Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Early Musings about Namibia

First impressions on a few issues to which I will undoubtedly return once I have thought about them a bit more:

“Bureaucracy”:  Let’s just say we did not get the warmest welcome to the country.  I won’t bore you with the story of our visas/permits, but the end result is that we should have been all set to enter Namibia.  Apparently we were not.  The reason why we were not is essentially because the rules are so vague that it is anyone’s guess what is sufficient for the border guards on a given day.  The vagueness provides rich soil for bribery, nepotism and other wonderful things to flourish.  We were in the end ok, but to a large extent thanks to our boss being able to pull some strings.  As great as that was for us, it is obviously not how it should be.  Immigration and home affairs is the hotbed of corruption in many countries, even though much of it could be reduced, with fairly simple methods.  When we entered Egypt a few years ago, there were big signs at the border, in English, telling all entrants what was required for a visa and how much it would cost.  Rules such as this need to be clear, they need to specify what is required, on what basis can an application be denied, how much will it all cost and what is the timeframe within which the decision will be taken.  This all then needs to be publicly and visibly explained wherever necessary, with a number to call if a person has any complaints.  But there may have been a silver lining as our adventures were the last straw for her: our boss is now preparing a memo on necessary reforms to the Minister of Home Affairs.  Watch this space for future developments -- hopefully positive ones.

“Demography”: We naively thought that since the whole country had gone through oppression and the independence struggle, it would not be suffering from the problematic aspects of race relations that its former colonial master and neighbour South Africa is still experiencing.  We were wrong.  I am fascinated by how totally segregated the society is.  There is black / coloured Namibia, then there is Afrikaner Namibia, and at the top of the hierarchy (at least in their own opinion) is German Namibia.  Whites own everything and outside of the context of work, where they must interact with their black employees, the races do not mix.  It has so far been weird, sad and fascinating in equal measures.  On Saturday we were at the Windhoek Country Club for a wine tasting event.  It will surprise nobody that there were no more than a handful of black people among the several hundred guests.  To balance things out, on Sunday we went to an Africa Day exhibition football game between Sundowns (from South Africa) and the local African Stars.  In the stadium of several thousand spectators we spotted three other white faces.  When another traveller we met asked a local white teenager whether he had any black friends, apparently the response was that he didn’t, but this was “not because they were black, but because they had not gone to similar schools or had a similar life, so they just had nothing in common”.  As I said, weird, sad and fascinating.

“Muggings”:  When it comes to safety, we’ve heard some pretty wild stories.  We’ve been told time and again that we are prime targets as not only whites, but as foreigners.  We’ve been advised that carrying bags is stupid, walking is stupid, taking local taxis is stupid … basically everything apart from staying indoors and clutching our money to our chests is stupid.  By contrast, we’ve also been told by a foreigner who has lived here for close to 30 years that she has been mugged once and that was in New York.  Apparently there are many possible reactions.  We’ve met an American couple who rented a house in the leafy suburb, bought a car and basically lived their life here as much as possible as if they were still in the United States, avoiding all contact with the “local” environment to the extent they could.  We’ve also met a backpacker who clearly relished the story of how he was robbed at machetepoint and how he was now on his way to the border region with Angola, because that was the true wild west where it was all happening.  As for us, we’ve decided that we can’t waste our time here being scared.  We walk, we take taxis (there is no other public transport) and we attend “local” places and events.  We already had a taste of the more creative side of business at the football match, where there just happened to be an “altercation” at the narrow exit gate when we were leaving, and during all the jostling the people on both sides of F “accidentally” placed their hands in F’s pockets, as opposed to their own.  We cannot guarantee that we will not be mugged, the best we can aim for is that we will not be carrying anything that we will have trouble parting with if that happens.

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