Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week 3: “I’m addicted to language.” [1]

By Cynthia Njuguna and Caleb Rollins

One cannot exist in this world without communicating. Whether through spoken word, facial expressions or written symbols, humans communicate with each other. Whether in Germantown, Maryland or Windhoek, Namibia, humans communicate with each other. Whether from the same culture or from different cultures, humans communicate with each other. They communicate with each other through language. However, each individual person has their own unique combination of expressions and colloquialisms that constitute their own language. So in our own distinctive language we will try to present to you the frustratingly beautiful process of communicating in order to build relationships during our second week of residence in Windhoek.

Cole shared his personal narrative with all of 
the CGE students and staff to help us better understand 
his background and values. 
It’s funny how we assume that whenever we open our mouths that we are communicating. “Blah, blah, blah,” is sometimes all that comes out…or all of what we hear. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just open our mouths and just like that, the person listening would comprehend what we are trying to say?

So imagine that task, but with nine people that you have never met before, who come from all over, who have lived through different experiences in life, and with whom you may or may not have anything in common. How do you begin to open your mouth? Do you just lurch a string of words out into the empty space between you and your listener and cross your fingers, hoping that they were the right selection of words; that they can arrange themselves in an order that resonates with the listener.

Tuesday, during a meeting with all the students and staff, we got to know each other a little better. As we each crafted a narrative, in attempts to communicate what ingredients went into forming our values, our vision, and our personalities, everyone intentionally primped their language so that when they opened their mouths and presented their masterpieces the message that the artist assembled would resemble the meaning extrapolated by the audience.

A poet at [Spoken Word] Namibia’s
monthly exhibition shared her story
with the audience. 

Taken from [Spoken Word] Namibia’s Facebook page.
Maybe we are making a big deal out of nothing. After all, we are in a “foreign” country. We have bigger fish to fry, like the “real” language barrier, or the “real” cultural barrier, or all those other “unknown” things!

In an effort to experience those “unknown” things and to combat the cabin fever that has begun to infect nearly every member of the house, a group of students attended the monthly presentation of local spoken word poets hosted by [Spoken Word]Namibia at the Warehouse Theatre in Windhoek.

Not only did every poet present a unique work of art through their presentation of the English language, but their personal vulnerability on the stage addressed larger social issues pertinent to many Namibians. One particular artist revealed the personal struggles of growing up as a homosexual in the traditionally homophobic culture of Namibia. Considering our religion class readings on the historically negative influence of the Christian church on homosexuals in Namibia, we were able to place the speaker's words in a greater cultural context.

Many of the other poets spoke of the challenges women face in traditionally patriarchal Namibia. The words of these speakers, which described how some men so readily use and abuse women in this society, evoked an amazing sense of sympathy and empathy in many of us.

In fact, these feelings were very real to some of us as our internships connected us with women who have faced the horrors of domestic violence. In these encounters, we learned that communication does not just mean portraying information to others, but also listening to what others have to say. In other internships, we had to confront the challenge of attempting to communicate with children in an educational atmosphere. Communicating with children always presents difficulties, especially when you lack the proper training to command a classroom full of children with little experience speaking English.

A handful of CGE students helped some of the Young Achievers
in an outreach program in the local community of Katutura.
Taken from the 
Young Achievers Facebook page.
From our respective internships to acclimating ourselves with the city, we have all met many new people. On Wednesday, Sarah and Cynthia began Portuguese class at the Diogo Cão Centre, the local Portuguese learning centre. On Saturday, we participated in a meeting hosted by Young Achievers, a local youth-led organization focused on helping individuals form a sense of vision and mission in their lives. We cannot say that communicating with the people that we have met in Windhoek has been so much harder or so much easier than communicating with people from the U.S. In interacting with Namibians, Americans, non-Namibians, and non-Americans, we realized that we have been flexing our intercultural communication muscles all along.

Yes, being outside the U.S. there are people who are from a different culture than your own, but the same holds true even within the U.S. By culture we mean different upbringing; they have gone through different experiences and formed different opinions. You cannot know how different or similar someone is from you simply from their appearance or where they live. And at the end of the day any person that we meet and communicate with is simply that: a person.

[1] Unknown artist at [Spoken Word] Namibia’s “Open theme, for the love of poetry.” 7 Sept. 2013.

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