by: Beatrice Misher, Dashawn Peterson, Molly Weilbacher
On Tuesday, March 22nd our group woke up at 5am, brushed the sleep from our eyes and tried to conquer our nervous energy, to depart for an eight-hour drive up north to Outapi, Namibia. As the hours went by, the temperature increased but so did our excitement. We finally got to meet each of our families and were welcomed with loving smiles and high energy, even though we were four hours late. CGEE students hopped in the beds of trucks as we departed into the sunset to see our families’ homesteads and what our life would be like for the next week.
We each found ourselves on homesteads, based off of the traditional Oshiwambo homestead structure. Each of our homesteads had a few man-made cement structures, but the rest of the homestead was set up in a maze of wooden fences leading to different huts that were each used for a distinct purpose: cooking, storing food, drinking tea, living and sleeping, and mahango pounding. Our families had common crops on our farms, including mahango—a grain used to make porridge, which is central to our families’ diet and can be found at all meals. Their farms also included watermelon, beans, and corn, and animals including cattle, donkeys, goats, chickens, dogs, and pigs. Our families all cooked meals over the fire. As the sun set, they would start preparing the food to put on the fire. Many of us experienced eating by torchlight, or guided by the light of the moon and stars, since there was no electricity. We would go to the bathroom in outhouses outside the homestead with a long drop toilet, and if we had to pee we would typically pee in the same area we washed. We would wash by dunking our hair in a basin and splashing water onto ourselves in a secluded area both blocked by the house and by a maze of sticks. We would often be in bed by 10pm at the latest, due to exhaustion from the intense heat.
After our first night with our families, we were picked up by the CGEE vans and all went to the Outapi War Museum—the museum was a converted bunker originally used by the South African Defense Force during their fight against the liberation struggle. Outapi has a rich history when studying the liberation of Namibia because it was where the bulk of the war for liberation took place. SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) was the liberation party that fought against the South African Defense Forces against Apartheid in what was then South-West Africa, and has been the ruling party since 1989. PLAN (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia), the military arm of SWAPO had their military base in Angola, and Outapi being so close to the border of Angola meant that many civilians were caught in the crossfire between the South African Defense Force and PLAN. At the museum, we were guided by the director who joined SWAPO at the age of fourteen to help fight for Namibia’s liberation. We also got the chance to meet two women who were teachers during the war, who spoke to us about their duties and involvement with SWAPO and the equal gender breakdown within the SWAPO. It was very surreal to speak to people who helped Namibia gain independence, who reminded us how fresh this history still is—so fresh that many people are still dealing with PTSD from the war, and still have a hard time sharing this piece of loaded history with others. Many of our host families spoke of their involvement during the war, from hiding supplies in the fields for SWAPO members in exile, to getting tortured by the South African army.
At the end of our week we all came together with our host families to celebrate and thank our families for their hospitality. They lent us traditional Oshiwambo dress for the occasion and we ate traditional food prepared by our host mothers. Both the students and the families expressed how grateful they were for this partnership and the chance to learn and connect with other cultures. The connections we made with each of our families allowed us to have varied experiences and reflections. In the paragraph below you will find a personal reflection from each of us about our homestay, as it is important to nuance the experience:
Bea: I stayed with Mame Naango and Tate Tobias, along with their children. My host family welcomed me into their way of life for the week, sharing their daily routines with me and family history. Something I struggled with over the course of my stay was the ethics of our homestay experiences. We as American students entered these welcoming homes ready to learn and broaden our perspectives, but what were we giving back in return?. Before both my urban and rural homestay this was something I consciously considered, and tried to carry out by sharing stories of my home and lived experience when they were gracious enough to share with me. However at times the inequality of the exchange became apparent such as the fact that we were sent to our homestays with boxes of food that the family would not normally keep in their house, or when I pulled out bug spray one night and realized it was a luxury to my homestay family, even though they are the ones living in a malaria-prone part of the world.
DayDay: Comfortability and access are things I take for granted, and was a big aspect of the rural homestay in my opinion. Living in an apartment building where water and electricity is included I took for granted that privilege. Going up north having to take a bucket shower with limited water and having very little electricity really pushed me out of my comfort zone but also made me reflect how spoiled I am to be living the way I do in America. I was able to experience the world through different lenses and realize that the way the American society believes life should be lived is not the only way to live.
Molly: My time at the homestead made me think about how we choose to qualify life. Watching my family take a break from 11am - 4pm, sitting under the tree together because it is too hot to do anything else made me anxious, as I was itching to do something. I realized that my discomfort came from the fact that I’m not used to just sitting and being with one another, as I come from an American mentality that is so focused on how much you do, how many people you see, how much you buy as a means of measuring how successful one’s day is. We view how much we produce and our outputs as a way of qualifying our daily lives, whereas in my homestead my family was content with sitting and letting the heat pass because there is a different emphasis on what the success of a daily routine means. I ended up loving sitting, eating watermelon, drinking cola, watching the sun move, and playing soccer when it got cool enough. It made me realize how important it is to constantly be checking our internal biases--even around something as abstract but real as the quality of life.