Post Title: 012_What is it like in Namibia – # 1
Written Date: 8 Nov 2915
Posted Date: 8 Nov 2915
I’m sure there will be other entries on what it’s like, here, so this is “# 1”.
Namibia (population 2.3 million at the most – it’s unclear) is almost exactly twice the size of California (population 38.8 million as of 2014). I’ll save you the math: California has 34 times the population density! Imagine an economy in a country twice the size of California with 1/34th of the population density. More people live in Houston, Texas, than life in ALL of Namibia. Namibia has one of the world’s most uneven income distributions (search GINI index for Namibia). There are a very few very wealthy people, a few well to do people, and a LOT of very poor people.
And it’s dry – very, very dry. One of the most arid countries on earth in fact. I hang clothes inside my house to dry, and they are almost always bone dry in an hour, even at night. Yet it can be very hot and very cold in the same 24 hour period. Generally it is temperate here – much more pleasant than I anticipated from the luxury of the San Francisco area. The climate chart below gives a pretty good picture, but in the last 3-5 years there hasn’t been as much rain as shows on the chart.
(click on the link).Windhoek Climate
It’s now three hours later than the last sentence. I met a colleague here at Penduka from the Netherlands and we just spent almost three hours talking on the terrace while the sun set, the Pelicans moved slowly along the lake, the Coots and Grebes chased each other around on the water, and the light took on a magical sunset feel that made a tree literally glow next to the water, The overall sense was surreally beautiful. When it got completely dark, my “bottle house” resembled a fairy tale home on the side of a lake, lights showing through the curtains in the windows and sparkles coming through the walls from the light inside. We started making comparisons to “Hansel and Gretel” and imagined a large pot full of children simmering on the stove. But somehow it was magical.
All I had was my phone camera, and it doesn’t do the pink sunset justice.
This was an Africa evening – something I cannot quite describe and yet have come to appreciate in a way I never thought possible – and I’m used to some really spectacular settings. In spite of the challenges (and I’ll write about those also, eventually. Not tonight.), there is a sense of peace and harmony with nature here that is … African. As Josine (my Dutch colleague) said, “I am beginning to understand why people fall in love with this place.” Me too.
A land of contrasts, sure. Poverty on a scale that is vast in a way that is hard to understand. Scarce populations and a nation trying to build itself on the shoulders of way too few people. 25 years ago, when Namibia became a nation after well over a century of oppression and colonialism, it was handed an infrastructure that was complete – roads, electricity (power), water, and the fundamentals of business all thanks to the Germans and South Africans who built it up for their own profit. But the black Namibians had never been encouraged or even permitted to understand how to work with the economy, to cooperate, to build and be accountable; To have pride in themselves. Sure, there were exceptions, and some of the Namibians are rising to the challenge really well. But the poverty limits many, many of them. Yet they are some of the most positive and friendly people I’ve met anywhere in the world. And yes, there is a lot of crime here.
Land of contrasts – it’s an understatement when applied to Namibia.
I don’t make any claim to being able to compare this place to all of the USA, much less the rest of the world. I just barely scratched the surface of understanding Penduka Village, and that’s 35 people (about 250 total for Penduka throughout Namibia) out of 2.3 million, and a land area of one hectare (Penduka Village) out of the entire country. I don’t make any claim to understand all of the USA. I have lived, worked, or traveled in every state except Alaska (I’m not done yet! I may be able to visit my daughter there when she’s in the Coast Guard. I hope so!). And I certainly don’t claim that Penduka/Namibia is better than anything I’ve experienced anywhere. But it is a Namibian/African “flavor” that is unique. Of course Sausalito is unique, as is Topeka, New York, Ottumuwa, and every place else. In some ways it is special to me because it isn’t something I grew up with – it’s still “exotic”, but at the same time strangely familiar. People are people, wherever they are. And the buildings in Windhoek look very much like the buildings in any reasonably large town (Windhoek population approximately 300,000). I occasionally look around and remark to a companion “you know, we are in AFRICA!” But aside from the cultural newness, this place grows on you, gets into your very being, in a way that is new to me. And I feel like I can finally understand what so many authors have said about Africa.
My Dutch colleague was saying that in The Netherlands, people from Africa (and other countries and continents) are referred to as seeking the easy life, and are derided as trying to just find an easier way. They only come to take advantage of the better way of life. I hear similar things from some people in the USA. We agreed that they don’t have any idea. The people from Namibia that have the money, and the frame of mind, to go to another country are the winners, the people who have succeeded here and who want a chance to do even better where the opportunities are greater. They are moving to Holland and the USA, and other places, for the same reasons the original people from Western Europe moved to the United States in the 1700’s. It is a different world than the one they moved in 300 years ago, but the types of people are the same. But to us, in an established country, they are, to put it harshly, losers. And it’s so wrong. I know some people here who want very, very badly to move to the USA, or Western Europe, and they are still trying to pull the money together to do it. They are worlds ahead of most of the people here who drive a taxi to feed their families if they can manage to get off the farm, and out of the village, to begin with. Unemployment in Namibia is (I’m beginning to sound repetative, but it’s true) one of the worst in the world. (Almost 30% for Namibia, higher in Katutura.71% percent of the population in Katutura’s informal areas live below the subsistence level of N$860 – less than US$ 64 – per month) I would welcome these people as neighbors any time. My country, the USA, was shaped by people just like that.
Here are some of the women at Penduka I work with. They are looking at a book of pictures of Penduka from about 10 years ago. I know them all personally, and they are rich and wonderful souls. Left to right: Martha, Helane, Leude, Jennifer, and Lydia.
This is Liina:
Liina is learning to manage four supervisors, and in turn about 11 people total. She is learning to speak up in meetings, to disagree, and to be willing to make mistakes. She is a marvel. Smart, but not with our type of education. She knows and understand people, her people, so much better than I do, and she is already a better manager in some respects than many I have worked for in the past 45 years. And she is anxious to learn, excited that finally she is being taught how to lead, and schedule, and understand, and she’s in her 50’s. She spent almost 30 years under apartheid before Independence. She is now in charge of ALL of the hospitality functions: Restaurant, kitchen, convention facilities, lodges (six rooms), backpacker rooms (30 beds in 6 buildings), a commercial sized garden, a poultry farm, and soon to be four pedal boats for rent. Some days she gets so frustrated and overwhelmed she can just hold her head in her hands. But she comes back, talks through it, asks for advice and help, and goes on. And she’s getting better and better, and has really good instincts. It is a genuine honor knowing her and being able to work with her. And she goes home, every evening in a bus, to a home made of tin sheets with no running water, electricity, or sewage. Look up Katutura, Windhoek on Google on that computer you have so available. She’s just learning to use one, and she spends hours struggling with it. But she now schedules guards, kitchen workers, and overtime allocations. AND she dances at cultural shows for the tourists that flow through here.
AND she is trying to teach me the Oshikwanyama language!
I am in awe of these women, these people, and humbled and honored to be able to spend time getting to know them.
6 thoughts on “012_What is it like in Namibia – # 1”
Andy, Haven’t had time until very recently to catch up with your blog..I love it! You make it feel so real and what a wonderful opportunity for those of us who haven’t been to Namibia to experience it in this way! Thank you.
This is what I wanted to read … thank you, Andy … keep it up!
Wonderful pictures! Wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing. FYI, I’m officially retired now.
Hi Myra! Congratulations on your retirement! I imagine you can now spend time on those things you’ve had to put off for a few decades?
Please tell the book club I miss everyone. And I really do! I’m really happy here, but it isn’t the same.
Andy, I love this post. Thank for you describing the country, the people and the environment. The photos are great. Liina is amazing.
Thanks for the comment(s), Gail. It is a pretty interesting and challenging situation. Every once in a while I just look around and “notice” I’m in Africa! What a trip. Still no plans on when I’ll return – I love the country and the work. I hope you and Dean are well and flourishing.