While reading this, there is one thing I’d like you to bear in mind. Everything you are about to read in the next several blog posts happened over the course of one week on a pre-organised work trip. It was the single most intense, surreal and eye-opening week of my life.
So let’s start at the beginning.
Despite the lingering ache of a mild hangover, I was feeling pretty excited when boarding my early morning flight to Namibia. This was my first trip to Africa, and I didn’t really know what to expect. In fact, I purposely did very little research on the destination in an effort to ensure an experiential journey, and to fully immerse myself in its culture.
Little did I know that I would be fully immersed in something else before setting foot on African soil.
This photo really doesn’t do the sheer, goliath size of this man justice. Seriously, it’s the tip of the iceberg. I literally walked onto the flight, saw this guy (let’s call him Arbuckle) and thought: “Christ, whoever gets sat next to Arbuckle is screwed for this long-haul, seven hour journey.” I even laughed thinking about it. Karma’s a bitch.
After checking my ticket three times, praying that Ashton Kutcher was about to over-enthusiastically unveil the whole sick joke, I took my seat and proceeded to endure the flight. A flight in which the man on the other side of me fell asleep on my shoulder, I spilled an entire tepid fish supper on my lap and ended up squirming from a heavy mass of moist flesh resting shamelessly on my right arm.
Let’s put it this way, if we’d have been sat next to the emergency exit, I’d have pulled that handle quicker than Arbuckle ate his four packets of complimentary nibbles.
Not one to hold a grudge, I helped the heart-attack-waiting-to-happen undo his seat-belt extender on arrival and began looking forward to a shower and change of clothes. This journey, as you’ve probably deduced, was rank.
So, arriving without a hitch at my hotel, bag and belongings in tow, I proceeded to jump into a well-deserved warm shower and pull on a freshly ironed … Ha! I couldn’t even get through that. No. South African Airways lost my bag, of course (SPOILER ALERT: a bag that I still haven’t received, three weeks later). After hanging around the airport for two hours, filling in form after pointless form, I met my local Namibian guide, James (I think it’s a traditional African name).
At this point, I was pretty keen to get to my hotel and put an end to the so-far hellish journey. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen. James decided to pick up a random South African man at the airport, who he had never met before, and give him a lift into town. He’d been stood up by a Bishop (of course) and we spent three hours looking for a Presbyterian Church. We ended up in Nandos Windhoek at 2am discussing apartheid. You can’t write it.
After somehow getting to my hotel before sunrise, I got some sleep. The next day, due to my mysterious disappearing luggage, I had to purchase some essentials in the mall. Including three pairs of Bad Boy-branded, snug-fitting Y-Fronts.
I debated whether or not to include the above, but I feel as though you deserve a treat if you’ve read this far. We’re in this together now.
I’m not usually a Y-Front kind of guy, but because we arrived at the mall late (late in Namibia can be defined as 3.40pm on a Saturday), there was only one shop open. Good ‘ol Edgars: the African Debenhams. Not only was I limited by choice, but also by funds. I tried my best to avoid James, who was forcing what I would describe as ‘non-essentials’ – football jerseys, Namibia-branded t-shirts and a watch – into my basket, and selected what I could afford. The awesome Bad Boy branding was purely coincidence.
Five essential items for when you lose your case in Namibia.
1. One spare t-shirt
2. Three pairs of primary coloured briefs
3. One Nokia 100 (I didn’t even know these existed)
4. One SIM card for said phone
5. One pair of walking boots
Annoyingly, I had to buy the phone and SIM card so the airline could stay in contact. They didn’t call once.
Anyway, before getting to the mall, I did actually begin to see a bit of the real Namibia. My first stop was just outside Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek. The Katutura Township literally translates in Otjiherero (the Herero language spoken by many local Namibians) as “The place where people do not want to live,” and this is where I would start my African journey.
James had grown up in the ghettos of Katutura in a make-shift house not dissimilar from the one below.
He would accompany me into the Township, introduce me to some of the locals and show me around the streets of his former home. I asked what would happen if I wandered into the wrong part of Katatura on my own as a white, Western tourist and he told me that I probably wouldn’t leave with my shoes. My shoes being one of the five items of clothing I had to my name, I decided not to risk it.
As we drove the township’s crude high street, the oppressive midday sun beat down on thousands of scrap-metal houses, adorning arid hillsides for miles in every direction. Every other building on the main strip is a bar. There are no licensing requirements in the Township; anyone can open a drinking spot and anyone can drink there, as long as they can pay for it. No matter what age.
These bars were heaving, so we decided to eat lunch in Singlecotta, a busy market area of the Township. You’re probably wondering whether I opted for a delicate foie gras or a rich caviar. Surprisingly, it was neither.
Kapana is a traditional street food in the Township where beef is butchered, cooked and served in the open market to a hungry crowd. There are no plates here, you just eat off the grill. Although I was strongly advised to avoid street foods, I decided to give The Man a solid middle finger through the medium of culinary protest. If you avoid looking at the fly-covered severed cow heads by your feet, it really is a great sensory experience. The meat is medium-rare and juicy, the accompanying spices are salty and flavoursome. Having said that, the spices are also, predictably, spicy. My nose and eyes were watering for quite some time after my first mouthful. As a result I almost trod in a cow brain. Let that be a warning.
And so concludes the first part of my Namibian adventure. I’ve only covered two days here, so tune in next time when I’ll tell you about why I had to buy women’s socks, how it felt shooting a gun for the first time (don’t worry, I’ve got a video) and why I ended up in an African police station.