Friday, March 16, 2012

my morning commute

on my last day of work, I think it is fitting to describe the morning commutes to work in Windhoek.

In Klein Windhoek, which was where the white people historically had lived and therefore is located quite close to downtown, I only have a few kilometres to go to work, so usually I walk to work. I may or may not have become notorious all over town because of this, because no white person walks to work, and generally you only see black labourers walking on the side of the road. There are no sidewalks generally, so I usually make my way down the dirt shoulders, grass as high as my thighs, past snarling dogs locked behind high gates. I pass the same black labourers every day, and by now we greet each other with a friendly smile and "Goeie môre!" as if we are old friends. I think I also pass the same cars every day, because once in while, maybe at a bar or a restaurant, I'll have the following conversation with a random stranger:

Stranger: "Every morning I pass by this Chinese girl who is walking on the side of the road."

Me: "Oh, that's me."

Stranger: "Really? I'll honk next time I pass you."

Me: "Why don't you just give me a ride??"

I've since moved out of my flat in Klein Windhoek and am now living with my friend Nenad in Khomasdal, the township where they relocated all the coloured people during the apartheid regime. Incidentally, if we were still living under South African apartheid, I think Khomasdal is probably where I, as an "Asiatic", would have been forced to live. I find this to be a very interesting thought.

Commuting to work from Khomsdal is different. The townships are very far from downtown, which was a deliberate decision by the white apartheid authorities, and is a big pain in the butt for basically every worker in the township who has to get to work in the town every morning. Windhoek doesn't have public transportation, not really. I mean, I see these big buses that go around sometimes, but nobody except some of the workers seem to figure out how they work. I suppose you might consider the fifteen or so people crammed in the back of a pickup truck to cound as public transportation, or maybe at least carpooling. But for most people, the main commute to work involves taking a shared taxi.

Taking a public taxi in Namibia is an art form that takes a lot of practice. In Canada, you would hail a cab, jump in, tell him where to take you, and watch nervously as the meter goes up and up and up.

In Namibia, you hail a cab, tell him through the window where you want to go, and then if he chooses to take you, you get in and hope nervously that he won't rob you. At the same time, you try to avoid the stray dogs on the street. On the bright side, any cab ride will only cost you one or two Canadian dollars. On the downside, you have to figure out how to tell him where to take you. Cab drivers (or Namibians in general) don't do street names, directions, or anything that North Americans are used to using to get places. Instead, you have to pick a nearby landmark, a landmark that cab drivers will recognize. I have learned that if I went to direct a cab to my work, they will not recognize "the National Library" which is next door, but they do for some reason know where Kenya House is, which is this abandoned falling apart building that nobody uses anymore which is apparently under construction and has been under construction since God knows when. I have no idea why cab drivers know this.

Also, you can't just hop in the cab and say "Good morning, sir, I'd like to go to the National Library." That's too many words and for some reason they have trouble understand North American accents. Instead, you have to drop your voice very deep, almost to a growl, and bark "Kenya House, nee?" If the cab driver grunts "Unh" he'll take you. If he says "Ah", he won't. Those two grunts sound very similar so you have to train your ear to hear for it. Otherwise you might reach for the car door to get in, only to have him drive off with half your leg in the car.

White Namibians never take shared taxis, which they refer to as "black taxis". They have their own cars. To their credit, they often offer me rides when they see me walking on the side of the road or trying to hail a "black" taxi. Or they'll just honk, because they recognize me.

On another note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WILL. Will is the brilliant artist who draws cartoons for me, including the logo for this blog. Everyone say happy birthday to Will.