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9 Side Effects I Had as a Traveler Living in Namibia

by Alexandra Peard May 26, 2016

1. I find taxi rides far too boring now.

Catching a local taxi in Windhoek (Namibia’s capital city), was always a bit of a gamble. I may have gotten a brand new shiny hatchback — clearly the driver’s pride and joy — pimped out with a thumping sound system, shiny hubcaps and comfy bright seat covers. Or, maybe the bumper was attached to the car with cable ties, and the driver had to jiggle and thump the door from the inside before I could open it and I could see the road rushing beneath me through a hole in the floor. Usually, the latter also had a brand new thumping sound system.

Local taxis are shared, so you never know who you will be squeezed between, what route you will take, or just how many red lights you will run through along the way. Just put on your seatbelt (if you can find one) and get ready for an interesting ride.

2. I’ll never flirt in Afrikaans again.

At the point when it had become second nature for me to use certain Afrikaans words in everyday conversation, and about the time I discovered the useful ‘social’ category of phrases in my free Afrikaans iPad app, I decided to progress my self-directed language instruction into flirting.

“Play it safe,” I thought. So I stuck with the simple but flattering phrase: “You are very handsome.” And I chose a local bar on Christmas Eve for my testing ground. Everything appeared to be going smoothly — reactions were tinged with a little more confusion than I’d expected but still smiley. With my newfound mastery of Afrikaans, I was beaming with confidence.

It wasn’t until I checked my app the next day that I realised just how much confidence I’d been radiating. Rather than “You are very handsome,” I’d spent all night declaring, more and more fluently with each try, “I am very pretty.”

3. I now have a new outlook on rainy days.

In a country that experiences, on average, 300 clear bright sunny days a year, the rainy days become a novelty. When the endlessly blue sky greyed over, everything felt a little bit closer, the usually bone-dry air was dewy and I could feel the change in mood. The locals called it BMW — Baby Making Weather.

4. I eat a lot more meat.

Oryx, sheep, springbok, zebra, donkey, eland, ostrich, goat, lamb, kudu… If it’s got meat on it then Namibians, and I, have probably eaten it. If I came back from a buffet with only one type of meat on my plate I was likely to hear –“Oi! Are you vegetarian now or what?”

From snacking on biltong (dried cured meat, a bit like beef jerky) during a road trip, grabbing a quick lunch of kapana at the market (sliced beef and liver eaten straight off the grill), inviting friends over for boerewors (farmer’s sausage) on the braai (barbeque) or sitting down to a giant sizzling game steak, there was always a reason to eat some more meat.

5. I can’t deal with patchy first-world mobile networks.

If I can video skype in the middle of the Kalahari, why do I have to stand on tip-toes, in the corner of my parent’s front garden, in the middle of their camellia bush to get mobile phone reception in Sydney’s inner west?

6. I carry a wad of toilet paper in my handbag now.

I found that this was just a good habit to get into when travelling in Africa…or travelling in general, really. To be fair, Namibia’s tourism infrastructure is so amazing that the average tourist is unlikely to ever experience a ‘bush toilet’ or even have to squat behind a bush.

But my work involved visiting remote drought-stricken communities and flooded villages so isolated that I was the first white person the people there had ever seen. When you’re travelling six or more hours a day by car or boat and drinking litres and litres of water to combat Namibia’s dry environment, you never know when or where you’ll need to go.

7. I’ll never complain about another bridesmaid dress.

When your change-room is a tiny, sweaty, smothering zipped-up polyester tent in the middle of the desert in more than 40 degrees Celsius heat — getting yourself into any kind of dress is a challenge. But when that dress is floor length, Victorian-era style with long thick puffy sleeves and a tight waist-cinching bodice, your chances of fainting are pretty high. Oh, and you need to wear at least six petticoats under the skirt.

After the amazing, but very sweaty experience of being a bridesmaid in a Herero wedding and wearing the traditional dress — reflecting the persisting influence of German missionaries in the 1800’s — I’m ready to take on any meringue dress you can throw at me.

8. I randomly pepper my English with Afrikaans words.

When Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, English took over from Afrikaans as the official language. But Afrikaans is still widely spoken, along with at least 13 tribal languages, across the country.

No matter what your language, though, in Namibia there are some words and phrases that are just better said in Afrikaans. And since returning to Sydney, I can’t seem to drop some of them.

A few of my favourites are babalas — hangover, padkos — travel snacks, lag — laugh (used a bit like LOL), kak — shit, and a whole range of disturbingly graphic and strangely specific swear words and phrases.

9. I can queue like a champion.

In his book of essays on Africa, Shadow of the Sun, Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski says, “the African who boards a bus sits down in a vacant seat, and immediately falls into a state in which he spends a great portion of his life: a benumbed waiting.”

I can’t speak for all of Africa, but Namibia certainly provided many opportunities for improving my waiting patience. From spending half a day at the bank just to pay my rent; to lining up around the block for Hungry Lion’s two for the price of one special on fried chicken; to joining an already-formed queue of cars outside the transport authority at 6:30am only to be turned away at 9:30am because they had already reached their daily quota for the roadworthy test.

I wouldn’t describe my fellow waiters as ‘benumbed’ — more like accepting of the fact that things will happen when and as they should. The experience has certainly made me a lot more patient during the measly 30 minutes or so I spend in line at the bank these days.

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