Mum and Ruth arrived in a whirl of suitcases, Earl Grey tea (hurrah!) and the spare indicator stalk for our car that'd we'd ordered off Ebay for £15 (cheaper than here, and now we can use the full beam function - useful). I was beyond happy to see them - it'd been exactly four months since we'd left the UK - and I was ready to see some friendly faces and cheery smiles. And Mum baked her famous Bara Brith for the kids at the shelter - they still ask me about it now (mostly followed by the sentence "when are YOU cooking it, Auntie?" Kid, I'm not blessed with cooking genes. Just ask Alex.)
We'd intended that the first few days be restful - a time to get to know the country, sleep a bit, acclimatise (to the altitude and the heat) and see the city a little. We also dropped by Friendly Haven to give the kids some clothes they'd brought over. The shelter was rather overwhelmed with a large number of children that week, and they loved having the attention of Mum and Ruth. Ruth took photos, the girls posing like J-Lo on speed, the boys bouncing off the walls. It was at this point that Mum decided to make toast and jam to fuel more of their activities. It was going really well, until Ruth picked up one of the babies and gave him a loving squeeze. A streak of livid green liquid shot out of his nappy and ran all down her arms, dress and legs. Akin to a scene from 'the Night of the Living Dead', and almost enough to put us off our jam sandwiches, Ruth stumbled towards me holding out her arms. After I'd picked myself up off the floor laughing, I directed her towards the bathroom and called the shelter manager as a sick baby was clearly not good news. A shriek told me that Mum had discovered that one other child had exactly the same symptoms (nothing to do with the jam sandwiches!), and I told shelter manager Jacky we'd meet her at the local state hospital with the priority letter that the shelter uses to get preferential treatment.
The children perked up when treated by the doctor, and despite the endless waiting, the hospital staff were very good with the kids. Unfortunately, the two boys had no names, as they were children who had been found living on the streets and brought by the police with no names, histories, anything. The hospital nurses required names for their form filling, and Mum promptly suggested Rhys and Ivan. Once the nurses had finished snorting with laughter trying to pronounce these names, we renamed them a more manageable Richard and James. Doubtless, their true names will have come to light by now as the police dig deeper into their case. The shelter manager had managed to find them places at a children's home where they would get more 1-2-1 attention, which would be good for them while sick, and we drove deep into Katatura to drop them off. They screamed as we handed them over and reached for us, which was the worst part of the evening. Neglected children tend to form attachments very quickly to anyone who shows them kindness.
So it was absolutely exhausted and emotionally frazzled that we set off the next day for Etosha National Park to do some game-driving. Fortunately, clouds meant that it was a little cooler which meant the animals were out in force, particularly giraffes.
Vultures feeding on a dead zebra
The next few days, Mum and Ruth helped out at the shelter, cooking meals for the kids, playing games and cross-word puzzles with them. Despite the fact that everyone at the shelter was frazzled and stressed, they helped me calm down when all I wanted to do was yell at a colleague. The morning of the shelter's 15th anniversary gala, they came to the hotel, arranged tables, chairs and decorations with us, and then ran home with me to get ready. Ruth had volunteered to be the Gala Photographer, and she fulfilled her duties with aplomb.
Safari Hotel begins to fill up
Reverend Nakhamela, one of the founder members of the shelter, gives the opening speech
Mum, Ruth and the Friendly Haven staff
The VM6 group singing at the gala
The First Lady gives the keynote address
What helped us enjoy the night
The Lighting of the Candles for the Healing of Namibia
OYO Dance Troupe were AMAZING, keeping everyone entertained
Ruth and I enjoying ourselves
A dance with my lovely husband
And so, the next day and only slightly hungover, we set off for Omaruru to stay at the game lodge there and experience the wildlife in the heart of Damaraland, Western Namibia. The animals were, once again, a highlight, their proximity as we watched them by the waterhole being absolutely astonishing.
They got pretty up close and personal, and at one point tried to nick Mum's handbag
Mountain zebra (look more like donkeys and have a pattern on the butt).
Ruth driving on the gravel road to Brandberg.
We then set off the next morning to drive to the Brandberg mountain, to see the cave paintings left by San people 2-5,000 years ago. The drive was incredibly hot and sticky. Mum and Ruth were impressed by the fact that we didn't see another car for an hour and a half, and only two in the whole three hour trip. It emphasized just how vast and sparsely populated this country is.
Watching the sunset
The following morning we set off for the 45 minute hike to the cave paintings (we completed the hike in 30 minutes, much to the surprise of our guide, Stanley). Then there they were, gorgeous and precariously situated underneath an overhang. The polychrome ones are around 2,000 years old. The monochrome brown ones are up to 5,000 years old.
The famous 'White Lady', so named by the Europeans who discovered these paintings. But this painting isn't of a lady, and neither is she white, apparently. Best guesses are that it's either a boy painted white for an initiation ritual, or a picture of a shamen. So make of it what you will.
A zebra - the stripes are done with amazing detail
After a wonderful morning spent gazing at the cave paintings, we drove over to the coast. The temperature dropped instantly, and Mum breathed a huge sigh of relief. Before heading south to Swakopmund, a pretty German town on the coast, we went north to visit Cape Cross, to visit the seal colony there. Over 100,000 seals lie on the shores of Namibia every year, and give birth late November/early December to their pups. We thought it would be a good time to visit. And we weren't wrong.
The smell - from their poop - was absolutely and utterly hideous. The noise of their grunting, barking and bleating was deafening. And the sight of them - stretching along the beach as far as the eye could see - was overwhelming. A definite assault on the senses.
After a welcome cup of tea at a local lodge and a change of clothes into something warmer, we headed South to Swakopmund, where we stayed in a gorgeous apartment, and went to the cinema to see an Anne Hathaway film about girl-meets-boy. The film was alright, but spending time with each other was fun. We went to a lovely restaurant, The Tug, and finished the evening with great food, good wine, and a smashing view of the sea.
Next morning, a boat ride awaited us in Walvis Bay, an opportunity to see pelicans flying, seals frolicking in the water, and dolphins swimming alongside the boats.
A seal enjoying the surf of the boat
Pelicans flying overhead
We saw lots of dolphins too - we were told that the vibrations of the boat gets them, erm, 'excited' and they swim alongside for this reason rather than to see us...
Seals playing in the water
Oyster catchers. Ruth enjoyed half a dozen oysters with her champagne on the boat.
Back in Windhoek, Mum came with me to the private hospital that VSO uses, where I had an appointment for my wisdom teeth to be examined. She was relieved that I wasn't going to be treated in Katatura State Hospital, but exclaimed at the vast difference between state and private health care. It's a huge shame that locals often can't afford decent health care here.
All too soon, it was time to take Mum and Ruth back to the airport. The two weeks had flown by amazingly quickly, and they'd seen and done a lot - helped at the shelter, been to hospital, seen lots of wildlife, danced with the First Lady, eaten at most of the good restaurants in Namibia, and met the people. And I'd gotten to spend some time with them. When they walked through the airport gates, I waved until they were out of sight, and then bawled. The security guard nearby said, surprised, to his friend next to him, "Look. It's a white lady crying."