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Windhoek

Posted by on March 6, 2016

Now that I’ve found some good maps, I can give you some context about Namibia and where I’ll be working.

This is Africa and Namibia is highlighted:

namibia map

Here’s an up-close map of Namibia:

namibia map 2

Namibia has a beautiful flag which is prominently displayed on many streets:

Namibia flag

Windhoek is the capitol and the largest city; it has a population just over 325,000 people. There are only 2.1 million people in all of Namibia. Think about that: many cities have more people than that. Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. According to Wikipedia, there are 6.6 people/ square mile, which ranks it at 235th in terms of population density (To read more about Namibia, click here). That means there’s a lot of empty space and things are far apart.

After spending one night in Johannesburg, I flew to Windhoek (the only city with an international airport) on Friday morning. It’s just a two hour flight, so compared to the flight I had just taken, it was a puddle jump.

I was met at the airport and taken to my hotel, which was right next to one of two malls in Windhoek. After getting settled in and catching up on some email, I met up with Kate, who is an American employed by UCSF (and in my department) but who is permanently stationed in Windhoek. Kate has been living here for two years and is the program manager for the various studies going on in the country that our department has going on. I had spoken to her on Skype a few times before I left and she gave me a lot of good advise about what to bring and what to expect. She’s been a great resource and I’m sure we will work well together. We chatted for an hour or so and made a plan for the next few days.

Afterward, I went across the street to the mall to check it out. Walking in there, I felt like I had been transported back to South Africa: I recognized all of the stores, restaurants, and banks. This is because most chain stores in Namibia are South African owned and based. There is only one Namibian clothing store (and the clothes are made in China). The mall is just like any American indoor mall except the names of the stores are different. I picked up a few snacks at one of the grocery stores, but mostly wandered around to stretch my legs and kill some time.

Kate recommended the sushi restaurant attached to my hotel so I went there for dinner. There were a few other people in the restaurant, but it wasn’t packed or overflowing. After I ordered the waitress said it might be awhile for my food. That was fine. It was a pleasant evening, I was sitting outside, enjoying the sunset and I had my book. Two hours later I was still waiting for my food! It was the longest I had ever waited for service. I would have just left, but I didn’t know if the mall was still open. Eventually I got my food, which was good but not comparable to sushi in the Bay Area, and was comped for the appetizer. You have to be ready for anything in Africa and have a lot of patience!

I knew I was still behind on sleep since I didn’t get much on the way over but I had a hard time getting to sleep so ended up reading until 12:30 am. Which would have been fine, except that I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. After laying in bed for half an hour, I started reading again. I brought two 800 page novels thinking that would be more than enough for two months, but I’m already half way through the first one and I’ve only been gone for 4 days! Good thing I have my kindle.

Saturday was an easy and relaxing day. I met up with Kate at the mall and we ran some errands for work. I tried to get a SIM card for my phone, but the cell phone store said their system was down and they couldn’t complete the transaction. I checked back with them twice more that day but had no more success.

Windhoek is not a very large city and I saw most of the downtown area while running errands. There’s not much to report and I didn’t take any pictures. There are two malls, other small shops, a few city parks, and some office buildings. No skyscrapers, not a lot of traffic (although it was Saturday), and not much going on. Most shops close early on Saturday but I didn’t really get the impression that it would be very crowded otherwise. There is a lot of construction going on though. There is a lot of urbanization across Africa and Namibia is no exception. Many people are flocking to Windhoek and it is expanding at a fast rate.

Windhoek is situated on a large plateau and is over 5,000 feet above sea level. It’s about the altitude of Denver, but you don’t realize it because there are no mountains in the area to give things perspective.

March is still summer here and it is hot. The highs are in the upper 80s and lows in the 60s. It’s also the rainy season although there has been a severe drought for the past two years. Most of Namibia is a desert or very arid ecosystem and most of the country’s water comes from desalination, which makes it very expensive. Windhoek was founded because there used to be a natural spring in the area but I don’t know if it is still running.

Namibia is 10 hours ahead of PST (and 7 hours ahead of EST). There is also daylight savings time but that does not go into affect until some time in April. Sunrise is around 6:50 am right now and sunset is around 7:15 pm.

I was really tired that afternoon from both jet lag and lack of sleep so I declined an offer from Kate to join her at a friend’s party and instead did a bit of work then read some more, hoping that sleep would come more swiftly than the previous night.

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