A Quick Trip to the Store in Namibia

The latest dispatch from Christina Baum, WorldTeach Namibia volunteer.

I woke up this morning at 7:30 without an alarm, despite having gone to bed at about 2:30, and got myself ready for a trip to the grocery store. My usual ride being unavailable, I prepared to walk the 5 miles to town, do some shopping, and walk back, thinking it could be my exercise for the day. Slathered in sunscreen and prepared with my new sun hat, I set out.

I passed one of my grade 7 students sitting in front of her house drinking sugar water. People here put sugar in everything (and a lot of it!) so this didn’t surprise me too much, but given her face and what I know about her attitude, it might also be a local remedy for a hangover. I walked along and came across a group of little boys, some of whom I recognized from the school. They had car tires and were preparing to race them down a hill (kids here actually play that game with a bicycle wheel frame and a stick where they run along side it and try to keep it rolling—I thought that was just in old movies). They stopped to watch me pass and say “good morning teacher, how are you?” just like they’ve been taught in class, and one of them ran over to grab my arm. A little while later I met a group of little girls who also greeted me and proceeded to walk behind me and talk about me. It was all in Khuekhue but I know the words “teacher” (yefrau) and America (Amerika) which, along with my name, were used frequently and accompanied by wild gestures that I can only guess at. I passed the local bar and even at 8:30 AM there were three or four men standing outside having a beer. I ended up walking alongside two high school girls living at the hostel who were also headed to town so they talked to me along the way. All of this was before I left the location (the part of town where I live, meaning I hadn’t even made it to the highway.)

It turns out I didn’t have to worry or prepare for walking because pretty quickly someone pulled over to give us a ride. This gives me an opportunity to talk about the main form of transport in this country: (hitch) hiking. Before you panic and get images of me climbing into a car with an axe murderer, there are a few things you need to understand about what makes hiking here a little different. First of all, there is a country-wide system in place. Generally, there are designated “hike points” where you wait for a ride to a specific place. It is also not free (although it is from the location to town). There are set prices to go to different places, which are slightly less than you would pay for a taxi and are meant to cover gas and expenses for the driver and keep the riff raff out. Finally, you have to remember that although Namibia is a pretty big country area-wise, there are only 2-3 million people living here and only 3,000 in my town. This means I’m never actually climbing into the car of a “stranger”. Everyone is my principals’ brother’s wife or the sister of a student at my school or the nephew of my neighbor, etc. even when I’m coming from a place as far away as Swakop.

I got to the store and was excited to get some sources of protein other than peanut butter and some fresh fruits and veggies. I bid farewell to the two high school girls and, determined to get at least some exercise, set out walking back. I’m starting to recognize people and in the stores those who know me greeted me, one man even ran out of the gas station just to holler good morning. I met Vicki, the owner of Vicki’s coffee shop, the only such place in town, and talked to her and the man who works at the conservancy for a bit. I might head back tomorrow for a cup of good coffee or a milkshake.

Before long, a truck pulled over and I recognized one of the little girls from my school in the back, smiling and waving, so I hopped in. In the car, I got to talk to the owner of the shop in the location for a bit and was totally embarrassed when she remembered the exact day that we met two weeks ago and I couldn’t even remember her face, but I think I covered okay. They dropped me off and for the last leg of my walk home, a man helped me carry one of my bags and talked to me about moving to Uis to become a mechanic. He was very friendly and assured me that he likes it here, even though he moved to this town knowing no one. I got home just in time to scare off the scrawny little kittens who live in my back yard and are terrified of people (although last night one sat on my windowsill and watched me watch a movie for at least 20 minutes).

Just thought I’d share what a “quick trip to the store” around here is like!

photos courtesy of Maggie Tabach

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