Monday, September 8, 2008

We Made it to Namibia!

by Rachel Dahlgren, Kristin Hubbard, and Heidi James

This week we traveled to Windhoek to begin our exploration of Namibian development, politics, history, and religion. We also began the adventure of having 24 Americans in a single house living and learning together. The CGE house has a lot of space but there is very little privacy and it has been an adjustment for everyone to share two toilets and a single wa
shing machine. Windhoek is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and reminds several people of Arizona and New Mexico. During our time here we will explore through our classes, volunteer work, and internships how this diverse and sparse country is building an inclusive democracy and the problems that Namibia faces.

On Thursday, our first full day in Namibia, we took a tour of Windhoek to see various historical landmarks and important areas. One highlight of the tour was a walk through an open market—a vital venue for many Namibians. At open markets such as this one, Namibians sell handmade and homegrown traditional foods and goods for cheaper prices than in chain stores. As we walked through the market, we were able to sample staple food and drink, which included fried tree caterpillars, or “mupane worms” (an excellent source of protein) and fat cakes (a very filling and decadent meal in itself). The fat cakes were a universal favorite, but the tree worms had few fans!

On Friday we were split into groups of three and, with a guide, completed the Katatura Quest of 2008. Each group was given the responsibility of meeting with a specific organization like an open market, a funeral home, churches, and an autobody shop. We were responsible for taking a taxi to Katatura and exploring the area after our meetings. Katatura means ‘the place we don’t want to live’ and is where the apartheid government drew the boundary between black and white.

At the SWAPO-Youth League three students were given the opportunity to discuss foreign aid, current politics, and the relationship between the United States and Namibia with the Secretary. During this discussion it was very difficult for us to hear the negative response to US foreign policies and it forced us to take a more critical look at issues affecting development and democracy building. It was also an empowering experience to realize that the youth can do remarkable things and have a tremendous impact on a nation.

Saturday afternoon was spent talking with students from the University of Namibia at the CGE house. It was really nice to talk to other university students about current social issues such as HIV/AIDS and Namibia’s traditional stance of intolerance toward homosexuality, what their lives are like, and where to go in Namibia to have fun! Hopefully we’ll get to spend some more time with our new friends throughout our stay in Namibia!

Some students spent their weekends exploring downtown Windhoek’s many shopping venues that exist within walking distance of the CGE house. Almost everyone made themselves familiar with the Pick n’ Pay, a convenient grocery store located in the Wern Hill Mall about 10 minutes walk from CGE house. Some people went to an orphanage and played with the kids, and some went on a hike. The hiking group had quite an adventure. First, they had to get out of town, which was difficult because there were fences blocking the way. Once they got out of town, they faced many thorny bushes, but they made it to the top of the mountain! It was all worth it to see the amazing view in the end!

On Sunday night, about 14 students attended a free concert at St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Windhoek. The concert was a premier of the very fist Namibian Mass Choir piece, composed by a Namibian and performed in Afrikaans. Two combined Namibian choirs performed the concert beautifully, but the real highlight came in the form of the exit encore, in which the choir and audience filed out of the cathedral singing a well-known spiritual in four-part harmony. While few of the CGE students knew the song, we enjoyed witnessing the beauty and power of the passionate singing that filled the cathedral and the street outside.

It has been a whirlwind week in Windhoek, and we’re all looking forward to our semester full of experiential learning! All of us are anticipating the start of our 10-day urban home stays that start this weekend, and our first full week of classes.

Photo Captions

1. Excited to have touched down at the Hosea Kutako International Airport, just outside Windhoek.

2. Mass grave in the "Old Location" cemetery for early activists in Namibia's liberation struggle.

3. Open market stalls in Katutura.

4. University of Namibia and CGE students at the open forum.

5. Hiking crew makes it to the top!


Saima said...

I was one of the University of Namibia to attend the opening of the forum 2008 and i must say i was delighted to meet the US student and it was fun chatting to them. Saima

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