By Mehdy Ghannad
The morning started like it always does at the Cardboard Box Hostel with a maple sugar pancake breakfast. Our agenda today was to meet Ana, the owner and operator of Katutours, who will take us on a bike ride through the township of Katatura. Under the apartheid back in 1968, Windhoek was composed of three separate townships: Katatura for blacks, Khomasdal for coloreds, and Windhoek for whites. Since then there has been more integration throughout the townships, but from my first glance integration in Katautra was unnoticeable. Katatura is home to 200,000 inhabitants of the 350,000+ population of the greater Windhoek area, so leaving Windhoek without experiencing Katatura would be a huge error on our part.
We met Ana near the Goreangab Dam, on the out skirts of Katatura, where her house is located and where the bike tour commences. She greeted us all with hugs, fitted us for bikes and we were quickly off for the 4 hour bike ride. As we started to pedal she quickly explained to us the meaning of Katatura. During the apartheid, the population of blacks was forced out from the center of town and laws were passed forbidding them to own land or housing. So in the Herero language, Katatura means “we have no permanent place” or “the place where we don’t want to live”. Nowadays even though it is still officially called Katatura to most, this now vibrant place is proudly called Matatura, meaning "The place we want to live".
We continued pedaling through the streets of Katatura passing through shantytowns, corrugated metal housing, small markets, and local shops. We definitely stuck out like sore thumbs as we drew the attention of everyone we whizzed passed on our bikes. We were quickly greeted by a group of school kids just released from school. They were drawn to the cameras and asked us if they could show off their singing skills. I enthusiastically agreed and figured what better way to do so then to get them to the Namibian national anthem? They were so jovial with grins on their faces as they belted out the chorus “Namibia our Country, Namibia Motherland, We love thee.”
We continued on and headed to the "5th Avenue of Katatura", Eveline Street. Ana likes to call it 5th Avenue (referring to New York City’s 5th Avenue) due to the heavy traffic of people, shops, and movement. I had to agree with her analogy--there was a lot of action to be seen here. Everyone was out and about, sitting outside of bars (or shabeens as they are know as in Namibia), and lots of cars and people were throughout the streets. Ana explained most of the stores or shops in this area were shabeens, hair salons, or car washes. “Such an interesting mix of store and shop selections,” I though to myself. She wasn’t kidding, as we passed along this street, that’s all I saw in every direction. We continued on to the market. Now unlike the day before, this was a proper market where the locals go to purchase food products, spices, and more.
As we walked in through the entrance of the market, there was a large group of people gathered around several grills. If we haven’t mentioned it enough already, Namibians take pride in their meat and love to barbecue. Unlike the Braii from our first day on the trip, this barbeque is called Kapana. Kapana is a traditional Namibian street food snack--a mixture of sliced grilled red meat and fat, cooked on what we in the good ol' USA know as a proper stand up charcoal grill. All I can say is that it was delicious, and for me it was the best piece of meat I have eaten thus far on the trip. We continued on through the market where there were men sawing and hacking away at cow parts from the tail, hoofs, head, and more. I am guessing some of these pieces went into the Kapana we just ate. Surprisingly our appetite grew, and we were ready for lunch.
Ana had organized a traditional meal with the ladies of the Penduka project for us. So we hopped on our bikes and headed back to Ana’s house, which is also located right on the Penduka projects land. During the bike ride Ana explained to us what the Penduka Project was all about. Penduka, meaning “Wake up”, is a group of 550 women who make pillowcases, tablecloths, bags, jewelry and much more to provide income to their families. They have grown substantially since its inception and you can find their goods at most markets throughout Namibia and in some places internationally. When we arrived we were allowed to take a tour of the facilities while the lunch was being prepared. We actually were able to see women sewing, melting glass for jewelry, and they conveniently had a shop so we can purchase a few more souvenirs that we knew were locally made.
We then ventured to the restaurant area of Penduka where Ana met us and asked us to take a seat and get the cameras rolling. Ana disappeared and two minutes later came back marching in with a group of women in colorful skirts singing, dancing, and playing the drums. As they came in front of us, they all took turns to show of their steps as they continued to sing and play the drums. It was awesome to see the dancing, and off-camera I tried to learn a few of the steps. Thankfully that was off-camera. But it was now time to eat!
I have been waiting this whole trip to try the famous mopane worms, or caterpillars, as we know it in English. I was in luck; mopane was on the menu. The dish looked much more appetizing than what I saw when I researched it online. From my research, the cooked or fried mopane worms are eaten like peanuts or chips as a snack. The ladies of Penduka actually marinated the cooked caterpillars in an amazing sauce. I think this helped--it did deter from the fact that we were eating caterpillars. I have eaten ants and grasshoppers before, and for me they all really have no taste if you can get past the texture. The rest of the lunch consisted of a delicious chicken dish marinated in a tomato-based sauce and a corn meal dish that you clumped together and ate with your hands.
We all agreed that this was definitely a great way to finish up our trip to Namibia! Now all that was left was to pack up and get ready for the 36-hour flight back home tomorrow.