Happiness in Sand and Goat Dung

(Dana) The village of Okangombezemba. Northwest Namibia. Outside of Purros, aka the middle of nowhere in this vast, sparsely populated country. Approximately 12,000 Himba people live in Namibia. Twenty years ago, 11,000 of those 12,000 lived traditionally — a nomadic, pre-written-history existence. Today, only 1,000 live this way.

When we first arrive at the village, the big differences are obvious — dark, bare-chested women wearing skirts of calf skin strips, long braids covered in a red paste, large jewelry adornments and skin a distinct red hue from the ochre mixed with butter fat which they massage into their skin. We later learn that they are trying to achieve their image of beauty — cattle — which is the foundation of wealth in their culture. The shape of their hair braids is dictated by whether they have reached puberty, and they wear anklets which indicate how many children they have. And their bottom four incisors have been removed by the chief before age 3, because that identifies them as Himba.

The only men in the village are a guest and our interpreter; the rest are miles away with grazing cattle and goats. We tour the one room huts of sticks and cow dung, lit by fire and fumigated daily by perfumed commiphora smoke. We avoid the sacred fire pit where the Himba worship their ancestors who have lived successfully before them. We marvel at the 5-gallon (35 pound) water jugs that we watched two women carry one kilometer on their heads. We shake our heads in disbelief when learning that they never bathe (other than after childbirth) and relieve themselves in the sand outside the fence. We learn all of this while trying to avoid the goat dung, which is everywhere.

By then, we start to soak in the humanity and the sources of their happiness: adorable babies strapped to the backs of all available females to keep them close and contented. Chores shared collectively. Grandmothers watching toddlers. Lots of smiles and laughter. And a love of singing and dancing — a gift they share with Emma for her birthday. Clapping. Stomping. Twirling. Ribbing each other. Laughing. Especially the three grandmothers. Greg and I even join in, which they find hilarious (video below). Our kids return the favor by singing “Supercali” for them.

Identical Twins

We feel SO lucky to glimpse this rapidly disappearing culture in two different villages — here and outside of Serra Cafema (beyond the middle of nowhere to the absolute edge of nowhere). In Serra Cafema, we actually meet a rare set of Himba identical twins — 15-year old (approximately) girls Karime and Jeken. (The Himba donít keep track of birthdays, but rather know the context of when they were born, e.g. “during the time of the last drought when the oryx all died.”)

Two valuable lessons: Look past people’s differences to their humanity. And you can live quite happily in sand and goat dung if you have your family. Oku Heba (thank you)!

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16 Responses to “Happiness in Sand and Goat Dung”

  1. EPIC is the only word…

  2. alanna and jona 13. Aug, 2010 at 11:30 am

    AWESOME!!! AND UNFORGETTABLE!! What an amazing gift you are giving your family.

  3. WOW!!!!

  4. LOVE it!!! Can’t wait for an in person performance when you return 😉

  5. I tune in at least twice a week and am enjoying (and learning) your journey. Thank you for sharing the world outside of Dover.


  7. barry hinckley 16. Aug, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    living vicarioulsy is still livin’

  8. LOVED the story especially the video! Chippendales has called looking for Greg – saw his dancing and they are interested! Dana you were a natural!

    Thanks for the education!
    We miss you!!

  9. simply wow!

  10. Jim and Barbara Dawley 20. Aug, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    We have just spent an evening with the kids showing them your amazing videos. Aside from the many, many questions the kids had I want to know how Greg and Dana learned to dance so natively in Namibia? Perhaps the Legion??????? Very jealous.

  11. Maureen (Lapides) Pomeroy 23. Aug, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Oku Heba for sharing your journeys with us! Amazing!

  12. josie z. and Isabella J. 25. Aug, 2010 at 11:01 am

    that is awesome! my brother went to africa and he did pretty much the same thing! I am really jealous.

  13. We just wanted to see Mr. White showing his breasts! We miss you guys, all pictures are amazing!

  14. extraordinary, Greg. What an experience for your family! So many dying cultures…

    “According to UNESCO, there are an estimated 6,000 languages spoken worldwide today, and half of the world’s population speaks only eight of them. More than half now spoken by fewer than 10,000 people. Ethnologue, a reference work published by SIL International has cataloged the world’s known living languages, and it estimates that 417 are on the verge of extinction.”

  15. Absolutely FABULOUS! Also shows that it doesn’t matter what language you speak when you dance, smile and sing. The language of your heart! xo

  16. Dana, Hilarious?? This video is hysterical! Leave it to you and Greg to entertain us from so far away. When I saw this video I was in my office scream laughing so loud Dave had to come in and see too. Thanks for sharing and glad you are having a good time.