Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Week Five: Urban Homestays

By: Gabbi Mpagi, Patrick Toomey & Monique Lillis

This past week CGEE students completed their second homestay, which took place in the city of Windhoek. During the homestays in Soweto two students stayed with one family, but this time around each student stayed with their own family. The goal of these homestays are to help students meet individuals from the city, see how a family in the area leads their lives, and then compare stories of their differing experiences when they return to the CGEE house. Below are the experiences that three of the students had this week.

Gabbi’s host sister Edita using a
mortar and pestle to mash onions.
Gabbi: My urban homestay in Katutura exceeded my expectations and left me feeling like I finally belonged in Namibia. I was placed in the household of Henry and Leah Olu-King. The Olu-King household also consists of their daughters Rebecca, Edita, and Aleah as well as their son Emanuel. The Olu-Kings primarily enjoy spending time together as a family; an important way in which time is spent together in their home is through food, specifically the preparation of traditional meals. I had the honor of witnessing a traditional meal of sweet potato leaves being prepared on a Saturday afternoon. Sweet potato leaves are a meal native to Sierra Leone, the birthplace of Mr. Olu-King and temporary home during the apartheid era of Mrs. Olu-King. Ms. Olu-King had been sponsored by the United Nations as a young girl to go into exile as a means of escaping the war that took place in North between SWAPO and South African soldiers. While in Sierra Leone, she lived with a host family who cared for her as if she were their own daughter. We had previously learned in our history class of the liberation movement conducted by SWAPO beginning in the 1960’s and the amount of war rural areas faced during the struggle for freedom. Desperate for the chance at survival, Namibians fled from their homelands to seek safety in countries such as Botswana, Angola, and Zimbabwe.  

Gabbi and her host family the Olu-Kings outside
their home in Katutura
In the corner of their compound lies a garden in which sweet potatoes grow underneath the soil, while their many leaves sprout above the surface. Rebecca and Edita were responsible for cutting the leaves. Ms. Olu-King then washed the leaves, finely chopped them, and added the remains to a large pot of beef stew. Edita mashed onions together using a wooden mortar and pestle, eventually adding the ingredient to the pot. I admired how preparing the traditional meal not only made for a delicious dinner, but brought the entire family together. This left me with a lasting impression of the importance of family in Namibia and how simple activities such as cooking are ways in which close bonds within the home can be solidified. 

Patrick: Within the first ten minutes of my stay with the Shikeva family in Katutura I felt like I was home. Mr. Shikeva referred to me as his ‘son,’ and his son Matthew referred to me as his ‘brother.’ It was a refreshing and comforting experience, because I was feeling a bit homesick and hearing those words, even from people I had only just met, seemed truly genuine. Throughout my stay I felt like a part of the family, not just a guest: perhaps it was the fact that my host parents woke me up almost every morning to say goodbye and wish me a happy day, or that I played a role in saying grace before dinner. Either way, I felt extremely welcomed.

I learned quite a bit from Oskar and his wife’s experiences during apartheid, as well as the lasting effects of the apartheid regime on the residents of Katutura. The most visible of these was the letter and number system still present on his home’s front door. Although partially painted over with white paint, it was not difficult to make out the blue letter and number that were used during the apartheid-era to indicate the tribal group of the house’s resident. It was a reminder that apartheid was not that long ago, and that people who are my own parents’ age lived and experienced the brutality of the racist regime. Although the pain of apartheid can still be felt in Namibia, the resilience and faith of Katutura’s residents was inspiring to witness first hand. Perhaps this was best exemplified at the Sunday church service that I attended with the Shikeva family. The amazing show of faith that I saw was a testament to the strength of Namibia’s people and their enduring commitment to building a vibrant new nation.

Monique: In my opinion this homestay was the best part of my study abroad experience thus far. I stayed with a twenty-nine year old woman named Ndeshi, who lives in Katutura and works for the ministry of lands. Ndeshi is part of the Oshiwambo tribe; she grew up in the Northern part of Namibia, moved to central Namibia when she was a child, and moved to Windhoek for school as well as work. 

Monique and her host mom Ndeshi in traditional Oshiwambo dress
During my time with Ndeshi we spoke about many different things including the work she does for the ministry of lands, her experience as an unmarried woman in Namibia, and aspects of the Oshiwambo culture. In regards to the ministry of lands, I learned that this facet of the government buys up land from primarily white farmers who are selling their land, and gives the land to primarily black Namibians who have applied to receive the land in order to sustain themselves economically. This process of buying and giving out land is one way the government is trying to create a more equal society now that apartheid is over. White Namibians are still the most prominent farmers, and the hope of the government is that this redistribution of land and training of new farmers will allow black Namibians to earn a steady income off of land that was taken away from the black and colored communities during apartheid.

These home-stays helped us as students understand the individual experiences Namibians had during apartheid. Living in Katutura and talking to people in Namibia has also helped us understand how the country has changed since liberation and the end of apartheid as well as the ways the country could still improve. Overall students had very educational experiences that helped them understand Namibia and the people who live here from a different perspective.

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