The Nomad is a series of stories, fascinations, encounters, observations, experiences, joy of the moments by me, Ulrike Reinhard – all around my travels. Stay tuned!
Ulrike Reinhard is The Nomad 🙂
The Life between Hotel and Township
I stayed for 24 nights in a hotel in Swakopmund on the coast of western Namibia, 352 km west of Windhoek. I’d cut off myself from most social interactions and I only left the room for breakfast and dinner. Most of the time I was writing. I had a nice room with a big terrace and I could hear the sound of the ocean from my bed. Wifi was good and so was the service.
Swakopmund is a ‘beach town’, the gateway to the Skeleton Coast in the north and the Naukluft Park in the south – tourism and mining are the big industries here, yet unemployment is up to 30%. People from all over Namibia are standing in line for a not well paid job. Swakopmund is an example of German colonial architecture. It was founded in 1892 as the main harbour for German South West Africa.
Remark: I neither mention the name of the hotel nor the name of the ladies I’ve spoken to – the reason is, that this story is happening all over Namibia, it is not typical for this specific hotel or these ladies. From what I say, it is ‘normal’. And I am not judgemental, I just write what I hear and see.
Besides my daily interactions during breakfast time, I sat down with two of the ladies for a two hour conversation in my room – I wanted to hear their stories. I will call the two ladies Swakop and Mund. Their stories did not really differ much from what I’d heard from others, it is just they had now a familiar face.
All the staff at the hotel, service, kitchen and house keeping, is black. Mainly young women from all over Namibia, only a few men. Most of them if not all live in the township. With township I mean the outskirts of Swakopmund where they live in a shack, they have no electricity and for water they have to get a card and pay with this card as they buy the water. The area is called Mondesa. They don’t have to pay for rent, the government is providing the plots for free. But only the plot. When I went there with them I was suprised to see how clean the area was – I’d expected much worse.
Impressions from Mondesa
To reach the hotel the ladies use a taxi service which costs each of them 400 Namibian Dollars, NAD, (roughly 25 Euros) a month. They are picked up in the morning around 5.30 am and dropped back around 3.30 pm. At the hotel they receive breakfast around 10 am and lunch. They are not allowed to take food home. Their monthly salary is 3200 NAD (roughly 200 Euros) – and this is rather well paid. Many earn less. They hardly make many tips, the mostly white guests are nice to talk with, but rather stiffed – they say.
To give you an idea what 3200 NAD are worth:
- 5 dinner meals at the TUG restaurant in Swakopmund
- less than 3 nights staying at the very hotel I satyed (when you pay the rates mentioned on their website)
- ten times the bus fare to Windhoek
- less than a scenic flight over the desert
- equivalent to a full day tour in the desert
Swakop with her bright white teeth and wonderful smile was born when Namibia became independet in 1990. Mund is a few years older. She has a rather sad experssion on her face, yet when she is smiling her eyes light up. Both of them haven’t really experienced Apartheid, yet they say the discrimination still exists. We – talking about the black ladies – have to wait at the hospital, police, administration, restaurants – the white people are always served first. We are last in line. In one restaurant in Swakopmund they were told when they asked for a location for their annual staff party: “Sorry, we don’t want black people here!”
Swakop (center) and Mund (right) with their colleague
Swakop isn’t married yet and she doesn’t have a child. Many young women in her age have at least one or two kids, mostly left alone by the fathers and struggling to feed the kids. Swakop is very much aware of this. She said: “I saw back home, what is happening with these women. I didn’t want this for me. I only want to marry, when the guy really loves me. Then I marry and then we can have kids! That’s what I want! I don’t want to be left alone with a child.” Swakop grew up in Spitzkoppe, 120 km from Swakopmund. Her mother died when she was young; she had to take care of her younger brother and was then living at her aunt’s house with five other kids. All of them in one small room. She remembers that she and her brother were always last in lane when food wasn’t enough.
She decided to drop out of school (10th grade) and find some work to improve their living conditions. She wasn’t any longer able to handle the situation with her aunt. It wasn’t easy to find any work at Spitzkoppe, so after a while she left and found herself with her brother in Mendosa, Swakopmund. They built a small shack out of wood – maybe 12 sqm and started their ‘new’ lives. She found this job at the hotel in 2013 – by coincidence. The hotel wanted to hire her cousin but she had found another job meanwhile and asked Swakop to go to the job interview instead of her. Swakop didn’t have any experience in the hospitality business yet she was very positive that she could quickly learn how to make the beds and clean the rooms for the international guests. Without any experience it was even more difficult to find any job, but she succeeded, They hired her. She had a job!
Meanwhile she is working in the kitchen preparing the breakfast for the guests. Since 2015 her salary is the same – she knows she cannot even ask for an increase because out there 20 are waiting to get her job, for even lesser money. So she remains quiet and keeps smiling.
Back home at the Mendosa township she is planning to build her own little shack right next to the shack they have – same plot. She won’t get another one. Now her brother’s girlfriend and his little son are also living tin the 12 sqm room – so it is tight. The money she makes at the hotel doesn’t allow her to rent a room in a house, this would cost at least 1500 NAD – half of her salary. So she is patiently waiting to get her shack ready …
Mund is living with her two children from two different guys just a stone’s throw away from Swakop.
Mund with her two children in their house.
Her shack is much bigger than Swakop’s shack. The curtains seperate the sleeping areas from the “living room”. It’s spotless clean. Mund moved into the township because she couldn’t afford the rent in a room with electricity and bathroom any more. So she built the new home – it’s made out of sheetrocks, plastic and cartonage. She is not very happy with it, but she can’t afford bricks. Only the morning I came for a visit three of such shacks in her neighbourhood burnt down – there is not much you can do if the fire starts. It will just spread.
She is very proud that both of her kids go to school. This is her highest priority. Neither from the father of her first child nor from her husband, the father of the little boy, she is receiving any support. A few months after she married, her husband was imprisioned for 14 years. She was pregnant then. He was found guilty to have stepped up a man with some others. Mund wasn’t aware of this when they got married – so this came as a shock when she finally found out. Every month she is going to visit him and she is always trying to support him with a little something. They have 45 minutes together and after a first hug they need to sit seperately – so far the father hasn’t seen his son, young kids are not allowed in prision. Whenever they meet they plan their future – he will be released in six years. Mund has decided to wait for him. And she will keep supporting him – after all, she said, he is the father of my boy.
Mund is from Anker in the north from Namibia. Just like Swakop, her mother died when she was still young and it became her obligation to take care of her younger siblings. She dropped out from school and started to work. Not much else to do. In 2007 she arrived in Swakopmund with her little daughter; she had various jobs before she met her husband. In 2018 she started to work at the hotel where she met Swakop. This coming Sunday she is going back to her village for a visit. She still has family there and everyone is expecting a little something … I will go with her on the bus, we will travel the first 7 hours together. She has arranged everything for our trip – I am looking forward to be with her and 12 others on this local bus. I am sure it will be a blast!
Despite their tough lives Swakop and Mund are happy people. They’ve somehow accepted their daily struggles and learned to live with it. They are Christians, I think their belief helps them a lot – they do go to church.
Every morning they get ready for their drive from the township to the hotel and every evening from the hotel back to the township. Two completely different worlds. So detached from each other – yet only 10 km inbetween. The ladies smile, they are friendly and don’t complain.
The three colleagues in front of Mund’s shack
I admire these ladies. Hats off – you’ve my deepest respect!
I gave all of them a big hug when I left.
And I know if I want, I can hear many more of such stories. I feel these stories hold true for an entire generation of young women in Namibia.