Namibia – land of amethysts

All I knew about this country until yesterday consisted of the recent availability of good quality gemstones and a few vague memories of a reputation for human rights abuse during the latter parts of the last century. And, after all, that could be said of much of Africa so, apart from the fact that it was somewhere near the Kalahari, I knew nothing at all really.

We are here because Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is the starting point for our overland trip across the neighbouring country of Botswana. That is somewhere I do know a little about and have been keen to visit since I studied diamonds and coloured gems (mainly theoretically) in the early 1980’s. In other words, a whole long time before Mr McCall Smith brought its charm to international attention with his stories of the traditionally built lady detective.

Namibia is also a former possession of South Africa and, of course, a former colony of land grabbing Europeans and what we have seen in our pitifully limited 24 hour stopover suggests that it also shares with Botswana the good fortune of having been able to plough back into the country at least some of its economic spoils. This is the capital, it must be said, but the streets are clean, the gardens gorgeous and the buildings well maintained. Pretty well everyone who isn’t wearing new(ish) trainers is wearing leather shoes; this may sound a silly observation but not to someone who has seen the type of footwear worn in India and many other African countries.

Shoppers in the more upmarket malls are nearly all black, the informative museums are all free and while the dioramas in the Independence Monument have a distinctly Communist ambiance, there is no razor wire or uniformed security surrounding the Parliament building. In fact city workers took their lunchbreak in its idyllic gardens while at least two foreign tourists spent an age trying to capture photographs of the exotic birds gorging themselves on the nectar laden flowers of the purple jacaranda trees. (Grahame’s were the most successful).

I know I should be writing a skilful little summary of the culture, history and geography of this interesting country but I’d only be using the same books and internet sites as you would and I must acknowledge that it deserves a proper visit so……………..what of the amethysts? Could I resist the opportunity to hunt down a small souvenir? Of course not. In between footslogging around monuments and museums, I eventually tracked down the “House of Gems” in a backstreet behind Independence Avenue. It proved to have recently closed down and enquiries as to a substitute were not producing much in the way of results.

Dragging my hot, tired and extremely longsuffering companion back up the hill, I eventually located the Rock and Gem shop of one Mr Oliver Pragt, where I was able to feast my eyes of some of the finest African gemstones it has ever been my privilege to examine. And I have seen a lot of them. The Namibian amethysts turned out to be disappointing, I suspect that (as with so many other fine gems nowadays) the best crystals are being sent straight out of the country but the tourmalines, garnets and aquamarines were divine. Namibia does have diamond mines like Botswana but diamonds are just portable currency to the true gemmologist: it is the aforementioned, brilliantly coloured stones that work their magic on us. So it is with the enduring memory of an encounter with a soul mate in a strange land and a golden orange spessartine that glows with the fire of the African sun that I shall set off tomorrow for pastoralists new.

Categories: Africa

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