Thursday, October 13, 2016

New in Namibia

You can drive for hours without seeing anyone in Namibia.  A tumbleweed might literally cross in front of your car.  The capital Windhoek, is surrounded by tall, sandy mountains making the horizon look like Mars. 

I was in Namibia for work.  Helping to run a workshop to adapt materials for our nationwide HIV survey.  Unfortunately this meant I saw these mountains mostly from the window of my conference room.  I insisted that even though it made the projected materials a little harder to read, we have the windows open every day.  

Over lunches, I made friends with Frida, a Namibian woman who worked at the Ministry of Health.  One day at lunch, I bumped into a waiter and said “lo siento”.  Because I’m too old to be juggling all these languages and random ones just pop out.  (Most embarrassing is when I’m speaking to a taxi driver in Africa and I start wagging my head like I’m in India.  I’m confused.)  Frida turned to me “Tu hablas espanol?!”

During the Namibian War of Independence, children were smuggled out of the country to safety, many never to see their families again.  Frida’s boat went to Cuba.  Not knowing a word of English or Spanish, Frida and the other children spent the next 15 years growing up in Cuba. 

“Most of us are now back in Namibia.  Once a month we roast a big pig and dance salsa all night long.”

Frida is trying to get into the University of Michigan for a Masters Program.  I told her to tell her story and she’d be a shoo in.

On Friday night we all went out to for Namibia’s famous beef at Kapana.  We ducked under the large blue tarped area and pushed through the wall of smoke.  In the center of the large outdoor market were butchers using machetes to cut large pieces of the cow laid on the wooden tables in front of them.  The meat was  passed up front where men arranged the pieces on open grills.  The men called at you to come and try their beef.  Theirs is the tenderest.  I took a few pieces from their hands, chewed, deliberated, and decided on the best vendor.  

I gave the man the equivalent of 5 dollars, and he chopped up a section for us and slid it to the bottom of the grill.  Then me, my friends and the smoke stood around eating our pieces of the meat.  Large piles of salt, chile, and MSG were on pieces of cardboard next to the grills for dippings.  My coworker handed me a plastic bottle cut in half with a sloshing brown liquid in it.  “Dip it in this.”  It was like eating raw garbage.  He laughed.  Was cow bile.

After filled with beef and MSG, we sat in the back of the tarped market on plastic chairs.  A woman dipped a ladle in a bucket of swamp water (?) and poured us each a glass.  It  was a traditional fermented brew.  Slightly warm, it tasted like coconut water meets butter meets cholera.  I drank my whole damn cup. 

Super full, I said goodbye to everyone and told Frida I would bring her back some Cuban Coffee from Key West.  She laughed and said “get me into the University of Michigan.”