Monday, May 16, 2016

Week Fifteen: Until We Meet Again

by: Kayla Koterwski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Kayla Koterwski

Week Fourteen: Continuing on the Path of Decolonizing Our Minds

by: Ashly Brun, Molly Weilbacher & Sydney Wipperfurth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Week Thirteen: Decolonizing our Minds in the “Little Germany” of Namibia

by Luke Beasley, Olivia Cook, and Siri Ericson

Last weekend was spent in the coastal city, Swakopmund, studying foreign investment, colonialism, and the 1904-1908 genocide. The city provided a stark contrast from Windhoek with its distinctly German colonial architecture, cool and humid weather, and array of coffee shops. Overall, our week was filled with new, challenging, and eye-opening experiences as we toured the Walvis Bay Export Processing Zone, Marine Denkmal monument, NamPort, Namibian Dolphin Project, and more.

Here is the controversial Marine
Denkmal monument commemo-
rating German soldiers who died
during the German colonization.
Our first full day in Swakopmund was spent with the political activist, Laidlaw Peringanda. Peringanda took us to the Marine Denkmal monument, a monument that stands in the center of town commemorating German soldiers who died during German colonization. The statue has been criticized for listing the names of German soldiers that committed atrocities against the indigenous peoples and has recently been doused in red paint symbolizing the blood of the thousands of people that were killed by the Germans. Although Peringanda and other activists have lobbied for its removal, the government and community have remained largely resistant to these demands. Throughout the tour, we were continually reminded of the intricate history between Germany and Namibia and the legacy of colonialism that exists today. As we learned about the brutal colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples, we were uncomfortable watching tourists smile and take photos before these statutes without recognition of the violence and injustices these statues represent. 

In this photo you can see the unmarked gravesites of the
OvaHerero/OvaMbanderu people who died during the genocide
of 1904-1908. In the background you can see houses upwards
of 6 million dollars overlooking the mass graves.
Continuing with our critical, decolonial, activist-led tour of Swakopmund, we walked through the gravesite of thousands of OvaHerero/OvaMbanderu people who were killed in the 1904-1908 genocide. The gravesite was clearly divided between a German gravesite neatly marked with tombstones and flowers and a plot of land where the indigenous people had been buried without tombstones. Te mounds of dirt where people were buried almost a century ago can still be seen. There is one single monument commemorating the OvaHerero/OvaMbanderu people who died under “mysterious circumstances”, signifying the government’s slow response in acknowledging the genocide that took place, and another monument in the corner of the gravesite, as far from the German housing settlement as possible. Walking through the gravesite, we imagined what it would be like to live in German houses upwards of 6 million dollars, built over indigenous land and graves, overlooking the graves of thousands of people who died in the genocide. As ATV’s fly by the gravesite without having to be confronted by an inconvenient history, we wondered how individuals teach themselves about this history, as the history of genocide and colonization is largely erased by the public school system and erased as homes are literally built over mass graves that remain unprotected by the government. 

Here is one of the large cargo
vessels that transports goods
from all over the world. I felt
incredibly small next to its
physical size of the vessel and
global implications of trade.
The next day, we started our foggy and overcast Friday morning traveling to the nearby town of Walvis Bay to visit the management company for the Export Processing Zone (EPZ). An EPZ is a free trade zone where companies are allowed to avoid paying taxes to the government on the condition that they are manufacturing a product and exporting the entire product. The idea behind an EPZ is to bring foreign investment into the country in hopes of developing it more by providing favorable conditions for business investors. While there is significant investment coming into the EPZ, many argue that it only minimally benefits Namibia. Our speaker, Jan Kruger, mentioned the EPZ only creates  300 jobs, and the government receives no money from taxes. Namibia’s high unemployment makes 300 new jobs a positive, but for a project that is supposed to help “develop” Namibia it is relatively insignificant. After the presentation about Namibia’s EPZ we had a tour of Namport, a large port in Walvis Bay where goods are loaded and unloaded from container vessels that travel distances ranging from South Africa to Europe. Something we noticed at Namport was dredging, a process of moving sand from the seabed to improve functionality of waterways for the port’s ships and to expand the port. It was very clear that this was an industrial zone from rows upon rows of shipping containers that are usually unloaded and reloaded onto cargo ships within 24 to 48 hours of arrival. Namport’s physical size is very large, but its influence reaches far into central Africa; many of the goods that pass through Namport are sent to landlocked countries in Africa.

Here is the Namibian Dolphin
project. It is a small little
building on the waterfront in
Walvis Bay near a couple little
shops and a nice cafe. Our
speaker was from Ireland
and has been in Namibia
for a year studying dolphins
and the environment.

After our tour, we enjoyed a walk along a beautiful lagoon and hundreds of flamingos. The lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but slightly north is the industrial zone that creates an ugly backdrop unfitting to the natural beauty of the lagoon. While the development does not aesthetically complement the flamingos, it has also harmed the environment and slowly encroached on the Heritage Site. Later when we visited the Namibian Dolphin Project to learn about Namibian dolphins and human impact in the area. For example, we learned about how the constant noise of dredging has harmed the dolphins’ abilities to rely on sound to communicate and hunt. Overall, the day was full of interesting visits and we experienced the juxtaposition between the coast’s industry and nature. We learned about two points of view about industry in Namibia: Economically, the port has provided jobs vital to imports for Southern Africa, but environmentally the industry that is helping the economic environment is damaging the natural one. 

On Saturday, we were given a free day to do what we wanted around Swakopmund. About half the group decided to conquer our fears and go skydiving. It was a nervous twenty minute flight up to 10,000 feet where we were quickly moved to the door with our guide. In a heart-stopping and adrenaline-filled 30 seconds we fell for thousands of feet before our parachute deployed. As the parachute slowed our momentum and we drifted to the ground and were able to fully appreciate the magnificent view that the Namib Desert meeting the Atlantic Ocean provided. It was an incredible ending to a trip that in a few short days gave us so many varied and valuable learning experiences.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Week Twelve: Equal Rights in an Independent Namibia

by: Katie Bosse, Gabbi Mpagi, Lia Wellen

Siri and Gabi being politicians!
The common theme for this week’s classes centered on the question of equal rights in post-independent Namibia. The politics class visited Parliament and discussed gender equality in government, Mr. Ya Nangoloh spoke about segregation and race relations in terms of equality in our history class, and gay rights activist Wendelinus Hamutenya talked about LGBTQI rights in Namibia.

Students enrolled in the politics course had the honor of listening to the brave and beautiful social activist Wendelinus Ndiwakalunga Hamutenya, otherwise known as Mr. Gay Namibia. Mr. Hamutenya shared his struggles and triumphs about finding his identity, promoting equality, and upholding the civil liberties of individuals who identify as LGBTQI in Namibia. Becoming Mr. Gay Namibia opened many doors for Mr. Hamutenya, including an opportunity to participate in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade, but unfortunately he experienced backlash from Namibians who weren’t tolerant of his sexuality. Namibia has been recognized as one of the more lenient countries within Africa when it comes to the topic of LGBTQI rights, yet the truth of the matter is that LGBTQI persons are still being denied basic equal rights based on their sexual orientations and or preferences. LGBTQI persons are being ostracized in rural communities, forced into marriages for the sake of reproduction, and are experiencing dangerous acts of violence based in hate by their fellow Namibians as well as government officials. Mr. Hamutenya’s dedication to defying the status quo has had dangerous consequences such as being denied access to public transportation and enduring unlawful arrests by Namibian police officers, but his perseverance has remained resilient. He continues to work towards equality for all Namibians. 

Lia pretending to make a
speech in the speaker’s seat.
This week the Politics & Social Change in Southern Africa class began our day by getting a tour of the Namibian Parliament. We spent some time in the National Assembly. We had fun sitting in the speaker’s seat, and looking at the elegant building. The gardens around and in the center of the Parliament building were also very nice. When speaking about civil rights, or equality amongst the Namibian people, we spoke about gender equality in Parliament and we were able to draw some lines between parliament and inequality in Namibia. In terms of gender equality, the government is attempting to equalize the number of seats that women take to that of men. SWAPO (South West African Political Organization) is the ruling party and takes up the majority of seats in Parliament. They have a system where a woman takes every other seat. There is still a majority of males in government, but the number has improved drastically since independence in 1990. In terms of post-apartheid segregation and inequality, in class our instructor, and a few speakers, has talked about how the SWAPO party, the party who liberated Namibia, is now becoming a sort of oppressor due to the fact that they are the overwhelming majority in Parliament. Mr. Ya Nangoloh, director of NamRights, stated that only the color of the people in charge of Namibia has changed, but many apartheid-like policies are still in place. The fact that opposition parties have very little say in government exacerbates the power that the SWAPO party has and the lack of power that opposition parties have. So, in general, Namibian Parliament is becoming more equal in terms of gender, but is arguably unequal in terms of fairly representing the Namibian people because of the overwhelming SWAPO majority party.

This is an example of the beautiful decorations and architecture
in Parliament. These are the lights in the National Assembly building.
In our history class on tuesday we had Mr. Phil ya Nangoloh visit our class for the second time this semester to speak about the similarities between liberation struggles in Southern Africa compared to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. As the founder of Namibia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), also known as NamRights, Mr. Nangoloh is an expert in human rights politics and history on the liberation struggle for Namibia’s independence from South Africa. He finds that the situation of apartheid and racial inequalities under the South African government is not a unique case and one can draw several parallels between the regime’s policy of “separate and unequal” in South Africa and the United States Jim Crowism and subsequent New Jim Crowism. Nevertheless Mr. Nangoloh did locate where the two movements differed in nature and strategy, despite having the same overarching goal of separation. Mr. Nangoloh believed there are fundamental differences that distinguish the two movements beginning with the fact that the liberation struggle in Southern Africa was a “violent civil disobedience” against a white minority while the United States’ civil rights movement tended to more of a peaceful civil disobedience against a white majority. Moreover, Mr. Nangoloh made the tactical distinction that during the civil rights movement it was focused on gaining rights for all, while he believed the liberation was more of a fight against colonialism. Finally, he wanted to leave with the class that there is a difference between freedom and independence. For example, Namibia might be liberated from colonial forces legally, but in actuality as Mr. Nangoloh explained, Namibia is still dependent on outside markets that control their major industries such as the fishing and diamond industry. 

The courtyard near the National Assembly.
Mr. Nangoloh’s visit to the class was important for us to hear the gaps in history we missed in our education in the United States. It was beneficial for the class to ponder the dichotomy of freedom and liberation in the context of a globalization and neocolonialism reign. This week helped set the framework for examining how these racial processes occur in our own home and aid in setting the tone for intentional action when we return to the United States.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Week Ten: Confronting Contradictions

by: Sydney Wipperfurth, Rich Wehman III, Emily Simpson

Following our rewarding weeklong rural homestay, the CGEE students were off for another Namibian adventure! Our group had the privilege of visiting Etosha National Park, which is located in northwestern Namibia and widely considered to be one of the world’s finest game reserves. In the company of Ovambo traders (who probably discovered this region before the Europeans, but who writes history amirite?), Europeans Charles Andersson and Francis Galton “first discovered” the region in 1851 ( Etosha is loosely translated as “Great White Place” in the Ovambo language because of a massive mineral pan, part of the Kalahari Basin that covers around 25% of the national park. Renowned as one of Africa’s finest conservation areas, Etosha serves as a refuge for large herds of plains’ animals, several rare and endangered species, and richly diverse birdlife. This beautiful national park has a plethora of springs and waterholes where an abundance of wildlife typically congregates. The animals of Etosha are of the southern savanna plains of Africa, and large herds of springbok, zebra, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, giraffe, and elephant roam the plains. The numbers of animals can vary considerably depending on factors such as migration patterns, the condition of the veld, and the availability of water. 

One highlight of the trip would have to be when our group visited the Okaukuejo waterhole, noted as one of the best watering holes during the dry season. All of the students saw elephants, springbok, Burchell’s zebra, and giraffe, amongst others, during our short, yet eventful visit to the site. Perhaps the most exhilarating moment of the game drives occurred when the group spotted a cheetah far off into the distance. Although Namibia boasts one of the world’s largest populations of free roaming cheetah, there are a relatively small number of them found in Etosha. Our group was fortunate enough to witness this beautiful animal gracefully trot towards our vehicle, truly a breathtaking experience!
Etosha National Park during the drought in Namibia

After our game drives, we arrived at the Mokuti Lodge, where we would be staying for the night; our group was welcomed with wet towels and glasses of grape juice (the wet towels were welcome relief from the brutal heat making us feel like we were melting). After entering the front doors, we discovered the lodge was outrageously extravagant. A vast juxtaposition to our experience a week prior, when we got off of the vans in Outapi, Namibia to the warm and welcoming smiles of our rural host-families. This juxtaposition stemmed from the extreme differences in resource availability and resource accessibility. Our rural homestay families, while there was variance, had significantly limited access to basic amenities like running water or electricity, if any at all. The Mokuti Lodge had air conditioning, running water, electricity, television, a pool, and a full, expensive, buffet for dinner, to name a few.

The differences in these environments stirred many conversations, questioning and critiquing the privilege that each of us possess. Although we understand that the program usually stays at a campsite in Etosha and that there were no spots open, the fact that we had the ability to stay in the lodges shows the mobility and privilege we have access to. We were able to choose to live the life of our families in rural Namibia, however, a week later, were able to leave that environment and exchange it for a much more excessive lifestyle in Etosha. The ability to make this transition felt heavy as we reflected our incredible experiences at our homestays and on the stark contrast between the two lifestyles we were living. 

Richard taking a little nap
so he has enough energy to
look at the beauty of
Etosha National Park!
Furthermore, our stay at the lodge highlighted an excessive use of resources, namely water, providing a dramatic contrast between our previous week at our homestays. For instance, during our homestays, many students noticed that their families use water extremely sparingly, ensuring that every single drop is being used. Given the current drought that is affecting Southern Africa, our families did not have much of an option for their water use. However, we were surrounded by water when we arrived at our lodge. All of our rooms had large, luxurious showers, seemingly enticing all visitors to take lengthy showers (tip to the folks back home: shorten your showers!) Additionally, the lodge had TWO pools, filled with the same water that had been so precious and valuable to us just one day ago.

However, we did not experience a dramatic ecosystem change from our homestays to Etosha. If anything, Outapi, with its green grasses and trees, seemed to have more water than the dry landscape of Etosha. So where was all this water coming from? I cannot even begin to imagine how much water is consumed per day at the lodge, and consequently how quickly the groundwater is being depleted. Given everything we have learned about the drought severity in Namibia, this groundwater depletion is especially concerning. Yet this resource depletion is the reality for many tourist destinations, where lodges are focused on ensuring that visitors are comfortable- even at the cost of the environment. 

An intentional community of elephants in Etosha National Park
In the context of Etosha, this reality is especially frustrating, since Etosha provides visitors with an opportunity to appreciate nature and all the wildlife diversity it has to offer. Etosha itself is notable for its conservation efforts, and yet visitors oftentimes live in a contradictory manner. This inconsistency makes it seems as if we are only focused on protecting ecosystems when it is for our own benefit, such as the recreational opportunities provided by game reserves.

These spaces we were existing in were complicated and contradictory. They forced us to reflect on and complicate our environment. But doing so is never an easy task. Although our environment was physically comfortable, confronting these contradictions is extremely uncomfortable and emotionally heavy. But it is also important to acknowledge these feelings, so that we are better able to understand our role in this world.

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.