By: Celeste Erickson and Freddy Lindekugel
After a relaxing weekend on the coast, we hopped in the van on Sunday morning to drive up north to our rural homestays in Khorixas, Namibia. I was so nervous as they were dropping each one of us off. We had been well prepped for what we could expect with life on a rural farm, and we had a box of food that we brought with us to supplement our families food supply. But no amount of prep could have eased my nerves at this point. I had no idea what to expect, between the lack of electricity and running water, to the language barrier. We took a few short language classes prior to our departure to learn how to greet in Khoekhoegowab, the language of the Damara people that we would be staying with. It is an extremely hard language to learn as it has four different clicks used when speaking. Despite having these language classes and practicing all of our greetings beforehand, we still felt overwhelmed and nervous for the challenges that this may present. Luckily, each family had at least one member that knew English and could translate.
When I first arrived, I was introduced to the family’s four kids, two of them were 1 year old and two of them were 6 years old, and the rest of the extended family. In total, there were 13 people living there. It is not uncommon for rural families to share a house with multiple generations, as family and community is extremely important in the Damara culture, no matter how small the space. Many of the students’ houses were full and a grandmother, or Oma headed most houses. The first night took some adjusting. With the lack of running water, bathing (or lack there of) and going to the bathroom was certainly an adventure and took some adjustment as well.
The real challenge came on Monday night when my family insisted that they slaughter a goat to welcome me to their farm. Goats and cattle generally serve as an indicator of how much the family has, so being able to sacrifice a goat was a big deal and meant a lot to the family. Watching the slaughter was one of the hardest moments I’ve had all semester. I politely declined after they cooked it, but I made sure to thank them for sharing this tradition with me. I was surprised that they were willing to sacrifice one of their goats given the challenges that their farm seemed to be facing. In our environmental science class, we have been taking about the impacts of climate change on Southern Africa, and specifically how these changes affect rural communities. I was able to see these effects first hand on their farm as they explained that they did not milk their goats or their cows currently because it was so dry and they did not have enough to eat. Given the realities of these environmental effects, I was not expecting them to give up one of their goats. I was struck by how unphased the family seemed to be, despite the fact that their farm wasn’t necessarily producing all that they might need. It made me think a lot about how much they need to adapt to their environment in order to survive. In their lifestyle, they have very little control over what goes on around them, but they seemed to adapt so smoothly and calmly-- something that I know that I need to work on. I tried to learn from their relaxed nature, and tried to embrace it as much as possible even in the moments I felt that we were not doing much.
The rest of the week continued relatively smoothly. Not without challenges, but I began to remind myself to appreciate the little moments. Every night I would look up at the stars– the sky was perfectly clear and I have never seen so many stars. Many of us got to ride donkeys, drive a donkey cart, milk cows and goats, and even hold baby goats! On the last day, we had a party with all the students’ families. All of the girls wore traditional dresses and some of us even got our hair braided. The boys were nice suits and ties, despite the heat! We also learned some of their traditional songs and dances, and some of us made short speeches in Khoekhoegowab. After a week, we were all dirty and tired, but we didn’t care, it was worth the experience. It was such an incredible opportunity to get an in depth look at life on a farm and the Damara culture, and I speak for all of the students when I say we were grateful to the families for taking us in. It’s not an experience just any tour group could have, and it was something that forced each one of us to embrace and connect with the community. I felt like taking this week out of our lives to learn the way of life and the traditional culture of a group of people gave us a better sense of what it means to grow up and live in Namibia. Though we have endless amenities accessible to us in Windhoek, that is not the reality of the whole country and it was good for us to see that first hand. Though we all faced challenges, whether that be the sanitation or food, I know that we all came out feeling accomplished and it is an experience we will never forget.
In addition to our homestay, we also had the opportunity to tour the city of Khorixas, situated about twenty kilometers from the farms. We visited several locations in order to get a better sense of the community. On Monday, we visited the Red Cross Center and talked about their various services regarding sexual health and childcare. They also showed us a sustainable garden they had planted. Later that day, we visited a local high school. There we watched the school choir perform, chatted with students, and toured the facilities. Finally, we visited the town council and discussed issues of the implementation of certain commodities, the interactions between wildlife and farmers, and new various housing projects.
On Wednesday, we visited the Damara Living Museum. It was fascinating to be able to perform some of the daily tasks including scraping goat hair from the hide and starting a fire. Later that day, we visited Twyfelfontein, a natural spring occurring within the mountains. There were also my rock carvings in the shapes of various animals. Some of them were dated to be thousands of years old.
Monday was especially significant as we viewed some of the inner city development. It was interesting to talk to the students of the high school and learn of some of the stereotypes of the United States and see the education system in place, as it’s been identified as a major issue in Namibia. In addition, our conversations with the town council were especially eye opening, as the new housing projects seemed to be quite reminiscent of the policies enacted in Swakopmund. The houses seemed nice, but they were hardly affordable for the homeless. Monday worked to create a comprehensive study of Khorixas in terms of its responses to issues such as HIV/AIDS, education, and housing.
In our time in Khorixas and the mountains we gained a more comprehensive picture of the surrounding area of our homestay. Our idea of Khorixas quickly changed as we met students and other pivotal members of the community. The historical background in tandem with the visits in the community worked to create a complete picture of our environment. It was interesting to hear some of the community members talk about going into the city. It wasn’t a metropolis and was still the center of activity. We knew this from experience.
Our week in Khorixas definitely took us out of our comfort zones. It was invaluable to not only get a glimpse of the farm life but also of the community in Khorixas. I will always be thankful for the way our families welcomed us into their homes. Amase ta ge ko gangan sadu omsa IIoba ambates amsi!
This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.