Monday, October 17, 2011

eating worms in windhoek

After spending so many mornings waking up before dawn to drive long distances, climb sand dunes, and follow elephants around, we thought it might be nice to spend the weekend hanging out in Windhoek to see what the city has to offer, besides work.

We discovered a great local hangout spot on Thursday night at MoJoe’s Lounge in the Game Centre where they hold their weekly trivia quiz night. Allison, Dean, and I (“Team Gobel House”) didn’t realize that it was such a serious event – almost all the other teams were regulars there and were clearly familiar with each other, alternating between asking each other how their marriage was going and making bold claims about how their team was going to triumph that night. There were even league teams. We felt a little bit intimidated, and it didn’t help that the first trivia round was science questions. Science! My worst subject in high school.

Luckily, though, we didn’t do so badly. We ended up placing somewhere in the middle, which is pretty good considering the fact that we were pretty much the only foreigners in a mixed Namibian crowd and had to field questions about African literature, politics, and history. There was a very competitive air - winners of each round won free drinks, so the arrogance got worse as the night went on – but it seemed clear that all of the flaunting was done in a friendly way. Team Gobel House decided that we’d definitely do it again another week, maybe after recruiting a few more members for the trivia team.

On Friday night, the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre was hosting an acoustic concert. I showed up, under the na├»ve North American belief that “Acoustic Night” would be a singer-songwriter playing quiet folk tunes on an acoustic guitar. Instead, it was a full reggae band called Ten-Ten. For some reason, before this night, reggae really reminded me of white stoners blasting Bob Marley from their college dorms too loudly too early in the morning while I’m trying to nurse a hangover.

Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised that night, however. Ten Ten knew how to work a crowd, a great mix of Namibians and foreigners, and I really enjoyed his backup singers – maybe my band should consider getting one for ourselves. It was impossible to listen to the band’s tunes without wanting to jump up and dance, which is exactly what everyone did within the first few songs. Ten Ten showed up on stage wearing a giant marijuana leaf necklace and the craziest oversized pants which were also covered with patterns of marijuana leafs. He sang a song about smoking weed, and then another song about Jesus. Ah, Rastafarians. He also incorporated a lot of local flavor to his reggae, singing some of his songs in Oshiwambo, and at one point talking about how domestic violence is a big problem in our country and we need to do something about it, before launching into his anti-violence song “Love-Related Issue”. It was a refreshing peaceful message to hear. He had everyone up and dancing.

During the concert, we met some young American expats working for the Center for Disease Control and the American embassy here. I also chatted up the bartenders working that night, who interestingly didn’t show any particular interest in me until I mentioned that I was Canadian – and then a big smile invaded their faces, and they introduced themselves to me and took me behind the bar to meet the owner. Oh, Canada.

After the concert, we wanted to head over to a nightclub Bliss in the Southern Industrial district which had been advertising an 80s/90s music night, but the bartenders were trying to convince us to go back to their restaurant down the street where another party was going. We thought about it, but then our driver showed up, so we decided to head off for the club, promising the bartenders we’d come back to their restaurant another time.

The Southern Industrial district is, from what I understand, one of the clubbing areas in town, although why that particular area, I’m not sure. It’s not really accessible by foot, and of course there is no public transportation, so basically you have to drive there, which is kind of a pain in the butt for a drinking establishment. Once we finally got to Bliss nightclub, we were sorely disappointed that a) the club wasn’t even half full b) the club patrons that were there were all white Afrikaners under the age of 20 and c) there wasn’t a trace of 80’s or 90’s music being played in the club.

The problem is that club-hopping wasn’t really an option when we had no car and no idea of what other bars to check out, so we stayed for a bit and tried to dance. Miraculously, the only other Asian in the bar found me while he was incredibly drunk and tried to chat me up with the most awkward interaction ever:

him: “Why aren’t you drinking?”
me: “Um, I am drinking.”
him: (hands me a jager bomb anyway)
me: “oh, wow, thanks.”
(awkward silence. I try to make conversation)
me: “so, uh, what’s your name?”
him: (slurring) “You can call me God.”
me: “God?”
him: “Yeah, why do you gotta know?”
me: “Okay…so, uh, what do you do, God?”
him: “Why are you asking me so many questions?”
me: “What?”
him: “Why do you have to know?”
me: “Um…you realize you came over here to talk to me, right?”
him: “Can I have your number?”
me: “What?”

I gave him a fake number and then went on the dance floor.

Saturday morning, I woke up early out of force of habit and walked over to the Windhoek Green Market to check out the fresh produce that the vendors had to offer. It’s a pretty small market, but it was still nice to pick up some fresh farm eggs and baked bread. I spent the rest of the day napping, reading, and recording music.

In the evening, we met up with the Americans again and decided to check out the Windhoek Street Bash, which was being advertised as featuring deejays, braais, and bikini models running a charity car wash. It turned out, however, that it wasn’t actually on the street but at Palm Tree Park, and there were no bikini models (we didn’t feel too put out by this). We were also the only people at the entire outdoor party that wasn’t black, which was quite the contrast from the Afrikaner club last night. It was a great time. The beer cost the equivalent of CAD $1.50 and boerwors sausages were being cooked up on the braai in the back. The deejay was spinning great club tunes, and even the people outside on the street who couldn’t afford to pay to get in were dancing like crazy. Once again, everyone was dancing, and even we couldn’t resist the urge to bob our heads to the beat.

A couple of local guys seemed very excited to meet an Asian; one greeted me warmly with a “China!” and when I explained pleasantly that I’m not actually Chinese, I’m Canadian, he said, “Oh, Canada!” and immediately broke into fluent French (he was from the Congo).

Palm Tree Park features a big circle of tall palm trees and a large, well manicured lawn (there isn’t a lot of grass here, as you might imagine), and it made for the perfect place to hang out with the grass beneath your toes, drink some cheap cold Windhoek Lagers, and watch the sun go down as everyone’s dancing got even more frenzied.

After a while, we were starting to get hungry, so Karen suggested we dine at the nearby La Marmite, a West African restaurant owned by sweet folks from Cameroon. There I ate caterpillar for the first time in my life, omaungu, also known as the mopane worm. It was pretty tasty – I wasn’t in love with the texture but the flavouring was actually delicious.

this is what a mopane worm looks like, pre-cooked

and this is after.

I was tempted to order the crocodile, but in the end I couldn’t resist the Cameroon-style curry with gemsbok meat, with mieliepap, maize, on the side. You know, I’m not a huge fan of venison at home, but I just can’t get enough of oryx here. Namibia has converted me into a hardcore game meat lover. There are about a dozen other meals I want to try at La Marmite (including the peanut butter curry and the crocodile), so it is probably bad news for my wallet that this restaurant is so close to my work.

Sunday morning I slept in properly and got up to wash my white laundry. For some reason, machine washing your laundry is expensive here, so I’ve taken to washing some of my clothes by hand. I fixed myself a yummy breakfast of cheesy scrambled market eggs, toast made from my grainy market bread, yogurt and rooibos tea. I put on my favourite hiphop mix tape (Missy Elliott is excellent Sunday morning music) and took my breakfast out to my patio, shaded by my large palm tree, surrounded by my laundry hung out to dry, with my novel on Zimbabwe farmers. I felt for the first time like I’m really started to settle into my new country.

By afternoon, it was starting to get really hot. I was sitting on my patio wishing somebody would invite me over to their pool, when Nicholas texted me to say he and his friends were hanging out at the youth hostel pool having cold drinks, and would I like to join? Would I! Allison and I headed over quickly.

I met Nicholas while I was having a drink at Luigi and the Fish a little while ago. He introduced himself as a regular there, but he also likes hanging around the hostel, probably because there is free access to the pool. He and his friend Timo are local young Namibians who are working on a crazy hardcore skydiving documentary that’s going to take place over 250 base jump sites all over Southern Africa over the span of three months (By the way, if you want to be part of this adventure, you should check it out here on their website).

We were joined at the pool by one of the hostel guests, a young Dutch doctor named David who had just emerged from working at a hospital up north for several months. He entertained us with stories from his medical experience there, including a car accident victim he brought back from the dead and the meticulous process of putting someone’s intestines back into their body. I have to admit I felt a bit queasy during the conversation.

Afterwards, Allison and I were getting hungry but didn’t feel like cooking on the hostel braai, so we got some Chinese takeout at the Yang-tze restaurant near our house. There we chatted up the Chinese owner’s daughter and were surprised to learn that the owner’s family was from Vancouver Canada. Oh, Canada.