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.

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