Nathalie, Kelley G., Kate, Morgan
In the week following our rural homestay, we traveled through northern Namibia stopping in the town of Opuwo in the Kunene region. We spent the remainder of the week in Etosha National Park learning about the issues of environmental degradation in Namibia and the connection between conservation and tourism. However, what separated this travel seminar from our previous trips and from our day to day life in Windhoek was the opportunity to interact with Namibians living in rural communities.
After a week of adjusting to a very new set of hygiene practices and the extensive use of baby wipes and buckets of water, we were happy to reach a Guest House equipped with the amenities of home when we reached the town of Opuwo. Morgan was especially interested in our first speaker in the Opuwo region, Mr. Kavari, a representative of the Hizetwa Indigenous People’s Organization (HIPO). This organization is a collaboration between the four indigenous sub-groups of the Ovaherero. Before traveling to the north, she was unaware that there were so many different subgroups of the various tribal groups of Namibia. In the United States, she believes that Americans often perceive Africans to be one general ethnic group. However, this travel seminar, along with many other speakers on the trip, show that there are many subgroups and ethnic tribes that Namibians affiliate with. Mr. Kavari also taught the students about the development of the Opuwo region and the socio-economic issues facing these sub-groups. Through this discussion, we gained our first insight in to the debate over modernity and traditionalism that manifests itself in this region of Namibia. One of the main issues that he connected to this debate was the issue of money, and the perception of modernity based on the availability of money and Westernization in the towns. Walking through the town of Opuwo, we could see this manifestation in the variations in clothing that people were wearing. For example, while waiting in downtown Opuwo for the kombi ride to our campsite, many women could be seen wearing the traditional clothing of the Ovahimba people, the skins and bones of cattle. It was astonishing for Nathalie and other students to see some of the women having contemporary handbags over their arms. She was intrigued by seeing this fusion of tribal and modern styles. This clash of perceived modernity and traditionalism was a common theme over the following week.
Our next example of this debate lay in our trip to the Ondao Mobile School. Mobile schools aim to provide consistent basic education to children of semi-nomadic communities that migrate seasonally. This particular school caters primarily to the Ovahimba and the Ovadhema tribes of the north. We had the opportunity to observe two different classes of Grades 1 and 2.
These CGE students had very memorable experiences while visiting this school. Nathalie and Kelley were fascinated by the interactions with the students and the creativity of their drawings. With the language barrier, the most prevalent type of communication between the CGE students and the Mobile School students was through drawings. To show their names, many of the students wrote their names in the sand or drew their own pictures and wrote their names on paper. Morgan was especially interested in the clothing that the children were wearing. Some of the kids were dressed in the traditional clothing of the Ovahimba, the skins of their cattle, and the Ovadhema, wearing cloth wraps and beads in their hair. However, other children were wearing what she, as an American, perceived as being more modern, with sports sneakers, long sleeve shirts and wind pants. The debate between modernity and traditionalism infiltrated all of her observations during the week. In addition to these issues, those of the development of the Mobile school itself were fascinating to CGE students. For example, the Mobile School started as a Norwegian NGO project and then, when the Namibian government became aware of the idea of a mobile school, decided to fully fund the program. Mobile schools around northern Namibia now stand as schools that are funded only by the government.
During our visit to the school, the CGE students learned that the Mobile School was lacking a lot of supplies and recreational materials. The CGE students learned from both the instructors and from their observations that there was a large need for recreational materials at the school. They were barely able to afford school notebooks and pencils, and had no money to spend on playground materials. Therefore, a few of the students returned to the school the following day with soccer balls, tennis balls, playground balls and jump ropes. Kate specifically was interested in seeing the fact that these kids did not have balls and toys to play with, when these materials were such an important part of her experiences in school. While playing with the kids and their new materials, she realized that even though she could not necessarily communicate with these kids through language, through sport and fun, they could interact in much deeper ways.
The CGE students had more interesting experiences learning about traditional customs, clothing and hairstyles from the Himba village that they spent two nights next to. Their first night at the campsite was spent primarily in the actual Himba corral, learning about their traditional ways and the Holy Fire that they celebrate. For example, children wearing one braid in the front of their head means that their father has died. Another child wearing two braids in the front means that their father is alive. Both the ankle bracelets and the three different types of belts represent the amount of children that a woman has. These are just a few examples of the various traditional styles of the Ovahimba people that the CGE students observed on their trip.
The most central tradition that the CGE students experienced was the reverence surrounding the Holy Fire. One of the most interesting aspects of the Holy Fire is its representation of the differences and rights between genders. For example, any person of the male gender can tend to the fire. However, while young girls can also touch the fire, after women have started their menstrual cycles, they are no longer allowed. In addition, this tradition is also related to the sacrifice of cattle for food and skins. This fire holds a deep connection to the spirituality of each corral and the families within. It was an interesting experience, camping next to a traditional Ovahimba village while we set up our tents next to their huts and ate lots of food cooked to us on a gas stove.
The students finished our trip at the Namutoni Lodge at the Environmental Education Center of Etosha National Park. This experience was one of the first in which the students were able to see the indigenous wildlife if Namibia – giraffes, zebras and springbok as the most present. While the trip to the park was quite the adventure, participating in game drives and seeing various snakes, the students had been provided with a couple of articles about the issues with the site. These articles made Kelley think about the perceptions that they held about Africa before their trip to Namibia. For example, this trip fulfilled the original, stereotypical idea that many foreigners coming to Africa have, especially that that there are wild animals roaming free around the land.
Through this travel seminar, the students saw the stereotypes that people at home have about Africa. The students lived with families in huts and homesteads that work the land and live without electricity and running water. The students got to travel to Etosha National Park and see wild animals drinking at water holes, speaking references to the Lion King. They got to see these stereotypes, but as a comparison to the rest of our experiences in Namibia, especially living in Windhoek, students have realized that Namibians are living in many different ways – some in huts in Outapi, some in houses in Windhoek. It was an eye opening experience, and helped students see a much better rounded piece of Namibia.