New Year’s in Windhoek
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
On Dec 30, 2002, we took a long bus ride (8hrs) to the capital, Windhoek. The Peace Corps arranged the trip for all of us so we could go see the Peace Corps Office and the U.S. Embassy. We were all greatly looking forward to the trip, with hopes of doing some shopping for things we can’t get here in the north. We were also looking forward to eating in a real restaurant, and just enjoying all the perks of being in a real city. When we first came to Namibia, we spent our first night here in a hotel in Windhoek, but we were confined to the hotel and not permitted to see the city at all. So even although we had technically been in Windhoek before, this was our first real visit to the city.
My first impression was complete awe. After you’ve been living in the bush for so long, civilization seems quite amazing. In Windhoek they have incredible things like sidewalks, multi-story buildings, restaurants, real houses, paved side-streets, street signs (the streets actually have names! Unpronounceable German/Afrikaans ones), malls, hills, other white people (that weren’t Peace Corps Volunteers), real bars (not Cuca shops). Plus, the city was clean. The buildings didn’t look like they were made in a day and would keel over in a day. The other odd thing was that the city was deserted. Everyone that works in the city returns to the villages in north for the holidays—leaving just us and the European Africans. Which explains why there were so many white people there. It was so nice to blend in a little and not have everyone staring at you all the time. We were actually anonymous for once.
We arrived in Windhoek around 6pm and checked into our hotel, which was actually a self-catering apartment type thing. It is now a running joke among our group that Zac and I, just by luck, end up with the best of everything. We had the nicest house for our home-stay, we have a very nice permanent site, we have the best room at RDC (where we are staying now for the completion of our training), and we got the best room at the hotel. It was huge and it was nice, by American standards (we now have to specify whether things are nice by Namibian standards or American standards because they are very different). There were two bedrooms, one for Zac and I, and one for 2 other volunteers to share. Then there was a large living room with a TV and couches, then a big dining room, and a beautiful kitchen, complete with a fridge, coffee maker, and oven/stove. But the biggest perk was that it has a clothes washing machine! This may seem like nothing to you, but we haven’t seen a washing machine for two months. Our washing machines are our hands, some washing powder, and a couple of buckets.
After we checked in, our next mission was to find a good restaurant to eat in. We were all going to meet at this Italian restaurant at 7, but it was closed, as was most everything because of the holiday. We ended up getting pizzas at a take-away place, that were quite good. Everyone came to our room to eat and drink. Our hotel room also had a very nice patio/veranda type thing with a table and chairs. The evening was lovely and we had a pleasant time. Even in the city, where there are actually lights, the stars are still bright and the sky is large. Another thing we quickly discovered was that there were no bugs. And, even although there were no bugs, there were actually screens on the windows. Windhoek is a very amazing place.
The next morning, New Years Eve, we had Peace Corps stuff to do. We went to the office and had a tour and an administrative session. We also went to the embassy, which was nice but uneventful. Somehow The Peace Corps managed to waste our time until 2 pm. We were all starving to death and wanted to go shopping so we took a cab to the mall. The mall was beautiful, by American standards. It was also pretty deserted. We found a restaurant that was open, called Saddles. It was a steakhouse. It was understaffed because of the holiday and it took 2 hours to get our food. So now it was four o’clock. Everything was closing. We scampered around the mall, trying to fulfill all of our shopping wishes, and falling quite short. In the end, we bought replacement bulbs for our maglights, Zac got some flip-flops, we bought a mailing envelope to mail home CD’s with photos, and an electric mixer for making cakes and frosting once we get to our permanent site. There is a serious shortage of dessert in this country, and in our mouths in the last 2 months. We have to make up for lost time.
Everything closed at 6, so we went back to the hotel to drop off our stuff. Then Zac and I took a little walk around the neighborhood. Windhoek is a very beautiful city. It is hilly, and surrounded by modest mountains. The houses are brightly colored, and usually surrounded by walls and barbed wire. They have dogs as pets (and security gaurds) in Windhoek (as opposed to vagrants and potential dinners in the north) and we got barked at a lot. We went back to the hotel and sat around enjoying the evening and our reheated left-over pizza. Then we all went to a bar/restaurant, where Zac and I had midget cans of soda, and everyone else enjoyed having something other than Tafel Lager to drink. The bar was on Fidel Castro Street.
Around 11pm, we all headed up the road to Zoo Park, where the big New Years countdown was. It was on Independence Ave, the main strip in Windhoek. The party was at a huge parking lot in front of an impressive building entitled “Supreme Court.” Basically, there was a modest fireworks show, and groups of people drinking and dancing. There were also several amateur fireworks going off in the crowd. One drunk person told us (again and again) that last year someone was blinded by the fireworks, and he advised us to not look at the fireworks. Everyone in the crowd was very friendly and happy. At about 5 minutes till the new year, they started shooting fireworks off like crazy, and because most people didn’t have watches, they all started cheering and acting like it was already midnight. Ironically, when the clock actually did strike 12, nothing happened. The fireworks then went off again at about 5 past. New Years on Namibian time. Everyone hugged and went around wishing a happy new year to strangers. Soon after, we left because large crowds of drunk people are just scary. One of our friends got her camera stolen right from her, and another almost got pick-pocketed. But overall the evening was without incident, much to our relief. Although I think we all felt safe in Windhoek, soothed by sidewalks and buildings that resembled what we had known of the world before coming to Namibia, it is actually not a very safe city. I think it’s mostly petty crime though.
We spent the first day of the new year on another long bus ride back up north. I thought I might feel a sense of dread going back to the bush, after being in such a nice city, but in a way it felt like we were going home. Windhoek is for tourists—you could live there and feel normal. But the north is for the volunteers, where you can feel the poverty and know that you are there to do something about it.