Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week 4: Urban Homestay and Classes

John Rogers, Kate McGrath, Morgan Taggart-Hampton, Maggie DePoy

This week, we had the unique opportunity to incorporate the lessons and themes of our courses with real life experiences while living with families in Windhoek. At the beginning, we all felt a bit overwhelmed because we were removed from our comfort zones in the CGE house while adjusting to classes being in full swing. However, as the week progressed, we realized we were gaining invaluable knowledge about the history of German colonialism, the legacy of apartheid in Namibia, and present-day development issues facing the country. Each student came back with a new perspective on the history of Namibia and how it is impacting Namibia life today.

For John, the guest lecture by Katutire Kaura, leader of the DTA, connected with his urban home-stay with the Balzar family of Katutura. Mr. Kaura explained Namibia’s history of German colonialism and focused on the Herero genocide during the late 19th, early 20th century, a period that defined the Balzar’s history and family structure. During his home-stay, John was thrown in the middle of a conflict between the two oldest males in the family. Tensions ran high as the family awaited the pronouncement deciding which son would become family chief. As official head of the family, this honored position is responsible for making all the major family decisions and acting as the Balzar representative in the community. The chief is particularly important in the Balzar family whose first chief was one of the Herero leaders against the Germans during the Herero genocide. Juxtaposed with family structural norms in the United States, it was interesting to realize that their patriarchy is perpetuated through given titles.

Most of the students were placed with families who lived in Khomasdal or Katutura. Khomasdal was township that formed during the apartheid for the placement of the coloureds. This is where Kate’s family lived, but they are blacks who speak Damara. Since it is after independence, this family can live in this coloured neighborhood, and this experience gave her a whole new perspective on ethnic differences here in Namibia, and the significance that ethnicity still has in Namibia today, even after twenty years of independence. Kate learned a lot from her family, including how to speak some Damara, how life was before and after independence, and the importance of religion in certain households. Khomasdal was a township where the blacks were forced to live, and students had different experiences and gained new insights living there compared to the other students, including Morgan, who were placed in Katutura.

Maggie’s family lived in Dorado Park, and her homestay was different from most students because she was living with a "colored" family, meaning they are of mixed race. In particular, she was fortunate to get a different perspective on apartheid and the way coloreds felt it at the time and how it is still impacting them today. One of the most interesting things she heard from her family pertaining to these issues was that they felt as though the hierarchy in Namibia is still there, it has just changed from whites on top, coloreds in the middle, and blacks on the bottom to blacks on top with all of the power and wealth, coloreds remaining in the middle, and white people on the bottom. This seemed to contradict what we have learned in class, and it seemed like an awfully bold claim to make, considering especially that most of the poverty we have seen in the area is blacks or coloreds. They spoke a lot about the role that the current political situation plays within this hierarchy, which is something we have discussed at length in our politics class. Many of us heard the complaint that Maggie's family expressed about feeling like the Swapo party favored blacks in Namibia, particularly Oshiwambos. Maggie's family also added that they don't get very involved in politics because they feel every politician is the same, will make big promises that he or she won't keep, and they said this was a common feeling among the people of Namibia. We found this to be particularly interesting in that this is often a complaint of people in America, particularly the youth, until Barack Obama ran for president and people were very inspired by his ideas and dreams for the country. However, again he is hearing those criticisms and complaints from Americans about being "just another politician". This homestay provided an example of how even halfway around the world, things are not all that different and people often times share common feelings and deal with similar issues in their respective countries.

Morgan spent most of her urban homestay at Sam Nujoma Stadium in Katatura watching Namibia Premier League soccer games and observing the types of informal work necessary because of the high rates of unemployment and staggeringly low statistics in education. The moment that she exited her family’s car at the stadium she was accosted with various opportunities to purchase airtime for her cellphone, assorted barbequed meats, Windhoek Lagers and other cool drinks for consumption. Once she got her ticket, she entered another section of the stadium filled with men and women speaking Damara, Oshivambo, Herero, Afrikaans, and English. While yelling and talking to each other these Namibians were simultaneously sitting in front of coolers filled to the brim with ice and sweating soda cans, while others rotated spits with beef, chicken, and lamb. Finally, once they get through this crowd of Namibian workers, they enter the stadium. The minute she entered the actual stadium more informal workers, often small children holding coolers bigger than them filled with the beers that they will not be legal to drink for at least another ten years. Older men walked up and down the aisles selling jerky to fans. However, one of the most heartbreaking things to observe happened after the audience has had their fill of cool drinks and food - little kids run up to fans who have finished their snacks and ask for the near empty cans and leftover bones to suck the leftover meat off of the bones and drink the last drops of soda or juice. The unemployment rates in Namibia are hovering around fifty percent of the population, so high that it deeply affects even these small children. Interestingly enough, if someone works for at least one hour in a time frame of the last seven days at the time of the employment survey, they are considered employed.

This type of informal work seen at the stadium is one of many that are present in Namibia. One of the most prevalent kinds of work is the men and women who stand in town, outside malls and in the streets, selling cellphone airtime and newspapers to people walking and in cars. In our Development class on Friday, we learned about the Millennium Development Goals that were laid out by the United Nations Development Programme and agreed to by Namibia, to be reached by the year 2015. These goals range from the eradication of poverty, to better education, more equality for women and men, and environmental sustainability. Many of these goals help the country work towards the issues of unemployment that are so present in Namibia, especially among youths and young adults. Although the goals were nicely laid out and are being met slowly but steadily according to the Namibian government, many students had lingering questions about the validity of the statistics. For example, the general trend of the goals seemed to be stating that poverty was slowly being eradicated in the Namibia; however, the rates of unemployment are still increasing rapidly. How do these statistics match up?

Through the experience of the homestays and our classes for the week, students became much more involved and knowledgeable about the issues facing Namibian’s lives. These two encounters, the academics of the classroom and the practical application of those themes through our homestays, nicely complimented each other and helped us better understand the issues of the past and how they affect Namibia today.


Julie Rogers said...

Hi CGE students! Just wanted to thank you all for these great blog entries. It is so interesting to learn about all of your adventures and the many things that you are learning both inside and outside the classroom. It sounds like a great experience and there are many of us in the U.S. who love reading your blog and living your semester vicariously through all of you! Thanks so much and keep soaking it all in!
Julie Rogers (sister of John Rogers)

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