Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Transport in Namibia

Namibia is a country twice the size of Texas but with 2 million people within its borders. Not many of the people have cars, but there are many ways to get around and definitely a lot of ground to cover.

In order to get around Namibia, you have to hike, take a taxi, or ride in a kombi (a large bus or mini-van), or a bakki (a pick-up truck). The taxis are just people who own cars and people pay them for rides. Petrol is expensive, so even if someone gives you a ride and it’s not their profession, you should contribute some money to help cover the costs.

The ride into the nearest town is a 40-minute drive, and fortunately there is a hike station just down the road. I do not have a hard time finding a taxi, but the challenge is finding a full enough taxi. If the car is not full – meaning at least four people in the back of the car and sometimes two people in the passenger seat. If they are not full, they will drive around, and drive around, and drive around – until they have a full car. Only then, can you leave!

The government provided transport for all of the volunteers to Tsumeb, the location for our mid-service retreat. We were taking a kombi there, and told to arrive in Oshakati to meet the driver by no later than 7:30 AM. The other volunteer in my town, Salif, and I met at 6:15 AM to make sure we had plenty of time. Of course our driver scoured Okahao for a good 25 minutes before leaving the town.

Unsurprisingly, our transport was late. We arrived in Oshakati at 7:30 AM, and did not get a ride until 10:00 AM. This is how transportation in Namibia works…they will get there when they get there. There is no rush, and they will always be there “now”. There are three ways to say “now” in Namibia…”now”, “now now”, and “now now now”. Each now represents more urgency, so you learn that if someone says “now”, it could mean sometime later that evening, or maybe even tomorrow morning.

Our driver came for us and we were met by a handful of the other volunteers that had already been picked up. We headed to Ondangwa to pick up the remaining four volunteers. Along the way, we stopped and ran whatever errands the drivers felt like – getting some more credit for their phones, or maybe a cool drink – and also picked up more and more passengers, until quickly, our kombi was just about at capacity.
We tried to tell the driver, “We have 12 total passengers! We need to leave room!” But it didn’t seem to sink in.

Finally, we arrived in Ondangwa and as we predicted, there was no room. The driver had to call a friend with a bakki (pick-up truck) to come to get all of the luggage from the various passengers, and then try to make room for the rest of the group. Of course, we eventually all fit and made it to Tsumeb.

On our way back, it was very similar. We were originally scheduled to live at 8 AM…this quickly became 11 AM and we were finally picked up at 1 PM.

The inconvenience and cramped quarters in the taxis, combis, or bakkis, make me appreciate the ease of our transportation at home. While it can be long, hot, and aggravating, it’s also fun. You learn to just go with the flow as you have no control over the driver or the situation. If you are late, you are late! If a four-hour trip takes six or seven, that is how long it takes. It is pretty liberating to just let go of control and let someone else be in the driver’s seat.

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