Friday, September 9, 2011

Egg Races and Safe Places: The Team Goes to Elisenheim Guestfarm

Week 3
Daniel and Hunter

Our first full week in Namibia was a busy one. Our schedule included activities like the “Katutura Quest,” where the CGE students explored the expansive Katutura neighborhood via the complicated Namibian taxi system (with lots of help from the Young Achievers, a youth group from Windhoek).These excursions, combined with our first classes, provided little time to truly settle into our new surroundings. However, an unexpected highlight of our first week was getting to know the fulltime staff in Windhoek, and this was invaluable for our acclimation to our Namibian home. (Photo 1: Students and Staff during Circle Ice-breaker)

While we had spent time in Johannesburg with our International Resident Advisor Jessy Spanswick and Development Studies professor Linda Raven, we were still unfamiliar with the rest of the Namibia crew. So, on Tuesday, August 30th, the entirety of the Center for Global Education Namibia staff and student body pile
d into CGE “adventure van” and drove to Elisenheim Guestfarm for the aptly named “team-building retreat.”

Nestled amongst the craggy hills outside of Windhoek, Elisenheim Guestfarm is a peculiar mixture of back-country campground, horse farm and safari lodge. After a long ride down unpaved roads, we arrived just in time for second breakfast: tea and open-faced sandwiches.

The rest of the day consisted of team building activities and discussions about identity. We were invited to explain those aspects which we felt contributed to our individuality; topics ranged from gender and religion to class and nationality. These sorts of conversations were not easy ones to have, however, the supportive atmosphere created by staff and student alike allowed for judgment-free discussions. Specifically as students, we tried to keep in mind that many of the memb
ers of the staff had been sharing their lives with students for years, so that in a way, this was part of a larger project. This also explains why the staff members were the best at strategizing during the “run backwards with an egg on a spoon relay while blindfolded competition” (We’ll get you next time, Uncle Passat!).

In another display of community growth, Linda gave interested students and staff a short, impromptu yoga lesson after lunch. Seated in a circle on the grass, Linda led the group in a series of stretches. Together, we labored through the motions, laughing at our inability to touch our toes. Program Coordinator Nespect Salom had the greatest difficulty, and he endured some teasing from the staff on the sidelines. Yet much to everyone’s delight, he persevered in good humor. By the end, a few adventurous students tried headstands, with very mixed results.

While we all learned a lot at Elisenheim Guestfarm the learning did not take place through the traditional academic method. We did not learn about the lasting impacts of colonialism in formal manner and at no point did we dissect any of the key concepts of “globalization, nation-building” or “decolonizing the mind” in a classroom setting.

Nonetheless, reflecting on this experience, we learned a great deal about the roles that are played by staff and students in CGE and in the broader community. We also had the opportunity to begin to talk about our personal experiences and how they were impacting our time in Namibia today. Sharing our opinions and interacting with others in this way helped push us to critically reflect on the reasons we visited Elisenheim Guestfarm in the first place.
(Photo 2: Students and Staff during the Egg Races)

In retrospect, this experience also allowed us to talk with a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds about a wide variety of difficult topics. Our time at Elisenheim Guestfarm not only gave us a better understanding of where our colleagues were coming from, but also practical experience in cross-cultural communication. As with just about every activity since our arrival in Johannesburg 3 weeks ago, the “team-building retreat” served multiple purposes: it gave us, both staff and students, time to familiarize ourselves with one another, something essential for people who will be living and working together for the next three months. It also helped build confidence in cross-cultural communication, a skill that will continue to be necessary at our internships and host-stays.

For fear of disclosing information that may be confidential and in keeping with the idea of our time at the guesthouse as a safe place, we will not disclose the content of the various conversations that took place.

No comments: