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Offbeat – 02 February 2012

I are not a Boertjie, hoor jy, but at that moment a whole lot of very short, useful three and four letter Afrikaans words jumped into my mind, and I had a moment when I needed to work really hard to stop them from running out of my mouth.

Last week, I was sitting amongst a bunch of expats (that’s foreign people who live in Namibia, to all you Namibian brothers and sisters). The topic of discussion was an outing for the young ones. One member of the group raised her fears about scorpions and snakes.
My first reaction was to agree with her. Children are clumsy, and there is no telling what damage they could do if they stepped on one of these fragile creatures.
After about half of a short second the cogwheels started spinning, and I got angry as I realised that the person had something against scorpions and snakes. What, I asked myself, is the problem with our scorpions and snakes? Do they have a better class of creepy crawly where she comes from? I for one believe that our snakes and scorpions are quite classy, even dignified, and nobody should deny their worthiness.
Finally, the penny dropped and I jumped to the defense of Namibia. “Millions of Namibians,” I told the gathering in a loud voice, “have grown up with snakes and scorpions around them, and have not been bitten.”
I went on to mention lions, jackals and baboons, but didn’t get to porcupines. They must have thought I was joking, because they didn’t grow up in the old days before those nasty housing developments chased away the animals and messed up our wonderful playground with lousy eendrag-maak-mag Lego-block architecture and destyds-se-Sarie-se-décor with a copper relief of ‘Praying Hands’ and crochet doilies thrown in for that extra touch of classless sophistication.
Back to the story, and my irritation.
I are not a Boertjie, hoor jy, but at that moment a whole lot of very short , useful three and four letter Afrikaans words jumped into my mind, and I had a moment when I needed to work really hard to stop them from running out of my mouth.
In a way, I have to be understanding. When they were kids, those poor foreigners didn’t get told to stay out of the veld at the back of Klein Windhoek for a couple of days until the lion two farms over from the farm on the other side of the kopje moved on. (1975, 1977 and 1978 if I remember right.) They didn’t feed Marmite sandwiches to the zebras at Tintenpalast. In their deprived childhoods, they never had shongololos and koringkrieks to play with, not even those nice green snakes with the fangs far back in their mouths.
Being foreign, they  probably never sang that wonderful hymn with the line ‘all creatures great and small’. From what I can see of them, they probably think that pesticide is a design for living.
One of the roots of being a good Namibian is respect for the balance of nature. You don’t kill it unless you intend to eat it or, like a mosquito, it is trying to eat you. Scorpions and snakes don’t make good eating, and they don’t try to harm you unless you frighten them or step on them, so watch where you put your feet, and tell your kids the same.
If you see a snake, either stand still until it goes away, or get a broom and help it make up its mind by sweeping it out of the house. Also remember to call the dogs in.
If you see a scorpion, don’t jump on a piece of furniture and scream. Calmly put a glass over it, slide some card under it, then pick it up and take a good look. It’s an amazing piece of work, and like that lovely hymn, and like St. Francis of Assisi pointed out, “The Lord God made them all.”
When you have finished looking, put it outside. Then, and only then, is it appropriate to jump on the chair and squeal like fingers on glass.
There are antiseptic places, where there is no nature, possibly in parts of Europe. If nature is a problem, Namibia is not the right place for you. You might also want to stay away from New York, where they have rats the size of small dogs, cockroaches the size of a computer mouse, and monsters the size of skyscrapers if Hollywood is to be believed.
Fear of nature is not suited to Namibia. Spreading the attitude is a form of cultural colonialism. People pay huge amounts of money to see it, so the fear and bug spray make no sense.

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