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Merula

In 2003 I discovered a most miraculous oil from the most off beaten paths in the most magical parts of Africa. I held in my hands a most unique oil collected from trees that had been growing wild in Africa for thousands of years. I immediately fell in love with this Marula Oil. In the light the oil casted a beautiful pink hue, apparently a color of significance for the marula women.

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My journey in search of the source of pure Namibian Marula Oil would take me days shuffling from airplane to airplane and airport to airport. Already weary from being on the road for several days on expeditions in other countries, I knew I would have to re-energize in anticipation of coming face to face with a fruit that I have long fantasized about.

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Today Namibia is filled with modern day grocery stores and has one of the nicest network of paved roads I have ever seen. I assume that some of these roads are on formerly important dirt trade routes. Some of them lead to the mall. Some to modern day grocery stores, many nicer than many found in the US. Amidst all of this civilization it is such a contrast to find that some of these roads lead out into hut villages and one on one encounters with meandering wildlife.

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I use my imagination to step back into a time before the roads and the colonists to envision a world which included the trade of the sweet marula fruit. I imagine a world where its inhabitants went wild for the sweet juice of the marula fruit rather than the Western soda pops they are addicted to today.

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Oddly, marula juice is not found in shops in Namibia, at least not at any that I had come across. Instead the aisles are filled with every soda imaginable, fruit juices from South Africa, and even some of my favorite cold tea drinks. ShopRite, Pick N Pay and Checkers are only a few of the grocery chains serving Nambia's population of three million. Very comfortable for Namibians indeed, but I am disappointed. Outdoor markets with traditional items are more for me.

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Far from “civilization”, days of traveling was soon to be rewarded. “Sorry, Tammie, there are no more marula trees with fruits on them. The women are now juicing the fruits.” This is not what I had expected to hear. I had been planning this trip for nearly five years and every marula season something new came up. Being a mother to several children and a business woman are not always the most compatible of things. Being one to not take no for an answer, I knew where there is a will there is a way. Prayer is my ultimate weapon. The next morning I got the good news. “Tammie,” I just knew what she was going to say next, “the women have found some trees still with fruit.” At once, my apprehensions were relieved and I knew that this was going to be a good trip.

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We stayed the night at a wild life reserve a few hours away as comfortable accommodations where the marula trees grow in the wild are hard to come by. So each day we would travel back and forth between the marula collectors and the beautiful wild life reserve. No complaints for me.

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We saw no real action. Each animal quietly munched on their food. To our great delight we sighted herds of zebra, kudu, and gembok. There were plenty of giraffes to be found although they were weary of humans.

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We snapped pictures of the adorable dik dik and even got a rare glimpse of a black rhino. The park was brimming with birdlife. Flamingos, eagles, ostrich, guinea fowl, swallow tailed bee eater, lilac breasted roller were just among a few of the many birds we had the pleasure of seeing.

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The park had a flood lit waterhole that we could observe from a distance at night. We sat under the hatched shelter on benches waiting quietly at night with our cameras and binoculars. A sign stated “Silence”, and that is exactly what this shelter was, silent. It was kind of eerie in a way. People passing by each other in the night in complete silence. We watched the waterhole as though it was a giant television screen.

Sadly, not much went on each night. Perhaps a few warthogs, long legged birds, some zebras. But who could really tell. It was rather dark. But regardless, it was a unique experience that we could never replicate back home in Horse Country. So we savored it nonetheless. I was afraid to take my bouncy, never sit still, never be quiet two year old to the waterhole, but to my amazement she was silent the entire time. I am thinking of installing a waterhole at home just to keep her quiet.

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Most of Namibia looks like a never ending desert. Maybe it is. As we traveled to the marula region the area was mostly sand dotted with small bushes. Rock formations would rise out of nowhere in the midst of the barren land.

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What a treat to come across a group of women who sell a variety of gems that the men mine in the surrounding "mountains". Black, green and rose tourmaline, rose quartz to name a few. I bought about twenty gems for the cost of less than one that I could get anywhere in the West.

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The women were even willing to trade the gems for food. I just happened to have a treat for them. One never knows where their sustenance will come from. I was carrying with me a bag of delicious citrus fruit that I had bought in a village in Zimbabwe. To me these were special in comparison with the bland commercially grown foods we had found in Zimbabwe.