Monday, November 21, 2016

Week Seven: Nujoma and the Namib

by Lolita Schalekamp and Hannah Johnson

Reflecting back on the week that just ended, we have to appreciate the various ways in which we’re able to learn here at CGEE. This week alone, among many other field trips, we had the opportunity to visit one of Namibia’s most important monuments and think critically about the problematic ways in which a nation’s history can be represented. Before the week’s end, we also got to travel into the world’s oldest desert to learn about sustainable living.

At beginning of the week, our group had the opportunity of visiting the Heroes’ Acre outside Windhoek. This monument honors the heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle in Namibia, and operates for the purpose of “fostering a spirit of patriotism and nationalism, and to pass on the legacy to the future generations of Namibia.” We learned that this site is not only a memorial, but also hosts many events, particularly army demonstrations. Heroes’ Acre currently contains 174 tombs for the courageous men and women in the fight for independence. Not all of the tombs are filled, but as the heroes pass away, spaces will be reserved for them.

One of the questions that arose from our tour was what are qualifications in choosing who gets to be buried at Heroes Acre? As our tour guide explained, the criteria was not always transparent, as many families of leaders in the liberation struggle would like for their loved ones to be buried at the monument. Indeed, this process has sparked controversy within some circles.

Statue of the Unknown Soldier at Heroes Acre
The monument itself consists of a marble obelisk and a bronze statue of the “Unknown Soldier.” Upon seeing the statue, its resemblance to Sam Nujoma is striking. Although our guide stated that the soldier is not modeled after anyone in particular, the statue has come under criticism for being a tribute to Sam Nujoma himself. Since Nujoma is the founding president of the independent nation, along with being the initiator of Heroes’ Acre, this theory seems relevant.

Another one of the group’s iniquities regarded the architecture of Heroes’ Acre. Compared with other monuments in Namibia, the architecture felt foreign. The grandiose nature of the obelisk is characteristic of Stalinist Empire style or Socialist Classicism. After some research, we learned that North Korea was given a N$60 million contract to build the monument. This has rightfully made many ask: where were the Namibian architects in the construction of their ‘national’ monument?

This leads to the next point: the collaboration of world leaders in the struggle for Namibian independence. As a part of Racism and Resistance class, we became increasingly aware of the parallel development of the SWAPO/SWANU political ideology alongside the PLAN military wing. North Korea’s support of the liberation movement is not as surprising as one might perceive. In fact, many communist nations such as the USSR, Cuba, and North Korea contributed aid to the Communist Party in Namibia, which in turn has strong ties to SWAPO’s formation. This could be interpreted as geopolitical strategy of Communist countries in the context of the Cold War, or from the Namibian perspective, a lack of support from international governing bodies such as the United Nations.

Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET)
As the weekend approached, we packed our sleeping bags, lathered ourselves in sunscreen, and trucked our way toward the desert where we had the privilege to stay at the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Centre. NaDEET lies in the dune valley of the Namib Desert and serves as a place for people of all ages, but more specifically school children, to properly practice eco-sustainability. NaDEET is a non-profit, non governmental organization whose mission is to protect the natural environment of Namibia by educating its citizens to practice sustainable lifestyle. We were immediately greeted by the warm sun and soft sand, where we hiked over a few dunes to reach our base.  

Spectacular sand waves in the Namib Desert!
The entire weekend was full of fun and hands-on learning. We discussed sustainable energy and water, where we monitored our water use and discovered that the centre was fueled by solar energy, discussed waste management and nature conservation. Water conservation was one of the largest topics of conversation. It is undeniable that water is the basis of all life on Earth, however Namibia has a limited freshwater supply and labeled one of the most dry countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Being in Southern Africa, we have learned to be more mindful of our water use and waste. NaDEET introduced a variety of ways to reduce our water use, including implementing bucket showers. The bucket showers reduce shower time and water waste. We have returned to CGEE house with the mindset to take shorter showers and investigate what it would take to have dual flushing toilets. In fact, the average toilet flush uses over ten litres of water per flush. If we introduce a low flush or dual flush toilet in our home, we would reduce our water waste by 2-3 liters of water each flush. As discussed at NaDEET, in a five person household, this can lead to saving nearly 200 liters of water per week!

The delicious end result!
Our homemade pizzas cooking
in the solar ovens! 
The true fun began around lunch time, where we prepared food as a community and made homemade pizzas in the solar ovens. The fierce Namibian sun fueled the solar ovens and naturally, eliminates the use of gas, electricity, or wood and produces zero pollution (solar cookers baking our homemade pizzas and the end result shown in the pictures).

After a walking tour of the dunes, observing the tracks and droppings of the diverse ecology and wildlife in the desert, and sand boarding, we finally caught the breathtaking stars!  Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve, which is one of Africa’s largest nature reserves, remains one of the naturally most dark places on Earth. NaDEET aims to protect the environment and educate guests, and this includes understanding how we have contributed to all forms of pollution. Attached is a link shared at NaDEET of a short video called “Losing the Dark” by the International Dark Sky Association regarding light pollution and solutions. https://youtu.be/dd82jaztFIo

CGEE students after a successful evening sand boarding
in the stunning Namib Desert.
Our group was split up along three different houses, therefore when the weekend came to a close we were elated to compare our water and electricity usage with our friends (a good ol’ competition was a great way to spark environmentally sustainable habits!) Upon returning to Windhoek, we reflected on ways we can promote sustainable living but also practicing what we learned. Some are proposing solar cooking to their internships to combat the issue of expensive electric bills as some of us are researching dual flush toilets. The program was the perfect balance between educational and entertaining!

In short, during our visit to Heroes’ Acre and NaDEET, we learned to think critically about issues of memorializing a country’s history, in addition to more contemporary questions on how to build a sustainable and environmentally conscious society. In both cases, there is an inherent politicization that is ultimately involved in the process, whether that be foreign outbidding in the construction of a national monument or access and availability of environmentally friendly practices. As we learned at NaDEET, the only way to truly make a difference as a socially conscious community is to actually practice what we learn; through an increase in knowledge comes a responsibility to create spaces of dialogue that address these issues.

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