As I walked into a stranger’s house I was taken aback almost immediately by a serene sense of home - my home - fore across the ceiling of the combined dining room and sitting area was an enormous vine like plant similar to the one my own mother has been nurturing for years in my home in the United States.
And just like in my home, family welcomed me in from the very moment I entered through the doorway. For my fourth week in Southern Africa I lived with Bella Madison and her children. Bella grew up in Southern Namibia, moving to Windhoek soon after she married and since then has worn many hats of a mother, teacher and religious leader. She now works as a sexton at the Inner-City Lutheran Church and at a nursing home for the elderly. Bella was a useful resource for answering my questions about the history and politics of Namibia which we were learning about in class.
Although Bella’s children are all grown up, due to her loving nature and faith in God her home is never empty. She has become the care giver to many of her grandchildren whose parents are struggling through hard times and finds herself living with three young men (ages 15, 16 and 22) and two girls (ages 2 and 10), as well as one of her adult daughters, Moody, who works as a medical aid at a local clinic.
|The Madison Children: Earl, Jermaine, Given and Jandira|
A trend I noticed by speaking with my family is that stereotypes, perspectives and definitions play a large role in Namibian society. Bella told me about the strength of racial divisions still in place even after apartheid and how they are still lying underneath today’s politics. Moody explained for me that although the HIV/AIDS rate in Namibia is so high there are still many people who are unaware of medical realities, and the 22 year old who just graduated from university in Cape Town expressed how difficult it is to assimilate back into Windhoek life after gaining a new perspective while away. Being away from home myself, and being in an environment where labels so clearly define who you are, I realized on how important it is to maintain an understanding of my own believed definitions and to attempt to determine where I stand on them in relation to how they are perceived by others. They made me question, “How is one supposed to make an impact in this world if they are not sure of who they are first, and how they interact with society?” These conversations in particular raised questions in my mind concerning the roles of my political stance, education and physical person in the Namibian society as well as my community back at home - and then left me to question, “Now how am I supposed to respond to them?”
If there was one phrase to use to describe the Madison family it would have to be, “Trust and community,” because although they were rarely all in the same place at the same time, they made sure no one was being left out. Even the boys contributed to house work and caring for younger family members; this is unlike many of the Namibian families I have heard about though conversations with other students on home stays.
|Lasagna and Tomato Cucumber Salad|
One night I contributed to this community by preparing dinner. After deciding on making lasagna I headed to the grocery store chain called “Pick and Pay” on what I thought would be a simple mission, which ended up becoming an hour long adventure. The ordering of the store made no sense to me, the store did not have some of the ingredients I needed, and squeezing into a taxi with all my bags and four other passengers was no easy task! Learning by exiting your comfort zone is by far one of the most challenging experiences but one which I have learned is very rewarding.
The preparations went very well, with only small temperature conversion confusion, and then we all sat down together for dinner. The small gesture of my gratitude was received so warmly I couldn’t believe we were complete strangers only a few days ago. As we sat underneath the growing spider plant, just like the one in my home, I thought to myself how lucky I was to be there with my Namibian family.