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?!

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.

Kaputu

Kaputu

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. 

A New Beginning

20 November 2013 by Berrie Holtzhausen

Today I am terribly excited. Ndjinaa will have a “friend” before the sun sets tonight. But first we head out to the village where we found Kaputu and meet with the headman.

As the day before, we sit down with the headman and try to find out more about Kaputu’s history but to no avail. He doesn’t know anything we do not already know. We then ask his permission to move her to Kapika’s village where we intend to take care of her. We also ask him if we can take his wife along to Kapika’s village for a few days as she has taken care of Kaputu for the last few months. This will make Kaputu feel safe and more at home.

Kaputu is called and she appears from a hut with nothing. She has no blanket or cow skin (that serves as the Himba bed). Just like Ndjinaa, she has nothing but also less than Ndjinaa. Kaputu has no family and is a very lonely soul. I can only hope to find her family. The thought of her loneliness forces me to vow that I will never again say that I am alone or that life is a struggle.

We arrive at Kapika’s village where we build our standard “Kunene bathroom” like we did for Ndjinaa. The care workers bath Kaputu, cut her nails and dress her in new clothes. She appears as a new human and I wonder if I can make an appointment at Kapika’s beauty parlor. I also want to ask Kapika’s wives if they would be willing to dress and paint Ndjinaa and Kaputu like the traditional Himba women do.

Kaputu. What does it mean? It sounds like the German word ‘kaputt’ which means broken and useless. I can only hope that we will be able to help and possibly heal this broken soul. She was once the daughter of someone who must have loved her. She is the mother of a child who is scared of her and has adopted another mother. The saying here in Africa is not Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”, but rather “I am because of other people” and I tend to agree more with the latter than with René Descartes.

Today was again a very emotional day for all of us. Koos is already busy planning what to buy for Kaputu that she will be able to call her own. I am glad Johan and his family could experience this with us.

May love be the only law that governs our lives and the purpose of ADN.

Kaputu1 Kaputu2 Kaputu3 Kaputu4 Kaputu5 Kaputu6 Kaputu7  Nancy, Kaputu, headman's wifeKoos, Berrie & Johan

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.

Ndjinaa Follow Up – January 2013

Ndjinaa 31 Dec 2012

Ndjinaa 31 Dec 2012

Ndjinaa through the eyes of Koos Verwey – owner of Epupa Falls Lodge

Living 25 years in Kaokoland gives one a certain insight that would not have been acquired in any other way. And so my story and knowledge of Ndjinaa starts 20 years ago.

From the beginning I made a point of getting to know chief Kapika who is the Himba headman of the area. Once, while visiting chief Kapika at his Omuramba (kraal) I noticed her. She wasn’t allowed near visitors but from time to time I caught a glimpse of her. As the years crawled on and I became more familiar with the inner workings of the Omuramba, I got to see a bit more of her – but always at a distance. I tried to enquire about her, but did not learn much. I knew something was wrong, but not having enough knowledge about the Himba, I could not put my finger on it.

I did not give up on her and I kept on trying to get closer to her. I was told that she was bewitched and should stay away. Although she could not speak coherently, I knew that she wasn’t mad. Through her eyes I could literally see her soul. The wires and chains bounding her to whatever post the Himba could find could not break her spirit. Beneath the filth and dirt, the true woman was lurking; waiting.

But my lack of knowledge prevented me from intervening. I simply had no idea what was wrong. Too make matters more delicate, she was the sister of chief Kapika. I did not want to strain the very sensitive relationship between us. I only knew that everyone in the village was afraid of her and that they avoided her at all cost. I also knew that she was fed like a dog with only a bit of water and food. In days of draught, she was the last one to be fed.

The years passed and then my path crossed with Berrie Holtzhausen – an old school friend of mine from back in the seventies. I had no idea that upon meeting him, that freedom was in sight for this spirited lady. When I took Berrie to visit chief Kapika in October 2012, I still had no vision of the road before us. I did not, for one moment, think that she would be freed and would be given a chance to live like a real person.

Afterwards, back on the deck at my place, Berrie explained to me the symptoms of dementia. It was clear; Ndjinaa had dementia and was very far from being bewitched. We brainstormed throughout that Sunday afternoon. In November 2012, Berrie returned and we went to see chief Kapika about his sister. I was worried that he would take our plans the wrong way, but he completely surprised us and agreed that Berrie could come back and take the chains off Ndjinaa and arrange for caretakers at his Omuramba.

Berrie returned on 12 December 2012 and in a very emotional moment, cut the chains from Ndjinaa’s feet. She was given a bath and clean clothes to wear. When she came out from behind the bush, walking upright – my heart jumped – she was human again. Her spirit was set free.

On the evening of 31st December 2012, I invited chief Kapika’s village to our campsite here at the Epupa Falls for the yearly party. As the evening progressed and the party got livelier, I took Ndjinaa onto the dance floor. For a few moments the whole village came to their feet, in awe. Ndjinaa was reborn. A moment engraved on my mind.

For the first time in a very long time, she eats properly. She sleeps on a mattress and walks with the caretakers. Nobody is scared of her and the children of the village plays around her. Her own children are proud of her. To see her as one of the Omuramba, is incredibly special.

Not too long ago, I met up with a famous missionary here in Kaokoland. He knew about Ndjinaa and after I told him her story, he asked me: “What medicine are you giving her?” I smiled and said: “Love and proper care.” He was astonished and could not believe me.

Working with dementia in an African culture is a minefield. There are no handbooks to help us on this learning curve. Ndjinaa is the first person to come from the African bush with Alzheimer’s. The first, on my long road here in Kaokoland. I came to love this woman. Through her so many more gates have opened for me. Her story deepens and enriches my life.

A New Beginning 12th December 2012

The Headman, the Hunter, the Builder and of course myself

A story with many parts – written by Berrie Holtzhausen

Today I’ll begin at the end of this story. It is early, just before the sun tints the horizon a glowing red above the Mopani trees that surround me. The time of day when you can actually see the footpath but you carry your torch just in case the long black thing in the path is not a Mopani branch but a snake. It’s that time of the morning and I’m out of my bed (the back seat of my truck). “To do what?” you ask. I’m driven by the strongest need that nature can possibly throw at you. Physically strong, I mean. It is so strong it had poor Simpson on his knees when his hair was still long and he hasn’t had a bite yet of the Delilah’s forbidden fruit.

You need to understand this – to go the toilet under normal circumstances to the common man, is something you do when you become aware of the strong natural force within you, without thinking twice. Next to an Ovahima settlement, the need for a toilet takes planning. Especially when you are white, a stranger to the environment and use to living in 2012. Here you don’t plan your eating and drinking habits according to your hunger or thirst. No, you plan it according to safety and privacy. You need to do your “strong-man” routine by dusk. The time of day when the Mopani trees are silhouetted against the horizon, when you can still see without your torch but you don’t see the sun anymore. After that, you eat the bare minimum. Then you have the privilege, like I have now, to move when you can just make out that long black thing in the road is a branch after all.

 With my return to my truck, the builder comes running and asks for a lift to Epupa. It is still dead quiet in the Onganda settlement and he just has to fetch his bags. But before he returns, the head man’s second wife is also there to ask for a lift to the clinic in Epupa – the one where a Mopani tree serves as the waiting room. With the returning builder comes headman Kapika and behind him the hunter. To the hunter you do not say no as there is an iron sword point behind his ear and in his hand a knobkerrie and gun without bullets (I think). At his side he carries a hunting knife with which you can behead an elephant (should the desire ever arise) after you have killed it with the gun. He looks unfriendly and I decide that it is not the time to argue because Kapika needs to show the grounds for my dementia project, his second wife didn’t look good yesterday and the builder cut 16 thick Mopani wood pegs for the project… and so we start a long hot day.

 It remains a unique day with an even longer and warmer night on the most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on. No, that is a lie. It is the third most uncomfortable bed I have tried sleeping on. First prize goes to the Bushmen beds (thus named by my wife due to their length) at a certain overnight lodge in Namibia on the Botswana border. Second prize goes to the most northern point on Isle of Sky, west of Scotland in a town called Uig where Pop and I slept on springs instead of a mattress while the rather thin curtains failed miserably at keeping out the light until 11pm.

I will now relay the story of 12-12-12 as it happened:         

 A lot of us dream to go back in time or to move forward past a lot of bad times to so called better times. I know of at least a few people who would like to develop a time machine to return in time… to before their wedding or into the future to the death of a certain in-law. Here in the Kunene you move back in time with every kilometre travelled. At the moment I’m sitting about 30km from the Epupa Falls where I spent last night and had a fantastic bed with a shower and toilet no more than 2 meters from me. I had enough water to drink and to shower in, a cold beer with the perfect view across the Kunene. Now I’m sitting 30km further under the shade of a Mopani tree, extremely thirsty with a bottle of lukewarm water, a spade and a roll of toilet paper. With the latter I will need to walk about 500m should the need arise. No power to charge my laptop, so I need to write with the speed of a millipede’s legs once it starts walking and of course, no reception.

Half past four this morning while trying to sleep, I thought about this operation that waited. It was then that it hit, today was 12-12-12. When I came yesterday, we put up the big army tent under this very Mopani tree. We replaced the tent poles with the Mopani pegs with the help of the official builder from the Onganda settlement. These pegs are much stronger than any iron tent pole found on the market. I also had a meeting with Kapika and his two wives about the process that needed to happen. You see, I needed to literally remove chains from an elderly lady, she needed to be washed and given fresh and clean clothes.

The purpose of my visit spreads like a wildfire and before long a family member of the elderly lady stands before me. He says he knows about a man in his 30’s that is like his elderly aunt. Not very long after that, there are 10, no 12 people like her. But then I ask him to tell me about this aunt of his that I came to help.

I ask him her name and in the sand he writes; NDJINAA. Then he tells me her incredible story. When her mother was pregnant with her, she started bleeding and went to the headman. They decided to give her some traditional medicine to bring out the baby as they saw the bleeding as a bad omen. But before they could give her the medicine, Ndjinaa was born.  Her name means; I know your mother, but I do not know you. This, my friend, tells me that she came into this life as a threat and not as a blessing. There are several more stories about her. About people who were murdered for their belongings and now their souls have returned and live in her. Stories very similar to our own Friday 13th believes.

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With the arrival of Koos we can finish setting up the tent. We cut her chains, remove all the old straps and provide her with a nice big bath. (I brought along about 100l of water in plastic drums). The three care workers (also trained by us) give her a bath and new, clean materials to be used as a dress that I bought yesterday in a tin hut at Epupa for N$35 per meter. Four meters of fabric and 2 dresses – the most she’s ever had in the last 20 years. She even slept on the ground because the skin she used to sleep on got too dirty and should have been burned a long time ago.

While the care workers give her a bath, Koos and I negotiate with Kapika and his men about the ground we need for the Ovahimba Dementia settlement that we are planning.  I also indicate that every family that brings a person with dementia must donate two goats or a cow and must build a hut for the sick person. With that, our three care workers appear with a brand new grandmother… and she smiles. She even walks upright and takes a longer step with every uncertain step into the future.

Ndjinaa, Clean and Free

I suspect that she had very little drinking water in the last 20 years. Everybody stand and clap hands.

With the joyous celebrations in full swing, Kapika moves the meeting to another Mopani tree and only invites Koos, myself and Juanine who translates for us. He makes his vehicle available under the agreement that we find a responsible driver. Then he sends Koos and Juanine away, calls one of the care workers to translate and tells me that he will donate a goat to the three care workers. I wonder if he has realised that the caring process will be an expensive operation.

I try to have a conversation with aunt Ndjinaa, but when I call her by name, she says I shouldn’t talk to her; I will only bring bad luck on myself.

The police and six soldiers also appear. They are form Okongwati, a town about 30km south from here. The bush telegram has also reached them. I have the opportunity to give them a lesson on dementia. They tell me they know Ndjinaa and that she has been chained for as long as they can remember. I then take them into the tent to show them the new Ndjinaa. The woman among them (called Hello) cannot help but smile.

I hope the sun will set quickly now. That, with the sun, the flies and the heat will disappear. But then the mosquitoes come. OK, as long as the sun just sets. Then I still need to go sort out this “strong-man”. I will sleep under my truck tonight to see how the situation with aunt Ndjinaa develops. She will sleep with the care workers in the tent. Here, where I sit, I can hear them talk. Every now and again she also comments on something.

12-12-12 has been one of the most beautiful days in my life even when I consider that I had a spade instead of a toilet, that I had to sleep on the backseat of my double cab truck, have to sit under a Mopani and type for dear life due to a very quick fading battery, without any possibility of cell phone reception or a fridge with cold water or beer… I had the opportunity to see a person freed from chains. And I know that 12-12-12 only comes along every 100 years. I hope that then they will also have power, running water and air conditioned houses – where our white men and women can survive for longer than a day. And still I wonder: do they want it? I do like to think so. Especially when you consider that the headman’s wife kissed my hand when I gave her 20 litres of water and his second wife asked me to charge her phone in my truck.

Ndjinaa, Clean and asleep

The night went well. I only heard her twice when she called for a care worker to take her to the bush toilet. I don’t think she’s had this much fluid in a very long time.

I conclude that all normal functioning, human beings require only the basics in life. Like the one Ovahimba said this morning, all people like Ndjinaa need, is love.