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  • Once in Africa I walk new streets and look into new faces. These faces are all black and often very beautiful. I encounter many clear eyes and attentive looks. Frequently women wear colorful traditional dress. I look and look and then look even more. I forget to watch my purse. We have been warned; pickpockets are everywhere. But I am lucky. Nobody steals my bag.

    Close to a café in Windhoek which offers authentic, delicious German cheesecake we discover a small gallery. It is exhibiting block prints by contemporary Bushman, the Khoisan -- black figures on white backgrounds. That night the beauty of the images follows me through my dreams.

    In ensuing days I observe several times how non-blacks – primarily shop owners – scold the natives, their employees, in quite disrespectful ways. It seems that many here believe they are the white figures on a black background. In my deepest heart I know I am not as different as I would like to be from them, despite what I profess to be true and what I believe.

    Today I found a book about the legends of the Bushmen, the Khoisan. On the first page are the words of one of their poetic chants. The first line says:

    Follow your own song!

    It continues:
    Take all the light which your life offers you and with that follow your own inner voice . . . .

    We have driven far into eastern Namibia, toward the border with Botswana. There are no gas stations; we have had to bring along our own jerry cans of petrol. In the late afternoon we reach Nhoma Camp. It is both a small safari encampment and a settlement of Khoisan, Bushmen, both located within the vast Nyae Nyae conservation area. Camp and Bushmen are watched over and protected by a sturdy white South African named Arno.

    Some forty Khoisan families live at Nhoma. They sleep in huts made from dried grass mats. They wrap themselves in woolen blankets against this time of the year’s very cold winter nights. Each family owns a cast-iron pot in which the women boil a corn meal porridge that is the much-favored staple in much of East and southern Africa. The Khoisan’s possessions could not be more minimal. It is their knowledge of surrounding nature which makes them so rich.

    Our first morning, we walk for many hours through the bush behind four of the remaining traditional Khoisan hunters of Nhoma. They jump in front of us through the high grass on their skinny legs as if they were gazelles. They talk jokingly in their clicking language. The Khoisan are said to be the most skilled trackers on earth. Our guides point out the spoor of kudus, gazelles, leopards and elephants on the sandy ground. Within the thirty square kilometer conservation area, the men know every bush and tree. One of them speaks English and explains how this plant or that root can be used as medicine or poison. Another weaves a bird trap from a large leaf. Around noon the sun is hot enough for the men to take off their worn T-shirts, which they wear during the cold months over the traditional leather panels covering their genitalia. Without the shirts, they look as I have always imagined: small, skinny, muscular golden-brown bodies without a hint of fat anywhere. Our guides are perhaps no older than thirty-five, but their faces are already covered in wrinkles which often stretch into wide smiles.

    A few young Bushmen were sitting at the entrance to the camp when we left on our bush walk, their small faces engulfed in large, very dark sunglasses. “These youngsters have not learned their people’s traditional wisdom,” Bruno explains. “Instead, they spend their days talking about how to get laid, hoping their shades have made them irresistible.”

    We are tired when we return to our tents that afternoon, but after dinner we join a celebration in the Bushmen settlement. Men and women have adorned themselves with necklaces and bracelets made from ostrich shell and have wrapped themselves in their blankets. A mammoth bonfire burns. The villagers start to dance, sing and clap. The chanting goes on and on. Even though it is bitterly cold, the dancers soon begin to sweat. The men are the first to remove their blankets. I am sitting in the sand in front of them. Though tired, I am riveted. I look and look and look. Soon I am no longer cold. With their voices, hands and stamping feet, these men and women enchant both me and the night.

    When I reenter the village the following morning, the enchantment is gone. The cluster of huts looks like one of the most forlorn and forgotten in all of Africa. The faces which peer out from the shelters seem to belong to homeless beggars at the far ends of the world, distinguishable only by their grins.

    Before leaving we give a generous tip to our Bushman guide. Bruno says that the man will undoubtedly spend it on the usual – standing drinks for the rest of the village men in a pub, some ten kilometers distant.

    “In a decade there won’t be any traditional Khoisan left,” he continues with sadness. “You have seen how they like to smoke. AIDS has not struck yet, but many have TB. The government doesn’t care. I would like them all to have a check-up and be treated, but where will I find the money?”

    Still, the Bushmen themselves don´t seem to worry, they fully seem to accept their quick decline after 5000 years of roaming the desert. They smoke and cough and smile and grown men play games with the intense pleasure that I have otherwise just seen in children at play. Impermanence seems a deeply accepted fact, they vanish with the kindest smile on their faces. They are an example for Byron Katie´s LOVING WHAT IS and by being able to do this, they are the happiest people I have ever met. Each one of them seems to be a true Bodhhisattva.

    Photography by Kiki
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