Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Rural Homestay

Week 8 (October 6-12)
By Kristin Hubbard, Heidi James, and Jessica Spanswick

The final home stay of the semester took place just outside the small town of Khorixas, situated approximately 5 hours northwest of Windhoek. Students stayed for 6 days on rural farms. For many students, this was the most challenging home stay experience of the semester, as students have never had to live without electricity, running water or plumbing. The farms were situated in small clusters on communal farmlands, but remained very isolated from Khorixas. The farms themselves were only about a 15 minute drive away from the town of Khorixas, which is still a very small town with only the bare necessities available. For our home stay families, Khorixas was only accessible by a two-hour donkey cart ride, the only form of transportation for many rural people.

One student experienced just how isolated and frightening living in a rural area can be. She witnessed a small child fall on some barbed wire and puncture his head while playing. A fellow student grabbed her first aid kit and rushed to help the boy. However, she had to pause before helping him in order to put on a rubber glove due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Namibia. Such an action drove home the realities of the HIV epidemic, as precious time and energy was expended to take precautions against AIDS that might have meant the difference in the boy’s safety. The boy’s injuries seemed very severe and the students were sure that he would need stitches. However, that was not an option considered by the family due to a lack of transportation to Khorixas and money to pay for medical help. This incident underscored the realities of rural life in Namibia and forced the student to stretch their comfort levels as they thought critically about healthcare in rural areas in regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Students were confronted with a very different standard of living and economic hardship when staying families. Some students found that while food was available, very little was consumed, as it was a very dear resource. Most of the families subsisted on their own food, so students rarely felt at liberty to ask for food, because they did not want to deprive their family of such a valuable resource.

The daily tasks of farm life became part of students’ lives on the home stay. Many collected fire wood, water, rode (and drove) donkey carts, herded and milked cattle and goats and prepared meals. Several students were able to witness or participate in the slaughter of a goat for their consumption. Others learned how to make fat cakes over an open fire, and re-apply a cow dung mixture to the sides of the houses. Families were busy all day, except in the mid-late afternoon when the heat became too oppressive to do anything but rest and stay cool. Many witnessed the harsh effects of farm life on their families. Many of the women had persistent asthma and coughs due to a life time of cooking over the fire.

The rural home stay proved to be a unique experience of interaction, despite language barriers. The families were exceptionally welcoming, and many students marveled at the ability of these families to open their homes to foreigners, especially white foreigners, who resemble their former oppressors. The trend of forgiveness is something that we’ve seem all over Southern Africa, the effects of the regime is still part of daily life, but we’ve seen just how committed people are to bridging gaps after apartheid.

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