Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Week Seven: The Forgotten Genocide & (Sweaty) Sustainability Under the Desert Sun

by: Emily Simpson, Ashly Brun & Beatrice Misher

The Forgotten Genocide

Have you ever heard of the Herero Genocide? Chances are you probably have not. Understanding the reasons why this history is often neglected in our classrooms  is something that we have had to come to terms with. This week in our history class, we spoke to Uranaani Mantundu, a genocide scholar, whose ancestors escaped the very genocide we are discussing.

According to Mr Mantundu, The Herero genocide occurred  between 1904 and 1909, but is often referred to as the German-Herero colonization. The ideology behind German settler colonialism stemmed from the idea of spreading the wealth and seed of Germans to the land known today as the Erongo region of central Namibia. The German colonization of South West Africa was built on these colonialist ideas and also served as a response to overpopulation and poverty of Germany in the late 1800s. After a period of time of  what Mr Mantundu called  “slow colonization,” the settlers became restless for their promised land. However, central Namibia was already home to the established empire of the Ovaherero people. In the beginning, the Herero people maintained control over their land by renting it out to German settlers. The Germans violently sought to take over this land through means such as ambush attacks on the Herero people and rape of Herero women. Under General von Trotha, the German colonists began the systematic annihilation of the Ovaherero people. As a form of resistance, the Ovaherero people fought back to reclaim their land, but were ultimately  victims of genocide. Through a propaganda campaign in Germany portraying the Herero people as dangerous savages, a wave of racist sentiment spread throughout the country resulting in the official declaration of war against the Herero people. As a result, von Trotha issued an extermination order to kill any Herero man, woman, or child, armed or not, who was found within German colonial territory. Any Herero person who was not killed during the war was subsequently rounded up into concentration camps, some of which were labor camps and some, like Shark Island off the coast of the town of Luderitz, were strictly death camps. By the end of the genocide in 1909, approximately 65,000 Herero people had been killed. Many still lay in unidentified mass graves that are used today as ATV tracks for tourists in the Swakopmund area.

After this lesson and our new knowledge of this genocide, the German influence here in Windhoek, such as street signs in German, made us think harder about the historical context of the city we are living in. Today, the Herero people are asking the German government to acknowledge this genocide and pay reparations of $2 billion. According to Mr. Matundu, in the US, 48 of 50 states have officially recognized the Armenian genocide, yet none have done so for Namibia. While horrifying, the silence of this genocide was not surprising given the western lense through which our history is taught. Why do we selectively choose whose genocides to remember? There is a specific narrative chosen that neglects the stories of black and brown bodies, and their stolen land. Only through decolonizing our minds can we acknowledge forgotten history, and allow the voices of the oppressed to be heard.

(Sweaty) Sustainability Under the Desert Sun

The following weekend we traveled to the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) to camp sustainably in the middle of the oldest desert in the world. Upon arriving, we made our way to the main building for a solar cooked dinner and a brief orientation of NaDEET. Viktoria, the founder, explained that NaDEET is focused on providing environmental education to Namibians and promoting sustainable lifestyles. In addition to education, Viktoria also explained that NaDEET believes in practicing what they preach, and therefore the entire center is as sustainable as possible. It is fully equipped with solar cookers and ovens, an extensive recycling and compost system, solar electricity, and bucket showers to promote water conservation. I was amazed by NaDEET’s ability to build a nearly 100% sustainable organization in the middle of an inhospitable desert with limited access to necessary resources. If NaDEET can do it so well, why can’t the rest of the world?
As the sun burns the back of her legs, Beatrice
realizes that the same sun can be used to
beautifully cook a vegetarian pizza.
The next day, we woke up early to embark on a dune hike before the scorching heat took control. As we crawled up the bright orange sand dunes, we stopped to identify different tracks in the sand and learn about the survival mechanisms of the animals and insects. The sun was scorching by the time we finished up our hike, creating perfect conditions to cook our lunch in the solar ovens. After feasting on our pizzas, we spent the rest of the day hiding from the heat, planting native trees, and experiencing our first Namibian sun-downer, which involved us dune boarding as the sun set. It was the perfect ending to our long and educational day-- an evening full of laughter, sand-beards, and the reminder that the natural world can provide us with overwhelming amounts of joy. We ended the day with an astronomy lesson as we gazed up at Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, learning about different constellations and squealing over every shooting star. 

As an environmental studies major, I've thought a lot about how to effectively demonstrate the need to live sustainably, and I've become very frustrated by my lack of a solution. However, this weekend at NaDEET helped me realize a major theme in promoting environmental consciousness: access. In order to get to NaDEET, we drove through dozens of dried-up river beds and hiked through sand dunes that provided views of a water-empty landscape, demonstrating that we did not have easy and plentiful access to water. Consequently, water instantly became more valuable and we all became conscious of our water use. The location of NaDEET, and the limited access to water that comes along with it, makes it the perfect place to teach water conservation and other sustainable practices. But the instant we gain more access to resources, we forget the importance of conservation. 

Ohana in the desert
This is a large issue with conservation at home in the US, and also at our house in Windhoek. In most places in the United States, there is an abundant access to water, causing people to mindlessly run the tap. Even in dry areas, such as the Southwest, we have manipulated natural waterways to provide an endless supply of water to deserts. This has seemingly provided us with too much access to water, creating a disconnect between us and our natural resources, and thus diminishing our value of water. The same is true in Windhoek, which is in the middle of a huge water crisis. Despite the drought, water magically pours out of our faucets, falsely making it seem as if we have unlimited access to water. This contradiction can make it extremely challenging to understand the value of resources.

But thanks to NaDEET, we were fortunate enough to fully understand the importance of sustainable living. Therefore, when we arrived back at our home in Windhoek, we all got together for our community meeting and discussed our plans for living more sustainable lives. If NaDEET is able to inspire this same reaction in all their visitors, they are effectively changing the environmental mindset of Namibia.

P.S. We also visited the water treatment plant here in Windhoek that transforms our sewage into drinking water but we are legally bound to not disclose this information. Bye.

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