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  • From my African diary, 2007:

    We drive many hours further south toward the small town of Keetmanshoop. Just a handful of cars pass us during the many hours it takes to get there. A little north of Keetmanhoop is the Quiver Tree Forest. The Quiver tree is native to Namibia and the northern part of South Africa. In the aloe family, the plant grows so slowly that even a tree of only a few metres height is at least a hundred years old. The tree could have been invented by an artist -- the trunk is yellow with bark which is cracked and open in many places along the truck. The crown of the tree resembles a fan whose ribs are human arms. At the end of each branch sits a fleshy red or yellow flower The branch end is green star of thick leaves when not in bloom. These leaf clusters resemble a sea fish and have the feel of aloe. ‘Forest,’ we learn, applies here to a vast expanse of land where these most unusual plants grow singly, dotting the landscape. Solitary trees are sprinkled across the seemingly endless rocky desert. There is neither trail nor shade. To get good photographs we wait for sunset. We also head out again early in the morning, just before sunrise. These are the two brief windows of time when the light is right to capture for the images we wish.

    There is only one lodge close to the forest. To get there, we leave the main route and drive a short while on a bumpy dirt road which takes us to Quiver Tree Rest Camp. We get the immediate impression that the camp had up until recently been a ranch whose owners decided to make the most of expanding tourism by converting their property to a stopover for travelers. What greets us says the conversion from ranch to resort is ongoing and that capital is scarce. Tractors and other farm machinery lie rusting where they were last parked. In between them, somebody has squeezed trampolines for youngsters. Two small swimming pools are separated by oxidized cars. Nearby is a miniscule playground with swings and a dirty sandbox. A few piles of huge granite blocks await the call of construction. In different surroundings, these hillocks might pass as modern sculpture. In front of the old farmhouse, now the camp reception, I encounter two huge flower pots containing beautiful old cacti. Beside one lies the largest warthog imaginable. He shows me his ugly face which is punctuated by two impressive tusks. They feel as though they are reaching out to me. I skirt nervously around him to enter the reception area.

    A fat, young girl greets us within the dark hall. She records our names and then leads us to our bungalow. A fierce little dog accompanies her. The dog has just three legs. His face is as unpleasant as the warthog’s.

    “What happened to his missing leg?” I ask the friendly girl.

    “One of the warthogs ate it,” she answers with a soft smile

    “The one I saw just outside?” I want to know.

    “No. Another one. That one there is very peaceful,” she reassures me.

    Inside our bungalow I feel right at home. The interior is just like a humble Mexican hotel. There’s no hot water. It’s just as well; the shower is clogged. Electric lines decorate every wall in every direction, however only one of the four switches activates a dim light. Some of the bungalow’s walls are rounded, others have been squared. The bed mattress has a deep hollow in its middle, but at least the air conditioning seems to work well. In the impossible heat, really, what more do we want?

    The camp offers a special attraction, four cheetahs. At five sharp each afternoon the fat girl feeds them. We are all invited to watch, and pay for the experience. The cheetahs are kept inside a small area, fenced in, imprisoned. I am shocked at their conditions. Shall I photograph them or express my disapproval for their atrocious care and boycott the spectacle? Curiosity wins. I go to watch the feeding, but have such a bad conscience for endorsing their appalling captivity that I cannot manage to take even one good photograph. The friendly fat girl tells our small group everything she knows about cheetahs. I sense that she really likes the animals. I regard her more closely. It seems it is she who runs this entire desolate, chaotic enterprise. She is receptionist, animal caretaker, cashier and, as I see later, waitress.

    An unseen woman, her voice thick with urgency, keeps calling the girl from a distance. Could it be her mother? Even though she is not my mother summoning me with a demand, the voice just drives me nuts! This girl seems as imprisoned by her harsh life as are the cheetahs she tends.

    Before the sun sets, we drive to the Quiver trees and manage to shoot some good pictures.

    At dinner the meat dish we are offered smells rotten to me. I do not dare eat it, but a Swiss photographer sitting at our table is enjoyable. We have a fine conversation about photography in Namibia.

    Before we fall asleep huddled together in the deep crater in our bed, my husband says, ”I imagine that the Texas chainsaw massacre happened in a place like this one!”

    I sleep soundly through the night anyway.
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