data Bisbocci Abroad: Windhoek

Friday, January 4, 2013

Windhoek

               I have spent my first few days in Africa recovering from jet-lag and enduring countless hours of orientation. From the day our group of volunteers arrived in Windhoek, we immediately jumped into training sessions and have spent nearly ten hours a day sitting, writing, studying and listening. While I feel that orientation overall has been quite helpful, I am getting a bit restless. I have spent nearly a week in Namibia and have ventured very little outside the confines of the hostel. Nevertheless, during my six days in Namibia's capital, I was able to carve out a few hours for exploring bits of the city.
         Many travelers to Namibia might be quick to disregard Windhoek in light of all the stunning tourist attractions nearby, but the city certainly has its own charm. Walking its pretty streets fills me with bizarre a sense of deja vu--not because it reminds me of a particular place I have been, but because the atmosphere seems like such a familiar amalgamation of cultural influences that are difficult to pinpoint. I am not sure what to liken the city to for, at once, it seems like a fusion between Germany, Guatemala and Southern California. Jamie even regarded the city as the San Francisco of Africa and, with the exception of ocean, I must say I agree.
Flower and Cactus, Windhoek
Colorful Stucco Houses, West Windhoek
            As a group of us walked the streets of West Windhoek to take in our surroundings, we were struck by the affluence of the neighborhood. Colorful stucco houses line the spotless streets and are flanked by beautiful gardens teeming with bougainvilleas, cacti and palm trees. Many of the streets in the area are named after German musical composers like Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. As we walked around the hilly neighborhoods, certain streets gave way to stunning panoramas of the town below and sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and greenery. I kept having to remind myself that I was in Africa. 
Street Signs, Windhoek
           Downtown Windhoek is roughly a fifteen minute walk from the Backpacker Unite Hostel. It centers around Independence Street and is the city's economic hub. The streets are lined with business people, bankers and art vendors. Near downtown, a grassy park offers shade and respite from the burning African sun and a beautiful Lutheran Church perches over the city center, acting as a reminder of Germany's cultural influences in South West Africa. Even today, Windhoek is a multicultural city filled with Afrikaaners, Germans and numerous ethnic groups from all around the country, including the Herero, Himba, Damara, Ovambo and Nama. 
Lutheran Church, Windhoek
              Visiting a city like Windhoek is at once hopeful and saddening. It is a melting pot of cultures from around the world that live in relative harmony and is the capital of a country that is working hard to grant its citizens economic opportunity. The city seems to be a beacon of development and progress in a continent often associated with poverty, but it is also a city where the affluence of a few wealthy residents shields the suffering of the indigenous majority. 
             Windhoek's wealthy appearance masks a deep, painful history that runs through Namibia's young veins. From its first contact with white settlers, the area that constitutes modern-day Namibia has endured painful genocide and forced segregation. Racial equality is still a relatively new concept in Namibia, since the country suffered until just recently under the laws of Apartheid South Africa. Today, the legacy of Apartheid has left a country with deep socio-economic divisions.
              While the average income in Namibia is upwards of $5,000 a year, the country remains one of the most unequal in the world. Today, whites make up just over six percent of the country's population, but wealth is still very much divided upon racial lines. In the overwhelmingly indigenous North, where I will be teaching, most people live on less than two dollars a day. 
         
            On Sunday, my group will travel to Northern Namibia for a teaching practicum. For five days, we will leave behind the luxuries of Windhoek and, for the first time, we will likely become exposed to the country's staggering economic inequality.

3 comments:

  1. Erika. I am SO excited to follow you on this journey!!! What incredible experiences you will have my friend. =]

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  2. Erikina! I love these pictures! I can't wait to see more and read more about your experiences in this next year! Love you :D

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  3. Hi Erika,
    It is so wonderful to read your description of Winghoek and see your photos. I hope you will get more time to explore. I am looking forward to following your blog during this year.

    Love, Susi

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