Written by Koos Verwey, owner of Epupa Falls Lodge & Campsite
2013 is to be one of the driest years in Namibia but it seems worse here in Kaokoland where it has not rained in two years. The cattle that have not been moved to greener pastures are dying in their kraals. Berrie is here on one of his routine visits to visit the Omuramba at Kapika’s village. While we are here, we are told about a woman who needs help in a place called Otjomazeva about 17km from Epupa on the main road.
At the village I am a little behind Berrie and when I meet up with Berrie again, he tells me that the woman is in a hut and we will take her to the Omuramba to join Ndjinaa there. Even with all my years’ experience in Kaokoland and the African bush, I am shocked. She is led out by hand and if I believed in the living dead, she would be it. She is a skeleton, a zombie that shows no sign of life. No words, no sign of recognition or feeling.
When we go to fetch her for her journey to the Omuramba, she rides with the other women on the back of the cruiser. At the Omuramba she is bathed and dressed. A new life is starting. But is it really?
At Epupa Falls Lodge & Campsite we have a year-end celebration every 31st December and this year is no exception. I drive to Kapika’s village to pick up his family but also the inhabitants of the Omuramba. During the course of the evening I think I once saw a little smile on Kaputu’s face, but I might as well have been mistaken.
The year has barely started when I get the news that Kaputu is sick. We take her Opuwo and then to the Oshakati state hospital. Here Berrie visits her twice and after the second visit, decides that she has to come back. On the drive back to the Omuramba, she showed signs of life. Change?
Little did we know exactly how much she would improve and surprise us. With love and care from the caregivers, changes started to occur and being around a lot I am privileged to experience so much of it.
Kaputu never wanted to take the hand of man and she never made a sound. Soon the caretakers reported that she started to talk, very softly and difficult to hear, but it was there. Not too long and the words were more clearly and she even started to take my hand when I went to visit. It is an immense pleasure to call Berrie with the good news every time that I visit.
A few weeks ago as I was off loading building material at the Omuramba, she waved at me to come to her and greet. I couldn’t believe it! Her voice was stronger, but so was she. The caretakers no longer had to feed her; she could eat by herself now. She even carried her own wash basin in and out of the tent. She goes out alone into the bush to collect the berries that she so much loves. Every time I visit, I am greeted with a smile.
Yesterday I was at the Omuramba to build the girls a shower and I was about to leave when she came to stop me. I walked back with her to her tent where she put some berries in my shirt pocket. What an immense improvement for someone who was too scared to make a sound, let alone touch a man.
For the building of the showers, I need flat stones for the foundations. Nancy, one of the caretakers, told me that Kaputu asked if she could help to collect stones. Kaputu also helps with the cooking. What is more, she is turning out into a very good singer, even better than one of my favorites in the area, a girl I call princess Kaviruru.
This morning I took a group of German tourists to Kapika’s village and the Omuramba. One of the tourists, being a doctor, asked me what medicine we were giving the women. My answer, as always, was love and good treatment. In fact, I was rather frank and told her that we would not allow any poisoning.
Kaputu was simply a skeleton and if not taken from her surroundings, she would have been dead by now. But she is alive. She is a testimony to the will power of the Himba; to their instinct to survive. Add a good measure of love and tender treatment and you have a miracle, a Kaputu.
For me it is enough to hear her talk again. To see the smile on her face. To see life. I am overwhelmed every time I think of that first time I saw her and the woman I see now.
What is equally important is what we have learned from her and Ndjinaa. It is a humbling experience for me to realise that maybe there are stronger forces at work here than just us. All over this dry rugged landscape, people have come to realise that there are more in life than just evil spirits.
Kaputu & Ndjinaa – although Kaputu is still shy and very skinny, she is alive now and is interested in her surroundings.