The beetle and the wheel April 13, 2007Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Creatures, Eh?, Namibia, Peculiarities.
Nose-picking is a national past-time here in Namibia. Across the country, throughout the day, people protract their index finger and insert it into one of their nostrils for what ends up being a long excavation to discover and remove whatever is causing them discomfort. I have taken taxis where the driver has managed to steer through city centre traffic with one hand implanted up his nose. Important people in business meetings pick their noses as readily as they would rudely and noisily answer their cell phones. For children and the elderly, blacks and whites, men and women alike, nose-picking is an activity of necessity, to be conduct in public and at any chosen time, and demands strict and undivided concentration.
Coming from a rather prudish and up-tight culture myself, I still find this activity rather alarming. To see someone publicly picking their nose in England is a diatribe worthy of sharing with friends and family (“Urgh, there was this bloke on the Tube picking his nose opposite me. So gross. Totally put me off my lunch…”). In fairness to Namibians though, the air here is very dry, we are at a high altitude, and nose-bleeds are common, as is having a dried-up and uncomfortable nasal passage. It was even mentioned in detail during our medical brief in our VSO In-Country Training. Nose-picking and blowing is a necessity as it can be incredibly uncomfortable, but really,… in public?
The other night, I was chatting to a Namibian guy in the bar. Suddenly he came out with, “Do you know why Namibians always pick their nose?”. Despite knowing the medical explanation, I was keen to understand it anthropologically and asked him to explain.
“You see, Namibians have a little wheel inside their head, and on that wheel is a beetle. The beetle pushes the wheel round, which is what makes the person’s brain work. Sometimes the beetle falls off the wheel. That’s when the person needs to stick their finger up their nose, to push the beetle back onto the wheel, or their brain won’t work.” He then starts demonstrating the motion to me.
“Ah, that’s better. My beetle is now back on the wheel”.
Now I know that nose-picking is an important requirement for Namibian cognition, I will try not to be so affronted by this behaviour. I may even join in.