The Salt Salesmen of Erongo
(Along the C34, Western Namibia)

Roughly 120km north from the coastal town of Swakopmund, along a remote stretch of the desolate gravel and salt highway C34, one can find a few small turn-off roads, each leading west past the White Lady Salt Pan and towards a government-run national wildlife preserve, designed specifically for the protection of a massive native population of Cape fur seals.

In the vicinity of the turn-off roads, it is a common sight to see a selection of makeshift tables lining the shoulders of the C34 highway. The tables are casually constructed with a combination of mostly found materials: milk & beer crates, or even old discarded tin drums act as support bases, while a variety of metal sheeting and wooden boards are deployed as the standard table-top display surface. Amongst a selection of sculptural, pink rock-salt crystal configurations displayed for sale on the usually unmanned and evenly-spaced tables, one will also notice the companion piece, old coffee (or small-sized paint) canister, or perhaps even a glass jar, each of which acts as a self-service cash register. Prices for the variety of sizes are listed in either chalk or paint, and are marked directly onto the surface of the tabletops.

Although the majority of the time these tables are unmanned—with the proprietors setting out their merchandise in the early morning and then returning around sunset to collect any earnings from the cans & jars—one stand is oftentimes serviced continuously by a part-time fisherman from the region. The presence of his clearly more vibrant stand could be attributed to his unique and quite intense, short session of flag waving, a ritual performed during the passing of each roadway vehicle. After a brief recent discussion with this local salt vendor, it was discovered that as a child during the 1960s he had emigrated with his parents and 2 siblings, to Atlanta, Georgia, in order to avoid political conflicts in the region. As part of an early family business he and his brothers—upon arrival in the new land—had trained under their uncle and cousins as parking-lot attendants for the city’s main sporting venue at that time, the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The salt salesman explained how, as an impromptu and non-sanctioned undertaking (located a good stretch further from the stadium than the official designated parking facilities), the family business required the creation of a special trademark in order to attract potential customers before they would arrive at the nearby, official parking facilities. In this way, the dance and parade of flag-waving tactics was a great sales & marketing tool for the small business.

Over the course of the following years, due to the successful effects of the family’s tactic, many other unofficial (and later even official) parking-lot attendants picked up on this theatrical trait of advertising, making it currently a standard staple of the pre-game rituals observed before almost all U.S. sporting events. When asked, it was still unclear to the salt salesman how his uncle had devised this special ceremony of flag waiving: whether it was a former ritual from their earlier tribal life in Namibia, brought to Atlanta upon immigration, or if it was solely something picked up from the local 1960s culture of protest and demonstration seen on the streets and throughout mediated images present at that time in the United States. It is also unknown if this was the original, first instance of the tactic to be used anywhere in the entire professional history of parking-lot attendants.

In the early 1990s, upon return to Namibia, the part-time fisherman (once parking-lot attendant) had decided that he should attempt the same strategy for his new side-business, salt sales venture, found along the C34 highway. It was unfortunately never discussed in detail as to whether or not this flag waiving tactic has actually worked in his favor, back home in Namibia. The lack of travelers in the area, due to its extremely remote location, makes the practice seem to be more a ritual of love than an actual business strategy. And down the road at the local pub, the few motorbike tourists and journeymen (that were questioned regarding their opinion) unfortunately believed the man to be possibly mentally disturbed (or at the least ‘marked by wild spirits’) and would themselves most likely, if necessary, purchase any needed salt trinkets from one of the other unmanned tables in the vicinity.


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