Suddenly, the scene changed. Instead of landscaping, there was dirt. Instead of bricks, there were scraps. Instead of wealth, there was poverty. Instead of white, there was black… but there is so much more than that under the surface, behind the cardboard walls.

We had entered Mondesa, a township on the fringe of Swakopmund, Namibia. The shadow of Apartheid had once been here and its legacy is a world that lives on instead of everything else. Next to Mondesa, the former German colony of Swakopmund moves forward as the adrenaline capital of Namibia. Business is booming. Mondesa is relatively new to welcoming white visitors, but it’s a trade that is healing old wounds and building trust – gradually.

Our three guides, Gena, Sammy and Eben, smile so much it’s contagious. They have grown up in Mondesa and graduated with a degree in happiness. When asked about the demise of apartheid, Gena’s reply is more serious: We now have a level playing field but not much else has change.” It takes a moment for me to click that the playing field is not the dusty soccer ground we’re standing on.

Despite the level playing field, there are no whites living in Mondesa. There are no black visitors. Will it ever be any different? Eighty-year-old Lena is chief of the Damara Tribe (one of six ethnic tribes living in Mondesa). She has one of those faces where every line seems to tell a story. We ask about religion, culture, responsibility, HIV, life – and learn. The bushman language translates back and forth in a wonderful series of clicks and clacks.

Outside the chief’s house, a group of boys are scooting about on bikes fashioned from old shopping trolleys and scraps. Nearby, an injured dog growls at anyone who gets too close. You can see the shiny white bone in its leg and foot. Like the people, it will carry on. As we walk, little hands fall into ours and latch on. The children laugh, smile, skip, dance and hold on tight. It is a beautiful day in Mondesa.

In the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC) adjacent to the main township, temporary living has become permanent. Homes fashioned from recycled scraps line the dusty streets. It is out here that we meet local eccentric artist, Ernest. His home stands out brightly from the grim. Inside, we sip clove tea as Ernest talks about life and art. In his backyard, he keeps several white doves “for the peace”.

Our next stop is with Naftaline. She is from the Herero Tribe and works as a councillor for the New Start Centre for HIV. Given that rape is acceptable in her culture, it is hard for her to make a difference. Her home is also an unofficial orphanage for abandoned children. With very few words, Naftaline gives a humbling lesson on sacrifice.

At an unlicensed bar or shebeen named Back of the Moon, we drink Taffel Lager and shoot pool with the locals. The atmosphere inside the inconspicuous little shack is warm and friendly.

For dinner we are ushered into a traditional Ovambo hut – a small, round structure made of straw, sticks and mud. The large mopane worms are definitely edible if you don’t mind the thought of eating a grub. From wild spinach to omakundu beans, the flavours and textures are refreshingly different. Following the feast, a team of girls perform some traditional Ovambo dances by firelight. They sing, drum and dance with so much energy we are transfixed for 20 minutes.

As we leave Mondesa, the scene flips back. In reality, the playing field is becoming level, but it’s not there yet. Mondesa is not without its problems and although many of these people exist in homes built of scraps, it is hope that holds Mondesa together.

• Mondesa Township tours are booked at the Outback Orange Adventure Centre in Swakopmund (42 Nathaniel Maxuilili St). The tour costs US$50 per person and lasts for about four hours. Half of the fee goes directly into projects to support the township.”