This is the first in a series of discussions about desert books that have found their way to my dusty shelf. The desert is often described as ageless and timeless and a country with as much arid land as Namibia, is often written down on the same pages as the desert.
“South West Africa is a strange land, engendering a love that goes beyond all logical reasoning. For it is a hard country, and will always remain so; hard and uncompromising; it nevertheless has an inexplicable appeal for all those who live there. It seems to grow on the traveller too, and time and again the early explorers found themselves drawn to return in spite of all they had suffered. At first there might be disappointment – even dismay, certainly discomfort. But before long the spell of the country holds the traveller, and he can never forget what he sees.
With nostalgia he will always recall the awesome loneliness of the desert, the vast arid land of the south, the red dune-veld of the eastern border, …”(Levinson 1961:9)
In The Ageless Land.The Story of South West Africa (1961) Olga Levinson writes about the landscape, people and history of a country that she seems to love dearly. Levinson seems to have been a scanner with a keen interest in all sorts of things and also lived in South West Africa, the Namibia of today. Nou ja, jy mag vra hoekom ek dikwels sulke ou boeke met verouderde inligting hier onder jou neus kom druk. Ja, baie dinge het verander sedert die verskying van hierdie boek en selfs in die tyd toe dit geskryf is, was sommige dinge anders as in haar beskrywings. Maar dis die soort boeke wat dikwels op my stowwerige rak beland, want haar beskrywings van die landskap is in woorde wat ‘n mens nie maklik loslaat nie. Especially her description of the Skeleton Coast is a delight to the imagination:
Few places in the world can offer a more lonely and desolate scene than the barren white sandy wastes of the coast of South West Africa…For over seven months of the year a pitiless wind lashes this arid coastal belt, cutting fretful patterns into the vast restless dunes …it may temporarily uncover the bleached bones of forgotten skeletons, which have given the northern stretch of this land the sinister name of Skeleton Coast…It is a weird and waterless world, battered by the cold relentless Atlantic waves on the one side, and stretching in stricken rejection for some sixty to a hundred miles inland on the other. Its sand dunes, which are the highest in the world, form a formidable barrier between the coast and the interior…Yet, even here in this desolation, beats the primeval rhythm of life. Curiosities of the vegetable kingdom, shedding all unnecessary trappings in their desperate struggle to survive, cling to their precarious existence with a crystalline singleness of purpose. Their only regular moisture is the dew that forms on cold winter nights (11).
I read this book around the fringes, skipping a lot of the history and people, and getting lost in the landscape. I’ve been there, and now this dusty book took me back there again.