Monday, November 9, 2015

Week Eight: Fitting in

By: Henrik Weber

Ah yes, the mid-semester weeks. The novelty of Windhoek has subsided, and the normal routine of morning class and afternoon reading has returned full force. Possibly the most noteworthy event of the week is that our beloved inflatable shark, Seymour, popped and had to be laid to rest. People fail to get excited about weeks like this as the anticipation of our trip to the North continues to overshadow the daily experiences we have here. As we reach the second half of the semester, our comfort in the local community has developed more thoroughly. 12,000 miles from home, we are able to find our way around and freely explore unknown places. Friends have been made. Relationships have formed. And that has left me in an interesting place. How do I, or any of us, fit in here?

Amanda and Seymour relaxing
in the pool in Windhoek.
We often venture out of the gates to the CGEE house to some local businesses. We go to get chocolate at Tom Thumb, pizza at the Crazy Crust Inn, beer at the Cardboard Box, and for about everything else we take a hike over to Pick’n’Pay. The sense of security in the neighborhood is nice and having a known familiar setting allows for us to embraces fully the Windhoek West culture. The more we feel like we live here the harder some questions become. What is my role in this community? How do we continue to care for this place after we leave? As we get to belong to this community, it forces me to consider my place in the world. 

One of my favorite parts of class here has been our guest speakers. This week we had one speaker who sparked lots of questions within me. Herbert Jauch, is an activist currently working with issues of income inequality in Namibia. He is also the former director of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), the place where I am doing my internship. We have read articles by him for class before and I have read lots of his papers and reports for work. He came to talk to us advocating for different anti-poverty measures. Many of us liked his ideas and were very supportive, but he makes me wonder if this is my place. We have spent much of the semester learning about how colonialism and the influence of Western ideas have negatively affected Namibia. When is it appropriate for us to step back and say 'this is not my role as an American' and when is appropriated for us to step forward and say 'as a well educated community member who cares, I stand for this'? I feel simultaneously as if I belong and as if I am an outsider.

Henrik and a friend in Windhoek.
It is nice to get out and interact
with the locals.
Where do we fit in? In a short time, we will be back at our home universities. We fit in there. We currently fit in at the Cardboard Box and the Crazy Crust Inn. But more than the physical location, where do our ideas fit in? How do we share our experiences to create a positive impact? At this point, I realize that these are all questions without answers, but these are the questions I think about. Even with no answer, just taking the time to think about them provides a certain level of understanding.

With our new understanding of ourselves, of the world, of poverty, and of each person’s place in the global community, choosing how to think is key. We are still outsiders here, but at times it is easy to forget. Now, as we prepare to spend three weeks on the road in the rural north, at Etosha National Park, and over spring break, our comfort zone will again be pushed. Part of what the trip is about is, as a group, talking about the unanswerable questions. Pushing each other to think in new ways is a positive for everyone. Figuring out life in Windhoek, in the US, and on the road remains a challenge, but it is not meant to be easy. I am grateful to the group for being with me through these struggles of self and struggles of fitting in.

So here we sit. From our house in Windhoek, we look out over a few block radius we consider to be our home. We learn much from our classes and even more from our adventures. Yet, we still know it is incurably temporary. We won’t stay at 5 Simpson Street forever. But the lessons we learn, the experiences we have and the bonds we make are sure to last us a lifetime.

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