For some, Aussenkehr is a place where one could be lucky to get employment in the lush green valley where private companies have vineyards exporting table grapes to the outside world. For the many workers who work on these grape farms, though, Aussenkehr is a place where they have simply made home out of desperation, and if they were to find a better job elsewhere, they would leave. Their biggest headache is the absence of ablution facilities, which means adults and children alike have no place to answer the call of Mother Nature with dignity. Water comes on a weekly basis aboard a water tank.
The spectacular views of the green vineyards, especially during the harvesting season, would welcome you as – having clicked the 51km distance from Noordoewer – you enter the Aussenkehr valley. But drive further for about five kilometres, and the tarred road ends, a dusty gravel road begins, and you will be greeted by the sight of reed houses whose upward protrusion interrupts the otherwise green valley of the Orange River and its mountain backdrop.
As you drive through the gravel road towards the reed houses, you are assured to see people moving from the reed houses, crossing the road to the other side. Naturally, you would think the pedestrians are the residents of the valley simply crossing the road to visit their kinsmen and co-workers who live in houses across the road. You would be mistaken. There are no houses, reed or otherwise, on that side of the road. People cross the road in search of the most secluded area to answer the call of nature with the utmost dignity all humans crave for when such a call comes.
In this huge valley there are no proper ablution facilities. Children find any open spaces between the houses and relieve themselves. A child’s ignorance is bliss but that cannot be said for the adults. Hence, adults have to undertake the undignified long walk to the only place where they hope to find a secluded place to respond to nature’s call.
Yet, even then, there is no assurance that crossing the road to the other side would guarantee peaceful ‘me time’, with no one seeing you. It is the place that everyone here uses, and since no one can time when to relieve oneself so they can be alone, the residents are now used to just relieving themselves a few metres from each other in the open area, while some are forced to hold on until it is dark to answer nature’s call.
One of the residents narrates that the situation has somewhat become normal, saying during the evening you see groups of people crossing the road to go and relieve themselves. Those with cars drive as far as they can to find a secluded area to relieve themselves.
“We don’t have a choice, there are no toilets here and if nature calls you just have to run to the other side and do your business in the open area,” says Kalistus Mayula.
But this is not the only problem residents here face, the lack of electricity and access to tap water also remain a problem, as most residents still use candles and gas stoves, while they have to queue up to get water from a tractor-drawn bowser that goes around delivering potable water to residents on a weekly basis.
Apart from that access to banking and postal services are also a struggle at this farm, with Standard Bank the only bank to have opened a branch here. Over 30 000 residents rely on the bank’s two Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), which are accessible 24 hours, while Bank Windhoek and First National Bank’s mini ATMs are only usable during the day.
But the ATMs are simply not enough for the population and should you find yourself on your way here, having enough cash on you before you get here is advisable, as you might not have a chance to get to the ATM, especially during the weekends, when queues are very long.
You might also want to carry your medicine or come with your personal physician, as getting medical attention here is almost a mission impossible. There are only three nurses at the small clinic that is closed during lunch hours. Some residents say, half-jokingly but earnestly, that your chances of dying while in the queue at the clinic are higher than the chances of you getting any medical assistance on the day.
One resident, 45-year-old Nyumba Matilde, has lived in this valley for the last 15 years. She has witnessed the influx of people into the valley, people in search of work opportunities, and has seen how the clinic gradually became inadequate to care for the increasing population in the valley.
“Some people wake up as early as 02h00, and sometimes the nurses are unable to identify serious cases from minor cases. People [with serious medical cases] have died while waiting in the queue,” she claims.
But despite the myriad problems residents face, Aussenkehr keeps attracting more and more people, especially those from the northern regions, who flock in large numbers – especially during the grape’s harvesting season. So why come here?
A 21-year-old Nangura Thomas narrates that the economic opportunities far outweigh social challenges, especially for those without any academic qualification or a chance to get decent employment elsewhere.
Thomas, who has only gone as far as Grade 8, recounts how she had to drop out of school in 2010 after she got pregnant. After giving birth she had no one to take care of her baby and was forced to quit school. Without the support of the child’s father, she had to find ways to make ends meet.
Now a mother of two, she says working at the grape company is far better than previous odd jobs she did in order to survive. At her previous job, as a bartender, her boss sexually abused her and her salary could not sustain her.
“My salary was too low, and my boss would ask me to have sex with him, as I was staying at his house with his wife,” she says of her previous job.
For 29-year-old Veronika Sirungi, who has a Grade 10 certificate, this is her first time to work here, and she says although she is a casual worker, her salary is better than the previous jobs. Sirungi says she earns up to N$3000 per month or more with overtime, and this is enough for her to send back money home, something she could not do in the past.
She adds that getting a job here is way easier than anywhere else, as she explains she only sat for a month, after which she got a job at one of the grape companies.
“It’s easy to get a job here, as there are so many grape companies you can work for, and the salary is not that bad,” she says.
The jobs at the farm are mostly labour intensive, ranging from picking grapes in the vineyards to packaging. The job requirement is minimal if anything. “There are not really any extra requirements but you must at least have an ID and have a bank account or be ready to open one,” says Nico van der Merwe, a director at Sonop, one of the grape companies operating in the valley. As more land gets under production, more people are set to keep flocking to the valley along the Orange River in search of job opportunities.