One of the popular Christmas gifts for 2016 was VR-gear, a mask or headset that you wear to experience worlds or places that may or may not exist. We live in an era where many people avoid venturing out to experience true adventures in places that actually exist. How did that happen? Have we become so bored with our protected and comfortable lives that we need to seek adventure in a fantasy world where we needn’t sweat, freeze or experience anything real? What kind of effect will this virtual reality have on our ability to empathize with actual experiences and genuine emotions?
While working in different countries I’ve come across cultures and people living without the conveniences we take for granted. Aborigines in Australia, Veddas on Sri Lanka, the Maasai in Tanzania, and the Inuit in Alaska all share one thing in common – they live close to nature and have often chosen to live without the gadgets we deem necessary to make our lives simpler, more comfortable and “adventurous”.
In Namibia, in southwestern Africa, I was fascinated by the young Himba children who, at only 6 years of age, work as goatherds. School in Namibia is not mandatory and many of the Himba children living in remote areas have no opportunity to attend classes, others are not allowed to because they are needed to herd the family’s goats. It is their task until they are 12 – 13 years old.
After sunrise, when they have eaten their corn porridge, the children gather the 100-200 goats and drive them out into the wilderness. Sometimes they have to wander far in search of food and water for their herd. For protection from snakes and predators, like leopards and sometimes lions, they carry a big stick, which they soon become very proficient at handling. These children have no need for expensive gadgets to experience virtual excitement; their lives are quite adventurous already. In the evening, when they return to the village, it’s time to milk the goats. Goat milk is an important part of the Himbas rather limited diet, which otherwise consists primarily of corn meal porridge.
While shooting the footage for our film, ”Himba – the Red People” now premiering in Sweden, we spent many weeks in a Himba village without toilets, electricity, water or shelter from the penetrating sun. We slept, worked and ate on the ground, which was covered in layers of dung from hundreds of cattle and goats. Revolting at first, we soon became accustomed to it. Christofer Wärnlöf, anthropologist and researcher, who worked with us on this film, says that animal dung is considered a valuable asset rather than a problem. Christofer speaks from experience since he lived with the Himbas for years while studying their culture. They are no more bothered by cow dung than we are of leaves falling from the trees. It is also an essential building material. All of the huts in the village are constructed with branches and a mixture of cow dung, sand and water. During drought, when the cattle are driven away from the village, the huts deteriorate from lack of materials for repairs.
The Himba people have an almost inexplicable joy that can be difficult to understand. We would find their living conditions intolerable and their lives monotonous. And what about those little kids, wandering in the desert with their goats – isn’t that dangerous? Well…I asked the elders in the village, but no one could recall any fatalities. After getting a taste of the stick the goatherds handle so prodigiously, any predator would probably think twice before getting too close. Hot, dusty, tedious – but at any given moment they might stop what they’re doing and dance! No music, no instruments – just clapping their hands to a rhythm.
The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the people – it was real; it was adventurous! Not something you can find in a box. I have friends and colleagues who have challenged themselves with incredible feats like bicycling across continents, climbing mountains or sailing around the world – hot, dusty, and tedious. They all say they had the time of their lives! So no, I don’t think last years #1 Christmas present is anything for me.