A Namibian Adventure
I woke up starved and exhausted from my travels. The journey from Machu Picchu was long and strenuous. I sat up and looked around my small room. It contains the essentials: a bed, nightstand, chair, and small desk. The walls are painted a sandy yellow, with distinct green vertical stripes. On each wall is a vibrant painting depicting wild animals. I got out of bed and started to make my way downstairs for breakfast.
There’s an assortment of pastries, and I grabbed an apfelstrudel and koeksesters, which the name plate described as a small doughnut with honey. Satisfied with my breakfast, I venture into the city of Windhoek.
As I’m wandering around, I notice how the architecture is reminiscent of my travels in Cologne and Frankfurt. Most notably the church, Christuskirche, stood out. As I’m looking at the brick and tile church, my eyes glaze over what appears to be a market.
The buzzing sound of conversations roars louder and louder as I approach the market. My eyes are darting each and every way. The market is bustling with people. The tents are large and colorful. I can see merchants selling all kinds of goods. I spot an assortment of fruits and veggies, but can’t recognize half of them.
I’m drawn to this one stand and approach the table full of cultural pieces. Spread across a green fabric were small figures, masks, tribal goods, and more. Wanting to know more, I strike up a conversation with the lady on the side of the table who introduces herself as Heike.
I ask Heike what she is selling. She smiles and eagerly explains to me, “This is a small piece of the culture of Namibia.” She points to a few objects on the right side of the table and says, “These artifacts are from the Ovambo, the largest ethnic group in Namibia. On the other side, these wooden animals are made by the Herero, which are very old and rare.” I stare in amazement at these artifacts. I’m getting a deep dive into the different cultural groups in Namibia.
While I am looking at these different pieces, I recognize how well her English is. I suddenly realize majority of the billboards and signs in the city are in English. Puzzled, I politely asked Heike about this. She willingly responds, “Yes, English is our primary language. You might hear us speak in Afrikaans too, because we were once ruled by Germany. But once we claimed our independence from South Africa in 1990, we adopted English as our primary language.”
I find this immensely interesting. I think to myself why I’ve never heard about Germany’s colonization efforts. The Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and English were famous explorers. But why aren’t the Germans talked about in this manner?
I gather my thoughts and ask her how she got into this business. She mentions the traditions of her ancestors and shows me a piece she made herself. It’s a lovely Cheetah carved out of African Rosewood. The intricate lines and precise edges gives it a museum-like quality. I can tell she is a true craftswoman and passionate about her heritage. I buy the piece immediately.
I’m getting hungry and ask if she has a recommendation for a bite to eat. Heike suggests a traditional Namibian cafe around the corner that serves a delicious lunch.
I put the cheetah in my fanny pack and walk to the cafe. It’s a dry, warm day. The sun is beaming down on me. I pop into the cafe and take a seat at the bar.
While I’m browsing the menu, I order a Windhoek Lager. The menu contains exotic meat dishes and a lot of names that appear to be from Germany. I settle on the oshifima, which is a doughlike paste made from millet and served with a stew of vegetables.
I take a sip of my tasty beverage, and hear the folks next to me say something in my direction. They said hello and introduced themselves. I introduce myself and we strike up a conversation. For a moment, my mind drifts off as I think about how young most of the people I’ve seen today are.
The man, Petrus, was particularly curious to know why I was in Namibia. He tells me it’s rather odd for a single, white tourist to walk the streets of Windhoek. He began to share a sad story about why the racial divide is still so prevalent in his country.
“From 1904 to 1907, the indigenous folks of Namibia tried to rebel against the the German colonialism,” Petrus said. He takes a deep breath and continues, “The German occupiers ordered an extinction of the Herero and Nama people. The Germans killed nearly 75,000 people and wiped out a large majority of these tribes.” I saw the anguish on Petrus’s face, and the lady, puts her arm around him. After a pause, he carries on with, “This was the first genocide of the 20th century. A dark spot in our history. We thought things would be better when our friends from South Africa kicked the Germans out. We were wrong. Racial segregation and discrimination has remained a problem, but it is slowly getting better.”
I’m shocked and feel horrible. Racial tension is prevalent across the globe, but a story like this really makes you stop and think. Despite my feelings of sorrow, Petrus and Ester were smiling as I remained speechless. I asked why they are smiling after such a sad story. The woman, Ester, clears her throat and starts to share why she loves her country so much.
“Namibia has a lot of problems. The racial divide, the draughts, the income inequality, and so on. But what country doesn’t have issues?” I chuckled, thinking about the issues we have back home and how similar they are. Ester smiled and continued, “We have a rich history. But what really makes our country unique is the landscape. The fog-shrouded beaches of Skeleton Coast are littered with shipwrecks and whale skeletons. The Namib and Kalahari and vast deserts that take up a lot of our land. North of the city are gorgeous national parks filled with exotic animals. Did you know Namibia is home to the largest Cheetah population?”
I quickly blurt out how I love Cheetahs and mention the book Duma. I’ve always wanted to be the boy in that book. Ester replied, “Well isn’t that perfect! My close friend works there and would be happy to show you around!”
We continue to chat over our food and drinks. After what seemed like hours, the lovely couple were on their way. As they depart, Petrus says something in what I can only assume is Afrikaans to the man behind the counter and hands him money. We say our goodbyes and she hands me a piece of paper with the number for her friend. Shortly after, I follow them out the door.
The day is still young, so I continue to wander the great city of Windhoek with a smile on my face. Walking aimlessly, I stumble across a store that has a sign with a computer on it.
I take a few steps inside and a man greeted me and introduced himself. He said, “Welcome to Startup Namibia! My name is Loide, what brings you in today?” I explain to him that the sign caught my eye and I figured this was an electronics store. This got him laughing and he replied, “We get that often from visitors. We’re actually a start up incubator and innovation center. Our goal is to grow the tech industry and create jobs in the city.”
We carry on with our conversation about their role in the community and he’s intrigued when I tell him that I work in tech too. Loide explained, “The tech scene is certainly growing here in Windhoek and across the country. We are not as well developed as South Africa and Nigeria, but are making great strides. We have great success stories like CarYange, but traditionally our economy is made up of mining, manufacturing, and tourism. To this day, our economy is still tied closely to South Africa’s because of our history.”
Thinking about it, the industries make sense. I heard gossip at the market about a Chinese uranium mine finishing up construction. And on my cab ride over from the airport, of which we drove on the left side of the road, all I could see was barren land. The road was surrounded by sand, rocks, and small brush.
I grew weary and wrapped up my conversation with Loide. I decide to head back to my hotel for a nap.
I empty out my pockets when I get back to my room and see the piece of paper from lunch. I quickly picked up the phone and dialed the number. I got a hold of Ester’s friend and make plans to visit The Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo tomorrow. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, reflecting on the day’s events while fiddling with the cheetah in my hands.
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