Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Week Fourteen: Coming Home

By: Rachel Briegel

Today I decided to go into town, both to do some last minute souvenir shopping for friends and family and, more importantly, to figure out how I am ever going to leave this incredible country, and the people I’ve come to know as my Namibian family. With some money, a book, and my journal in tow, I headed to one of my favorite areas of Windhoek, The Craft Center. Here I perused the shops and made some purchases before settling into a café to think over the upcoming week, our last here in Windhoek.

As I nibbled on the piece of carrot cake I’d ordered for my breakfast, I looked over the balcony of the café at this lovely city I’ve become so familiar with. I thought about the handful of people I recognized on my short stroll through the shops, of the woman who greeted me with a “Wa la le po nawa” and smiled as I responded with an “Eyeh”. I thought of how I hailed a taxi to cross the city, something three months ago I would have been completely uncomfortable doing; of the blanket of heat that stuck to my body, once so foreign, now a familiar companion despite my constant state of sunburn. Slowly, my mind starts to withdraw deeper into itself, and my fork pauses midway through the soft cake.

Before I came on this trip, I was told by various friends and family members that I would have predicable bouts of homesickness- that I would look at a map and see how far from home I was and panic. Looking back, I realize that never happened to me. It’s probably for a combination of reasons, but besides feeling so at home in Windhoek, I think it’s because I just haven’t had time to be homesick. Ever since we got off the plane in Johannesburg, we have been constantly learning and engaging with this community. I’ve been on rooftops discussing Southern Africa’s history, in churches that stood up for social change (and against it), and in communities where whole neighborhoods share a single water pump. I’ve felt my eyes sting with tears listening to children sing about Universal Children’s Rights, and an activist for HIV/Aids survivors discussing the inhuman acts committed against these people. I’ve been on top of mountains and waterfalls, and frolicked through oceans and sand dunes. For these three short months I’ve felt more fulfilled that perhaps the past twenty years. My whole world view has changed, and I feel as if Namibia has molded me into a completely new person.

I thought I was very privileged to not have to battle homesickness while on my trip, but recently I’ve found out I had prejudged myself. Just a few nights ago I wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t sleep so I started walking around the house. I ended up on our balcony looking up at the dark sky speckled with stars, and suddenly sank to the floor clutching the railing, overwhelmed with emotion, wondering how I was ever going to leave this place? I had finally gotten hit with homesickness, but it was for a home I hadn’t even left yet.

A group selfie with some of the gang in front of Parliament.
This morning I had purposely set off by myself in the hopes of thinking through these things, and although I am normally a fairly independent person, it was very strange being alone in this cafe. For the past three months I have been constantly surrounded by a group of intelligent, compassionate, and extremely thoughtful individuals. I can’t quite remember what my first impressions of them were, but thinking back before I knew any of them, my only hopes were that they would be kind, and interested in the things I was interested in. My hopes have been tremendously exceeded. With this small group I have witnessed both human tragedies, and some of the most beautiful sights in the world. Together we have cried and raged, laughed and danced. We have shared our inner demons, and future aspirations. Because of these people, their wise observations and our late night conversations under the stars, I have become a better and stronger person. Undeniably, another reason I’ve become so painfully homesick for Namibia is that when I leave 5 Simpson St., I will also have to leave behind these wonderful individuals.

Despite these troubling thoughts, I know I must return home. It would be selfish to remain in this country, where I have learned an immense amount and contributed only slightly. Namibia does not need me here as much as I wish it did. I have learned throughout this semester that the best way I can help this country, any area of the world that has a terrible history of oppression, is to return home and tell my friends, my family, and my classmates about all I have learned and seen. And I know I will not be alone with this quest, as I will have six very good friends off in their separate areas of America spreading the same message.

Our home for the semester.
I quickly finish scribbling my thoughts in my journal as the waitress comes to pick up my plate with the messy remains of the carrot cake. Getting up to pay the bill, I smile genuinely as I am now able to see not just my present state of bliss, but my entire future much more clearly. With a new found resolve and heavy bags of souvenirs, I return back to my home at 5 Simpson St. ready to fully embrace this final week of the semester that changed my life. 
To my dear friends, and others who might be struggling to figure out how to conduct their lives in this harsh world we live in, I’d like to end our semester’s blog with a quote from Maya Angelou: “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Just keep on keeping on, kids.


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