Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Our Last Trip Out of Town

By Hal W.

We jumped into our CGEE van as a group for the last time last Thursday. This weekend we went to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, two coastal towns on the mighty Atlantic ocean. The sun was shining and the air smelled like salt water. Swakopmund is a beautiful city, it is one of the main tourist attractions in Namibia, for both foreigners and native Namibians. I have learned throughout my semester here that Swakopmund is where a lot of Namibians go for vacations and holidays. Swakopmund has a busy season stretching from November to January. We were obviously not there during this time, so the city was often quiet.   
The controversial statue commemorating German soilders
We arrived mid-day on thursday. After lunch at the Art Cafe in downtown Swakopmund we met up with Laidlaw Peringanda who gave us a tour and history of the area. Swakopmund is similar to Luderitz in it’s dark history. Both coastal towns had concentration camps that held local Namibian tribes. They both also struggle with the recognition of these mass killings. In Swakopmund there is a monument commemorating the German soldiers who died in the area. These soldiers were also the oppressors and murderers of thousands of Herero and Nama people in the early 1900’s. The statue was defaced with red paint by local activists to bring awareness to the killings. Laidlaw is a local activist who has been trying to get Namibian and German officials to recognize the genocide, but has met much resistance. He has been offered bribes and threats because of his work to expose the true history of the area.  
Lamont telling us about the unmarked graves
Afterwards we went to a local graveyard. The graves of the white people were decorated with flowers and marble slabs, and a brick path meandered between them. Off away from the white section there was a single epitaph for the native people who died at the hands of the Germans. The plaque said that the natives died under “mysterious circumstances”, a clear example of the ignorance of the whites towards what has happened here.
Laidlaw and Lamont in front of Laidlaw's office in the DRC
 After the stop at the graveyard, Laidlaw took us to the township Mondesa, outside of Swakopmund, to the informal settlement called the DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community). He used to live in the DRC and now uses his old home as an office to teach people about the genocide. The office has pictures of dying and wounded Namibians from the time of the genocide. Laidlaw Peringanda is one of the few activists in the area who is trying to shed light on Swakopmund’s dark history.

We ended the day on a lighter note with an extravagant dinner on the shore at “The Tug” restaurant. I ordered a delicious seafood platter, and we drank wine and made merry until the sun went down.
The following day, Friday, we drove to Walvis Bay to have a tour of a fish processing plant called Seaworks. We geared up in white coats, big rubber boots, and hairnets and were taken throughout the building by Douglass, a higher up in the Walvis Bay fishing industry. The tour was interesting and informative, despite the fish smell and the cold working areas. Seaworks employs a lot of Namibians. The line workers, who would descale, chop, clean, and cut the fish were almost all women. While the forklifts, heavy machinery and supervisor positions were almost all men. The discrepancy between the two genders was clear. The role of gender in Namibian culture is strong, specifically the belief that men  and women are built to do different types of work, men doing heavy labor and women doing the more meticulous tasks.
Line workers [predominantly women] at the fish plant
 
After Seaworks we went down to the shore in Walvis Bay where we had lunch and looked out over the water, watching the tour boats come in and out of the port. After lunch we went to the Namibian Dolphin Project, a small, one-room building on the shore. We talked with the researchers there who were studying the dolphins of the area. They told us about the diverse range of animals they get in the area, and how the fishing and tourist industry often can hurt or confuse the animals. They have documented cases of dolphins getting too close to tour boats and getting badly wounded from the propeller of the motor. They are the only ones in Namibia who are studying these majestic creatures.
A handstand was needed at the top of Dune 7
After the Dolphin project we hopped into the van and drove to Dune 7. Dune seven is a famous dune outside of Walvis Bay. We had our traditional race up the dune, which I won. Being at the top of the dune was surreal and beautiful, the sand stretched all around us and we could see for miles. If you ever get the chance to go to Namibia, Dune 7 should be a top priority.
We ended the day by cooking a nice meal at home, our accomodation was slightly under-equipped for cooking but I made do. After the meal we all settled in and reminisced on the past two days, as well as making plans for our free Saturday.

Largest Quartz crystal cluster on display in the world
The next day we did not have anything planned for the group, so we all went our separate ways to a degree. Me and Alexis visited the Aquarium, the Gemstone museum, and a place we stumbled upon and named “Camel Land”. We were walking down a trail outside of town when we ran into around 30 camels grazing in the brush. It was an unexpected but very cool experience. The Aquarium is small but cool, it was nice to see what kind of creatures are just a mere hundred meters from where we were staying. But, the most fun thing we found on Saturday was the Gemstone museum. I am a sucker for gems and minerals so I was in awe as we browsed through the huge deposits of Amethyst, Malachite, Quartz, Sulphur, and Tourmaline. 
We wrapped up our time in Swakopmund with a reflection the following morning. We discussed the hardships people like Laidlaw have endured, while also talking about how we have a duty to continue the fight, even after we return home from Namibia. Swakopmund is a beautiful, salty, amazing, and historic town. I recommend it for a relaxing vacation on the ocean. But also I challenge any visitor to learn the true history of this place, the good and the bad.
The misty pier in Swakopmund, it was so foggy we couldn't see the shore when we
went to the end
 

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