The next day we caught up with Michael and Petra again, as they took us to a farm, 50 kilometres from Windhoek of some friends, Martina and Frank, where we joined them for their weekly ritual of a walk with Michael’s favourite horse he has known since early childhood.
The short walk taken by the troupe, which included three dogs and Frank and Martina’s young grandchildren, headed through the spectacular arid landscape, spotting some dassies, small thickset mammals living in a rocky outcrop, and red hartebeest scurrying away from us in the thornbush scrub. We then chilled over breakfast on the verandah, with brotchen, wurst, kudu salami and herbal tea, evidence of our hosts’ German descent. Sam chatted and tolerated the challenging new foods well, but refused my attempts to teach him a few German words, telling me in no uncertain terms he wanted to stick to English.
With the emotional hurdle of camping in Etosha over and done with, Sam’s tension was easing. While he still counted down the days until our departure, he was talking positively about Africa and our trip, even saying he was enjoying himself. Sam’s autism and anxiety are inextricably linked – the more anxious he is, the more withdrawn he becomes. When his anxiety lessens, this allows his personality to shine through.
In the afternoon of a jam-packed day, the three of us visited N/a’an ku sê Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Windhoek. My concerns that it was going to be commercially driven and possibly exploitative of the animals evaporated, as it became clear the impressive park was owned and run by people totally committed to animal conservation. Animals orphaned or caught by farmers trying to protect their stock were rehabilitated to the wild whenever possible and those that couldn’t be were well looked after.
It was also a great opportunity to see the magnificent animals so up close as they were fed. Sam roared with laughter and the women giggled when we were flashed by a baboon, thrusting his bits at the group. Baboons clearly have no boundaries.
The highlight of the afternoon, however, came later, when I was ‘mock-charged’ by Clarence, a 320-kilogram male lion. The lions up close were magnificent beasts, but made it clear we humans weren’t their friends. While Clarence was – we thought – off gnawing on a bone, the tour guide handed around drinks. I was laughing with the other tourists, beer in hand, when the beast charged towards me, roaring and pawing the ground from behind the electric fence, only a metre or so from where I stood.
‘Arggh!’ I jumped back in shock, completely forgetting in my terror that the fence was there at all.
Clarence, of course, knew better that to touch the fence and was just letting me know who was boss. He got no argument from me.
Sam and Benison couldn’t stop laughing.
Sam who’d been whinging about the sanctuary visit, ended up loving it. ‘Things go fast when you enjoy yourself,’ he remarked.
‘Yes,’ Benison explained. ‘There’s an expression for that. Time flies when you’re having fun.’
On our last evening in Windhoek, Sam, Benison and I had dinner at the iconic Joe’s Beerhouse, where I ordered a delicious springbok kebab, but Benison and Sam preferred more prosaic dishes. Benison was already sad about the prospect of leaving Namibia, having been inoculated with its lure, and Sam and I had had a terrific fortnight, catching up with old friends and acquaintances and once again experiencing the magic of this fascinating continent.
As we were preparing to leave the next morning for the airport, I filmed Sam having one last conversation with Rosa, a staff member at Chameleon. Sam had spoken to Rosa on our first visit, once again in front of the camera. She was astonished at the difference, as he casually chatted with her about family and work. She asked whether we had been doing a lot of therapy of some sort. Well, yes, we had, but of a most unusual kind, on the road in Africa!