10 Jan 2020
Being on the road often gives me time to ponder things – past, present and future. And I make a habit of stopping at least once or twice on a journey to chat to people and hear their tales and to visit interesting, often forgotten places. In Padlangs, I share some of the thoughts and stories collected along the way.
I’m always inspired when driving around Namibia, a country that holds such an important place in my heart. Something that I always notice on my journeys is how innovative Namibians are.
I recently became familiar with a new term – ‘upcycling’. Unlike recycling, which enables you to reuse the raw material again, upcycling refers to creatively reusing discarded objects to produce something different with added value. And we Namibians are so good at it.
There are many examples I’ve seen on my travels in rural Namibia, so simple and so clever, and I usually stop to see who has made it and to ask if I can take a photo, often getting involved in long discussions and making new friends. The ‘bokkie bell’ is one of my favourites, where an old metal cup - with a nut inside - has been used as goat bell to deter predators. Another is a cunningly-made soccer referee’s whistle made from pieces of plastic and metal cleverly assembled. And I recently saw an old fire extinguisher being used as a pot to boil water, a gas bottle cut in half used as a water trough for livestock and another old gas bottle used as a church bell to call people to the Sunday service.
But the items are not only for work, they are just as important for play. Up in the North or in the Zambezi Region, I notice many soccer balls made of plastic bags tied together with old fabric. An empty Castrol oil tin and a piece of plank make a good ‘blik guitar’, a rusted Windhoek beer-can becomes the roof of a toy truck with a bit of imagination and a legless plastic chair attached to a wheelbarrow base provides children with many hours of fun.
Some upcycled items even make good homes like this old Kombi, whose lifespan was extended when its days on the road came to an end.
I also come across remnants from the past that would have a story to tell if they could talk, like the military helmet used by an Ovahimba woman as a pot, a leftover from the SA Defence Force. Or the Toyota logo on a rusty tailgate, cleverly altered to read DTA, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, formed in the late 1970s with the aim to bring ethnic groups together in a democratic Namibia. The upcycled items that took the cake and made me realise that perhaps upcycling could also be seen metaphorically as making something positive from the negatives in life, were the chicken coops I saw on a farm belonging to a former Namibian minister. They were made from the canopies of old police vans, once used to convey criminals and activists.
I couldn’t help smiling at this twist of fate as I drove off onto another country road, my head filled with these wonderfully useful and creative upcycling inventions.
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