“Woah,” I said aloud, starring at the huge, wall-sized paintings depicting the bloody history and struggle that the Namibian people went through to obtain that priceless feeling of freedom. “This is depressing.”
Edith, my couch surfer host, nodded.
I was in the New Museum in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, located 1,300 meters above sea level. The North Korean-style building, standing on three sturdy foundations, housed the history of Namibia over three levels, a glass elevator ride provides city-wide view.
The entrance to the building has Rocky-like stairs. But instead of a statue of an Italian-American boxer at the top, a mighty bronze statue of Dr Sam Nujomo stands proud, looking over the city. He’s the founding farther and first president of Namibia – a Namibian version of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, if you will.
Namibia’s independence from South Africa was granted on the 21st of March, 1990. On the same day Dr Nujomo, leader of the SWAPO (South-West Africa People’s Organisation) political party and its military branch PLAN (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia), was granted the right to return to Namibia after 30 years of political exile.
“Do you find it strange being in an African country yet everything is in German?” I asked Edith of Kenyan origin.
“Very strange,” she said.
Namibia began, like most African nations, as a European colony. First discovered by the Portuguese in 1485, it then went to the hands of the Dutch in 1793 and then the British in 1797. But it was the Germans that established the first colony when they came across this arid, desert country and colonised it in 1884, naming it German South-West Africa.
By 1915, when South Africa became part of the British Commonwealth, they decided to occupy their neighbours to the north. By 1920, South Africa took over full administration of the land and introduced its devastating apartheid regime including bloody wars, genocide, forced labour (known as slavery) and atrocious massacres such as the one of May 4th, 1978, known as the Battle of Cassinga.
The South African Air Force launched an air assault on a SWAPO refugee and military camp in Cassinga, Angola, as part of Operation Reindeer (it’s still debated whether it was a refugee camp, a military camp or both).
The gruesomely detailed paintings in the museum don’t hold back on Namibia’s opinion. It was like walking through a Holocaust museum.
But have no fear, there is a beautiful cultural museum which tells the history of the land and of its peoples and their practices of agriculture and clothing like the Heraro where the women wear colourful dresses with high shoulder pads and intriguing hats to match. The Ovahimba people who cover their bodies in red ochre to block out the sun (and the women walk around naked). The San people (made famous in the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy) and the Khoi-khoi people (Khoi-Khoi meaning ‘Real People’).
Windhoek itself is a relatively quiet city with a small population of 240,000 people and 3 million taxis. A major tourist institute is Joe’s Beerhouse where Edith and I enjoyed some of the World Cup action in the soccer den where I was stared at by a seductive-looking trophy head of a kudu cow.
The kudu’s boyfriend, mounted on the wall opposite me, didn’t seem too happy with the flirtatious looks I was receiving and showed it with an angry, ‘I’m-about-to-charge-your-arse’ look.
“I don’t think he likes me,” I pointed him out to Edith who laughed.
Parliament House, located opposite one of the oldest buildings in Windhoek, a German church built in 1910, had a beautiful, lush green garden with yellow-headed Rock Agama’s racing around everywhere to soak up the sun’s energy (the males have Dutch-orange heads).
In Windhoek (and possibly the rest of Namibia. And perhaps the whole of Africa) the whole ‘pedestrians have the right of way’ doesn’t apply. I discovered this trying to cross the B1 highway. Even though the green man flashed his approval, I was almost runover when a car showed no signs of slowing down as it turned into its lane.
“Jesus,” I jumped back. “Do they not see us?” I asked Edith who was calmly waiting for the cars to go by.
“Nope,” she grinned.
Crossing the roads in Windhoek became a terrifying experience. That and dealing with the number of taxis on the road that I had to shake my head to and practically fight off drivers stalking potential prey.
“I think there’s more taxis than people here,” I said to Edith who nodded in agreement.
Windhoek is a relatively safe city although, if you do take a cab at night, be weary that some cab drivers ride around with a friend in the front seat who’ll then flash a knife and rob you.
“Especially around Joe’s Beerhouse area,” said Elle, a fellow couch surfer who had stayed with Edith before.
After the German’s fought with all their might to take down France in the quarter finals of the Brazilian World Cup, we left the bar and waited in the cold (0°) for a taxi.
None were to be seen and that robbery story lingered in my mind. I saw a VW Golf pull out of the car park and figured, ‘what the hell’ and flashed him my thumb.
Surprisingly, he stopped, took us to where we needed and even though we weren’t in his direction, didn’t ask for money. We exchanged facebook details and gained new friends.