Namibia. What inspires me? You’re probably expecting a glowing account of the vastness of the land. The endless blue skies. The magnificent sunsets. The rolling sand dunes. The plethora of fauna and flora. In short, a piece perfectly suited to a tourist brochure, travel blog or in-flight magazine.
I’m sorry to have to disappoint you.
Don’t get me wrong. All of these things are wonderful. Like any proud Namibian and eager tourist, I am enchanted by this country’s endless charms. I love the way the stars explode in the sky on a moonless night. How the air smells when the first rains hit hot earth. How morning dew sparkles on yellow grass – as if the landscape were covered in tiny jewels. I love the sound of the sea washing over pebbles worn smooth by tumbling surf, the way an eland’s hooves click as it walks, the intricacies of a giraffe’s markings and the gentleness of its eyes.
So maybe, you think, I will write about Namibia’s people. How our diversity is one of our country’s greatest assets. That we are like notes that blend and mingle to create melody and harmony. That we are like different flowers of a beautiful garden, each bringing our own experiences, perceptions, beliefs, values and traditions to the mix.
Inspiring as our smiles and laughter, our dance and song, our capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation are, I will not write about Namibia’s people either.
Instead, I will write about one of my favourite Namibian things: The fact that you can walk around barefoot almost all year round. Yes, even in winter.
There’s something intrinsically Namibian about walking barefoot. We all do it at some point, regardless of race, socio‐economics or psychographics.
Watch the children running down dusty streets in villages and townships. Barefoot. The youth playing soccer in someone’s backyard. Barefoot. See the tired mother kick off her shoes as soon as she comes home from work. Whole families strolling through the mall sans footwear. Or the somewhat reckless wandering through the veld with exposed soles, ignoring the aptly named devil’s thorn threatening every step.
My father—he’s American—didn’t believe in bare feet. He always wanted my siblings and me to wear shoes. When we were raking leaves in our yard or sweeping the stoep, Put on your shoes. When we were riding our bicycles down the street at break‐neck speed, Put on your shoes. When we were painting the garden wall, Put on your shoes. When we were walking on the beach in summer or over icy tiles in winter, Put on your shoes.
As a child, all I could think was, But why, dad? Today I understand that he wanted to protect our feet from thorns, stones, hot sand, cold floors, falls and all manner of peril, but I still love walking around barefoot. In my home, my garden, my parents’ and friends’ houses, on the beach. I love the tickle of grass between my toes and the crunch of sand under my feet.
Why bare feet, you ask?
Maybe it’s not the bare feet as such, but rather the warmth that makes them possible, that inspires me. Namibia’s summers are long and hot, and her winters mercifully short and mild. Even when temperatures drop to uncomfortable lows, you can still find a sunny spot to soak up some warmth. In fact, Namibians can almost always count on the sun rising in a blue sky to carry us through the day with her warmth and brightness. We know that even on rainy days, the sun will make an appearance—even if it’s just for a quick hello between the clouds.
With 300 days of sunshine per year on average, we don’t have to worry about seasonal affective disorder (otherwise known as winter depression) or a Vitamin D deficiency. We don’t have to worry about laundry that just doesn’t dry (unless we live at the Coast) or frostbite on our fingers and toes. Even on the shortest day of the year, we still see about ten and a half hours of sunshine.
I realized how much I need the sun after suffering through just a few days of London winter, where the sun only rose after 8:00 and set again at 16:00, but even then didn’t manage to burn through the gloom and drizzle. I remember my aunt saying, “Oh look, the sun is out today!”—which merely meant that you could see a small spot of light behind grey clouds, but no bright and shining sun. How depressing.
And that’s exactly the point. Science tells us that sunshine can do wonders for our mood, because it boosts serotonin levels, the body’s natural feel-good hormone. Maybe that’s why Namibians have not only warm soles, but also warm souls.