Thursday 02/11/17: I think I’m too loud for Namibia. The west African country is approximately 3 times bigger than the UK but only 2.4 million people live here as opposed to the c. 64 million that call the UK home. To put it another way, Namibia only has two people per square kilometre! Two very quiet people per square kilometre, at that.
The highlands of Scotland also have a low population density but here, somehow, the lack of people just feels like the locals have surrendered to the encroaching sand or to the tourists and have deserted the desert. Particularly after the buzz of Zambia, Namibia feels empty. My Africa trip, so far, has been all about the people and the culture and while Namibia is beautiful and its people are friendly, there’s just not enough of them to project an obvious identity. And there are too many bl00dy tourists!
My thoughts, as usual, are largely irrelevant – whatever Namibia is doing, it’s working for them. Life expectancy, at 63.6 is the highest in all of southern Africa (South Africa is 63.1 whereas Zambia is a depressing 52.5). Per capita income sees them near the top of the southern African country leader board with only Botswana and South Africa ahead – all three of these countries can rely on their rich cache of minerals but tourism also plays a key role. While the majority of Namibians live below the poverty line, the outlook is relatively positive when you consider the stability of some of its neighbours on the continent.
It’s likely that I just didn’t have enough time here to fully appreciate it. I wish I’d made it up to the north to marvel at the rock art or to the Etosha national park for a safari. Perhaps my itinerary was the equivalent of visiting Perth in Scotland followed by Birmingham in England – decent enough places but not your immediate reference points for the UK.
In central Namibia, where you find Windhoek and Swakopmund, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in western Europe – driving along the highway feels like a sandier, albeit more dramatic, version of Tenerife or Lanzarote. The giant dunes of Sossusvlei in the south are, of course, exceptionally awesome but they crawl with tourists. South Africa occupied the German colony of “German South-West Africa” during World War I and it wasn’t until 1990 that the country won its independence so perhaps it’s still finding its feet. The German colonisation itself may have only lasted 30 years but it bequeathed a longer lasting legacy of certain western behaviors such as reserved quietude along with the architecture, beer and schnitzel that you find everywhere.
Here and there though, delightfully, Africa breaks through. Walking along the beach promenade after dinner in Swakopmund, I hear singing and then see a girl sitting on the edge of the sand with her phone in her lap and she’s belting out a beautiful traditional African song. She’s in smart school clothes and isn’t begging or busking but is singing to the sea and sunset as though she’s entirely connected to her land. It’s quite humbling. I stop and listen for a while until she becomes aware of my presence and bashfully stops and smiles at me. I tell her how beautiful her singing is but she isn’t doing it for me and waits until I move away before she starts again. Her voice floats along the promenade after me and it feels like the right note to end on.