Tuesday, September 22, 2009

25 Things About Namibia

Here is a short list of things that are curious, amusing, annoying, and potentially devastating about the Namibian reality from an outsider's perspective:

1. Namibian tribal languages have at least five distinct clicking and sucking sounds made by slapping or pulling the tongue from various parts of the mouth. Here a click, there a click, everywhere a click-click. When used in rapid succession an amazed and infantile smile will spread across your face, every time.

2. G4S, the largest private security company in the country, has a fleet of white VW Rabbits that patrol the city with ‘ARMED RESPONSE’ painted in bold, red letters on the side panels. Not very intimidating to criminals with reliable, fast SUVs.

3. You can spend $100 to photograph the game on safari during the day, and then $10 to taste the same delicious creatures at night.

4. Rural Afrikaans men wear Khaki shorts so skimpy that they could only be described as ‘hotpants’ and sturdy work boots on the farms during the week, but the same hotpants and bare feet in the malls on the weekend.
5. All you need is a metal shopping cart filled with burning charcoal and a few slices of road kill on a wire grill to open your own roadside restaurant.

6. Size determines the right of way on the roads, and pedestrians have to avoid cars, cars have to avoid SUVs, and SUVs have to avoid trucks. Deviation from the rules brings swift penalty of death or destruction. Kias avoids all because they would not even survive a collision with a skinny pedestrian.

7. Highways are narrow, two-lane roads that carry car, truck, tractor, ATV, bicycle, animal, and pedestrian traffic. District roads appear on the road atlas, but are nothing more than dirt trails only suitable for goats.

8. If you walking in the street and ask a passerby for directions, be prepared to be escorted all the way to your destination. Even after you protest because you incorrectly assume that you are being lead to you own execution.

9. Choosing between the fifty varieties of sausage at the German meat market can cause uncontrollable salivation, dementia, and loss of speech. You must know what you are going to order, and how many grams you want before approaching angry Teutonic woman at the counter.

10. Albinos are hard to spot and even harder to photograph because they move swiftly through the town to avoid being slaughtered for the healing power of their body parts.

11. Every third vehicle on the street is a hulking SUV with green, governmental license plates. Foreign aid hard at work in Namibia.

12. Despite being hunted to the brink of extinction by Germans, Herero tribal dress for men can only be described as early twentieth century German military. Conversely, Herero woman wear British Victorian era hooped skirts with unique headdress that are made to resemble bull horns across their foreheads. As a couple they are fit for any year of Fashion Week in NYC.

13. Being a Christian country, “God” is a censored word in the media. However, it is also the only censored word, so you can often hear expressions like, “Oh my fucking – beep!” on television.

14. If you like the image of a tall, thin, flat-topped tree posing in front of a glowing red sunset in Africa, you will like Namibia. It is the camel thorn acacia tree, and it is just about the only tree that grows in this desert climate.

15. The ruling SWAPO government of Namibian widely viewed as corrupt, extortionist, and indolent. Unfortunately the governmental agency, known as Namibian Wildlife Resorts (NWR), manages the premier tourist locations in Namibia with the same aplomb.

16. If you sneak past the security guard, and upstairs to the offices of the Ministry of Home Affairs you will see why the governmental institution is despised more than any American bureaucratic institution or DMV. No one works, or even pretends to work during office hours; unless sitting on desks and chatting and laughing loudly in large groups for hours on end is considered part of the job description for processing visa requests.

17. You always need to make certain that you get the service that you paid for. The only way to ensure this is to stand over workers, and watch them as they tackle a task, in their own sweet time. Thus far the growing list includes; medical lab testing, auto repairs, house cleaning, and photo processing.

18. In Namibia you are advised not drive at night, ever. Number one reason sighted; drunk taxi drivers driving erratically without headlights. Number two reason sighted: animals crossing the road erratically without headlights.

19. Redistribution of immigrant German and Afrikaans farms to local control has caused many previously successful enterprises to fail. Despite the staggering 231,000,000% inflation rate and the subsequent food shortage this caused in Zimbabwe, you hear the same refrain here as there, “Better black and broken, than white and working.”

20. Rush hour in Windhoek consists of four cars waiting at a traffic light, known here as a ‘robot’. The most frequent interruption of traffic flow in the city is a stalled, Toyota Corolla taxi that is being pushed, by its paying occupants, to the top of a hill for a jumpstart.

21. The Namibian version of the Christian faith bears more than a touch of the witch doctor tradition, with Tuesday as the “Come and Receive Your Healing” day, Friday as the “Breaking of Curses” day, and Saturday as the, “Prayer For the Impossible Things and Youth Group” day.

22. Any self-respecting business complex, or home has an electrical fence and a dog to protect it. Locks, keys, alarms, and metal bars across all windows are doors are not adequate means of home security.

23. Electronic roulette is the opium of the masses, and ‘gambling houses’ lined with the blinking, ringing slot machines are the most frequent and pervasive businesses establishments in Windhoek. Being in one and not gambling or drinking is not tolerated.

24. When you park your car on the street, be prepared to a uniformed vagrant wearing an orange jumpsuit $1Namibian to protect it. Protection usually entails the guard sitting on, or near, your car while smoking cigarettes, but you are expected to pay for the privilege.

25. There is one explanation for anything and everything that does not go according to plan, reason, or common sense in Namibia, “You must remember, you are in Africa!”

Thursday, September 17, 2009