Sunday, June 6, 2010

"You usually greet before you take pictures"

Slums of Windhoek, Namibia.

Namibian dance troop.

A goat head at an open air market that I
visited today in the slums of Windhoek, Namibia.


(ohn-gae-pee) is the the most common greeting used here in Namibia. In Oshiwambo (a native language of Namibia) 'ongaipi' roughly translates to 'How's it going?' but in practice means quite a bit more. In Namibia, greetings and introductions are extremely important. I, for example, greeted a store owner at an open air market today by saying, "May I please take some pictures of your store and your work?" Forgetting that I had not greeted him with a traditional Namibian 'ongaipi' he quickly shot back, "You usually greet before you take pictures." Regardless, I got some amazing snapshots of his sewing and stitching work.

From what I've seen insofar, life here is very slowly paced and personal. A good illustration of this is waiting in line at the store. Not only does it usually take about 2-3 times longer to get through the line at a grocery store, but people literally stand so close to you in the queue that their breath makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand in slight confusion. That being said, the people here are extremely friendly, welcoming and warmhearted. Smiles are to be had in almost all situations, though most faces I see are gawking back at me, confused at the mass of American tourists inundating the city. In such a small city just a few of us being here gives way to a pretty large and entertaining spectacle for the natives.


As of yet there has been quite a bit of work going on for us WorldTeach volunteers. Most of our days have been filled with morning to night teaching, cultural and language training. During our free time we usually head into downtown Windhoek (we are currently residing in West Windhoek) or hang out at the hostel, though after dark we've been instructed to stay at the hostel (which is guarded by gates and electric fences) because being mugged or harassed is close to a guarantee at night (for tourists, that is).

This morning we toured the entire city of Windhoek, from the slums to the Hollywood-Hills emulating wealthy sections of the town. Being in the city's disadvantaged neighborhoods was like a small glimpse into a world that I have never before seen. It almost felt like I was living in a 'Save the Children' commercial. Festering smells of human waste were sometimes inescapable and almost all homes and businesses were made of recycled cars, shipping containers and other such materials. Most residents were more than surprised to see a large group of wealthy, white Americans walking through their once Apartheid-stricken neighborhood. The tone was welcoming, though, not resentful. I confirmed this with some Namibian friends who we had met at a party (a 'Braii,' which is a traditional Namibian barbecue) the night before and who joined us on our tour and later gave me the Oshiwambo name of Tangi (tahn-gee (gee like geese)), which means 'Thank You'.

From that point we toured an open air market where I played casual games of soccer with passing children, met a group of women at a hair salon who asked for my hand in marriage and as described above, made a fool of myself for forgetting to say a proper greeting to a man making clothes. Amongst the dried caterpillars, fruits, vegetables and textiles was an extremely large selection of fresh cut meat. Entire goats and other animals laid on tables being slain in front of customers, chopped up and cooked for hundreds of excited and hungry Sunday morning passersby.

Tonight at the hostel we were joined by a traditional Namibian dance group. I spent about half of the performance trying to figure out how to recored video on my camera but was completely unsuccessful and will have to leave readers with just a picture and the vote of confidence that the performance was quite possibly one of the most stunning and beautiful things I've seen, though not for the technical aspects. The cultural newness and vividness of experiencing such a performance in Africa made it moving and exciting.

I plan to keep updating when and if I have time over the coming weeks and hope to have even more time to be able to post not only what is happening here but also my thoughts and understandings about the happenings.

So are the days here during orientation. We spend a lot of time working and preparing for the adventures that are to come, but for now we're somewhat stuck in a somewhat liminal stage. Next Friday I'll finally be heading to a small and rural town called Outapi. I'll be spending the rest of my summer there, so I'm pretty excited for Friday to come so I can finally settle in. Outapi is about 7 hours driving away from Windhoek.

All Best.


  1. Griffin, we love you and we're thinking of you.
    What an adventure already!
    Love, Rachel and the S-R family

  2. Absolutely amazing!! Uncle D

  3. Griffin! You made it :) I'm so glad to hear that you are alive and well! It sounds like you're having an incredible time. I hope they like seeing what Oregon looks like and of course I hope they enjoy all the other yummy presents you brought along! Miss ya, Flan