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A Afronaut's Odysseus

Time is fleeting and waits for no person. We are all journeying, each in their own unique vessel on life's flowing stream.

Time and time again many have tried to locate the fountain of youth, but it simply remains an elusive fantasy. So instead we are stuck with her sister Moment.

Almost 5 years ago I left my ancestral Namibia in search for new opportunities and Growth. This is how I landed back(I get back to that) on European shores, or more precisely at Greece's International Airport. Stashed away in my bags was a secured work contract for a big international company based in Athens, Greece.

There, my European wife a Latvian national eagerly awaited me with a beautiful smile and open arms.That was the beginning of my second European Odysseus....

I was born Onesmus Shimwafeni in the late 1970's in Jamba southern Angola, to Namibian parents Soini Shimwafeni and Monika Kangumu.

Times were difficult and turbulent; Namibia was raging a bitter border war for Independence against its colonial occupier, the white minority Apartheid regime of South Africa.

Many Namibians including my parents, fled the country for neighbouring Angola, Zamibia and Zimbabwe, all allies who supported Namibia's struggle for Independence.

Both my parents became SWAPO freedom fighters and tragically my mom died soon after I was born.

In Angola I and thousands of other Namibians ended up in refugee camps set up for us.

To be honest I don't remember much of my time there as I was very young but I also assume it is a mental block or like I call it, a protection from reliving childhood trauma.

The 1970's was also the height of the Cold War between the USA and the former Soviet Union, both were vying to secure their alliances for their own strategic purposes throughout Africa. Former European East bloc countries like the Soviet Union,Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic sent teachers, doctors, engineers and more to Angola in support.

But also Norway, Sweden, Finland took in Namibians that time. Cuba had troops on the ground helping in the years long border war.

The white South African minority Apartheid regime was fighting a losing battle, so when they learned about the exact location of the Namibian SWAPO refugee camps, they flew over them with military combat aircrafts bombing and killing thousands of innocent women,children and men. Many of the survivors were scarred physically and mentally for life.

Outraged, the International community had enough, many children and wounded freedom fighters were flown out to mostly Eastern Europe.

The white minority South African Apartheid regime was slapped with heavy economical sanctions and it was the beginning of thir end.

On the 18th December 1979 the first group of about 80 Namibian children arrived during the snowy winter in the former German Democratic Republic(GDR).

As fate would have it in 1982 ,more children including myself, were airlifted and flown there. Between 1979 and 1988 a total of 430 Namibian children came to the GDR. Many more like my cousin Selma ended up in Czechoslovakia and beyond.

It would be our home for years to come, to be precise until 1990.

There we were taught Namibian traditions, history, songs, dances and recipes, but primarily received an education in East-German-style socialist ideology.

In 1990 several months following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Namibia finally gained her Independence on 21st March and SWAPO assumed control of the government.

This historic coincidence allowed the German government to quickly decide the fate of the GDR children; we were uprooted again from our familiar surroundings and sent back to Namibia.

The consequence was cultural shock: youths we were seen by the Namibian people as Germans, the Namibian Germans regarded us to be "amazingly German“, though as black people.

For me and I believe for many of my peers at the beginning, it meant a conflict between two home countries and two cultures, and a fight for two identities. But we went through alot before and that made us resilient, so after the initial culture shock we started to built bridges betweeen our people, the Namibian-Germans and Germans from Germany.

In Namibia I was placed in a German school by Ruth Dresselhaus & Monika Gerlach who also opened their home for me. I will also be forever grateful to Sabine Rohlwink who took it upon herself to open a hostel and accommodate me and many others I grew up with.

Books were written about our experience in East Germany, German film teams were lining up to interview us thereby unintentionally opening up old wounds, until many of us stopped giving interviews. All we wanted is to be accepted and fit in.

After I finished my education I studied tourism and ended up working in the hospitality & tourism industry of Namibia for many years.

I met my dad a year after I came to Namibia, he too had returned home from the battle front scarred mentally struggling with post traumatic stress.

He managed to establish himself as a police officer and later on as a successful detective.

He was one of the first black Namibians to own a house in a predominantly white neighbourhood Kramersdorf in Swakopmund, a coastal town in Namibia.

Our relationship was complex, a love & hate relationship at times.

I guess it derived from not really knowing one another, avoiding to open up to each other and not talking about the past. My father was a respected member of the community, at times he drowned his sorrows in alcohol and was strict. He was the proud father of over 10 children. Sadly he passed away in 2007 while I was working in Tanzania, even though we never hugged I shed tears for him, thinking of all the sacrifices he had made for his family and Namibia as a nation. He never fully recovered from his postraumatic stress but I believe he found peace in death.

From a young early age in Namibia I was a people's person and story teller, I enjoyed bringing different people together. Since I didnt grow up in a traditional home I regarded my friends as family. Soon I started writing poems and stories and whenever I felt down it was and still is therapy for me. I formed bonds with peers that I grew up with and together we navigated through our youth in Namibia. Eventually the memories of the refugee camp in Angola and my time in East Germany slowly faded away until they became distant memories.

I know today that I should have received post traumatic councelling upon my return to Namibia, but sadly it didnt happen.

My past in the refugee camp in Angola, my time in East Germany and Namibia help me to understand and feel people from very different background. But throughout my years Depression also followed me like a shadow.

I tried to shrug it off telling myself "be a Man, or "big boys dont cry" which worked for a while, but remember what we tend to ignore only grows bigger within us.

Whenever I was surounded by friends having fun, it would disappear, but would rear its ugly head again when I was alone. So I avoided being alone as much as possible. Then came the youth rebel years, partying, drinking, becoming a rapper and poet while discovering myself and my place in this world. I continued writing and wrote a short story I called 100 Bucks

which I gave to my friend Oshosheni(Rest in Power my friend) who was an award winning Namibian film producer, who turned it into an award winning Namibian short film.

I ended up working as a tourist guide for many years and showed many foreigners my beautiful Namibia and southern Africa. I absolutely loved being in nature surrounded by beauty was and is still balsam to my soul and I was glad to be able to share it with others.

I rediscovered myself out in the vast open spaces of Namibia, often meditating finding inner peace.

In this period I met my now wife Leila, who at that time was a PHD exchange student from Latvia on a visit to Namibia. We soon struck up a friendship and over the years that she was studying in Pretoria, South Africa our friendship turned romantic.

Why did I get to like her? I could talk to her for hours, she understood me and genuinely cared. Like me she grew up in a former communist country and understood where I came from.

Fast forward, on the 24th May 2019 Leila and I got married at a Magistrate's court in Namibia. My brother Namadi and his wife Ester were our witnesses.

Eventually Leila had to return to her native Lativa in northern Europe as her exchange study program had come to an end.

I went through a period of severe depression and lonliness which was hard on me.

Thanks to my sister Inge & husband Jerry, my brother Namadi & wife Ester, Chef Jona Levi and a few other angels that helped me in my darkest hours.

The same year I told myself I needed a new opportunity and new adventure, I applied to different german companies in Europe. I took a chance but now I know it was fate.

My happiness was immense when I received an email and a call informing me that I was accepted to work for a big international company in Athens, Greece.

I had various online interviews and succeeded.

The company paid for my flight ticket and accommodation, all I had to manage was to get my Visa(which they reimbursed) for Greece in Johannesburg, South Africa.

3 days before I was supposed to fly out I secured my Visa stamp in my Namibian passport.

My wife Leila was very excited when I told her the good news. She had recently graduated with a PHD in Environmental Law so she decided to secure a job in Greece too and flew out a while before me to welcome me in Athens.

So that's how in 2019 I landed back on European shores, 37 years after I first touched down in Europe. The young boy had returned a grown man.

Greece, Athens was new and foreign to me but my wife was there at the International Airport welcoming me with a huge smile and wide open arms.

We first stayed at an Air-bnb for a while until we secured an apartment in Piraeus near the beautiful waterfront. During the day we both went to work for our seperate international companies, on weekends we explored Athens,the surroundings, historic places and the many beautiful islands. I absorbed everything around me; the good and the bad.

Greece is a big tourist destination so we took advantage while we lived there and undertook as much as possible. I love the greek food, the the Greeks' way of life, it reminded me alot of Namibia. People love to meet and socialise, fun was definitely had.

Living there we learned where to stay cheap when on holidays, Greece still has a soft spot in my heart. But I also saw the shadow side of a country that is gripped by a high unemployment rate and a surge in illegal migrants arriving in Europe for a better life.

The evidence was clearly visible as I saw many people living and begging in the streets.

In 2020 Covid hit Greece like everywhere else in the world very hard.

My wife had just accepted a job offer to work as a researcher for a top university in Riga, Latvia. So in 2020, 2 days before Greece closed her border, we were on a plane out to Riga. Before I had met my wife I could barely pinpoint or find Latvia on the global map.

I just knew it was somewhere in northern Europe close to Finland.

After settling in, a new culture shock hit me: Latvia is a small country with a population of 1,9 million and a predominantly homogeneously white Latvian population.

Riga is quite an International vibrant city, but we live in Tiraine one of the municipalities a few km's outside the capital of Riga. Here and in most places in Latvia it is not too common for the locals to see or encounter a black person. So whenever I walk to the shop or we travel people stare at me.

Coming from Namibia where we have a multicultural society it was at first very irritating.

I felt like an exotic exhibition in a zoo but over time learned how to deal with it.

Most people are just fascinated.

Here up north the mentality is also different from Africa or Southern Europe,

Due to climate and Latvia's history people tend to smile less and are not very social, they also rather stick to themselves and just chill with their inner circles.

As a social person it took me a while to adjust and still am.

Latvia was in the past occupied by the Germans for close to 700 years and after by the Russians. Latvia just like Namibia gained her Independence in 1990.

Thats when the country transitioned from a Soviet Union member to becoming a EU member. Latvia is absolutely beautiful with its lush green nature and many cultural offerings.

There is also alot of entertainment for singles and families with kids.

The country is safe and crime rarely happens.

I am still absorbing,learning and at the same time I am teaching others about Namibia and Africa.My wife and I both work from home and explore Latvia and other countries like Spain, Norway and Sweden when the opportunity arises.

But I have not been back to Germany since 1982; funny I speak the language fluently and through my history, friends and my job I am still connected to Germany.

I made it my point to visit in 2024, its something I can no longer postpone.

On the 7th March 2021 we became blessed parents to our miracle baby Ondeya Edite, whom we named Ondeya, which means I have arrived in my mother language Oshikwanyama in Namibia, and Edite after her Latvian grandmother.

I am slowly becoming a full circle; the half orphan who never knew his mother, the former child refugee who had to get lost to be found, who married and became a husband and father. Our life path is laid out for all of us by God, it is interwoven into our DNA.

I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and had stopped believing in myself - but God did!

My life is still far from perfect but I learned to love myself and appreciate the borrowed time I am living on. I still struggle with Depression here and there but I manage it and I have my family and my inner circle.

I hope my story can and will inspire others who feel hopeless, frustrated and alone.

We all have the power to make the Impossible possible, believe me.

As for my time in Europe, I often get asked the question if I will stay forever.

My reply doesn't change, I live to absorb, learn, go on adventures and build on my Success.

I see myself as a global citizen of the world and as a Namibian ambassador.

Surely my wife and I will one day retire in Namibia.

After 3 years in Latvia, a new chapter, in a new country will soon start.

My Odysseus continues.....

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