Thursday, 15 March 2007
From Windhoek to Wimbledon
Alex Horne – 15th March 2007 then 14th May 2007
I really wish and I hadn’t lost that notepad. As mentioned over in Ghana, I managed to misplace it somewhere in Ireland (I think) before getting the chance (well, before getting round) to writing up either Nathan or Herman’s story. Sheepishly, then, I contacted both again and arranged to do second interviews. Considering Nathan’s sister-in-law Debbie had made me cupcakes with a map of the world iced on top while he himself introduced me to friends from Afghanistan and Kurdistan the first time round, I didn’t think twice about making another trip down to Peckham. With Herman, however, I thought we could get away with doing it via email. We’d had a very nice drink in a very nice pub round the corner from Farringdon station, but it was a simpler encounter than Nathan’s and as there was no promise of future nationalities or homemade food, I thought it would save us both a bit of time.
So this is a very brief combination of what I can remember from our actual meeting and what he sent me in the subsequent virtual interview that he kindly did without any fuss at all. I hope it does him justice.
Herman has been in London since the beginning of 2001. I was put in contact with him by a mutual friend who described him as ‘a good bloke, a real rugby player, you know, a good bloke’, a description that proved pretty accurate. He was confident and calm, completely un-phased at the prospect of chatting to a stranger in a pub about his life or, it seems, starting a new life in London at the age of 25: ‘I had a very good friend living here who phoned me up one day and told me to get myself sorted and come over. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Six years later and I now think of London as home.’
He currently lives in Wimbledon where a lot of his free time is, indeed, spent at the rugby club. ‘It’s a very good way to meet people. My friends who play there come from all over the world. But I suppose the majority are antipodeans and UK citizens.’
At first, though, London was something of a shock. ‘It was very different, aside from the wide open spaces, untouched nature and relaxing lifestyle of Namibia it was the population of London that caught me unawares. Everywhere you turn there's a crowd.’ Herman was born and raised in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, home to less than a quarter of a million people and centre of the world’s sheep skin trade.
He told me that he left the city at eighteen to study civil engineering in the picturesque wine-growing area of Stellenbosch over in South Africa and I must confess that lazily, I had by this stage pigeon-holed Herman alongside a lot of the wealthy white South Africans that can normally be found in the Springbok bar on Covent Garden. I knew this was ill-informed stereotyping on my part so I thought I should ask him how the countries differ.
He was happy to educate me; ‘Namibia and South Africa are still similar in many ways due to the old ties between the two countries but Namibia has come a long way. We don’t have the racial tensions and violence that South Africa is still struggling with. We went through a very smooth transition to independence in 1990 and there have been very few problems since.’
In fact, Herman’s whole life seems to be fairly trouble-free. Our initial chat was as relaxed as any and when he popped up again at the Nearly Halfway Party he was by far the most laidback person there. How long do you think you’ll stay in London, I asked him. ‘I don't know how low long’, he replied, ‘and I don't know what comes next but for now I'm happy here.’ And right now, that’s enough for both of us.
Like I said, he’s a good bloke.