Monday, November 10, 2008

Trip to the North

Week 9: (October 13-19) By: Rachel Dahlgren, Alana Jordan, and Megan Lee

After saying farewell to our families on the rural homestay, we came back together and continued our journey to Etosha National Park. As we were driving to our campsite, we were filled with joy as Passat (CGE's Transportation Director) pointed out many wonderful animals, like giraffes, zebras, elephants, springbok, and even a lion! It was so exciting to see these exotic animals in the wild and not a zoo. Personally, I had a hard time convincing myself that I was really seeing these awesome animals! The night life was happening at the water hole the second day we were there. There was definitely a showdown between eight rhinos and six lionesses, only to be broken up by a herd of elephants parading in! It was simply marvelous to have a scene from the Lion King unfold before our eyes!

Etosha is a tourist must. The wildlife that Etosha has to offer is amazing! In addition to the great animals, there are plenty campsites. There are many different landscapes that we have been discovering as we have lived here, and Etosha is simply one of them! Etosha is definitely a major attraction for people from around the world. As we were enjoying Etosha, I could not help but notice how there were not many native Namibians taking in all of the beautiful sights as well. Really the only Namibian people we saw were those who were working at the campsites. As we have spent time talking with people in Windhoek and visiting other areas like Swakopmund and Sossusvlei, I have noticed that many natives cannot afford to go to enjoy these avenues of Namibia; this makes me (Rachel) sad. Regardless that its peoples’ cannot afford such adventures, many outsiders can, and the Namibian government is capitalizing on these opportunities. Tourism is a growing industry in Namibia; it is a good investment to bring in domestic revenue and improve the economy. Namibia is becoming more popular with tourists each year; it is only a few years time before it will not be the hidden treasure of Africa.

As we continued our travels throughout Northern Namibia, we continued to relate our interactions with Namibians to issues we have been discussing in class and experiencing first hand. We had an opportunity to meet with the King of the Ondonga Tribe, and the Traditional Leaders Council (which the King also Chairs). It was quite interesting how the different languages and dialects ran across us in an attempt to translate our inquiries and the council’s defense of their communal purpose. There was a lot of confusion and unanswered questions, but I do not know the extent that was lost in translation because of language and/or distinct differences in culture.

One of our professors, Romanus, is native to the region, and he took us to a water-entertainment park. We all had a great time hanging out and playing around, escaping the afternoon heat. Mid-swim, Romanus asked us about privilege and the necessity of leisure. We all agreed that leisure was important, but opinion on the degree varied. Some argued that certain sectors, like education and crime, have fallen so far behind that Namibia has no choice but to focus on those first and foremost. Others believed that some assistance with community leisure, like a public pool, would help to decrease crime as fewer kids are on the streets. I (Alana) am in agreement with the latter. I think that everyday is such a struggle here that most instances of crime are out of desperation. I do think that having some sort of avenue of play, however simple, is essential.

Our trip to the northern border of Namibia into Angola was a lot different than we had expected. Many of the students, including myself (Megan), have never had an experience such as this. The border was not a clearly marked or grandiose; it was instead a chain link fence. There was a “no man’s land” between the two countries, and this is where our group hung out and observed. There were hoards of people on the other side of the fence, all carrying pieces of typical computer paper covered in stamps – these suffice as their “passports.” There were many border police officers on duty, but whenever they lost focus or turned around for just a second, the Angolans raced inside. It quite honestly reminded me of minors trying to sneak into the local bar. And the officers just laughed it off. It was very strange to me – I’m not sure this sort of behavior from officers would ever be acceptable in the United States.

There are a large number of shops on the border where the Angolans buy cheap goods. They buy in bulk, probably so they do not have to experience the disheveled border more than they have to. All of these relatively cheap shops are run by the Chinese. We learned that the Chinese, along with their cheap goods, are sending native Chinese employees to keep shop. This is only contributing to the growing unemployment rate in Namibia, and is in fact hurting the economy because native Namibian businesses are forced to lower their prices to upkeep competition.

The Namibian / Angolan border lead us to see people of both hope and despair. We will never forget the eyes of those on the other side of the fence, crowding the border post officer to get their papers stamped and enter into Namibia. The whole experience made us realize that we should definitely check out the United States’ two borders, so we can have a more developed and informed opinion on the similarities and differences between each.

Picture 1: A watering hole at Etosha, one of many visited by students

Picture 2: Sossusvlei Park, a growing sector of Namibia’s tourism investments

Picture 3: Student Adela Hoffman enjoying an afternoon in the pool

Picture 4: The Namibia/Angola border

Picture 5: One of many Chinese businesses at the border

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