Monday, March 18, 2013

Week 9: Welcome to the North - A New Perspective of Namibia

Post by Jacquelyn Vorndran and Dani Minsky

Rushing down the rocky dirt roads of our game drive, we all became stunned by charging elephants, prancing zebras, and graceful giraffes.  These are just a few of the extravagant animals we were in the presence of only a few short days ago. It has been a whirlwind of events starting off in Etosha and finally landing us all in a guest house located in Oniipa. Since our animal sightings it has been nonstop kombi rides, and immersions of sub cultures within Namibia.

Elephants gathering at the water hole in Etosha
To start off our trip to the North, we visited Nakambale Museum located in Ondangwa. This museum is dedicated to the first Finnish family to settle in northern Namibia, the Rautanens. This museum consists of the first church to be established in the Oshiwambo area. It showcases old furniture, books, and other writings that have been left behind from the family. As we wandered through the old buildings and homes we got the impression that the colonization of this community was very much accepted and welcomed by the community and the ruling king at the time. It was interesting to hear this since it is so contrary to what we have been talking about in classes. When we asked our guide about any opposition that took place in this time of Finnish influence, she was adamant to say that there was little opposition and that the king praised the Finnish settlers, mainly Martti, the father of the family. He translated a Bible into a combination of Oshiwambo and Otjiherero, which made us wonder how accurate it really was. It seemed that Christianity was more of an opportunity for locals to learn how to read and write, versus actually practice the religion. We continued our tour through some traditional housing and ended with basket weaving and Mahangu. Overall the tour was thought provoking, forcing us to apply knowledge previously learned, and really made us all think about what influence colonization had on local tribes, and still has today.

Pounding mahangu millet at Nakambale Museum
Next we met up with our tour guide, Joshua. He is a local Namibian, who is also the principal of the Ponhofi secondary school in Oshikango. He gave us a very insightful view of this town and its relationship with Angola. He was able to give us first hand examples of the ways he is influenced by this relationship; he spoke about the extreme differences in infrastructure, Angolan easy access to Namibian soil and what resides on such as super markets, doctors and shopping. We say easy access because the border is literally just a few steps away. For citizens of Angola and Namibia there is hardly any paper work or identification required to cross the border. The primary reason for this is the residual feelings from the alliance that took place during the liberation struggle. Even today, Namibians feel as if they owe something to the Angolan community for all there help and support during this time of need. We were lucky enough  to take the walk across the border and step on Angolan land. The reaction of the locals was one that put us right on display. Cars, people and bikes all slowed down to watch us cross the border; some even took our pictures. This is one of the few times many people of the group felt very uncomfortable for being white, and touristy.

Our next stop took place at the secondary school. It was really great to talk to all the students about their studies and further plans as far as education goes. After learning so much about the Angolan and Namibian relationship, we found out that 80 percent of the students that attend this school are Angolan. After introducing ourselves, we conversed with the students about the differences between the states and Namibia.  Religion soon became the primary topic of discussion. In Namibia, religion can be a topic that turns heads or even makes people walk away. Personally for us, we both experienced our views of our own religion being challenged. To have people question our practices, turn away , or make faces at what you say or how you feel about a given religion, was extremely difficult. We have never been in situations where our religion was the only factor that defined us as people. Having to defend and explain our specific religions made us stronger and more firm in our beliefs, however there were instances where it left a stinging feeling inside that was very uncomfortable.

Zebras grazing in Etosha National Park
As we embark on our spring break we have some time to reflect on all that we have been learning and it is a great feeling to be able to connect our studies to the real world. We see globalization taking place, we see examples of colonization, we see culture clashes, we really get to see it all first hand, and that is one of the beauties of this program. We become hands on to things we have only read in books. It has been a great pleasure meeting all the citizens of Namibia as we travel, and we cannot wait to see what else this beautiful country has in store for us! 

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