Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Week 8: Decolonizing the Mind

Post by Samantha Frisk

“Decolonizing the Mind.”  When I received the program manual with this phrase on the front I thought I had an idea of what this meant, but after my rural homestay I have truly been pushed to do this.

It was hard to acknowledge that before my rural homestay I had equated rural with poverty.   I had taken a look at all the material things I have and judged households against this standard.  By creating this category of “have”, my mind consequently narrowed in on what others did not have.  So, admittedly, driving past farms, tin shacks, and mud huts there was a sympathetic wrenching in my stomach and though at one point I considered volunteering in such communities, I worried about my limitations or the negative effects of my “aid”.  My first step toward reconciling these thoughts was to learn about “impoverished” communities.

My week on the Indhoek farm in Khorixas abolished all my previous conceptions and reasoning for wanting to learn from this rural community.  From the first moment I stepped out of the CGE van, I began to look at this community for everything that they have, not for what they do not.  Those things that I might have thought were lacking before had now dissipated and I began to admire the things they had.  I even wondered if the absence of physical possessions that I saw was the reason for their strong sense of community, lively nature, and conservation of resources.

My host family lives in a small, two-room, cow dung hut that sits on a farm with several other families.  The farm has no electricity, no sewage, and a water trough that the people and animals share.  I imagine that for my host family there is a shortage of food, when me and my box of food aren’t staying with them so there is a physical reality of problems that my family is facing. However, I didn’t worry about them because of the support the received from their neighbors.  Throughout the week, I never ate a meal with only my host family.  I found myself at the neighbor’s house or children from the community at our home sharing what we had.  Many of the families on our farm, who were better off and had houses in the city, had goat and kudu meat that they contributed, while my mother would cook and share her fatcakes.  It seemed that whatever you had, you shared.  This unspoken expectation was incredible to me because even the families with little would divide up their food for the number of children that wandered over to their house.

The fluidity of the community was another aspect I came to appreciate.  Not only did I find myself with neighbors for dinner, but at every time of the day I was at a different house with different people.  At night we gathered together for conversation, games, singing and dancing.  It is amazing what fun you can have when you don’t have a television to rely on. My favorite memory is everyone singing a song in Damara entitled, “!Gâi tsedi Iguidi” meaning “Good Days Only.”  Everyone got up and danced around, clapping and singing loud and I felt like everyone was really connected in this moment.

When I stepped back and looked at their unity and strength as a community and love for their way of life, I realized that the industrialization that the Namibian government talks about or the international aid that countries offer could be detrimental to this.  Before people go in and begin giving what they think these people need, one should consult with the community first and think deeply about how it will change them.  More importantly, before pinpointing every “need,” take a step back and take in all there is to gain from places different from our own.  I truly believe a better service to society would be appreciating communities like the one I stayed in and absorbing the lessons they can teach us.

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