Almost a full year ago a friend texted me and asked if I would be interested in going on a travel tour of Namibia, Africa with an all women’s group. I must admit, I had to look up where Namibia was (in south west Africa, next to South Africa and Botswana). Once I did that, and watched an introductory video about the tour, I was in! My travel buddy and I love to find fun places to travel that are new to both of us and this was definitely one neither of us had ever visited. I spent two weeks in South Africa in 2016 and loved my safari drives and my shark cage diving adventures. She spent time in Ethiopia, South Africa and a few other places just this past summer. We were ready to see something new!
Before I left for the trip, I looked up books about Namibia, because I thought it would be interesting to read fiction set in the place where I was going to be for two weeks and I wanted to learn more about the country. I am so grateful that I found and bought two books that I read during my trip specifically about Namibia, as I learned so much about the people, the traditions, and the history of this beautiful and often uninhabitable land.
I read Mama Namibia first, a fictionalized story based on the true events that took place during the German genocide of the Herero people in what was then South West Africa, now Namibia, in 1904. I knew nothing about this history, which was the breeding ground for the horrors that would be perpetuated during the Holocaust. This story was beautiful, in its love of the Herero culture and the land of Namib desert, and it was horrifying in the retelling of a brutal war that wiped out 80% of one of the 12 tribes of Namibia. When I met our local tour guide and driver, and I learned the tribes they were from (Dama and Herero), I had very specific knowledge of some of their past and their traditions, and they appreciated that I had read this book and wanted to learn more.
The nonfiction book is a history of Namibia, from the time under German rule, to the time under South African apartheid, to the support from Angola and Cuba and the UN to gain independence in 1990 (it’s still a new country!). I learned how the choice to make the country’s primary language English was to avoid the languages of the oppressors, but was still controversial because each of the 12 tribes speak different languages and only children to go to school are guaranteed to learn English. Learning so much about a place while I was there made me regret not having done this for so many of the places I have travelled to in the past, and determined to read up on future places.
During our 12 day tour of Namibia, we spent a LOT of time in a very bumpy bus. You get to see a lot of a country this way, but just imagine a group of American and Canadian women in a bus with no working air conditioning, on roads that are unpaved most of the time, driving through ever-changing desert landscapes for hours on end. We did our best not to be crabby, and to be grateful for each spot where we could use an indoor bathroom and purchase bottled water. While my eyes and throat stung from the dusty roads blowing into our open windows during this hot summer time, every day I turned to my friend and said, “I can’t believe how different each place looks.” From the dry, brown deserts to the fields of green trees, to tumble weeds and small brush, to cactus, to red sands of the Kalahi Desert, to canyons, to the place where the desert meets the sea, where the Skeleton Coast begins, you never knew what we might see outside of that bus. We saw giraffes on the way from the airport to the first hotel, and many other days after that!
Some of my favorite days were when we were able to enjoy safari game drives, in the Kalahi, Etosha National Park, Twyfelfontein, and Okonjima. I could watch animals all day every day, especially in their natural environment! I kept an on-going list of all the animals we saw on the trip and it is staggeringly long! Pictured below is an oryx, the national animal of Namibia, zebras, spring boks, and a leopard.
I also saw animals on a whale watching cruise, where both a seal and a pelican literally jumped up on to the boat and sat next to me!
In addition, we enjoyed a hot air balloon ride over the Namib Desert, which was stunning! We also had the very personalized experience of a cooking class and dinner in someone’s private home, where the people there taught us about three of the local tribes by sharing their clothing, food, and some customs with us. We also bought bulk groceries to a private Himba Village, where through translators, we were able to speak to the local tribeswomen who generously showed us some of their traditions. These included how they crush up red red ochre and mix it with an oil to spread over their hair and body 2-3 times a day for beauty, skincare and sun protection. These are a group of people who do not bathe with water to clean themselves, but rather they heat up the camphor plant and create a steam in which to “bathe” themselves for a clean fragrance. The people we met were kind, caring, and happy, yet surprised that so many of our all women’s group were unmarried. One woman asked me, “Where are you from? Are there no men there?” 😉
I am so grateful for a job in which I am able to take vacation time for such a trip, with colleagues who helped me plan ahead to ensure the work was covered in my absence. I’m grateful that my job and my life provide me with the time and means to save up for such a unique, adventurous vacation. I appreciate my travel buddy Sue, who I have known since our first day of freshman year of college, when we were both 17 year old know-it-alls from New Jersey! I’m grateful to know so much more about one of the youngest country’s in Africa and its rich history. I wish more people could learn about foreign lands through both reading and traveling, as my life is better for both experiences.