Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring break on the coast...

So, I have returned from spring break in Swakopmund, Namibia. If you've been reading my blog thus far, you shall see that I have been to Swakopmund one other time, earlier in the semester. Me and two other girls returned to the coast for break this week, and couldn't be happier that we did! Basically, it was a week of relaxation, which was sorely needed by the end of our trip to the north.

To get to Swakopmund without Passat (tear), we took Town Hoppers Shuttle Service, which is basically a fourteen passenger van, tightly packed with tourists to the coast. Although we didn't have much space, we had some really awesome talking time, to the discomfort of many of our fellow passengers. We arrived in Swakopmund later that night, and settled in to our living space, the Municipal Bungalows. It was AWESOME. Basically, they have lots of A-frame bungalows, but we were actually in our own little house! We had two bedrooms for the three of us, a little kitchen with a nook, a toilet and a bathroom. It was SO nice after doing lots of camping and staying in bungalows in Etosha where we had separate bathrooms and toilets from our sleeping area. Throughout the week, we ate out at a bunch of different restaurants (DELICIOUS coast food), bought way too many gifts for all of you at home, and basically spent way too much money. But it was a BLAST.

One of the best things that we did during the week was volunteer at an organization called Mondesa Youth Opportunities (MYO). I think I talked about it in my last post about Swakop, but I'll write about it again. During apartheid, Mondesa was one of the townships where they forcibly moved all of the blacks from the area, moving them out of town and in to substandard housing, all together. Today, Mondesa continues to be dominated by the black community of Swakopmund, while the residential areas closer to town and in town itself are predominantly white. While things are getting a little better, things like housing and the education system in Namibia in general is still pretty poor. MYO is an organization that brings students from the government schools to an afterschool program where they take more classes to better prepare them for the world after secondary school, whether it be a university or a job. Now, I definitely have some issues with a program that only takes what they deem to be the most "promising" of the students from the government schools, but our tour guide gave us her reasons for that requirement. MYO has a very limited budget, mainly based on individual donations, and they don't necessarily have the funds to deal with students who need more help. It is an interesting issue, but a place that is definitely doing good for a lot of the students from the government schools in Mondesa. We volunteered there for a couple of days during the week. They had just received a PeaceCorps volunteer for two years, and they had us helping out a bit. I got to play volleyball for two hours with the sports class! It was so much fun. One of the other girls worked in the library, reorganizing some of their books, and another sat in on the dance and music class to get some information for her internship. It was a lot of fun, just hanging out with the kids on our break.

One of the best moments that I had there happened before we even got started. We got out of the taxi in the middle of Mondesa, and had no idea where we were going. We started out walking in one direction, past towards homes and schools, and could not find MYO. However, we did find a secondary school, so the two other girls went inside to ask where we could find the program, because it is connected to schools. I was standing outside talking to a few kids, when out walks Holland and Nathalie (the two other girls with me from CGE) and a huge group of kids, walking to MYO now that school was out! They offered to walk us to the program. It was awesome, just to talk to them about what they loved about school, what their favorite subjects were, and much more about education from their point of view. It was so great!

Anyway, that was basically our trip. All of your gifts are coming from Swakopmund, because I cleaned out all of the stores there. Just so ya know! Miss you all so much!! LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wa la la po, and other Oshiwambo greetings.

I have returned to Windhoek from our two week travel seminar in northern Namibia, a little smelly, a little sunburned, a little tired, and a lot more knowledgeable about the way of life of residents of rural Namibia, a traditional Himba village, and the affects of tourism in the north through a trip to Etosha National Park! It was all AMAZING.

We arrived in Outapi, the center of the town where all of our homestay families lived, on the first Monday, after a long, 9-hour ride up there. Let's just say it consisted of a whole lot of singing old school pop music, with musical appearances by O-Town and the Backstreet Boys, in addition to some rapping of Blackstreet's "No Diggity," some snoring and drooling on pillows in uncomfortable seats, and a lot of Simba chips. Anyway, after the drive we were briefly introduced to our homestay families with awkward uses of Oshiwambo from our four hours of language class, and whisked away to our various families. Another boy and me got to ride with all of our luggage and our boxes of food in the back of a pick up truck, which was amazing, the wind in our hair, avoiding donkeys and goats on the road, and smelling the clean air without much pollution. This was just the beginning!

We arrived at our homestays with very little Oshiwambo skills, two boxes of food and toilet paper, sleeping bags, and mosquito nets. We had all been taking our Malaria medications for a few days, mine making me throw up quite a bit before hand, because there are a few more mosquitoes in the north and they are full of Malaria! Anyway, my host mother, Albertina, greeted me with a kiss on each cheek, a huge hug, and a long hand hold. The families in the north are extremely welcoming! We are not used to the kind of contact that these people are. My host mother walked me around, introducing me to all of her neighbors and friends among the host families, all the while holding my hand. I was so unused to this in the beginning, but by the end I was.

Anyway, my host mother drove me and Andy, the other CGE student who was my neighbor, to our homes in a pick up truck. I lugged my bag, sleeping bag, pillow, mosquito net, and two boxes of food along with my host mother and her friend, first over the extremely rusty and sharp fence and up the path to the house. When I first saw the fence, it was completely different than I had expected. During our preparation sessions, Sarah and Romanus (the woman who organized the host families in the north and our history professor) had told us that most of the homesteads would be made up of a few grass and wood huts. My host mother's house was made up of about 5 of these huts and two cement buildings. The main building housed her bedroom and a sitting room. The other cement building had my bedroom (yeah, I had my own bedroom!) and the bedroom of my 8 year old host brother, Solomo. I also had a sixteen year old host brother that lived in another hut in the compound. My host father, Tobias, is a soldier in the Namibian army and is only home for one weekend a month, and the week that I was there, he was working, unfortunately. The first night, we spent hours sitting in her hallway, drinking tea in the pitch dark because they did not have electricity, comparing the welfare systems in Namibia and the United States, talking about HIV/AIDs in Namibia, and learning about the education system from her, a primary school teacher. When she walked me to my room that night, I had to stop for a second to look at the sky. Now, probably the most amazing thing about my homestay (aside from my family of course), was the sky. Day time, night time, the sky is so much better in a place without electricity. During the day, the sky is incredibly blue, with the whitest clouds. During sunrise and sunset, the most beautiful colors of pink and orange flow across the sky, mingling with dark clouds over the wooden fence of my homestay. Then, the night time holds the most beautiful of skies. The stars literally blanket the black sky. There is no electricity or light pollution at night, so the starts are so clear in the sky. You first look, and it looks like there is a normal amount of stars. When you look more closely, there are layers upon layers upon blankets upon sheets of stars just littering every open space. It is ridiculous. You can see the Milky Way. I will never ever forget it, and I hope that someday I can come back.

My family went to bed every night right after dinner, so around 9ish most nights. One of the major issues that I had there though was the toilet situation. The toilet was about a seven minute walk through a cornfield and through cow and donkey territory. Needless to say, at night, my host mother did not want me to walk to the toilet alone, so after about 9pm each night I had to hold it! This was one of my major challenges during the week, haha. So basically from there, each day, the CGE staff would pick us up from our homestays on the main road. For me and Andy, the walk walk was only about 15-20 minutes, but for some of the other students, the walk to the road was about 40. So, the bus would come by and pick us up, and our days were filled with speakers and trips to various places in the North. We met the governor of the region one day, the King another day, and traveled to the border between Angola and Namibia to learn about the issues facing the fairly porous line separating the two countries. This was one of my favorite speakers/trips/days of the two weeks. The drive up to the border from our homestays was about an hour and a half, of a not so consistent pavement/rock/dirt/sand/water combination. It was extremely bumpy to say the least. Once we got there it was sooo hot and there were a TON of people. The border between Angola and Namibia is a very interesting one. Picture it as the border between the United States and Canada before you needed a passport. Basically, if you are Namibian, you can go to a little office near the border, state your purpose for traveling to Angola, state the amount of time that you will be in Angola, and they give you a piece of paper to travel over. One of our speakers talked about the problem of crime around this border, because of the ease of entering the other country. In addition, this problem brings a lot of illegal Angolans in to Namibia, a lot of illegal Namibians in to Angola, and a lot of issues with crime, a huge amount of street kids from Angola in Namibia, issues with drugs, and many other issues of poverty and crime. The area around the border was SO packed, with so many people. It was one of more interesting seminars of the week.

So, each afternoon we would return to our families around 2pm. My host mother was a teacher in a primary school, so she usually returned around 4pm. My youngest host brother went to school in the mornings, so he was usually home when I returned, and my 16 year old host brother was no longer in school, and was working in the fields by the time I got home. My family had a lot of animals, most of whom took care of themselves by roaming around and eating grass and drinking rain water, but they also had lots and lots of fields of corn, watermelon (which they called pumpkins), guava trees, green beans...lots of fields that my 16 year old host brother would work. When my 8 year old brother gets home, he works in the fields as well. My host mother never wanted me to work in the fields though. I washed a lot of dishes, helped clean the house, got rid of a lot of cobwebs, weeded the yards, and made a lot of tea! Overall, it was a good homestay and I learned a lot about my host mother's perspective on various things. In my family, my host mother was pretty much the only one who spoke any English. My host brothers were content to wave to me every time I saw them and say "I'm fine" when I asked how they were. But I loved every minute of it!

Following this one week rural homestay and the seminars that went along with it, we traveled to a traditional Himba village and camped right next to it. The first night, we got a tour around the village, met the chief, his wife, and got to learn about the traditional dress of the Himbas. They wear the skins of their animals, and cover themselves in occra (don't know how to spell it), a red powder mixed with butter that protects their skin from the sun. The Himbas do not wash themselves with water, but simply clean themselves with the occra. It was very cool to get to see the way they live, in their own villages. I think a few of us were questioning the legitimacy of the interaction, however. A group of about 20 people, majority white students from the United States, traveling to Africa to see the way that "Africans" live in their traditional homesteads? We were all a bit uneasy at the thought. Imagine a bunch of people from another country coming to your house to set up a tent next to it, to observe the way that you live? Uncomfortable to say the least. However, we learned later that the Himba people had contacted our professor to ask us to come to their village to learn more about their culture. This fact helped a little, but I know that I was still a bit uncomfortable, but it was a great learning experience.

After that camping experience, we traveled to Etosha National Park, one of the biggest tourist destinations of Namibia, especially in the north. There were got to see SO many different kinds of animals! The most prominent was the giraffe. There are hundreds of giraffes in the park. It was a very relaxing and fun end to a fun but packed trip to the north - hanging out with a bunch of giraffes, wildebeast, springbok, hyenas, and some jackals.

This coming week is spring break! All of the CGErs will be heading off to different places in southern Africa. I am actually going back to the coast of Namibia, to Swakopmund, for some affordable days on the beach and to volunteer at an afterschool program for some Namibia students called Mondesa Youth Opportunities. It should be an awesome break! I am going with two of my good friends on the program, so it will be greeeeeat.

Update when I get back next week! All my love to the United States.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shaking hands with social justice and a trip to the coast...

So, as per usual, I am terribly sorry that I haven't updated this blog in so long. I have been really busy and doing a lot of different things, so I haven't had a whole lot of time to do it! Most of the really cool things that have had the opportunity to do have been through my classes! I'm taking a history class, politics class, development class, and an independent study on Namibian incarcerated mothers. I'll give you some highlights of some of the really cool things that I've been doing in them!

Politics class - We had a really really awesome chance to head to the Parliament Building last week to see how the government and where the government is run and works. Our tour started in the Constitution Room, which is the room where the Namibian constitution was first written in the post-independent period! It was in this room that we got to meet the actual Speaker of Parliament! He talked to us for about an hour. It was really amazing. Because Namibian is such a recently independent country, we have gotten the chance to meet with some awesome speakers, especially people high up in the government. This man talked to us very briefly, but had some cute anecdotes about the United States. It is interesting that almost every person in the government that we've talked to spent a large amount of time in the United States during apartheid in Namibia, so they all have pretty extensive knowledge about where we're from and what it is like in the States, and they love to talk about it. Very few of them were actually in the country fighting for liberation, which is just interesting because so much in terms of status and popularity relates to the amount of liberation credentials a person has.

History - We have had two really phenomenal opportunities recently through this class. One of my favorites was a woman from an organization called Behind the Wall of Silence, an organization that is working to recover the untold stories of women and men who were tortured by SWAPO (the ruling party in Namibia right now, the liberation party of apartheid, etc.) while in exile in Angola, Zimbabwe, etc. Because SWAPO is the ruling party now and was the liberation party, it is very rare that people speak against them. However, during apartheid, the now ruling parties in Southern Africa (for example, both SWAPO in Namibia and the ever popular ANC in South Africa), sometimes used really awful measures to ensure loyalty from even their own party members. For example, the woman who came to speak to us was imprisoned and tortured for almost three years in Angola, by her own party, SWAPO, not only to ensure her loyalty but to seek out spies and other non-loyal people. She had horrible stories to tell about rape, murder, torture, withholding of food...and the list goes on. At the end of her talk I was so moved and dumbfounded by hearing this other perspective that I immediately went up to her and asked if her organization needed any volunteers! I have some free time when I'm not in class and I am extremely interested in the issues of memory that they are dealing with, as well as telling the untold stories. Hopefully it will work out!

The second AWESOME opportunity that we had in history class in these past few weeks was going to a conference on the Southern African Genome Sequencing Project, which is a group of professors from all over the world (mainly the United States, Australia, and South Africa), who are testing the DNA of different residents of Southern Africa to trace their DNA and their history. And you will never guess who one of the speakers at the conference was....DESMOND TUTU! It was literally Desmond Tutu in the flesh!! The professors are actually tracing some of his DNA, so he got to stand up and talk about it. Here are a couple of really touching things that he said during his speech:

"Can you imagine what our world would become if we accepted that we are all family?"

"When I kill the enemy, I am killing my brother, my sister."

"Wake up. We are members of one family."

"Thank you for being my relatives."

Amazing. Basically, his speech came around the topics of the fact that these professors are attempting to prove: that we are all African, we all have the same origins and history, and that we are all one people, one family. It was so beautiful. He has this wonderful laughter and way about him was a once in a lifetime experience. So, classes are going really well!

This past Sunday we returned from a four day trip to Swakopmund, Namibia, which is a town on the coast of Namibia. It was amazing because we were finally able to see the ocean, which we hadn't seen in months! The town is really beautiful, much cooler than Windhoek, and we got to visit some really cool organizations. For example, we got to visit a school, a township, some of the port and economic organizations that directly relate to the coastal issues, a fish factory...the list goes on! It was SO cool! I am actually going back for all of spring break I have decided, so that I can volunteer at this organization called Mondesa Youth Opportunities, which is an afterschool program for promising Namibian students, to help aid in their education because of the failing governmental school system. A few of us are going back to the coast to volunteer there, to get some more beach days in, to rest, and more! I am SO excited about it!

Anyway, that's pretty much what I've been doing! I hope all is going well in the states. I probably won't update again until late late March, because next Monday I am headed to the north with our group, for a 6 day rural homestay (challenges, here we come!), a trip to Etosha (SAFARI!), and some camping! Then we have spring break! I can't wait!!! I'll let you know how it goes when I get back!