Day Seven – Cars, homesickness and a new place to stay.

It’s been a week. I’m finally starting to get used to the idea of living here in Namibia. My week so far has been punctuated by moments of stress, moments of relief and a severe bout of homesickness on the night of the 18th/19th. The first guest house, Rivendell, has been fantastic. It was within walking distance of the centre of town, as well as about six car dealerships, and served as a place to crash and come to terms with what the hell I was actually doing in Namibia for an entire year. The place had a real colonial-house vibe to it, and it was easy to get talking to the other guests. Obviously, they were mostly tourists, and so in the week I was there my conversations tended to follow two lines of enquiry:

  1. What!? A YEAR!? What on earth are you doing for all that time?
  2. You’re Scottish? Oh, so what about that independence thing, eh?

I didn’t mind too much, and in fact made things seem a bit more real, having to go over the reason I was in Namibia umpteen times. The tourists were all nice enough too. I was on the lookout for a car, and the Swedish lady next door asked me each time she saw me if I’d had any luck.

I spent a good few days touring round dealerships and investigating cars. The first couple of days settled into a bit of a rhythm. I would get up, have a look for four wheel drives for sale over breakfast, and head out to the dealerships on foot at about ten thirty, often shoehorning in there a trip to the supermarket to get provisions for lunch and dinner. Of course, this meant I was out and walking around during the hottest part of the day, and while I am enormously grateful for Windhoek’s tiny size (think smaller than Inverness; there is only about 300,000 people there) the paltry 5km I was walking meant I was usually good for absolutely nothing by the time I got back to the guest house at about three o’clock. It is probably going to take me quite some time to get used to the heat. Fortunately, the guest house had a pleasantly cold swimming pool behind it, and submersion in water for about half an hour usually made me feel a bit less filthy when I would settle down for the evening’s renewed internet car search, along with my feline companion.

I seem to attract the animals here.

If you’re interested what I’m looking at, by the way, I’ve been frequenting http://www.namcars.com.na and clicking on 4×4. You can have a look at what I’m going for there. I’m interested in Hiluxes and Land Cruisers mainly, because not only does EVERYONE seem to drive a Toyota here, making the parts easy to come by, but I’ve heard pretty reliably that you can run them in a pinch on a mixture of duct tape and hope. I really hope it doesn’t come to that, though. I know very little about cars, but I’ve been rehearsing lines about service records and locking differentials, as well as getting myself familiar with ~10 year-old Toyota engines so I can recognise when something looks a bit shifty under the bonnet. I’m reminded forcefully of when my sister’s starter motor conked out in Edinburgh about a year ago, and I thought that as a man and an older brother I should take a look under the bonnet to have a look. “Yup, definitely a car” I thought. Never before has the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” meant more to me than now. I am convinced that one day, somewhere out in the world, I will meet a used car dealer who I’d classify as an honest person. I’ve not met them yet though. They’re nice enough of course, but a lot of questions about reliability and previous owners lead no answers I’d consider helpful. One chap who took me on what I would definitely classify as a rally in a Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun, for British readers) was from the Damara community, so I built up a bit of a rapport with him based on my research, which ended with my remembering how to say “Goodbye” in Khoekhoegowab. He of course attempted to convince me to buy right then because another British guy was coming to pay cash for in in about three hours, which for some strange reason didn’t stop him phoning me a few days later to ask why I never came back, and offered me about N$10,000 (€750) off the asking price again. I’ve since been advised against Mitsubishis, though.

Also with regard to “faking it ’til you make it”, I feel pretty safe wandering around Windhoek on my own these days. I’ve got used to it, and while obviously it is an African capital city, and thanks to the one of the largest wealth inequalities in the world, has a bit of a crime problem, there is a way of conducting yourself that certainly works for me. I just walk around the city as if I live here, and I know the way to go, and if people stop me to talk to me (they often do), I just engage with them and am as friendly as possible. It’s worked well so far for me, and in this first week I’ve experienced no problems at all. I’m a bit more cautious than I am in Europe, of course, I don’t get my wallet or phone out on the street at all, and I don’t give anything to anyone who asks, apart from possibly cigarettes, but that is just common sense really. Faking an aura of “I live here, I know what I’m doing” seems to have had the desired affect. Crossing roads is still a pain, though. Namibians, apparently, drive like maniacs. What’s hilarious is that they have adopted what look exactly like German road crossings. They just totally ignore them. Walking across a dual carriageway is a great way to appreciate the fact that you are alive. Anyone who has walked anywhere in Delhi, as I did a few years ago, I’m sure will empathise.

My last night in the guest house was the one of the 18th/19th. Anyone familiar with the “Scottish” part of “Scottish PhD Student” in the blog’s tagline will know that the 18th was a huge day for my home country. We voted on whether we wanted to continue to be part of the UK or to go forward as independent. It was a strange and slightly unpleasant time to be away from home, especially as my permanent address is in Germany and that means that I did not get a vote. I just had to watch from afar. I do miss Scotland an awful lot, but was cheered up immeasurably by the cartoon I found in Thursday’s issue of The Namibian.

Sure, it’s a weak joke, but it’s nice to be thought of.

I followed The Guardian‘s live blog for most of the night when I wasn’t sleeping, and awoke the next morning aware of the fact that Scotland had decided to stay with the union. I have mixed and conflicting feelings about that. This isn’t a political blog, though, so I don’t want to go into detail here about it. I never made time to thoroughly work out my opinion on the matter, knowing as I did that I would not get a vote. All I know is that I missed my homeland, and hope Scotland can work through the last few months and go on to make Scotland the sort of place I will enjoy coming back to in a few years. Best of luck to the people there.

I moved on Friday, and now am living with an amazing couple, both of whom are lawyers working on human rights issues here in Namibia. I met them back in March, and once again they have graciously offered me their spare room and run of their house while I am here. They won’t take any money from me, but I’m playing guitar for them occasionally in the evenings and helping out on the homestead when they need it. This includes feeding their eight(!) horses.

Here are most of them. It’s a good job I’m not still feart of them these days.

It also entails chasing them out of the vegetable patch, as they have the run of the homestead for most of the day. Apparently they have a bit of a liking for strawberries. So much so that my hosts have not yet eaten any this year. They’re quite endearing, if stubborn. I’m careful not to walk behind them.

While I don’t yet have a car, they’ve even offered to lend me the use of their spare one, and Peter is accompanying me on my car-searching trips, as he knows enough about them that we fixed up their car between the two of us, making me feel thoroughly manly as I now know what at least a few bits of that mess of metal underneath the bonnet do. This might mean I could be developing actual, marketable skills that aren’t academic. Don’t hold your collective breaths, though.

My shiny 1986 wheels until I get myself a 4WD.

I should be testing it out tonight when I drive into Windhoek to meet a couple of anthropologists for dinner. I’m immensely grateful to Peter and Michaela for putting me up here, and helping me out so much. I’m not sure how much helping out on the homestead I can do to repay such generosity, but I’ll do my best. It’s nice to have a network here, and good to know that even if I royally muck something up at least I won’t be out on the streets. Being on a homestead also makes me feel at home, too. It reminds me a lot of Mum and Dad’s, and my brief experience on a tractor and with their animals means that I am at least a little useful here. At some point I might actually get round to some anthropology.

Tschuss!

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Day One

Well, I’m here. It’s my first morning in Namibia, and after two days of pretty intense travelling, I have landed and am in my first guest house, which I have until Wednesday. I’ve got a few important things to get on with in these first few days, the most pressing of which is to secure myself some transportation, which means buying a four-wheel drive that will serve my purposes as a main repository for my stuff as well as my transport for the next year. It’s quite daunting, and I’ll feel better once I have it.

My journey began with six hours on the high-speed train from Cologne to Munich Airport. All went without incident, and Munich airport is imposing and terrifying in equal measure, but feels very much like something from the future.DSCF0034

That is from just outside the check-in desk. The train turns up underground just underneath it, and in comparison to the airports I normally frequent (Edinburgh, Düsseldorf Weeze and, increasingly, Hosea Kutako International in Windhoek) it is staggeringly massive and modern. I had a long wait, nervous as I was I turned up far too many hours in advance, and had to wait for some time for the bag drop to open at all, even though it did so three hours before the plane departed. Fortunately, just opposite the desk was an airport pub, and I thought I would get myself a little last taste of Germany before I left, which made me realise I would indeed miss it when I was gone.

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I proceeded along my (increasingly) merry way, and slept through most of the ten-hour night flight to Johannesburg, which was nice. Security at German airports seems thoroughly relaxed in comparison to my homeland, and they were a bit surprised when I automatically took off my shoes, as I have yet to pass through Heathrow Terminal 5 without being asked to do so. I’m becoming somewhat good at not setting off the metal detectors, now.

Arriving blearily at Johannesburg, dehydrated, achey and dog-tired, I was greeted with the world’s longest queue, and was relieved that South African Airways had made my layover six hours. Apparently, O R Tambo Johannesburg thinks it is perfectly fine to have a flight from Frankfurt, and one from Munich, each containing about four hundred people, most of whom are tired and irritable Germans, arrive ten minutes apart. I really don’t think their international transfers section is designed to handle that. Having been briefed on Standard African time previously, I was patient, and two hours later I found somewhere to buy two litres of water and a quiet place to sit and drink all of it while reading National Geographic from cover to cover (there was something about the diets of hunter-gatherers in it, and a nice little bit about Nero). Thankfully, I did not fall asleep. I still had a few hours, and decided to browse some of the terminal shops, which are great if you want the skin of pretty much anything:

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Made into pretty much anything:

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Or you are just hungry:

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I wasn’t really hungry. The coffee was alright though, and at quarter past one I was on my final plane for what I hope to be a reasonably long time, and on the final leg of my journey to Namibia. They’ve got a brand new plane for the leg, too, and fortunately my checking in early got me a seat by the window just behind business class, where I slept for most of that flight as well.

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The view was nice, if hazy as it is the dry season and dust covers most of the land. I think that is Botswana below us at that point.

Normally, when you enter Namibia as a foreigner, you have to complete a landing card, which is pretty much the same as the visa form I filled in a few months ago, but with the added bonus that it is completed in hasty biro scribble while the cabin crew are telling you to put up your tray table as the plane is landing. However, this time, they had run out of them, and all we got to fill in was this:

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I cast a quick glance over the others in my row, and none of them seemed to have Ebola either, so I think we’re alright. We had to hand those to a lady who stood outside the terminal building, next to another lady who took the temperature of our necks with what looked like a police radar gun. Nobody was stopped, and I was reassured about this. All I can say is that I’m glad I slept with my head back rather than on my chest, with regard to the temperature of my neck. I’m pretty sure that there have been no cases of Ebola here in Namibia to date, but it’s nice to know they’re being careful. I note as well that South Africa didn’t ask for a form like that. I think the Namibian authorities just like forms a lot. It’s either their slightly socialist bent (no complaints from me) or maybe their German influence.

Then came the moment of truth. I’d applied for my work visa, I had the form all ready, I just needed to see if I was accepted into the country (at least until November, when I need it extended). I had butterflies, and all the documents that I needed to acquire the visa in the folder with the certificate, just in case. I stood at the counter for what seemed like forever, then the worst possible thing for my mental state happened. I was ushered, stampless, into a tiny office where I interrupted a very in-depth conversation in English between a well-dressed man and the customs official. They were talking about how it was illegal to bring “that much” Tanzanian currency into the country. You will forgive me, I’m sure, for not thinking I was in the best of company.

The official stopped the exchange with one wave of an authoritative hand, and motioned for me to hand him my form and passport. I duly did, quaking in my boots and not looking forward to the next flight back to Europe. It turns out that the regular passport checking desk didn’t have the work visa stamp, so it was done in a flash and he took my form, even taking the time to check I had nothing else important in the plastic wallet that I wanted to keep. I was in, and he presumably  resumed his conversation with the well-dressed man.

My next task after picking up my luggage was to find a taxi to take me the 50km to Windhoek. As I expected, I was inundated with taxi offers from the moment I exited arrivals, and took up the offer of a guy who waited for me to withdraw some local currency, and I left to enter Namibia proper.

We loaded up his car, and he mentioned that he was leaving to pay the parking fee. He left me standing beside the open car, and the first thing I noticed was that there was nothing on the car at all to indicate that it was in fact a taxi. I was pretty suspicious, and all the stories of kidnapped foreigners ran through my head at once, and the fact that he had left me beside the open car in full view of large numbers of Namibian police totally left my mind. I had visions of all sorts of awful things, and in the ten minutes he was gone I photographed his license plate and tax disk as well as checking the glove compartment for a weapon. Obviously, there was nothing there, and when we passed the police checkpoint on the way in he shook hands with the policeman, as he was a friend of his. It turns out my tiredness and leftover anxiety from getting stamped in the wee office was getting the better of me, and not only did he take the time on the drive in to teach me a phrase or two in Oshiwambo, but when I got to the guest house and had paid the extremely little he charged me for a 50km drive, he waited to make sure I got in alright before driving on, to ensure I wasn’t left on the street with nowhere to go. Needless to say, I took his card, and will call him again when I next need a ride. He just bought his car last week, and hasn’t got around to getting the taxi stickers yet. I tipped him extremely well, although he doesn’t know why, and was reminded why I felt so safe in Namibia so quickly the last time I was here.

Maybe I’m a bit cynical. Just maybe.

So today I’ve got some meetings to arrange, a guest house to call, and some dealerships to research. I feel more relaxed already.

Tschuß!

Here we go

So it turned out I could shave a good couple of hundred Euros off my flights if I booked ones for tomorrow (Saturday 13th) rather than today, so that is what I did. Thanks to the excellent German public transport network, I can fly from Munich. As the Germans are big on reducing folks’ carbon footprint, many airlines, South African Airways included, have signed up to the Rail-and-Fly program. This means the six-hour, normally €140 journey on the high-speed ICE train costs me nothing, and I get to sit in a special Lufthansa carriage all the way there, getting a nice view of the Bavarian scenery. One ticket, costing €750, will get me all the way from Köln Ehrenfeld station, about two hundred metres from my room where I now sit, to Hosea Kutako airport Windhoek. Incredible. My travel schedule, however, is a long one. Six hours on the train to Munich, a wait in the airport, a ten-hour flight to Johannesburg, another wait in the airport, then two hours flying to Windhoek. This is over about two days, and I will catch the train at about eleven tomorrow morning, arriving in Windhoek at twenty past three on Sunday afternoon. I’ve booked a guest house to check into at four.

It’s all sorted, everything is booked, and all I need to do now is check in to my flights this evening online, scrambling with everyone else on the flight to get myself a bulkhead seat for my unfeasibly long legs. I then need to find a printing shop on the way to the station to print off the boarding pass, which shouldn’t be too difficult.

Packing has been a bit of a chore, although thanks to the guy replacing me in my room being 1) a car owner and 2) absolutely brilliant, getting the stuff I’m not taking to Namibia to the office to live under my desk for a year was not too much trouble. Gretel is now safely stowed in another friend’s basement, and after what I think qualifies as an actual physical fight with my stuff, I’ve also packed my bags.

Here is the stuff I’m putting in the hold, which all fit into a 65L hiking rucksack (reluctantly) and weighs about nineteen kilos.

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Yes, that is an Irish tin whistle and accompanying book. As I’ve had to leave my guitar and mandolin in Cologne for the next year (although I plan to buy a cheap guitar there) I thought I might take the opportunity to learn some tunes on the whistle. I’ve always liked the idea of an instrument I can fit in my pocket, but the draw of the mandolin for fiddle tunes has, until now, proved too much. No choice now, so time to learn. The funny black thing in the bottom right corner is also an amazingly-compact giant solar panel, which I found in the office. Apparently there are perks to being on an anthropological project with a hefty budget. I’ve also had to pack a little strategically: Johannesburg airport has a bit of a theft problem, and I lost a mobile phone last time. I am preparing by topping off the side and lid pockets with my dirty socks from the days before. Heh heh heh.

Here is what I am taking with me on the plane:

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The Indy hat, I will admit, seems overkill, but it was invaluable last time against the terrifyingly powerful Namibian sun. The map of Namibia that has been on the wall for the last couple of months is also coming with me.

And here is the lot of it together:

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This is everything I will own in Namibia until I buy a car. I will then fill that car with camping equipment and live out of it for the next year. It should be good.

I’ve got a good couple of hours before I can check in online for my flight, and similar to my earlier blog post about Karneval, just before I left last time, I think that this one was probably a little frenetic. I certainly feel frenetic. Maybe I’ll wax my boots again. I sure as hell am not repacking the bloody rucksack.

See you in Africa, Tschuß!

Delayed departure

Well, it turns out that thanks to one thing and another, I’ve had to keep putting off my date of departure to Namibia. The main problem has been getting hold of the visa. I’ve been doing it through an agency in Windhoek, and the representative there let me know that my permit to research has in fact been approved some time ago. This is fantastic. All I needed to do was to pay the relatively paltry sum of N$870 (about €50) to get it emailed to me. Having done this, I was promptly emailed to let me know that the money would be sent to the Namibian Home Office on Monday (yesterday) and that they would issue it in “the next few days” with my agent emailing it to me “the moment [she] receives it”. Being as my departure was previously set for Friday, in three days’ time, this poses a number of problems. Sure, it is possible that my visa will be dispatched in time, but landing in the country without one (and without a return flight on the cards to prove I am going to leave again) is a definite no-no. I do not fancy an expensive return to Europe with my tail between my legs.

So, as it is I have delayed my departure once again, hopefully for what is to be the last time. My revised departure date is now September 12th, and I have emailed my agent in Germany to instruct him on booking a single flight. The idea of booking a one-way flight to Namibia is a little bit frightening, although by now I am just desperate to actually be on my way. I’ve been preparing for this for a good amount of time now, and could do without further delays, not to mention constantly leaving my German friends in a state of flux as to whether they will see me again or not. I’ll feel better when I actually board the damn plane.

The good news is that I seem to be able to get a direct flight from Frankfurt to Windhoek on the relatively-new Air Namibia, on their only long-haul service. This saves me a fifty-minute dash through Johannesburg O. R. Tambo’s bustling terminal, not to mention the painfully-slow passport-stamping practices it enjoys. I was surprised at my agent’s choice, given the only recent resumption of long-haul fights to Hosea Kutako Airport Windhoek, on account of their not having enough safety equipment to reasonably put out a massive fire on the runway. Reassuring stuff. It seems they’ve gone and bought enough fire engines now, though. I also didn’t fancy an impromptu trip to Gabarone when I didn’t ask for it. I’m sure Botswana is lovely, but, you know, I’ve got appointments. As some of the Namibians I know might say: “Welcome to Africa!”

Back in terms of preparations here (as ever they must go on) I visited the doctor this morning for a fairly confusing run-through of vaccinations, and received a much-welcomed prescription for antimalarial medication, which is Doxycycline. I am not really thrilled about this, but Frau Dr. knows best. I also shudder to think how much four months’ supply of the damn stuff is going to set me back. Drugs are pricey here in Germany. Sadly, I am going too soon in the future to make Rabies (Tollwut) vaccination a possibility, but I’ll just stay away from dogs, as I did in India a few years ago. That should go fine. Still, I’m not sure what they put in those other vaccines but I’m a bit dazed and achey now. Maybe that has something to do with the four hours’ of sleep I’m coasting on, though, and the large quantity of coffee. It was a useful two hours’ spent at the Uniklinik, however, and at least the flesh is willing to travel even if the mind is weak.

Fun fact I discovered in the waiting room: the German translation of “resuscitation” makes it look excitingly like you can take lessons in necromancy at Cologne University.

The friendly face of zombie science.

Pictured: The friendly face of zombie science.

On that note, I think I’ve got about fourteen emails to fire off again, and I’m sure my kit list needs checking for the umpteenth time.

Tschuß!