Note: Tiffin resident Gabi Felter took part in an expedition to Africa this year, and recounts her experiences in a series of columns.
The country of Namibia in southwestern Africa has a rich and diverse history. Until the late 1880s, Namibia and its capital, Windohek, were occupied primarily by two black tribes, the Herero and the Nama, who continually fought against each other for dominancy.
The whites who lived there mostly were missionaries.
In the height of European colonization, Namibia became a protectorate of Germany. At first, Germany was reluctant to involve itself with a country outside of Europe. Britain, however, had set the tone with mass colonization of southern Africa and the only way to stop a monopoly of British rule was for Germany to colonize this last parcel of land called Namibia.
At first, German interests were minimal. Renewed fighting, however, between the Nama and the Herero forced Germany to intervene in order to restore peace. A "peacekeeping" troop called the Schutzwaffe was sent to set things right.
Schutzttruppe started as peacekeepers but evolved into a forceful and sinister organization that put unrest and opposition down by any means possible. As Germans began flocking into Namibia, the local people became resentful for having things such as water rights and communal lands taken over by the Germans.
In 1904, the Nama and Herero tribes banded together in rebellion against German rule. The result was up to 75 percent of the Herero population and a large number of Nama were destroyed by the Schutzttuppe.
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I had Germany relinquishing its hold on Namibia. The British were in charge then, and for the next 71 years, Namibia was under South African rule, which included the practice of apartheid.
Katatura, "the place where we don't want to live," was established as a black township outside of Windhoek in 1958. By 1968, all blacks still in other locations were moved to Katatura.
Namibia gained its independence in 1990 from British rule. There are more than 120,000 blacks living in Katatura today. All tribes from Namibia are represented in Katatura, and numbers scrawled on the side of their 4- by 8-foot sheet metal and cardboard shanties represent their individual tribes.
The first time I laid eyes on Katatura from my seat on the Land Rover on the way to Ongos farm, I was shocked. Before me, as far as the eye could see, these dirt roads were surrounded by shanties. They appeared to have no running water or electricity.
How could people live this way?
By the end of my time in Namibia, I had a whole different outlook on Katatura.
Katatura is the nerve center of Namibia. It has its own police and fire departments and security system. It houses a variety of stores and shops. Lots of barbershops, car washes, cell phone stores and bars.
The people there are nice, friendly and care about each other.
Above all, Katatura is clean; I saw no flying debris in the dusty streets. Many shanties had beautiful, lush and well-tended vegetable and flower gardens. There was a delicious aroma of meat being barbecued on open grills, and whites flock to Katatura for tasty food, good music and fun.
Because Ongos farm is directly beside Katatura, Biosphere Expeditions is deeply involved in collecting information from people who live there.
The domestic dog and cat populations have a negative impact on the wild animals.
Many wild cats native to this area are small. There has been mating between the wild and domestic cats. The domestic cat brings in diseases such as feline leukemia, which is transmitted to the wild cats.
Dogs bring in rabies.
Through the past two decades, the kudu (largest antelope in Namibia) was infected with rabies. Epidemics killed thousands of kudu. The kudu is the only animal that can pass along rabies from one kudu to another.
One of our assignments was to interview people with dogs and how they are cared for.
Dogs don't live long in Katatura. From all the people we had interviewed, only one dog was older than 5 weeks. We asked whether their dog was immunized, what the dog's diet was, what they would do if the dog got sick, and other questions involving care. The answers were not pretty.
One shanty we went to had a cow's head lying outside covered in flies. The owners were proud of the fact they scraped matter from the cow's head to feed the dog. (We got a demonstration of this.)
This family also was proud of the doghouse they had constructed out of a cardboard box, complete with a roof and a door that opened and shut. Meanwhile, the dog was using it as a chew toy.
I know we are in love with our pets in the United States, but I pass no judgment on the Kataturan animal techniques.
Since my time in Namibia, I am fascinated with Katatura. Although they call it "the place where we don't want to stay," it appears no one is moving out.