WE ARE THE WOMEN WHO TRAVEL TO AFRICA (5) / by Mariam Harraz

I knew if I told my parents I am jumping of a plane in a few minutes they would book a one way ticket back home right away, so I messaged my sister nervously when I got to the lodge stating “Going to skydive in a few minutes” making sure it wasn’t a question, rather a statement. Her response: “Are you sure?” 

Are you kidding me? There was nothing more I was sure of. On my 18th birthday I said I would do it. It’s been 5 years now and this was the perfect time, right above the Namib desert with the view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was Colleen’s birthday and Lulu set up a surprise for her to jump. There were 12 of us and the thrill was running through our blood. The fact that we were finally staying in a lodge with beds for a few days, added onto our high spirits.

When we got to the Ground Rush Adventures, Andres, Anna and Beth were fully dressed in their diving suit and heading off. The music was on, the cold air was hitting our faces and it was as if you could feel the energy blasting through the speakers. Every time someone left we cheered them on and every time they came back down we waited in a line to applaud them. 

It was finally mine and Lynsey's turn to go. I headed into the room to be instructed and to slip on the diving suit, except there was an issue that my instructor pointed out, “take off your scarf please.” My head jolted towards him with my eyes and mouth wide open, shocked that this wasn’t even a question. “No I am not taking off my scarf” I replied feeling the agitated lump in my throat grow. He responded : “your scarf won’t stay on if you sky dive, nothing stays on, you will have to take it off” Lynsey could see the colour change in my face. I have known many girls who wore their scarves to sky dive with no experience of it flying off. I calmed down and explained that I have got pins on my scarf holding it in place, plus the eye glasses it should be fine. 

He shrugged and carelessly said “it’s your decision but don’t get mad at me when you come down with a missing scarf.”. I hurried to my friends and nervously explained the situation. They began to think of various ways to make sure my scarf stays on. It was at this moment in time that I felt proud of my friends. I boaldly walked back to my instructor to tell him he has nothing to worry about. While a thousand emotions ran through me I realised that I was probably the first girl with a hijab to sky dive with them. It was for this reason that I could understand that their incomprehension with the whole situation.I had to prove them wrong. I am not limited by my scarf. 

40 minutes and 10000 feet later, I was suddenly lurched to the edge of the plane where my legs shifted forcefully underneath the plane; my chest tugged back and my hands crossed over my chest. I was told we’re not going to jump without a smile on my face but I glanced down frightened. I thought to myself “there's no time to be afraid”, that was the moment I left everything behind that troubled me and accelerated forward for 13 minutes of freedom. 

The free fall is exhilarating, speeding at 200 miles per hour for 3 minutes before you pull the parachute. In the midst of my screaming, for a second I panicked over the possibilities of the parachute not opening (a bit too late now) and just when it did I felt a sense of relief. We were hauled right back up until the air filled the parachute wide open, we stopped moving. A moment of tranquility and stillness. Emptiness surrounded me, not one noise, not one building, no confined space, nothing but the sky. Down below were the bronze dunes and beside it were the contrasting cobalt ocean with strands of darker blue, representing the waves.

There was no time and before I knew it we were making our way back down with black flips and 360 degree turns. I came down shaking and startled from adrenaline. I just jumped off a plane.

Later that day we went out for a lovely dinner in the dead small town we were staying in: Swakompond. 

Even though I slept very late I got up at 7am to pack my bag, I got used to the routine. The day passed swiftly, I slept so much and ate so much that I woke up at 5pm alarmed that I missed my one chance to have cake, and went right back to sleep. Clearly it didn’t bother me that much.

I forgot one thing, a story which till this day I am reminded of. When we arrived at Swakompund I went into the pharmacy to buy malaria tablets, I was directed to a till to pay for them. Let me point out Namibians are the friendliest people I have ever met. The lady at the till was dark skinned, wearing a blue bandana that complemented her skin and her jawline shaped her face gorgeously. She smiled and said “I like the colour of your skin”. I looked at her perplexed but flattered and said “oh I really like the colour of your skin too” she suddenly stared at me in awe and said “I said I like the colour of your scarf”. Embarrassed I answered “I still really like the colour of your skin.” That’s when everyone figured me out.

Ninth day in and time flew by. Before we knew it we were on our way to Spitzkoppe but first a township tour in Mondesa which was made for blacks working in Swakopmund when the Germans invaded. 

The Herero tribe (one of the biggest tribes in Namibia), are cattle herding who rank each other by the number of cattle they own. Their traditional clothes are inspired by Germans, it’s a constant reminder of their history and a reassurance that indeed they are the powerful ones now. The traditional clothes are worn from the moment they are married. Their wide hats that are shaped like horns represent those of the cattle.

The women are only to be married with their uncle’s approval. A man could have up to 4 wives. However, if the man wishes to marry another women, he must seek approval from his first wife and she decides on who he is allowed to marry.

The Town is filled with different ethnic groups all finding multiple ways to survive. Some of which includes discovering herbs that treat diseases and ways to cook food without gas or electricity. It’s a weird feeling when you see how life challenges you to survive. Having the basic necessities makes me realise how fortunate I am. A real eye opener.

We arrive late afternoon in Spitzkoppe; a group of granite peaks which is 1700 metres above ground. It is said to be 150 million years old. The massive peaks are dusky and smooth. Below it, small boulders provide you with a path to hike up. The sand beneath it on ground level and the tree barks made me realise the shades of brown surrounding us. We dashed to grab shade underneath the tree to camp. The hot humid air drove us crazy at the same point everyday when we had to set up our tents. This was the first time we didn’t have showers, at this point none of us cared. For some bizarre reason I decided that today was the day to catch up on my water intake. I avoided drinking so much because it was only on rare occasions we had proper toilets. Not realising that we only had long drops (which is a hole deep in the ground topped by a seat) so you can imagine all kinds of insects were buried deep in there. Needless to say I had to visit it a lot.

A game of cricket just before sunset showed us that Lulu was the only one who could throw a ball. After dinner was served the big talk began on our next stop : Etosha National Park, a park thats 22,270 square kilometres, home to hundreds of species. 

This time we were briefed of the dangers we face camping in the wild. Our campsite was only a few metres away from a water hole that provides water to lions, rhino’s, giraffes, elephants and many others. My heart skipped a beat.

By Mariam Harraz

For the Arabic version:

http://www.huffpostarabi.com/mariam-harraz/post_11443_b_9581878.html