Namibia? Was far, far away.
I was beginning to feel every bit of my thirty years, plus thirty more, by the time my last flight landed in Windhoek, the capitol city. Still, though, I put on a smile, touched up my makeup, and prepared for a great welcome and introductions to a team that had remained mysteriously silent, with no communication towards me, in the time since I had heard that I would be joining them.
Emmanuel, a national worker for the mission, was the one to meet me outside of immigration. He was holding a sign up identifying himself as part of the Windhoek team, and I went over to him, expecting a warm reception, just as I had received from Bryan and Christy when I first arrived in Costa Rica nearly a year ago. Emmanuel, however, took one look at me, and his brow furrowed immediately.
“You do not look like Mr. Shiftoka,” he said critically.
“Pardon? I don’t look like… who?” I had just spent an incomprehensible number of hours on three separate flights. I was confused simply concerning what day and hour it was, but Mr. Shiftoka? This brought on a whole new kind of headache.
“Oh, Lord,” Emmanuel breathed out, smiling and praying all at once. “I take it that… that you are the one sent from the mission?”
“Yes,” I said, holding out my hand. “Sara Wright.”
“Sarai,” he said, laughing out loud. “Princess!”
I opened my mouth to ask what he meant, but he stopped me.
“I only mean to say that this name? It means Princess, right? In the Bible, Abram and Sarai, the mother of princes… a princess, yes?”
I sighed. “Well, I suppose so. Yes.”
“Oh, Brother Daniel will be so pleased,” Emmanuel laughed to himself again, taking my suitcases up in his arms and leading the way outside.
“Is… Brother Daniel… well, is he the man in charge? Of the team, I mean,” I asked, hustling to keep up with Emmanuel’s long strides as we crossed the porch towards the small parking lot.
“Brother Daniel is the team. The only missionary in all the country, as it is,” Emmanuel said, just as the hot, dry air swirled around us and took my breath away. Seeing my shock at the arid surprise, Emmanuel smiled again. “This is east wind, Princess.”
“Sara,” I interrupted, losing patience with this enigmatic man.
“Sara, yes,” he shook his head. Then again, “Brother Daniel will be so pleased.”
“What’s east wind?” I asked, even as the sand began to bite at my legs uncomfortably.
“It is life here, unfortunately,” he said, throwing my suitcases roughly into the back of a small truck. “The wind from the veld and dunes sweeps through the whole of Namibia, you see? And it’s hot. Unbearably, cruelly hot, in the middle of the winter. It is much worse on the coast. Much, much worse in Swakopmund.”
“Swakopmund?” I asked. “That’s where I’m going, isn’t –”
“Is it?” Emmanuel laughed out loud. “Swakopmund! Brother Daniel will be so pleased. Get in the bakkie, Princess – we shall go and show him just what the mission board has sent to him.”
Brother Daniel was… well, he was a jerk.
Emmanuel had driven me straight through Windhoek, pointing out landmarks and pleasantly detailing some of the city’s history as we drove, looking at me doubtfully but not rudely as we approached the gates for the mission property. “It is an amazing country, this Namibia is,” he said, as he jumped out of the bakkie, throwing over his shoulder, “it is a shame you will not get to know it better.”
Before I could correct him, he was jogging to the gate, calling to a boy sitting guard outside in a language I didn’t recognize. Then, he was back in, driving through as the boy held the gate open and stared at me openly.
“Such a surprise, such a surprise,” Emmanuel said almost gleefully.
As soon as we stopped, he was out again, running to the back to get my suitcases, then looking at me. “We best leave them here, Miss Sara,” he said. “Until we figure out what Brother Daniel will do.”
“Until we figure out what Brother Daniel will do?” I said, rather irritated. “I’m here to do a job, with my own orders to follow, and–”
He looked alarmed. “I did not mean to offend you,” he said. “It’s just… well, we were expecting Mr. Shiftoka.”
“Yes, you keep saying this. Who is Mr. Shiftoka?!” I practically shouted at him.
“Come,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “We will talk to Brother Daniel.”
The mission was laid out very simply. Stucco, one floor buildings – one the size of an apartment, another the size of a garage, and a third the size of a closet – were contained within a security gate. There were two older looking trucks (or bakkies, as Emmanuel called them, pointing them out to me), and of all things, a basketball goal.
“I suppose Brother Daniel likes to shoot hoops?” I asked as we made our way to the smallest building.
Emmanuel looked at me, confused. “What? That? Well, you would think, but Brother Daniel? He doesn’t do much besides work.”
“Sounds like a fun guy,” I muttered, but he didn’t seem to hear me as he opened the door, shouting out with great delight, “Brother Daniel! I have your new missionary!”
I peered around Emmanuel’s dramatically splayed arms to see a very attractive, very irritated, young American man, sitting behind a desk, a phone to his ear. He took one look at me, rolled his eyes, and shouted into the phone, “This is unacceptable!”
Thirty minutes later, Emmanuel shook his head at me sympathetically yet still with a great smile on his face, as he served me tea. I had endured half an hour of glares from the inhospitable Brother Daniel, who never hung up the phone but continued to go over, in exhaustive detail, his grievances with the mission board stateside.
The listening had informed me of many things – that I was not Mr. Abed Shiftoka, a Namibian national who was still in the US at this point, studying at a university and not coming back home to assist Daniel in the unreached parts of the country as he had been commissioned by the board to do. That had been the plan – for him to go study stateside, earn his degree, then come back to assist with language in the far reaches of the country – but Abed’s plans had changed. Apparently. And Daniel hadn’t gotten the memo until approximately thirty minutes before my plane landed, when the mission board called to inform him that instead, he was getting a missionary from the field in South America, sent to work with women in the DRC, a refugee camp at Swakopmund.
“Swakopmund?!” he continued shouting at the phone as I sipped my tea, wincing at the unexpected sweetness, then sipping it up almost greedily. It was like candy. “Why are we wasting personnel dollars for a holiday at the beach?!”
“It is Rooibos,” Emmanuel whispered to me.
“What is?” I asked. “The beach?”
“No, no, no,” he said, laughing at me quietly. “Rooibos. It’s the tea. That’s what it’s called.”
“Well, it’s just great,” I whispered back to him, “and I –”
“Fine,” Daniel shouted. “Whatever. We’ll deal with it.” He hung up the phone abruptly, causing Emmanuel and me to stare at him.
I put my teacup down and waited for this monster of a man to finally speak to me instead of just about me.
“Who are you?” he said, sitting back and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Sara Wright,” I said evenly. “I thought you were expecting me.”
He sighed. “Well, I was expecting a man. A Namibian man. Who, you know, can speak Afrikaans. And German. And Oshiwambo. And Herero. Can you speak any of those?”
“I can speak Spanish,” I said.
Emmanuel laughed out loud at this and pointed a finger at Daniel. “You see, they’ve sent you a woman. Who speaks Spanish.” He raised his eyebrows at Daniel. “Someone, somewhere is having a very good laugh.”
“Well, it’s not here,” Daniel said, continuing to glare at me. I mentally retracted my first thought regarding his attractiveness. With the scowl on his hot-tempered face, he was about as unattractive as any man I had ever seen.
We sat in silence for a moment.
“So… Sara Wright.” He continued to glare. “Can you tell me what you were sent here to do?”
I held up my wrist, where I wore one of the beaded bracelets my ladies in Costa Rica had made. “Jewelry.”
“Jewelry?” Daniel asked with no small amount of derision. Even Emmanuel stopped what he was doing to look at me oddly.
“I’m here to set up a center for women where they can make goods to sell. You know, make a sustainable income and all to support themselves.”
Emmanuel nodded as though he thought this was a great idea, but his enthusiasm was cut short by Daniel’s words. “Jewelry? You’re going to take women who are starving, who have to watch their children die in the streets, and teach them how to make jewelry for rich, white American women?”
“Teaching them a skill will keep them from starving,” I began. “I’ve seen it before, in Costa –”
“You haven’t seen anything,” he said, harshly. “You haven’t seen this place.”
I kept my mouth shut, holding in the harsh words that I so desperately wanted to say.
“Emmanuel,” Daniel said, a mocking smile coming to his face, “I’ve been told by the mission board that Miss Wright is staying with us whether I want her to or not. And that we’re to take her immediately to Swakopmund and make arrangements for her to stay.” He looked at me. “Swakopmund… it’s a holiday destination, you know. So, you’ll really be suffering for the Lord and all. Going out to the DRC to help the starving women and all, then heading back to your flat to enjoy lobster.”
Emmanuel looked at him, sensing that I was being pushed too far. Perhaps Daniel would have felt some remorse as well, had I not looked him straight in the eye and said, “I prefer steak, actually.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Emmanuel looked from me to Daniel, then back again. Then, he seemed to want to disappear entirely as Daniel slammed his hands down on his desk, causing me to jump in my seat.
“Well, then,” he hissed at me with a tight smile. “Best be getting out there, huh?” He stood and began stuffing papers in a bag. “Emmanuel, I’m taking Miss Wright to the coast in… the next ten minutes,” he said, glancing at his watch. “We’ll be visiting the DRC, if you can get some supplies ready for me to take out there.”
“Okay,” Emmanuel said, heading outside to get the truck ready.
I tried reasoning with him. “But I can’t pick up the keys on the flat I’m leasing until tomorrow –”
“Should have thought of that before you came all this way, I guess,” Daniel said, his back still turned to me. “You can camp in the river bed.”
“Are you being serious?” I gasped.
He looked me straight in the eye. “You want to see what it’s like? What Namibia is really like? Well, we will.”
I blinked at him. How very different this was from my welcome to Costa Rica, where Bryan and Christy met me at the airport, showed me around the city, had me stay with them for a few days before settling me into my new place with kind, supportive words –
“Emmanuel should have everything ready by now,” Daniel cut into my thoughts.
“Fine,” I managed. “My bags are still in the truck.”
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