- Where We Don’t Want to Live
Rose has already taken four pictures by the time she realizes the others are staring at her. The father even seems like he might say something, but as Rose slowly lowers her camera, he turns back to his wife, who is still shaking her head. The two girls continue to glower, the older sporting shoulder-length dreadlocks, and it is only when Rose begins to make a show of deleting the pictures from her digital camera that they finally take up their iPods and go back to ignoring the world. Only the youngest child, a small boy of about seven, sits staring out the window at the scene Rose had been photographing. The child turns to his mother and points excitedly at the women on the sidewalk, and in turn the mother speaks to him at length, her voice monotone and pedantic, though to Rose, German always sounds that way. Soon the child begins to lose interest, and then the light changes and the van surges forward onto Robert Mugabe Avenue.
“A rare sighting,” says Benjamin. He drums his fingers on his second can of Coke. Already the women are lost in the distance. “The Himba remain one of the most traditional societies in Africa,” he says.
Rose takes a long look at her final picture. It is the best of the four. On the camera’s small screen two women are standing in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken store. Each holds a baby in her arms. The women are barefoot and naked except for a small leather apron around the waist. Both women are tinted a deep red color, their skin like dark chocolate flecked with cinnamon, their nipples winking like copper coins.
“Himba women still paint themselves with a mixture of powdered ochre and butter, as their ancestors have for the past few thousand years,” says Benjamin. He says you can tell if a Himba woman is married by the way she wears her hair.
In the photo the women’s hair hangs in three smoldering plaits, each braid coated with ochre and burning redly in the morning light. A small group of tourists has gathered around the women, and a man in a Tyrolean hat is holding a crumpled bill out toward one of them, his face obscured by his camera. The women stand straight and seem undisturbed by the attention, their faces blasé like Western fashion models’. “What are the Himba doing in Windhoek?” Rose asks. [End Page 1]
Benjamin turns around in his seat. She can see his face tighten for a moment. “Posing,” he says. “They let tourists take photos of them.” Light glints off his sunglasses. “For money.”
Rose feels her cheeks reddening. She is seventy years old and it is just the kind of picture she has traveled all the way to Africa to take—the babies suckling contentedly, the women erect like warriors. In the background a life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders looms over the scene, his white suit and string tie seemingly not of this world.
Benjamin’s cell phone goes off. He answers it and speaks in a language Rose has never heard before, his words light and percussive. She takes a deep breath and decides to keep this last photo. The women’s naked breasts look bronzed. Something about it makes her heart race. What’s done is done, she thinks, and replaces her lens cap.
From the passenger seat, Benjamin speaks fluently to the German family. There is something about him, though Rose can’t put her finger on it. Behind the wheel, Thabo sits sullen and withdrawn. He is all but invisible as he expertly shuttles the van through the city, never once offering an opinion or an insight into Windhoek. The two men seem like polar opposites, one light as if dusted with gold, the other dark as iron. Rose wonders if it is racist of her to notice their differences in color, like night and day. She decides it’s all right as long as she doesn’t treat the men unequally.
There are six of them on the tour, the inside...