Tsumkwe in Bushmanland
Though it is the area's administrative centre, Tsumkwe is little more than a crossroads around which a few houses, shops and businesses have grown up. Apart from the South African army, it's never had the kind of colonial population, or even sheer number of people, that led to the building of (for example) Tsumeb's carefully planned tree-lined avenues.
It is an essential stop for most travellers in the area though, even if only to get a few cans of cool drinks. It is also the location of the Conservancy Office and of Tsumkwe Lodge, the region's only real lodge for visitors.
To visit this area independently you must, as with Kaokoland, be totally self-sufficient and part of a two-vehicle party. The region's centre, Tsumkwe, has basic supplies but NOT fuel. The station referred to in older guidebooks is closed, so the nearest fuel stop is Grootfontein or at Divundu, as you leave the Caprivi Game Park. It is essential to set off for this area with supplies and fuel for your complete trip; only water can be relied upon locally.
Before embarking on such a trip, obtain maps from Windhoek and resolve to navigate carefully. Travel in this sandy terrain is very slow. You will stay in second gear for miles, which will double your fuel consumption. Directions can be difficult; if you get them wrong then retracing your steps will take a lot of fuel.
You'll need a minimum of about 100 litres of petrol to get from Tsumkwe to Rundu or Divundu. Because there's none in Tsumkwe, that means at least 150 litres to travel from Grootfontein via Bushmanland and Khaudum to Rundu or Divundu, or vice versa. You'll need more if you plan to do much driving around the area whilst here. So do plan ahead – arriving in Tsumkwe without enough fuel to get out again is very stupid.
If you are passing through Tsumkwe then, aside from the Lodge, two important places to stop are:
Mi wi a
PO Box 1073, Grootfontein; tel/fax: (067) 244005; firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.tsumkwe.com
'Mi wi a', which means 'thank you', is a shop run by the Reverend Hendrik van Zyl, the minister of the local Dutch Reform Church Congregation, and his wife, Elize. This sells only Bushman crafts, which are sourced from the Bushman villages throughout the region. Hendrik buys all the authentic curios that the villages want to make and sell, regardless of their commercial value or otherwise. Thus this encourages the full range of traditional skills, and not just the artefacts that are currently in vogue with this year's visitors.
It's a trade that has built up over the last ten years, and virtually all of the region's villages are now involved in regularly supplying crafts for the centre. If the sellers earned cash, then they would have had to walk between ten and fifty kilometres to Tsumkwe just to buy food. Hence Hendrik takes food out to the villages, and exchanges it for crafts. Given the loss of the large areas used for traditional hunting and gathering, many people are now dependent upon this food source for the more difficult parts of the year. So this scheme provides much needed food relief to many of the poorest villages, and at the same time encourages the people to value their traditional crafts and skills.
It's well worth supporting, not only because it directly benefits the villages, but also because you won't find a larger range of authentic Bushman crafts for sale anywhere. These include axes that also function as adzes, various children's games, bags made from birds' nests woven with wild cotton, hunting bags (containing a dry powder from fungus as kindling), dry grass, flint, wooden sticks, acacia gum, poisons, a 'string bag' made from giraffe tendons (for carrying things home), love bows, witchcraft bows, hunting bows and arrows, necklaces, bracelets and containers for poison pupae. It's fascinating.
So... if you're one of the many visitors who see great poverty in Africa, and wring your hands saying: 'what can I do', now you have an answer. You can come here and buy as much craftwork as you can afford. (If you're being honest with yourself, that really is a lot of crafts!) Thus appeasing your conscience with a valuable donation, whilst finding endless fascinating curios to give to friends when you return.
Currently, the main problem of this trade is the limitation of current distribution channels for these crafts. Only a few visitors pass through Tsumkwe, and although it's possible to arrange for 'mail order' deliveries overseas, this is not yet happening on a large enough scale. Shame – as it's fascinating stuff which would sell superbly at small craft markets overseas. So if you're reading this from outside Namibia, take a look at their website (www.tsumkwe.com). Ignore the religious slant, but think of placing a small order!
Nyae Nyae Conservancy
Office Tel: 067244011 (see page 433 for details of the headquarters of Nyae Nyae in Windhoek – though it's not possible to make any reservations through that office).
Travelling east from Grootfontein, this is on the right side of the road, just before you reach the main Tsumkwe crossroads.
Several villages in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy have basic campsites (usually without ablution facilities as yet), and warmly welcome paying visitors. To find out more about them, and what's possible, best to stop here at the conservancy office. (If it's closed, then ask for information at Tsumkwe Lodge.) This is also the place to arrange a local guide if you want one – which is highly recommended. If you're planning on just camping in the area for a few days, to explore a little, then a guide can help you get a lot more out of the area – whilst actively giving a little more back to the local commuinity.