Brochens, Tornados and a Rescue Mission

Friday was Namibia Handwashing Day 2010 and this year, following on from our Cholera problems, the commemoration event was held in the Great Kunene at Opuwo Stadium.

In the run-up we (well I say we, I mainly mean other people) were busy with Social Mobilization and arranging the event. On the day we bussed hundreds of school kids in and had a big commemoration at the Opuwo stadium presided over by our Regional Director for Health and Social Services.

Namibia Handwashing Day 2010 Banner and School Kids


Brochens, for those who don’t know, are bread rolls of an oval style. Part of any commemoration here, as important as the T-shirts and much more important than the speeches, is giving food to those who attend. This was especially key this time round as we had brought hundreds of kids on the back of lorries from miles around that we definitely needed to feed.

Once I’d finished running around a bit in the morning I popped into the hospital kitchen to see what was going on. I found a scene of frantic work, with piles of Brochens, meat, apples and cool drinks all around. We had decided to cater for 2,500 people. 2,500 is a lot of Brochens.

Foolishly I volunteered my help and so was roped into the least skilled job (the only one I could be trusted with) of slicing open brochens to be passed to the next step of the assembly line. Even then I managed to slice some too open (so they fell apart) or not enough. But these mistakes were tolerated for the most part.

In the end everything did come together and everyone, eventually, was fed. I never got to eat the spoils of my labour though as I had a VIP invite to the lunch at the country lodge (yes I know, it amazed me as well).


After the event had finished we faced the logistical problem of returning the kids to their schools. The more distant ones were going back on the lorries they had come on (loaded up it was quite a sight but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture).

Some of the smaller cars (bakkies and combis) took kids to the Alpha School which is just 14km out of Opuwo. On my way there with kids stuffed in the load area and six or so fitting on the rear seat we met with a dust tornado just outside of town.

These vary in strength and are not uncommon this time of year. When they go through the town they pick up rubbish and bags etc but out here “in da bush” they are just columns of swirling dust stretching into the sky. Commonly the base is 6 to 12 feet across and other than a bit of grit in your eyes are harmless.

The one we met, 10 feet off the road, had a base only a foot wide at touchdown and was faster, taller and more dense than any I had ever seen. I knew it must be an usual one as even the kids fell silent as we passed, with the car rocking from side to side. Luckily we made it through alive.

“That was very big twister, sir, we are very lucky” one of the kids said to me when we were safe mirroring my exact thoughts. On further questioning none of them had seen anything quite as solid or forceful as that, just the usual rubbish-swirls. We stopped to look back and see if it would capsize one of the combi busses following but it moved away from the road. Bad luck for any errant goats wandering I think.

Over the next 24 hours I saw a few more of these monsters wandering around but didn’t get as close to one.

A Rescue Mission

Once the kids were returned to schools I went back to the stadium to help with the collection of our stuff and was told the Patient Bus (which comes back from Windhoek every Friday) had broken down about 120km outside of Opuwo. Apparently by a process I never did understand I was the only person suitable or free to go and rescue the bus.

I found it pretty quickly only 95km out of town – the radiator had totally blown (a previous RadWeld job giving up the ghost) and wouldn’t hold any fluid at all.

Bus driver, nurse, four patients, two accompanying children, axle for a trailer, two spools of wire, urgent mails, a bag of oranges and much baggage loaded up we messaged the news of success back to base and headed back to Opuwo. 10km in we realised the bus wasn’t locked and returned. Made it back to Opuwo about 6.30pm to be met (in my mind anyway) with thunderous applause and praise.

As well as keeping me sweet with the transport and logistics people it turned out one of the patients was Paulina from my very first “Introduction to Computers” course with her now quite big boy that I had looked after to free her to play with a mouse (and who had dribbled all over me, bless).

Crowd at Namibia Handwashing Day 2010

Handwashing in Action

All in all a successful day and hopefully lessons learned on hygiene. Fingers crossed for another cholera free year.


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