Namibia Calling: Reiner and Gillian Stommel's long journey to Otjikondo School, by Michael Schnurr

Namibia Calling: Reiner and Gillian Stommel's long journey to Otjikondo School, by Michael Schnurr.

Namibia Calling: Reiner and Gillian Stommel's long journey to Otjikondo School, by Michael Schnurr.

The following extract is from the chapter The Meeting and ist taken from the book Namibia Calling: Reiner and Gillian Stommel's long journey to Otjikondo School which has been written by Michael Schnur and tells the story of a well known farm school in Northern Namibia and its founders.

Michael Schnurr  

The Meeting: During Brother Stommel's first years in South West Africa the Garden Route in neighbouring South Africa seems nearly as far away as his home country Germany. Holidays are virtually non-existent for missionaries, and members of the Order have to submit their private lives to spartan rules. This only changes in 1968 making life completely different for the thirty-five year old missionary. However, the story actually begins a few months earlier in autumn 1967. Brother Stommel is able to sell his cattle, the so-called Simmentaler to the South Africans at a very good price. Because the missionaries only wear the typical habits of the Order during Holy Mass, or on special occasions, the South African buyers are not aware that they are dealing with a missionary and assume Brother Stommel is working on his own account. Based on his negotiating ability they think of him as an up and coming farmer with a strong business sense. On discovering that he has never been south of Windhoek or even to the Cape Republic they invite him to visit South Africa: "After all you must come and see what has become of your splendid animals," one of them comments. Brother Stommel thanks them kindly for the invi tation but in view of his own financial position he knows that will be unable to accept, but as so often in Reiner Stommel's life, coincidence comes to bis aid.

For a time he has been in the habit of stopping off at the Outjo bakery when in town. There he meets the farmers of the region to catch up over coffee the country's latest news. Outjo lies on a crossroads running from North to South and West to East. While all vehicles driving from Windhoek to Etosha and further on to the Angolan Border are required to pass through Outjo, the same applies to travellers coming from the coast heading towards the Okavango or vice versa. The bakery is an ideal place to exchange news of all sorts and to this day the German baker's cakes enjoy a legendary reputation. On one of these visits Brother Stommel meets Gert Schmittinger, the master baker's son. He studies in the South African town of Kimberley not far from Johannesburg and is visiting his parents' home. When Gert hears about the South African farmers' invitation he does not hesitate to say to Reiner: "Why don't you join me when I drive back to South Africa in January, at the end of my holiday? It won't cost you anything and I will enjoy having an excellent companion for the journey."

A few weeks later, at the beginning of January 1968, Brother Stommel is on his way to the South African Republic in the passenger seat of a VW Beetle. He is going to the Mission Station of the Order of the Oblates in Pretoria. Now thirty-six year old Reiner has covered great distances since the age of twenty and has lived nearly 10,000 kilometres away from his parents' home yet he knows little of the wider world. His experiences are essentially limited to life in the Namibian bush and the mission station. Long drives by car and bus or long-distance train journeys are as unfamiliar to him as overnight stays in hotels or guest houses. He has only 45 Rand and, although friends provide him with extra money, he has no experience of the cost of such a trip - nor is it clear to him what he intends doing in South Africa.

Above all Brother Stomrael has no idea how to get back to the Mission Station St. Michael's within fourteen days at the latest. But now is the time to seize his chance. Reiner Stommel lives for the moment and does not waste much thought on his return. Unprepared for a changed world and inexperienced, he climbs into the car in Outjo. With this young friend he enjoys the drive to Windhoek followed by the journey through the South of Namibia which he has not seen before. He is fascinated by Fish River Canyon where in a bizarre world of deep valleys and rugged rocky slopes the meandering Fish River winds its way through Southern Africa. Nowhere else other than in the United States has a river dug itself more deeply and powerfully into the ground.

Gert Schmittinger and Brother Stommel decide to put up their tent at the edge of the canyon right in the midst of a wide open plain. But they had not reckoned with the whirlwinds moving across the plain at this time of the year and camping turns into an adventure as the wind howls around their little shelter that night. The following morning they are rewarded with a magnificent view across the Fish River Canyon before setting off for Olifantshoek in South Africa. Despite having to change a tyre on the dusty gravel roads Brother Stommel cannot get enough of the vastness of the country and enjoys Namibias tranquility and solitude. He feels the sharp contrast between Namibia and South Africa. The lush green countryside and the bustling life of the richly populated country are in stark contrast to the harsher conditions of neighbouring Namibia.

Three days later Gert Schmittinger drops Brother Stommel off in Pretoria. Here the missionary is received warmly by the Stations Oblates. Brother Stommel stays for three days and enjoys the hospitality of his fellow Brothers who show him all the sights of Pretoria; then the local priest questions him: "Well, Brother Stommel, where are you off to next then?" He can only shrug his shoulders as he has reached his destination, Pretoria. He had not given any thought to the rest of the journey and ought to be heading home again if he is to be back at St. Michael's within the expected fourteen days. Then a priest from Durban suggests: "Why don't you visit Durban? You should see it while you're here anyway. You ought to bathe in the Indian Ocean at least once in your lifetime."

At that time Archbishop Hurley lives in Durban, has been in office since 1947, and is known as a declared opponent of the South African apartheid politics. Naturally Reiner Stommel is curious to meet the Archbishop. "I'd love to, very much" the missionary from Namibia responds, only to admit to his fellow Brother shortly afterwards - "it is simply that I don't have any money." The priest is happy to help out and buys him a ticket for the two-day train journey.  Brother Stommel soon makes friends with a group of young people and time flies by on the journey. The arrival in Durban ls rather confusing. It is very hot and people of all colours and nationalities are bustling around the station. [...]

This is an extract from the book Namibia Calling: Reiner and Gillian Stommel's long journey to Otjikondo School.

Book title: Namibia Calling
Subtitle: Reiner and Gillian Stommel's long journey to Otjikondo School
Author: Michael Schnurr
Publisher: Produktionsbüro Michael Schnurr
Sipplingen, Germany 2011
ISBN 978-3-941602-61-8
Softcover, 14x21 cm, 173 pages, numerous b/w Fotos

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