Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week Eleven: Endings and Continuations

By Andrea Sutiff and Lulu Moyo

After a couple weeks of traveling followed immediately by Fall (Spring) Break, this week marked the first week back for most students after almost a month without internships and classes. While some students decided to travel (mostly to Victoria Falls,) others chose to spend their breaks in Windhoek. For as great and well-needed as break was, coming back to face the end of March and the beginning of April showed how much students had to acclimate to get used to being on the work flow again as well as coming to terms with some sentimentality. Unlike a typical semester at school we know that we won’t be returning to what we as a group have established this semester in the Fall. As if starting to sort out the final stretch’s worth of work was not stressful enough all of us are simultaneously having to come to terms with next month’s inevitable good-byes. 
Victoria Falls (PC Miranda Joebgen)

Whenever a conversation regarding “the end” comes up in the group there is significant reflection, usually with a lot of ‘look how far we’ve come,’ and then the realization of how weird it is going to be going home. Most traditional study abroad programs mirror the college experience as we know it back home; students continue to live in dorms or flats and attend classes at an actual university campus in typical classroom fashion. With the CGEE Program, however, there is just 14 of us, not thousands of students on a campus, sharing classroom and personal experiences all in the same house. We are just 14 students living and traveling all within the same environment with one another and the close-knit community that we’ve established is going to be the hardest thing to let go of once that plane lands in the U.S. While studying abroad anywhere is exciting and new, I think I can speak on behalf of all the CGEE students that we could not be happier we chose this unique, “untraditional” program to enrich our lives.     

Both coming to terms with the fact that there is only a month to go and getting back into the swing of things has left the majority of students feeling a colorful mixture of emotions. On one hand the thought of returning to family and friends back home is something to look forward to, but the more collective opinion is that no one is quite yet ready. Accepting that this is the final month of the program puts a lot of things into perspective, such as realizing how many things have not yet been done, how many places have not yet been visited, and how much work still has to be finished. Just like the completion of any school semester, the end is right in sight with just a couple final projects, assessments, and the last handful of classes in the way. With so little time left and so much more still to learn about, the past week was especially packed with interesting speakers and field trips.

Another element of things coming to an end are class themes and discussion tops. One in particular that I’ve been grappling with since entering the CGE program is identity. Being a Zimbabwean living in America, and now having spent almost four months in Southern Africa, the concept of the “African identity” has been rattling around my head more often. Of course the idea of a singular identity and culture for an entire continent is presumptuous and inaccurate. Each country has its own individual subculture. But often times, through Pan-Africanist views, Africans lay claim to an African identity. I find myself identifying with being an African before calling myself a Zimbabwean. With my friends who are from African countries we often identify things to be African in a general sense; African dance, African food, African attire. I have friends from Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Malawi, and several other places across the continent but as a way to look past our differences we connect ourselves through our African-ness. Our African identity. Having lived in the US for the larger portion of my life my African identity is constantly scrutinized and challenged.

My quote, unquote, liberal ideologies are what usually cause me to be called un-African. One example that I have particularly struggled with is my advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights. When I have shared my views on homosexuality, more times than not, I have been told that I am not a true African or that homosexuality itself is un-African. To me, those sentiments are horrifying and impossible to accept. Whether it be Africans in the US or Africans I have interacted with abroad, this idea of the African identity being under threat with homosexuality is very apparent. Through conversations about LGBTQIA+ while in Namibia, themes of African identity and human rights have continued to remain in my face. What I find most challenging to wrap my head around when it comes to this form of discrimination is that homosexuality has existed in Africa for as long as heterosexual relationships have existed. Thankfully gender and sexuality was a unit of study in one of my classes this week where we were able to unpack this culture of discrimination against homosexuality in the African context.

Some reasoning we learned as to how this developed was the introduction of Western Christianity in African countries. Many people use religion as a way of justifying why homosexuality is wrong, but before the introduction of Western Christianity there was no discrimination. Non-heterosexual relationships were there but did not have the labels or connotation that are present today. In class we had a speaker named Wendelinus N. Hamutenya who was the former “Mr. Gay Namibia”. He is an openly gay man living in Namibia who now advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights in Namibia as well as around the world. Hearing his story brought a painful reality to the condition of homosexuality discrimination in Namibia and all across Southern Africa. Hamutenya revealed to us how he was taken to a mental institution by his father when he came out to his family. He explained how he was told he would never amount to anything as a gay man in Namibia and how it would shame his family. He explained how dangerous it can be for people who are gay and lesbian in Namibia. Police often target people who are homosexual and beat them or harass them. Physical attacks like beatings and rape committed by community members are also quite frequent but often go unreported. Hamutenya also educated us on the cases of people from neighboring African countries who come to Namibia seeking asylum due to threats because of their sexuality. He said that asylum seekers are sometimes brought to Namibia via Zambia, but then the Namibian government forces them to go back to their home countries.
(Retrieved from:

Later this week we had a class on human rights in Namibia and the strides the country has taken to create equality. This juxtaposition really solidified that not all areas of human rights are being looked at closely. Not enough attention is being put on breaking down the stigmas of homosexuality being un-African. Places in the continent like my home country of Zimbabwe have laws that allow people who are homosexual to be jailed or even killed. Discrimination due to sexual orientation is a gross violate of human rights no matter race or ethnicity. It is certainly not un-African to be with a same sex partner. What is un-African is the xenophobia that is plaguing people’s ideology. The semester might be ending, our classroom dialogues might be wrapping up, and our research might be over. But that doesn’t mean the issues and challenges we have discussed are going to disappear. To stay true to my African-ness, I know that views on identity need to be changed. Basic human rights need to be given. 

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