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…



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.

MBAKUTUKA KOMAPANDO [Here I was freed from my chains]

Written by Berrie Holtzhausen

6th March 2014 is a day to remember in Namibia. President Hifikepunye Pohamba and the Cabinet have called on all Namibians to join them in a National Day of Prayer for the gender-based violence in Namibia. (Since January 2013, 36 women have died at the hands of their lovers.) The President even asked all bottle store owners to close for the day as both political and religious leaders believe that alcohol and drugs play a role in the abuse of women. (This of course is not the whole truth, is it?). I want to applaud the government for taking a stand on this sensitive issue and in acknowledging our dependency on God. This is quite a step forward in any secular government.

Secondly, today is the 57th Anniversary of Ghana’s Independence which is supposed to celebrate the freedom of every Ghanaian. But is every Ghanaian truly free? What about the witch camps where people with dementia and other brain diseases are being fenced in because they are regarded as witches and are seen as dangerous? What about the church camps where the ones that are freed from the witch camps are fenced in with no food and water until they are delivered from their demons? When will these people be free?

When talking about the maltreatment and violence against people living with dementia, I cannot stress more that alcohol and drugs are definitely not to blame. The culprits here are superstition and ignorance. These are the main reasons why people without dementia commit crimes against those with dementia. And that brings me to Ward 16, Oshakati, where I left Kaputu nearly three weeks ago. I promised her that I would take her back to Ndjinaa and the first Himba Dementia Village which we have called Mbakutuka Komapando which means “Here I was freed from my chains.”

6th March really only started for me when I stopped at the Oshivelo Gate on my way to Oshakati. A young female officer asked for my driver’s license and reason for visiting Oshakati. I cannot help but to love such questions, because it gives me the green light to talk about ADN. While I was telling her our story, I noticed in my rear view mirror that I was blocking traffic, but she just directed them passed me. She was deeply interested and when I finished, she said that I just described her mother living in a village near Eenhana. I gave her my business card and asked her to contact me. I really wanted to meet her mother.

Nearly the same happened at Etuna Guest House where the receptionist, Nathalie, told me about her mother who got sick and according to the doctor, she too is mentally ill. Juanine from Epupa also called to ask if I would stop in Opuwo to see a family just south of town that has a mother that acts the same as Ndjinaa. Is this coincidence or a bright orange light warning us that dementia and other brain diseases are more common in Namibia than previously thought?

And then I went to Ward 16. The same sister from three weeks ago was still counting pills. I now seriously doubt whether any of the patients can still be hungry after that amount of pills. When I close my eyes, I can see the nurse counting tablets. Does one get white-chocolate-coated Smarties? I sure hope so!

The Tanzanian doctor was in and she immediately called the sister to fetch Kaputu. I waited about twenty minutes before she returned with Kaputu. She was stronger and her eyes seemed alive again. When asked a question, she made a sound in answer. The doctor asked if she knew me, and she turned to me offering me a smile – or was that my imagination.

While the doctor and I waited for the nurse to bring Kaputu, she told me to return at the end of March to fetch Kaputu. I then started telling her how ADN got involved in the Cunene Region and how I was on my way there to help Koos and the team to move Ndjinaa to Mbakutuka Komapando. At the end of my story, I showed her the three pictures of Ndjinaa when we freed her. At first, I could see the doctor thought I was telling her some kind of fable. With Kaputu now in the room, she was shocked when she saw the pictures. She now looked at Kaputu and again asked her if she wanted to go home. Again Kaputu made a sound and smiled. The doctor immediately started to give orders to the sisters to prepare Kaputu for her return home in the morning with me.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ndjinaa after ADN freed her

I wasn’t at any prayer meetings today. In fact, I probably interrupted one when I stopped at the closed gate of Etuna Guest House, pressing the buzzer with nobody to open for me. I looked at my watch and realized it was 13h00 – the time for the one minute silence for all Namibian people. I returned to my pick-up and got silent on my own thanking God that I was able to return to Opuwo tomorrow with Kaputu.

I bought Kaputu some ENSURE (an energy drink) to drink on the road back to Opuwo. I have no idea what happened to her dress, but luckily I will have Zelma with me tomorrow (The bar tender of Epupa Falls Lodge). We can then just quickly stop at PEP Stores to buy Kaputu something suitable.

To me, prayer is every action and reaction that I am busy with as I am fully aware that we all live in the shadow of God’s loving hand.

No nation is free before everyone isn’t free? (Part 2)

Written by Berry Holtzhausen – 11 February 2014

I have to be on time for my appointment with the Tanzanian doctor, so I arrive at exactly ten minutes to nine at Ward 16. Already there are between thirty and forty patients waiting for the doctor. The same nurse as yesterday greets me at the reception desk. Ironically, she is also doing exactly the same as yesterday – counting tablets that to me looks exactly like Smarties. She directs me to the same desk as yesterday to wait there for a nurse who can assist me. But today, she speaks to the other nurses in her language and it is clear that they are talking about me. One of the nurses comes to me and asks me to wait a little bit.

Kaputu with the nurseThis last nurse walks to the grated door where at least ten of the ‘inmates’ are already on their post. One of them even has all her earthly belongings with her. She is probably hopeful of being released today. Maybe this is her daily routine? Whatever the case, this redefines hope for me.

After a while, the nurse returns with Kaputu. From my perspective, it is a new Kaputu. She is still very weak but she can walk on own again, even if it only ten meters at a time. The nurse was holding a medical file, something that was not available yesterday because nobody could reach the doctor.

She, the nurse, calls me to follow her and Kaputu into the doctor’s office. We pass all the patients who have been waiting since day break to see the doctor. It hits me that that the doctor has been waiting for me to come first. Once inside, the doctor I explained that she has seen Kaputu yesterday after I had left. She explains to me that Kaputu is very weak and that the nurses will have to feed her every day and see to it that she drinks water. She also says that she will need to run more blood tests on Kaputu, but that she is fairly sure that Kaputu will be ableto go home in about three weeks’ time. She asks me for Kaputu’s medical history and life story. Of course I know so precious little about her that it is difficult to make sense from any of it. But I still tell her everything I know.

Before I leave, I ask the nurse assisting Kaputu to translate something to Kaputu. I kneel down in front of Kaputu and softly call her by her name. I promise Kaputu that I will take her back to Ndjinaa, Venoo, Tjauriza and Nancy – that I will return her to Kapika’s Omaramba. I ask her to eat her food and drink her water so that she can stronger and that we can go home.

Then Kaputu does something very odd. In all the time that I have known her, she has never followed anyone anywhere let alone gets up one her own and goes somewhere. But now, as I get up, she stands and follows me to the door. The doctor and I smile as we realize that Kaputu has in fact understood me.

I leave the hospital feeling much more relieved than yesterday. In my pocket I have the doctor’s details and an agreement that as soon as Kaputu is better, I can come pick her up. Both the nurse and the doctor promised to take good care of Kaputu and ensure that she eats and drinks.

We have a long way to go in Namibia (Africa?) but with the support of doctors like the one I have just met, I am hopeful that we can win this struggle for the freedom of people living with brain diseases and other brain dysfunctions.

No Nation is Completely Free before Every Person is not Free Either (Part 1)

No nation is free before everyone is free?

Written by Berrie Holtzhausen

It is my personal point of view that a nation cannot be free if each and every person in that nation is not free. My experiences over the last two weeks have confirmed to me that people with mental illnesses and brain diseases are not free – not because of their illnesses, but because of the superstitious beliefs that surround these illnesses. Beliefs and religions that create the perception that the brain is a “spiritual organ” for supernatural powers. These beliefs and ideologies seem to give people the right to discriminate against a person living with a mental illness or brain disease. Especially if that mental illness or brain disease only appeared later in the life of a said person.

But before I jump the gun, let me start from the beginning.

It started in the last week of January when Deleen, one of our employees at Yakandonga phoned me and told me that one of our ‘patients’, Tanda is spitting blood. I asked Deleen to immediately take Tanda to the state hospital in Otjiwarongo. They needed to admit her for blood tests etc. Two weeks before that, I myself, also had to take Kaputu to the state hospital in Opuwo because she didn’t want to eat or drink anything and when she stood upright, her urine just started flowing.

During the evening of the 31st January 2014, Deleen went to visit Tanda at the state hospital. She phoned me, incredibly upset about Tanda’s condition after a few days in the hospital. Tanda was locked into the isolation room which looked more than a prison cell than a hospital room. There was an opening in the wall with burglar bars but no windows. She was lying on a mattress on the ground, her clothes and bedding completely soaked. It rained the previous night and her ‘cell’ was not water proof. Apparently the hospital did not have safety rails, so they took away the bed when Tanda kept falling off. Her food, which she could not eat by herself, was just standing next to her as nobody wanted to feed her.

Deleen eventually got hold of a doctor and asked him if Tanda had some very infectious disease or why was she locked in isolation? (To me this room only isolated her from people and not the natural elements that certainly did not help her condition!) She needed to be discharged and fairly quickly. Deleen even managed to get an inspector to go and see the situation. And of course we laid a complaint at the Ministry of Health and Social works. When we finally got an answer as to why Tanda was locked in isolation, I was beyond myself. Tanda wasn’t in isolation for her safety and health. No, she was treated in this way because of her dementia. The superstitious sisters (and these are educated nurses!) were afraid of her. According to them, she can only walk when the witchcraft is at work in her. Maybe she will get up at night and start walking – they could not take any risks with a witch in the hospital. Deleen stayed with Tanda until she was discharged later in the day.

Tanda Isolation Room.2jpg Tanda Isolation Room.3jpg Tanda Isolation Room

In the meantime, Koos phoned me with news on Kaputu. After he tried several times to call the Opuwo State Hospital in an effort to try and find out how Kaputu is doing, he drove to Opuwo to see for himself. Kaputu was gone. “What do you mean, she is gone?” I asked him rather desperately. “She disappeared,” he said. I could hear the frustration in his voice. I decided that I would drive down to Opuwo as soon as I have finished my last assignment for UTAS where I am busy with a course called; Understanding Dementia. The day after I finished my essay, I started to get ready to leave for Opuwo. On my way, and it is a long way from Walvis Bay, Koos phoned again. Rumour has it; Kuputu was transferred to the Oshakati State Hospital, to the mental ward. Now, I know that mental ward – it’s a hell hole to be frank. I overnighted at Epupa and hit the road again the next morning (10th February 2014) and headed to Oshakati. I arrived at 15h00 and headed straight for Ward 16.

Ward 16 must be the busiest ward in that enormous hospital. I started at reception and after I told the receptionist my story and gave a description of Kaputu, she sent me to yet another desk. Here I was told to wait until a nurse could assist me. From where I was standing I looked down a corridor into a grated metal door – exactly as you would find in a prison. Behind the iron doors ten or more women in blue gowns were standing, crying and pleading for attention. In their ward, there was nothing. No beds, no bedside tables and no wardrobes. Not even a glass of water for when you were thirsty. Only a mattress or sometimes even a half-of-a-mattress on a cold cement floor could be seen.

After my fourth attempt in stopping a nurse as she passed me, I found one that worked in that ward. I gave her my description of Kaputu, but she just told me it was past visiting hours. I explained that this is urgent and that I needed to see if she was here and how she was doing. But the problem wasn’t the visiting hours. It was that neither she, nor the nurse inside the ward, knew their patients. They didn’t know a lady called Kaputu Kombe from the Kunene. They walked up and down the ward, but couldn’t find her because they didn’t know who to look for. And then one of the ‘inmates’ as they called themselves, said she knew Kaputu because she helped her to eat and drink as she could do nothing for herself. So she and another inmate went off to fetch Kaputu. They had to carry her between the two of them; Kaputu could not walk by herself. There were no wheelchairs in Ward 16, patients had to be dragged around. In front of the door, they let go of her and she tumbled to the floor like a lame person would do. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was from weakness or if she was completely drugged. I asked both the nurses if she ate or drank anything – they didn’t know. (Or didn’t care?) Her inmate friend seemed to know the most and said that she helped her to eat and to drink. I was incredibly sad and sat down on my knees to look Kaputu into her eyes. I called her name and for a split second, our eyes connected and I just knew; I had to get her out of here.

Kaputu dragged to door Kaputu dragged to door2