Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Week Nine: Rural Homestay

by: Beatrice Misher, Dashawn Peterson, Molly Weilbacher

On Tuesday, March 22nd our group woke up at 5am, brushed the sleep from our eyes and tried to conquer our nervous energy, to depart for an eight-hour drive up north to Outapi, Namibia. As the hours went by, the temperature increased but so did our excitement. We finally got to meet each of our families and were welcomed with loving smiles and high energy, even though we were four hours late. CGEE students hopped in the beds of trucks as we departed into the sunset to see our families’ homesteads and what our life would be like for the next week.

We each found ourselves on homesteads, based off of the traditional Oshiwambo homestead structure. Each of our homesteads had a few man-made cement structures, but the rest of the homestead was set up in a maze of wooden fences leading to different huts that were each used for a distinct purpose: cooking, storing food, drinking tea, living and sleeping, and mahango pounding. Our families had common crops on our farms, including mahango—a grain used to make porridge, which is central to our families’ diet and can be found at all meals. Their farms also included watermelon, beans, and corn, and animals including cattle, donkeys, goats, chickens, dogs, and pigs. Our families all cooked meals over the fire. As the sun set, they would start preparing the food to put on the fire. Many of us experienced eating by torchlight, or guided by the light of the moon and stars, since there was no electricity. We would go to the bathroom in outhouses outside the homestead with a long drop toilet, and if we had to pee we would typically pee in the same area we washed. We would wash by dunking our hair in a basin and splashing water onto ourselves in a secluded area both blocked by the house and by a maze of sticks.  We would often be in bed by 10pm at the latest, due to exhaustion from the intense heat. 

After our first night with our families, we were picked up by the CGEE vans and all went to the Outapi War Museum—the museum was a converted bunker originally used by the South African Defense Force during their fight against the liberation struggle. Outapi has a rich history when studying the liberation of Namibia because it was where the bulk of the war for liberation took place. SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) was the liberation party that fought against the South African Defense Forces against Apartheid in what was then South-West Africa, and has been the ruling party since 1989. PLAN (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia), the military arm of SWAPO had their military base in Angola, and Outapi being so close to the border of Angola meant that many civilians were caught in the crossfire between the South African Defense Force and PLAN. At the museum, we were guided by the director who joined SWAPO at the age of fourteen to help fight for Namibia’s liberation. We also got the chance to meet two women who were teachers during the war, who spoke to us about their duties and involvement with SWAPO and the equal gender breakdown within the SWAPO. It was very surreal to speak to people who helped Namibia gain independence, who reminded us how fresh this history still is—so fresh that many people are still dealing with PTSD from the war, and still have a hard time sharing this piece of loaded history with others. Many of our host families spoke of their involvement during the war, from hiding supplies in the fields for SWAPO members in exile, to getting tortured by the South African army. 

At the end of our week we all came together with our host families to celebrate and thank our families for their hospitality. They lent us traditional Oshiwambo dress for the occasion and we ate traditional food prepared by our host mothers. Both the students and the families expressed how grateful they were for this partnership and the chance to learn and connect with other cultures. The connections we made with each of our families allowed us to have varied experiences and reflections. In the paragraph below you will find a personal reflection from each of us about our homestay, as it is important to nuance the experience:

Bea: I stayed with Mame Naango and Tate Tobias, along with their children. My host family welcomed me into their way of life for the week, sharing their daily routines with me and family history. Something I struggled with over the course of my stay was the ethics of our homestay experiences. We as American students entered these welcoming homes ready to learn and broaden our perspectives, but what were we giving back in return?. Before both my urban and rural homestay this was something I consciously considered, and tried to carry out by sharing stories of my home and lived experience when they were gracious enough to share with me. However at times the inequality of the exchange became apparent such as the fact that we were sent to our homestays with boxes of food that the family would not normally keep in their house, or when I pulled out bug spray one night and realized it was a luxury to my homestay family, even though they are the ones living in a malaria-prone part of the world.

DayDay: Comfortability and access are things I take for granted, and was a big aspect of the rural homestay in my opinion. Living in an apartment building where water and electricity is included I took for granted that privilege. Going up north having to take a bucket shower with limited water and having very little electricity really pushed me out of my comfort zone but also made me reflect how spoiled I am to be living the way I do in America. I was able to experience the world through different lenses and realize that the way the American society believes life should be lived is not the only way to live.

Molly: My time at the homestead made me think about how we choose to qualify life. Watching my family take a break from 11am - 4pm, sitting under the tree together because it is too hot to do anything else made me anxious, as I was itching to do something. I realized that my discomfort came from the fact that I’m not used to just sitting and being with one another, as I come from an American mentality that is so focused on how much you do, how many people you see, how much you buy as a means of measuring how successful one’s day is. We view how much we produce and our outputs as a way of qualifying our daily lives, whereas in my homestead my family was content with sitting and letting the heat pass because there is a different emphasis on what the success of a daily routine means. I ended up loving sitting, eating watermelon, drinking cola, watching the sun move, and playing soccer when it got cool enough. It made me realize how important it is to constantly be checking our internal biases--even around something as abstract but real as the quality of life.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Week Eight: The Many Shifting Layers of Identity

by: Amanda Siskind, Katie Bosse & Monique Lillis

Ashly, a female identifying person,
and Patrick, a male identifying person,
showing how gender is often identified by
a person’s clothing and physical appearance.
In our classes this week, as well as throughout our time in Windhoek, we’ve been talking a lot about identity. At the start of her presentation, Immaculate Mogotsi took Taylor and Monique to the front of the room and asked, “What do you see?” The class identified them as male and female based on hairstyle and clothing. This exercise was intended to help students understand the difference between gender and sex. As we discussed that day, sex is the biological organs that leave a person with male or female organs or genitals; or a combination of the two. A person is born with their sex, however gender is part of a person’s identity and the identity they typically ascribe to is defined by their culture. For example, Monique identifies as female and she could be identified as such by the dress she wore, and her long hair. However, gender roles are not fixed, they are different in every society; therefore, there is not one identity for females in Namibia because there are many different tribes that ascribe different roles to a woman. For example, we learned from Sara, one of the staff members, that in the Himba tribe the women are in charge of taking care of the livestock while in the Owambo tribe it is a duty ascribed to men. This is just one example of how the identity of women and men and the gender roles that are given to these categories are culture-based and different around the world. 

Identity is not only defined by the cultures into which we are born, but also by the cultures in which we immerse ourselves. For example, in a country entrenched with racist and classist social boundaries, as well as visible physical contrasts, we as Americans have a unique ability to exist in both spaces as third party persons without the label of direct oppressor or oppressed. As we are learning, Namibia’s history has been one of colonialism and genocide of native Namibians by both the Germans and the South African apartheid regime. Yet, because all CGEE students occupy neither of those titles, many of us have felt we are free to navigate through spaces that usually have their set identities and occupants with very little room for integration. 

Our house in Windhoek West
We have both reflected and analyzed our own individual and collective identities as they exist here in Namibia, and how our shifting identities change as we move from one space to another. As a geography and urban development and social change major, I (Katie) could not help but notice how apartheid spaces continue to exist and how that has influenced communities socially. Positioned in Windhoek West, our community house rests in a neighborhood that situates us in an equal distance to stark opposites, Katutura and Klein Windhoek. Because of this unique setting, the CGEE students participate in both areas for different reasons.  

The Katutura Township is a product of the South African apartheid state, where a mix of Namibians from various tribes coexisting in what was known as the “old location” were forcibly removed to live in neighborhoods based on language groups. By doing such acts of othering, Namibian identities changed from one collective existence into identities defined by language group history. This, as we have observed this semester, was a powerful tactic in separating the masses, as now there are language group conflicts and language group inequalities. Nevertheless, despite their personal language groups, the people in Katutura are all united in a collective identity of being black, which is why the apartheid state put them in these townships in the first place. 

More than just a tool for separating tribes, the township was also designed so that white people never needed to enter and the black people only had to leave for work. These rules might not exist anymore, however I see white and black Namibians continuing to follow these reverberated historical norms. There are small houses, informal settlements, outdoor markets, people selling anything they can on the side of the road, shebeens (local bars), and a ton of people walking outside among unkempt trash and blaring house music. Yet it is very rare to see a white person walking in this area.

The white colonizers who did not want to intermingle with black Namibians historically occupied Klein Windhoek and other white-only suburbs during Apartheid. Still today, Klein Windhoek is set aside so that one can only reach it intentionally, not by merely passing through the city. The majority of residents of this area are still white Germans and Afrikaners, because the high housing prices and lack of public transportation prevents the migration of black Namibians from moving into the area from other neighborhoods around Windhoek. Here, one will find farmers markets, expensive restaurants, private schools, newly erected malls, and more-recent development. There are clean streets and very rarely will you see a street taxi roaming around looking for clients.

Katie, Sydney, Molly, and Siri out to dinner at Andy’s,
one of our favorite restaurants in Klein Windhoek.
As three white American women, it is important to critically examine what our identity means in each space we occupy here and to further acknowledge how we are able to exist in both of these areas as somewhat of a third party actor. On a larger scale, what does it mean for a group of comparatively privileged Americans to come to this unique space and ask for the people in Katutura to educate us on their oppression here and the history of their struggle? What does it mean, further, when at the end of the day we go to Klein Windhoek to eat at a nice restaurant or spend our Saturday mornings at a farmers market buying fine cheeses, fresh bread, and local crafts? As a group of American study abroad students we must continuously reflect on our individual and community identity here in Windhoek West and the implications it might have on the people here.  

Even as we’ve been learning about the identities of people in Windhoek and our personal identities, we’ve also been creating a new group identity. We are no longer those strangers from the first nights in Johannesburg. We know each other’s personalities, we’ve learned about important moments in everyone’s pasts, and we’ve built a collective history together here. We’ve settled into a comfortable group identity that allows us to encourage and support each other. We’ve had many discussions in our living room or over dinner about what we’ve learned, what has made us uncomfortable or challenged our views, and what role our identities and privileges have had in the way that our experiences have played out. These discussions can be tough to have, especially when we are already often out of our comfort zones living in a new city and a new country far away from our friends and family. But thankfully we are all in this together, and that has let us feel more supported as we continue to dive deeper and learn more about these issues of identity. 

One of the main things we’ve learned about identity is that it’s complex, layered, and varied depending on where you’re from and your life experiences. We’ve all had unique experiences here in Windhoek, but we’ve also all been studying and living here together, and that is a part of our identities that we will keep beyond this program.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Week Seven: The Forgotten Genocide & (Sweaty) Sustainability Under the Desert Sun

by: Emily Simpson, Ashly Brun & Beatrice Misher

The Forgotten Genocide

Have you ever heard of the Herero Genocide? Chances are you probably have not. Understanding the reasons why this history is often neglected in our classrooms  is something that we have had to come to terms with. This week in our history class, we spoke to Uranaani Mantundu, a genocide scholar, whose ancestors escaped the very genocide we are discussing.

According to Mr Mantundu, The Herero genocide occurred  between 1904 and 1909, but is often referred to as the German-Herero colonization. The ideology behind German settler colonialism stemmed from the idea of spreading the wealth and seed of Germans to the land known today as the Erongo region of central Namibia. The German colonization of South West Africa was built on these colonialist ideas and also served as a response to overpopulation and poverty of Germany in the late 1800s. After a period of time of  what Mr Mantundu called  “slow colonization,” the settlers became restless for their promised land. However, central Namibia was already home to the established empire of the Ovaherero people. In the beginning, the Herero people maintained control over their land by renting it out to German settlers. The Germans violently sought to take over this land through means such as ambush attacks on the Herero people and rape of Herero women. Under General von Trotha, the German colonists began the systematic annihilation of the Ovaherero people. As a form of resistance, the Ovaherero people fought back to reclaim their land, but were ultimately  victims of genocide. Through a propaganda campaign in Germany portraying the Herero people as dangerous savages, a wave of racist sentiment spread throughout the country resulting in the official declaration of war against the Herero people. As a result, von Trotha issued an extermination order to kill any Herero man, woman, or child, armed or not, who was found within German colonial territory. Any Herero person who was not killed during the war was subsequently rounded up into concentration camps, some of which were labor camps and some, like Shark Island off the coast of the town of Luderitz, were strictly death camps. By the end of the genocide in 1909, approximately 65,000 Herero people had been killed. Many still lay in unidentified mass graves that are used today as ATV tracks for tourists in the Swakopmund area.

After this lesson and our new knowledge of this genocide, the German influence here in Windhoek, such as street signs in German, made us think harder about the historical context of the city we are living in. Today, the Herero people are asking the German government to acknowledge this genocide and pay reparations of $2 billion. According to Mr. Matundu, in the US, 48 of 50 states have officially recognized the Armenian genocide, yet none have done so for Namibia. While horrifying, the silence of this genocide was not surprising given the western lense through which our history is taught. Why do we selectively choose whose genocides to remember? There is a specific narrative chosen that neglects the stories of black and brown bodies, and their stolen land. Only through decolonizing our minds can we acknowledge forgotten history, and allow the voices of the oppressed to be heard.

(Sweaty) Sustainability Under the Desert Sun

he following weekend we traveled to the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) to camp sustainably in the middle of the oldest desert in the world. Upon arriving, we made our way to the main building for a solar cooked dinner and a brief orientation of NaDEET. Viktoria, the founder, explained that NaDEET is focused on providing environmental education to Namibians and promoting sustainable lifestyles. In addition to education, Viktoria also explained that NaDEET believes in practicing what they preach, and therefore the entire center is as sustainable as possible. It is fully equipped with solar cookers and ovens, an extensive recycling and compost system, solar electricity, and bucket showers to promote water conservation. I was amazed by NaDEET’s ability to build a nearly 100% sustainable organization in the middle of an inhospitable desert with limited access to necessary resources. If NaDEET can do it so well, why can’t the rest of the world?
9027d287-5c34-4236-8f0c-469484bee786.jpg
As the sun burns the back of her legs, Beatrice
realizes that the same sun can be used to
beautifully cook a vegetarian pizza.
The next day, we woke up early to embark on a dune hike before the scorching heat took control. As we crawled up the bright orange sand dunes, we stopped to identify different tracks in the sand and learn about the survival mechanisms of the animals and insects. The sun was scorching by the time we finished up our hike, creating perfect conditions to cook our lunch in the solar ovens. After feasting on our pizzas, we spent the rest of the day hiding from the heat, planting native trees, and experiencing our first Namibian sun-downer, which involved us dune boarding as the sun set. It was the perfect ending to our long and educational day-- an evening full of laughter, sand-beards, and the reminder that the natural world can provide us with overwhelming amounts of joy. We ended the day with an astronomy lesson as we gazed up at Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, learning about different constellations and squealing over every shooting star. 

As an environmental studies major, I've thought a lot about how to effectively demonstrate the need to live sustainably, and I've become very frustrated by my lack of a solution. However, this weekend at NaDEET helped me realize a major theme in promoting environmental consciousness: access. In order to get to NaDEET, we drove through dozens of dried-up river beds and hiked through sand dunes that provided views of a water-empty landscape, demonstrating that we did not have easy and plentiful access to water. Consequently, water instantly became more valuable and we all became conscious of our water use. The location of NaDEET, and the limited access to water that comes along with it, makes it the perfect place to teach water conservation and other sustainable practices. But the instant we gain more access to resources, we forget the importance of conservation. 

10565206_10153632678973935_892668656047346881_n.jpg
Ohana in the desert
This is a large issue with conservation at home in the US, and also at our house in Windhoek. In most places in the United States, there is an abundant access to water, causing people to mindlessly run the tap. Even in dry areas, such as the Southwest, we have manipulated natural waterways to provide an endless supply of water to deserts. This has seemingly provided us with too much access to water, creating a disconnect between us and our natural resources, and thus diminishing our value of water. The same is true in Windhoek, which is in the middle of a huge water crisis. Despite the drought, water magically pours out of our faucets, falsely making it seem as if we have unlimited access to water. This contradiction can make it extremely challenging to understand the value of resources.

But thanks to NaDEET, we were fortunate enough to fully understand the importance of sustainable living. Therefore, when we arrived back at our home in Windhoek, we all got together for our community meeting and discussed our plans for living more sustainable lives. If NaDEET is able to inspire this same reaction in all their visitors, they are effectively changing the environmental mindset of Namibia.

P.S. We also visited the water treatment plant here in Windhoek that transforms our sewage into drinking water but we are legally bound to not disclose this information. Bye.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Week Six: Lions and Cheetahs and Learning - Oh My!

by: Olivia Cook, Lia Wellen, Richie Wehman III, Nathanael Juliot

We are settling into our routine at the Center for Global Education and Experience here in Windhoek, Namibia. Most of our classes involve either speakers or field trips which enhances our learning and understanding of Southern Africa and most specifically Namibia in terms of history, politics, development, religion, and environment. In this post we will tell you about some of these engaging class experiences! We felt weird taking pictures of the speakers, but we have some pictures of the Environment & Sustainability class field trip, which is more exciting anyways! Why is it more exciting? Keep on reading to see!

Clearance the lion roaring for his dinner.
Following an incredibly rewarding week-long urban homestay, the CGEE students were ready to attack the new week. On Monday the Environmental and Sustainability class had the great pleasure of visiting the N/a’an ku se Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary, located just 42 km east of Windhoek. Upon our arrival the tour guides drove our group out to visit a San Bushmen family that periodically stays at the sanctuary to educate tourists about their traditional lifestyle. The San people took us around the land to showcase their traditional hunter-gatherer techniques, as well as the way they utilize plants for holistic healing purposes. It was a tremendous learning opportunity, but many members of our group felt conflicted about the implications of our experience as the San people were removed from their lands and are now considered the most marginalized community in Namibia, forcing them to commodify their culture to tourists. Shortly following the tour, our group was off to visit and learn about the Wildlife Sanctuary. Through the visitation of different animals such as lions, wild dogs, baboons, cheetahs and leopards, our class was able to get a much better idea as to how N/a’an ku sĂȘ has successfully been able to protect wildlife and their habitats. The sanctuary provides a haven and second chance for countless injured, orphaned, and abused animals. It’s the organization's goal to release every animal free so they can live a natural life in the wild, but that sadly isn’t always the case. We learned that the release or rehabilitation is not always possible due to the severity of an animal's injury or habituation to humans, all serving as a threat to their safety if they were to be released. One highlight of the trip was being able to witness Clarence, the male lion, soar into the air to snatch his dinner. It was extraordinary seeing him viciously mark his territory and establish his dominance.
Beautiful snapshot of one of the cheetahs

On Tuesday March 1st Mr. Phil Ya Nangoloh spoke in our History class, entitled “Race & Racism in Southern Africa and the U.S.”. Mr. Ya Nangoloh is a human rights activist and director and co-founder of NamRights. He described NamRights as a monitoring and advocacy human rights organization that can be compared to Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, except that NamRights operates on a national, rather than international, scale. NamRights also gives paralegal services of which most cases are either people dismissed in the private sector or women seeking complaints against their male counterpart.

His task was to explain his understanding of discrimination and racism in Namibia and Southern Africa currently and historically. Mr. Ya Nangoloh claims that Namibia has historically been a victim of state racism, having undergone both German and South Africa occupation, the latter of which engulfed Namibia into apartheid. He spoke of how the Namibian constitution is extremely liberal and has very good human rights components, but that these laws are not effectively implemented in Namibia, if at all. The main point Mr. Ya Nangoloh made was that since the end of apartheid, and the liberation struggle, the way in which discrimination plays out has changed. During the liberation movement there was one common enemy to fight against, which was South Africa and the apartheid regime. Now, as this one enemy has technically been conquered, discrimination stems from wealth inequality, racism, and the scramble for scarce resources. Discrimination, now, he explained, comes from within societies or communities rather than from outside. He concluded on what I thought was a grounding note. He said that “racism is an innate and human nature, but there are good people doing things about it, like you and me”. We have been struggling with learning about all the awful disgraces of both the United States and Southern Africa, and it was nice to hear a “realistic” view on things, that there is discrimination but that there are people working to combat it. 

On Wednesday March 2, we had a very interesting speaker visit our Development class. Herbert Jauch, a German expat and political activist in Windhoek, has spent the last couple years studying income inequality in Namibia. The beginning of his presentation explained key points of Namibian history and eventually evolved to explain how income inequality is a product of old historical systems still prevalent today. After setting the foundation for today’s inequalities, Jauch continued to explain a study that was conducted in hopes of alleviating poverty in Namibia. This social experiment, set in a small village south of Windhoek, focused on people who earn so little that basic necessities, such as education and health care, are inaccessible. A solution to these problems was an idea called a Basic Income Grant. This monthly grant of N$100 (US$ 6.25) was given out to every person in the area regardless of income or age in order to help cover basic costs of school books, registration fees, small health needs, or other costs that would help families access services and improve their quality of life. One staggering statistic Jauch shared with us was that in this community 60% of kids dropped out of school because they were hungry, but after the BIG was implemented, 95% of kids completed school. He also shared various benefits such as increased visits to clinics, and malnutrition dropping by half within a year of this grant. Unfortunately leaders at the time did not appreciate the success rates as much as Jauch and his organization did, and plans to continue this idea nationwide are at a standstill.

The idea of a monthly income grant fit well with what we have been covering in our Development class, specifically ideas of poverty alleviation and cases of well-intentioned development projects that do more hurt than harm. Jauch’s presentation was an interesting example of a poverty alleviation strategy and I was intrigued by the both the positive outcome and some ramifications such as the conclusion that programs like this are hard to implement regionally because of family members who migrated to the area to benefit as well. Another point Jauch made was that social welfare programs are generally stigmatized and by providing every individual with an equal grant stigmas are avoided and people are empowered to live healthier lives. Many people in the United States dislike the terms socialism and social welfare, but this speaker highlighted how these ideas can be helpful to society and gave me a case study I can use to support new ideas of aid implementation that I can share with others. Overall, I was very impressed by our speaker; his comments added insight into what we have been studying and local poverty alleviation efforts to combat a nationwide problem.

On Friday March 4th, the Religion and Social Change class had a guest speaker visit named Reverend Gotthard Gurirab. Reverend Gurirab is a faculty member at the University of Namibia working with a focus in critical issues facing the church. His talk focused on African Traditional Religion and how it has been affected by colonialism. Specifically, he discussed the diminishing role of Ubuntuism in African culture. Ubuntu is an African word which refers to a universal concept where people value the good of the community above self-interest. Reverend Gurirab has seen that Ubuntuism is almost dead in cities and those people who live on the same street live as if they are in foreign countries. He went on to describe the relationships between people in the cities and it paralleled greatly with relationships between people in the United States. I found it extremely interesting to hear him describe in detail, American society and condemn it as ruining the Namibian people. Africa is constantly subjected to the effects of colonialism even to this day and it can be seen that western society has overwhelmed the traditional values of the Namibian people. Ubuntu has ideologies of sharing, compassion, peace, reconciliation, combating crime and violence, and poverty eradication. These ideologies have been cast away by the younger population for western ideologies of focusing on the individual. Reverend Gurirab called for a massive revitalization of African Traditional Religion in Namibia and throughout Africa. This will be an uphill battle, however, to remove the stains of imperialism that still exist within Africa and many Namibians do not have any desire to move away from the western ideologies that promise a path to prosperity.

Overall, we had a great week of learning through speakers and field trips. We hope you enjoyed following us along our journey!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Week Five: Urban Homestays

By: Gabbi Mpagi, Patrick Toomey & Monique Lillis

This past week CGEE students completed their second homestay, which took place in the city of Windhoek. During the homestays in Soweto two students stayed with one family, but this time around each student stayed with their own family. The goal of these homestays are to help students meet individuals from the city, see how a family in the area leads their lives, and then compare stories of their differing experiences when they return to the CGEE house. Below are the experiences that three of the students had this week.

Gabbi’s host sister Edita using a
mortar and pestle to mash onions.
Gabbi: My urban homestay in Katutura exceeded my expectations and left me feeling like I finally belonged in Namibia. I was placed in the household of Henry and Leah Olu-King. The Olu-King household also consists of their daughters Rebecca, Edita, and Aleah as well as their son Emanuel. The Olu-Kings primarily enjoy spending time together as a family; an important way in which time is spent together in their home is through food, specifically the preparation of traditional meals. I had the honor of witnessing a traditional meal of sweet potato leaves being prepared on a Saturday afternoon. Sweet potato leaves are a meal native to Sierra Leone, the birthplace of Mr. Olu-King and temporary home during the apartheid era of Mrs. Olu-King. Ms. Olu-King had been sponsored by the United Nations as a young girl to go into exile as a means of escaping the war that took place in North between SWAPO and South African soldiers. While in Sierra Leone, she lived with a host family who cared for her as if she were their own daughter. We had previously learned in our history class of the liberation movement conducted by SWAPO beginning in the 1960’s and the amount of war rural areas faced during the struggle for freedom. Desperate for the chance at survival, Namibians fled from their homelands to seek safety in countries such as Botswana, Angola, and Zimbabwe.  

Gabbi and her host family the Olu-Kings outside
their home in Katutura
In the corner of their compound lies a garden in which sweet potatoes grow underneath the soil, while their many leaves sprout above the surface. Rebecca and Edita were responsible for cutting the leaves. Ms. Olu-King then washed the leaves, finely chopped them, and added the remains to a large pot of beef stew. Edita mashed onions together using a wooden mortar and pestle, eventually adding the ingredient to the pot. I admired how preparing the traditional meal not only made for a delicious dinner, but brought the entire family together. This left me with a lasting impression of the importance of family in Namibia and how simple activities such as cooking are ways in which close bonds within the home can be solidified. 

Patrick: Within the first ten minutes of my stay with the Shikeva family in Katutura I felt like I was home. Mr. Shikeva referred to me as his ‘son,’ and his son Matthew referred to me as his ‘brother.’ It was a refreshing and comforting experience, because I was feeling a bit homesick and hearing those words, even from people I had only just met, seemed truly genuine. Throughout my stay I felt like a part of the family, not just a guest: perhaps it was the fact that my host parents woke me up almost every morning to say goodbye and wish me a happy day, or that I played a role in saying grace before dinner. Either way, I felt extremely welcomed.

I learned quite a bit from Oskar and his wife’s experiences during apartheid, as well as the lasting effects of the apartheid regime on the residents of Katutura. The most visible of these was the letter and number system still present on his home’s front door. Although partially painted over with white paint, it was not difficult to make out the blue letter and number that were used during the apartheid-era to indicate the tribal group of the house’s resident. It was a reminder that apartheid was not that long ago, and that people who are my own parents’ age lived and experienced the brutality of the racist regime. Although the pain of apartheid can still be felt in Namibia, the resilience and faith of Katutura’s residents was inspiring to witness first hand. Perhaps this was best exemplified at the Sunday church service that I attended with the Shikeva family. The amazing show of faith that I saw was a testament to the strength of Namibia’s people and their enduring commitment to building a vibrant new nation.

Monique: In my opinion this homestay was the best part of my study abroad experience thus far. I stayed with a twenty-nine year old woman named Ndeshi, who lives in Katutura and works for the ministry of lands. Ndeshi is part of the Oshiwambo tribe; she grew up in the Northern part of Namibia, moved to central Namibia when she was a child, and moved to Windhoek for school as well as work. 

Monique and her host mom Ndeshi in traditional Oshiwambo dress
During my time with Ndeshi we spoke about many different things including the work she does for the ministry of lands, her experience as an unmarried woman in Namibia, and aspects of the Oshiwambo culture. In regards to the ministry of lands, I learned that this facet of the government buys up land from primarily white farmers who are selling their land, and gives the land to primarily black Namibians who have applied to receive the land in order to sustain themselves economically. This process of buying and giving out land is one way the government is trying to create a more equal society now that apartheid is over. White Namibians are still the most prominent farmers, and the hope of the government is that this redistribution of land and training of new farmers will allow black Namibians to earn a steady income off of land that was taken away from the black and colored communities during apartheid.

These home-stays helped us as students understand the individual experiences Namibians had during apartheid. Living in Katutura and talking to people in Namibia has also helped us understand how the country has changed since liberation and the end of apartheid as well as the ways the country could still improve. Overall students had very educational experiences that helped them understand Namibia and the people who live here from a different perspective.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Week Three: Disparity in the Mother City

by: Luke Beasley and Patrick Toomey
Sunday, our group had achieved a large degree of familiarity with the area in which we were staying in Cape Town. Our street was quiet, with several quaint cafes and restaurants across from the guest house, while only being a block away from one of the busiest sections of the city center. Coming back from our free day, which many of us spent at Camps Bay Beach (which sits right at the base of Table Mountain), we were excited to explore a very different part of Cape Town.
We spent our Sunday morning at Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha, the second largest township in South Africa, and home to millions of people. It is difficult, if not impossible, to gauge the exact number of residents in Khayelitsha because such a large percentage of them live in “informal settlements,” made up of tin shacks with no access to running water. At Way of Life Church, we met Pastor Xola Skosana, and observed his congregations service. It was definitely an unorthodox type of “religious” ceremony, and was far more of a safe place for black South Africans to gather together and discuss matters of white privilege and their experiences with oppression. Pastor Xola Skosana made a point of asking us our names and majors, and immediately after we finished sharing, he informed us that he “didn’t care” and did not try to remember our information; as he explained, this was an exercise in helping us as privileged Americans, many of us also being white, in understanding the experience of being a “forgotten” member of South African society (i.e. a black South African). The Pastor also asked us, “How are you able to sleep at night?,” referring to the fact that we were visiting South Africa to learn from its past, but in order to do so we required that victims of Apartheid relive and retell their traumatizing experiences. 
The meeting was definitely shocking, and it took many of us several days to process. Although some people were angry and upset, and certainly much of the group was at least confused, in the end it was a vital moment for our group. It was jarring, and it made us question our role in the world, and in Africa, as white people and as Americans. For many of us, it was the first time when we were required to feel nameless and forgettable, not to mention unwelcome, but it was undoubtedly a learning experience.
The next morning we spent at the District Six Museum learning about the area through the eyes of Noor Ebrahim. According to Noor, District Six is an area of Cape Town where around 60,000 black South African people were forcibly removed and placed into the area of the Cape Flats during Apartheid. Noor was living with his family in the district at this time and was one of the many that who through this difficult and unjust experience. Noor has told his story to many prominent figures including Nelson Mandela. After learning so much about Apartheid the previous week in Johannesburg, it was valuable to hear from the perspective of an individual that was profoundly impacted. It once again made everyone try to comprehend and understand an event that is so difficult for any of us to relate to. 
            Wednesday was our last full day in Cape Town and we were free to do whatever we wanted. After a week of thoughtful and challenging conversations with speakers and each other, it was a much needed break. Everyone had their own day full of adventures around the city, including seeing penguins, relaxing on the beach, going to a wine festival, paragliding, and surfing. We were exposed to the incredibly beautiful touristy side of Cape Town that has captivated people from all over the world. However, after the week’s experiences we know that there is much more to Cape Town than catches the eye of most. We saw the incredibly complex and difficult problems that the local people face every day–poverty, privilege, racism, discrimination, and HIV/AIDS that affect everyone in some way. Amidst all of these problems are many individuals and organizations that are working tirelessly to make a difference and fight against the injustice. 
After our challenging, thought-provoking, and incredible two weeks in South Africa, everyone was anxious to finally arrive in Windhoek and get acquainted with our new home. In our first few days we took walking and driving tours trying to get sense of our city. Now that we are becoming settled into our new home, there is so much to look forward to in the next three months. With classes and internships starting soon, we reflect on the incredible amount we have already learned while preparing for the opportunities and experiences that are soon to come.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Week Two: Living History

by Amanda Siskind

The thing about history is that there’s not much action needed. All the choices and plans have already been made, the important people highlighted, and the outcomes (for the most part) determined. The hard part of history comes from choosing to study it, and to study it properly. To completely immerse yourself into the stories that people tell, both the good and the bad. To hold that history in your memory as a reminder to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Chatting with Molefi as he takes us for a walk around Freedom
Park, a monument to memorialize those who have struggled for
liberation. His stories combine his personal history with facts
and information about larger movements.
This is something I have been thinking about, as we near the end of our time in Johannesburg and Soweto. Since we've been in South Africa, most of what we have been doing has been listening to people’s stories. I've quickly learned that stories are simultaneously an incredible and terrible way to study history. It’s incredible because only though such personalized accounts can we do our best to understand exactly what happened, how people felt, and how they reacted. We are incredibly lucky to be able to speak with Molefi, Moeketsi, our host families, and others and to be able to ask them questions and to have a dialogue. But it’s at the same time terrible because the other side of that luck is the knowledge that this history is recent and the scars are still fresh. These stories of pain and injustice aren't numbed by the pages of a textbook or the film of a documentary. But any discomfort that we feel has the much larger purpose of making sure that we remember these moments, and that we remember our feelings of shock and sympathy when we come across injustice in our lives.

After hearing all of these stories from the past week, it’s at first a little startling when we finally go to the Apartheid Museum at the end of our time in Johannesburg. Before I go in, I wonder if it’s not a bit backwards – shouldn't we have learned all of this before hearing personal stories? But as I wander through the Museum, I begin to feel that this is the right order to do things after all. The amount of history encapsulated in the museum is staggering, and had I been told at the beginning of this trip to take three hours to weave my way through the exhibits, I don’t think I would have been able to give the museum the attention and focus it deserves.

But now, with my head filled by a chorus of narratives, I find myself much more invested in reading every placard and watching every video. Every time my attention starts to wane, I notice a familiar detail and remember the sound of someone’s voice saying I remember when… or We used to… or This is what we did. It’s those memories that keep me interested and encourage me to keep learning. In particular, This is what we did inspires me the most to learn about the actions that people took to turn against the injustices around them.

Because the thing about history is that there’s not much action needed and while the hardest part of history is choosing to study it, the hardest part of being history is choosing how to live through it. It is easy for us to look back on the past and on its people and think How brave they were, to make those sacrifices. It is much harder to recognize that our actions at this moment are creating the history that someday future generations will hear passed down in stories or view in crafted museum exhibits. It is even harder to choose similar bravery and sacrifices for ourselves.

But just because it’s harder doesn't mean it isn't impossible. We have learned the history of the student uprisings of 1976 in Soweto, and we too are students who are interested in turning against the injustice of our world. We have already started to work towards this goal, both as individuals working on projects back at our respective colleges, and as a group having discussions at the dinner table and in our vans about the kinds of oppression we've seen and how to combat it.

This kind of work is being duplicated by students everywhere. We've seen in the United States a number of student activists working with Black Lives Matter, joining the People’s Climate March, and working to promote LGBT and women’s rights. In South Africa, we've learned about the #FeesMustFall campaign, where students are fighting to remove financial barriers to education.

After we leave Johannesburg, we drive to Bloemfontein and we spend a day visiting the University of the Free State and meeting the students and staff of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice. The Institute was founded as a means to cultivate humanity to counter violence and disrespect, and the students are actively researching the kinds of changes that could be implemented and their impacts while also establishing institutional transformations to create the society they envision.

There are a lot of different ways to interact with history. Visitors
have written comments around a photography exhibit in the Regina
Mundi Church about the liberation struggle, encouraging people to
continue to fight against injustice today.
We spend the afternoon seated in a circle as Americans and as South Africans, unified as students invested in choosing the best way to live for our history. We talk about racism and how even though it may look slightly different where we come from, the impact, the frustration and the pain are still the same. We talk about the stereotypes that we hold of each other, and of the damage that those ideas create in inhibiting us from connecting with each other. We talk about the world that we want to see, and what we think needs to be done to get there.

It’s not an easy discussion by any means. It is now our turn to tell our stories, and our scars are just as fresh. We don’t have the comfort of knowing what choices and plans had been made or what the outcomes were, like we do when we study history. This is the present. All we know is there is action needed, but we don’t necessarily know which actions are the right ones or what the consequences or sacrifices will be.

The important thing is that we are not alone. We have our knowledge of history to keep us wise. We have our memories of the smiles of the people who have told us their stories, the reminder that in spite of hardship they survived and made a difference in the world. And most importantly, we have each other. We have shoulders to lean on when things get tough, and hands to pull us up when we think that our dreams are impossible. We have ears to listen and learn from each other, and mouths to spread the word and to grow our community ever bigger. We will make history this way, not as the ink of textbook pages, but as the words of stories spoken between people sharing a common goal of creating a better future.