Wednesday, March 4, 2009

O little town of Rundu

Rundu is a small town on the Northern border of Namibia and sits beside the Okavango River which separates the Nambian soil from its northern neighbour Angola. We get the privilege of seeing the river daily as we drive in and out of town and it offers some of the most spectacular sunset views.

I recently heard that Rundu used to be considered one of the prettiest and most picturesque towns in ALL of South West Africa!!! This was in the days before Independence (18+ years ago) when there was a large army base and a lot of money in the town, and things certainly have changed. For many complicated reasons, this region is now one of the poorest region in Namibia and Rundu has been greatly affected. There is garbage everywhere on the side of the streets, often smoldering in big burning piles that have been pushed together in an empty lot. People urinate whenever and wherever they feel the need. Water is expensive, so the beautiful gardens have fallen into disrepair. Stray, rabid dogs roam the streets, and there seems to be a general lack of concern and civic pride, at least compared to other Namibian towns we have visited.

Rundu is developing by the day though. Even in the short time we have been here land has been developed and buildings erected (but remain empty…). There is a lot of anticipation that Rundu will become an even greater economic hub for this whole region, especially with future plans to build a bridge between here and the northern Angolan city, Calai (when, exactly, is anyone‘s guess). There are 5 main grocery stores, a few clothing shops, and a random assortment of other businesses. There are innumerable “china shops” which peddle nearly identical cheap sandals, clothes and electronics: “Made in China“. Unfortunately even with all the Chinese living in Rundu, there are no Chinese restaurants.

We have a new two-story mall, which has the talk of the town since its opening in November. Now, unlike the opening of a mall elsewhere, this “grand opening” meant that there were two stores open while the rest of the mall remained in construction. Literally you would be walking under unfinished construction with men working while getting your groceries. The main construction is more or less finished but the mall remains only partially occupied by stores, mostly stores that already existed in town that picked up and moved locations only to leave an empty building somewhere else.

There really are two main reasons to go to the mall. First to ride the escalator (when it is working). Yes, this is what Rundu folk do for fun. It is the first escalator the majority of people have ever seen and most importantly ever been on. There were a few small mishaps, a few injuries and one rumoured death (in truth someone had a heart attack in the general vicinity of the escalator, but rumours die hard around here). There is also a spot in the mall for an elevator, but there is no signs of building it so we are unsure what the likely hood is that it will ever be built.

The other attraction at the mall is the “Hungry Lion” which is the first and only fast-food restaurant here. It is a fried chicken joint similar to a KFC but ironically is often out of chicken…(if that’s what it even is!). As far as other restaurants go, there is a coffee shop in town (not at the mall) that is a nice place to grab breakfast and lunch and it is run by a friendly Afrikaans family and generally attracts the other Afrikaaners and foreign workers. All the other restaurants in town are in association with lodges, some much better than others.

The open market is where many of the locals hang out. People have all sorts of random things to sell: food like vegetable, nuts, grains, fat cakes (similar to a donut), frozen fish, and fresh meat, as well as a food court (serving pap, mutete, and oshikundu). You can also find hair salons, clothing stalls, tailors, used clothing shops, and my favourite, shitanges (which are pieces of material used for practically everything but most commonly a skirt). I have a small obsession with them!

The last day of the month, which is referred to as “Kavango Day“, is payday for those that have jobs and people come from the whole region to collect money from the bank (or get money from relatives who have jobs) and to usually spend all of their wages in one weekend. Yikes. People are everywhere and the streets are packed, line-ups unreal and usually the hospital is full on Monday morning with injuries resulting from bar fights. We try to do our shopping the day before for obvious reasons! In contrast, once the shops close at 1pm on Saturdays the town becomes ghost-like until Monday morning.

We just recently got a couple street names, with a sign even!! There are only a few paved roads in town the rest is sand, sand, sand. During the dry season the sand becomes suspended in the air turning into a hazy fog. The sun sets far above the actual horizon as it sets into the thick layer of sand. Since the rainy season we now have clear skies (when the clouds part) and breathe much cleaner air. The downside is intense that the roads are obliterated with pot holes and at dusk there are swarms of malaria-bearing mosquitoes. The rains have ushered in green everywhere, and all the neighbouring villages have plenty of corn fields just on the verge of harvesting.

As the region is a farming community, it is no surprise to find cows walking the streets (they are huge!), goats galore, donkeys (usually with their front legs tied together so they don’t wander) and chickens running madly this way and that. Being a big city girl, it cracks me up every time!! As you can see the stop sign's do not apply to cows...this picture was taken one block form our house!

For some other great shots of Rundu check out:

1 comment:

Mike said...

Enjoyed the tour of Rundu, almost feel like I've been there. I can understand the garbage problem well it is staggering but the escalator and two story mall is pretty sweet. Sharing your heart and on your continent,