17 Apr 2018:  Namibia is a young country but mature beyond its years when it comes to welcoming tourists.  Like any traveller I enjoy seeing the natural and man-made attractions of the destination.  However, etched into my memory banks are people – vendors selling fruit or crafts at a local market, a hotel front desk clerk, a safari guide, a restaurant server or a local historian.  It is conversations with locals that may begin with a simple hello then veer off into deeper and philosophical discussions about their culture and daily living.   

I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to Africa about 12 times over the years visiting various countries. I had never been to Namibia and frankly knew little about its history or what it had to offer visitors other than Etosha National Park - a fantastic place to see a huge variety of wildlife and bird species.

Namibia became a country on March 21, 1990 when it gained independence from South Africa.

Previously it was known as South West Africa and German South West Africa. The previous South Africa apartheid regime have had their despotic hand in ruling Namibia. In 1904 to 1907 when the Germans ruled what is today Namibia, the Herero and Namaqua tribes rose in rebellion to their German occupiers. What followed has been described as the “first genocide of the Twentieth Century.” The two tribes’ populations were systemically killed and those that survived were deported, forced into labour camps, discriminated against and racially segregated. The German government did officially apologize in 2004, one hundred years from the start of the genocide though no reparations have ever been granted.

It’s with this unimaginable cruelty and crimes against humanity by the white man that I find it so surprisingly that any time I travel around Africa I am greeted with a friendly wave and smile.

It is such a pleasure to travel through Namibia. We drove in our safari vehicle hundreds of kilometres (and some of their major roads would put ours to shame). No matter if it was a major highway or a country road, locals would smile and wave as we whizzed by. As a gesture of reciprocal friendship we would all wave back.

When I previously worked with tourist boards I was a big proponent of any advertising and marketing campaign that focused on the people not just the scenery. A picture of a man, woman or child with a warm smile and engaging eyes will draw a person in every time. Many destinations have beautiful and spectacular scenery. Visitors will appreciate that but what sticks in the travel memories are the experiences and connections you make with locals.

When I visit a destination I want to probe into their lives – maybe I’m nosy but I love to observe and ask questions about human behaviour, what motivates them, what are some of the family traditions and how they judge success.

During our time in Namibia we visited a few villages and spoke (as much as we could) to villagers. I treasure these times in the village – it’s an education. Kids are playing soccer or local games like Owela played with stones, seeds and marbles. Laughter fills the air as smiling children run about happily. There isn’t a cell phone or iPad in sight except for the foreigners.

It’s refreshing to see the concept of play brought back to its roots without the interference and distraction of technology. I talk with a few locals. They aren’t interested in the latest technological advances – very content to farm and raise cattle the way it has been done for centuries. Sometimes a simpler life is a much happier life.

Spend some time in the villages and it becomes quite clear what a sense of community they have here in Namibia.

One of my favourite Namibia memories was a spirited conversation while sitting around a bonfire and indulging in the creamy liqueur, Amarula. After dispensing with the usual what’s great about Namibia, animals and birds to look out for, it was time for a serious question. “Are Namibian men romantic?” The question evoked laughter from Johanna, the Namibia Tourism Board rep while our safari guide Rusten looked sheepishly perplexed.

Rusten said he would take a lady out to a shabeen (bar) for drinks. Johanna, joked though with a ring of truth, said romance doesn’t play much of a role in dating and marriage.

A lively discussion on men, women, relationships, marriage, and sex followed. I learned more about Namibian culture versus ours that evening than on the whole trip. You won’t find anything we discussed in any tourism guide!

What you won’t get in Namibia – crowds and unfriendly people. What you will see and experience – spectacular and diverse landscapes, Big Five and more animal sightings, variety of accommodation from budget camping to luxury lodges and resorts, eclectic cuisine from Namibian specialties to international dishes, bevy of recreational activities, river safaris and an abundance of friendly waves and smiles.
Discover Namibia’s wild side but embrace its human side.

American writer and historian Miriam Beard summed it up perfectly when she wrote, “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

www.namibiatourism.com.na/

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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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