by Clara Randimbiarimanana & Anne-Claire Merkle-Scotland
Our last week in Cape Town, I felt increasingly comfortable in the city and as if there was no end of things for us to do. We took some trips as a group to learn about the very complex and real injustices that South Africans continue to face throughout the country, especially the disturbing disparity of wealth, and the apparent segregation of blacks and whites that still continues even twenty-two years after the end of apartheid.
On Monday, we visited a community organization that was truly inspiring. The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project is without a doubt an unbelievably uplifting experience, for both educating us as visitors, and for the work they have done for the community. An incredible example of what strong women can accomplish, the organization began during the end of apartheid when a group of single mothers raised the funds and taught themselves how to build houses as a way of lifting themselves and their families out of severe poverty. One woman told us a story about how she set the roof on her house while six months pregnant, and how she built that house for her children, and someday it will be their house. Twenty-two years later, we also met with the children of the women who created the housing project, and they shared their visions of the world and educational accomplishments as credit to their mothers, who relentlessly worked to better the community and the future of their children all on their own. In addition to building houses for their families and the community, the women of Victoria Mxenge also have built a community center and playground, so their work continues to have a lasting impact on the people all around them. I was truly astounded and inspired by the work of these strong women, and the impact they have had on their children, their neighbors, and the world.
Cape Town is full of tourists, beautiful sites, great food, a fun night life, incredible people, and rampant economic and social inequity. Exposed to all these things during our time in the city, leaving Cape Town was very bittersweet. While excited to travel to Windhoek and begin this next chapter of our study abroad experience, I was also sad to be leaving a place where I had truly begun to feel close to our group and started to feel comfortable.
The city of Windhoek is very different from Cape Town. It is smaller in size and quieter than the busy nightlife we experienced beforehand. Namibia as a whole is far smaller than South Africa. The country is about the size of California yet has a population of only 1.8 million people. Windhoek has so much to offer, though, and in the first few hours I tried to take in as much as I could about the city and what is available to us these next few months.
On the second day in Namibia, we were just dropped off in downtown Windhoek in groups of three and told to explore different parts of the city. It was a great way to get our feet wet to our journey in Namibia. Windhoek is a great city; not too overwhelming, it has its own pace and beauty: a beauty that is usually left untold by the mainstream narrative. The media usually portrays Africa based of is based of the years of colonialism, slavery, missionary. Of course, the world’s perception of Africa is dominated by the mess media which does not give much credit to the progress achieved after these years of exploitation. In the case of Namibia for instance, the last country to get its independence, it made so much progress since 1990 than the media is giving credit for. During the short amount of time we have been in the city, there are so many tall buildings and we also saw the independence museum right in the heart of the city. However, that it also where the former concentration camp for the Herero people (one of Namibian’s tribes). As an outsider, I think of it to be somehow symbolic; acknowledging the past, learning from it but celebrating their independence as well.
Our exploration of Windhoek was followed by our driving tour of the city. It was great entering the Single Quarters’ Market in Katutura and visiting different shops. The market’s feel, or the way it is structured, reminded me a lot of Antananarivo’s market in Madagascar on Fridays. How informal markets are set up always amazes me because they are so accessible for people from different social status and different tribes as well. So the market is not only a place where people get daily supplies but really a safe space for diversity. It amazes me how they navigate through different languages, and everyone just speaks a bit of someone else’s language. Namibia has 10 official languages (Oshiwambo, Nama/Damara, Afrikaans Otjiherero, Kavango, Caprivi, English, German, San) and a Namibian speaks at least 3. Most people that we interacted with spoke but some did not, though they could understand each other really well regardless of their origins.
One of the greatest moments in the market of Katutura as well is the meat market. They sell a tomato salad with a Chakalaka sauce next to the raw meat tale where they sell Barbeque as well. That was probably the best snack I have had in such a long time. Slightly outside the main market, there were many places that cut raw meat as well that makes me wonder if beef meat is a big thing in Katutura people’s daily life. My first impression of Katutura was just amazing, it’s alive. Many people are walking in the street, yet it is not a big city for that matter. You would hear Namibian songs from the households. In short, it’s a lively place!
While far different from our experiences in South Africa, we have settled in our final destination, and have eagerly been learning about everything this new city has to offer.