by Noah Jaffe
There are 55 internationally recognized countries in Africa. Before this past January I had visited none of them. Now I have visited one. Here are my thoughts and experiences.
The main reason I am writing this article is because my trip to Africa was new. It was exciting. It was different. And I think it’s worth talking about, because it made me think about the issues that drive the world, and about my future in it. It challenged my ideas of “good” and “fair,” and I think that is a dialogue that Pitzer students enjoy engaging in.
Namibia is a fairly large country in Southern Africa, bordering South Africa, Angola, Zambia, and Botswana. Gaining its independence from South Africa in 1991, it currently holds the distinction of being the second most sparsely populated country in the world after Mongolia. The landscape of Namibia is mostly desert; it receives less rainfall per year than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. The country is not without its conflicts, including an unemployment rate of 48%.
I traveled there over winter break accompanied by two of my close friends here at Pitzer, Caleb Samson and Will Duke. It’s a long trip: 10 hours to Frankfurt, followed by 11 hours straight down to Windhoek, the largest city in Namibia and the country’s capital. While in Frankfurt, Caleb and I went into a barbershop run by some nice Turkish ladies and each requested “the most German haircut possible.” We ended up with “the undercut,” which is basically a buzz on the side with a fancy comb-over on top. Classy.
Our final destination was a 78,000-acre plot of land located near the city of Okahandja, squarely in the middle of the country. It’s a farm, privately owned and run by a German family, the Ritters. Rolf Ritter, a 55-year old man with a mustache, has lived in Namibia his entire life; his grandparents having moved there from Germany several generations back. His wife, Marion, was born and raised in Germany and met Rolf when he travelled to Europe after a stint in the Namibian army. Our connection to these people was through Caleb, whose father had met Rolf several years back on an African Safari and stayed on the farm, later returning with Caleb, who has now been there seven times. It was both Will and my first times in Africa, and through Caleb we quickly settled in to our routine at the farm.
The Ritters have two main livelihoods on their farm: cattle and hunting. They have a fully functioning butchery and many cattle located in various pens around the property, each of which is fully equipped to be self-sufficient, with a windmill and water trough. In addition to selling beef steaks, the Ritters host people from around the world who come and hunt the game that roams freely on the farm. There are many different types of African mammals to choose from, including wildebeest, elands (large antelopes), springbok, warthogs, and many other animals for hunters to make into trophies. One especially notable animal is the kudu, a large species of antelope with tall, spiraling horns that has become the symbol of the hunting community in Namibia. Kudus are gorgeous, and I will never forget the sight of a herd of kudus leaping majestically over a 20-foot tall metal fence as I looked on, awestruck.
We stayed on the guest farm for exactly two weeks, and in that time we got to try everything from hunting and gathering to repairing the several 40-something year old Toyota Land Cruisers that served as the primary mode of transportation around the farm’s many dirt trails. The Ritters have four children, two of whom were with us for our stay, and we hit it off. Each day, Reinhardt, the youngest of the four, would take us out on one of the Land Cruisers and we would hunt game for the Ritters to sell to a meat market or restaurant. Neither Will nor I had ever shot anything, and I hadn’t even fired a gun before, and the experience was exhilarating. On the second day of our stay, Will shot and killed a warthog, which was a surprisingly intense experience, especially for him. A few days later, I did the same. Having never killed anything before, it was an experience that made me think about my own life, and, in a strange way, gave me a new understanding for nature and survival. It was a very primal feeling to kill something with such a brutal and efficient tool as a rifle, but then that night fry it up into a schnitzel and eat it along side a salad while we laughed and talked. It’s an experience I’m very glad that I had and I think everyone should experience, but I don’t know if I would want to do it again. We so rarely encounter death in our daily lives that when we do it can be traumatic. Overall, I was not traumatized or upset but I did feel a certain unhappiness as I looked into the eyes of the animal whose life I had just ended.
We saw many amazing animals on our trip. Elephants, hippos, lions, a cheetah, crocodiles, and more types of antelope than I could name. But in my opinion, the most meaningful and interesting aspect of our trip was our interaction with the native people of Namibia. The Ritters employ a few dozen such people and their families to work on the farm and in the butchery. They live in a small compound a short distance from the Ritters’ house. We spent some time on the compound, taking pictures of the people to give them next year when Caleb returns to the farm and giving the many children vitamins.
My favorite experience we had with these people was a soccer game that we played against a rival village. We got dressed up in uniforms and played a full-length game on a dirt field, with a referee and all. What made this experience particularly special was that, although these people spoke no English and were from an utterly alien culture with almost nothing in common with our own, we were able to engage together in this universal competition, on the same level, where our cultural differences did not matter and neither did the fact that I had never seen an oryx and they had never seen an iPhone.
I learned a lot from that experience, as I did from my time in Windhoek, and even my time in Frankfurt. I had never travelled without my family before, and it makes me happy that I can now say that I’ve been to Africa. But most importantly, I had an unforgettable experience with two of my best friends, one that will stick with me even when I am old and grey. And for that I am thankful.