THE NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH Rern’y Ngamije Rwanda And Namibia
About the Author Rem’y Ngarnije.
Reni’y Ngamije is a writer and a photographer who is of Namibian origin but was born in Rwanda. He founded an organization that supports
literary works and is also a chief editor of the first Namibian literary magazine- ‘Doek’. His story
Neighbourhood Watch’ is a contemporary story that was recently published in the
Johannesburg Review of Books. Streetlife — Crime and violence in the streets The secret struggles/suffering Harsh living conditions.
Inequalities / Class difference —
The rich vs poor
Desperation — suffered by those living in the streets.
Waste disposal — what is the ideal way to dispose of waste?
‘The Neighbourhood watch’
The title is a phrase used to refer to an organised group that engages in crime and vandalism prevention in a particular neighbourhood. While deviating from the ideal image of a neighbourhood watch that aims at reducing crime, Rem’y Ngamije ironically creates a haphazard group of five homeless people who scavenge and roam around different neighbourhoods/suburbs in Windhoek. The crew engages in minor criminal activities instead of working to curb crime in the neighbourhoods.
He is the oldest member of the Neighbourhood watch group and thus their leader.
He mainly helps get food for the group by working with Lazarus and Omagana.
Elias has had a tough past as he experienced the South African insurgency; thus is strong and had suffered some loneliness in his first years in the streets.
Memories of the war still haunt him, as often in his slumber.
He is Elias’s Lieutenant.
He is the eyes of the group and the source of protection, as his presence in any fight is believed to change the bookies’ odds drastically.
He is an ex-convict though he does not like disclosing this information.
She is the only female member of the group.
She works as a member of the food crew (Elias, Lazarus, omagana) that goes out looking for food for the group.
He is a member of the group who likes risks.
He steals from people.
Although Elias constantly warns him, he does not stop the stealing habit.
He is the newest and youngest member of the group.
He mainly works with Silas to look for essentials such as discarded blankets, mattresses, useable shoes, broken crates, trolleys and toothpaste tubes.
He faithfully follows Silas around, trying to learn a few tricks from him.
f. Old Mrs Bezuidenhout
She is an old generous and kind lady who lives in the wealthy neighbourhood of Eros.
She is considered as one of the pillars of the Neighbourhood Watch as she gives different gifts such as canned food, old clothes or blankets, old books and rosaries that they use to pray at night.
Set in the suburbs of Windhoek, Namibia, ‘The Neighbourhood Watch’ is a modern story of a street group made up of Elias Lazarus, Silas, Omagano and Martin. The story explores the daily life of this group, their struggles, crimes and desperation to survive in the harsh conditions that street life presents.
The story opens in the morning, where Elias wakes up the family members to prepare for the day’s activity. The harsh living conditions in the streets are evident from the lack of breakfast and the single can of water that the group shares to clean their faces. Their “home” – below the bridge- which the author sarcastically calls precious real estate is their territory that is marked and safely guarded.
The group sets out early to the CBD, where the food crew (Elias, Lazarus and
Omagano) go looking for food while the valuable crew (Silas and Martin) look for other essentials. They reunite later, and the food crew produces half a loaf of brown bread, some salt mashed potatoes, soft grapes and some water which the group shares for lunch. The valuable crew has brought a stack of newspapers, plastic piping and two battered, floppy poor boy caps, which Elias and Lazarus pick. Elias orders the group to rest as they would be heading to Auasblick that night. Ausiblick is one of the nice suburbs as the bins there provide some
bounty harvest as the people there still know how to throw things away. This is unlike Olympia and Suiderhof, which are already crowded.
The writer compares these neighbourhoods to old neighbourhoods that the crew used to scavenge. Through a flashback, the past life ofElias and Lazarus is brought out. In their earlier days, the two were not choosy on areas to frequent. They visited the poor neighbourhoods such as Katutura, Hakahana, Goreangab, Wanaheda and Okuryangava on Tuesdays and Fridays. While scavenging these neighbourhoods, the two found a baby, thus deciding to prepare a timetable and stop going to poor people’s places.
Another flashback takes us to the way the crew used to visit Khomasdal on Wednesdays. On one Friday’s visit to Khomasdal, Amos, a former crew member with Elias and Lazarus, gets killed. He fails to control his tongue and guts after getting drunk thus is stubbed by someone he insults.
Elias and Lazarus escape the scene of death just like everybody else for fear of being questioned and harassed by police. However, they are caught and are badly beaten and injured before they are set free. They thus decide never to return to Khomasdal. The crew spends their Friday and Saturday at the Headquarters. They consider it safe since those are the days that police patrols drive around looking for mischief. Silas, however, chooses to roam around, thus leaving the other four crew members talking about people who idle around waiting to get some specific jobs that are rarely forthcoming. Martin talks of the hope of getting a job for these people in the
future. This raises the debate that leads to the crew’s slogan that there is only today and that every day is today.
Sunday is the best day for the crew since they visit the affluent suburbs such as Avis, Klein, Windhoek and Eros. These suburbs are associated with the rich and are close to the crew’s home — Headquarters. One of the good things about Eros is the generous old Mrs Bezuidenhout who waits for the crew and gives them gifts such as canned food, books and old clothes.
The story comes to an end with the crew worried of the day that Mrs Bezuidenhout will no longer be around to give those gifts, yet they will still want to take and have something to help them survive the harsh street life.
EPISODIC ANALYSIS OF ISSUES
- At the headquarters- pg 75-78
- The past; poor suburbs -pg 78-80
- Death of Amos-pg. 80-81
- The wealthy suburbs —pg. 82-83
Various issues arise from these episodes
Street life And Its Challenges
Living in the streets is shown to have several challenges:
Crime and violence
The neighbourhood watch must safely hide their valuable items at the headquarters to prevent theft. hidden stash is considered safe since they are a feared group — they have a fierce reputation (pg. 76).
Lazarus is considered the Lieutenant of the group and one of its pillars due to his violence (pg. 83) shows that life in the streets involves some violent acts. Violence is seen to be a necessary survival skill in the street.
The death of Amos after knife stabs also shows the level of violence faced in the streets ‘The knife flashed quickly In, out, in, out and then slashed across …… Amos fell.’ (pg. 80-81).
Silas, one of the crew members, engages in some crime. He is said to have had a habit of discovering things that have had previous owners. ‘Silas steals’ ( pg. 77). If he gets caught while stealing, he might be beaten or arrested.
The Neighbourhood Watch has to struggle to ensure that the valuables are safely hidden to prevent theft. After splashing water on their faces, the empty can is stashed away with other valuables in a hook under the concrete abutment of the bridge (pg. 75-76).
They also have to protect their territory — The bridge underside precious real estate. To achieve this, the abbreviations NW are sprayed onto the bridge’s columns which communicate that it is marked territory (pg. 76).
The group must struggle to camouflage and appear like any ordinary person while roaming the streets to evade police. They have to look presentable, thus why Omagano struggles to straighten her kinky hair using her fingers. They also have to wear their best clothes. One of their greatest challenges is how to disguise their foul smell. The writer notes, “But smelling bad is something they try to avoid as much as possible since a smelly man is despised everywhere.” (Pg. 76).
Struggle to get food
The crew relies on waste food and leftovers to survive. It is said that ‘Elias knows most city hotel’s kitchen staff who leave the group some decaying produce or some leftovers when they feel kind from the previous night’ (pg 76).
The struggle to get food forces them to use dubious means such as having Omagano satisfy the sexual needs of guards who deny them access to bins that might contain high yields (pg. 77).
The lunch that the group shares show that getting enough food for a meal is a real struggle for them ‘The food crew shares the lunch: Half a loaf of brown bread, some salty mashed potatoes, soft grapes and some water’ (pg.78).
The group heavily relies on Mrs Bezuidenhout’s generosity as she gives them canned food such as beans and peas, fruits and other valuable items (pg. 83).
Struggle with poor health conditions
Elias has a racking cough that worsens each day. It is so severe that, ‘Sometimes there is blood in the gunk from his chest, but he waves everyone’s concerns away’ (pg. 76).
By splitting the city of Windhoek geographically into different neighbourhoods, Ngamije is able to use place as a marker of inequalities and class differences that exist among the people.
The content of rubbish bins in the different neighbourhoods shows the differences between the rich and the poor. The first suburb to be visited by the crew is
Auasblick. It is described as a nice place since the people there still know how to
throw away things The Neighbourhood Watch is assured Of scoring good things such as ‘broken toasters, blenders, kettles water bottles, Teflon pots or pans scrubbed raw screen television cardboard boxes, and maybe some food’ (pg.78) This shows that the people who live here are well up and live comfortable lives.
The suburbs of the poor such as Katutura, Hakahana, Goreangab, Wanaheda and Okuryangava, are also described.
Using the flashback of the crew’s Tuesday and ‘Thursday visits to these poor suburbs, Ngaminje brings out the living conditions of the poor based on the content of their bins. One day, Elias and Lazarus found a baby wrapped in some newspapers thrown into a big bin. Ihis encounter made them smart and move away from poor people. They decided that on Tuesday and Thursday nights, they would stop going to poor people’s places because poor people had nothing left to throw away but themselves (pg. 80)
Khomasdal is closely related to the poor people’s suburbs. It is, however, a drinking den. The neighbourhood watch never enters Khomasdal since it is crowded with other starving, roving cliques (pg. 80). It is also in the same neighbourhood where Amos was killed. These lowly suburbs are contrasted to the suburbs ofthe wealthy such as Avis, Klein, Windhoek and Eros. Avis has complex apartments that bring
a fresh crop of bins to the interlocked pavements. lhough made up of rich people,
Klein Windhoek portrays some meanness as they only put up their bins at the crack of dawn to dissuade the dustbin divers from perambulating through their streets (pg. 83). Eros is the best suburb for The Neighbourhood Watch due to the presence of Mrs Bezuidenhout, who waits for the crew and gives them some gifts. This shows the wealthy nature of the old lady, the people living in this neighbourhood, and Mrs Bezuidenhout’s generosity.
Life in the streets is filled with moments of desperation. When Elias and Lazarus met, they would desperately flick through every bin they could find in every suburb they could reach. As the writer tells us, they had no room to be choosy as the writer tells us, ‘They were indiscriminate and desperate and always hungry.’ (pg.78)
Elias shares these experiences with the other crew members and tells them, “When we started when you have to we weren’t picky. We had to survive survive, you don’t get to choose what you have to do.” (pg.79). We further see that the crew’s desperation to get food and survive makes them use any possible means. Omagano is a precious survival tool for the group in such desperate times. This especially happens where the bins in some areas are fenced off and guarded by guards who threaten to beat the crew if they trespass. The
guards have to be bribed to let the crew scavenge in these bins. When the crew has money, Elias pays the guards.
However, when the crew has no money and needs to get food, Omagano is their only way out. She goes behind a dumpster with a guard and does what needs to be done (pg. 77).
Ngamije shows the actual situation around waste disposal in many urban neighbourhoods. The Neighbourhood Watch crew solely depends on the disposed waste for their survival. By describing the kind of waste found in different neighbourhoods, the writer communicates the need to ensure that waste is appropriately disposed off. The crew’s appreciation of high-end suburbs such as Eros, Windhoek, and Eros emphasises the need to recycle and separate different waste products. These suburbs have people who recycle. Different bins containing different wastes are also seen- ‘The paper cardboard, plastic bottles, tins, cans and aluminum foil are sorted in separate plastic bags. Some people even wash the trash before they throw it away. Everything else that is of no use goes in the big green bins’ (pg. 82). This serves as an advantage to the crew as it saves time and prevents disappointment. The writer subtly advocates for waste separation and recycling to ensure proper waste management. Other lowly suburbs such
as Katutura, Hakakana, Goreangab, Wanaheda and Okuryangava display poor waste disposal where all sorts of waste are put in the same bin. The writer communicates the inappropriateness of this waste disposal approach through the grave voice adopted by Elias as he shares their past experiences with the crew.
“Usually in a bin you have to be ready to find shit Old food, used condoms, women things with blood on them, broken things.” (pg.79)
This waste disposal method is not just disgusting, but it makes proper waste management difficult and ultimately impossible. Similar waste disposal methods are seen in Ausblick, where everything — including electronic gadgets such as broken toasters, blenders and kettles- is disposed of together with water bottles, cardboard boxes, and even food wastes.
- Proper waste disposal makes it easy for waste to be appropriately managed. Using illustrations from Rem’y Ngamije’s “The Neighbourhood Watch” show how this message is communicated.
- Street life is not for the faint-hearted Show the truthfulness of this statement based on the story “The Neighbourhoodd Watch.”
- 3. In every society, some inequalities exist that affect people’s way of life. Using illustrations from Rem’y Ngamije’s “The Neighbourhood Watch” support this assertion.