Kelley G., John, Holland, Morgan
On Monday we traveled to the north to participate in week long rural homestays in the town of Outapi. Each student stayed with a different family in this rural area, some working in the fields, others washing dishes by starlight, while some helped to brew beer. We are CGE. These are our stories.
During the latter part of the week, we were given an opportunity to visit a school called Ponhofi Secondary School. It was private and surprisingly reminded Holland of Oberlin College because they had over half the student population living on school grounds (‘on campus’). As usual, we had our tour guides and split into groups. Holland was very excited to see that in almost every classroom there was a poster that had information about HIV and AIDS. At her homestay, she noticed that the majority of people she met wore a red ribbon. She asked her homestay uncle about it and he explained there was a popular program in the schools up there called “Window of Hope.” It teaches young people in local schools about health (specifically HIV and AIDS), mostly through performing and visual arts. Apparently, many parents objected to the program at first because they thought it was promoting increased sexual activity. Soon, however, they found out that wasn’t true (particularly from the students) and then the program picked up support.
Holland left her homestay feeling very encouraged by the people she met there. While the group spends a lot of time in class trying to figure out how to change young peoples’ mindsets, it would seem that there are a few minds that have already been changed. Holland’s homestay brother explained that if he changed his mind, he could only hope that his friends would change their minds as well and then their friends would change their mind and so on.
John’s rural homestay experience was shaped by the Kashima family and the values they practiced each day. Aside from a prayer before each meal, the Kashimas never verbalized their faith; instead they expressed it through their actions. As soon as our first hug, I was embraced as a member of the family. I am sure my struggles to adjust to culture tested their patience, but they never let it show. Whether it was forgetting to end a greeting in Oshivambo with Tate or Meme or making their work more difficult in the fields, my stumbles gave my family reasons for frustration. Thankfully, the Kashimas viewed me as family. With a sense of understanding, they acted on the philosophy: what child doesn’t give their parents daily annoyances? The three sons also never led with any judgment; instead they were equally willing to act as my teacher. One afternoon, we were walking around the outside of the family’s property when we stumbled upon a goat that was unable to move, because of the number of ticks lodged into his foot. Without pausing, the middle son pulled out the machete as the younger one held the animal down. Tired from a long day of speakers and excursions, I was not ready to see this poor animal get killed. Instead, my brother went straight to work scrapping countless ticks from the bottom of the goat’s foot. Once I learned to ignore the goat’s agonizing screams, I took the machete and finished the job. To complete the mission, the youngest son and I grabbed both ends of the goat and threw it over the fence, just to see it slowly stand up and walk away.
With all these small acts of kindness, I was not surprised that my family was directly related to Rev. Kashima, a respected elder in the community and one of our speakers. Rev. Kashima spoke to our group about the role of the church in post-independence Namibia. He primarily focused on the challenges faces the church, mainly corruption, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, economic empowerment, suicide/murder, and building more hospitals. Between the Rev. Kashima’s passion as he spoke on these national issues and enter present benevolence in the Kashima home, it was clear that my homestay family was actively trying to live into their faith for the benefit of others.
One of the major highlights of our travel seminar to the north was our visit to the palace of the Uukwaluudhi King where King Shikongo Taapopi welcomed us to the region. He explained to us the changes being made in the area such as the current building of a new community center near the palace that would provide needed services to the people. During our tour, we were taught a lot about the culture and traditions of the Ovambo people, including the proper way to greet the king by touching your elbow when you shake his hand and bending your knees slightly if you are a woman or nodding your head if you are a man. Lauren’s host mother, Meme Albertina, joined us in our meeting with the king as she is the head women of her region. We enjoyed a traditional meal that was prepared for us at the palace and watched as they performed songs and dances, with some of the students and Meme Albertina even jumping in to learn the dances. Overall, it was a very interesting experience to meet the royalty and leaders of the Ovambo tribe and gave us a view into the structure and traditions of the group.
During her homestay, Kelley learned more about the importance of the King and the role of the head men and women in the community through her host mother, Meme Helvi, the daughter-in-law of the regional head woman Meme Albertina. When Meme Helvi found out Kelley was going to visit the King, she was very excited so she picked out the clothes she should wear and taught her ahead of time how to respectfully greet the king. After making her promise to give her a detailed description of the king and the palace when she returned, Meme Helvi explained to Kelley some of the tradition behind the leadership of the Ovambo tribe. For example, she explained how the succession line for the throne does not follow direct lineage, but rather the sons of the king’s siblings are next in line for the title. Because of the family connection with the regional leader, her husband’s mother being the head woman, Meme Helvi explained the importance of the head men and women in the community and how they bring the concerns and ideas of the people in their region to the king. She also explained the succession line of head persons staying within the family, with the head man or women deciding when to pass their position to another family member. From just interacting with her host family and extended family, Kelley was able to see the pride that comes along with the important position of having a head woman in the family as well as the respect that is shown to them by the community.
One of the longest distances that we traveled during our rural homestay was an hour and a half kombi ride to the town of Oshikango. This town contains one of the most accessible border posts between Angola and Namibia, and we traveled there to learn about the issues surrounding the porous boundary. We arrived at the border post around ten in the morning, exiting the kombi in to the extreme heat of far northern Namibia, as well as holding our cameras and bags closely to us because of the large number of people and the high rate of crime in the area. This crime was one of the most prevalent topics of discussion that we had while visiting the border. For example, the moment that I told my host mother from my rural homestay that we were traveling to Oshikango, the first thing that she said was, “be careful.” Not only is the town of Oshikango well populated, but also criminals tend to travel there because of the ease of crossing the border over to Angola. In order to cross the border, from either country to the other, your first and only step is to go to the office near to the border itself, tell the officer why you want to cross and for how long you will be there, get a piece of paper signed with that information posted, and cross over. The lack of security here makes it quite easy for people to cross the border. It is extremely easy to cross this border, mainly because the Angolan people come over to Namibia and sell cheap goods to Namibian people. In addition, the town of Oshikango is industry-based, and so the presence of the export processing zones leaves a large focus on money making and the exchange of goods – the reason for Angola and Namibia’s porous borders.
The ease of crossing this border has also created a large population of “street kids” from Angola taking up “residence” in Oshikango, Namibia. These kids cross over, with no money and no housing, and live on the streets, working anywhere that they can and begging for scraps. In addition, many of these children result to a life of necessary crime to survive. The issue of “street kids” was one that interested many students. A few students had host mothers that were teachers in either primary or secondary school, so comparing the discussion on education in the rural areas a bit south of Oshikango to that going on in the packed town was an interesting one. For example, Morgan’s host mother was a primary school teacher in Outapi. They had one conversation after dark, as most conversations took place over a cup of tea under the stars, about the languages that she spoke and they spoke in her school. English is the official language in Namibia, but we had talked a little bit about the issue of the native language of Oshiwambo in the region. This was also a discussion that connected back to our Politics class, and the debate over the age at which students should start being taught only in English. My host mother was very knowledgeable in English, and she taught her classes in English. However, in a place like Oshikango where there are many young children being enrolled in schools from Angola, where the official language is Portuguese, has an interesting comparison. Even in Oshikango, the teachers in the schools are not allowed to teach in any language but English. Therefore, the students coming from Angola are at an extreme disadvantage in Namibian schools, as they attempt to catch up on English and in classes. After this homestay, CGE students knew just how difficult it could be, as they were very limited in their Oshiwambo language skills!