Thursday, September 3, 2015

Week One: Unpacking South Africa

By Henrik Weber

We finally made it! After months of waiting, planning, and paperwork the seven of us arrived in Johannesburg ready for a semester learning about Nation building, Globalization and Decolonizing the mind.  From the first time we all met at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, it was clear this was a group ready to ask the difficult questions and be receptive to the heavy truth.

Picture of Hector Pieterson's death.
Hector's body is being carried by another protester,
while his sister runs alongside.
Photo by Sam Nzima, 1976.
On the very first day we dragged our jetlagged bodies out of bed. Diving right into the atrocities of apartheid, we listened in horror as we heard Hector Pieterson’s sister tell the story of the day she witnessed the transformation of her brother from a young protesting school child to a martyr.

As we explored the Hector Pieterson museum we found ourselves astonished by the accomplishments of the students. They stood up to the apartheid Government despite being tear gassed and shot. 1976 student protest’s resulted with a change in social attitudes that toppled apartheid less than two decades later. Seeing this brought out the groups sense of student activist pride. These students had such a tremendous impact on the world because they chose to act, as students we felt overjoyed to see the youth had taken a stand for what they believed in.

Our journey then took us to Regina Mundi Church. As you walk around the inside of the building it is impossible not to feel the historical importance of the space. As the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa, Regina Mundi served as a gathering space for community leaders to meet during apartheid. Even when gatherings of three or more blacks were ban, the apartheid Government still let people congregate in Churches. This made the pulpit all the more important. Community leaders, at a great risk to their families and themselves, would make political speeches until warning came that police were in the area. At this point ministers would take the pulpit to give the illusion that worship was all that was happening in the building. Hearing stories and standing in the same spaces that have been occupied by the likes of President Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Chancellor Merkel, and native heroes Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, drives home the rich history that the building holds inside.  The bullet holes intentionally left in the wall and windows serve as a reminder of the tragedies that occurred and that no space was sacred to the authorities.

On our third day in South Africa we journeyed to Orange Farm. This experience was the “Classic Africa” many Americans have the image of. The power lines loose in the street and the tin houses smashed together like sardines greeted us as we got out of the van. Shock set in. We saw the living conditions that had been allowed to develop. The area has been deemed “temporary housing” since 1997. People are attempting to live in uninhabitable conditions whilst being met with empty promises from the Government about how they will be relocated to permanent structures. As we reflected on what life would be like if there was one fresh water spigot for the block, we recognized the difficulties of attempting to balance current needs with long term solutions to systematic issues. No one expects poverty to be eliminated now, but to walk around extremely impoverished area and recognized the realities of everyday life for such a large population was challenging for many of us. And that is the point of this journey. To challenge our world views and to expand our knowledge of the real world is the reason we traveled to the opposite side of the globe.

Photo of our group at one of the homestay houses in Soweto.
By the time the weekend reached us we felt as if we had known each other a year not a week. We said goodbyes and split into three groups to do homestays in Soweto. Soweto is made up of 30 or so townships. Under apartheid the townships were developed as housing areas for blacks, little was invested into them. To this day many live in hostels that could easily be mistaken for jails. Just over a hill and around a corner however, you start to see houses that resemble middle upper class American ones. This is the area we stayed. One group spent time with younger children, while another toured the neighborhood with a pair of teenagers, while another stayed with students of university age. Some groups spent a lazy Saturday at the mall while others volunteered within the community. On Sunday all the groups went to Church and gathered in the afternoon for a meal. The time in Soweto helped everyone to grasp the similarities and differences in day to day life between our respective home towns and this community that adapted us for a weekend. We all pushed ourselves to feel uncomfortable and at the end of the homestay came out better for it. 

Coming to terms with Soweto remains a challenge. To experience living in a poor neighborhood in comfort leaves an uneasy feeling of complacency. Leaving Church to a parking lot of BMW or Mercedes makes it easy to see those who are doing alright. It rapidly shifts how I view the world. More and more I find it to be true that we only see what we are looking for. Soweto is a place where you can see people doing well for themselves or others in desperate need of help. I’ve stared to see the bonds of economic apartheid that still exist today. Thinking critically about the types of obstacles in the way of equality leads down a road with no clear answers. Thinking, learning, and responding, to these experiences is something we are all eager to do.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week Sixteen: Becoming A Part Of The Solution Rather Than A Part Of The Problem

By Miranda Joebgen and Eli Miller

            After saying a difficult goodbye to our home in Windhoek, we departed for Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday, April 25th.  The next day we attended service at Way of Life Church and had the opportunity to speak with Pastor Xola Skosana afterwards.  We knew going into the service that Pastor Skosana was no ordinary pastor – he has a history of making radical statements, including once stating (in a 2010 sermon) that Jesus had HIV.  Naturally, we were intrigued to discover what he would be talking to us about that day.  In his sermon, Pastor Skosana began by addressing Xenophobia – which is currently a large issue in South Africa. Xenophobia is the fear or dislike of people from other countries. Unfortunately, this has been the cause of much violence in South Africa, particularly against people from other African countries.   Pastor Skosana talked about how people should not be strangers in their own land.  Though people may come from Zimbabwe or Botswana or Namibia, they are all children of Africa – country lines are simply arbitrary.  Eventually, Pastor Skosana transitioned into addressing what he believes to be the main source of South Africa’s problem: white power.  White power, he believes, has existed ever since Africa was first colonized and the country lines were established. White power created apartheid, which in turn created the poverty and inequality that have remained a part of this country. White power is what causes black people to turn on black people in an effort to become more like “the white man” and gain power and wealth.

            Now, as a white person, it would be easy for me to hear someone say this and immediately become defensive, declaring that “not ALL white people are like that,” thereby defending myself.  However, this semester has taught me a lot about racism, specifically in South Africa and Namibia, and I have learned more about the immense pain that white people caused black people during apartheid.  While apartheid is over, the pain and inequality caused by the system still exist today, and it is the reason why so many black people still live in extreme poverty.  White people who are not too consumed with denying their role in any oppression often find themselves left with “white guilt”, yet don’t know how to address these systems of oppression, so they instead simply remain quiet.  However, something that we have learned in more than one of our courses this semester is that in issues of oppression, those who choose to remain silent have chosen the side of the oppressor.  In other words, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. 

            Pastor Skosana then proceeded to tell us of something which he thinks could help solve issues that have been created by white power such as inequality and poverty: a wealth tax. The money taxed from the wealthy would be used to aid those who are in need, thereby bridging the massive amounts of inequality that exist in this country still. This is a controversial topic in South Africa right now.

            The theme of white privilege and white power continued throughout the week in Cape Town. On Monday we took a walking tour of Cape Town with Lucy Campbell; a staunch human rights activist who advocates human rights through cultural tourism. It is easy to view Cape Town as a beautiful shining city - which it is - but crime, poverty, and the roots of slavery and apartheid are still very present in modern day Cape Town. It is very important when you come to Cape Town to see the reality of the City.  The large amounts of homeless people in the downtown area alone signal that not everything is perfect.  Lucy took us to the Cape Town slave lodge museum, which was a place to house slaves for the Dutch East India Company. Lucy also showed us some of the monuments around Cape Town that represent slavery and the apartheid era. While the recent removal of the Rhodes monument gained a lot of national coverage, there are still many monuments around Cape Town that represent slavery and apartheid that many people feel should also be taken down.
The CGE group with Lucy and Collin, our wonderful tour guides
            On Thursday we took a ferry to Robben Island to see one of the most famous prisons in the world. All of the tour guides of the prison at Robben Island were former political prisoners during the apartheid era and make incredible tour guides. Many of the tour guides at Robben Island underwent immense physical, psychological and emotional turmoil. Many were tortured and still wear the scars they received on the island to this day. After apartheid ended many of the guards at Robben Island and others who assaulted and killed black South Africans were given blanket immunity. They went on with their lives like nothing happened. Many point to the lack of reconciliation and reparations after apartheid as the source of South Africa’s present problems.
The cell where Nelson Mandela lived when he was in prison on Robben Island.
            Economic inequality, poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS are still huge issues in South Africa and we think it’s fair to say equality for all has not been reached. Black South African’s still face discrimination and marginalization today and we believe institutional racism that was not changed after apartheid is at the root of that cause. As we have learned more about the current political and social landscape in South Africa, we can’t help but find similarities to America’s current issues with police brutality. Institutional racism is at a boiling point in America and these cases have revealed the depths of how much racism is embedded in our society. We think it will be interesting to see how we view and understand these issues of police brutality after our experiences in Namibia, especially since this is an issue that gained a lot of attention before we left for Namibia and it is still continuing now that we are returning after four months. America is not without its own history of oppression that has yet to be completely dismantled. Now that we are returning to America, we are left wondering, “How am I going to become a part of the solution, rather than silently standing by and condoning the acts of the oppressor?”
The sun sets on our time in Southern Africa…for now at least.

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global

Week Fifteen: Integrative Projects and Wrap-Up in Namibia

Lulu Moyo & Abbie Lawrence

This week was our last week in Windhoek. We spent our time finishing up final projects and exploring the parts of the city we love most, from restaurants to craft shops to informal markets. We also made it our goal to visit places in Windhoek that we have wanted to see, but had not found the time to this semester. It was a week full of wrapping up, saying goodbye to people and places we have built strong relationships with, and preparing to leave the city that has been our home for the past few months. It was an emotional week, but everyone is looking forward to spending some time Cape Town, where we will spend our final days before we head back to the United States.

We spent Tuesday and Wednesday presenting the integrative projects that all of the students at CGE have spent much time and effort on. The purpose of the project is to creatively represent and discuss themes that we have learned about in all of our classes in a twenty-minute presentation. Integrating all of our courses into one final project was a good way to reflect on important themes that emerged this semester. It was a good way to wrap-up all that we have done these past few months, and a fun way for the students to listen to one another’s concluding thoughts.
 
"Team Tuesday" (All the students that presented their projects on Tuesday, 21 April)
Haley and Abbie presented a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story that they wrote about a German boy’s short-lived relationship with a South African boy during the Liberation Struggle, and the difficulties that the two faced at the hands of apartheid, oppression, and police violence.
 
Haley and Abbie presenting their project.
Some other themes spoken about by other groups included the complex identities of Namibians, racial tensions both in the United States and Southern Africa, and women’s issues especially pertaining to subjugation and gender based violence. Students presented stories, letters, blog posts, poetry, and a myriad of other creative projects.
 
Students watching Jordan present his website!
We spent the rest of the week wrapping everything up and saying goodbye to the city we have made so many memories in. On Wednesday there was a staff appreciation party, and on Thursday the students had a “Going Away Braai” where we invited all of the people who have made an important impact on our experience this semester. It was very sad to say goodbye to everyone we have made connections with, and to reflect on all the amazing experiences we have had this semester. We have visited some incredibly places, met such wonderful people, and been pushed out of our comfort zones, all of which have made our entire time in Namibia one that will surely never be forgotten. Although some people are excited to see their loved ones back in the States, many of us are not ready to leave.

Lulu's Reflection:
It is the week of our Integrated Projects. This also mean it’s our last week in Namibia. This final project has been my distraction from really acknowledging that I’ll be leaving this place. It’s interesting to look back and see how Molly and I have transformed our ideas for our project. We initially wanted to organize this grand event at the Habitat Research and Development Center. This is a place we visited during one of our environment classes. We learned about many sustainable initiatives that the center is trying to implement such as developing affordable and functional housing, using recycled materials for construction, and making a library available to local people in the informal settlements. Our initial visit to the center really made us realized that we had been meeting a lot of people who are trying to implement change in marginalized communities but these resources are not being utilized. There is also a lack of communication amongst all of these organizations. We wanted to develop and event that would bring together the organizations that we were interacting with so that they could hopefully start to unify and work together. We also wanted to bring in local people from Katutura who we met and invite them to perform or present information of what change they wanted to see. Molly and I were so excited about this event what our ideas were all over the place and we were having difficulty connecting our ideas to all of our course subjects. Also, planning an event of this magnitude just wasn’t possible with the time that we had left in the program. So that plan was botched.

Next we considered making a physical pathway in the garden of the CGE house. We were thinking that we would have 6 large stones that would represent out journey through globalization in Southern Africa. Each stone would have pictures and/or phrases that would signify an aspect of globalization that we interacted with. But our ideas started to get complex once again. Craft paint was also really difficult to find. At this point we were really getting frustrated and we were struggling to find a medium to convey what we were thinking. After many breaks, pacing around the living room, and many crumpled up note pages we decided to go back to our roots.

                Molly and I are both International Development and Social Change majors at Clark University and have taken many education courses. We decided to focus on what we know which is develop and education. Using what we knew from our education at Clark in combination with the new information we learned while in Namibia we developed a project. This project is a play. We wrote play following the life of a boy named Pandu would grew up in the informal settlements in Katutura. Using the information we learned from our internships at schools in the informal settlement, conversations with local people, as well as articles and text we wove together a 20 minute play which details the challenges that life in the informal settlements presents. We used themes such as food insecurity, the rural to urban migration push, landlessness, and gender role issues. I am a huge fan of creative writing so this idea has been the best. Molly and I cast our classmates as our actors and performed the play on Wednesday. It ended up being an amazing experience and actually opened my eyes to the prospects of writing plays thought tackle social issues as a form of activism.
The script from Lulu & Molly's presentation. 


                Now that the projects are done we are back to counting down the days until we leave. My distraction is gone. My suitcases have yet to be packed. It’s time to face the next element of this journey which is returning back to the US. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global

Week Fourteen: Wrapping Up Our Semester Abroad

By Katie Wilson and Haley Henneberry

Wrap-up week was a week filled with many emotions. Students around the CGEE house scrambled to finish last minute projects and put the finishing touches on final papers, while instructors prepared lessons that culminated an entire semester of learning. Every spare second of free time was spent out on the town doing last minute shopping and ticking things of bucket lists.  The house filled with excitement and nervousness as the semester came to an end. During the week, each class wrapped up the different themes and lessons we learned throughout our four months in Namibia, making us all realize how much we learned both inside and outside of the classroom over the course of the semester.
 
A beautiful Windhoek sunset.
Katie’s Experience with Wrap-Up Week
Throughout my entire time in Southern Africa I have been able to learn things I never even thought I would learn about myself and the world around me.  Wrap Up week could be best described as that in the time span of a week.  Each of my final class sessions was a great opportunity to reflect on what I had learned this semester, what that meant for me personally, and how many of the themes were inner related across our classes.  It was during the reflection sessions that I also realized how much I learned over eight classes and while we had a month gap between our classes at one point (While we went to the North) I really retained that information.  I also realized how much of what I learned was applicable to my life and going forward and I’m really happy with how much of a critical thinker my classes have helped me become.  For instance, my development class has really made me aware that there is a whole lot of grey area in everything and to not only consider the various sides and aspects of things, but also when being critical of situations to remember to look at the issue from a humanistic approach.  My religion class also encompassed these themes but also examined the role of foreigners imposing religion on local groups and the various roles that the Church played in different social issues which in a country like Namibia is so very important.  I also took time to visit my Urban Host family one last time and had all my feelings of gratitude for my studies, my friendships, and my time here reinforced.  My Homestay experiences were not only the highlights of my trip but the times that what I was learning in class came to life.  All these lessons and more, are things I will take away from my time in Namibia and while I’m not completely sure how that is going to shape me as an individual in the long run; I am so grateful for how much I have grown and experienced in the last four months. 

Haley’s Experience with Wrap-Up Week
Wrap-up week gave me much needed time to reflect on the concepts and ideas I learned over the semester. During my personal reflection, one theme in particular stood out to me. One of the most prominent and, to me, interesting topics covered in each of my courses was race. Before coming to Namibia, I was up-to-date with many race issues in the United States and participated in various discussions centered on the topic, but I never analyzed my beliefs and where those beliefs came from. That quickly changed when classes at the CGEE house began. My classes pushed me to question my own role as a white, female student from the United States studying in Namibia and how my racial identity plays a role in my life back home. Before Namibia, I never thought of the ways race and the environment interact with one another or how the many history books I learned from in secondary school only illustrated one side of a larger race dialog. The most important conversation based on race that I took away from this semester happened during the final wee of classes. A few of my instructors asked the class how we were planning on continuing a race conversation when the semester ends, something I never considered. Over the course of four months, I became used to engaging in debates and conversations about race, racism, and racial identity, not once thinking when I go back to the United States these conversations won’t be an assumed part of my day. I will have to make an effort to get people engaged and be the pusher not the pushed when it comes to race dialogs. After being in classes that effortlessly wove race discussions into lessons, I now know that when I am a teacher I want to do the same. I hope that I can start a conversation about race at an early age, getting my students interested in the topic and encouraging them to take a look at their own identity and begin to formulate opinions on the topic of race. I am so thankful for the classes I’ve taken this semester in Namibia and even more thankful for the enlightening conversations and passion they evoked.  

Our time in Namibia has been a wonderful, life-changing adventure. From classes to host families to running around Windhoek and making the city our own we have grown and changed.  Everything has become interwoven with our newfound sense of awareness and appreciation for the world around us, allowing us to take what we learned in the classroom into the beautiful city around us. This semester has been filled with difficult classes and thoughtful discussions and we could not be more thankful for our time spent learning in Windhoek, Namibia. 

The beautiful city we've called home! 
This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global


Week Thirteen: Falling Into Spring

Molly McPhee & Louise Edwards 

This week was the first cool week of the semester. The seasons are the reverse of what they are back in the US, here it is just starting to be fall. While our Instagram and Facebook accounts are starting to be filled with pictures of people laying out on the grass for the first time this year, we are donning sweatshirts for the first time this semester. With the change of season has come a shift towards wrapping up our classes and our time here in Windhoek. Instead of beginning new things, we are starting to reflect on the experiences we have had over the past four months.

One of the magazines produced by Sister Namibia
(Source: sisternamibia.com)

One of the most impactful parts of our experiences here has been the work we have done with our internship sites. Our internship placements allowed us relate with our community in a deeper, and more personal way. While it connected us with Namibian community members, we also met people from other parts of the globe which gave us the opportunity to learn from a variety of perspectives. Louise has spent the past semester working with Sister Namibia, a feminist organization that publishes a bimonthly magazine from an Afrocentric feminist perspective. Molly has been working at Hope Village, a children’s village that is home to children who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. Both of us are starting to feel the weight of having to say good-bye to a place that has taught us so much, and provided such rich, culturally immersive experiences. For Louise, it has meant training other interns in how to use Wordpress, a website generating program that she has become sufficient in, so that the website can easily be updated after she leaves. At Hope Village, Molly has started to talk to kids about her departure, and begun wrapping up the new volunteer and intern booklet she has been working on. Though certainly a time of change, it is good to know that there is still one week left before real good-byes have to be said.


Children run off the bus at Hope Village
(Source: Allgemeine Zeitung, “Waisenhaus für alle Transportaufgaben gerüstet”)

Classes this week started to wrap up as well. Molly had her final Environmental Sustainability class on Tuesday, during which evaluations were sent out, and final thoughts shared. Thursday was the day of final papers and presentations in History class. There were two different options for sharing what we had learned over the past semester. The first, and the one Louise chose, was presenting an autobiography on understandings of race and racism within both an American and Namibian context. Her project focused on biracial identity in America and Namibia.  Louise talked about her own identity as a biracial American with members of her family who have been elite white dignitaries in the U.S. government, as well as recent immigrants to the U.S. from Shanghai, China.  She then compared her own experience of biracialism in America to a community of coloured Namibians known as the Basters, people usually descended from white men and native Khoisan women.  Similar to Louise’s own experiences with privilege and oppression, the Baster’s had some privileges under colonial South African rule of Namibia, for instance they were able to maintain relative autonomy over their land and follow their own constitution.  Yet because they were biracial, they still were discriminated against and relegated to a “second tier” citizenship.


Namibian Basters
(Source: Wikipedia)

Molly worked with other classmates in the History class to develop a role-play scenario. Each student was given a character whose viewpoint dictated the student’s contribution to the discussion. The scenario in which they were participating was supposed to be an open forum discussion of leaders and community members about removing the Rhodes statute from the University of Cape Town campus. The controversy currently underway has to do with the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British official who colonized Southern Africa in the name of expanding the British Empire. Students at the University of Cape Town believe that his racist notions are glorified by the statue, and have been protesting to see its removal. Ultimately the in-class discussion brought about different similarities between racism that is present within the United States, and racism still evident in South Africa today. Through incorporating American characters into the discussion, topics such as the glorification and misrepresentation of mascots, as well as the use of student protests to create awareness about racial issues within the United States were brought into the conversation. The presentations were a useful way to share the knowledge we have gained throughout our study of racism and resistance in Southern Africa.

This week has been an introduction to the idea of leaving Windhoek and returning home. The few weeks we have left means it is not too late to start a bucket-list of things we want to do before heading out, while keeping in mind the brevity of the remaining days. Thoughts and discussions of home, and the challenges associated with transitions have started to pop up around our house, bringing with them confusing emotions about the reality of leaving a place many of us have fallen in love with. Although many of us are looking forward to our first bagel back in the US, we are not looking forward to saying goodbye to kapana and fat cakes. Many of us are excited to see loved ones at the airport, but the idea of saying goodbye to loved ones here is scary. The challenge will be returning to a familiar place as a changed person. Our transition from fall to spring will bring with it the newness of a season. We hope to be able to see our homes in the United States from a fresh and new lens, and share with our friends and family all of the knowledge we have gained from our experiences.


Our first week as strangers in Johannesburg! (Source: Miranda Joebgen)

Leaving Namibia as great friends! (Source: Greta Carlson)

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global

                             

Week Eleven: Endings and Continuations

By Andrea Sutiff and Lulu Moyo

After a couple weeks of traveling followed immediately by Fall (Spring) Break, this week marked the first week back for most students after almost a month without internships and classes. While some students decided to travel (mostly to Victoria Falls,) others chose to spend their breaks in Windhoek. For as great and well-needed as break was, coming back to face the end of March and the beginning of April showed how much students had to acclimate to get used to being on the work flow again as well as coming to terms with some sentimentality. Unlike a typical semester at school we know that we won’t be returning to what we as a group have established this semester in the Fall. As if starting to sort out the final stretch’s worth of work was not stressful enough all of us are simultaneously having to come to terms with next month’s inevitable good-byes. 
Victoria Falls (PC Miranda Joebgen)

Whenever a conversation regarding “the end” comes up in the group there is significant reflection, usually with a lot of ‘look how far we’ve come,’ and then the realization of how weird it is going to be going home. Most traditional study abroad programs mirror the college experience as we know it back home; students continue to live in dorms or flats and attend classes at an actual university campus in typical classroom fashion. With the CGEE Program, however, there is just 14 of us, not thousands of students on a campus, sharing classroom and personal experiences all in the same house. We are just 14 students living and traveling all within the same environment with one another and the close-knit community that we’ve established is going to be the hardest thing to let go of once that plane lands in the U.S. While studying abroad anywhere is exciting and new, I think I can speak on behalf of all the CGEE students that we could not be happier we chose this unique, “untraditional” program to enrich our lives.     

Both coming to terms with the fact that there is only a month to go and getting back into the swing of things has left the majority of students feeling a colorful mixture of emotions. On one hand the thought of returning to family and friends back home is something to look forward to, but the more collective opinion is that no one is quite yet ready. Accepting that this is the final month of the program puts a lot of things into perspective, such as realizing how many things have not yet been done, how many places have not yet been visited, and how much work still has to be finished. Just like the completion of any school semester, the end is right in sight with just a couple final projects, assessments, and the last handful of classes in the way. With so little time left and so much more still to learn about, the past week was especially packed with interesting speakers and field trips.

Another element of things coming to an end are class themes and discussion tops. One in particular that I’ve been grappling with since entering the CGE program is identity. Being a Zimbabwean living in America, and now having spent almost four months in Southern Africa, the concept of the “African identity” has been rattling around my head more often. Of course the idea of a singular identity and culture for an entire continent is presumptuous and inaccurate. Each country has its own individual subculture. But often times, through Pan-Africanist views, Africans lay claim to an African identity. I find myself identifying with being an African before calling myself a Zimbabwean. With my friends who are from African countries we often identify things to be African in a general sense; African dance, African food, African attire. I have friends from Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Malawi, and several other places across the continent but as a way to look past our differences we connect ourselves through our African-ness. Our African identity. Having lived in the US for the larger portion of my life my African identity is constantly scrutinized and challenged.

My quote, unquote, liberal ideologies are what usually cause me to be called un-African. One example that I have particularly struggled with is my advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights. When I have shared my views on homosexuality, more times than not, I have been told that I am not a true African or that homosexuality itself is un-African. To me, those sentiments are horrifying and impossible to accept. Whether it be Africans in the US or Africans I have interacted with abroad, this idea of the African identity being under threat with homosexuality is very apparent. Through conversations about LGBTQIA+ while in Namibia, themes of African identity and human rights have continued to remain in my face. What I find most challenging to wrap my head around when it comes to this form of discrimination is that homosexuality has existed in Africa for as long as heterosexual relationships have existed. Thankfully gender and sexuality was a unit of study in one of my classes this week where we were able to unpack this culture of discrimination against homosexuality in the African context.

Some reasoning we learned as to how this developed was the introduction of Western Christianity in African countries. Many people use religion as a way of justifying why homosexuality is wrong, but before the introduction of Western Christianity there was no discrimination. Non-heterosexual relationships were there but did not have the labels or connotation that are present today. In class we had a speaker named Wendelinus N. Hamutenya who was the former “Mr. Gay Namibia”. He is an openly gay man living in Namibia who now advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights in Namibia as well as around the world. Hearing his story brought a painful reality to the condition of homosexuality discrimination in Namibia and all across Southern Africa. Hamutenya revealed to us how he was taken to a mental institution by his father when he came out to his family. He explained how he was told he would never amount to anything as a gay man in Namibia and how it would shame his family. He explained how dangerous it can be for people who are gay and lesbian in Namibia. Police often target people who are homosexual and beat them or harass them. Physical attacks like beatings and rape committed by community members are also quite frequent but often go unreported. Hamutenya also educated us on the cases of people from neighboring African countries who come to Namibia seeking asylum due to threats because of their sexuality. He said that asylum seekers are sometimes brought to Namibia via Zambia, but then the Namibian government forces them to go back to their home countries.
(Retrieved from: http://moffiehot.blogspot.com/2011/11/first-public-appearance-of-mr-gay.html)

Later this week we had a class on human rights in Namibia and the strides the country has taken to create equality. This juxtaposition really solidified that not all areas of human rights are being looked at closely. Not enough attention is being put on breaking down the stigmas of homosexuality being un-African. Places in the continent like my home country of Zimbabwe have laws that allow people who are homosexual to be jailed or even killed. Discrimination due to sexual orientation is a gross violate of human rights no matter race or ethnicity. It is certainly not un-African to be with a same sex partner. What is un-African is the xenophobia that is plaguing people’s ideology. The semester might be ending, our classroom dialogues might be wrapping up, and our research might be over. But that doesn’t mean the issues and challenges we have discussed are going to disappear. To stay true to my African-ness, I know that views on identity need to be changed. Basic human rights need to be given. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global

Week Nine: Northern Seminar Stretches Classwork into Travel

Winnie Godi and Matt Higgins

Although week nine was a week of exhausting goodbyes and sad departures for our rural homestay families, the rest of the week consisted of blissful activities and influential Q & A sessions. From Uukwaluudi Museum to the busy town of Helao Nafidi, the students learned a great deal about the Namibian north and its role in the development of the independent Namibia. Personally, I found an interest in Uukwaluudi Museum and Helao Nafidi because of the gender and cultural aspects discussed, unleashing the inner feminist within me, positively and negatively.

On Monday March 9th, we arrived at the Uukwaluudi Traditional Royal Homestead at Tsandi in the Omusati region. Immediately we were greeted by two lovely women from the Owambo ethnic group (the largest ethnic group in Namibia), one of whom was our tour guide.  Straightaway she mentioned that the Uukwaluudi King lived there prior to the Modern Royal Homestead, which was established in 1978. King Taapopi is the king of the Uukwaluudi tribe, one of the seven Owambo tribes.
Eventually, the group lingered into the Royal Homestead Museum which consisted of many plants, stick and straw huts, and stick fences that created boundaries for the different rooms.
Students entering through Traditional Entrance, Uukwaluudi Traditional Royal Homestead

Approximately halfway through the tour, under the “King’s tree,” one of the students asked how King Taapopi’s successor was chosen. Our lovely tour guide stated that the King’s successor was chosen not from the patrilineal line, but through the matrilineal line; the first born son cannot become King. In most monarchies, one always hears about how the first born son MUST be the King’s successor. Certainly, this became of interest to me. In order to understand the confusion, one must understand that this is also a patriarchal society. This specific aspect somewhat contradicts “typical patriarchal societies,” but it is a feature I appreciate. I appreciate this because it indirectly recognizes the importance of women in this culture, although it is patriarchal. Without the Queen, choosing a successor may be more difficult, which sheds light on the significant role women play in the royal home. Additionally it was mentioned to us that the King and Queen do not sleep together, and have a completely separate room for intercourse, in which they depart ways afterwards. Provided that I live in a culture where it is perfectly okay for a man and his wife to lay together undisturbed this was very much thought-provoking, but respectable and undisputed by the served community. Thought-provoking because I have never heard of anything similar to this before; this comment also intrigued me because the Queen is not expected to stay with the King, demonstrating the agency she may possess in this relationship
Stick/Straw Structures, Uukwaluudi Traditional Royal Homestead 

The following morning we packed our things, jumped into the van, and headed to the town of Helao Nafidi! We met the Headmaster of Ponhofi Secondary School, Joshua Shinadima, commendable and well-educated. He took us on a hybrid tour (walking and driving) throughout the town. A key area I recall being told about is Oshipatapata, which apparently, lives up to its name; a town where shanty towns were established and built by prostitutes according to Shinadima. Oshipatapata is also very near the Angolan border. Shortly after I asked him, about sex trafficking and how those issues are being addressed. His answer was quite vague; mainly because research still needs to be conducted, although he did mention the high prevalence. But my analysis here is I personally feel that people are quick to assume that women engaged in sex work are always prostitutes. There are a countless number of instances where a girl is being trafficked, or involved in transactional sex work. A prostitute, by definition is a woman who engages in sexual intercourse for money, and either way, many times she is being forced into sex work by uncontrollable circumstances such as unemployment. Of course, I do not believe these are the assumptions made by Namibians, which would be wrong to say on a generally holistic level, but I do believe that factors such as unemployment, lack of resources, etc. should be taken into account when commenting on topics such as prostitution and sex trafficking; not only does it affect an individual person, but stems out and affects the community as well, through consequences of high pregnancy rates, maternal mortality, as well as HIV/AIDs, which all are a continuing struggle across the globe.

Correspondingly, the above mentioned sites involved a large amount of academic discourses; no adjective can begin to describe the experiences encountered. Following those couple of days, we were able to relax and enjoy quite a bit of game-watching, resulting in a stimulating two days.

Following our rural homestays, CGE transitioned into spring break with two days game-watching in Etosha National Park, a trip that inspired conversation ranging from human-environment interaction to observational ethics and violent settler histories. Established during German colonial occupation in the first decade of the 20th century, Etosha occupies a sizeable plot of woodland, grassland, salt pan and scrub in northern Namibia’s central plains. Formerly a site of intensive German occupation, imperial fortifications are used as nameless landmarks, vantage points for viewing landscapes and centerpoints for clustered campsites. Visitors (many of whom pay dearly for their experience) can forego camping for luxury “glamping” cottages, where they may be rewarded sleeping under thatched roofs beside animal sculptures in decorative wire. As a special reward following long days of sightseeing, visitors may choose to visit a buffet (complete with tastings of game earlier sighted), entertained by a local children’s choir and well-appointed bar.
Salt Pan, Etosha National Park
For the contemporary visitor, Etosha is all about the animal, a “sanctuary” for rare and valuable big game. Entirely fenced and accessible only after settling entrance fees, the park is still organized to portray an incredible vastness. We saw lions, rhinos, elephants, zebra, giraffes—the excitement of our sightings amplified by the anticipation of the search. Even the accommodations were located alongside carefully enclosed artificial watering holes, so that dangerous beasts may be safely watched within walking distance of amenities. Etosha National Park is one of Namibia’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting visitors in all seasons from around the world for its balance of the exotic and the familiar. It is both carefully designed and practically impenetrable; visitors must always stay in a vehicle unless at a designated rest area. The impassable terrain is crisscrossed by long, flat dirt roads connecting watering holes. When we visited it was only sparsely populated with vehicles, mostly congregated around particularly thrilling collections of animals, visitors camouflaged, standing in specially designed jeeps with raised canopies above open roofs. There is a protocol of silence despite most animals’ relative ease with human contact, the human possibly a vestige of earlier game-watching eras.
Zebra, Giraffes at Watering Hole
What I was raised calling the safari is here the game drive, a name that does not disguise the pastime’s roots in colonial bloodsport. One student recalled the origins of the famed “Big 5” (rhino, elephant, leopard, buffalo and lion) of game-watching legend, animals so chosen because of their reputation for difficulty in chase. The Big 5 still seem to represent the most awe-inspiring sightings among many visitors, and serve to attract profit. No longer found even in many game parks, they represented the peak value of our game drive. Their undisturbed appearance hints at the impossibility of our mutual coexistence, our encroachment justified through particularistic “protection”. We value their beauty, their unfamiliarity, their place in legend, but only when accessible in exhibitionary isolation.


As we directed our vision towards the game, we took a short break from our academic discussions. The experience, however, provoked as much consideration as any curricular trip we’ve taken—and new questions were opened for some of us. How is Namibia, its landscape and people, packaged for consumption? Who drives this depiction—who consumes it? And how does the “study abroad experience” reproduce or rearrange this?

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global