There’s a bit more than a month left of our stay in Namibia before we move to Botswana. As much as we like the place (probably except Maxi, who is terribly homesick and wants to get back to Norway, his friends, and toys, as soon as possible), there have been some things which bug me, too, so I thought I’d share them.
Black and White
Even if you know nothing about southern Africa, the one thing everyone knows is Apartheid. Well, Apartheid might have fallen some 23 years ago in Namibia but there’s something very unsettling about ethnicity and color here, at least in the region where we live. Some of the whites, who are less than 8% of the population in our region, Omaheke, and who own more than 65% of the land must have overslept the major events occurring in their country during the last two decades because many behave as if they still rule the world. It’s very disturbing waiting in a queue with only black people, and the only one white guy demands he would be assisted first or else he would leave the shop, and the shop assistant running apologetically after him. There are even a black and a white shops in town, unofficially, of course. The blacks go to the white shop but the local whites seldom visit the black shop. “You don’t need to go to that shop. Everything you need, you’ll find it at our shop.”
People also take one’s white color as a sure prerequisite for one’s racial inclinations, and might confide in you on the real situation of the blacks – how lazy they are, how good it was for the country that the whites have ruled for so long, and if you don’t believe it – just look at Botswana with its long independence history, and the state in which the country presently finds itself (by the way Botswana’s economy fares better than Namibia’s on most accounts). The most absurd of all – “Can you even imagine a white marrying a black.” Yes, I think I can do that.
One also has to understand that there are layers of discrimination, and just as the white subjugate the blacks, the blacks subjugate the Khoisan. I guess that it’s an unwritten law that whenever an individual or a group of people can exercise some power over other people, they would inevitably do it.
It’s not all that grim, though, and one finds many caring and considerate whites, who take the situation for what it is, and try to improve it as much as they can.
Safety on roads
Luggage and people seem to enjoy the same status here, and one loads people, alongside with luggage in the back of one’s car until there’s no more space left. When I say ‘car’ I mean 4×4 pickups – the ones with the big open thing in the back, where one can sit, or lie, or squat, or stand, or do whatever it takes not to get thrown on the road. The fact that there’s no public transport only adds to the problem. Also, apparently driving with 120 km per hour counts for nothing because such people-overloaded bakkies, as they are called here, overtake you all the time.
The biggest joke of all? We were once coming back from Windhoek, and were stopped at a police road block (a state corruption thing) and one policeman crossly told my man, who was sitting on the back seat, to buckle his seatbelt! With roadblock police one only has to smile and nod, so smile and nod we did.
Long ago I saw a World Press photo exhibition in Sofia. The only picture I remember from it was of a fat middle-aged Indian guy, with a big black beard and a white turban, sitting in a tiny green room full of papers. Full of papers as in one could barely see the pretty green walls. Well, I can tell you this – bureaucracy looks nice on pictures only. Coming from Bulgaria, I thought I might have acquired some immunity to the pleiades of bureaucratic stupidity but I quickly learnt that there can always be more of everything. And by more, I mean, getting to know the people you met week after week in the same queue; making circular movements from one desk to the other in a small room, without the people at one of the desks knowing what those at the other desk are doing; filling in wrong forms for hours; applying for one and the same thing several times in a row because your documents either get lost or no one knows where to find them; a lollypop sucking clerk patronizing you in a most endearing manner; and so on, and so forth. “Patience, that’s the secret. Look, I have my Bible with me to keep me calm”, a nice man told me once in a queue.
If you have ever wondered how you would have looked if you were a reptile, Namibia is the place to come and find out for yourself. The climate is so dry in the winter that my skin looks as if it will shed any moment now. And it does not matter how much and what kind of cosmetics you apply on it or how much water you drink. If reptiles also had hair, then I think I might have an idea how it would have looked, too. My man, who never (like never ever) notices any changes in my hair exclaimed once: “What have you done with your hair?!” Well, that’s the thing – nothing. It has decided to start looking like an old broom entirely by itself.
If I had written this post several months earlier, I would have also mentioned the very stretched idea of time people have here (“Come at … o’clock” means absolutely nothing. When there’s something going on in our village and I get invited, I always ask people to send kids to fetch me whenever the time comes.), and the total lack of personal space (as in “Can I check what’s your bra made of” casual sort of manner. I’m kidding but people do check my clothes, hems (!), what’s in this bag, etc. things). These are cultural differences with which one gets used to, at least to some degree, sooner or later, so for the moment, I have made peace with them on my good conscience days.