Sunbathers, cows, kids playing soccer, maasai touting safaris, others touting coconuts, and ladies fishing in colorful robes. This is the Africa I know, and expected but never encountered in Namibia. On the flipside, it is an odd shift to go in an instant from well-watered lawns and white-washed houses to bare concrete, trash on the ground, chickens running everywhere, and no imminent beauty in design. The people here live well it seems, but they just do not appreciate the same things we do. During the day, kids crowd the beach: boys, big and small, play soccer in the sand; while girls, already draped in hijabs, walk on the beach giggling. It seems that the fashion here is very tight jeans or leggings and a looser, flowing top plus a beautifully colored headscarf.
When I buy fruit or transport with my local friend, people easily want to charge us more than what we know is reasonable. It upsets him. He says they think I am paying for everything. Moving around without my friend I notice the hawking beachcombers much more. The trinket peddlers. The Maasai who corner girls on the beach, selling snorkeling trips and safaris, and, according to my friend, also other services. It is a constant “Jambo, how are you?”. I wish I could be courteous and chat with everyone, but it is too much. Fortunately this is Africa and everybody has a sense of courtesy and limits for intrusion. The only time I have become properly upset is when a man tried to charge me ten thousand shillings for a coconut, when I knew I could buy one for two thousand elsewhere on the island.
My local friend does not fit in well, either. Some of his clothes are too trendy. He has a new cell phone and a GoPro, and European shoes, rucksack, and nice sunglasses. His time in Europe has changed his perspective, and he is only realizing it now. “Culture” is a dance where the rules are “code and expectations”. We are all expected to know the steps of this dance. But being a global citizen is dancing freestyle. And learning to dance freestyle means not really fitting in anywhere except for with other equally rootless people.
And so today I will do what a tourist is supposed to do: buy a coconut on the beach. But I will not pay more than three thousand shillings for it.
(Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)