Thursday, October 5, 2017

Week 5: Urban Homestay/Classes

By Michele Poindexter
 
We officially reached the one month of our stay in Southern Africa this week, and the learning hasn’t stopped! The first full week of classes was completed, internships continued, and we were all welcomed into the homes of ten wonderful families during our weeklong Urban Homestay. There is certainly never a dull moment here at CGEE Namibia.
 
My favourite of all puppies!
In Environmental Connections (taught by the first woman in Namibia to manage a national park - how awesome is that?!), we began with an overview of the environmental issues in Southern Africa. These include deforestation, an increase in the urban population, land degradation, wildlife poaching, limited natural freshwater resources, desertification, loss of wildlife habitats, drought, poverty, and pollution. I had two main takeaways from this first class. First, there is a large need for regionally specific public awareness and education about environmental issues. Each region is geographically, climatically, and socially distinct, so a blanket solution would not be successful everywhere. However, the underlying issue of poverty must be addressed before environmental conservation and sustainability can be achieved. If people are struggling to meet their basic needs, considering the environment in their decisions for survival is not going to be a top priority. Second, our world is not isolated. The pollution in the United States, or anywhere in the world, affects Africa, and vice versa. This means that the choices we make every day (that might just be contributing to climate change) do not only affect us - they affect everyone, even on the other side of the world. To solve environmental degradation, all people must make an effort, for we all share one home, one Earth.
 
In Religion class, we learned a bit about the history of Black Liberation Theology, and its role in the United States and Southern Africa. Our conversation also expanded to include other oppressed groups such as the LGBT+ community. During our travels through Southern Africa, many of us have had conversations with folks about their views on the LGBT+ community in relation to their religion, so it was a good opportunity for us to discuss and reflect on what we had encountered compared to our own views.


My wonderful homestay family!!

The greatest part of my week was getting to live with a wonderful father, mother, and brother during the urban homestay. There is no better way to learn about the history and culture of a country than to completely immerse yourself in the lives of the people. I lived in a neighborhood called Khomasdal. During Apartheid, this neighborhood was built to house coloured people, a racial category created by the Apartheid regime. This categorization was meant to enforce the separation and supposed hierarchy of races. Today, Khomasdal is a diverse community, full of neighborly love and adorable dogs. My family and I talked about everything from immigration to the effect the Chinese are having on the country to drugs. I learned some Afrikaan words, learned how to bake some traditional dishes, and played with the cutest puppies on this planet. I am now more confident in fitting into the culture here and gained a wonderful new family - I’d say that was a pretty successful week.
 
I jumped in on the yoga class this week,
and we did some acroyoga!!
Now onto the next adventures!



Monday, October 2, 2017

Week 5: The United States of Africa


By Becca Simon
 
Getting settled into a new place is always difficult, especially a new country. The process of getting to know new environments and cultures can feel uncomfortable but the end results are always the most rewarding. Once you make that breakthrough you can really grow from your experiences and learn from the people you meet. So, with this in mind, we made our breakthrough as we entered into our second homestay. With this homestay, each student lived with their families for a week, in which we spent the time learning how the families spend their normal weeks. Along with this we also spent time talking to them about issues ranging from land ownership, religion, gender norms, tribal culture, food, political beliefs, and numerous other topics. For me, the homestay started off a little rocky but ended up being an unforgettable experience as I got to really know my host family. We went on tours of Katutura, which was a township created during the South African occupation of South West Africa (Namibia) to force Black Namibians out of downtown Windhoek. Katutura meaning “place where we do not want to live” represents the continuously apparent income inequalities of Windhoek. In addition to the tour, I got to go to a family party, help with the Saturday braai (a type of barbeque), and watch some of my family’s favorite soap operas!
 
Group picture of CGEE Politics class with Prof. Joseph Diescho
(pictured in back row, second to the right)
Along with our homestays this week, we also had our first full week of classes. With all of us in different classes, including religion, politics, development, history, internship, and environmental connections we are able to have open discussions as a group and connect what we learn. The past week of classes was nothing less than exciting considering we have had a number of very insightful speakers. The major theme of our classes this week connected to the concepts including Pan-Africanism, land ownership, and international relations. The concept of Pan Africanism was best described to us by Professor Joseph Diescho, author of the book “Born of the Sand” and former professor at the University of Namibia. He spoke to us about how the concept of Africa we speak about today was created by outsiders. Prof Diescho explained to us that “Africans never defined themselves as Africans, someone named them this,” and that the borders we see today were never chosen by the people of Africa, rather they were chosen by the colonialist. He discussed the idea of Pan-Africanism as a way to unite the African nations, which is extremely difficult since it requires nations to give up their sovereignty and create a “United States of Africa.” he told us how it is time for corruption to be resolved, for young leaders to take charge, and for Namibia to start looking forward. Prof. Diescho really opened my eyes to a new perspective that I myself was very unaware of. I think that this lesson really reminded me of the importance of understanding that there are always multiple sides to a story and that we must continually be aware of them all.
 
Group photo of CGEE Development class with U.S. Ambassador
Thomas F. Daughton (pictured in the back row, third from the left)
Along with getting to hear from Prof. Diescho we also had the honor of hearing from the United States Ambassador to Namibia, Thomas F. Daughton. Ambassador Daughton helped provide perspective about the United States involvement and political relationship with Namibia. With the Ambassador, we were able to discuss topics from our classes including the future of the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) party which is the ruling party, the role of China in Namibia’s economy, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and environmental sustainability. I was very grateful for getting to hear from Ambassador Daughton since he was very honest and willing to give his opinion about his time working in Namibia.
 
Reflecting back on this week makes me even more excited to continue with my studies in Namibia. Our speakers provided a new way of thinking about issues in Namibia and Africa that will be helpful as we go into further detail about the process of development and work to decolonize the mind. I am excited to hear from our future speakers and gain new understandings of the structures of Namibia.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Week 4: Namibia, Unequal in More Ways Than One

By Keith Nagel

This picture shows how the country has moved forward as one after independence. This picture was taken at the
National Museum of Namibia.
 

Before March 21, 1990 Namibia was subject to the same oppression of apartheid that South Africa endured. Following independence, Namibia has enjoyed political stability and a growing economy, albeit an unequal growth. After learning some information about Namibian ethnic history in class I was left with a question of why has Namibia enjoyed such political and social stability? Namibia has an impressive mixture of ethnic groups. On a field trip to the Owela Museum we were able to dive deeper into each group. The Oshiwambo ethnic group have enjoyed the largest representation in the post-independence government and have been able to grab the largest share of economic and political influence. When you put the Oshiwambo’s influence up against the San people or Bushmen you realize that even among ethnic groups in Namibia there exists a clear inequality in political and economic resources. The Bushmen are one of the most marginalized groups in Namibia. They were not given any type of reserve by the government and were forced to abandon their traditional way of life in the bush because their land was taken and made into national parks, and as a result they often live in extreme poverty. When I learned about the San people it reminded me of the United States’ experience with the Native Americans. This marginalized population was denied economic and land rights much like the Bushmen. The Bushmen and Native Americans have historically had the utmost respect for the land. In many ways both groups entire mindset revolved around the land, and yet, both had their sacred land ripped away from them. Today the Bushmen work on farms while other larger ethnic groups enjoy the economic freedom in the city. When I came to Windhoek I expected to see wealth inequality but I never expected that these lines of inequality were drawn both by racial and ethnic divides.
The "man on the horse" with the National Museum of Namibia in the background. The man on the horse is a relic of German occupation, while the Museum  is a modern testament of liberation built by North Korea, a friend to Namibia during their struggle for independence. This stark contrast says a lot about where Namibia was, and where it is going.
Our group was lucky enough to engage with some of these issues while listening to an important speech by PLO Lumumba. The speech was so important that both the First Lady and President of Namibia were in attendance. It was an honor to be in a room of such influence and experience, and it helped me better understand some of the questions I faced about ethnic divides. For me the most memorable reference that PLO Lumumba made was his quotation of Bob Marley. The quote read “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” For me this paralleled nicely with Steve Biko’s teachings of Black Consciousness which encourages Black people to change their outlook on their situation and accept their empowered self. After PLO Lumumba’s speech, I began to understand perhaps why Namibia has retained such a stable political and social structure. Perhaps Namibia was able to learn to accept their differences and move forward as one Namibians rather than fragmented political parties as the South African experience has shown. Although SWAPO and the ANC share characteristics, it appears that Namibia has had a better experience with a liberation ruling party in the years following independence.
This picture honour's the many men and women who fought for the liberation struggle.
This picture was taken at the National Museum of Namibia.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Week 4: Week of Firsts

By: Caroline Pratt

Reflecting back on this week has brought up a lot of emotions. This week we had so many firsts. We had our first exploration of Windhoek, our new home for the next three months, our first day at our internships, our first day of classes, and the first time I have ever been in the same room as a President of a country.  It was truly a week to remember,
 
Some of us took a trip to some local markets and the art gallery
on Saturday in downtown Windhoek
We started the week going on a ‘quest’ through Katutura, a township of Windhoek where Blacks were forced to move to during the years of Apartheid. Much like Soweto, and other townships we visited in South Africa, Katurura is much more than what meets the eye. While there is extreme poverty, there is also a rich culture. On our quest, we were split up into groups of 3 and were assigned a local guide. My group went to Base FM, a non-profit radio station that focuses on bringing the Katutura community news, sports updates, and entertainment. We learned a lot about how a radio station works and while in the United States radio may be becoming less relevant with other sources such as television, and podcasts, in Namibia, radio is still one of the leading sources for news and entertainment. After the radio station visit, we went to a local store in Katutura and went to the meat market. This market was unlike anything I have ever seen. Vendors are butchering and cooking meat freshly on site. While health codes may not be in existence, it might have been the greatest lunch I have ever had.
 
Tuesday was “community day”. After passing springbok, an ostrich, and a wildebeest on our drive in, the students and staff found our way to a beautiful lodge. We started the day with some get to know you games and after that we dove into some self reflection. We broke into small groups to discuss identity with topics such as: race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. I enjoyed this part of the day because we got to hear from our Namibian staff on their perspective and how their backgrounds have shaped their identity while being able to compare our own experiences, being from the United States.
Michele and I's first day at our internship in Namibia
After community day, the firsts really began. Wednesday was our first day of internships. My internship is at Sister Namibia, a Namibian non-profit that empowers woman and girls through putting out a magazine, workshops, and providing resources in their library on topics such as women's health, gender based violence, and legal rights, to name just a few. Some other internships are: Friendly Haven, the Hope Initiative, and the Namibian Women's Health Network. I am so excited to start my work at Sister Namibia and see how I can help impact women’s life in this area and be able to bring back what I have learned here to my work in the United States.
 
Still exhausted from a full day of work, we had the opportunity to go listen to PLO Lumumba. This talk was one of the most powerful talks I have ever heard. Topics included globalization, a unified Africa, government corruption, poor wealth distribution, and growing inequality. This talk really put into words everything that I have seen on the trip so far. For example, seeing Sandton, the richest suburb of South Africa, just minutes away from Alexandria, the poorest area was sickening. While I am unsure of the Afro, a common African currency similar to the Euro, that PLO Lumumba would work, clearly a more unified Africa is needed. At the end of the event the most surprising thing happened, the President of Namibia walked into the back and heard what the speaker had to say.  It was really amazing that a president could walk into a room, without tons of security, and without making a big scene. He listened to what Professor Lumumba had to say even if some of it went against current politics.

Classes started on Thursday, and while I just had history, I am excited to apply what I learned from the speaker to the classroom and continue to make connections. It was a week of firsts and I am going to take advantage of every moment in Namibia before our lasts begin.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Week 3: Two Countries, One Continent


By Mickey Liebrecht

Mural at District 6 museum
In the past week we’ve transitioned from exploring Cape Town in South Africa to exploring Windhoek and our semester schedule in Namibia. I’ll start off with telling my experience with learning more about what Apartheid did to many communities of color from the District Six museum. Then I’ll move to talking a bit about Namibia and the budding possibilities that I’ve been able to see coming in my future.
While still in South Africa, we went to a museum called the District 6 Museum, and though its building is small, the gravity of its contents is not. The museum is a collection of donated items not just from the destroyed community of District 6, but the people who were forced to ‘relocate’ to another area so their community could be used for white homes – spoiler alert, they never did anything with the land after destroying the community that’d already been there. Our tour guide had his own stories from when he lived in District Six, and with them there was an air of pride about him that really stood out to me. He was proud because the district itself was filled with people of all kinds – race, religion, etc. – living together as harmonically as human beings can live with one another. This, in his opinion (and mine too), was what made the district a threat to the government, as they believed this could never happen in real life, or at least were selling that idea to their “fellow whites;” the most important ones at the time to sell this idea to, as they did have the easiest position within the structure of the country to do something about it.

Top view of District 6
His stories, along with the many others illustrated within the museum, were heart-breaking yes, but they didn’t break my heart in the same way other stories I’ve heard about Apartheid in the past few weeks have. Other stories have left me close to tears, or just flat out crying, as I hear them and/or read them, but I believe the stories of District Six had a different effect on me, because the storyteller was a man who experienced this atrocity and managed to leave me smiling after ending his story with a few jokes and some hope thrown in there for good measure; the government is currently working on a project that will rebuild District Six from the rubble that’s still there. The tour guide was a fun, happy, and naturally light-hearted spirit, a lot like who I used to be when I was younger. Also, the fact that he went through all this and still manages to make fun of it and be happy with himself and his life and the simple pleasures of it, gives me hope for myself. Hope that eventually, I’ll be able to do the same thing with some of the darker parts of my past, and move on to do something about them – within society – in the future. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had so far, for that reason.
My future in Windhoek also seems brighter because of this, as I’m continuing to learn more about the area and the organizations that reside here, fighting the good fight for their groups of humanity who are being “screwed over” essentially by the government and society – my words. I look forward to learning more from the two organizations I’ve been focusing on as the semester goes on, and helping in any way I can – if they’ll have me. The first is an orphanage that goes by the name of Village Hope, and the other is an LGBTI advocacy group that goes by the name Outright Namibia.  

Visual lounge space in HIV exhibit at Slave Lodge
 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Week 3: The On-going History of Slavery in South Africa

By Adelina Alcaraz  
Our week started with a powerful tour informing us of the history of slavery in the Cape. As we went on our tour, we were informed that the places are ancestral grounds belonging to the Coy and Sun tribe. Common amongst colonization stories, when the colonizers came to Cape Town, they did not distinguish people by the various and divergent tribes, but simply by the color of their skin. It was better for colonizers to not use the Coy and Sun as slaves from the beginning. However, when slavery did come to the Cape, it came with a great force. Among the imported slaves were tens of thousands of children.
Small slave memorial in Cape Town

Later, our tour guides pointed out the surprisingly small memorials of slavery in Cape Town which exhibits the problem of being ignorant of the past. For example, there was a memorial of black blocks small enough to sit on. These block had words like slavery, resist, and a list of names to symbolize the horrors of the slave trade and following oppression in Cape Town. Although artistic, the message of the blocks is unclear to those that aren't familiar with that history therefore, is not efficient in educating others.

One of the most troubling memorials is a block in the shape of a tree trunk to symbolize the trees used to auction off slaves. This horrifyingly inhumane practice is ironically meant to be remembered by placing a circular block, not even big enough to sit comfortably on, in the middle of two busy roads, where people pass it daily, not even getting a glance at it. From this, we learned that ignorance of the past can not only threaten the future but also hurt and disrespect descendants of the oppressed.

After the tour, we were guided to an emotional HIV exhibit. We not only saw the pictures and stories of HIV survivors around the world, but were also introduced to an HIV survivor who is also a transgender woman, cancer survivor, former drug addict and sex worker. Her story of surviving so much trial proves her strength and amazing capability. Her main message to us was to break down stereotype of those living with HIV. They are not only capable of living a normal life, but strong in facing not just the HIV disease, but the harsh stigma put on them by the society they live in. Her story was inspirational and empowering to not only those living with HIV, but those being unjustly punished by society for not fitting into the box each society places every person in.

Some of us ended the day with a Swami yoga instructor. Interestingly, he identifies no religion, but is knowledgeable of many so that he may offer guidance to those that wish to connect the spirituality of yoga with her or his religion. The spirituality of yoga is something that mainstream yoga in the U. S. rarely mentions. One of the things the yoga instructor emphasized was the idea of selfishness in today’s world. He argued that selfishness is the base to the world’s problems and that happiness should come from making others happy. Coming from a society where self-care and helping yourself before you can help others is a common thought, it was interesting and frankly hard for some of us to accept. As for myself, I’m still struggling on what this means for complex situations, like what this looks like across cultures. Although the yoga instructor insisted this being a simple teaching, I think in practice it’s much more complex.
Photo from the HIV exhibit.

 
At the District 6 museum, we learned the story of someone who experienced inhumane relocation. He explained to us what it was like being forced out of his home during apartheid.
 
On Wednesday, we went to church, to school, and then to the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force. At each place were taught about love for each other and helping one another though things like acceptance and support. One of the most striking things to challenge my perspective was being introduced to the term sex worker, a more respectful way to address prostitutes. It was the idea that sex work can be just like any other work: a choice done willingly by the worker that should be protected by law instead of being criminalized. Unfortunately, a majority of the media, public, and politicians do not distinguish the difference between sex workers, those that choose their occupation, and human trafficking survivors, those forced into sex slavery.
 
The rest of the week involved moving into Windhoek, Namibia, a place we’ll call home for the following three months. Here, we reunited and met with the rest of the staff, or more appropriately labelled the rest of our family.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Week 2: Exploring Identity by Carly

By Carly Dillis

A view of Cape Town from historic Wale St, a community that
has historically been predominantly Muslim.
Over the past week, our group has been exploring Cape Town and different parts of the Eastern Cape. Throughout this time, we have been learning the story of South Africa through the people in these places. Our learning in this program is designed to be through experience, including that of others. Thus, we rely greatly on shared personal narratives to humanize and contextualize the more traditional learning that we have been engaging with in museums and historical sites. Simultaneously, we are also navigating our own identities in a new country and learning who we are and how we relate to the world.

Portraits of Steve Biko in front of the museum.
For our first day in the Eastern Cape, we drove from Port Elizabeth to King Williams town to visit the Steve Biko museum. The museum was about the anti-Apartheid struggle, but more so it was about Steve Biko as a person. The museum helped bring a human energy to the history of Apartheid. As Apartheid is such a violent system, it begins to feel the opposite of human. Therefore, reminding ourselves of the humans involved is a much-needed facet of a complete education in the subject. We have also found this human element at the Red Location Lodge, a women’s co-op that we have been staying in for our time in Port Elizabeth. The co-op is a women’s empowerment and support group with about a dozen members. They have been sharing their stories with us as well and showing us a more everyday type of resistance in their solidarity.

As we move onto Cape Town, we again get a new perspective on the history of South Africa and Apartheid. We took the ferry to Robben Island, the site of the prison in which Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Robert Sobukwe were held during the anti- Apartheid struggle. Our tour guide was a former prisoner at Robben Island and was able tell the story of prison life from his authentic experience there. He gave us a sense of what it felt like to be a prisoner under Apartheid and to be taken away from society. The story of Apartheid is one that is still being written. As the first democratic elections took place in 1994, the official era of Apartheid is over, but it is still very fresh in the minds and lives of the people of South Africa.

A collection of the original signs of District Six
before the Apartheid government tore down all
houses. Behind the signs, there are also handmade
quilts that depict everyday life in District Six. 
 We were also able to tour the District Six Museum. Our tour guide’s name was Noor and he was born in District Six. He was the third generation to raise his family in his home and was forcibly evicted when the area was declared “for whites only.” He watched his house be torn down and had to begin a new life away from the community which had become a part of his identity. He told his story with enthusiasm and passion, which gave us a sense of his greater self and identity and made his story exceptionally human. District Six and Noor’s story are a microcosm of Apartheid and help us understand how the events and policies enacted by the government affected everyday people such as Noor.

Learning through a personal lens helps one to internalize the curriculum and understand its importance. It also helps to decolonize our education by diversifying our knowledge source and helping us to be critical of institutions of knowledge. It has also helped us to understand our own places in the struggle, as we are connected to this history, and all histories, by our existence in a globalized world.