Looking out the plane window flying into Windhoek, the landscape reminded me of Western Australia or the Northern Territory, flat dry and empty. I didn’t see a single building until the wheels hit the tarmac, and this was the country’s international airport! Much larger in land mass than France, Namibia has only 2.1 million people.
Sam and I chatted with Fernando, the driver from Chameleon hostel who picked us up. From Mozambique originally, his English was solid but his knowledge of Australia was limited to there being lots of kangaroos. I educated both him and Sam on the basics of the Australian geography, economy and politics.
‘Is Australia big?’ Fernando asked.
‘Oh yes, very big. About a third the size of the whole of Africa.’
Sam piped in from the back seat. ‘But Africa is much poorer.’
‘Yes Sam, it is.’
‘And it doesn’t have good internet.’
‘No Sam, it doesn’t.’click tab to read further
We had a few days in the capital, and I set about organising what we would be doing with our time here with a tour organiser employed by the hostel, who happened to be from Brisbane. We arranged to go to Etosha National Park with a tour group leaving four days hence, but it was to be camping, a fact I didn’t want to break to Sam just yet. The Nintendo DS for some reason didn’t want to connect to their WiFi, so he was already stressed enough.
We walked into the city on the second day to do some shopping, banking and go to the post office. Windhoek, which translates from German as windy corner, wasn’t that windy. It is a relatively small capital, similar in size to a large regional city in Australia. While there are homeless people and beggars on some corners, poverty is less obvious than in South Africa. I saw little razor wire and no electric fences.
Windhoek is also cool. The people are relaxed, even the police and security guards. Women wear elaborate braids and a sense of confidence. People smile a lot. The most aggression I witnessed was a distinct liking for sounding their car horns. Traffic, for what it is, was gentle. A likeable and functional city.
The post office, however, reminded me of one from my childhood, vast bureaucratic and slow. It took 45 minutes at the tall stone counter to mail one padded envelope. Each stamp had to have 5 dots of glue in identical places before the parcel was taped up, stapled, ink-stamped and registered in a multitude of ways. The small package looked so important by the end you would think it contained the Dead Sea Scrolls.
‘It looks like Gringott’s!’ Sam observed.
‘Yes it does Sam.’
The bank in Harry Potter did have a similar feel, but the friendly Namibian woman serving us was a lot nicer than your average goblin.
That evening Sam and I were spontaneously invited by three young Germans, Johanna Alida and Lukas, to join them for a drink at a nearby five-star hotel that apparently had five-star views of Namibia. The hotel was set in an castle on a hill built by early German colonialists, and seemed somewhat incongruous in this African desert nation.
It did however, remind me of Namibia’s dark colonial past. In the first decade of the twentieth century more than half of the Herero and Nama tribes (up to 70,000 people) were wiped out by a brutal ‘extermination policy’ enforced by the notorious General Lothar Von Trotha. It was basically an attempt at genocide and included poisoning water sources and shooting any tribes people in German territory on sight. Yet another example of the terrible consequences of colonialisation on the African continent.
Getting into the taxi, Sam straight up asked both the girls their age. Both were 19. I suspected he was a bit disappointed they weren’t closer in age to him. Oh dear. In many ways he is a typical teenage boy. He soon started talking about one of his more minor obsessions, Grand Theft Auto, a violent and sexist video game from the US. He has never been allowed to go anywhere near it, but he knew about it from the web. I repeatedly had to steer him away from ‘inappropriate’ conversation, but they all tolerated his quirkiness well.
I tried to get Sam to relay to them some of the details of our travels, as they were en route to South Africa. We discussed Lesotho. Sam described it as beautiful but boring. Read that comment as no internet. At least he had realised it was beautiful. He then came out with a curious question.
‘What were the goats saying?’
‘I don’t know. What do you think they were saying?’
In his best angry voice he replied. ‘Take your hands off me, I don’t want to go up there.’
The view was spectacular, like you would imagine a mini Los Angeles, with the city stretching out before us on the flat landscape under the hill we were on. By the time we called for a taxi the colours of the sunset had given way to lines of street and house lights in chequered patterns, like a giant checked cloth thrown across a table. We could have walked back to the hostel, but three people had got robbed in the area the previous week, as it relatively quiet and dark. The taxi driver ripped us off, of course, knowing we had little choice.