On Sunday morning Kate picked me up and we drove to the domestic airport for our flight to Katima, where our field site is located. Windhoek actually has two airports: the international airport, which is located outside of town, and the domestic airport, which is right next to downtown. Only Air Namibia operates flights from the domestic airport and there is only one ticket counter. The same two people sell tickets in person, check people in, and load the luggage into the planes so if you want to buy a ticket in person, you should know the flight schedule because sometimes the ticket counter will be closed while the staff load the luggage. Needless to say, there is only one landing strip. There are flights two and from Katima Mulilo four days a week and the flight makes a loop with one other city but the order of cities switches every other day so sometimes it’s a direct flight to Katima and other times you have a short stop. Like I said: it is a sparsely populated country and there’s not enough demand to justify more flights.
It is just over an hour flight from Windhoek to Katima, which gives you a sense of scale in the country. Katima is in the northeastern part of Namibia, on the pan handle that extends out along the Zambezi river. Here’s a map of the Zambezi region; the dark green is the area in which I will be working. Katima is not actually shown on the map because it’s health facility is not in our catchment area, but it is located on the northern border where the red lines (roads) meet.
From the plane you can get a sense of how flat Namibia is in the north. I couldn’t even see anything I would consider a hill, let alone mountains. And it is incredibly dry. There are a lot of acacia trees and shrubs, but not a lot of green. And with the drought, even the rivers are low for this time of year.
When we got picked up from the airport, we drove into town and I saw a road sign that said “Zambia 3 km”. I am just a short drive from the Zambezi river which marks the border between Namibia and Zambia and Angola.
Katima is a small city/large town with a population of about 30,000 people (read the wikipedia page here) and it’s elevation is 3,100 feet above sea level. There’s not much going on in town: there are two restaurants, two grocery stores, a few other shops, one university campus (where our office is located), and two or three main roads. The main roads are tarred (paved), but the smaller roads even in town are dirt. It has rained here recently which has created a lot of bumps and divots in the dirt roads so driving is slow going. But no one’s in a rush here so that’s alright.
We stopped at my guesthouse to drop off my stuff before getting lunch and grocery shopping. Right now I’m staying at a place called Geoline Guesthouse. It is pronounced “Joleen” because the owners are named George and Pauline. The owners live in the front building which has the office and in the back there are 3 guest rooms, a tiny pool, and a building where breakfast is served which has a small kitchen area. My room has two twin beds abutting each other, but it is not a king bed. There’s a mini fridge, wardrobe, TV, A/C and small desk. The bathroom is large and has a huge shower. The tile floor has a nice pattern. Overall it’s a good place to stay for the area but it’s not the Ritz. It’s better than some places that I’ve stayed in Africa though; the WiFi is great and it’s just a few blocks to the flat where Kate stays. It could definitely be worse.
UCSF rents a flat for Kate (or whoever else is up here), but it’s a one bedroom with bunk beds in the living room. Her shower is in the corner of the bedroom and is in clear view of the living room when the door is open, so staying with Kate is not a great option. However, if she’s ever in Windhoek I can easily stay there if I want.
We went to one of the two restaurants for lunch, called Passione. They advertise themselves as Portuguese but although I have never been to Portugal, I’m guessing that the food there is quite different. Passione has a lot of meat and chips (i.e. french fries) on their menu, along with some fish and pizza. And this is the restaurant with better vegetarian options!
Luckily we went grocery shopping right afterward and I was really impressed with the assortment of food at Pick and Pay. I found some frozen salmon and hake fillets and even some veggie burgers and fake-meat crumble. The veg selection was not good, but Kate says they get all of their produce on Mondays so we’ll go back tomorrow to see if the selection is better. I found one yogurt that doesn’t have sugar added, a few kinds of canned beans and even chia seeds! Overall I’m sure I’ll eat a lot better than when I was in South Africa or Zimbabwe so I’m very happy about that.
It was really nice to actually unpack my luggage this afternoon so now it doesn’t totally feel like I’m living out of my suitcase.
I thought I would be the only person at Geoline, but when we were at the airport, Kate and I met Andrew, another UCSF employee who is based in Namibia working on HIV research and his colleague, Abigail. They were supposed to stay at a guesthouse down the street but there was an issue with Abigail’s reservation and they both decided to stay at Geoline instead. They are only here for a few days, but it will be nice to have some company.
After settling in, I met Kate at her place for dinner and we enjoyed curried salmon with rice, butternut and sweet potatoes (the veggies were frozen and not the best, but what can you do). While eating we made our plans for Monday when I’ll go into the field for the first time. I know it will be tiring, sweaty work but I’m looking forward to seeing more of the country and observing how people live. I’ll try to take some pictures to give you an idea of what it’s like out here.