Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Week 2: We Made it to Windhoek!

Kevin, Jess, Alison

This has been a week of many changes and new experiences. Having finished our home stays in Soweto, we gathered back together as a group and headed to Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. Although Pretoria is only forty-five minutes from Soweto it was drastically different geographically and socio-economically. Arid flat lands were replaced with rolling hills and the sea of black African faces became more mixed as white faces began to emerge.

On the outskirts of Pretoria lies the controversial Voortrekker Monument, an immense structure that looms high over the entire city. Erected in 1939, this monument was built to commemorate the trek of the white Afrikaners from Cape Town to present day Pretoria. Since its construction, the monument has elicited a number of responses due to its negative depiction of the Zulu people, a fact which also held true in our group. From Alison’s perspective, this was an interesting experience. Walking through the monument I was upset about the images depicting the slaughter of the Zulu people. However, I had to keep myself in check, realizing that we (Americans) have done the same thing to the Native Americans. Thus, I need to set aside my own feeling of self righteousness and recognize that my own past is just as gruesome. The following day brought the climax of our trip thus far; we were off to Windhoek (that’s home)! Stepping off the plane, we were greeted with sandy hills and baboons, leading us all to question where civilization actually lay. The luggage collected and the visas stamped we finally embarked to our beautiful home in Windhoek. Our house, the White House, is a two story home set in a residential neighborhood of Windhoek West, a ten minute walk from down town. Thus begins our intentional living learning community.

Finally settled in, we rolled out in our kombis (pronounced kom-bee), which are similar to oversized mini vans, for a driving tour of Windhoek. Led by our political science professor Urbanus Dax, we headed out to see many of the lasting effects of apartheid still present in this city. One of the places where this was most present was in the various graveyards scattered throughout the city. While the historically white graveyard was filled with perfect rows of tombstones flanked by fresh flowers, the headstones found in the predominantly black cemeteries were mere blocks with rough cut numbers. This was further reflected in Urbanus Dax’s remark, “we see apartheid even in death.” From Jess’ perspective: I really struggle with the lack of acknowledgement of humanity in death. For me, birth and death are two places in the life of humanity where we are the same. Everyone is born and everyone must die; these occur despite a person’s race, class, ethnic background, history. To me, the inability to recognize a person as human in death is one of the rawest forms of true racism I have ever encountered.

Tombstones at Old Location Cemetery

During this tour we also passed by the informal settlements located in Katutura (meaning “the place where no one wants to live” or “we won’t live there”), the predominantly black township. An illegal settlement built upon a hillside, this small city is composed of tin huts, each lacking common utilities; there is no electricity, public toilets are few and water is not readily available. From Kevin’s perspective: I was hit really hard by our time in the informal settlements in Katutura. The conditions were dreadful; the housing was far more primitive than anything I have seen in the United States. According to Urbanus, these settlements are growing at a tremendous rate due to people moving from the villages in hopes of a better life. I have no idea what village life looks like in Namibia but it either must be really bad or people are moving to Windhoek misinformed. Seeing how people are uprooting their lives to live in an aluminum shack without plumbing, I cannot help but suspect that no solution to the urban, migrant poverty in Windhoek exists. Instead, I would like to further explore if there are ways to make village life more economically viable, in order to prevent over population in Windhoek and to maintain tribal culture that seems to be quickly and tragically becoming extinct.

On Friday, we participated in a “quest” in which several members of Katutura took us around in small groups. As there were many different groups all of us had vastly different experiences. Alison’s group visited the Small Business Incubators, a kind of market where many Namibians have set up a variety of businesses. We ended up walking around and talking to many of the shop owners including a jewelry maker, soap maker, wedding planner, dress maker and a caterer. Next, we traveled to Young Achievers, an organization that helps kids identify and pursue their goals. Overall, this day was an extremely positive experience as it showed a different picture of Katutura. While there are many problems facing it, there are numerous organizations and people working to better the community and their lives, you just have to look a bit harder to find them.

As we headed into the weekend we were excited for time to explore Windhoek on our own, embracing our new found freedom, and anxious to begin our internships and classes the next week.

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