Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Week Twelve: Here and Now

By: Amanda Knipple

To start out the week, we had our Community Meeting on Sunday evening. Grace and I were this week’s community leaders and we (okay well, mostly I) requested that everyone come dressed as a political figure of their choice. This combined some of my favorite things about our group: our knowledge of and willingness to discuss politics, and of course our sense of humor. With very short notice and very limited wardrobes, our group pulled together a lovely hodge-podge of political figures. It’s been a running joke among our group that I’ll be running for president in 2044 so we all laughed when Grace showed up dressed like me.

Left to right: Former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter
and George W. Bush, Future President Amanda Knipple.
We’ve reached that point in the semester where we’re beginning to look towards home. Obligations call us away from Windhoek as we busy ourselves with picking next semester’s classes and housing, and as we try to apply for spring or summer jobs in the ever competitive US job market. It’s a struggle to remember to be present in the here and the now when life so constantly demands that you keep moving forward. Among the barrage of 'what’s next for you', there lies the pressure to constantly know where life is taking you and what your next step is. But there’s a beauty in not knowing and a peace in admitting that you don’t need to know right now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, but I am convinced that this trip has changed the way I see it, and the way that I approach it. I’ve had all my power taken away while at the mercy of my rural homestay parents, in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by a language that I don’t speak. I’ve seen problems that have no easy solutions, as well as well-meaning solutions that not even begin to address the true problems. I’ve learned that it’s not always my place to have an answer. I’ve become content with not knowing.

One of the highlights of this week was a panel that our lovely internship teacher Linda put together for us. She searched all over Windhoek for Americans that are living and working here and rounded them up so they could tell us their stories. What they had to say really solidified the idea that there is no right or wrong way to go about living your life. Everybody on that panel had a different story, took a different path, and wound up doing amazing things over the course of their life (and are still going!) Sometimes a normal course of action won’t be the one that fits into your life. It’s okay to chase that outrageous dream you have. It’s okay to not go down the road that you are expected to. It’s okay to not know what’s next, because you still have now.

It’s a topic that has come up a few times before this: being present in what you’ve been given and not taking things for granted.  We all know how lucky we are just to be here.  It’s an opportunity that we will most likely never have again. Many of us don’t know what we’re doing next. Of course, we could probably tell you what classes we’re taking next semester, and that we plan to graduate college, but that’s probably about it. We have issues that we care about, and I can tell you that we’re all passionate people, but the paths that we are going to embark on are still a mystery.
But that’s okay.

In 2044, you might see me running for president. Maybe I’ll be married with kids. Maybe I’ll follow the lead of the panelists and work overseas somewhere. The world is full of possibilities and I’m glad that we’re choosing not to limit ourselves. Let me tell you, this group is going to do amazing things. They’re change makers.

But for now, we can’t focus on that. We can’t lose sight of the small amount of time that we have left together. There are projects to finish, conversations to be had, places to go, and jokes to be made. Windhoek will be here forever, but we won’t. In the wise (or not so wise-you decide) words of our resident philosopher/advisor Attila: “this is the future.”  With only three weeks left, I plan on living out every moment and not letting anything go to waste. Next semester can wait. The rest of my life doesn’t have to be planned. I’m content to just pass the time with these amazing people that I’m surrounded with.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Week Eleven: Living an Ethical Life in an Inherently Broken World

By: Grace Corbin

We were on our way to an organic farm for Development class, discussing the pros and cons of genetically modified food versus organic food when somehow we came upon the topic of knowing when we are doing the ‘right’ thing. Then Linda reminded us of an idea she had previously shared. She talked about the inevitable obligation that we have to certain institutions in the world. Linda told us of a time when she was reading a book about CEOs. The book explained how CEOs really want to do the right thing, but they are bound by law to make a profit for their shareholders. She thought, ‘who are these shareholders that need all of this money?’ Then later she logged onto her IRA account and realized that she was a shareholder. Being the curious and mindful person that she is, she called her IRA company to try and figure out where her money is and what she’s supporting. Later in the conversation she asked her friendly agent, “So, how do I save for retirement and sleep well at night?” And the agent responded, “Oh, honey, that’s the question of the century!”

We spent a morning at Graceland Farms learning about
organic farming for our Development class.
Isn’t that funny? We do our best to try and do the right thing to find out that unseen evils are undermining us. How do we live a TRULY ethical life today, in our inherently broken word, with systems that run on greed? The answer is, simply, we don’t. We cannot live a truly ethical life because we are broken humans living in a broken, messed up world—but we can try our best.

I have been struggling with my faith immensely for a couple of years. There are many different reasons behind that, but part of it has been due to the inaction of the church on social issues. Currently, things are looking up and the church body I ascribe to in the United States is addressing more and more social issues, but it seems Namibia is still seeing a lack of action from the Christian Church on social issues.

My belief in the inaction of the church on social issues was confirmed by a Lutheran pastor in the area, Mr. Gurirab. He spoke to our religion class about the church and social change in Namibia. He talked about how Christianity in Namibia has led people to look more toward salvation and less toward issues in the world. The church doesn’t say a word about socio-economic issues, the 1904-1908 Herero genocide, distribution of wealth, or any issues. He believes church leaders have been quiet due to their involvement in the government. Why do people who are a part of the government not speak up against injustice? Because they are afraid of what the government will do if they have workers who decide to speak about their opposing viewpoints. I don’t want to blame the people, I am blaming the system because it’s run on greed, made to help people who have the most and oppress those that have little. I genuinely believe that most people in the world are trying to do what they believe is the right thing, but they are caught in a system that does not always allow that.

In this world where there is so much violence, hate, fear, and greed, sometimes it’s hard to find all the good things people are doing in their lives in the name of social justice. However, even in the middle of this broken system, people are finding ways to fight for justice. For a Development class earlier in the week we went to an organization called Women’s Solidarity. This organization, established in 1989, is a place for women in Namibia to have a voice on women’s issues. The organization focuses a lot on gender-based violence. The woman in charge, Rosa, would like to make the new house they moved into a place where teen mothers could come and stay if they are in need of a caring environment to live. 
And Women’s Solidarity is not the only organization working for social justice in Namibia; there are many. Another institution working for change and innovation is the Habitat Research and Development Center. The Center takes recycled materials from around Windhoek and creates infrastructure, and practical everyday items with the things they collect. The things that they create are ingenious. They have tires, foam, bottles, and sandbags for walls, pop cans for doors, milk cartons for light fixtures and many other cool innovations. The Center truly utilizes creativity and uses scrap in a creative way to make something useful.

Those are only two examples of the many organizations and people working for change in Namibia. And organizations like that are all around the world. These two organizations are good examples for us. We cannot possibly live a blameless life, because we are human—but we can fight for what we believe in and oppose the systems that operate on greed.

"Scrap can be useful" sign found at the Habitat Research
and Development Center in Windhoek.
When Linda had finished her story, we all sat in silence, contemplating our role in this world and how we can live a better life. My head kept spinning back to the question of morality and the inability to truly live an ethical life. I was becoming more and more pessimistic about the future every second, but then I stopped and took a deep breath and took in my surroundings. We, a class of seven students from around the United States, were going to an organic farm to learn about how people are making good in this harsh world. And I realized that all of us in the car really care about the world and people. So I had a spark of optimism knowing that there are more people in the world, just like us, young, curious, creative youth who are trying to learn to make the world better than it was yesterday. And you know what? I believe we truly are the generation that can change the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Week Nine: A Canvas of Understanding

By: Annie Dierberger

She had deep wrinkles that ran asymmetrically through her face like a thousand roads on a map, but the destination came together like a meticulous work of art. Each line etched into her skin seemed to hold a story or a memory that I desperately wanted to understand. Her eyes were lulled in the shape of half moons but held a sharp glint of youthfulness wherever she happened to look. Her name was Meme Albertina. She was the village headman, and yes, I had no idea what that meant and maybe I still don’t, but I thought of her like Yoda, full of wisdom and perfectly executed one liners. Now that last part I may have fabricated a bit, seeing that I actually had no idea what she was saying and it was evident from the start we had a language barrier. I spoke English, she spoke none. She spoke Oshiwambo, I knew how to say the How are you? and the word snake, making our conversation limited beyond the context of “the snake is good”, which it ultimately never is. The woman I am describing was my host mom for the week in the town of Outapi, a rural community about nine hours north of Windhoek. All of the students were living with various families and this was to be mine.

What inside the homestead looked like. Various huts for
different purposes surrounded by an endless maze of sticks.
After a few minutes of exchanging confused facial expressions and hand gestures, I ended up in a truck bumping along the gravel until a fenced off home came into view. Once inside the gate, I was given a tour around the homestead by one of the eldest daughters in the family who knew a few words of English. She led me outside the gate towards a tall circular enclosure of sticks and stopped just before to also show me where the pigs slept. To say it nicely, these pigs would not have been cast in the next Charlotte's web sequel as Wilbert. I saw them as beasts that wouldn’t hesitate to destroy me. My eyes stayed glued on the pigs until I was nudged by the daughter to indicate the bathroom beside them, which consisted of a pile of bricks in the shape of a triangle. I kept my face composed but I will readily admit that internally I was whispering, “oh dear god.” The next stop was the shower which was again an enclosed circle of sticks with a bucket inside. Now, at this point, I was extremely nervous that there wouldn’t be enough water for me to shower and that an eyoka (a snake) was going to bite me in the bathroom. I was out of element in a state of discomfort and I knew it, so I decided to do the only thing I could, which was to completely embrace it. To not only look at these lines that ran like roads on the face of my host mother but to travel them just as she had lived them.

Very quickly within the next couple of days I fell into a routine. I would wake up around 6:45am by either one of the children shouting, “Annie, wake up!” or a rooster sounding like it was violently choking. As I stumbled outside into the bright light one of the children would point to the shower and say, “Wash.” I not only learned that a bucket of water was more than enough for a shower, but doing so outside while peering over a fence into the dry abyss was wonderful. I loved being woken up to cold water and the smell of fire already circulating through the cool morning air. After the shower, I would make my way through the maze to the place where we ate our meals. My Meme would see me and say, “Wa­lelepo nawa?” which translates to “Good morning, How are you?”, to which I would reply, “Eeya, ove walelepo tuu?!” and then we would both exhaust ourselves with multiple “eeye’s”, which means “good” and is what I learned to be the key to the Oshiwambo language. When it doubt, just say eeye. People will either mockingly laugh or be extremely impressed with you, sometimes both.

As midday approached, so did the blazing heat. Almost every day the temperature would hit 100 degrees or higher. Shade became your close companion, and water was your new best friend. I was fortunate that my classmate Henrik lived close by, so most afternoons, we would meet up and endure the heat together. We would find a nice spot of shade that wasn’t overpopulated by donkeys and sip, no, chug on ice cold coke from one of the local shebeens.

Henrik, avoiding malaria at all costs.
When 6 o'clock approached, all of the neighboring children began running towards the soccer field for the nightly game. This, I got the impression, was my young host brother’s favorite part of the day. The goal posts were made up of two sticks with a line of cans strung together at the top and very rarely was there a goalie, if lucky a toddler sat distractedly inside the goalposts drawing pictures in the dirt. Some nights I played and other nights I preferred to just sit on the side and watch with amazement. The Namibian sunset would begin to fill the sky with a canvas of reds, oranges and yellows like something I had never seen before. The children would be laughing and doing hilarious after-goal dances and then there would be Henrik, passing out high fives and cheering enthusiastically in English like an elementary school gym teacher. The kids had no idea what he was saying but loved it anyway. Moments like these are what would bring tears to my eyes. Moments where we didn’t need a language to communicate because we had so many other things, things that didn’t need to be vocalized. As the sun completely vanished my host brothers and sisters held hands and walked home together, singing songs. It was a powerful connectedness of pure happiness and enjoyment of one another’s company.

At 8:00 pm the whole family would gather around the fire and watch enticingly as dinner was prepared. The little kids would climb on my lap and sing Amazing Grace repeatedly until flying into one of their own songs and dances. When we weren’t singing or dancing, I had my notebook out and was learning Oshiwambo from Tina, one of the eldest kids who was in school. I would write words or phrases, she would translate and then laugh at my pronunciation. Without any electricity or lights, the world would turn dark and to see my hand in front of my face I would take out my flashlight. There was one night when I took out my light to see where I was stepping and my grandmother looked at me and shook her head repeatedly. She then began speaking in Oshiwambo and pointing up to the bright stars that littered the sky magnificently. She kept pointing up to the stars and then took my flashlight and turned it off. We both smiled in understanding and looked up at the stars together.

Trying to make friends with the donkeys and not succeeding.
That night I sat studying everything like a priceless work of art, absorbing everything that I had grown to love so passionately in a week: the kids, their bright smiles as we played tag throughout the home, and how later they could help cook dinner or carry a baby on their backs with the strength of a teenager; my host mother, despite being at least seventy years old, dancing freely without care like she was a child again; the sky and all of its unity of contrast, completely defying everything we think we know in color and clouds; the stars and gazing up at them in awe, and an hour later realizing you are just as lost as you were before, and feeling content with that. During my rural homestay week, I have lived modestly in material but lavishly in everything else. It was a week that seemed like a year in what I saw and learned. I found richness in simplicity. I found love in silence. I found sacred art in normality. A picture that is worth a thousand words but remembered as a thousand moments.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Week Eight: Fitting in

By: Henrik Weber

Ah yes, the mid-semester weeks. The novelty of Windhoek has subsided, and the normal routine of morning class and afternoon reading has returned full force. Possibly the most noteworthy event of the week is that our beloved inflatable shark, Seymour, popped and had to be laid to rest. People fail to get excited about weeks like this as the anticipation of our trip to the North continues to overshadow the daily experiences we have here. As we reach the second half of the semester, our comfort in the local community has developed more thoroughly. 12,000 miles from home, we are able to find our way around and freely explore unknown places. Friends have been made. Relationships have formed. And that has left me in an interesting place. How do I, or any of us, fit in here?

Amanda and Seymour relaxing
in the pool in Windhoek.
We often venture out of the gates to the CGEE house to some local businesses. We go to get chocolate at Tom Thumb, pizza at the Crazy Crust Inn, beer at the Cardboard Box, and for about everything else we take a hike over to Pick’n’Pay. The sense of security in the neighborhood is nice and having a known familiar setting allows for us to embraces fully the Windhoek West culture. The more we feel like we live here the harder some questions become. What is my role in this community? How do we continue to care for this place after we leave? As we get to belong to this community, it forces me to consider my place in the world. 

One of my favorite parts of class here has been our guest speakers. This week we had one speaker who sparked lots of questions within me. Herbert Jauch, is an activist currently working with issues of income inequality in Namibia. He is also the former director of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), the place where I am doing my internship. We have read articles by him for class before and I have read lots of his papers and reports for work. He came to talk to us advocating for different anti-poverty measures. Many of us liked his ideas and were very supportive, but he makes me wonder if this is my place. We have spent much of the semester learning about how colonialism and the influence of Western ideas have negatively affected Namibia. When is it appropriate for us to step back and say 'this is not my role as an American' and when is appropriated for us to step forward and say 'as a well educated community member who cares, I stand for this'? I feel simultaneously as if I belong and as if I am an outsider.

Henrik and a friend in Windhoek.
It is nice to get out and interact
with the locals.
Where do we fit in? In a short time, we will be back at our home universities. We fit in there. We currently fit in at the Cardboard Box and the Crazy Crust Inn. But more than the physical location, where do our ideas fit in? How do we share our experiences to create a positive impact? At this point, I realize that these are all questions without answers, but these are the questions I think about. Even with no answer, just taking the time to think about them provides a certain level of understanding.

With our new understanding of ourselves, of the world, of poverty, and of each person’s place in the global community, choosing how to think is key. We are still outsiders here, but at times it is easy to forget. Now, as we prepare to spend three weeks on the road in the rural north, at Etosha National Park, and over spring break, our comfort zone will again be pushed. Part of what the trip is about is, as a group, talking about the unanswerable questions. Pushing each other to think in new ways is a positive for everyone. Figuring out life in Windhoek, in the US, and on the road remains a challenge, but it is not meant to be easy. I am grateful to the group for being with me through these struggles of self and struggles of fitting in.

So here we sit. From our house in Windhoek, we look out over a few block radius we consider to be our home. We learn much from our classes and even more from our adventures. Yet, we still know it is incurably temporary. We won’t stay at 5 Simpson Street forever. But the lessons we learn, the experiences we have and the bonds we make are sure to last us a lifetime.

Week Seven: To Swim in the Storm

By: Annie Dierberger

The view from standing on the dock.
The desert lying just beyond the ocean in the distance.
It was the first Thursday we arrived in Swakopmund, a beautiful city on the coast of Western Namibia, and our frantically absorbing eyes matched the tapping excitement of our feet. For the previous two weeks we had been daydreaming about our trip to Swakopmund, an escape from classes and a routine that we had yearned for at the start of the trip but now craved the absolute abruptness of adventure. That night for dinner we sat in Jetty 1905, a restaurant that sat on the edge of a long wooden dock amidst the ocean. Through the glass of the wall behind us the waves crashed violently below a sky of grey that seemed to disguise itself into the ocean. The weather was dark and ominous and being seated in the middle of the mayhem while classical music played around us felt like someone picking flowers in a warzone. I followed by gaze back to the murmur of conversation within the guests and then up to the bustling movements of the waitresses and waiters. There was a different kind of pandemonium happening inside, a one thickly veiled in misconception. The bright lighting and clinking of glasses seemed to assure me that the roaring ocean just below us was just a figment of my imagination. I swiveled behind me and sure enough, there it was. I looked around the room to see if anyone else was noticing what was happening just outside of the thin glass but there eyes seemed stuck within the confines of the luxury around them. It wouldn’t be until Sunday afternoon until I thought of this night again.

Within the next couple of days we would take full advantage of our fleeting vacation around us. Many people in Windhoek had told us about the town’s stunning beauty but seeing the startling contrast of the vast ocean on one side and the blazing desert on the other was truly magnificent.
Us climbing Dune 7

On Saturday we ventured out and climbed Dune 7, no let me rephrase that, we crawled like confused infants up Dune 7 and then continued to act like children at the top. As we all tumbled down as ungracefully as possible and acquired what seemed to be most of the sand of the desert in our hair and mouth, life at the moment was playing our own sorts of classical music. Sure it was mixed with our shrilling shrieks and belly flopping grunts, but it was a song of bliss nonetheless. As I looked around and saw all of my friends, once tentative strangers in the airport but now close companions, all laughing with giant grins on all of their faces, I couldn’t help but feeling fortunate for our friendship. The tune continued playing as we went ATV’ing the next day in the dunes. All eight of us traveling in a line through miles of sand, and our R.A. Attila trailing dangerously far behind with his scarf billowing through the wind, his upright posture and slow speed making him look like an elderly person on a motorized scooter, weaving through the streets of Paris.

That night we all went to bed smiling from a satisfactory day, a day that was filled with events offered on the front page pamphlet of Swakopmund. The following day we would experience things that weren’t commercialized for the average visitor, things that required a detour off of the main road. It began with a tour through Modesa, the main township in Swakopmund. For those who are unaware what a township is, I will regretfully inform you that they are a commonality throughout Africa. Townships were segregated areas of living for basically everyone who didn’t have white skin during the Apartheid era and yes, they still exist today. The houses consist of three or four rooms and the farther in the township you venture, the smaller the houses become till your eyes are squinting from both the sun and the reflecting tin of shacks. SWAPO flags fly proudly and people greet you warmly, but viewing the conditions that were emplaced forty years ago still continue in the present brings a certain sadness that melts into anger. We were shown the empty houses that sit in the distance, substantially larger and according to the people, substantially so far more expensive that no one can even afford to live in them. How cruel that an empty promise can be your next door neighbor and how different the music can begun to be heard. 
Unfortunately, throughout this trip, it’s been the same realization: that while there is beauty that surrounds us, there is immense despair in both the history and the present. That here, like in life, you can choose to ignore the harsh reality of things if you wish, and listen to that classical music while completely avoiding the storm outside. And that the sad truth is... many people do.

That Sunday afternoon I thought back to the first Thursday we arrived in Swakopmund, sitting in the restaurant we sat stretched on a long dock amidst the ocean. I thought about people and how they differ. How there are those who choose to ignore the storm that is roaring just beside them. How there are those who intensify and add havoc, and those who see it but only talk about it. William Blake once said, “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.” I believe it’s a bit like sitting amidst the ocean studying the waves and their intricacies and then doing the same within the scorching desert. They are there to show the gap of difference between their existence and it’s up to us to bring these places that act as two different worlds together. That instead of having one road that shows the pleasant and another which shows the pain, we must walk the same one together. That there is a song that all should hear and it is the song of justice, so please excuse me while I stop talking, unplug the classical music from the wall and dive headfirst into this ocean instead.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Week Six: Unifying a Separated World

By: Grace Corbin

I am sitting here trying to figure out what to write for this blog post, because I have too many topics I want to/could write about and I can’t make up my mind.  For goodness’ sakes, I should just pick one, right?  Unfortunately, I’m very indecisive.  For starters, this was a regular week (if you could ever call spending a week in a foreign country regular) of classes, going to Zumba, hanging out with each other and people we have met in Namibia, and finishing the reading and homework we have been procrastinating on until the night before. A pretty regular week.

This is what it looks like to be trapped in a world of separation.
Well, during this “regular week” of classes, I found myself reflecting on divisions between people quite often. Learning and discussing about apartheid and race all of the time has me bogged down about how people perceive differences to be bad. And I continue to ask questions, because, as my classmates in Namibia have learned, I love to ask questions. Questions I ask do not have an easy answer, but I will discuss them anyway because they are important. These are some of the questions I have been dwelling on.  What causes divisions?   Why do we focus on our differences?  Why can’t we see that everyone has similarities, but we are not the same, and that our differences are beautiful anyway? 

One thing I’ve noticed is that we like to put things into boxes or categories. White, black; red, blue; good, bad, etc. Apartheid put people into boxes, for example. During apartheid, people were forcibly put into different areas based on the perceived color of their skin. White Europeans got away with separating people of different skin colors into sectioned off places of the world, hoarding what they could, and leaving the leftovers for people of color. People were put in one of three categories: black, colored, or white.  But, as we know, there are not only three skin colors. Putting people into racial categories allowed people of white skin color to say that they are better. Apartheid legally enforced divisions, but skin color is not just black, white or colored. The world is much more fluid than some people perceive it to be or try to make it.

There are many things in this world which are not black and white (I would argue that most things are not), but sometimes it seems like the world is insisting that things are black and white. Class, gender, religion, ethnicity, are some examples of labels that are imposed on people either by themselves or others; labels that are treated as if you can only be one or the other, but that is many times not the case. Things are much more fluid.  An example of fluidity in religion is a woman we met this last week for classes who is a traditional healer and a Christian. For those of you who do not know, a traditional healer is someone who is a doctor and pastor to a sick person. Traditional healers call on their ancestors for help to cure the sick person. The woman we met with, Lesego Edith Movshosi, is, what I consider, a strong Christian woman whose love for Jesus radiates through her. She relied on Jesus to help her call her ancestors who would then show how to find a solution for her patients’ problems. She also believes prayer is an integral part of healing for her patients. This beautiful way in which she unites two religions together shows that there is no need to compartmentalize ideals or beliefs into boxes. Why do we put things like religion into boxes? Why do we put things in boxes when they only separate us further?  

My attempt at an answer is this: it’s easier. Associating with people who look, speak, act just like you is easier than truly getting to know someone who doesn’t have the same characteristics, or beliefs as you. I think of a story Annie told after she came back from her urban home stay. She was walking around with her host family at a mall, and they found people looking at them. Her host family told her that it’s weird for a white girl to be walking around with black people. In many places here, I have felt that segregation between race is still very present. Segregation by differences is easier for people.

Now, how do we overcome that? My answer comes from my experience in yoga class. Yoga, for those of you who do not know, is not only the act of stretching your body in crazy ways, but also, and mostly, a spiritual practice. Yoga is about unity of your body, the Earth, and the Divine. Isn’t that beautiful? I believe the goal of yoga is to realize that we are not separate bodies, but energy connected to the whole universe. We are all one: one with each other, one with the universe, one with the Divine. Even if you do not agree with that statement, I hope you appreciate the beauty of it. How can differences separate us if we are all one?
Laughing: something that happens every night in the CGEE house.

You might be thinking, ‘that’s nice, Grace, but come on, that won’t happen.’ But I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I? Even if it’s hard to see ourselves all as one, I know that I find glimpses of unity in everyday life at the CGEE house. We’ve had many nights here spent laughing and laughing at each other, without a care in the world. We find solidarity in each other: a small group of U.S. students who look similar, but who have all walked very different paths in life, and if we can come together, maybe, just maybe, the world will find unity someday too.

Week Five

By: J.D. Mechelke

As commanded by our week’s community leader Amanda, we were all wearing our PJ’s. I had this yellow and hole filled shirt, sporting a “Life is Good” logo and the phrase, “Remember where you came from.” The smell of pizza permeated the room. It was pretty good except for the vegan pizza, which tasted like old cigarettes (God bless Emily for her ethical decisions). We had just gotten back from our Urban Homestay. It was good to be together. We had become a family of sorts. The seven of us sprawled in a circle across the living room floor along with Attila, our mother hen. Amanda had shuffled a deck of cards and spread them out in between all of us. I picked up the first card, not really understanding what the heck was going on. I laid my card out in front of everyone; an ace. Amanda picked up her notebook and found the question associa ted with the ace: “What fulfills you the most in life currently?” While I’m definitely one of those people who likes to speak before thinking, this time I really had no idea what to say.

The day before, my host brother Donovan drove his siblings and I to a farm outside of Windhoek. It was hilly like South Dakota combined with the dryness of New Mexico. There was a big army tent set up across from this towering tree. It reminded me of all the trees mentioned in Genesis: the places where death and life happened, an orienting place, a place of reunion. Under this tree was where the people in my host parents’ generation cooked food all day long. The farm was, for today, the setting of a first of its kind family reunion. The matriarch of the family hadn’t yet seen all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in one place. So for her 72nd birthday, she wanted a family reunion.

At first I was very conscious of difference. I was the only white guy around, the only one with a full beard, the only one whose first language was English, and the only one who was comfortable burping and farting in front of old people. It was about 10 in the morning when the assembly of young and old clustered under the old army tent. Great-grandma sat on the long side of the tent in the very middle. Everyone found a seat in a semi-circleish thing around her. My host-mom grabbed me. She had me sit next to her so she could translate form Afrikaans into English. Someone could’ve turned her speech into a cliche “trip down memory lane.” But even for a foreigner, it was easy to tell that this was something different. You could tell from the look in her eyes as she smiled down at her great-grandchildren. “Remember where you came from,” she said, like a mother spreading a blanket over her new-born.

She told us the story of her life. She had walked through a land ravaged by Apartheid. She had raised her children through Apartheid. She had seen the liberation struggle. She had seen the revolution. Though these statements are all true, Apartheid was not the main subject of her reflections: it was family.

The week away from the Center on Simpson Street was a week immersed in difference. But it was also, for me, a time to remember where I come from. The time spent accepting the hospitality of strangers reminded me less about difference and more about our universal desire to belong. I saw this struggle to belong with the little girl who’s complexion was lighter than the rest. This struggle was also evident with a gay man who was constantly denied respect and responsibility from family elders. And I saw this struggle with myself, not quite sure where I was supposed to stand.

It was Sunday evening when we got dropped off from our homestay’s. That night our unconventional family of seven plus mother hen was sprawled across the floor in a circle. Amanda read me the baffling question: “What fulfills you the most in life currently?” There’s a lot of ways I could’ve answered the question. And most of them would have been truthful. But being with each other, laying around in our pajamas and our communal breath of pizza smells, made me realize that I belong.