We take the long road out of town and the road symbolizes Windhoek – blaring sun and dry. It’s hard to admit that I’ve come to “Africa” and felt blasé about the experience. An American friend who lived in Tanzania for a time says that Americans, particularly Black Americans, tend to romanticize Africa and it can never live up to the expectations. Perhaps that’s true. But was a little warmth too much to ask for?
My cab driver is probably the friendliest person I’ve met here. Lauren was his name, his public name. We talk about the weather and because I’m headed there, he asks if I’m from New Jersey. I try to explain that I’m from California, the other side of the States. He stares blankly. “Hollywood.” No recognition. I almost repeat myself and then inside I smile at the idea that someone is unfamiliar with Hollywood. Bless you, Lauren. He’s proof the world does not revolve around US-themed entertainment. New York, on the other hand, he’s familiar. I tell him that people don’t drive as much in New York. It makes him inquire about the condition of the roads. True, they are not in the best condition but this is not why. If 10 million people drove everywhere, traffic would never move. We sit quietly for a moment. It’s revealed, his silence is wonderment: “10 million people.” Namibia, the entire country – its main cities and all of the small towns and villages combine – has a total population of 2 million. Windhoek, the capital city has 250,000 but I wonder if that’s even accurate. It felt more like 120. I describe to Lauren a walk down 5th Avenue with people jostling for position and bumping into each other. He laughs incredulously. We are driving to the airport during their “rush hour” and we’ve only passed15 cars in 45 minutes. 10 million people on a tiny island must sound like a joke. I say goodbye to Lauren and wish him well. He smiles and hospitably says, “Not goodbye. I know you will come back.” Lauren clearly knows something I don’t.