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The Bush Bar August 14, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Culture, Eh?, Home and away, Namibia.
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“Oi, shilumbu”. All faces turn towards me, as alerted by the incredibly observant token drunk. As all eyes look on, he continues yabbering on, the only word I could pick out being shilumbu (meaning white person). After his wildly gesticulating arms rest on his lap as he leans uneasily on a high stool, I reply, “Yes, I am a shilumbu. Hallo”.

Peels of laughter erupt over the heavily beating kwaito, and the resident drunk springs back into life.

“Yes, You are shilumbu. Al Quaeda forever. Bush must die. We will not release your hostages. We will not. Taliban. Ja!”, Tate Drunk announces, arm punching the air, swaying and bouncing off the bar and other punters.

 I had just arrived at the Bush Bar in Ongwediva, in The North, in Ovamboland. Shilumbus don’t often frequent shebeens, but accompanied by my fellow workshop colleagues and reassured that “this is one of the safer ones”, we decided to sink a few bottles of Tafel before bed. Shebeens are everywhere, more populous that pubs in the UK. Often just a concrete room or small metal shack, some with metal bars across the bar, some with jukeboxes or even a pool table, they are the place where men come to unwind, spend their wages and drown their sorrows. Progressively getting more drunk, they take it in turns to show off their fThe only women you commonly see there are girlfriends with boyfriends, bargirls or prostitutes. My Namibian girlfriends say that no self-respecting woman would go to a shebeen alone, as it would be asking for trouble. Needless to say then but my presence at this particular shebeen would of course cause a reaction.

I don’t frequent shebeens, as I have had it explained that, although it would probably be ok, it’s safer not to, unless I’m with a reliable local friend, and even then, it could cause problems. More that I would be swarmed by drunks saying “Buy me one beer” or “Give me $5”. But with enough of my workshop colleagues there, I was protected from this hassle, and instead received the above (as well as the odd marriage proposal). The pro-Al Qaeda talk isn’t very common, but does spout out occasionally from overzealous teenagers or drunks who feel they have a little ‘terror-tory’ to protect. It is harmless though. I’m sure they would get a real shock if the FBI turned up looking for links to Afghanistan training camps.

My only other encounter that night was at the bar, as a young guy approached me, asking where I was from and saying that he would like me to take him back to my country with him (that old line!). I don’t doubt that a little of him will come back with me, as he promptly sneezed and coughed all over me, pardoning himself with “Sorry, I have been a little sick recently”. TB very much!

Strangely, with its sand-covered concrete floor and walls, cheap plastic chairs, barred windows and kwaito and slow jams bouncing out of the juke box across the veld, this bar had the most pub-like feel of anywhere yet found in Namibia. I miss pubs, I really do: the worn brocade seats, quirky wood panelling, sat around with a crowd of mates, talking nonsense as the dazzling fruit machine lights dance out from a corner. As I sat around with my new friends, shouting over the music, sharing beers and playing pool badly, I got a strange feeling of nostalgia. Even as we entered the dark to walk back home through the sand, dodging donkeys and stray livestock, it reminded me how long it has been since I have had a relaxed night out, chilling, chatting and then tipsily walking home through the dark.

 PS: I was drinking responsibly.

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