Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Week 12

Hannah Miner
Colleen Keeney

Easter week at CGE there was very little time for breaks or celebration. With the semester winding down the week was filled with classes, internships, speakers, a panel, and papers. On Easter Sunday we did take a break to enjoy some Easter festivities. Justine and Kristin planned a community event of egg dying, an Easter egg hunt and making deviled eggs. Overall, as we scramble to finish up our final papers and projects the reality of leaving is also setting in.

In internship class, on Tuesday, we had a panel of Americans working in Namibia. They spoke about their different experiences working and living in Namibia. The first speaker was Lucy Steinitz who is a Regional Technical Advisor for Family Health International, and covers the entire continent of Africa. Originally a New Yorker, she was very easy to relate to. When she spoke about her initial move to Zimbabwe, her return to the US, and later relocation back to Namibia, she stated, “I have always had Africa and adventure on the brain.” This is a feeling that drew many of the students to Namibia to study. She also spoke about the different kind of life that you find outside the US, which is closer to what really matters. It is these other kinds of things that has taken hold of many of us and made us love Namibia. It comes in the intimate relationships we have formed, the ten small conversations you have while walking down the street, the lack of TV watching, and the homemade bread we eat regularly. MaryBeth Gallagher was another captivating panel member. She recalled multiple stories from time spent in San Francisco as a Jesuit Volunteer Corp member, in El Salvador and Bangladesh through Maryknoll Mission Society, and finally at Catholic AIDS Action in Namibia. She quoted Mother Theresa saying, “When you are doing God’s work, God will provide for you.” She made clear that this statement has proved true in her life. Both of these speakers, along with the rest of the panel, told us to take risks and love what we are doing--if we do these things then we have very little to worry about. The final two speakers were Nick Deluca, who works the US Center for Disease Control and a member of the foreign service. They both gave us the perspective on working for the US government abroad and the benefits that can come along with that. All of the speakers were obviously very passionate about what they doing in Namibia, and gave us a lot to think about in terms of working abroad when we graduate college.

The religion class was also extremely privileged this week when they visited the Islamic Center here is Windhoek. With only five thousand Muslims living in Namibia, which is an extremely Christian country, it was insightful to meet with Imam Shafi to get a deeper look into Islam. He referred to Islam as, "not only a religion. Religion is the narrowest title that can be given to Islam. Islam is a complete way of life.” He spoke in-depth about how a commitment to the way of life of Islam is promoting social change in Namibia. Not that they are trying to convert people, but they want all Muslims to be the best Muslim in all areas of their life. His talk was very interesting because it was a reminder that all change does not come in the form of mass social movements, instead it can be a personal self-transformation and be reflected in how you live day to day. The meeting was an excellent exchange and both parties felt as though there was not enough time, so Imam Shafi invited back for dinner at a later date.

In History this past week, we considered racism through the lens of privilege by creatively presenting on either our own experiences with racism and how our position within society relates to one aspect of Namibian history or by comparing one facet of the history of racism and resistance in Namibia with one within the history of the United States. Students presented on important leaders in both liberation movements, including one of architects of apartheid, the parallels that exists between both apartheid and the separate but equal Jim Crow Laws and the Civil Rights Movement, particularly in Alaska, and the struggle for Independence, as well as womens rights in Namibia, South Africa and the U.S. The presentations provided an excellent segue into discussing our own personal experiences with racism, including when we first experienced racism and how racism manifests itself within us and affects our actions. In general, the conversation was very open, with many people giving testimony on a very emotional and charged topic. I was very impressed with my colleagues’ honesty and courage to face a topic that is often considered to be taboo in the U.S.

We closed our history class that day with an exercise about diversity and privilege. In this exercise we lined up in a straight line and then responded to a series of statements like “If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward” and “If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc. take one step back.” At the end of the exercise we were left scattered across our carport, with those people who identified themselves as being more privileged standing only a short distance from the electric fence that surrounds out guesthouse (coincidence?) In the discussion that followed several students expressed surprise at how pervasive privilege and oppression can be and how interrelated race and socio-economic class are, noting how both have the potential to positively or negatively influence every aspect of our lives, from how we travel from one place to the next to how many books we had in our houses as we were growing up. It was also mentioned that the diversity found within our small group of twenty was impressive, though it was also acknowledged that despite some of us having at one point in our lives been at a greater or lesser advantage than others, we, as American college students are privileged relative to the rest of the world.

We started our The Development Process class on Friday by talking briefly about feminism. Essentially, feminism, in this educational context, refers to the attempt to create a space in which everyone--women, men, black, white, rich, poor, have the opportunity to speak about their experience in order to create an atmosphere and dialogue that is more diverse. This includes acknowledging that there are different knowledge systems dictating how we know, experience, and convey information. We then had a speaker from *Women’s Solidarity,* Rosa Namilas, come to out class to speak about gendered social justice issues found within Namibia focusing specifically on issues facing women and children, including corporeal punishment in the school system, the lack of participation of women in politics, and HIV/AIDS in an attempt to gain perspective on how the development process affects different groups of people.

Despite feeling overworked having handed in several papers this passed week, us students were still out in full force exploring Windhoek nightlife over the weekend. Several students were out late on Saturday in order to see a well-known local artist, Gazza, perform. We only have a few weeks left so we’re trying to enjoy every minute while staying on top of schoolwork.

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