Monday, October 31, 2011

Rural Home Stay in the North

Gloria & Taryn

Week 8

Many of us awoke to the sounds of roosters crowing as we rose with the sun. We spent a total of six days and seven nights in the Omusati Region with Owambo families in Northern Namibia. While there, we had the wonderful opportunity of interacting, learning, conversing, sharing and exploring our families’ unique cultures while examining our own. Our experiences in the North shed light on the differences and similarities between how our Owambo families’ lives, and those of our own (Photo 1: Emma, Rauna and Patrina pounding muhungo).

So much joy, laughter, smiles, and conversation were shared during our home stay. Sharing was a major component of Owambo culture based on our perspective of it. It began on the first day when they opened not only their arms but also their home, their family, and their hearts to us. When sitting down outside of a shop and bringing out a liter of cool drink, cups were not just brought out for immediate family members, but for everyone sitting at the table. Meals are shared together under the moonlight not with individual plates, but a communal bowl that everyone eats from. And sharing goes beyond the nuclear family. One set of host parents willingly paid for their niece’s education without any expectations of her paying them back. Our experiences in the north showed us that sharing goes beyond the family and right into the entire community.

Community holds such a strong presence in our observations of the Omusati region. Time slows down, people take the time to sit down, and talk to their friends and neighbors before hurry
ing home. A simple hello does not suffice; one takes the time to ask how the other is doing. The families we stayed with showed so much concern for each other- and for other students staying with other families. One afternoon one of CGE’s students was called on the phone by about five families making sure she was feeling alright in comparison to her feeling ill the day before. As much as there is sharing within the community there is certainly a lot of caring that goes along as well.

Many of us were very fortunate to have very caring mothers w
hich allowed us to see the strength of Owambo women within the house hold. Traditionally women cook, clean, sow, harvest, and are the main caregivers of children. Today many take on similar roles, but for some, it is because it is their choice to do so. One of the most amazing things to witness was the physical strength it took to pound mohungo. Young girls as young as four years of age did it with apparent ease. Pounding mohungo is not even the only example of strength, we witnessed and heard stories of Owambo women walking long distances carrying water and wood, and at times even doing tasks like these with a baby on their back. We witnessed and heard of memes or mothers who took on most, if not all, of the responsibilities of the household while the tate or father was working elsewhere or no longer present in the house at all. From our perspective, Owambo women are raised with amazing physical and emotional strength. This reminds us of the strong women we know in our own lives, like our mothers and sisters, friends, role models, and teachers. Many times, these role models serve as influential educators, but not always educators in the western sense. Learning goes beyond the classroom, and what we have learned from our Owambo families is that a lot more emphasis and value is placed on learning within the home. This created the opportunity for us to understand a new concept of education. For most of us in the group, education means to go to school, learn how to speak properly, receive good grades, and prepare for our academic future (Photo 2: View of the sun set at Meme Sarafina's house).

At our rural home stays w
e learned that education is not limited to just those factors. Most of the kids in our home stays had an idea of how to start a fire, look for wood, get water, take care of the different animals that were owned by the family, pound muhungo and much more. Due to the different lives that most of us have, thinking about learning all these things that are needed at the house in order to eat, live, and coexist with each other are not exactly necessary and therefore not part of our education. These things have a great value when are taught at such young age. By having household duties that need to be accomplished, children learn responsibility and respect to their family which thus gives them the strength that is needed in order to live out their everyday lives. This gave many of us an alternate perspective of seeing education in places other than the parameters of a classroom (Photo 3: At our community farewell in Omusati, North of Namibia).

While learning in a way outside of “classroom parameters,” an interesting topic that was brought up by many people in the group was the idea of feeling connected to our different members of our host family without the need of spoken language. Most of the time we base our assumptions or our expectations on what the other person is going to say within a conversation. However, that is not the only way in which people can describe and share feelings. A look, a smile, a handshake, the tone of voice, or simply silence, can convey more than a thousand words. Communication can happen not only through spoken words, but through a deeper sense of understanding of people’s lives and relationships among each other. The language barrier became instead a door that opened us up to a new way of forming relationships and understanding others.

We also gained a new understanding of what is enough, another topic brought up to many of us. Most of the time we take for granted the amount of things that we need just because we want them and are used to having them all the time. A very simple example can be the way in which we use water when we shower. At home many of us are use to having at least five minute shower where we take our time. After feeling clean and refreshed taking showers using only a small amount of water in a basin outside, we learned how little we actually need to be satisfied. Due to examples like this, most of us reflected on the different things that we do, buy, or consume not always taking in consideration whether we need it or want it. We now have a better understanding of what is enough.

As the sun set on our last day of the journey to the North the moon began to rise in the opposite horizon reminding us of the two worlds we have been caught between. This Symbolizes how we can turn to one side and see the beauty of where we are from, but when we look the other way we learn something completely new which together creates a complex beauty . As we rise with the sun and fall with the moon we take the values of home and those of abroad. And even though we cannot capture the image of the moon and the sun at the same time we can still capture the messages that we learned from our Owambo families which we will forever keep in our hearts.

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