Monday, April 14, 2014

Week 9: Keeping Up In Khorixas: A Week of Self-Discovery and New Perspectives

By Kelsey Renner and Madison Rainaud-Owens

Some of the students stayed at Waterfall Post 1
and went to Church with their families on Sunday
to be part of the community.
As our van pulled into the first farm to begin dropping us off near Khorixas in the Kunene region of Namibia, reality began to sink in for a lot of us that this week was actually about to happen. There were no more Thursday language classes to practice the Damara language, no more tips or advice from CGE staff, and no more time to find comfort with our other classmates in knowing we were all about to be pushed out of our comfort zones. However, as quickly as our nerves set in, they were gone as soon as we all met the loving and caring faces that were to be our own families for the next week. 

The rural homestays are the last homestay of our program, and are given the most preparation. We spent time in language classes and other homestays to get us acclimated to the idea of what life on the farms would be like. It was hard to know what to expect, though. After about a day, we were set in our routines and adjusting to our new homes. Our families allowed us to be very hands on and involved in parts of their daily lives, letting us try everything from milking goats to dunging houses to collecting mopane worms, a staple food in Damara culture. Our families had few amenities, with little to no access to electricity or running water, providing us a unique experience to live off the grid and test our boundaries. We were being exposed to a different way of life than what we’re used to growing up in the United States, or even our temporary home in Windhoek. This was our chance to learn about a different Namibia.

While we know the harm of having preconceived notions and how limiting those can be, it was hard to get those ideas out of our heads leading up to the homestay. No running water? How would we cook? How would we go to the bathroom? What kind of food are we going to eat? Is my family going to be able to understand me? Will I be sitting in silence for a week? These questions ran through our head at a mile a minute, but one of the most valuable parts of the trip was being able to break down these mental barriers one by one. 

On our first full day in Khorixas, we said goodbye to our families for the day and went into town with all the students. We made a stop at Cornelius Goraseb High School, where we had a round-table discussion with a group of students about concerns facing students our age, whether it is examinations, college applications, or even broader social issues, in Namibia and the United States [1]. As we talked more with the students, it became clear that our different backgrounds still held common ground with things that matter to us at this point in our lives. This discussion was invaluable in starting to break down our differences and helping us to find the string that unites us as people. We learned that we all just want to succeed and make a little bit of difference in this world in a way we know how. This common thread was something that would be very important in helping us learn and adapt throughout the rest of the week. 

Maddy learns how to milk a cow for the first time!
Cattle are an important aspect of rural livlihood at
the farms we stayed at.
One of the most striking things we saw were the wealth inequalities not only between Northern Namibia and other parts of the country we’ve seen, but within our own farm communities. Some of our families were in charge of large herds of animals, while some had little or none. Since farming was the families’ main source of income, access to animals as capital served as a very important part of everyday life, giving them a way to buy basic needs. Some families had cars, giving them a way to travel back and forth to the goods and services located in town, while others didn’t. It suddenly became clear that these things we take fore granted having convenient access to in our everyday lives give us access to many more opportunities. While we are operating partly on assumptions and don’t want to interject our own Western notions of development, we couldn’t help but wonder if the families’ lack of access was tied into the lingering effects of the Apartheid system. While the system has been legally over for more than two decades, it became clear to us that the Kunene region is vastly different than the capital, central city of Windhoek, where even though informal settlements and poverty exist, the opportunity for jobs and education is much more abundant. We wonder if it has already been twenty-four years since Namibia gained independence, when will all families and communities start to reap the positive effects of these changes? However, what maybe even more important to note than this observation, is that as outsiders of the farm, who were just fortunate to experience it for a week, this lifestyle may not warrant any change for those who live there. While many theories and discussions of development focus on bettering lives for people, mostly with good intentions, we learned first-hand this week that these types of changes may not always be necessary to the people they’re put upon. Even with the disparities in wealth within our farm, the sense of community and support stood out more than anything. While we were not even part of the actual community, we instantly were surrounded with the love and support of all the members of the farm. When you need help, there are people instantly there to offer it. While somebody looking in from the outside may see “what’s wrong” with this and “what needs fixing”, we grew to see it from the inside looking out and realize nothing was broken in the first place. 

We learned to appreciate the need to try and understand and accept all types of lifestyles, uniting ourselves on similarities instead of picking apart the differences. While parts of the week may have shocked us at first, by the end, it all seemed normal to us as well. We were lucky enough to experience something so unique from our own culture, and we hope to bring the lessons we learned this week into everything we continue to do, both in the rest of our time abroad and upon our returns home. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at


[1] 19th March 2014. Cornelius Goraseb High School is a school located in Khorixas, Namibia that has students coming from all different places in the country to attend and stay at their hostel during the school week. Our purpose in visiting was to meet and connect with students about issues we both face in our daily lives.

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