Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week Thirteen: Falling Into Spring

Molly McPhee & Louise Edwards 

This week was the first cool week of the semester. The seasons are the reverse of what they are back in the US, here it is just starting to be fall. While our Instagram and Facebook accounts are starting to be filled with pictures of people laying out on the grass for the first time this year, we are donning sweatshirts for the first time this semester. With the change of season has come a shift towards wrapping up our classes and our time here in Windhoek. Instead of beginning new things, we are starting to reflect on the experiences we have had over the past four months.

One of the magazines produced by Sister Namibia

One of the most impactful parts of our experiences here has been the work we have done with our internship sites. Our internship placements allowed us relate with our community in a deeper, and more personal way. While it connected us with Namibian community members, we also met people from other parts of the globe which gave us the opportunity to learn from a variety of perspectives. Louise has spent the past semester working with Sister Namibia, a feminist organization that publishes a bimonthly magazine from an Afrocentric feminist perspective. Molly has been working at Hope Village, a children’s village that is home to children who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. Both of us are starting to feel the weight of having to say good-bye to a place that has taught us so much, and provided such rich, culturally immersive experiences. For Louise, it has meant training other interns in how to use Wordpress, a website generating program that she has become sufficient in, so that the website can easily be updated after she leaves. At Hope Village, Molly has started to talk to kids about her departure, and begun wrapping up the new volunteer and intern booklet she has been working on. Though certainly a time of change, it is good to know that there is still one week left before real good-byes have to be said.

Children run off the bus at Hope Village
(Source: Allgemeine Zeitung, “Waisenhaus für alle Transportaufgaben gerüstet”)

Classes this week started to wrap up as well. Molly had her final Environmental Sustainability class on Tuesday, during which evaluations were sent out, and final thoughts shared. Thursday was the day of final papers and presentations in History class. There were two different options for sharing what we had learned over the past semester. The first, and the one Louise chose, was presenting an autobiography on understandings of race and racism within both an American and Namibian context. Her project focused on biracial identity in America and Namibia.  Louise talked about her own identity as a biracial American with members of her family who have been elite white dignitaries in the U.S. government, as well as recent immigrants to the U.S. from Shanghai, China.  She then compared her own experience of biracialism in America to a community of coloured Namibians known as the Basters, people usually descended from white men and native Khoisan women.  Similar to Louise’s own experiences with privilege and oppression, the Baster’s had some privileges under colonial South African rule of Namibia, for instance they were able to maintain relative autonomy over their land and follow their own constitution.  Yet because they were biracial, they still were discriminated against and relegated to a “second tier” citizenship.

Namibian Basters
(Source: Wikipedia)

Molly worked with other classmates in the History class to develop a role-play scenario. Each student was given a character whose viewpoint dictated the student’s contribution to the discussion. The scenario in which they were participating was supposed to be an open forum discussion of leaders and community members about removing the Rhodes statute from the University of Cape Town campus. The controversy currently underway has to do with the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British official who colonized Southern Africa in the name of expanding the British Empire. Students at the University of Cape Town believe that his racist notions are glorified by the statue, and have been protesting to see its removal. Ultimately the in-class discussion brought about different similarities between racism that is present within the United States, and racism still evident in South Africa today. Through incorporating American characters into the discussion, topics such as the glorification and misrepresentation of mascots, as well as the use of student protests to create awareness about racial issues within the United States were brought into the conversation. The presentations were a useful way to share the knowledge we have gained throughout our study of racism and resistance in Southern Africa.

This week has been an introduction to the idea of leaving Windhoek and returning home. The few weeks we have left means it is not too late to start a bucket-list of things we want to do before heading out, while keeping in mind the brevity of the remaining days. Thoughts and discussions of home, and the challenges associated with transitions have started to pop up around our house, bringing with them confusing emotions about the reality of leaving a place many of us have fallen in love with. Although many of us are looking forward to our first bagel back in the US, we are not looking forward to saying goodbye to kapana and fat cakes. Many of us are excited to see loved ones at the airport, but the idea of saying goodbye to loved ones here is scary. The challenge will be returning to a familiar place as a changed person. Our transition from fall to spring will bring with it the newness of a season. We hope to be able to see our homes in the United States from a fresh and new lens, and share with our friends and family all of the knowledge we have gained from our experiences.

Our first week as strangers in Johannesburg! (Source: Miranda Joebgen)

Leaving Namibia as great friends! (Source: Greta Carlson)

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