Monday, 1 October 2012

Saying Goodbye

The time had come to say goodbye.  We'd wrapped up our projects and handed them over, arranged our leave and the flights were booked.  It was our last few days in Namibia, and we still had a lot to do.

We'd been able to say goodbye to Dickson and a few others at the penultimate VSO'ers meet up, where we also played a few games to help evaluate and discuss our time at our placements. It was a useful day, and it helped to have some closure knowing that we were leaving.

VSO'ers meet up in Windhoek: Paul leads a game on evaluating placements

Both of our work placements had organised a leaving party for us. When I arrived at Friendly Haven the day we came back from Luderitz, everyone was eating, Carolina from VSO was present as was Kat!  Alex had also been invited, but the LAC had chosen that afternoon to hold his farewell do too. The Friendly Haven staff and board members gave some lovely speeches, we ate together, and then they presented me with a voucher for a free night's stay in a lodge in Windhoek, to say thanks for my work in the year - and thanks to Alex too, who during the year had also helped out at the shelter, taking the kids out (to the park or the cinema), helping to wire up the telly, sorting out the combi van.  We also sang some songs, and I gave them all some gifts too: I had to blink back tears, which threatened all day. I didn't take any photos during the leaving do as I was having so much fun, but it was an afternoon that I won't forget - a really sweet gesture on their part, and a lot of work had gone into it. That evening, Alex and I met the VSO'ers at the Wine Bar, and some of my colleagues came too.

This isn't from the actual leaving do, but a picture from a previous outing at the wine bar, with Lisiana, Amelia and Charmaine - but since I didn't take any pictures at the leaving do either, I thought this one would do instead.

That night, we ate, drank, and sang more songs with my colleagues, who I'll miss dearly. Now, writing from Paris, I can say that I think of them every day and wish them well. Amelia is getting married next month, and is recovering from an operation - my fingers are crossed for her everyday!  Lisiana is now pregnant, and Charmaine's little boy is growing up very quickly.

The following night, we had our night in a lodge, thanks to the voucher from Friendly Haven.  What a treat!   Since we'd been moving most of our stuff out of our flat, it was a bit stark and bare, and we were pleased for a little luxury. We sank into the fluffy duvet and pillows, watched TV (we didn't have a TV all year in our flat, so watching Namibian news was always a novelty) and had dinner, just the two of us, in O Portuga, nearby - the restaurant that VSO had taken us to on our first night in the country.  With full tummies, we watched a film and had a fantastic night's sleep.  Alex's favourite meal is breakfast - he could have it any time of the day - and he made full use of the buffet breakfast in the morning, as well as the good coffee.  We were now ready to go home and do the final packing - tomorrow, we were leaving.  

That night, we watched the closing London Olympics ceremony on TV at Sue's house - Kat picked us up and we were able to hand over a few promised items to her, before heading over and enjoying the wine and jacket potatoes that Sue had whipped up. Spending our last evening with Sue, Paul and Kat was great, and took our minds off the fact that we were facing a 24 hour journey tomorrow (14 hours of which would be spent in planes.  How much fun for someone who's afraid of flying).

Sue was kind enough to take us to the airport, and had been kind enough to help us the previous week with some more deliveries of our various bits to other people. Cecilia, our cleaner, stood on our porch as we drew out of the driveway, crying and saying "I thought I would die without knowing my name, but now I know my name," referring to the reading and writing lessons that Alex had given her.  Our dog Snowy sat there watching us with doleful eyes.  She was always grumpy when we packed the car to go anywhere, and this morning she seemed particularly so.  

The drive to the airport was stunning - another clear blue Namibian day. We left Sue and went through customs.  Crying in public isn't usually my thing, but this time some tears slipped through. The flights were hideous - British Airways usual customer mis-service - and when we touched down at London Heathrow, I wasn't sure what to think about the grey, cloudy skies.  It reminded me of Chalabi's book 'Late for Tea at the Deer Palace,' where she describes how her Iraqi family first felt about living in London - describing it as like living in a grey, cloudy, lifeless limbo.  I could certainly understand what she meant.  Having lived under Namibia's bright skies for a year, London felt heavy and choking.

It was very strange having a leaving do for the two of us, when we'd been to so many other people's leaving do's. Finally, the adventure was at an end.  We were both grieving for our time there, and excited by the future. I think it's only over time that we'll understand what this period in our lives has done for us.


The day that Alex finished his work, we packed the hire car and set off for our final trip to the South of Namibia. We were going to see Luderitz, on the coast of Namibia, and the ghost town of Kolmanskop nearby.

Luderitz is not visited all that often due to its isolated position.  From Windhoek, you travel 500km South to Keetmanshoop, not too far from the South African border, then turn right and travel West for another 300km until you hit the coast and the small town of Luderitz. Flanked on either side by sand dunes of the Namib desert, Luderitz was founded in 1883 when Adolf Luderitz, from Germany, bought the land from the local Nama chief. When diamonds were discovered in the area in the early 1900's, the town enjoyed a sudden boom, which, of course, ended the minute the diamonds dried up.  What is left is a pretty town with a lot of quaint German architecture, and deserted mining towns nearby that are slowly being taken over by the shifting sand dunes of the desert.

Since I had a sprained ankle from a trampoline-related injury whilst back in Europe for two weeks, I couldn't drive the hire car at all.  Alex and I therefore decided to stop off on the way there in Keetmanshoop, a town we really liked, and in Mariental on the way back.

Keetmanshoop, a Nama town where we'd done a research trip previously, was as dusty and dry as we remembered.  Pulling up in our hotel, we drove over to the township to drop off some copies of the research reports (that had, by that time, been printed and published) for the caregivers groups.  The supervisor at Catholic AIDS Action chuckled as he saw the photos inside the report.  "Ah, that one is in Walvis Bay now," he chuckled, pointing at one man in a picture "I will tell him this is here."

The church in Keetmanshoop

The drive to Luderitz is a dusty 300km through parched land that slowly turns into desert. We only saw one other car on the road the whole time.  We were pleased we'd packed extra water, just in case. 

Kokerboom tree

The road to Luderitz

Wild horses roam in this part of Namibia

The ever-blue Namibian sky

Alex did all the driving and I put my feet up

The land turns into desert

Finally arriving in Luderitz, we pulled up to our hotel. The owners only spoke German - mixed with Afrikaans - and so we chattered until our simple German gave up (which was quite soon).  The town itself was very reminiscent of German architecture - as though a small Austrian village had been picked up and transposed to the desert.

Hot, sticky and dusty - in Luderitz, the view from our hotel over the water.

Wandering through the town and comparing prices of boat rides, we decided to call our hotel and ask the owners to book a boat ride for us (as they'd offered to do earlier) for the next morning.  That sorted, we went and enjoyed rice, wine, cheese and pizza as the sun set over the sea.

The next day, following a good night's sleep, we went very early to catch the boat ride and set out to see the dolphins and penguins that frequented the area.

The harbour

Luderitz from the harbour

Ships, and desert in the distance

Chatting away with some German tourists on the boat, the Captain came and sat with us, interested to hear that we were living there.  He knew Alex's boss who worked at the LAC, Toni. "What do you think of the Namibia?" we asked him, and he lamented the decline in education and hospital standards. Asking us to say hi to Toni, he soon had to tend to the boat again, and we turned our attention to the penguins who'd sprung up and were swimming by the boat.

On the boat

Jackass Penguins


Enjoying the waves

The sea has an incredible calming effect.  Whilst I don't enjoy flying much, the lurch of the waves doesn't make me feel sick - on the contrary, I find it very soothing. Sitting with Alex on the boat, warm in our jackets and sipping hot chocolate prepared by the crew, watching the birds and dolphins as we skimmed over the water, I wished we'd booked the day-long ride. It wasn't possible, however, as the opening times for Kolmanskop meant that today was our only day to view it. So when the boat docked at 11am, we quickly drove over to the museum entrance to catch the 11:30am tour. 

Kolmanskop, the deserted mining town, has been turned into a museum.  Tourists here aren't very numerous, however, as Luderitz is still comparatively off the map for most coming to Namibia, who focus on Sossusvlei and Etosha. So even though it was 'very busy', there were still only twenty in our tour group.  When we divided into different languages, there were only five left in our English-speaking group. Seeing the museum was, therefore, a lot of fun, very free, and we were able to ask all the questions we wanted.

This train took fresh water from Cape Town to Luderitz, as there's no fresh water supply nearby.  It would then also carry the ladies - in their huge dresses - around town.

Going into some of the abandoned houses.

Quite a view!

That night, we enjoyed another fantastic dinner of pasta and wine, and sat by the water watching the world go by.  The sea air felt clean and healthy.  It was nice having a break before what we knew would be a hectic period - moving back to Europe and then settling into new jobs.  This would therefore be our last holiday this year.

The following day, back up to Mariental, on the way to Windhoek.  We stopped for lunch in Keetmanshoop and said one last goodbye to the town. Reaching Mariental just as night fell, we settled into our farm house lodge and cooked ourselves a tomato and pasta dinner, washed down with whiskey. Getting back to Windhoek the next day was easy, and before we returned the hire car, we used it to drop off with friends some of the kitchen items that we couldn't take back to the UK. We were ready to start packing and saying goodbye.