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Sketching in Namibia: My 'Monet' moment in Africa

My family and I have been camping since I was eight years old, and I remember our camping holidays with so much fondness and clarity that I know I need to write a book about it one day! The stories I could share of - keys being lost in tents, pink frilly lamps, boys with sea sand in their hair, the endless dogs, 4x4 adventures, hyena's in campsites, and endless evenings of games played often ending with sibling rivalry or triumphant victories.


A sketchbook of pencil drawings and coloured pencils of Namibia and the Okavango river

This past Easter, I traveled back home and off we went on another camping trip to Namibia. Having been there numerous times, I will never tire of the beautiful sunsets, the warm sand and the endless space. It was our first trip without my mom. She loved our camping trips, and I can't remember many holidays that didn't involve our trailer, setting up chairs or following dusty roads. We've never been hotel people, in fact my first proper experience of a hotel was my honeymoon. My mom planned our camping trips meticulously, finding special places and bringing out the best snacks even on the last few days, planning every stop and embracing every change - I am thankful for her adventurous spirit, without her I would never had been able to explore my country and our neighboring countries. She loved Namibia, it might have been that her family lived their on a farm a long time ago, or maybe it was the time she spent there as a young wife and newly married couple with my dad, exploring a land that was unknown and yet familiar, but I remember her telling me that she loved the land, the space, the rocky landscapes, the tall dry grass and sheer vastness of Namibia.


A photograph of the Etosha Pan in Namibia

So off we set to Namibia, even though we've lost my mom, our family keeps growing with a new sister-in-law joining and my niece and nephews ( well they count for double! trust me it's enough energy for 8 adults!) Along with a few pencils, paints and with the hope of sketching some moments in Namibia.


Our first night was in Etosha National Park, where everything is covered in the fine, white dust that epitomizes the Etosha. And of course all the beautiful animals...We were lucky enough to see rhino's and pride of lions. Sketching these magnificent animals is really hard, and I wish I could have sat there for hours, diligently trying to get their shape and nature down but I had to be content with quick gesture drawings. Although time around the fire in the evenings, made for perfect sketching opportunities, I love drawing at night and although I don't get the chance very often, I do wish I could do it more - maybe that should be my next challenge. What do you think?


Two people sitting at a fire place when camping

Traveling further north, we stopped in Grootfontein, Rundu, Divundu until finally we reach Nambwa. Our next campsite, but of course before we could sit down and relax after a long day's drive, we had the adventure of 4x4 driving. We were told that the roads were sandy, and of course our heavy load and trailer soon got stuck in the warm sand. Luckily, we had the help of two Australian men who were traveling through Namibia, they were an interesting pair. Burnt to a crisp, red faced and bare foot, they didn't mind giving us a hand and helping to push our car out the sand. Thanks Mate!


And soon we were on our way to the most beautiful of campsites, surrounded by tall trees, under the cool shade of their canopy and looking out onto a river with a lonely elephant grazing in the distant - what more could you want from your holiday plus the added bonus of no cellphone reception, no one could email me or make me feel like I'm missing out or not working hard enough. I found rest in the remoteness. Maybe thats what my mom loved so much about camping, the ability to step back, to escape all the demands of life for a moment. It's so rare now days to have a complete break from the world - makes me realize that so much of the stress and anxiety we face day to day comes from the sheer volume of news and media we inhale. Don't get me wrong, I value news and media freedom, but there is also so much noise out there. It felt good to just shut it out for a moment.


After two days of sitting along a river, watching hippos swim in the cool water and keeping an eye out for a crocodile, we headed further along the Caprivi. Stopping along the way in Buffalo core, where I saw the most beautiful lilies, filling the river with white and soft shades of pink - it felt quite surreal to experience it. In 2019, I visited the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, a room filled wall to wall with Monet's paintings, I stood their astounded by the soft beauty and colours of lilies! Well, I definitely had a Monet moment in Namibia - there wasn't a room, no queue, no pushing from tourists - just the soft colours dancing on the river - beats any day in Paris.


Lillies in the Okavango River, Namibia


Along the way, we drove past many villages, stopping for fire wood and ice in Kongola, I didn't have a lot of time but I did manage to sketch for a moment at the market. While I stood there drawing, I could feel eyes peering at me, wondering what I was doing and I started thinking - there aren't stories written about Africa, there aren't picturebooks where the children live in villages, run barefoot or have school under a tree because that's not the Western norm, that's not what sells right? But Western parents and intellectuals are screaming at the top of their lungs for diversity but what kind of diversity are you really endorsing? We don't have characters from places like Namibia or dare I say Africa because either no one takes the time to learn, observe and create stories, or there is no one to do it, or it's done from a place of superiority and prejudice or does it again come to the bottom line, it won't sell. I kept thinking, someone needs to write a story about the trees, about the beautiful woven baskets, the smoked fish at the market - the small, happy children running around, but I kept thinking it can't be me. I would get too much backlash, as a white women telling the story of a place I don't intimately know - What do you think? Who should be telling our stories? Are they worth sharing? Can I?


Market in Kongola

We ended our last two nights at Riverdance, along the Okavango River - it was incredibly beautiful to camp along the river to hear it rush past you, determined and strong. Every now and then, you'd hear the resounding grunt of a hippo. Along the river, you could see the children standing on the Angola side, waiting for a boat to come along when our boat driver, Joseph explained that the schools aren't working on the Angola side so each day the children catch a boat over the river to Namibia to attend school. Just a casual boat ride over the Okavango river filled with crocodiles and hippos to get to school - gives you a little perspective doesn't it?


Okavango River in Namibia

Makes me wonder if that's why my mom took us on these camping trips to all sorts of places, to learn about the different countries, the culture, the people and stories that unfold in these places. And I am now, more than ever thankful that I had those experiences and hopefully with a little hard work, determination and a heap of accountability - I will learn ways to explore, celebrate and imagine stories that capture these memories that are so near and dear to my heart.


Danke mama for giving me memories and sharing your love for Africa.



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6 Comments


This is such a cool insight to illustration in other cultures, thank you so much for sharing! The illustrations capture the experience & I personally would love to see more 🌞 & you're right, those trees are stunning!!

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Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I'm hoping to create some illustrations or stories from this trip! Thank you - this is so kind and encouraging!

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Klink só lekker! Love dit om deur jou storie te leef. Well done Mieks. ♥️

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Baie dankie! xx

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What a fun read Mieke!! Looking forward to the next blog post and all the fun, beautiful drawings that come with it!

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Thank you so much for your support and kind words!


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