Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Week Five: Home Far Away from Home

by Hannah Davidson & Clara Randimbiarimanana

One of the best parts of studying abroad is the homestays, it is a special way to emerge into a new culture and also to learn in an unstructured and experiential way. Homestays are a period of time in which we are matched with a family and given the opportunity to live with them and get to know the culture through people that quickly become our extended family. Last week was our second homestay with CGEE after Soweto in Johannesburg. For this home stay most of us were matched with families in Katutura and Khomasdal, which are areas on the out skirts of Windhoek.  

Clara’s Week:

My host family is Tswana speaking and has lived in Katutura for as long as three or four generations. I only learned so much in such a short period of time during my stay there. My host mom is very passionate about social justice and women equality in Namibia and she was kind enough to share her experiences with me.

"This is a picture of my host mom
and myself after church", Clara.
Like in many other countries, gender inequality is still a big issue in Namibia. Women sometimes are expected to follow certain social norms and expectations. One of the questions I was asking was about young Namibian women clothing standard. My host mom usually wears a dress, which looks really nice but I was just wondering if it was her personal choice. However, she said that it all started when she got married because dresses are seen as respectful clothing and “lady like”; thus her husband expected her to wear dresses even though she did not like it in the first place. Although I’m aware that not all Namibian women have had the same experiences, her story made me think about gender expectations in general and the way women internalize and accommodate to social expectations. The cultural values associated with gender sometimes start as simple as clothing, but can go all the way to what is the “normal” way for women to behave. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge the power dynamics behind the perception of gender role in general and the space of socialization such us: culture, background and family. Family is the primary place of perceptions about different concepts. 

During my homestay, I see my mom doing most of the chores: cooking, cleaning, serving, etc. and I can’t help but think that this phenomenon is not exclusive to Namibia, because I see a lot of similarities in the household I grew up in. Each and every one in the family is assigned a certain role. The issue is that that’s where women start to develop their identity according to the type of family and culture that they grow up in. In short, my host mom experience is very unique and I could not generalize all the Namibian women as being the same. However, this experience made me realize about the socialization and formation of concepts like gender and cultural identity.

Hannah’s Week:
Throughout this trip I have met some amazing children, especially in the last week. We were staying with host families, and I had the pleasure of having an energy filled eight-year-old sister.
This week I also started at my internship, which means I met my 20 five- and six-year-old students. I am an education major, so many kids have come in and out of my life, always seeming to shake things up for me a bit, and make me look at things in a new light. But this was a different sort of shaking up that my past with kids hadn’t been able to prepare me for.

I walked in to my first day of being a real live teacher with a backpack full of tricks, a white skirt, and candy jar with a skittle for anyone who followed the rules. I left at noon with a backpack of broken and ripped tricks, a light tan skirt, and a full candy jar. Even a game of duck, duck, goose had miserably failed. My first day as a real teacher was less then successful, but it was only the first day and I had quickly realized that teaching these students in the same way I would teach a class of students in the US was not going to cut it. I left feeling unsure of how I was going to actually be a sufficient teacher for these kids. 

Hannah's host home for the week.
As my week continued I felt blessed to have my host sister and mom to go home to. My host sister was rambunctious, but the cozy feeling of family and being loved gave me energy. Every night my sister would play with my hair as we would co-read a chapter book together. Being able to have this comfortable space to call home was probably why my patience continued to surprise me with my students. 

I survived all three of my internship days with some sort of grace and I hadn’t completely wrecked the kids yet, so there were definitely positives in my week. I found myself comparing what my students and host sister knew and how they learned to students that I had worked with in schools in the US. My students here struggled to sit through a whole picture book and my host sister was taught subtraction in a way I had never thought of before. The idea that context has a direct effect on how students learn and actually do school has definitely been ingrained in my mind going to school to be a teacher, but seeing it like this was a whole other thing. Trying to consider if a book will actually fit in my students frames of reference or letting my host sister show me how she does her math homework are some of the things that I know are going to make me a better educator now and in the future. As I continue to learn (and struggle with) these children that are coming in and out of my life, I hope I can learn how to be the teacher that they need, rather then getting frustrated that they aren't the students I am used to. 

This last week was one, that for most of us, we will share and grow from for many months. Although each of us had vastly different experiences, we were given an opportunity to learn and explore a new culture in a way that pushed us outside our comfort zones or made us wonder and question. This is something that is truly invaluable.  We are so blessed to be welcomed into these families’ homes and lives. 

Week Four: Hooked on Windhoek: Introduction to Namibia

by Jeremiah Chamberlin & Hannah Johnson

At the beginning of the week, the CGEE group had the opportunity to engage with students from the University of Namibia (UNAM) in an informal discussion. This became an invaluable experience; for many of us, it was the first time we were able to interact with Namibian peers and dually analyze some the experiences that have shaped our lives as students. The topics of discussion ranged from our favorite hobbies and involvement in campus life, to deeper issues such as racism and discrimination on campus.

One of the topics that emerged from conversation are the barriers to accessing education at the collegiate level. For many of us at CGEE, we echoed the idea that financial considerations present the largest challenge in the United States, compounded by the realities of institutional racism and economically diverse backgrounds. From the perspective of the UNAM students, race did not play as important a role in college choice and acceptance rate. However, they did emphasize the role of the education system in Namibia, especially concerning regions outside of Windhoek. It was surprising to learn that the quality of teachers and curriculums is low in many regions, and this has impacted the demographics of students that attend college. For example, particularly in the Northern regions, teachers are underpaid and schools are understaffed. From both the US and Namibian perspectives, we were surprised on how many similarities we were able to draw between education systems.

On Tuesday, our group spilt into subgroups to explore the various facets that Katutura, a former black township in Windhoek, has to offer. We received itineraries for the day and were accompanied by guides from Young Achievers, a local youth organization. On this ‘Katutura Quest,’ we visited a diversity of both government and non-government organizations and programs that are involved in the community. One such program is the Katutura Community Arts Center, which is open to the public. Within the arts center is the College of the Arts (COTA).

During our tour, we had the opportunity to sit in on a staff/student meeting where the changing financial policies of the college were discussed. Many of the challenges that small colleges face while moving forward are connected to some of the topics we discussed with the UNAM students on Monday regarding education. Among the concerns is the increasing cost of tuition as a government-subsidized college, which has put pressure on many students of low-income backgrounds.

In our interview with Joost Van de Port, head of the Media Department at COTA, he explained that the college and students need be able to gain more agency to receive national recognition from the state. Currently, COTA is not listed under the Ministry of Education, and therefore, not seen as a priority. As Van de Port explains, the college is in the process of gaining status to be listed under the Ministry of Education, which allows greater funding for the college, particularly from the National Arts Council. Van de Port claims that media literacy, particularly under the department of the Media, Arts, and Technology, is crucial for all Namibians to learn. 

Those of us with internships began officially on Wednesday, with a full day at our individual organizations. These included The Namibian Chamber of Commerce, Planned Parenthood, Namibian Women’s Health Network, Friendly Haven (for victims of domestic violence), along with a number of others. Because many of these organizations work with vulnerable populations, these first few days of interning were emotional for some individuals. For a few of us this meant hearing heartbreaking stories of domestic abuse; for others, it means coming face to face with the inadequate funding and understaffing of specific educational institutions. Naturally, it’s not all negative; there are organizations like Sister Namibia which are doing incredible work to empower Namibian women in surprising ways, while simultaneously challenging gender stereotypes. Collectively, these shared experiences are giving us a fuller, more complex understanding of the Namibian story.

One of the highlights of this week would have to be Thursday’s ‘Community Day’, held at the Elisenheim Guest Farm. While we may have complained about waking up early, the day became an insightful opportunity to reflect on our experiences. The day also gave us the chance to get closer to those we are sharing our experiences with, especially other members of the CGEE staff (specifically Evelyn, Jenobie, Sarah, and Passat). Initially playing games like ‘Seven’ (learned from our Katatura tour guides), the day began on a relaxed, informal note. We shared simple secrets about ourselves, like facts about our families or our favorite memories. It was a welcome reprieve from the emotionally intense schedule of Johannesburg. 

Elisenheim Guest Farm on Community Day.
ables are set up for our various identity stations.
However, as the activities progressed, the subject matter became much more personal. Entering ‘identity stations’, individuals were asked to share in small groups their personal feelings on aspects of their identity, such as race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, class, and nationality. Many of us were reduced to tears in the process of hearing each other’s deeply held thoughts and emotions, yet the overall sentiment was one of openness and acceptance. 

Friday marked the first day of actual class: Race and Resistance in Southern Africa and the US taught by Albertina. This included a field trip to the Owela Museum, which records the lifestyles, cultures and practices of Namibia’s indigenous tribes. The museum also addresses some of the injustices faced by these groups, like those suffered by the San people. Dubbed ‘Bushmen’ by early German colonizers, members of the San were considered evidence of the ‘missing link’ theory connecting apes and humans. In an effort to record data on what they considered an evolutionarily incomplete group, German ‘scientists’ made molds and casts of San people’s faces and body parts. Skewed information was then published, propagating racist narratives of white supremacy which are sadly still influential even today.

Molds of actual San people created for the Germans'
racist interpretation of the 'missing link' theory.
Despite the tragic reality of colonization and discrimination, the Owela museum remains an important place for appreciating Namibian history and heritage. Named after a board game common among many Namibian tribes (similar to Mancala), Owela stands as both a tangible and symbolic representation of the larger Namibian identity. The shared story of the nation is as beautifully haunting as the unique communal experiences which are braided into its past. As we acclimate ourselves to this new environment, we begin our journey backwards in time to the tumultuous formative age of disillusionment.

Week Three: Cape Town and Windhoek

by Clara Randimbiarimanana & Anne-Claire Merkle-Scotland

Our last week in Cape Town, I felt increasingly comfortable in the city and as if there was no end of things for us to do. We took some trips as a group to learn about the very complex and real injustices that South Africans continue to face throughout the country, especially the disturbing disparity of wealth, and the apparent segregation of blacks and whites that still continues even twenty-two years after the end of apartheid.

On Monday, we visited a community organization that was truly inspiring. The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project is without a doubt an unbelievably uplifting experience, for both educating us as visitors, and for the work they have done for the community. An incredible example of what strong women can accomplish, the organization began during the end of apartheid when a group of single mothers raised the funds and taught themselves how to build houses as a way of lifting themselves and their families out of severe poverty. One woman told us a story about how she set the roof on her house while six months pregnant, and how she built that house for her children, and someday it will be their house.  Twenty-two years later, we also met with the children of the women who created the housing project, and they shared their visions of the world and educational accomplishments as credit to their mothers, who relentlessly worked to better the community and the future of their children all on their own. In addition to building houses for their families and the community, the women of Victoria Mxenge also have built a community center and playground, so their work continues to have a lasting impact on the people all around them. I was truly astounded and inspired by the work of these strong women, and the impact they have had on their children, their neighbors, and the world.
Cape Town is full of tourists, beautiful sites, great food, a fun night life, incredible people, and rampant economic and social inequity. Exposed to all these things during our time in the city, leaving Cape Town was very bittersweet. While excited to travel to Windhoek and begin this next chapter of our study abroad experience, I was also sad to be leaving a place where I had truly begun to feel close to our group and started to feel comfortable. 

The city of Windhoek is very different from Cape Town. It is smaller in size and quieter than the busy nightlife we experienced beforehand. Namibia as a whole is far smaller than South Africa. The country is about the size of California yet has a population of only 1.8 million people. Windhoek has so much to offer, though, and in the first few hours I tried to take in as much as I could about the city and what is available to us these next few months. 

On the second day in Namibia, we were just dropped off in downtown Windhoek in groups of three and told to explore different parts of the city. It was a great way to get our feet wet to our journey in Namibia. Windhoek is a great city; not too overwhelming, it has its own pace and beauty: a beauty that is usually left untold by the mainstream narrative. The media usually portrays Africa based of is based of the years of colonialism, slavery, missionary. Of course, the world’s perception of Africa is dominated by the mess media which does not give much credit to the progress achieved after these years of exploitation. In the case of Namibia for instance, the last country to get its independence, it made so much progress since 1990 than the media is giving credit for. During the short amount of time we have been in the city, there are so many tall buildings and we also saw the independence museum right in the heart of the city. However, that it also where the former concentration camp for the Herero people (one of Namibian’s tribes). As an outsider, I think of it to be somehow symbolic; acknowledging the past, learning from it but celebrating their independence as well.

Our exploration of Windhoek was followed by our driving tour of the city. It was great entering the Single Quarters’ Market in Katutura and visiting different shops. The market’s feel, or the way it is structured, reminded me a lot of Antananarivo’s market in Madagascar on Fridays. How informal markets are set up always amazes me because they are so accessible for people from different social status and different tribes as well. So the market is not only a place where people get daily supplies but really a safe space for diversity. It amazes me how they navigate through different languages, and everyone just speaks a bit of someone else’s language. Namibia has 10 official languages (Oshiwambo, Nama/Damara, Afrikaans Otjiherero, Kavango, Caprivi, English, German, San) and a Namibian speaks at least 3.  Most people that we interacted with spoke but some did not, though they could understand each other really well regardless of their origins.

One of the greatest moments in the market of Katutura as well is the meat market. They sell a tomato salad with a Chakalaka sauce next to the raw meat tale where they sell Barbeque as well. That was probably the best snack I have had in such a long time. Slightly outside the main market, there were many places that cut raw meat as well that makes me wonder if beef meat is a big thing in Katutura people’s daily life. My first impression of Katutura was just amazing, it’s alive. Many people are walking in the street, yet it is not a big city for that matter. You would hear Namibian songs from the households. In short, it’s a lively place!

While far different from our experiences in South Africa, we have settled in our final destination, and have eagerly been learning about everything this new city has to offer. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Week Two: The Unseen Colors of the Rainbow Nation

by Imani Briscoe & Kitty McGirr

I remember waiting for my flight not two weeks ago genuinely envisioning what this “rainbow nation” was going to look like once I landed in Johannesburg. Now as we conclude our time here in South Africa, I am beginning to appreciate that what lays beneath this widely propagated ideal is much more complex, nuanced and problematic than the romanticized image I and many others with a similarly elementary understanding of post-apartheid South Africa would imagine this so-called rainbow nation to be. 

The varied nature of our activities and conversations on the program so far is indicative of the diversity of views and circumstances among the people of South Africa. However, while at face value this diversity supports the dominant narrative of South Africa as a rainbow nation, upon closer examination one begins to recognize that formerly institutionally separate racial groups are not suddenly coexisting harmoniously with one another now that apartheid has ended. In fact, the majority of what I have seen on the program so far suggests almost the opposite. Rather than achieving real unity and equity in the post-apartheid era, the many colorful identities comprising this so-called rainbow nation seem in some ways to be just as far removed from and unequal to each other as what was previously instituted under the apartheid system.  

In addition, it is very intriguing that, even with the acknowledged importance of the history of South Africa’s “Rainbow Nation”, discussions surrounding the indigenous people and colonization of what is now known as Cape Town rarely occur. Most of what we find in the American education history books regarding the changes Cape Town has gone through seems to focus on the racial issues of blacks and whites.  There is little to no conversation about the people who originally lived, loved and lost before the social constructs of race dominated the historical narratives; narratives such that influenced the process of colonization , which has very much impacted current day Cape Town. This past week we took a walking tour of the city of Cape Town with Lucy and Kadijah from Transcending History Tours, and learned a plethora of information about the way of life before and during colonial settlement and were given an opportunity to discover the untold story of Cape Town’s first people, the khoi-san.

Our tour took us through many notable areas including the first colonial settlement in the area, the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town City Centre which holds some historic markers pertaining to the slave trade prior to the 1834 emancipation, and the well-known Iziko Slave Lodge which housed slaves from all over the world during the slave trade.

In every building we entered, every short filmed viewed, and every monument we paid respect to, I thought of Cape Town’s historical parallels to what was happening in the United States of America during the same time. It is illuminating to learn that on the other side of the world the same methods of racial division through systematic control and oppression were being implemented. It’s interesting to consider how both regions were shaped by the countless issues that colonization and devastation left behind. As a black American and proponent of black-consciousness, with no known blood relative connections to the Africa as a whole, I, Imani, have heard about the same kind of oppression and slavery time and time again on American soil and therefore felt like I shared a common history with those people who went through the same struggles as my ancestors did, just in another place of the world.

After leaving our homestay families in Soweto, we travelled to the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, a city traditionally associated with and populated by Afrikaner people. Upon arrival we met with the deputy director of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, JC van der Merwe for a discussion on the history of the campus as well as the issues facing the institution at present. One detail that I found particularly striking was the fact that no formal pressure was placed on UFS or any higher education institution in South Africa to desegregate their campuses after 1994. In fact, according to van de Merwe, the residences of UFS were still racially segregated as early as 2007. I was moved by this information for two reasons. Firstly, I was immediately reminded of the parallels between South Africa’s failure to desegregate its educational system and the language of Brown v. Board of Education in the US whereby the Supreme Court only required schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”. Secondly, I was struck by how incongruous the politicized idea of a rainbow nation was to the reality on the ground in South Africa. Thirteen years after the ANC led the liberation struggle to overturn apartheid, white students at this university were still resisting administration mandates to integrate. 

The last activity for our day at UFS involved taking a tour around campus with two students we had met previously at a group discussion about our respective experiences as university students. One of our tour guides was keen to relay to me her experience being part of the first racially mixed female residence on the campus, which she described as a genuine “sisterhood”. However, the visual landscape of the campus was again at odds with the widely proliferated image of the rainbow nation, the narrative of unified racial integration and even the story my tour guide relayed to me about her mixed residence minutes before the tour began. Walking around the campus I did not see one mixed race friendship nor did I notice any white students present at a growing gathering of protestors demonstrating for higher wages for black workers on campus. Confused at what ostensibly looked like a state of enduring racial separation in the university community, I asked our guide if it was at all unusual that we hadn’t seen any interracial friend groups on our tour. Her response was a disheartening one: “No, it’s not unusual. People still don’t really mix”. These words, for me, were symbolic of the countless discrepancies I have witnessed in these two short weeks here in South Africa with regard to the romanticized ideal of a rainbow nation and the enduring reality of chronic racial inequality in the post-apartheid era.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Week One: Reflections on the Motherland

by Chiara White-Mink & Anne-Claire Merkle-Scotland

Apartheid ended 22 years ago when the first democratic elections were held in 1994, the same year I was born. For a nation that experienced so much horror in throughout apartheid these elections marked a new era of possibility and prosperity. That hope was shared throughout the world, when the message of a newly united nation travelled half-way across the world to the classrooms and schools I attended. However as residents and students in the United States, we should be well aware that change, especially social change, may take years and even generations to truly happen. Therefore, we were exposed to the realities of post-apartheid South Africa and the continuously growing economic challenges and disparities faced by South Africans, particularly the black citizens still facing severe effects from Apartheid.

Apartheid was crippling for black families, communities, and individuals by destroying communities and separating blacks from whites and sending them to specified “townships”areas of land outside of the cities where black people were confined to. Accessing medical care, education, and transportation cost money, and all the resources designated to blacks were far inferior in quality to the resources offered to white people only a few miles away. Blacks could not travel outside of their designated community, as well as work, attend school, or do almost anything without a permit.

Our current educational practices are a reflection of eurocentricity, intrinsically perpetuating the marginalization of communities of color and rendering us invisible in educational spheres. Blackness is positioned as the antithesis to whiteness and is thus implicitly framed as deficient and pathological. This is absolutely not indicative of Paulo Freire’s vision of education as a tool for liberation and social change. Instead, this exhibits an immensely problematic model of education that enables the success of the privileged at the expense of the oppressed. I, unfortunately, was unable to conceptualize my educational experiences as such until I began my collegiate career. I was provided with the space to critically reflect on my schooling, paying close attention to how aspects of my identity (such as race, gender, class, etc.) impacted what privileges and opportunities I was afforded and what I was deprived of. As a Black woman, I was faced with the harsh reality of oppression on the basis of race and gender. The most potent example of deprivation I can think of is the lack of culturally relevant material/the inability of educational spaces to centralize African-Indigenous belief systems as a method to empower students of color and expose white students to an undervalued world view; and subsequently, the expectation for students of color to assimilate to hegemonic notions about success.

Thus, my trip to the continent of Africa signifies my journey to increased critical consciousness, psychological emancipation and self-love, a revolutionary act. Education is intricately connected to our sense of humanity and I desperately sought an educational outlet that not only recognized, but honored my humanity. I concluded that this program attempted to a foster a space grounded in anti-oppressive ideology and actions that reflect intentionality and purpose. The first week of the program was spent in Johannesburg, South Africa where we went on various field trips to become critically acquainted with the country. I was deeply disturbed by the failure of my educational systems to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the struggle for liberation here and in the United States, or rather acknowledge the plight of people of color beyond the United States, period. It is also important to highlight the manner in which information is presented as well. Schools, as I have articulated above, typically convey information in immensely problematic ways (the dominant narrative), often excluding vital narratives and potent perspectives. Thus, I felt beyond privileged to hear about events here in South Africa from the voices of people directly involved, because I know that my educational spaces are lacking. One thing in particular I have been marinating on is the role of ordinary people in worldwide liberation struggles. This stood out to me on our visits to the Hector Pieterson museum and Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre. At Orange Farm, we had the opportunity hear from people on the micro level about issues that impacted their community. For once, leaders who rose to national prominence were decentralized and it was more about the work ordinary people are doing to provide for their communities. They actually shared their thoughts on one leader we have all been conditioned to love—Nelson Mandela. I am not attempting to refute his importance or discredit his accomplishments, but I was forced to critically analyze Mandela in a way like never before—in a way that countered the dominant narrative surrounding his political reign. The Hector Pieterson museum was especially interesting because we got to speak directly to Antoinette Sithole, a key player in the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising that resulted in the death of her brother. It is about time that we recognize the bravery and resilience of everyday people who are not necessarily internationally known or praised. 

Through visits to communities such as Orange Farm, located about an hour outside of Johannesburg, we saw and heard about the enormous problems within education and employment that poor communities are still facing even 22 years after the country was supposedly desegregated. With little resources offered from the government, schools continue to suffer from overcrowding and lack of materials, while adults and young adults are facing high rates of unemployment and lack of opportunities. Speaking to citizens, we learned how frustrated black South Africans are with the lack of economic mobility since the end of Apartheid. Still stuck in an oppressive and vicious cycle of poverty, many citizens have given up on expecting the government to create real effective change after so many years of what many view as false promises. One of our speakers Molefi Mataboge said it best when he stated “When politicians talk, we must listen not to what they’re saying, but to what they’re not saying.”

Coming to South Africa, I was expecting to see the land of Nelson Mandela and an integrated society somewhat free from the obstructions of apartheid, and constantly moving forward to maintain that promise of democracy shared throughout the world for years after apartheid ended. My experiences this week however showed me how much farther this great nation needs to go to truly see economic prosperity and opportunity for all of its citizens, and the serious changes that need to be made in order to make this happen.

The honorable Steve Biko once said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” I have recognized that education thus far has been the practice of domination—keeping me ignorant, silent, and perpetuating social inequities. I am here to build upon what I have been unlearning in the U.S. and am ready to take back my mind from the oppressor, by any means necessary.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Week Fifteen: Until We Meet Again

by: Kayla Koterwski

Week one of this semester abroad we were asked to sign up to write two blog posts over the course of the semester. The blog posts were set on a weekly basis and I distinctly remember looking through the listed dates and deciding that the last week's blog post would be a fun time for reflection.

A lot has happened since that first week. A LOT. We have traveled all across Namibia, traveled across Southern Africa on various spring break trips, had our fair share of illnesses, experienced various forms of grief whilst a world away from our home and comfort zones, and heard/walked in stories we never could've imagined. Amongst the 19 students and 1 International Resident Advisor participating in the CGEE Southern Africa program this semester, we have seen, loved, and learned more than that first week could have ever allowed us the knowledge to foresee. And now we sit, four months completed and a final day left before our returns state-side or to continue on in further travels, regardless leaving us to say our farewells to this place, this community, and the routines we have come to find a home in. 

It is an odd moment of reflection, to state the least. To have finally reached that time we always knew was coming but felt often was a long distance away from whatever present we lived within. 

Throughout this semester each of us have been engaged and challenged through conversation with one another and the strangers we have encountered, through speakers and presentations, and through attempts to navigate life, history, and complexity in a foreign context.

This afternoon we spent some time in the beautiful Parliament Gardens reflecting on our time here and preparing for our return home with a "re-entry session". We shared some of our favorite memories and the things we have learned, but also some of the very real fears of returning to a home that has lived and moved on without us throughout the months of our absence. It's a little (maybe a lot) terrifying. After four months of becoming not only close housemates, but family, with twenty strangers and more including CGEE staff, a hefty load of various emotions, some homesickness, and more laughter than one can put into a calculation we are now preparing to say a farewell that comes with a heavy load of uncertainty. It's scary, sad, and exciting stuff. 

We leave this place and all the people we have come to love and be loved by not knowing what comes next, but holding close to our hearts the memories of a semester that has significantly impacted each of us in ways we still do not know the full depth of. 

As we end this final post, we would like to leave with you all a poem written by one of our students and a co-author of this blog assignment:

From the onset of that first storm
I spent my minutes and hours
Begging for home
Walking numbly through unfamiliar streets
I thought home a sight never to come
A desperate longing for a sight 
That was blinding
Binding me to my bruises
For as I spent my hours aching
The stories of this city
Of this young country
Seen far too much grief
Was healing me
Holding me in its dust
Confiding in me its stories
The secrets she must forever hold
In rebuilding bone
This small nation of freedom fighters
Story-livers and storytellers
Has become my new comfort zone 

- Kayla Koterwski

Week Fourteen: Continuing on the Path of Decolonizing Our Minds

by: Ashly Brun, Molly Weilbacher & Sydney Wipperfurth

With just two final weeks left of the semester, it really sank in with the CGEE students that our time in Namibia is coming to an end. Most people said goodbye to their internships, co-workers and for the most part our classes. Last week we had two incredible learning experiences in our Development and History classes. For Development, we visited the International Organization for Migration (IOM) where we learned about the reality of refugee and migration issues in Namibia. In History class we had Mr. Forrest P. Branch, an economist, and Pastor Tyrone M. Cushman (both originally from the states) speak to us about Africa’s economy, the question of “why Africa is so poor,” the civil rights movement, what it means to be black in America, and the issue of race both in specifically Southern Africa and the U.S.

Our visitor passes when we went
to the International Organiza-
tion for Migrantion.
As defined on the United Nations Namibia website, “the IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search of practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need…” The IOM established their in-country presence in 2011 after a flood displaced a significant number of Namibians ("International Organization for Migration." Namibia. ). We learned that there is a refugee camp in Northern Namibia which, at this time, is home to about 5,000 refugees. Originally, there were about 25,000 refugees, but the majority of those has been either relocated or repatriated by the Namibian state and incorporated into Namibian society. Although, we did learn that because of some xenophobia in the country, resettling of refugees and migrants into Namibia can be a difficult and lengthy process. After learning about societal difficulties with migration in the Namibian context, we learned more about the legacies of racism and the difficulties experienced by those during segregation, in our history class. 

History class challenged all of us to face the reality and legacy of racism and resistance. Forest Branch, our speaker, told us he moved to Africa when he was 25 and has lived here for the past twenty years. He spoke to us about what it means to be a black American in Africa: that while he is not African, he feels more at home and at ease here than when he visits the States. He spoke specifically about how he feels safer to be black here, with an especially chilling remark: “If I get shot here, or put in jail, it won’t be because I’m black.” Hearing about his experiences here really brought home what we have been studying in our history class in terms of the difference of race relations in North America and Southern Africa. 

Furthermore, Forest is also an extremely successful economist and business owner. He spoke about the history of colonization in Africa and how it set Africa up for its current day problems: for example, how Africa went from over 6,000 diverse kingdoms to becoming consolidated into 53 countries, creating false borders and conflicts. Because of Africa’s history of colonization and oppression by foreigners, Forest argued, the “biggest thing that has impacted Africa is the lack of self-confidence," the self-confidence to run companies, to be employees that take initiative, and the self-confidence to exist in the public sphere. He spoke a lot about foreign aid to Africa and the question of where does it go and who does it actually serve. He spoke about foreign trade agreements, saying “80% of problems we have in Africa are imbalances in trade, 20% is with political instability, and half of those instabilities are caused by interference from the U.S.” He spoke about how absolutely rich Africa could be if it didn’t have an imbalance in paternalistic trade agreements with Western countries who extract Africa’s natural resources for purely their own benefits. It was so important to hear someone speak critically about Namibia’s economy and situate that in the larger economic issues of African countries. The narrative Forest offered was integral for us to hear as it is vital to deconstruct the common narrative and myths about Africa’s economic status. 

Forest brought along his friend and mentor, Pastor Kushman, who spoke to us about his experiences in the civil rights movement, race issues in America, and what it means to be black in America versus Africa. His speech brought home our whole experience at the CGEE. The room fell silent as we attentively listened to Pastor Kushman. He described how he marched alongside Dr. King in Michigan just a week before his “I Have a Dream” speech. He read passages from his book in which he explained how he felt as a black American who fought in the Civil Rights movement when Pres. Obama was elected for his first term in office. We all had goosebumps–you could feel the energy in the air as he so passionately recounted history. He spoke about the church’s role in combating racism, and how "the worse racism of all is the racism that uses God as the cover." He called on white people, specifically white churches, to take cue from fellow black churches to combat racism. He spoke about how "in order to get to the root of change we need to deal with cause and effect, we need to deal with cultures and the good and bad," and the difference in the upbringing of a black child versus white child. 

The radical voices of both Forest and Pastor Cushman commanded the attention of the whole room, and really made each student reflect upon the reality we are re-entering at home, after spending four months studying the reality of race in Southern Africa. We had experienced people opening old wounds to share their story of oppression, and people who were willing to share their culture with us. We were called upon to remember our duties are not done, that we still need to fight, and decolonize our minds as the issue of racism in America is rampant. We need to feel equipped to stay alert and challenge issues of racism, economic, and social inequality back home. 
In order to challenge issues of racism and inequality back home, it’s vital that we recognize our position as anti-racists. In order address racism, we need to recognize racism within ourselves. Recognizing racism within yourself requires introspection and a capacity to critique oneself. However, recognizing is not enough. Here is where we call for anti-racism. Being anti-racist requires that you actively oppose racist actions, structures, and institutions and recognize your position of power in those institutions.