Monday, October 3, 2011

A Trip to the Coast: Swakopmund

Dylan and Faye

Week 6

The arrival into Swakopmund was a very puzzling experience for many of us CGE students. We knew that present day Swakopmund is a resort town with a predominantly tourism based economy, but after a long ride through the desert, this hidden vacation spot full of German architecture could seem like a mirage. Tourists can browse gift shops, dine on thick cuts of Springbok, engage in guided extreme activities and watch the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean behind the glass of a comfortable and warm restaurant window. Most of us students were able to enjoy these luxuries that Swakopmund has to offer, but we also faced the history we had learned about the area last week. We learned that this African town that attracts thousands of foreign travelers a year was a key location in a massive genocide that took place just a little over a century ago (Photo 1: Sky Diver Landing in the Namib Desert outside Swakopmund)

The previous week in history class, we learned about the first genocide of the 20th century, which occurred right here in Namibia. Then German South-West Africa, the German colonists forced Herero and Nama people away from their land and into the Kalahari desert. Many people died of starvation and most of those who survived were detained in concentration camps. Swakopmund was home to one of these camps, which forced these African peoples to work under poor conditions until their deaths. Death certificates were pre-printed for the camp detainees. These times in Namibian history disturbed us a great deal and would certainly shape the experience we had in Swakopmund.

The trip’s pre-planned activities were both useful and relevant to our class material and the understanding of present day Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. We received a tour of Swakopmund guided by locals, met a local musical group named Vocal Galore, interacted with Lucky Kindergarden students, visited the town of Walvis Bay municipality, viewed a German factory that made truck parts, and had a surprisingly fun tour of a fish factory. In addition, we climbed the 100 meter tall Dune 7 as a group. (Do not underestimate sand dunes. They are harder to climb than imaginable, and make cleaning the sand out of clothes and body orifices a daily chore for the next week.) Many of the CGE students had an easy time understanding how the past of these coastal towns has shaped their present, but for some of us, we were missing some information. Some students felt that more facilitated discussion should have followed our activities, relating them to the history we had learned (Photo 2: CGE Students Wearing Sanitary Gear for Fish Factory Tour)

Sure, we covered the distance between coastal Swakopmund and the township of Mondesa, but some still wondered how the geographical and socioeconomic differences remained between the two ares. We experienced firsthand an Export Processing Zone (EPZ), but did not reflect on how this instrument would effect Namibia in the future. Perhaps most disturbing was driving past the unmarked graves of Africans killed in the concentration camp discussed in history class, with just a mention of our proximity to the graves. Our hopes are to further discuss the weekend in our future classes. But perhaps this, as everything in a foreign location, is a lesson learned. Perhaps in the future, we as CGE students can work to raise even more questions about topics we wish to discuss with professors and guest speakers.

With the arrival of the weekend, we were challenged to define our intentions and find our place in a location with such a tangled history and so many forgotten people. During our free time we interacted closely with the German fa├žade of Swakopmund and could easily make it through an entire day without stepping out of this European dreamland. On days like Saturday, when we were set free to wander around Swakopmund and determine our course of the day, we found ourselves jumping out of planes, flying through dunes on Quad bikes, and being chased by seals through the lagoon, all while wondering in the back of our heads if our amusement was justified. Though some of us had the most fun weekends of our lives, many of us struggle to accept the fun that we had as justified because of what we know about the ugly past, and poverty-stricken present taking place just beyond our visible horizon. What responsibilities do we have as weekend visitors in Swakopmund? Is being aware of the poverty occurring in Mondesa and Walvis Bay good enough? This weekend was a wonderful experience, and gave birth to so many more questions to take with us and explore throughout the rest of our time here in Namibia (Photo 3: Some of the Group on Top of Dune 7, Located outside of Walvis Ba)

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