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:
- What!? A YEAR!? What on earth are you doing for all that time?
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.