She must lean against the wall of her Katutura house (in Marula ) to support her legs to walk. Her health is not the best, she is asthmatic and lately, walks with difficulty due to her swollen legs brought by old age.
“Being old is good, but it has challenges. The good part is that I have no worries in life, not a single regret. The only problem are the legs that swell up here and there and stop me from going to church,” Ouma Tjivikua explains as she throws herself with a brief sigh, on a wooden chair, “Ouma’s chair”, where she automatically seems to have gathered all the energy.
Her smile is wide, infectious, it’s a winning smile. There seems to be a connection between the energy she assumed since sitting on her chair and the smile. On the 7th of October, she turns 85. She speaks so immaculately in the Queen’s English as if it is her mother tongue.
Royalty defines Ouma Tjivikua. Of her 13 children, she has lost two, the first and the sixth-born. Her success lies in the products of her womb, she says.
A retired nurse, Ouma Tjivikua credits her children’s success to the family values that she has embedded in them since childhood.
“When my husband died in 1985, three of my children were outside Namibia, namely James, Tjama and Michael. It needed a certain strength from the Almighty to keep and protect my children as they grew and matured first into men and women, then into national leaders. Family values and preservation of culture became the secret. I learned that by sending my children to school. Education is important. If the Tjivikua name will stand the test of time, we need to keep sending our grandchildren to schools across the world, and keeping them within the values of our culture,” she says.
All but one of her 10 remaining children are married and have taken up the aspect of the family as a key facet of growth.
Today’s parents must teach their children those same family values. They are fundamental to nation building and preserving of our culture. Look at me, my skin is lighter than yours, but I want all my children and grandchildren to understand our Herero culture and appreciate family. That is who we are and that has been the secret.
Secret to Long-Life
She recalls how some people rejected her, especially in the late-70’s and mid-80s. “I was ‘too-SWAPO”, they said. But I did not lose focus. Till today, I have never smoked, I have never touched alcohol and I read my bible twice a day. There is no other secret. Why I mentioned my husband’s death is because it was a trying time for me where I could have lost it and done things I would have regretted. But I remained consistent.”
Born Kutuai Kaura at Okaundja, in the Okakarara area, Ouma Tjivikua moved to Swakopmund with her half-German mother to complete Standard 2. By then only Windhoek had three schools reaching Standard 6 (now Grade 8). Upon completing Standard 2 in Swakopmund, she was made to stay in the same grade for two more years as her mother contemplated moving to Windhoek.
The family eventually moved to the capital in 1945 where she enrolled to complete her studies (Standard 6) at the Rhenish Mission Herero School. There she became one of the first netball players of Namibia in 1947.
“By then I had an edge over my classmates because of the two years I had spent repeating Standard 2 in Swakopmund, for there was no higher school grade. “I completed my Standard 6 in Ongombombonde, Waterberg because the government had opened a new school there. I went into nursing in Otjiwarongo in 1950 and by 1952 at the age of 20, I got married,” she recalls.
When her husband Festus Tjivikua, a teacher, was transferred from Otjiwarongo to Ovitoto, there was neither a hospital nor a clinic, thus she was forced to abandon her nursing passion.
Much later in 1984, she was requested by a medical doctor, Dr Withun, to undertake Nursing studies. Instead, she volunteered to become Administrative Assistant at the Katutura State Hospital, where she served in Administration and then in the Pharmacy until 1993 when she retired.
“Because my father was an Evangelical Lutheran Priest, I spent time reading the bible to students at the school where my husband was teaching.”
She has been an active member of the SWAPO Party since 1964. As the interview drags on, it becomes obvious that Ouma Tjivikua has thrice my age but, twice the energy. In between, one of her great-grandchildren interjects us by demanding attention. She attends to him and upon her return to our interview, is eager to offer our team breakfast—all the while chatting away about her life and her family.
Ouma Tjivikua talks about family more than anything else. And no wonder—she has made children the focus of her life.
“I have lived in this house for 34 years. They have brought me offers to move to better suburbs but I have a life here. This is the house of the Tjivikuas first, she says, staring blindly at an old Panasonic boxed TV.”
“Everything has been easy for me. Not because of money, no. I have never chased money or the joys of this world. Why seek luxuries when you have the joy of the heart? I do not have the regrets of the past, they will keep me hostage,” she continues.
Every day she whiles away the time on her needle-work.
“I knit for my family. All of them have worn what I sew. I do not want to do it for the money. The money will kill me because thinking about it makes me weak.”
Every weekend her sons, daughters, and grandchildren gather at Ouma’s house.
“I wish everybody could have the opportunity to reach my age. We are all different. Some are so poor, some live very different lives than me. But when you are my age, it is not about poverty or riches, it is love. We all love our grandchildren and we want to prepare our journeys, clear the road for ourselves and our families when we’re gone. It boosts me when they are all here.”
As we bid farewell, we joke at her insistence that ‘no photos today, come when I am properly dressed for photos.’ We agree she maybe 85, but when you look at her you’d never believe it.
She’s an energetic worker and she loves joking. She’s wise and loves telling stories of the old days, but she is not an old woman. She remains Super Woman!
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