Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Any traveler will know that one of the biggest hurdles to cross in an unfamiliar place is a language barrier. It is difficult enough to travel around a new place, but to try and do it in a country that speaks many other languages that are different from your own can be challenging. I was lucky; English is the official language of Namibia. The official language could have just as easily been German or Africans but the new government following independence wanted to shed their colonial roots and adopt a new language. Because English is an official language on paper does not necessarily mean it is in practice, and sometimes communication can be difficult.

In South Africa for example it is regular for person to know around six languages. Namibia is similar with each of the ethnic groups having a distinct language. The English that is spoken in Namibia is even jokingly referred to as Namish because they incorporate many of their languages words while speaking English. I was confronted with this language barrier full force when I completed a rural homestay with a local Damara family on their farm. For context South Africa and Namibia have some of the most interesting languages in the world that involve clicks, and the Damara language incorporated four different clicks into their language. For some reason I picked up these different clicks pretty easily, but it is certainly not a natural thing for most people.

It was a joy to learn a little of their beautiful language and try to converse with the locals. They even gave me a name, “!Nombate”, with the ! signifiying a particular click. My name translates to English as ‘difficult’ so perhaps I wasn’t grasping the language quite as easily as I had thought. The beauty of their language didn’t compare to the beauty of the people themselves, who welcomed me with open arms and eagerly wanted to show me how the live. It is something I will never forget. ‘/Namsi ta gea Khorixas’.