Monthly Archives: March 2008

Windhoek I

Passing a bank on Independence Avenue, noticing a poster in the window. It is written in red that Fear of the devil is nonsense. Quite. But fear of debt is not, maybe. And a little further, in a doorway into a block of flats between two low-slung greying shops, a couple are huddled together. He crowds his limbs around her body, pressed to the wall. A long white cane hangs from a looped string around her wrist. Her eyelids are loose and hang down over the eye, as if caught in the midst of a stroke, and leave only a small slither of dark space beneath the lashes. Her face is turned to the road, but his eyes are wide and excited. He is fixated by the wad of notes in her hand, which he is counting, with her fingers in his. Ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, seventy… She seems to have given up. Her fingers so loose, her legs so soft. Or is he helping her? I hesitate, almost about to stop, to turn, to step from the sidewalk into their dark doorway, and ask something I’m not sure what. But I’m still thinking about fearing the devil, and still want to turn back to check the poster again, check the words, just make sure I wasn’t reading what I am believing.

Bahnhof Strasse.

Last night, I noticed how the AirNamibia inflight glossy was so full of white faces singing praise of nature, wildlife, opera and ways of being happy. We skimmed down, away from blinding light through thick white cloud into darkness. Lower and lower. Vast streaks of white lightening flashed behind the clouds far off across the skies. We judder and bump towards the international airport, a slim slice of tarmac in the middle of a middle Earth. Miles from nowhere.

Che Guevara is on hats, T-shirts and walls, as branded as Nike. Carol Vorderman is here too, slapped on books and DVDs. She’s dieting, adding and subtracting, and giving Namibians advice on how to be happy. I find her gazing at me in a bookshop that’s bursting with life advice, diets and yoga regimes, just two streets from Robert Mugabe Avenue (where you will find an office for the local Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Redistribution, perhaps someone’s idea of a little joke). This quiet provincial town could be in Germany, I think, or England. I hear people speaking in clicks and whistles I don’t understand, and others exchanging mobile phone conversations in Afrikaans and Portuguese. And I keep bumping into tall Congolese men in steel-tipped cowboy boots who wink at me and flash gold chains between their fingers.

It’s cool, cloudy and ever so mildly depressive. But it’s wonderful to be walking again, walking with a phone and a wallet and not to be watching hands and pockets for knives. But someone told me not to take the peace in the place for granted. Last year, 170,000 firearms were bought by individuals in Namibia. That’s about one weapon each for 10% of the population.

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