My papers have always read born in Omaruru, Namibia, and so today a little over fifty years since that occasion, I once again find myself in this bustling small dusty town in the shadows of the Erongo mountains, north of Windhoek.
It bustles with activity, a few street sellers, a few kaffee stube, small shops in run down buildings. A newer supermarket and bank. It could really be anywhere. Except its Omaruru , central Namibia, town where I was born. This also is the town of my grandparents Anni and Daniel and of my mother Hildegard.
Not much actively remains of our families time here. The house is still there, recently renovated to be the office for a large garage workshop which now stands where my Opa’s citrus orchard once grew. The roof top verandah which was the scene of the nightly sundowners is still there. I still remember this from my last trip here as a six year old. From here I could see the coke fridge in the next door garage window, which held a strong attraction that hot summer.
We had traveled the long dust roads in our VW station wagon. The roads to us three children seemed long, straight, and endless as we flew at 140 km/hr. The desert roads have always had their own speed limits. As fast as you can go!
I still remember aspects of that summer here in Omaruru. Being sent to bed for a siesta in mosquito netting enclosed beds, the daily trip to the large swimming pool where it seems the whole community went for the afternoons. The white community that is. I have no recollection of the black children though they must of course have been here.
So little remains of this now. The pool empty , the domain a sandy patch of desert where once green grass grew.
Memory of our family time here does remain in the memories of some of its residents and it is into that domain I have been welcomed. Heine and Wendy open up their oasis of a house and garden with green lawns and an air of peacefulness. Heine fondly remembering Oma Grimm, who as a close friend of his mothers would help with the children once her own family had all left home. I feel at home in a strange way , two doors down from our old house.
My Opa, Daniel had first bought the house in the 1920’s. He had come from Germany at the turn of the last century and had lived his life in these desert environs, eventually denouncing his German citizenship as the atrocities of WW2 started to come to light. That was not the Germany of his childhood and heritage.
Back in the early century, after finishing his army contract, he had set about building his life here, working in the building of the railways, driving long haul trucks across the vast Namib plains. Losing a wife and child in childbirth. He had settled into the Hospitality trade in Windhoek. Managing the popular Thuringer Hof hotel , before buying his own hotel in Okahandja. Eventually he retired to Omaruru in the 1940's to the house he owned. It was a long life, never returning to the land of his birth. Our son Willow, carries his name.
My Oma Anni, always loved to travel. She told me that as a young girl from Hildburghausen, she was always intrigued by what lay over the next mountain range. This zest for travel had seen Anni, together with her friend, sent to German Southwest as young Red Cross nurses in the mid thirties. Her photo albums lay testament to the intrigue of this place as the young nurses were treated to a tour of the north upon arrival. Their means of transport, the back of a lorry , all together with their camping equipment. The photos show vast empty plains , with solitary trees. The local Himba covered in mud making things. A world away from her life in Germany. All roads lead to Omaruru in our family it seems.
So with Hildgard we did a tour of the Omaruru sights, the Turm, built to protect the white women in the early Herero uprisings, the Lutheren church of my Oma’s, where my sister Anne was baptised.
The hospital where I was born, abandoned , used now as low value housing. It had been built with community funding, but in a town which had a black and a white hospital, after independence the Black hospital became the town hospital. The doctors of my grandparents time had worked in both hospitals , it was only about the patients being separated. So it lies in ruin where fifty years ago my mother gave birth to her first son at the tender age of Nineteen. Delivered by Dr Ganschow and my Oma, Red Cross nurse Anni Grimm. I visited the elderly Dr Ganschow in Swakopmund and it is her family who welcome me here back to Omaruru.
My father away in the army as all males were conscripted to do. It was into my grandparents arms I was first held and nurtured in this desert town. I think now this is why amongst all the complex issues of this bustling town on the main road north, I feel a quiet settledness. A sense of completion to the promise I had made to my beautiful Oma Anni that I would return one day to visit the grave of her husband.
So with Hildegard and Allan there was one more stop on our tour of Omaruru’s few sights. We had been told it was in disrepair, the cemetery on the edge of town where the desert Savannah lies in wait. My mothers memory of it shaded in trees were dashed as the trees have long since died from lack of water. It is a hot place where now the the remnants of lives lived in this town are marked. After a period of abandonment and vandalism , the cemetery has been tidied and restored by a small group of residents, a relief to my mother, as she finally found the grave of her father, and my grandfather.
Our link to this desert town.
A long time alone between visits.