More Than A Wide Flat Blue
Namibian skies are both lovely and temperamental
For numerous nature photographers the Namibian landscape has been a rewarding and lucrative muse. The rugged red mountains that look like the spinal cords of long extinct dinosaurs are featured prominently on calendars. The long coastal line between the ocean and the desert, with the cold, blue Atlantic on the left and the maze of dunes on the right, has been a postcard staple. The ghostly silence of the Skeleton Coast has proven to be a robust and steady award-winner. Then there is the bleak majesty of the heat-blasted southern regions that has sold the isolation of many resorts and retreats. The treedotted savannahs towards the north and east have provided photographers with snapshots of that trademark acacia tree at sunset that is associated with the African landscape.
There is no shortage of visual stimuli when it comes to Namibia’s geology. The changing texture of the land reminds the observant traveller that it is a country of multitudes.
There is one visceral aspect of the landscape, however, that is rarely explored or discussed - the Namibian sky. Not just its colours, its textures and moods, or its subtle but constant changes of costume, but its effect on the land and the people who call it home.
Take this for example: a sunny day with a blue sky could be mistaken for the start of a seemingly pleasant third-grade composition. After all, blue skies, we are told, are signifiers of pleasantness and mild weather. Families picnicking at the beach, kids building sandcastles, parents reading in the shade of umbrellas - these are just some of the images that Western literature might conjure up as far as blue skies are concerned.
Rarely explored or discussed - the Namibian sky
In Namibia, blue skies mean so many different things to different people.
For a pilot a wide flat expanse of blue would mean an untroubled flight. For anyone with a swimming pool it would provide a welcome opportunity to take a dip. For anyone with a shaded braai area it would be an obvious reason to light a fire and invite family or friends over for rambling conversations.
But that same blue sky represents something different to a person walking to the shops to purchase a loaf of bread. For them, the cloudless sky is a curse. For the security guard chained to his duty, and for the child without any form of indoor distraction the blue sky is a blight of boredom that must be suffered for as long as is necessary. The drought-stricken farmer looks at the blue, spread evenly from east to west, and is painfully reminded that the rains are yet to come, that the lean times must still be weathered, that hope needs to remain a key ingredient to survival in this harsh and beautiful country.
Then there are days when the sky is a dusty grey, when pollen and dust wreak havoc on those with allergic dispositions and people who have just finished dusting their lounges. Those are the worst days for asthma sufferers and anyone with a feather duster. No amount of polishing or closing of windows can keep the fine sheen of dust at bay.
There are the blood orange sunsets of the high summer. They start in the late afternoon and continue into the early evening. The sun’s heat lets off a bit, leaving its fiery light trailing the dark curtain of night behind it. First red, then orange, then pink, and then indigo colours creep onto the horizon. When the sun dips over the western edge the mingling of these colours is a pastel master’s dream. The rhythm of life slows down: people head home from work to prepare for the next day.
Then there are days when the skies are dotted with white clouds, which ignite hopes of larger, grey and stormy clouds that will bring the eagerly awaited rain. At those times the national mood is chipper and optimistic. The meteorologists are no longer cursed for their false predictions.
And there is the night sky: purple, deep blue, and black, dotted with myriads of stars. Because the light pollution remains low, the distant pinpricks of light still crowd the sky. But it is in the south that Namibia’s skies become awe-inspiring. The Milky Way stretches like a scar across the night sky. The stars are humbling in their sheer numbers. Out in the wild, Namibia’s skies are calm, relaxing. They make you aware of your place in the universe.
It is the changing mood of the skies that make Namibia an interesting place to live. Like the pastoral movements of European countries, in which nature played a crucial role in art, so do our temperamental skies help to shape the feelings and moods of the populace. For a writer like me, the Namibian sky - which is more than a wide flat blue - has always given me a reason to look up.
Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian novelist, columnist, essayist, short-story writer and photographer. He also writes for brainwavez.org, a writing collective based in South Africa. He is the editor-in-chief of Doek!, Namibia’s first literary magazine.
His debut novel The Eternal Audience Of One is available from Blackbird Books and Amazon.
His short stories have appeared in Litro Magazine, AFREADA, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Amistad, The Kalahari Review, American Chordata, Doek!, and Azure. More of his writing can be read on his website: remythequill.com