COVID-19 in Namibia (as of 03 April)

A drink for our times, Namibia-style.

What a fucking crazy time.

For real.

There are currently 14 cases of COVID-19 in Namibia.  The reporting of confirmed cases has slowly been increasing in frequency and magnitude. It’s unclear to me how many are local transmission but there is no confirmed community transmission yet.*

We’ve decided that we are going to ride this pandemic out in Namibia. We are not going back to the US. (Unless we are forced to.) We are prepared to shelter-in-place in our house for months, we are ready to cut social in-person activities, and we have experience with the whole “no walking outside” thing, if it comes to that. We are ready. Is it crappy and will it get even crappier? Yes.

There were a number of factors to consider, many of which are, at this point, huge gaping question marks. But ultimately we decided that we are safer (both health-wise and emotionally) if we stay here. Only time will tell if we made the right decision. Or maybe we’ll go to Ordered Departure and then we will have to leave. Who knows. I have no idea what can/will happen.

We have some advantages here in Southern Africa**: we’ve watched this virus march across the planet and we’ve learned a lot from the responses of other countries. Many were slow to start testing and social distancing, quarantine advisories were implemented too late, and most countries didn’t do much until transmission was already out of control. Here, we’ve had time to practice habits like social distancing, washing our hands ALL THE TIME, less touching of faces, etc. Plus the science behind COVID-19 is improving and we are learning more and more. Will this work out to our advantage? We’ll see; only time will tell.

People around Namibia, including the government of Namibia, are taking this more seriously than I expected, honestly. About a week ago restrictions went into place. Nonessential shops are closed. You can’t buy alcohol. Restaurants are only open for take-out. No exercising or walking outside in groups of more than three people. Police are driving around enforcing the rules.  All points of entry into Namibia, with the exception of the international airport in Windhoek, will be closed for non-commercial travelers. These restrictions are in place until April 17.

We’ve been baking a lot over the past week. These cookies sprinkled with salt were a definite winner.

What will happen after that? Who knows. The epidemic in Namibia is only starting, and I can’t imagine that on April 18 the disease will magically disappear.

In the meantime we are working from home and who knows when M will go back to school. I have to keep reminding myself that this is hard for him too. He’d rather be at school, playing and learning with his teachers and friends, and going to dance and swimming classes than being cooped up at home with distracted, working parents who don’t always have time for him. Sometimes he gets upset, and we give him even more love and attention. There’s been a lot of hugging and talking about our feelings, much of which he initiates.

My new favorite coworker, lying beside my buffet-table-turned-standing-desk

There’s a fine line between staying up-to-date on the COVID-19 news and science, and getting drawn into a doom and gloom pit of despair. Here are some resources/websites I find helpful and look at daily:

  • Trying to stay up-to-date on information and public health measures for COVID-19? Look at the CDC website. I don’t like the WHO website;  I find it to be confusing and less helpful if you are a person who just wants info.
  • Trying to keep up-to-date on what the State Dept is doing? Check out Diplopundit.
  • Looking for a way to explain COVID-19 to your kids? I find this infocomic to be really helpful.
  • Looking for easily digestible graphs that explain COVID-19 epidemiology and trends? I like how the data is displayed on Information is Beautiful but it’s only updated once or twice a week.
  • Looking for better information than the Johns Hopkins tracker provides? Worldometer has a lot of helpful information by country, including cases per one million population, epi curves (new cases per day), mortality statistics, etc.

So, here we are. Who’d have thought we’d be in a situation with a global authorized departure. But this too shall pass, and at least this time we don’t have terrorists trying to kill us! There’s always a bright side.

*Local transmission is different from community transmission. Let’s say you are a tourist and you’re COVID-19 positive. If your receptionist/driver/etc gets COVID-19 from you that is local transmission. Community transmission is when a disease is transmitted from one person to another without a link to travel.

** We also have some major disadvantages here like poor/insufficient health care and some people that are malnourished or immunocompromised, etc. The baseline situation in Namibia is not cupcakes and rainbows.

My pandemic preparedness shopping list

I am not prone to panic. Worry, yes; panic, no. That said, I am worried about this COVID-19 outbreak. While there are no cases in sub-Saharan Africa yet, my gut tells me that it’s just a matter of time. I’m not being an alarmist. I’m being practical.

So, what am I going to do? I am going grocery shopping.

Some locations have seen a huge spike in the number of cases over the past few days, like Northern Italy, and others are locked-down, like Wuhan, China. In both of these places the grocery stores are either a mad-house or completely wiped out. Additionally, current WHO guidance states that anyone without a severe form of the disease should be isolated and managed from home. Remember that most cases of COVID-19 are basically nothing more than a cold (if you do not have an underlying health condition), so it’s completely do-able. But if someone in one home gets COVID-19, chances are that all other family members in that home will be self-quarantining too, which means no work, no school, no grocery shopping, etc.

At this point it’s not a bad idea to plan on potentially having to stay at home without leaving for several weeks, whether that’s due to a spike in cases, I’m sick myself, or someone else is sick. To do this, I’ll need to stock up on some basic groceries, plus some other things which I didn’t really consider at first.

When do I want to do a larger-than-normal grocery run? Now, before people are panicking and when products are still easily available? Or later, only when absolutely necessary, when thousands of my closest friends are running around the store like chickens with their heads chopped off and the shelves are bare?

I’d rather go shopping now.

The delightfully empty cleaning supply aisle at Super Spar

I’m not saying I’m going to start canning butter or go into zombie apocalypse mode; I’m simply saying that I’m going to buy a few more of everything than usual. The main thing is that I don’t want to buy anything we wouldn’t normally need. For instance, I don’t like canned vegetables other than tomatoes, so now is not the time to start buying them.

Worst case scenario, we are prepared to spend quality time at home by ourselves for a few weeks and maintain some semblance of normal life; best case scenario, we don’t need to buy pantry products again for some time.

Without further ado, I’m buying the following, which I think is a solid list applicable to just about everyone:

  • Cleaning supplies, particularly those for disinfecting things
  • Dish soap
  • Hand sanitizer/soap
  • Paper products: toilet paper, paper towels, tissues
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, anything you use every day)
  • Tylenol, Advil, etc.
  • UHT or powdered milk (whole milk for M, skim milk for me)
  • Pasta/rice/etc
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Cooking oil
  • Meat, eggs, or some other form of protein
  • Frozen fruits and veggies
  • Squash (butternut, acorn, etc: fresh squash last a long time on counter)
  • Flour
  • Easy-to-cook frozen food (what if all adults are ill and no one wants to cook?)
  • Bread
  • Condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, any other family favorites)

We also have a few things are specific to our household that I’ll stock up on:

  • Peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Crackers
  • Mini-packs of Haribo gummy bears
  • Yeast
  • Popcorn
  • Granola bars

You may also want to buy if available/necessary:

  • Clorox wipes
  • Extras of any necessary prescription medication, if possible
  • Dog food
  • Cat litter

Oh, and wine. If I’m going to be stuck at home, I’m going to need some wine.

Keep in mind that in the case of a pandemic, utilities are unlikely to be affected because infrastructure won’t be damaged (probably). While it’s always a good idea to stock extra drinking water just in case, that’s not my primary focus right now.

In the meantime it’s important to stay informed. Here is the link for CDC’s COVID-19 information page, here is the link to the WHO COVID-19 page, and here’s the link to my favorite COVID-19 tracker. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

 

A weekend at Erindi

A huge elephant by the Camp Elephant watering hole

One of our best friends from Muscat came to visit us, and we decided to go check out Erindi Private Game Reserve. Just about everyone in Windhoek told us Erindi is absolutely amazing, and (spoiler alert) they were right!

There are two lodging options: Camp Elephant or Old Trader’s Lodge. At Camp Elephant, you can either tent camp or stay in a self-catering chalet. No matter which option you choose, I don’t think you can go wrong. The camping looks seriously nice: there are private flush toilets and showers, a refrigerator, hot water, grassy areas for your tent (grass!), picnic tables, and a kitchen sink. Coming from Oman where there was literally nothing if you didn’t bring it with you, the camping there is hardly even camping, other than the fact that you have to sleep in a tent.

Self-catering chalets

We booked the self-catering chalets since we weren’t sure if we’d have our camping gear or not. The chalets all border a watering hole and have two bedrooms, a bathroom, air conditioning, and a well-equipped kitchen with a microwave, toaster, and a two-burner stove. Then outside there’s a picnic table and two (two!) braai areas. It was awesome.

The front of the chalet, with a view of the watering hole and two braai spots

Watering hole and chalets at dusk

I can’t tell you much about Old Trader’s Lodge because Camp Elephant guests are “strictly forbidden from visiting Old Trader’s Lodge at all.” I’m guessing it’s fancy? I have no idea. I’m also curious about what must have happened to institute this ridiculous policy.

We visited Erindi on Thanksgiving weekend, so we decided to do a glamping Thanksgiving. We cooked all the food, except the turkey, on Wednesday and Thursday. We got the braai going as soon as we arrived, heated up everything else, and had a humongous feast. In hindsight, the fact that we thought we needed to bring additional food for Saturday night is laughable. We went home without having cooked some of the food we brought, and we never even had a chance to make s’mores. Oh well. Worse things have surely happened.

Thanksgiving desserts!

Sausages on the braai

On Saturday morning, E and I went on an early morning game drive while Nate stayed behind with M and slept in. The game drive was…. alright, I guess? It certainly wasn’t my favorite. There were a bunch of loud hungover people that arrived late, drank throughout the entire thing, wanted to wake up the lions, asked if you could hunt rhinoceros, watched youtube videos and video-chatted during the game drive, and asked the driver if he had more drinks. And the driver seemed hell-bent on driving through the tightest of spaces in an enormous safari vehicle. I sat in the middle to avoid getting swiped by thorny branches. He spent probably 10 minutes trying to drive over a tree. But we saw a male and female lion resting and then a cheetah family out on a hunt, so that was cool.

The next morning, Nate and E went on a game drive while I stayed behind with M. Their guide was awesome, super-knowledgeable about everything, and took them to see lots of lions (including cubs!). Plus there was the added bonus of no obnoxious passengers. So I guess the game drive tours at Erindi are a total and complete crapshoot.

Another option at Erindi is to do self-drive game drives. You have to stay on the road, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see any lions or large predators unless they literally cross the road right in front of you, but you’ll see lots of other neat stuff. We saw a lot of zebras, springbok, oryx, and giraffes. Plus some clusters of elephants and rhinos.

Since moving here I’ve discovered that I get carsick on the bumpy dirt roads (great timing, huh?) so Nate drove the first half and then I took over. I felt slightly better behind the wheel, but I need to buy some kind of medicine for next time.

The amount of wildlife visible from the chalets is awesome. Hippos and crocodiles live in the watering hole, and there’s no shortage of wildebeest, springbok, elephants and warthogs, plus a huge variety of birds. There are also scorpions and bat-sixed moths. A palm-sized scorpion wandered towards our picnic table while we were playing a board game outside after M went to bed. I shouted “Holy shit, a scorpion!!!” and I’ve never seen grown adults jump so quickly on top of a table.

Erindi makes for a nice weekend getaway, or a great first stop on a further-flung camping trip. There’s a surprisingly large well-stocked shop next to the reception with pretty much everything you could need if you forget something, including ice and firewood. That said, I started a list of things to make sure we bring next time: pool towels, tin foil, binoculars, extra dish towels, a silicon spatula, and a kitchen sponge.

Erindi, we’ll be back!

Update: We’ve since returned to Erindi and our second account was about the same. Guided game drives are a still complete crapshoot (even more so than last time) and the facilities are still amazing.

How to survive a game drive with a toddler/young child

Game drive vehicle at Gocheganas, the best place for sundowner game drives near Windhoek

Game drives are one of the most fun things to do in Namibia. You never know what you’ll see: maybe herds of elephants or a lion eating a zebra or springbok pronking. Or you might get to have gin and tonics with rhinos. You never know.

However, with a kid, game drives are not always so great.

One of the first things we learned when we moved here was that we needed a solid strategy for keeping M entertained and happy, particularly during guided game drives in an open vehicle. They’re usually 3-4 hours long, and sometimes you’re not allowed to get out of the vehicle. There can be lots of driving without seeing much of anything, and usually the animals are far more interesting to us than they are to him. I could watch zebras all day, whereas M is finished after 5 minutes, max. There are also times when you don’t want your kid making tons of noise. Best case scenario, it scares the animals away; worst case, the animal thinks you’re a threat and charges you. Or, if it’s a carnivore, it could try to eat your kid. This is why Erindi doesn’t allow children five and under on open vehicle game drives.

Game drive tire change at Mt. Etjo

On every game drive, we make sure we always bring…

  • High-value snacks: I’m not talking about apple slices and carrots; I’m talking about brownies, cookies, M&Ms, lollypops, etc. The good stuff. It’s hard to talk when your mouth is full of food. And hangry kids are no fun.
  • An extra camera: preferably a light-weight one with a wrist strap, easy-to-press shutter button, and a big display screen. After a game drive where M insisted on using my enormous DSLR camera himself nearly the entire time (and I asked if I could leave him with the rhinos), I always pack our little point-and-shoot from 2010 for him to use.
  • A water bottle: It’s easy to get dehydrated in an open-air vehicle, and sometimes we fill it with juice when we worry that M isn’t drinking enough liquids.
  • A jacket or sweat shirt: Especially on the evening game drives, it can get cold surprisingly fast. Or it might rain. Open-air vehicles in the rain are also no fun.
  • Kindle/iPad/etc: We went on a game drive at Mount Etjo that took a solid hour longer than expected, and towards the end it was freezing cold and raining. Luckily we had M’s jacket and he was warm, cozy, and happy playing a game on his kindle while the rest of us sat there shivering and miserable.
  • Close-toed shoes: All of us always wear close-toed shoes on game drives. You never know what you’re going to have to potentially walk through, whether it’s animal poop, rocky terrain, or thorns. M calls his sneakers his “safari shoes.”

Lastly, follow the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If your kid is happy doing one thing, don’t make them stop because you think they should be doing something else. We took M on the carnivore feeding tour at Na’an Ku/se and instead of looking at the caracals, leopards and cheetahs, he wanted to stay in the truck and play a game on his kindle. Was I annoyed? Yes. But it was a hot, miserable day and he was happy, so I let it go.

Zebras! But M just wanted to look at his Kindle, which was fine.

This list will morph as M grows and changes (and is allowed on the Erindi open vehicle game drives) during our three years here. But for now, this is what we’ve got and it’s working pretty well so far!

Riding in style at Na’an Ku Se