Her Name Was Ndjinaa

The following was written in Afrikaans by an anonymous writer who was deeply touched by the story of Ndjinaa… (Below the original piece is a translation by myself.

…haar naam was Ndjinaa

Daar is n storm in my hart wat broei. Soos Simson van ouds, n passie n droom. Dan sien ek haar vasgeketting soos n mal dier in die stof n bondel flenters bene. Haar oe is wild en verward haar gebabbel in die wind; almal lag, en is bang, die ou mal-vrou.

 Ek kyk na haar ek sien in haar verlepte oe, hoe sy smeek in haar wereld van stilte en seer. Onderhandelinge harde woorde omgee woorde sagte woorde jy is vasgevang in my.

 Dan die geklingel van n ketting wat breek jou gebreekte lyf, n siel stukkend vertrap, sak jy weg in n sinkbad in die stof. Sag gebad in die land van melk en heuning. Toegevou in meter en meters goud sag om jou lyf. Jou oe kyk na my vir n oomblik was jy daar. Dankbaar vir jou!,  witman ongeag jou kleur elke dag vir jare, myle en myle ver, het my gebabbel in die wind geloop soek na jou, tot jy my kon hoor, my roep in stile na jou. Jy het my gehoor jy het my kom gesoek en op n dag het jy my,  die malvrou uit kettings kom red, en die wereld gewys ek is net n Ovahimba vrou, vasgevang in my eie stiltes, ou jare se drome en tyd….

… her name was Ndjinaa         

 (freely translated – emdt.)

There is a storm brewing in my heart.

Like a Simpson;

I have a passion; a dream.

Then I see her,

An animal chained to the dust.

A heap of bones, shattered.

Wild eyed, the wind carry her troubled babble,

They laugh; they are scared,

The crazy old woman.

I look at her and in tired eyes

I hear her begging in a world of quiet and hurt.

We trade harsh words

Caring words

Soft words.

In me, you are captured.

Then finally,

Metal chains are cut.

Your broken body,

A trampled soul,

Eases into a sink bath on a dry earth.

Softly bathed in a world clothed with milk and honey,

Cradled around your body, meters of gold.

For a moment you are visible in tired eyes.

Thankful for you; white man!

Regardless of colour,

My babble were carried on the wind

Days, years… for miles and miles

It went to find you, white man.

You heard me,

You heard my silent cry for help.

You came looking for me

And then you came to save a crazy old woman in chains

And showed the world

An ordinary Ovahimba woman

Caught in her own silence,

In years of dreams and time gone by…

(If you have missed the story of Ndjinaa, please click here)


2014 : The Year In Review (1)

2014: The Year in Review

As we started 2015 in fifth gear, it is important for Alzheimer’s Dementia Namibia to look back at 2014 and recognise our achievements and our highlights as well as the pitfalls to learn and look forward to another year of endless surprises and achievements.

What we remember:

We remember a Kaputu that got very ill and was taken to Opuwo State Hospital. From here she just disappeared and we eventually found her in the Oshakati State Hospital in Ward 16 on a very thin ledge between life and death.

But we also remember the day that I, Berrie, had the privilege to return her to the Omaramba. When she finished her psychotic pills, Koos and I decided not to replace them or to return her to the Opuwo State Hospital.

Koos kept me up to date with Kaputu’s slow but sure revival and renewed strength. She started talking and then to eat and drink by herself. Then she started going to the bush to collect berries. The highlight came when she took berries from her collection and put some in Koos’s shirt pocket on one of his visits.

We remember how we started to take fencing and all the accessories to our new location. Mopani poles were cut and prepared for the border of Mbakutuka Komapando (MK). Gabriel worked very hard to finish the fence after Koos delivered the gates for the first ever Himba Dementia Village.

And then there was the Saturday in March that the foreigners helped us move the tented village where Ndjinaa, Kaputu and the three care workers (Tjauriza, Nancy & Venoo) have stayed for the last fourteen months to MK. On that hot Saturday Ndjinaa taught me how to listen. (You can read the full story here).

To be continued…


Kaputu’s History

Kaputu’s History & Her Healing Process

The last time that I visited Opuwo, I met Uapindika, Kaputu’s sister. Uapindika told me stories about Kaputu’s childhood that would make good thrillers.

Kaputu’s father died when she was still very young and her mother then decided to move to Angola to her family. Kaputu’s grandmother decided that Kaputu was not allowed to move to Angola and kept her here on the Namibian side. Why she decided this, I really don’t understand as Uapindika says the grandmother never like Kaputu and she immediately tied her to a tree. Maybe it was because she needed help in the homestead and believed that Kaputu could be rid of the evil spirits that possessed her, who knows? But she took her to a witch doctor to do just that. No evil spirits emerged and on their way back to their kraal (homestead), Kaputu grabbed a rock and hit the grandmother on the head and tried to run away. Needless to say, this was a futile effort and Kaputu ended up being permanently tied to a tree.

A few years later her mother passed away and soon afterwards her grandmother also passed away. Whether this was fortunate or not, I also cannot quite decide as an uncle then decided to take Kaputu in. He basically tied her in the hut during the day and who knows what happened during the night as Kaputu soon became pregnant. During her second pregnancy, she conceived twins but neither survived. Her uncle then decided to contact Canagombe Hembinda to take her away. It is Canagombe who contacted me in November 2013 to come and see Kaputu just after the birth of her fourth child. (Another rape?)

Koos from Epupa Falls Lodge called me about a week ago, very excited. He had just returned from Mbakutuka Komapando (Our Himba Dementia Village) to off load a load of Makalani branches that we needed to use to cover the fence surrounding the village.  The reason for his excitement – while offloading he noticed Kaputu coming from the tent with a bath of water that they use to ‘shower’ in the mornings on her way to water the vegetable garden that we have planted. This is the same Kaputu who could not eat or drink by herself in the state hospital, let alone walk.

And yesterday, 22nd April 2014, Koos calls me again. This time he is even more excited than the previous week. During Koos’s last visit at Mbakutuka Komapando to offload the final batch of Makalani branches, Kaputu sits under the shade of an old Mopani tree and waves for him to come closer. Koos walks to Kaputu and she greets him with a strong voice and even stronger grip, smiling all the while. She then continues to eat her “pap en sous” (porridge with a meaty sauce). The same Kaputu who had to be force-fed in hospital.

UAPINDIKA & CORNELUIS (Translator & Witch Doctor)

Uapindika & Cornelius (Translator & Witch Doctor

It has been three weeks since Koos and I decided not to renew Kaputu’s prescription of psychotic medicine. Koos: “She is becoming human again, Berrie!” And how true are his words?!

Moving to Mbakutuka Komapando

8th March 2014 – Moving to the new village!

– written by Berrie Holtzhausen

We arrived at Kapika’s village (Omuramba) with an army of helpers. Nearly every staff member of Epupa Falls Lodge & Campsite was present as well as our friends from the Czech Republic – Martin, John, Als and Susana. (I can’t remember the names of the other two). Although the Czechs are probably used to a lot more, they did not mind travelling on the back of Koos’s pick-up. They helped pack and unpack the Cruiser, clean the area and put up the new tent.

Czechs on Cruiser

Team Czech arriving with Koos on his pick-up

Czech at work

One of the Czech ladies working hard on her holiday.

Since the day I have met Ndjinaa, doors have opened for me both locally and internationally. But what I have really learned is that we as human beings are all equal. We are all children of God and we all need unconditional love. What happened today in Mbakutuka Komapando was a team effort between six Czechs, two Afrikaners, seven Himba’s, three caretakers and four of Epupa Falls Lodge’s staff. This for me is church – the true body of Christ.

Ndjinaa's old home

 Ndjinaa posing for one last photo where she has lived freely since 12 – 12 – 2012 until 7 -3 – 2014.

After the photo, Ndjinaa and Kaputu walked the 500m to their new home. Ndjinaa walked fast and quite far ahead of Kaputu, Venoo and Nancy. It was as if she was in a hurry to get to her new village where she would be allowed be Himba and human again. It was a long wait for her to be acknowledged again as part of her tribe, to be woman and grandmother of purpose again. But she carries a powerful message to Africa: ‘Let the people with dementia live a quality life until they die. Uhuru not only for certain Africans, but for all Africans.’

Venoo & Kaviruru on way to MK

Venoo & Kaviruru on their way to their new village.

Waving Goodbye

Waving the old village goodbye


Arriving at their new village

Ndjinaa in a hurry

Ndjinaa in a hurry to her new village

Upon reaching Mbakutuka Komapando, Ndjinaa and Kaputu sat down in the shade of the many Mopanie trees. It was as if they were watching the progress of their new village. Then Ndjinaa started giving me instructions through the translator. “You need to make a hole” she said. I asked Grace, my translator what she meant. “A whole for water,” Ndjinaa replied. And then I understood. Ndjinaa wanted a bore hole or a well. When she noticed that I started to understand she said; “And then you must build a place to put the water inside so that it can be kept cool.” Then it hit, when the Himba’s built a village, they dug a bore hole and a hut around it where they kept their maize and other food. “We will do that Ndjinaa,” I told her. I could see she was impressed with my understanding. I also realized that she was no longer asking or requesting – she was rather giving orders now as the chief of her onganda (village). She closed off saying; “ I want tobacco from Sesfontein”.

Kaputu & Ndjinaa under the tree

Kaputu & Ndjinaa in the shade…. watching…

For twenty years; “I want tobacco from Sesfontein” was simply her way of asking (begging) for water and food. Ndjinaa now was way cleverer than I realized. She led me step by step to tell me that we were all so busy building and moving that we did not offer her or Kaputu any water. I corrected this ignorance quickly by asking someone to bring them water. On the day I first met Ndjinaa she also used this sentence. Everyone always used to give her tobacco, but I told my care workers to first give her water, then food and finally tobacco when she used this sentence. And it always worked. She either wanted water or food. This taught me to listen, respond and listen to people living with dementia. It is possible to hear people with dementia even if you do not speak the same language or have the same cultural background. It is a choice that one needs to make. And if you really want to and you take time, you can learn a person’s life story.

Returning Home with Kaputu

Returning Home with Kaputu

7th March 2014 – Written by Berrie Holtzhausen

Zelma and I arrived at Ward 16 well before 9 o’clock. We were directed by the nurse who only counts pills around the corner directly across the grated doors of the female section. Yes, the nurse was still counting pills. When we arrived in Ward 16, five policemen were already there with a man I take to be in his thirties. They were handcuffing him and then pushed him into a room that I assumed must be an examination room. After about five minutes, three nurses came out of the room with him and dragged him to the men’s section where they forcefully removed his clothes and dressed him in the blue pajamas all the ‘inmates’ wear.

Kaputu walking to her freedom

Kaputu with the male nurse

Not a word was spoken to us and when I asked for assistance, I was told to wait. So we waited. After about thirty minutes, Kaputu appeared in the long corridor with the only male nurse on duty. I found this really odd and this occupied my thoughts all the way back to Epupa. Why was the only male nurse the one taking care of the female patients while all the female nurses were either in front at reception or on duty with the male patients? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Fifteen minutes later we were on our way with Kaputu; or so I thought. When we reached my pick-up, Kaputu refused to get in. I told Zelma to ask her what the problem was and if she needed to go to the bathroom. I could not think that it would be the latter, as she just came from her ward where there is a bathroom. But it was and off they went to the hospital bathroom. When they returned Zelma told me Kaputu was in real trouble as her bladder really was full. This added to my suspicions about the nurses and their different positions.

Before we left Oshakati, Zelma asked Kaputu if she needed anything. Kaputu replied that she was very thirsty and hungry. We quickly stopped to buy her water and I gave the Ensure to Zelma that I prepared for Kaputu. She refused to drink the Ensure and when offered an apple, she just held it. She took a sip from the water and for the next 225km she turned away from Zelma every time the latter offered her something to drink or the Ensure.

Kaputu with the empty bottle Ensure

Kaputu with the empty bottle Ensure

Two hours later we arrived in Opuwo, the capital of the Himba people and a town very familiar to Kaputu. Then something odd happened. As we drove into town, Kaputu smiled and started eating the apple and finished the bottle of Ensure. She even showed me the bottle as proof that it was empty.

 Due to the rain, it took us another two and a half hours to reach Kapika’s Omuramba. It was still raining when we arrived at the Omuramba. Kaputu surprised me yet again as she got out of the car and walked straight to Ndjinaa’s tent. As it was dark inside the tent, she hesitated for a moment at the door and then went in and sat in front of Ndjinaa. In all the time that she was here, she has never done anything on her own. In my heart I was hoping for the start of something very positive!

Kaputu outside the tent

Kaputu walking to Ndjinaa’s tent

Kaputu inside the tent

Kaputu sitting in front of Ndjinaa

Our reward is to experience moments like this. Seeing Kaputu happy and at home. I am not a photographer, but have realized that a camera is a great investment to capture these unforgettable moments.

I left for Mbakutuka Komapando – the first Himba dementia village in Namibia, just 500m from Kapika’s village. The name was suggested by Koos about a year ago when he was travelling in Angola and we were still dreaming of this village. It means; ‘Here I was freed from my chains’.

I was hopeful that we were going to move Ndjinaa and Kapika to the new village tomorrow. Upon seeing the finished fence, I was, for once, speechless. No words can describe what I felt that moment. These feelings do not come all at once. They have been building up, day-by-day, as we worked on this idea that became a reality. Mbakutuka Komapando – a sign of hope for the Namibian people living with dementia and other brain diseases in my beloved country, here on the African continent. ‘Not because we were born here, but because Africa was born in us.’ – Author unknown

Kapika marking the new village

The new village The village fence

I only arrived in Epupa late in the afternoon. I was tired and emotionally drained. It was a long road from the first day we took Kaputu to the Omuramba, and a much bumpier road that then one I had to travel to meet Ndjinaa back on the 7th October 2012.

As always Koos welcomed me at Epupa Falls Lodge. He showed me six campers from the Czech Republic who wanted to help us in the morning to move the village. If I remember correctly, they actually changed their plans to stay a day longer here to be able to do this. I went to fetch the bottle of whisky in the pick-up; Koos and I had a lot to discuss.

No Nation is Free before every Person in a Nation is not Free… Continued

No nation is free before everyone is free?

Written by Berrie Holtzhausen

… Continued

I asked her new ‘friends’ to take Kaputu back to where they found her. Kaputu was confused and scared as more and more inmates bundled around her.

Next I asked the nurse to take me to the doctor. This magnificent hospital only had two doctors and I was very fortunate to be allowed into the room of one of the doctors. The doctor was a Tanzanian and very helpful, but also didn’t know Kaputu or her medical situation. She nevertheless promised to look into Kaputu’s case and that she would inform me the next morning.

I needed a place to sleep for the night. (And anyone that has been to Oshakati will be able to tell you that choice here is limited!) I was hoping for the best; maybe she would release Kaputu like they did Tanda in Otjiwarongo. Or they would transfer her back to Opuwo where we could pick her up again.

I am convinced that places like Ward 16 needs to be closed down. They need to be banned from existence. But then where would the people go? I believe that we as a nation need to build more homes like Yakandonga for our people with dementia and other brain diseases. Before I left for Oshakati, I met Koos at the new Himba dementia village which we called ‘the place where I was freed from my chains.’ I took Ndjinaa there to see her new home. A Ndjinaa that was very different from the one I first met 16 months ago. She is still confused and struggles to talk coherently, but she is alive again. When she saw the new ‘village’ she started talking about her six children and all the names of  the different Himba villages where she has lived over the last 70 years. My studies at UTAS suddenly came in very handy!

Ndjinaa 07_10_12

Ndjinaa on the 7th October 2012, chained inside her hut, crying for help.

Ndjinaa 12_12_12

Ndjinaa on the 12th December 2012, on her way to be unchained and cared for.

Ndjinaa 10_2_14

10th October 2014: Ndjinaa [back] on her way to see her new home under the shade of mopanie trees.

Ndjinaa 10_2_14b

Ndjinaa being loved under the arm of Gabriel, the man who translated her first words for me: “I want tobacco from Sesfontein” – words which explained her unmet needs.

The contrast between the last two photos and the grated door and Kaputu on the floor is the reason why ADN [ Alzheimer Dementia Namibia ] was founded and now we need your support. We need every little bit of help we can get to help our people. 

Contact us for more information:


The Dementia Village in Progress

Gabriel is busy putting up the fence and then we need to drill a waterhole, put up water tanks, install solar energy, build houses and and….

We hope that the Himba-dementia village will break down the stigma, created by superstition and confirmed by religious dogma, over the years to come.

Dementia Village Poles Dementia Village Poles2



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 & Ndjina Kaputu_1

Kaputu & Ndjinaa – although Kaputu is still shy and very skinny, she is alive now and is interested in her surroundings. 

Meeting Kaputu

Before we can get back to the deck at Epupa Falls Lodge and our whiskeys, we are directed to a village about 13km from Kapika’s. Apparently they need our help and this is where we find our next Himba in need of care, Kaputu.

Kaputu most certainly is the first Himba I have come across with own birth certificate. She was born on the 8th August 1975, which would make her 39. Kaputu cannot speak. Not a single word. She doesn’t know how to eat either. She just sits there with no interest in the world. She is extremely dirty and even more neglected.

I ask permission to pick her up tomorrow when we return to Kapika’s omuramba. We will first need to bath her, cut her nails and dress her nicely like we did with Ndjinaa. Then we will start caring for her. The Himba’s from her village agree and so we have a new mission.

Kaputu used to be able to speak but after the birth of her first child she almost completely stopped to speak. First she still spoke but a few sentences and then she completely stopped. The women tell me that Kaputu will sit in the sun the whole day if they don’t tell her to move into the shade. There is nothing wrong with her hearing or understanding. She has just lost the will to live.

I cannot Kaputuhelp but to ask myself whether this is a form of extreme depression of even dementia. Or is she traumatized? What caused her to stop living; to stop speaking?

Like with Ndjinaa, I attempt to find out what has happened to Kaputu. She definitely wasn’t born like this but her personal & medical history is non-existent. We cannot find any information about her. She doesn’t belong to the village where we found her and she is not family of any of the Himba’s in the village. The Himba women from the village explained that they picked her up after her father’s funeral a few months ago. She has no family except her two children.

I find no answers to my questions. The only thing that I know for certain is that Kaputu needs to have a life of quality. And anything that we, ADN offer her is far more than what she currently has.
Maybe there is a doctor out there who can help us. Someone who can help us build this village or even someone who can find water in the area and drill a hole. It seems to me that have been assigned as the “guards” of Ndjinaa and Kaputu. But we will need all the help that we can possible get.

Understanding the Ovahimba Culture

It is another hot and humid day in the Kunene. We had a tiring day, but a successful one. Kapika seems to get angry rather quickly and he has now decided that he doesn’t want to give us the piece of land he previously promised but would rather have his sister, Ndjinaa, as close as possible to him. He even suggested we build our village right next to his, and it can be as big as we would like. In fact, the furthest border can be as far as his eye can see. Not that, that can be very far at his age…

Humor in any African culture is a difficult concept and here at Kapika’s omuramba, it is even more difficult. But in an effort to get Kapika relaxed, I ask him for the hand of Ndjinaa, to marry her. Fortunately for me, all our listeners caught on and laughed. After a while even Kapika smiled and gave me his hand. (Does that mean, yes?!) And so we sit under the Mopani trees and discuss the future of Ndjinaa and our Himba dementia village. The discussion is open to everyone and the family comes to listen and take part in the discussions. Taking part of course means they just listen…

During our Mopani discussions, bewitching is discussed. A whole new world opens up to me and I think that maybe I am starting to understand bewitching as the Himba perceive it. Here, bewitching is not just a belief – it is the cause of someone’s illness. Not even death is perceived as natural. You die because some bewitched you.

In my struggle to understand witchcraft in an African community, I compare it to the laws of nature. If you throw a stone into the air, gravity ensures that it returns to earth. And this is the law of nature. But witchcraft works different. It is the rules by which community is governed by. If you step out of line, you will be forced by witchcraft to step back into line. If you were born a king, you will die a king and the opposite is also true; if you were born a slave, you will die a slave. If you try to rise above your role or position in community, witchcraft will put you back into your place by restoring the laws that is unchangeable. This, it seems to me, is a life of fear.

According to Kapika, Ndjinaa has been called to guard or protect his life by carrying his soul inside her. She has therefore been bewitched so that she cannot harm her own life. He believes that if she dies, he will also die and if he dies first, so will she. It is very important to him that he stays in control of her life and well-being, because her life is also his life. I start to understand that for the last 20 years he has lived in fear. Ndjinaa’s decline in health is the only reason why Kapika has assigned his two wives to look after her. This of course put dementia care in the Ovahimba culture in a whole new light.

Concerned about the dementia care project, I ask Kapika if he then prefers us to rather pull out and leave. Chaos. No! No! Kapika explains that for the last 20 years he has been searching for answers and asking for help – from witchdoctors, traditional healers, the church and medical doctors but nobody could help him. Kapika says that he now believes that the disease is from God and not a bewitching case. I am of course now totally confused. As Koos, I and Christofer and Johan from Sweden drive back to Epupa Falls Lodge, we decide to continue this discussion over a glass of whiskey. We need a lot of inspiration as Kapika wants his answer tomorrow. My gut is to stay and build the village next to him. My lovely wife calls during the evening and as concerned wives do, she asks if the whiskey is to acquire wisdom as too much of a good thing can turn one foolish.