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Updates from Africa 11

Updates from Africa 11

So New Year’s was a blast.  We had a slow evening.  We went to the shopping mall and bought smoked game, potatoes, vegetables and spices, went back to the room and cooked a New Year’s feast for dinner.  We had a kitchen area in our room which we used–and abused.  When we were done there was a pileup of dirty dishes and leftover food that would make a garbage man weep.  We didn’t feel like cleaning that night, or the day after, so our room began to faintly smell like day-old potatoes and rotten cabbage.  The food was delicious though.

We got a ride to the Beach Bar around 9.  The Beach Bar is a year-round operation but their biggest party is New Year’s to which the entire population of Swakopmund swarms for a night of champagne, dancing, and bonfire.  I have mentioned that while we were travelling from Livingstone we had met several people along the way, including The Girls, The Second Girls (another pair with whom we took the shuttle to Walvis Bay a week ago), Aaron from Vancouver and Scott, Lindsay, Quentin and Desmond, the latter of which had to go back to Canada early because he’s a seventh grade teacher.  We never expected to find anyone we knew at this party, which covered 500 meters of beach, a picnic table area, the wraparound bar which could accomodate 200 patrons at once, and the dance floor where American techno and pop music boomed base tones relentlessly into a sweating, thumping, fleshy orgy of post-colonial white African hip hop culture.  As it turns out, we ran into the Second Girls twice, found Scott and Lindsay on the dance floor before Scott went off with Quentin to be his wingman, and most importantly we ran into Ginelle, who had served us at the Swakopmund Cafe the day before.  We found out from her that she only received $18 of the $60 tip we left her, which was probably part of the reason she had quit that day.  Ginelle is only 17 and applying to Universities this month, but it was interesting hearing, once again, the same talking points we heard in South Africa about the blacks and why they were bad and why the whites couldn’t get jobs, etc, etc. This time, though, I had to reconcile what we had learned from Herman about how much better Namibia is than South Africa with what Ginelle was saying, and ultimately I determined that the key difference between the white Namibian and the white South African is political; in Namibia, whites are not bothered being represented by an all-black government because they don’t see the political system as a racially divisible one.  Ginelle also enlightened us on a new race, the Coloreds, which are apparently non-whites who “Are basically white,” so they are distinct from blacks.  She listed a bunch of types of Coloreds, including Indians, who apparently “Act white” as well.  The whole thing is very confusing for me and I don’t know how I’ll be able to cope with this racial logic which saw its last major incarnation in American culture forty years ago.  This is apparently the post-colonial mind; especially from the side of the ex-colonizers. Although I don’t think it’s appropriate to label whites who live in Africa as ex-colonizers, because they’re just people and families living where opportunity took them.  I don’t think it’s fair to blame whites in Africa for the poverty gap, just like it’s not fair for whites to lash out at blacks for their recent post-apartheid misfortune.  I do feel for people like Ginelle who feels a real threat to her opportunity due to Affirmative Action and other policies enacted to combat the racial poverty gap.  Maybe all is needed is time for old wounds to heal, and it seems to me that Namibia is allowing the healing process to happen a lot easier than in South Africa.  As Ginelle called over a dark-skinned friend of hers from high school, to kiss her on the cheek and wish her a happy new year, I could only wonder what the charge of her generation will be if Namibia, and other ex-colonies in Africa, is to rise out of the economic and political consequences of colonialism.  I guess that’s what this study abroad program is going to be all about.

There was no countdown for the new year; instead, people checked their own cell phones and improvised one.  When the organizers of the party thought it was time (by our calculation they were a minute early), they lit a massive bonfire which had been prepared out of fruit cartons, tree branches and forklift pallets.  It was 2009.  We toasted our champagne with some new friends we met from Walvis Bay and brought in the new year, feeling the intense heat of the fire on our faces and looking at the bright orange flare, beyond which was a black ocean where the last remnants of 2008 were rotating slowly towards midnight.

We got back around 3 in the morning.  The next day, we slept in until 10, stayed in the room until 5 and went out at 8.  It was a completely unproductive day, but a needed rest.  Besides, everything was closed! We went to dinner at the Western Saloon, which served up a delicious line fish for our last meal in Swakopmund.  Ioana went to bed and Codrin and I played blackjack at the casino for a couple hours, finally turning in at 2.  In the morning, Michael picked us up at the guesthouse and we drove 5 hours back to Windhoek.  We bought two large suitcases in town, to carry our souvenirs.  We already have a new suitcase we bought a couple weeks ago.  We have so many masks we could start a store.

We’re excited for our return to Johannesburg and our reunion with Sara, her husband and Antonio.  We should be in Cape Town the night of the 4th.  Incidently, the mayor of Cape Town won the 2008 World Mayor award.  Cool, huh?

Happy new year, all, welcome to 2009!

January 2, 2009Comments are DisabledRead More
Updates from Africa 10

Updates from Africa 10

When I had finished writing the last update Ioana and I left the internet cafe and Codrin was gone.  He said he was going to the shop next door but he wasn’t there, so we wandered around a bit looking for him and then went off to the cafe for another drink.  It turns out Codrin had found a barber and was getting his hair cut, and when he came back looking for us we weren’t there either.  Ioana and I had a quick coffee and coke and then went off to the Woermann Tower, which we were told provides an excellent panaroma of the city.  The tower, built in 1905, is off of a charming courtyard and hotel where Prince Albrecht of Prussia stayed in 1907, and is the most famous building in Swakopmund.  We climbed to the top and got a great 360 degree view of the city.  You can look out over the ocean, then as you turn you see the ocean turn into desert, and with the ocean to your back it looks like the city is in the middle of the desert.  It is a large town, too, about the size of Westport.

When we walked around the city we realized that we were essentially in Germany.  Everyone spoke german, the architecture was European and colonial and on every corner there is a cafe, a beer house, or a public park.  The city is perfectly manicured, and if it were not for the cars driving on the left side and the desert backdrop you would think you were in a German city.  It is interesting, though; the entire downtown area was built at the turn of the century–the last century–so you see cornerstones from 1900, 1905, 1907.  It occurred to me that nowhere in Germany can you find a city center built before World War I, and that adds a sort of German cultural authenticity to Swakopmund.  This was the center of German colonial Africa, and remains a German city to this day.  Yet at the same time, the people are unquestionably Namibian.  They go to Namibian schools and participate in Namibian politics, and most importnantly, as we found out from Herman the day before, they do not regard themselves as expatriates in colonial Namibia.  This is particularly surprising for us considering the whites in South Africa who we talked to who couldn’t get out of South Africa fast enough because of stagnant opportunity.

Ioana and I explored the downtown area a bit more, and found a hippie next to the tower who branded her cafe a “Soulful” place and stapled a feather to Ioana’s purchase of herbal salts and bathing oil.  She asked us to come back tomorrow for a healthy smoothie with no additives.  We walked to the waterfront and found another craft market where traders laid their wares on tarps and bargained with uninterested passerbys.  Then we caught a cab back to the guest house.

We are staying in the Sea Breeze guesthouse, not to be confused with the Sea Wind guesthouse, right across the street.  A problem we encountered in Walvis Bay, that seems to apply here as well, is the extraordinary lack of attention the owners of these guesthouses pay to their guests, to the point where you can’t find them when you need them, even when you’re checking in, and where they don’t know how to get a taxi for us to get downtown.  Codrin got back to the guesthouse an hour later, and around 8 we went out again but since we couldn’t get a taxi we hitched a ride with a Batswana couple, visiting from Francistown, who were going out to dinner.  They had driven to Swakopmund from Botswana, a 18-hour drive.  The woman went to college at the University of Cape Town (as did Herman, actually), so we talked about Cape Town for a bit.  While the man drove, he took occasional drinks from a beer he kept in his lap.

We got downtown, it was dark, and rather deserted.  Codrin went to sleep early so it was just Ioana and I walking around.  There isn’t much of a night life, but there are plenty of restaurants open.  The problem, as The Girls told us yesterday, was that you have to get a reservation.  We walked through darkened streets until we found a pizzaria next to a “Western Saloon.”  We went into the saloon, complete with a door split into two halves at waist level.  It was adorned with license plates from Texas, Florida, Arizona, and pretty much every state in between, with saloon-style decorations like turn-of-the-century newspaper stories about wanted outlaws and a collection of Native Americana.  The place was also replete with Confederate Flags and bumper stickers.  They had a collection of foreign currency, and we asked them if they had Zimbabwean and they said their Zimbabwe bills were stolen.  So I gave them some of my $50,000,000 bills and the waiter brought out a sign from the men’s bathroom which read:  “Zimbabwe:  The only country where a roll of toilet paper, which has 72 sheets, costs $1000.  It’s cheaper to change the $1000 into $100 bills, wipe your ass with 72 of them, and keep the $280 in change.”  After donating our hard-earned $200 million to this Western Saloon, we were told the kitchen was closed so we could only drink.  Fine with us, we figured we’d eat at the pizzaria next door after we had a beer.  However, when we got to the pizzaria, it was 10 minutes after their kitchen was closed, too.  Then we went to the beer house, and their kitchen had just closed as well. Luckily, there was a movie theatre across the street, so we sat down on the pedestrian street and ate dinner of concessions:  Biltong, popcorn, candy, chips and iced tea.  The whole meal was US$8, for two people, and filled us up really well.  Even concession food:  amazing.

We managed to find a cab back to the guesthouse and crashed.  We slept in until 10:30, and then hightailed it downtown to have a lunch at our favorite Swakopmund cafe.  I got my haircut, Codrin went to the market and Ioana is writing in her journal at the Soulful cafe next to the Woermann Tower.

New Year’s tonight!  Apparently there’s a leap second being added at the end of 2008 so New Years is going to come a tick later.  Have a good one!

December 31, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More