18 January 2013

Namibia: Of Driving and Women


AS I'm recovering from the festive mood and gearing myself for a greater and better year, I look back on the holiday that was and I'm reminded of particular instances where I experienced and was made to believe that driving, especially long distances, is not fitting for women. Well, a friend and I decided to embark on a trip to northern Namibia, Okahao, to be specific.

Part of our journey entailed making easy money from the hard earned cash of desperate Namibians who make their way to the north during the festive season, a time when transport to that part of the country becomes a rare treasure.

And so, we drove to a service station at Monte Christo where we heavily competed with the 'who's who of the transport industry' to northern Namibia. They, like us, made use of the opportunity to make money out of the hard earned cash of fellow Namibians who so badly needed to make that journey just to spend Christmas with their loved ones.

Anyways, after hustling for nearly an hour, we managed to score two 'customers' - a man and his son who in my observation should be about sixteen years old. And so the journey to northern Namibia began for Alvine, her female friend (whose name I wouldn't dare mention on this platform) and her male 'compatriots'.

My friend clearly spelt out the 'house rules', "no speeding", she said. 'Well I'm not the speeding type, you should know that', I thought to myself. Ecstatic that I would finally meet my long lost family (I mean long lost because I have not seen them in years), we drove off.

Everything went well until we arrived at roadblocks, where we or at least I was made to internally question if driving is only a 'man thing'. At the first roadblock, no inspection or presentation of a driver's licence was made.

The roadblocks that followed, however, left me surprised at the notion that driving long distances is not for women.

And so at the following roadblock overzealous officers, who clearly love their jobs, greeted us or so I thought, because the smiles on their faces refused to fade. "Headlights madam, indicate left madam, indicate right madam, wiper blades madam, hoot madam," ordered a male officer and to which I complied.

"Good girl, go women power," exclaimed a female officer on duty. I asked her what she meant by that and she responded, "Can't you see? There are two men behind. The women are seated in front and one of them is the driver."

At the next roadblock I was greeted by two women who were also excited to see a woman behind the steering wheel. "Where are you coming from madam?" "Windhoek," I replied.

"Oh, so you drove all that way? "Yes," I replied, "Oh really, you did?" "Yes ma'am," I replied with a bit of annoyance. "Your licence please, what's your final destination? "Okahao," I replied. The officer responded with a stern look that I assumed meant, 'really will you make it that far?'

And so we proceeded and in no time we were at another roadblock, expecting the 'yay to women power' treatment. A male officer who attended to me went about his duties without causing much hype about the woman behind the steering.

'Oh well, finally somebody understands that women too can drive long distances,' I thought to myself. "It's a woman," a female officer remarked before I drove off.

We met a rather different officer at the roadblock in Ondangwa. "Meme onzapo yoye yokushinga oyilipeni?" (where is your driving licence madam?), he asked with a serious look.

After presenting the licence, he smiled and asked, "Ongweye washinga ondjila ayishe ndjono?" (did u drive the whole way?) "Mondjila mono omuli ngaa nawa ndishi?" (is the road fine?) to which I responded yes.

Rather curious at the 'special' treatment and remarks at the various roadblocks, I asked my passengers to share their thoughts on our experience. "It's not every day that a woman sits behind the steering (wheel) on such a long journey," one of the male passengers remarked.

The moral of the story is: anyone can achieve whatever they want to achieve despite the wave of doubt that opposition so often presents. Eewa.

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