Monday, November 20, 2017

Life on the Farm

By Evan Carr
Following an amazing week with our families in the rural Khorixas area our homestay experiences for the semester are already over! While this is a sad realization I feel incredibly fortunate for the experience this past week, but also to be connected to three great families across the Southern Africa region. A huge thanks to Sarah, our Homestay Coordinator here in Namibia, and all of the staff for making this week a great success!

Returning from a trip into town.
Our schedule in the so-called “Damaraland” area allowed for plenty of time bonding with our families on the farms combined with ample opportunity to continue the learning process with our busy schedule during the day. Our homes for the week did not have plumbing or electricity so we quickly adapted to the local lifestyle of cooking over fire and open-air toilets, but we were also fortunate to experience stunning night skies thanks to zero light pollution. Daily activities on the farm ranged from playing with baby goats and donkey cart rides to games of Owela under the sun and hot cups of Rooibos tea around the campfire. Owela is a local game requiring strategy and wit that was traditionally played between chiefs to settle disputes in the community. Another highlight of my week was the opportunity to develop my Damara language skills. As my host grandmother, the head of my house, did not speak English it was important for me to pick up some phrases in order to connect with her. While mastering the four clicks used in Damara presented a significant challenge, I was able to hold very minimal conversation in Damara by the end of the week about things like how I slept or how hot the weather was. Our week on the farm wrapped up with a big party where all five homesteads on each farm came together to celebrate the week and eat delicious food to our heart’s content. We danced and the sang the night away as we exchanged American and Namibian songs and dances with our families.
While we ate breakfast and dinner and spent nights at the farms, we spent our days together as a CGEE family. Some highlights of the program included visits to Cornelius Goreseb High School and the traditional court of Khorixas. The traditional court operates under the jurisdiction of the local Damara clan and mainly deals with domestic issues and theft, while other matters are left to the municipal court. It was valuable to see how people in rural areas integrate their traditional community structures with those of the modern Republic of Namibia. We delved further into Damara culture with a visit to the Damara Living Museum. In order to preserve their culture, people working there run demonstrations on blacksmithing, natural medicine, and jewelry making. Our trip also included a visit to the Twyfelfontein UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the site of many ancient rock art drawings, and to a petrified forest. These excursions helped us to put into context topics we’ve discussed in our History, Politics, Environment, Religion, and Development classes.

My family for the week. Grandma Christa was the head of the house and the farm.

Following our week on farms in Khorixas we spent two days at Etosha National Park. This visit was capped by the sighting of a leopard that came right up to our van and let us follow it down the road for a few hundred feet. We were incredibly lucky to see such a rare animal (there are only about 600 in Namibia) at such a close range. We also saw lions, rhinos, many giraffes, zebras, springbok, and more! A visit to Etosha is a quintessential Namibian experience and it was great to get out there and see it with our group. I’m looking forward to our Fall Break next week and to catching up with everyone once we return to hear stories of their travels.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Not Windhoek, Inhoek

By Maddie Dilday
This week we took on the rural homestay at 2 different farms outside of Khorixas. The farm that I was staying on is known as Inhoek Pos. I had 2 host sisters who lived with us, one being 6 and one being 5. They were 2 amazing highlights of the stay! Whenever I was home, the girls were with me. We would play games, and run around the farm playing with the other children on the farm. The girls were my guide for the week! One of our favorite games on the farm was called Owella. We learned Owella on the very first night at the farm. Here we also learned how Damara chiefs used to use the game in order to solve conflict. The first game ended in a draw, but by the end of the week, Adelina had become a pro! I on the other hand am still in training.
The girls would also often visit “the dam”. This was where they got their water, swam, and provided water for their cattle. The dam also provided water for the wild animals of the area, specifically the elephants that would often visit. The dam was peaceful at times, especially when we would just be collecting water for the day. But the dam could also be lively! For example when the kids went swimming! They would climb into the dam and splash around, cooling off in the midday heat.
This is one of the open areas located within
Cornelius Goreseb school grounds.
When I wasn’t running around the farm with my host sisters, the students would be exploring and experiencing Khorixas. Of these experiences, the best was getting to speak with the students of Cornelius Goreseb High School. Having the chance to speak to students slightly closer to our own age was something different and interesting that many of us had not had the opportunity to do yet. The students were exactly like a high school student in the United States would be! They loved to hang out with their friends, liked missing class to talk, and were just beginning to realize how exciting their future can be. Many of our students were physical science focused students (In Namibia, in 10th grade you pick either hard sciences or social/historical courses to focus on and then continue on those specific courses until graduation and often times after.), which I found very encouraging as a current university science major. Aside from talking about classes, the students really just wanted to compare everyday life between here and the United States, which I think they found to be surprisingly similar. Overall, the exchange allowed us to have a new perspective when viewing Namibia, and the world around us. While personally, it made me think on the United States education system, and the differences, both good and bad. 
A picture of my host family during the end of the week party we had.
We all dressed up and had a great time.
My favorite part of the week was every night when the entire farm would come together. During these moments, the kids would calm down, and the adults would all come together as well. We would talk about the Damara culture, sing songs, tell scary stories, and share constellations in the beautifully clear night sky. These moments are the ones that will stay with me through the rest of my life, because these are the moments when we all actually felt like a family. Laughing, sharing, and having a great time together.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Week 6 - “Wildlife” and the Harmonious Ideal of Ubuntu

By Michelle Andersen
This cheetah and her sister are tame and used to humans,
when they should have grown up in the wild

The week started out with a trip for Environmental Connections to N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary. It was established in 2006 by Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren to conserve wildlife, preserve landscape, and support local communities, specifically the indigenous San people. Their mission is to promote “conservation through innovation.” The animals there have been orphaned, injured, or otherwise had their safety threatened by humans. In class, we are learning about human-wildlife conflict, which was evident during our visit. The various animals have been saved from humans who shot them, touched them as cubs, or have had their habitats and lives threatened by humans in another manner. While it was incredible to see one of my favorite animals, the cheetah, up close, it was heart-breaking to see them interact with the guide. The cheetah would come right up to the fence and let the guide pet her. You could hear her and her sister purring loudly the whole time. Unfortunately, these animals are here because their mother was killed by a farmer and they could not survive on their own. They have been raised by humans, which makes it dangerous to return them to the wild for themselves and for the humans, whom they no longer fear. They are sentenced to a life imprisonment, due to the actions of humans. While the sanctuary is doing good work in order to save these animals, they are merely trying to compensate for decisions other people have made. Since these animals can no longer be released into the wild, they will never be able to live out their lives as intended.
A night out at a local restaurant
Later in the week, in our religion and social change class we had a speaker named Reverend Godriam join us to discuss the subject of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is defined in the dictionary as “a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.” In a paper by Faustin Ntamushobora, we read about the role ubuntu has played in African history. The concept was popularized by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and through him, Nelson Mandela, especially when it came to reconciliation. According to the article, reconciliation can be defined as “respect for a person’s dignity, irrespective of what that person has done.” Without ubuntu, one could refuse to forgive their enemies. Using the compassionate care of ubuntu instead, one would be able to create harmonious relationships. In a discussion I had with our professor, Lamont, we discuss how the concept of ubuntu is something to apply in our lives. If everyone cares for one another, then the world would be a happier, safer, more unified place. However, we had doubts about how this could be applied on a larger, macro scale. It is clear that one could apply the concept on a micro level with their inner circle. Yet, beyond that, it is hard to achieve this unity when people are asked to apply it to the whole world. It is impossible for every person to be open and available to other people all the time. However, if people can begin with their close friends to have harmonious and compassionate relationships, then perhaps this can be extended out to everyone they met, who will then also act with ubuntu. However, until that point is reached, it seems like a worthy ideal to strive for so that the world is still a nicer place, even if true ubuntu is never reached.
Based on this week’s experiences, I have deeper concepts to ponder and apply to my own life. It can be easy to get swept up into the excitement of an event, such as seeing wild animals at a sanctuary. However, it is important to take a step back and ask questions about how they got there, how they are being treated, and the purpose of the organization. Without this critical thinking, we may miss a chance to not only learn about but to improve a situation. Along with this, we must consider ideals that are above ourselves. Striving for harmonious, compassionate relationships through ubuntu can create a better world for those involved. If we do not try to promote these actions, then we are failing our world and each other. While it may seem impossible, it is not pointless to fight for these ideals, which can raise us to a higher standard.

Even in captivity, one can see the power the lion possesses

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Week 6: A Week of Unexpected Growth

By Carly Dillis
This week, all of us are fresh off of our homestay experiences and back into the grind of classes and internships. However, that does not mean that this week was quiet or uneventful.

One of the Cheetahs from N/a'ankuse. There were two cheetahs in the
reserve who will be there for the rest of their lives.
On Monday, our environmental class visited N/a’an ku sê  nature reserve. The reserve takes in injured or orphaned African animals and raises them, often keeping them in captivity for life. We were able to see baboons, lions, caracal, leopards, cheetahs, and wild African dogs. Aside from baboons, these animals are some of the most endangered in the country and very few people get to see them. The readings for class this week had focused around human wildlife conflict. Thus, the reserve gave us the opportunity to see examples of the victims of this conflict. The animals housed in the reserve mostly ended up there because they had made their way into farms or private land and were either hurt, orphaned, or brought into the reserve by the farmers who refuse to have them on their land. The experience greatly helped to ground the readings of the week and it was easy to understand why the country of Namibia has difficulty in navigating human wildlife conflict.
The rest of the week went as scheduled. In history, we discussed anti-racism and how the movement has developed in Namibia. We had a guest speaker who was originally from the United States come in and explain the comparisons between the two societies. After he left, the students engaged in a spontaneous conversation at lunch about the speaker and his lecture. We were critical of his experiences and his opinions on women’s rights, environmental law, and LGBTQIA+ rights. In our politics class, we talked about democratization. Using Zimbabwe as an example, we discussed leadership, corruption, state sponsored violence, voting, etc. It is interesting to look at case studies from countries in the region and have them be so drastically different than they are when I read about neighbouring countries back home in the United States. It is a powerful reminder of where I am, how grateful I am to be here, and the depth of life and history in this place.
Some of the dunes at the inner most part of Sossuvlei  The trees and clay flats
can be seen in the distance.
Despite the incredible experiences of the week, the most powerful activity I participated in was a weekend camping excursion to Sossuvlei. Sossuvlei is a park where many of the most famous dunes in Namibia can be seen. It is about a 6-hour drive South from Windhoek. Five of the students rented a four-wheel drive truck with rooftop tents and booked a campsite to. We drove through the most rural and the most beautiful roads I have ever seen. The topography in Namibia changes about every 100 km, so we would go from driving in mountains to driving through the flat drylands. When we arrived at Sossuvlei, we entered the park and made our way to the dunes. They stretch higher than I ever thought possible. We stopped at one with a beautiful ridge and tried to hike it, before realizing that what we thought to be the top, was only about the halfway point. We also drove into the main part of the park where the biggest dunes are and there is a clay flat petrified forest. In the United States, I grew up in a state park in the forested hills of Massachusetts. We would regularly spend entire days outside, hiking, biking, collecting leaves, etc. I consider myself to be fairly well versed in the ways of nature. However, my experience at Sossuvlei was truly humbling in this way. Certainly, I never believed myself to know everything or be ready for everything this trip will show me. However, I sincerely do not think I could have prepared myself for the experiences I had in Sossuvlei.
I entered this week with the expectation that it would serve me as a week to reflect, which it certainly has. Additionally however, it has also empowered me to keep exploring Namibia on my own, to seek the things not sought. I am so grateful for my experiences this week as they have once again made me understand myself and the world more fully.

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.