homateni Nakawa.  We became instant friends and it turns out Paul had taught at Oshigambo High School when Pastor Henok was principal.   He is now Head of Corporate Communications for Air Namibia.  Paul had come back home to the North for the Friday funeral of his aunt (the Queen) and stayed this extra day for worship.

From the front seat Pastor tells us Paul is a poet.    Apparently he’s also a good businessman as he is soon headed to France to negotiate the purchase of a new long-haul A330, which will fly the Frankfurt, Germany, to Windhoek run.  He was pleased to know we had flown Air Namibia, and we are pleased to make his acquaintance.  Interesting this constant juxtaposition of progress and the traditional ways!  

My point for writing today is really to acknowledge the lavish sense of hospitality we encounter when we’re here.  Esther (the manager) and Hilya (the head cook) are taking such good care of us at the guesthouse.  Sophia and Pastor Henok welcomed us into their home on Saturday evening for a wonderful dinner and conversation.  We were showered with gifts and singing at the Henok Kindergarten, and everyone wore pink, a wonderful color of celebration among the Ovambo.  Pastor Shaanika, education secretary of the ELCIN, hosted us all day on Friday and also treated us to lunch.  Paul Nakawa came right over to translate for us during worship.  Pastor Henok, on his much-needed day off, is delivering us to Nkurenkuru.  And brothers and sisters whose names we will never know thank us for coming to visit their country.  It’s really quite remarkable and deeply touching.

And speaking of hospitality, Ethan wrote in his post about those marvelous Namibian donuts, called fat cakes.  Hilya and the other cooks in the guesthouse kitchen make these amazing creations by the hundreds.  They sell them from the Take Away window in the front of the guesthouse.   Hilya let me into the kitchen to watch the fat cake production and all the ladies laughed when I patted my hip to indicate right where these fat cakes eventually end up!  (Ah, the universal language!)  The mix is made in a huge 5-gallon-sized pail, and then the ladies dip their hands into the mix and pull out a long scoops worth, they twirl it in the air, and then they get two big squirts of dough through their fists to land in the kettle of hot grease on the stove.  These baseball-sized cakes bob and fry there for a bit and then shazam they’re done and taken hot to the Take Away window for sale at one Namibian dollar each (about 10 cents US).

On those busy funeral days it was a brisk business at the Take Away window.  On Saturday, as we sat in the sunny courtyard under a flowering hibiscus tree, perfectly positioned to capture the office’s Wi-Fi signal – the laughter of cooks, the chatter of visiting guests, the smell of frying dough, and the music and singing from the Oniipa Parish filled the air.

This is home to us in so many ways.             

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