Saturday, January 26, 2008


The last two months, while not busy have surely been eventful. I fear that I have been a rather strange face in my village, breaking a rule I set out for myself of being there as much as possible. I packed my bag and headed off to Namibia to visit Briana and spend Christmas with her and her family. It was a welcomed opportunity to see another part of Africa and to spend the holidays in good company. I left Blantyre, in a deluge or rain, en route to Jo’burg via Lilongwe. The first leg of the trip was a short 25 minute flight that turned out to have the most interesting passenger list I could have imagined. I sat next to 2 girls who were around my age who, judging by their accents hailed from North America. It turns out that one was from Canada and the other was from, South Brunswick, New Jersey (A town about 15 miles from where I grew up). They were working/doing research with a university here in Malawi. It is indeed a small world. The rest of the flight was a massive group of Muslim families, whom I learned were on their way to Mecca for Hajj. The plane literally cleared out as there is an Air Malawi flight direct to Dubai from Lilongwe. It really made me appreciate how global of a religion Islam is and how awful of stereotypes we have about it in the west. Anyway, we’ll save that conversation for another time.

Getting off the plane in Johannesburg was like stepping into another dimension. There was a jet-way first of all and once inside the airport, there were moving sidewalks (that worked), more shops than one could find in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, people speaking a million different languages and construction workers everywhere, I mean everywhere. This was shortly before seemingly every laborer and even some professionals in South Africa went on strike. The construction inside and outside the airport was truly amazing and, fingers crossed it will be completed for the World Cup in 2010. The next flight was very quick and not nearly as interesting. Nonetheless, it saw me arrive safely in Windhoek.

If Johannesburg was another dimension, Namibia was a different planet. It’s difficult to describe the vast differences in geography and culture in Southern Africa. As soon I stepped out of the cabin onto the ‘air-stairs’, I looked left, I looked right and apart from the quaint terminal, control tower and a few small hangers, I saw nothing… nothing. On top of this I seemed to feel the very moisture in my skin evaporate before I reached the terminal. I left the most densely populated country in Africa in the midst of tropical rain, and arrived in the second least densely populated country in the world in the throngs of a dry summer. I was surrounded by people speaking a number of Languages, some with the tell tale guttural sounds of Afrikaans, and Damara, a language where clicking seems more common than vocal sounds. This immense variation in only a few hundred miles, the distance between New York and St. Louis.

The next three weeks absolutely flew by. A few days in Windhoek (very much a small European city), where we went to a mall, ate some delicious food and generally dappled in the more luxurious aspects of Africa was a welcome treat. Having been thoroughly overwhelmed by city life, Briana and I set out to the Southwest toward the Namib-Nakluft National Park and the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. A six hour drive from Windhoek on sometimes very narrow and dangerously steep gravel roads took us to the campsite just on the outside of the gate to the park. We passed maybe 8 cars the whole time. It truly was a different world. The idea is to see the dunes as the sun rise so that one can get the full effect of a two-sided dune, one side in shadowy black and one a fire-red (truly an amazing sight). We set off after all the giant overland busses roared passed our tent and on the way out (still in the camp ground) we hit a patch of sand that our poor Toyota Corolla couldn’t quite negotiate; we were stuck. We eventually freed the car and entered the park (on paved roads!) and set off for the main dune 60 km away a little dejected. After about 15 minutes inside the park, the sun began to rise and threw its rays against a number or equally impressive dunes and mountains. This turned out to be quite an advantage. We were unmolested by the swaths of tourists that were undoubtedly at the main dune in a race to get to the top before the sun peeked over the horizon. Instead we were treated to a panorama which included a number of Oryx or gemsbok, springbok, ostrich against small distant trees dwarfed in the presence or massive rich red sand dunes. We had a magnificent site all to ourselves that I wish you all could see (I’ll explain later).

The next evening took us to a desolate game farm which is now a country lodge perched on a rocky hill made up of a number of cave-like rock structures. We had the place to ourselves including the bar, delicious restaurant, large pool situated on a ledge overlooking the farm and distant mountains and a meerkat colony! It was a nice taste of luxury on our way to Walvis Bay. After a long drive through more desert, we reached the coast and were met with a shrill wind off the water. It produced a wonderful smell that I missed dearly. After another nice meal, this time with delicious sea food, we retired back to our B&B. The next morning we joined 5 others in a Kayak trip out to the southernmost reaches of the bay and to a colony of very playful and loud seals.

Next was another taste of Europe in Swakopmund. A holiday town about 35 km north of Walvis Bay. Good food, a nice beach and relaxation were in order. After a few days there we took the train back to Windhoek (not recommended). It took 12 hours (overnight) paralleling a stretch of road that takes roughly four hours to drive. We met up with Briana’s parents and after a quick night in Windhoek headed back to Swakopmund for a bit more fun in the sun. This is unfortunately the site of a bit of a setback. I was reunited with my laptop, and I immediately uploaded all my pictures that I have taken thus far onto the hard drive. After two lovely days in Swakop, we headed north, and on the way out of town, we were signaled over by a minibus, to make a rather embarrassing story short, they picked up my laptop which apparently flew off the top of the car, where I inadvertently left it. I was immensely grateful for them having retrieved it, but it was indeed destroyed. Alas, we will figure out a way to get my pictures back!

Fortunately we spent a wonderful Christmas Eve on a Game farm in the central northern part of the country. We had a delicious meal and retired to a night of cards and drinks. All in all a peaceful and relaxing time. As we worked our way north toward Briana’s site, we passed what is known as the ‘red line’. Left over from Apartheid days, the majority of the land south is white-owned ranch or farm land and north is the traditional home of the Owambos and other African people. Crossing the line in to the more densely populated part of the country was a little more familiar to my Malawi experience. Eventually we came to Briana’s village and school. We were given a wonderful and warm reception including an introduction in front of the Church, a tour of the school and a lengthy meal at Briana’s home-stay family’s house, capped off by a show of traditional dancing. Though different in various ways, it was interesting to observe the many similarities between Chewa and Owambo cultures. After all, they did emerge from the same group of people hundreds of years ago. This is where my trip to Namibia was cut off. I bade farewell to the Andersons, before their journey East to Victoria Falls and into Botswana and headed South, back to Windhoek.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and what I believe an integral part of Peace Corps Service. It’s difficult to take extended leave from the village, for sentiments of desertion and a disruption in ongoing projects, but I feel it necessary to make the most of my time in this part of the world to where I may or may not return. So I will leave it here. If any of you are considering a trip to Namibia, I highly recommend it. If you can tolerate a fair bit of driving, the possibilities are numerous and the country’s tourism industry is very well established and a pleasure to deal with.

Next up, Mom and Dad come! Oh Boy!


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