E-Travel Log # 2: Windhoek, the Capital of Namibia

Attention Teachers: See below for links to related Web sites.

Dear students:

Greetings from Windhoek (pronounced wind-hook), Namibia! Lilia and I both arrived safely and we're excited to start our journey with you. We’ll be spending the first week of our trip right here in Windhoek, and then we'll hit the road to visit schools and sites in four different regions of Namibia, the Namib Desert, the Kalahari Desert, the Etosha Pan and the Mopani Forest region in the far northwest. In this report, we'll tell you about Windhoek, inform you a bit about the languages of Namibia, share a guess-who African animal poem, teach you a little Swahili, show you some photos of Windhoek and list some questions asked by US students and answered by Windhoek students. Enjoy the report!


Namibia, formerly known as Southwestern Africa and nicknamed Africa's Gem, is about the size of California, but only has a population of 1.8 million people. One reason for its sparse population is that it is mostly made up of deserts and semi-arid land (though the northern region gets more rain, has permanent rivers and stays green most of the year). On average, most parts of Namibia get over 300 days of sunshine a year. Maybe that’s why the sun figures prominently in the Namibian flag (left)!

About one out of every nine Namibians lives in its capital, Windhoek. Windhoek is located almost exactly in the center of Namibia in a region known as the central highlands. To the west are a small range of mountains, the largest of which are called the Auas and the Eros. Windhoek is a very modern city and has the reputation of being Africa's cleanest city. It doesn't have giant skyscrapers, but it has many buildings between ten and sixteen stories high. It has lots of shopping centers, parks, government office buildings, monuments and restaurants -- including Kentucky Fried Chicken! There are also two large 'street malls' that are a set of pedestrian walkways lined with shops and filled with vendors of African art. There you can buy beautiful wood carvings, metal sculpture, weavings, baskets, pottery and clay figurines of giraffes, elephants, zebras and lions. You can even buy decorated ostrich eggs bigger than a softball, if you like. On a few corners, you can also find wire toys, like cars and helicopters and motorcycles for sale. (Have you ever read Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams? I'm sure it's in your school library. After reading the book, you could even try to make your own wire car.)

Much of the architecture in Windhoek is German in style. There are even some castles! Many of the street names are German, too. That's because the Germans colonized Namibia in the late 1800's. (I'll tell you a little more of Namibia's history in another report.) Now that Namibia is an independent country, though, the government is beginning to change some of the German street names to African names.

Nowadays, Windhoek is a cosmopolitan city. It still has lots of people with German ancestors -- and quite a few with British, Dutch and Portuguese ancestors. The majority of people from Windhoek though, by far, have African ancestors. But they, too, have many different backgrounds. Some are Owambo (oh-wahm-bow), some are Kavango (kah-vahn-go), some are Herero (hay-ray-roh), some are Nama (nah-mah), some are Damara (dah-mah-rah), some are San (Sahn) and some come from a variety of other ethnic groups, or as they often say here, 'tribes.' (People from Windhoek use the word 'tribe' to identify their ethnic heritage; but they are modern people in every sense of the word. Most of them drive cars, watch TV, use computers, etc.) Each tribe has its own 'mother tongue' or language. So, many languages can be heard in Windhoek -- even Chinese and Korean. (While shopping in Windhoek, Lilia, who is from China, and I have met a few people of Asian descent. They are a small minority, but they are Namibian citizens, too!)


Interestingly, English is the official language of Namibia. (I'll explain more about that in another report, too.) So, that makes things easier for Lilia (who is an English teacher) and I. Still, we are interested in learning some words and phrases in some of Namibia's traditional languages. Especially interesting to us is the Nama/Damara language since it uses several click sounds along with sounds that you might hear in English or other African languages. We’ll teach you a few words as we learn some.

One interesting thing Lilia and I have noticed as we have traveled to different parts of the world is that different languages that are spoken in the same places always influence each other. Most people in Windhoek speak English as a second, third or even fourth language, so the way they speak it is influenced by the other languages they speak. Take the word OK, for example. How would you normally say it? Because of the influence of their first language, people who speak Afrikaans often say 'oh-kay-ee,' Nama people sometimes say 'oh-oh-kay,' and Herero speaking people just say 'oh-kay,' but with short, cut off vowel sounds. Can you try to say it all four ways, including your own way?

People also incorporate words and expressions from their first languages into English. Sometimes these terms are so common that they just become part of the local form of English. For example, most people in Namibia add the expression, ne? (pronounced 'nay') at the end of English phrases where normally you might say, 'right?' -- as in, 'It's almost five o'clock, ne?' or 'You're going to town, ne?' Also, sometimes people use a Nama/Damara word for 'good' even when they are speaking English. The word is spelled /a, where the / stands for a click sound, the same sound you might make if you are mildly annoyed, pressing your tongue on the back of your top teeth then pulling it away quickly (it sounds something like 'nt'). So /a is pronounced ‘nta.’ Why not give it a try: ‘How are you?’ ‘/a, thank you.’

Like anywhere, sometimes people also communicate without using words, through body language. One example of body language that is very popular here is 'thumbs up.' It can mean 'OK' or 'good' or 'great,' much like it is used in the US, only here it is used much more frequently. (Ever heard of 'the Fonz?')

An excellent book that is related to this topic is Why Do You Speak As You Do?: A Guide to World Languages by Kay Cooper. You might want to check it out, ne?


Here's a guess-who animal poem that I wrote, taken from one of the Africa School Project's online adventures, Safari! – found at www.oneworldclassrooms.org/africa/safari/. The poem also tells two traditional African stories and features animals that can be found in East Africa and Namibia. The title of the poem is the Swahili word for the main animal -- who is the also the speaker.


Two time-tested African tales do tell
How I got a few qualities for which I'm known so well
These stories have been around for hundreds of years
They speak of my claws, my speed and my tears

The first tells of a race between a topi and me
None other than God was the referee
Lacking in traction I went to a canine
Borrowed his claws which fit just fine
But back then I was also wanting in speed
And the much quicker antelope took a comfortable lead
But then out of the blue a tragic accident took place
The topi tripped on a rock, was knocked out of the race
His leg was broken I could see as I neared
"Keep going, you'll win," the crowd taunted and jeered
But my heart went out to the lame sassaby
I stopped and helped him; in a word, I was friendly
The Creator was pleased with my kindness and grace
For aiding my opponent when I could have won the race
Great speed he made a gift only mine
And allowed me to keep the claws of the canine
So now I'm capable of lightning fast raids
And I'm the only feline with unretractable blades.

Just as gladly the second story ends
But I tell of it sadly, for my heart it rends
My cubs I left hiding in the bush one day
As I went out on the plain to stalk my prey
And though I've great speed and can hunt in a hurry
Something horrible happened, my very worst worry
For an unkind man was also hunting that day
He snatched my three babes from the grass where they lay
I thought for sure I would never see them again
So I cried night and day, tears without end
But a kind old man heard me cry
And came to my home to find out why
When he learned of the crime committed by his kin
He returned to the people to report the sin
The hunter was banished from the village fold
For hunting unfairly and for being so bold
My cubs were returned to my tender care
But the tears left a mark on my face that's still there.

So I've told you two tales and one tail I've got
But I need still another to explain my spots
So with your imagination I leave it to you
If you can invent such a tale, then I'll have two, too.

I'll tell you the answer in the next travel log. Can you make up a story that explains why the animal has spots?


So duma, the title of the poem and the name of the animal, is Swahili. Swahili is not spoken in Namibia, but it is a common African language in several East African countries, including Kenya. In Namibia, there are several languages, such as Herero and Ovambo, that are cousins of Swahili, since they are all in the Bantu language family.

You probably know a little Swahili. Do the words jambo or hakuna matata ring a bell? You can learn more Swahili in four different sections of the Africa School Project Web site. In Swahili Swirl, believe it or not, you can learn how to create over a million Swahili sentences in just a few easy steps – and do the math to prove it; in Safari!, the poem titles are the Swahili words for the animals represented in the poems; in The Culture Connection, you can listen to the Swahili pronunciation of several words; and, in Hello from East Africa: A Letter, you’ll learn a few more Swahili -- and Luo -- words as you meet children from a small village in Kenya.

In the meantime, here’s how to count to ten in Swahili:

moja (moh-jah)
mbili (mm-bee-lee)
tatu (tah-too)
nne (nn-nay)
tano (tah-no)
sita (see-tah)
saba (sah-bah)
nane (nah-nay)
tisa (tee-sah)
kumi (kuh-mee)

(Note: In Swahili, the stress is always on the second to last, or the penultimate, syllable.)

For fun, you might want to try to memorize the Swahili numbers above, because later in the project we’ll be comparing them with numbers in some Namibian languages and we’ll be challenging you to figure out whether or not the Namibian languages are Bantu languages (i.e. related to Swahili).


In each report, we will be listing questions asked by US students and answers to those questions provided by Namibian students. Here's the first batch:

(These questions were posed by grade 1/2 students at the Montessori Magnet School in Albany, New York and answered by second and third graders at the Van Rhyn Primary School in Windhoek, Namibia.)

What do you eat? We eat meat, fish, porridge (made of millet or corn meal), macaroni, rice, vegetables, fruit, yogurt and dessert.

What games do you play? We play Playstation, TV games, 'Touch,' skipping rope, 'Dragon,' 'Wolf-wolf' and hide-n-seek.

What is your village like where you live? We live in a city. It has big buildings, schools, hotels, churches and many houses. It also has tar streets and lots of cars.

What do you wear? We wear jeans, T-shirts, tights, sand shoes, sandals, veblskoens, casual wear (play clothes) and smart wear (good clothes).

What is the weather like? It is very hot and sunny most of the time, but it rains in the summer.

What is your school like? We are making a book and a video about our school, so you can see what it is like in those.

Are your days and months and years the same as ours? Our days, months and years are the same, but our seasons are different. Summer is from November through January, autumn is from February through April, winter is from May through July and spring is from August through October. The weather is similar in all seasons except it rains more in the summer.

(These questions were asked by students at the Edwards-Knox Central School in Russell, New York, and answered by students at the Augeikhas Primary School in Windhoek, Namibia.)

Do you eat lunch at school? No, we eat lunch before we go to school. (At Augeikhas, the upper primary grades go to school in the morning and the lower primary grades go in the afternoon.)

What is your school like? How big is it? It is medium sized, with 10 classrooms, an office, a staff room, a hall (auditorium) for dramas (plays) and dances, a playground, a soccer flat (field), and a netball pitch (court). It also trees around it, a Namibian flag in front and a big bell in the center used to inform the students and teachers when classes begin and end.

Do you have four wheelers? No, but in other parts of Namibia, like the desert and the bush, some people use four wheelers.

What do you study in school? We study mathematics, English, Afrikaans, reading, handwriting and environmental science.

What jobs do you have at home? We clean the house, make porridge, wash the car, (girls) watch and take care of our sisters, wash dishes and clothes and make coffee.

Do you have pets? Most of us have dogs and/or cats. One of us has a rat for a pet, another has a vervet monkey and another has a chicken. Another claims to have a lion for a pet, but the rest of us do not believe him.



Well, that's it for this report. Next, we’ll be visiting the great sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert and two schools in the town of Swakopmund on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Till then, learn lots!

Kwaheri (Swahili for goodbye.)

Paul Hurteau and Lilia Cai
Africa School Project Coordinators

Teachers: Here are some Web sites with general information about Windhoek and Namibia:

Geographia Namibia – www.geographia.com/namibia
Africa Geographia (to compare and contrast Namibia with other African countries) – www.interknowledge.com/indx06.htm
The World Factbook – Stats, history and official information – www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/wa.html
Flag of Namibia Information – http://flagspot.net/flags/na.html
University of Pennsylvania’s Africa Studies Center’s Namibia Page (with links to many other Namibia sites) – www.sas.upenn.edu/African_Studies/Country_Specific/Namibia.html
Large map of Namibia – www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/africa/namibia.gif
Map of Namibia – http://media.maps.com/magellan/Images/NAMIBI-W1.gif


E-Travel Log #1: Introduction
E-Travel Log #2: Windhoek, the Capital of Namibia
E-Travel Log #3: Namib Desert Sand Dunes at Sosusvlei
E-Travel Log #4:Swakopmund, Between the Desert and the Ocean
E-Travel Log #5: African Animal Safari!
E-Travel Log #6: Okanguati, the Forgotten Land
E-Travel Log #7: African Languages
E-Travel Log #8: Schools in the Kalahari Desert
E-Travel Log #9: Cheetahs!!
E-Travel Log #10: So Long from Africa

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