Monday, March 18, 2013

Week 8: Rural Home Stay - Donkey Carts, Cow Dung, and Fat Cakes

Post by Anneke Kat and Allegra Marra

The week for our rural home stays finally rolled around and there were mixed feelings at the CGE house. Everyone was feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension in anticipation for the week we all knew would be the most challenging of our experiences in Namibia. In the weeks leading up to our departure we were lucky enough to take classes in Khoekhoegowab, the language of the Damara tribe. We were told that our host families would primarily speak this language and a bit of English. Because this dialect utilizes 4 different clicking noises, it was very difficult for us to master pronouncing even the most basic words and phrases. After a long ride in the van driving north, we arrived in Khorixas, a small town located in Damaraland.
A view of one of the two farms where students stayed

Our group was split up onto two different farms located outside of town. These farms have been there for many years and are mostly comprised of large extended families. Surrounded by tree covered mountains, these two small farms raised cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, and donkeys. There was no electricity, no running water and most of the houses were built from a mixture of cow dung, sand, and water.  Needless to say, this setting placed us all outside of our comfort zones. During our week long stay, our daily activities included cooking fat cakes over an open fire, collecting water, caring for the animals, cow dunging the houses, climbing the mountains, riding in donkey carts, and chatting around the fire at night. Life on the farm was much slower and more relaxed then our lives back home or even our time back in Windhoek.

Because the week was so different from what we were used to, we were able to take time to reflect upon ourselves, the Damara culture and also our American culture back home. After withdrawing ourselves from our technology based lifestyle, we were surprised how easy it was to survive without Internet, Facebook, cell phones, and laptops. This allowed us to learn to live in the moment and also appreciate all the time we had to spend with our families. Because one person in each household was somehow related to another person on the farm it made us feel part of a strong community. At any point in the day we could always visit another house and were welcome with open arms and even given a meal or asked to join in on a game of Six-Five, a popular game similar to Parcheesi. This sense of community took us all by surprise because it was not something we were used to in our own home towns. We really learned how important family and community ties were to people living on the farms and how it impacted their daily lives. Since there was a lot more down time around the farm, we were able to have meaningful conversations with family members and other community members about things such as religion, attitudes about rural and urban lifestyles, and share similarities and differences between our two cultures. These conversations gave us an opportunity to think more deeply about our own culture in a more subjective light.

Students and host families pose for one last family photo
While we were able to learn a lot about Damara culture throughout the week, we learned even more about our own culture in the United States. One aspect of our homes for the week that make a certain impact on us was that our families' homes did not have a lot of furniture, decorations, or many possessions beyond the basic necessitates needed to live their lives on the farm. This absence of material possessions forced us to examine how our lives back home are heavily influenced by the material culture that dominates many Americans' lives. It was refreshing to live without so many unnecessary things and focus more upon creating a bond with the people around us. Many of us struggled to adapt to the slow-paced life style of our host families. After important chores were completed and the hot sun was beating down, our host families would spend most of the day napping or relaxing under one of the few trees nearby. Without a day full of set tasks and goals, we felt lazy, bored, or restless. We realized how much American culture is focused upon a faced paced lifestyle and oriented towards a strong work ethic. It was hard for us to accept that we weren't capable of just relaxing for extended periods of time but as the week went on we began to appreciate the peaceful atmosphere in comparison to the busy and information consuming based society of the US.

Overall, the rural home stay experience was both challenging and extremely beneficial. We were able to interact with many interesting and new people while living under circumstances completely different from our own. Both farm communities welcomed us into their families with open arms and supported an environment in which we exchanged our languages, histories,  traditions, and jokes. This week was certainly an unforgettable experience that will continue to alter how we understand ourselves, Namibia, and our own home culture. 

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