We arrive at a small village on the Namibian side of the Chobe river. A man paddles past us in a dug-out canoe as we disembark the tenders and follow a path through the long grass, towards the mud huts.
A solar panel leans against a tree, under a makeshift washing line created from string and branches. A hen and her chicks are pecking at some seeds on the ground and a young boy peers at us from behind a tree.
We walk past a tiny mud hut and our guide explains that these smaller huts are for young girls or young boys. At the age of 12 these children will leave the family hut and move into a sort of ‘shared accommodation’ with other children of their age and gender. The huts are very small, yet around six children would share each hut.
In the middle of the village is the community vegetable garden, where a variety of different plants are growing. A group of boys are playing with a football behind the fenced allotment, as another young boy runs past us pushing a wheelbarrow. When he sees that we have cameras he starts posing.
Our guide invites us to see inside his home. Each of the family huts has an outside area that has a bamboo fence around it. The fence serves to protect the area from wind, as the family will cook outside on an open fire, and also for privacy. In one corner of the yard area are some sticks and the ash on the floor indicates that this is where the fire is made. In another corner there are some buckets containing water for washing dishes and clothes. At the other side of the outdoor area is the toilet a small storage area.
In the yard is a solar panel and water pump – in small, remote villages like these, such tools are incredibly valuable as self-sufficiency is imperative.
We are invited to enter the house. Inside are four sofas, placed around a glass coffee table. Behind them is a massive entertainment system with a flatscreen television and surround-sound speakers.
The villagers have a market with handcrafted goods and we follow our guide to the communal area. The communal area is a sort of outdoor ‘village hall’. Bamboo fences surround it, protecting it from the wind, and inside there is a large tree and a few benches. For our benefit various mats have been laid out, displaying a selection of handcrafted ornaments for sale. Under normal circumstances this area would be clear and would be used for village meetings and as a place for the villagers to gather.
The crafts include hand-carved wooden animals, bowls, wooden cutlery and all sorts of souvenirs. In the middle of the ‘market’ is a box with a slit in the top and a padlock. We are told that we can give donations to the village by putting the money in the box. The money will be used for some of their big projects, such as bringing running water to the village.
Beside us some of the local children are playing on the floor, wearing skirts made from bamboo and bottle tops (worn to greet the tourists). A boy is sitting on one of the roots of the tree wearing a t-shirt that has the words ‘always look on the bright side of life’ printed across is, probably given to him by a tourist visiting the village. His shoes are too small for him and are falling apart.
It is time to leave the village and, as we walk back towards the shore, two young boys walk past us carrying buckets. They are heading to the river to collect water. They fill up the buckets and head back into the village before we have reached our tender.