Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Week 5: The Deeper Meaning Behind a Nature Walk in Windhoek

Post by Anneke Kat and Sara Goldstein

Hiking at Daan Viljoen, outside Windhoek
(Hannah, Hanna, Margaret)

Perhaps it is strange to compare foliage and people, but there are many similarities between Namibians and the free-growing, dry plants here.  Unlike the closely-landscaped yards in the U.S., desert plants are left to grow freely and naturally.  Similarly, we have observed that people’s attitude towards life here is more relaxed and free-spirited.  People are friendly, curious, and genuinely interested in getting to know others, and there is always something new to learn.  We are excited to have the opportunity to embrace this attitude, and so this past week we went out to explore the more natural side of Windhoek.

This week in History class, before we physically went out to explore the landscape, we learned about the Herero genocide that happened throughout Namibia.  The fact that this event also took place right here in Windhoek hit home for many of us, and is therefore something that has been on our minds this week.  Many of us had not known about this genocide, so it was a sobering history lesson.  We grappled with the fact that this is such a tragic part of Namibia’s history and yet so few people have ever heard of it.  We have been trying to understand all that has happened in our new home, and that process includes both class discussion and our own physical excursions.

So this weekend, two groups of us embarked upon hikes in the greater Windhoek area!

Four of us made our way through downtown Windhoek and arrived at Aloe Trail after a rather long walk.  The trail is located behind Parliament Gardens, on the other side of town, and sits atop a mountain that overlooks the rest of the city.  Although it is more of a nature walk than a hike, it provides both an intimate experience with the local flora and fauna and also various views of the city and nearby mountains.  It was great to be surrounded by natural growth and to temporarily spend time away from the city itself.  We had the chance to sit on a rock for a little while, just tossing ideas back and forth and reflecting on our time in Namibia so far.  We discussed how we appreciate the opportunity to experience the balance between urban rural life here in Windhoek, and struggled with the idea of spending so much time in the city.  We also talked about how excited we are for our upcoming rural homestay, which will expose us to yet another way of life in this country.
Taking a break along the Aloe Trail in Windhoek
(Joe, Holly, Sara)

Another seven of us went on a bit of a more rigorous hike, experiencing unique plants and animals such as baboons, ostriches, spiders, and even a pet warthog.  They talked about similar reflections, such as sitting on rocks for long periods of time, enjoying the scenery and trying to take in all of Namibia all at once, and feeling a strong sense of peace out in the wilderness.  They reported back that they were all extremely happy to be there, and excited at the chance to get out of the city.  This group drove past the informal settlements in order to get to their hiking location, which was a reminder both of the long history of inequality here and also of how prevalent it still is today.  It’s hard not to be aware of the inequality when it is so visible everywhere we look.  It sparks internal struggles such as the knowledge that we are privileged enough to go on a nature hike and that we have the necessary resources to do so.

We are starting to realize how much everything is tied together – what we study in class and what we experience on our own in Windhoek.  By embracing the easy-going and curious mindset we have encountered, we now feel more comfortable immersing ourselves in local culture.  We have also come to learn how this land can provide people with such a serene sense of inner peace and also hold such a complicated history.

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