A waitress with a future

A waitress with a future
A waitress with a future

Je m'apelle Mariane, or: ich heisse Mariane.

It might be harder for Mariane !Guims to teach visitors from overseas her Damara surname, complete with click, but as a waitress at Grootberg Lodge she manages to greet tourists in at least four languages, including English and Afrikaans.

Grootberg Lodge and the conservancy that owns it: #Khoadi–//Hôas, have given opportunities to Mariane that she would hardly have dreamt of as a child.

At the bottom of the steep (ever so steep) hill leading to the lodge on top of Grootberg Pass, which separates Kunene north and south, a blue BMW is parked. It belongs to Mariane and husband Baarman. Actually, he's not a barman. He works as a rhino tracker at the lodge. For the young couple it was a dream to own a car; a dream made possible by wages earned at Grootberg.

But Baarman and Mariane are realists. They have known hard times. Mariane lost her mother when she was five, and her father left home to work at the coast. Baarman's story is similar, having lost his mother at age 12. The couple have a small boy and want to do the best for him. They have a farm, but no livestock yet.

Mariane does the sums. The car cost 5,000 dollars but it will not make them money. A goat will cost 500, a cow 3 to 4,000 – a pregnant cow 8,000. With savings from two lodge incomes they can start to buy livestock and to build a life for themselves.

The conservancy can help too. Its annual hunting quota agreed with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism provides meat that is distributed to members. It's not a lot, but you can make biltong, says Mariane. The conservancy also helps with fuel for the water pump at the homestead and future farm. The money for diesel comes from income from the lodge and from trophy hunting.

The lodge is currently adding more luxury rooms with stunning views over the Klip River valley, and an American architect was so taken with the concept of a lodge owned by the local people that he is designing a permanent exhibition at Grootberg to explain to tourists just what a conservancy is, and how can empower rural Namibians like Mariane.

A viable farm is still in the future for Mariane and Baarman, but work at Grootberg makes the dream possible. But for the time being, Mariane is happy as a waitress and ready to greet you.

Ich heisse Mariane.

Und Sie?

Steve Felton
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