By Ralph Hammelbacher
VP of Expedition Development
I’ve been in Namibia, making preparations for our visit in March 2012 aboard National Geographic Explorer, and exploring the towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund and their environs has been an exceptional experience. It’s been quite a few years since my last time here, and these places have only become more interesting.
The deserts that flank the Namibian coast offer a variety of exceptional experiences that I’ll try to write about separately, but in this post I want to talk about visiting Mondesa Township, which houses most of Swakopmund’s people. During the colonial era, when Namibia (then called South West Africa) was ruled by South Africa, blacks were not allowed to live in the center of Swakopmund. Instead, the colonial authorities established Mondesa, with separate areas for the different tribes. They built different types of houses, some pretty decent and others not so.
Now that Namibia is independent, anyone is free to live anywhere, of course, but what has happened in Mondesa is that people have become established in their communities and taken pride in their neighborhoods and homes, improving them over the years. So many African townships are afflicted with crime, but Mondesa, while far from perfect, is quite safe (and feels safe). It houses about 32,000 of Swakopmund’s 48,000 people.
A remarkable South African-born woman named Michelle Lewis, who is married to a well-known Namibian athlete, has lived in Mondesa for many years now, and has involved members of the community in showing it to visitors. It’s a tremendous way to gain genuine insight into how people live in an African town, one that we’ll be offering to guests on our voyage.
Guests will be able to walk the streets of Mondesa, stopping to talk with the residents, and to go into the homes of a number of people who make a difference there. One of them is Oma Lina, a lady in her 80s, who is a respected elder and who, without pay, adjudicates disputes in the community. Another is Augusta, who sells traditional herbal medicines.
And then there is Naftaline, a remarkable lady who, feeling driven to help, has taken orphaned children — now numbering 14, ranging in age from 6 to 21 — into her home. She is a true difference-maker in her community. Her efforts have highlighted the need for a proper orphanage, and with help from other concerned people, Naftaline is raising funds to build a proper orphanage in Swakopmund. I was deeply moved, as I know our travelers will be too.
I know that those of our guests who choose to visit this exceptional place will have an experience that they’ll recall for a long time.