Last night at Walvis Bay. After one month I still have trouble with how strong the segregation is here. Last Friday we went to a bar and talked to the black bartender we knew. We wanted to go clubbing for once, and thought it was a great idea that he’d come with us to show us the local nightlife hotspots. But most of our team wanted to be within walking distance of the house (on the “white” side of town, mind you), and so the vote fell on another bar in the marina. Our bartender was very sorry but could not join us as he would not have felt welcome in that bar.
He was probably right. I did not see a single black man in that bar during the entire night. Perhaps a handful of black women. And it struck me that we’d been there the week before with a black friend of a friend, but she never really came inside to the bar but stayed outside, at the far end of the terrace.
Perhaps white Namibians do see what I see, and care like I care, but just get along as “things have always been like this”. Namibia has been independent for 23 years, and with this speed, proper multicultural mixing will take generations. This slow process makes me sad.
I have not witnessed a single openly discriminating behavior, but I am sure they do happen. And what is almost equally bad is the hidden behavior: the segregation. Separate housing areas, bars, schools, and recreation areas. Whites, coloreds, and blacks only meet and mingle when running errands in town.
Walvis Bay is also quite the cultural backwater. It is a port town, meaning that people here are mostly not highly educated but blue-collar and working class. I have seen very few old people. Are they all at home or dead, or have they moved away?
People get married at a young age. Many will eventually divorce later, and so there is a large number of single people in their late 30s, early 40s. The number of men clearly outweighs the number of women, as Walvis Bay is a port town. And everybody looks a little rugged, especially the women. Survivors. No fragile, stereotypically feminine women here. The men even seem to favor the same hairstyle: short crew cuts.
Eventually, Walvis Bay has been an enjoyable and peculiar experience. I feel like I entered a microcosm of some kind and only got to know a tiny bit of it, both due to culture rifts as well as my busy schedule. And even if my logic lists all the things I wrote of above as take-home messages, my heart trumps them all with one single observation: the kindness and generosity of the people here is simply remarkable. Loving kindness in action, every day.
(Walvis Bay, Namibia; July 2017)