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Africa 2003 Itinerary - Namibia

Atlanta to Windhoek, Namibia — Day 1

Arrival in Windhoek — Day 2

  We arrived at Center for Global Education (CGE) and were introduced to the staff and property.
Then, we talked with CGE staff abour health and safety issues.

Scott McPherson said:
Expectations - I guess I expect incredible poverty, racial discomfort, and physical beauty, natural beauty - I guess it'll be difficult coming from the South and then going into racial problems that even we as southerners can't imagine and that we ignored.

Center for Global Education (CGE) in Windhoek — Day 3

  We listened to a lecture by Urbanus Dax of CGE on "Introduction to Namibian Culture and Peoples."

Afterwards, we completed group exercises in which we compared cultures and recognizing privilege and cultural difference.

In the afternoon we left for homestays with Katatura families.

Hank Southgate said:
I'm the first to be dropped off at the homestays, and instead of the run-down Katatura I was expecting, the neighborhood (whose name I've forgotten) is lower-middle class. From the outside, there is a car (VW Jetta), a couple of thin trees, a little patch of yard, and a small white house. There is an iron gate at the front door.

The father greets me at the door, smiling, hand extended. Upon entering, I'm struck by how clean everything is: the floors were shining, the four plush red upholstered chairs neatly placed, the table scrubbed. We sit down, his hands rest comfortable in his lap, legs crossed. "So, how are you doing?" he asks with great expectation. "Fine. Very Well." "You like Namibia?" "Yes, very much." We go on like this for a while, and eventually the pleasantries lead into discussion. He asks if I like Windhoek; I say yes; and without any hesitation, his brow furls. "It is too expensive here. You cannot save any money. It can be very hard sometimes."

I think about Pendleton, some statistics about rising house costs, some dry sociological comments. I look back at my host father, around the house again, and back at him. He adds, "It's getting very crowded. People are moving here all the time." Pendleton, Pendleton. I express my sympathies in a stupid way, all the while thinking, "This is no mere statistic." And then something else about the problem of the subject-object architectonic comes into my mind. 

Windhoek, Namibia — Day 4

We met with someone from the economics and commerce office in the U.S. embassy. He spoke to us about current economic conditions and in particular the role of multinational factories in Namibia's economic future. He argued that because of availability of cheap Namibian labor, multinational factories generally play positive role in the Namibia economy.

We drove through the Katatura township. One of our three guides on this is Katarina Garesisk, Coordinator of Victory Women's Movement, a NGO dedicated to promoting women's empowerment in the informal settlements in Katatura.

In the afternoon, we returmed to our homestays with Katatura families. 

Hank Southgate said: 
A miscommunication occurs, and the American embassy officer shows up at CGE. Dressed in an olive suit, his hair combed back, his shoes shining, he fits my expectations. He informs us of his limited time to speak, and without further ado, starts rattling off the facts and figures, and the dollars and cents of his five-point thesis of the Namibian economy: minerals, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and tourism. These five areas constitute his broader two-point solution to poverty reductions: creating jobs and improving skill levels.

With a flash in his eyes, he tells us of three Southeast Asian companies that have set up shop in Namibia in the past year. He admits that one of these has had some problems with government regulations, but ten quickly counters by saying how workers are lined up around the block for a job there, how skill levels are improving, and how two thousand new jobs have been created. This all seems like good news: it marks a step away from Namibia's colonial economy, towards new possible horizons of business and trade.

A few hours later, however, we are driving towards Katatura. Sarah, CGE's chef and our guide of the 'tour' points out a large green factory, the one the ambassador had spoken so highly of. "That is a new factory," she says. "The workers are getting injured there everyday from chemical burns." I look out the window again. About twenty people are standing behind their respective produce stands. "The workers buy their lunches from these people," Sarah says.

"Who works there?" someone asks. "Mostly girls, aged 19-25. After you are 25, though, they fire you. Most of them are covered with burns and scars by the time they leave." I think about the ambassador: his scrubbed appearance, his polished speech, and his numbers. I look back at the factory, going on for hundreds of meters along the road. Trucks are linked up around the building. Business is good. 

Scott McPherson said:
Today we went to squatter camps outside Windhoek. I've never seen such poverty as in these squatter towns. The houses are literally sticks and planks with tarps and sheet metal covering them... all against a panoramic mountain background. 

Windhoek, Namibia — Day 5

Today we embark on Katatura Quest, which is an interactive tour of the Katatura township with local guides.

We split into groups of three or four with each walking though designated areas of Katatura. The goal was to talk with local people, visit stores, restaurants, taxi ranks, etc. Students were expected to accumulate information on daily life, such as commuting to work, the cost of living, access to stores, and so forth. Our guides were local residents of Katatura, most of them roughly the same age as our students. 

Afterwards, we return to homestays with Katatura families. 

Ansley Loftin said:
Without a doubt, I think one of the most memorable experiences I have had during our time in Africa has been my home stay in Namibia. I definitely found this to be a life-altering event. Although Dr. Gordon told Abby that the point of these visits was not to make us feel guilty about our privileged lifestyles, I do not think that any of us could have done a home stay without discovering at least some new appreciation for all of the gifts he has in his life.

It was really interesting to observe the newfound perceptions many of us gained from our home stays. At first, I think many of us were apprehensive about the houses these people lived in. We could not imagine living with eight people in a tiny, four room house, and even more, we could not fathom the idea of living without indoor plumbing or electricity.

However, once we returned from our home stays, I think many of our thoughts and opinions about these families and their standard of living had changed. I heard many people in our group begin to refer to a Namibian family as being "well off" if they merely owned one old car or had indoor plumbing. I think I can safely say that these are comments we would have never made or even thought about saying before. Furthermore, I think many of us also began to recognize the positive aspects of living with your family in such close quarters. During our home stay, Janna and I could not help but to feel the happiness and love our family exuded when they were together. For instance, Erison, the teenage boy in our home stay family, displayed so much pride when he was telling us about his younger brothers and sisters. Plus, the small children in the family played together constantly, keeping one another entertained and joyful. It was quite unlike most family experiences I have had in America.

All in all, I think we began to view the more uplifting aspects of these Namibians' lives over the negative economic factors that hinder them. Often times, it is difficult to look at a different, perhaps more traditional culture without comparing it to the modern, capitalistic lives we lead in America. The most valuable lessons come when one is able to recognize and decipher the positive and negative aspects of each culture without making one out to be "better" than the other. Personally, I feel I was able to do just that; thus gaining a new appreciation and perspective of family life in Namibia.

Windhoek, Namibia — Day 6

In the morning, prior to our departure, we heard from Liz Frank, co-Director of Sister Namibia, an NGO working on issues of gender and sexual equality. Ms. Frank spoke to us about the current state of gender politics in Namibia, particularly the motivations behind the Njoma administration's recent rhetorical attacks on homosexuality. 

Scott McPherson said:
As I write this, the great sand dunes of the Namib Desert are off to my left, or the south, the Atlantic sea breeze blows my hair our of my face, and the wonderful salty smell of the Atlantic wafts over everything it comes into contact with. 

Windhoek to Swakopmund — Day 7

Tour of Walvis Bay.

Lecture and question/answer session Mr. Rudolph Dausab, Director of the Topnaar Community Foundation. The Topnaar Community is a small ethnic group consisting of a few hundred spread out along the banks of a river that runs inland from the coastal region around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. They are a highly marginalized and managed to remain in the area throughout the South African occupation, but are now dealing with high rates of poverty. Mr. Dausab is working towards a development program built largely around ecotourism. He spoke to us about the Topnaars and their developmental challenges.  

Visit and climb up Dune 7, one of the highest dunes in the coastal region of the Namib desert.

Michael Scoggins said:
If there is one thing that this trip and learning experience as a whole has taught me, it's the danger of categorizing people through labels, especially labels of "race". Sadly, I do not think the term "race" will ever go away. We are all slaves to a system based on separation, whether it is one of language, religion, or just skin color. 

Swakopmund and Walvis Bay — Day 8

  Met with Freddy Kaukungun, Public Relations Officer and Assistant to the Mayor of Swakopmund. He spoke to us about the history of the German presence in Swakopmund and described the challenges confronting the post-Apartheid government of meeting the needs of the broader community when economic power is remains firmly in the hands of the German community. He pointed out, and we observed, that some people label Swakopmund as being "more German than Germany."

Toured Swakopmund with Mr. Kaukungun. Tour included the Central Business District and the varying outlying communities. This included an informal community on the outskirts of the city that is basically in the middle of the desert. One of the challenges of the municipality is to provide services to people.

Visit to Cape Cross fur seal colony

Hank Southgate said:
Perusing the shops in Skakopmund I came across a bookstore called Deutsches Buchhandlung. One of the first books to catch my attention, which I subsequently bought, belonged to a series of pamphlets called "Aus atten Tagen in Sudwest" (From the Old Days in the Southwest), written in Romanticized, Gothic font. The book itself consists of the "Erkundungsrerse Ovamboland 1857 Tagebuch Carlo Hugo Halem" (Investigative Journey in Ovamboland 1857; Diary of Carl Hugo Halem), which is an account of a German missionary through northern Namibia.

A quick glance at Halem's journal entries, however, reveals that this inquisitiveness is strictly guided and prejudicially limited by his missionary intent. As Halem sees it, the Owambo are "treacherous," "blood-thirsty," and "dark" people who desperately need to be shown the light of Christianity. Similarly, the "Bushman" also emerges as "dark" people who lack the psychological capability to think abstractly and who also fall under the power of the Devil through possession (24). Such savages need to be rescued, Halem claims, both from the ignorance which dominates their spiritual lives and the barbarity which threaten their well being. 

But why print this stuff today? Perhaps, as an attempt to demonstrate the egregious racism and cultural superiority that guided Western colonialism in the 19th century. But, after reading the forward and afterward, I know this isn't the case- far from it. If anything, this book, published in 1980, is designed to reinforce cultural stereotypes and prejudices in the German Namibian mind. The editor, Walter Moutz, responds that the missionaries alone brought peace to the Ovamboland. 

Swakopmund — Day 9

  We returned to Swakopmund via Otjimbingwe, a small rural village roughly midway between Windhoek and the coast. There we met with the traditional leaders of the village, including the "chiefs" of the two main ethnic groups of the region, the Herero and the Damara. In a lecture and question/answer session they addressed the economic challenges facing the village in the post-Apartheid era. They also addressed the role of traditional leaders in the post-Apartheid era.

Return to homestays with Katatura families

Brian Long said:
My first experience immersed in the township was a bit too familiar. I had expectations going in that I would be in a situation entirely different from what I had known and felt like would be home. Much to my surprise, it was very similar to any kind of home that I would encounter in America. I was unfortunately in the second group who did the homestay so I had heard all about what the first wave of people experienced in their stay in Katatura. Historically the current site for Katatura was constructed around the same time as my house back in the states, so it had the same kind of character a house of that age would have. The neighborhood where we stayed in Khomosgrand was very colorful and it had great character, which seemed to be the case with the entirety of the township.

Ironically enough on my first stay in Katatura, Hunter and I stayed up and watched "The Gods Must Be Crazy II"S of all movies with one of the girls from the home we stayed in. I never would have imagined that they would have enjoyed such a movie, or even seen it. To say that my homestay experience was different from spending the night at an unfamiliar persons house in America would be a bit of a stretch. The hospitality of the people was amazing, they were very happy to have us there and enjoyed talking to us for most of the evening. When we first arrived, we watched TV, mostly news and oddly enough MTV. It was very comforting having people of our own age live in the house. They wanted to know what America was like, and we wanted to know what Namibia was like so exchanging stories was not very difficult. As I look back on my homestay experience I do not ever recall thinking that what they did was ever weird or anything that made me feel awkward. People are people no matter where you go, and we act so similar it sometimes makes me wonder why we are called different. 

During my homestay I did learn that what makes me different from the people I stayed with is our history. We may act the same, do the same things, have the same interests, but where we come from is a total difference. They know of a society that was meant to be divisive, the girls that were near my age grew up before Independence. I have never seen a time where discrimination based on race was law. The different sides of the world that we come from may make us see through different lenses, but somehow I got the impression that we were looking at the same thing. We both strive to make a better life for ourselves and others, but we do that with the past that we all bring along with is. My time during homestay allowed me to understand what life was like in another society, but more importantly understand what life is like in my own society. We are all very similar in what we want out of life, but the filters that our culture has will make everyone's life just a bit different. I feel that living in someone else's house in another society should be mandatory for everyone no matter how long you stay because its not what you learn about their civilization that is important but what you learn about your own. The overwhelming presence of my own society in Namibia still amazes me today, because many people I know have never heard of Namibia, but I seriously doubt there are many Namibians that have not heard of America. We are universally known and I hope by my experience in Katatura I can give people a better insight to what it is like in Namibia. 

Travel from Swakopmund to Windhoek — Day 10

Morning good-bye brunch at the CGE center with all the families who provided homestays.

In Johannesburg we stayed in Sandton, the upscale suburban region on the Northwest side of town. In addition to the creature comforts provided by staying here, we experienced first-hand the contrasts of wealth that typify Southern Africa. Many students found Sandton to be almost indistinguishable from Buckhead in Atlanta, a wealthy commercial and residential area just north or downtown Atlanta.

Scott McPherson said:
Windhoek is an absolutely beautiful city, but absolutely wracked with poverty. I felt safe the entire time, even in Katatura. I will never forget the people I met here, and I will never forget what I have seen here. 

Hank Southgate said:
Look out the window. What do you see? Rondavals with thatched roofs, outdoor bathrooms, chickens clucking the yard, goats, cows and egrets chewing and pecking about in the fields, a mother carrying a baby on her back as she drives a few cows with a stick, village elders sitting under a shade tree drinking beer at noon, street side merchants proffering their various goods- old shoes, produce, chickens, goats tied to a pole, thread-bare dresses, umbrellas, workers, purses, belts, tablecloths, and baskets- boys chasing each other along red, eroded paths, their feet and legs chalked with dust, fields of maize, sorghum, and cattle, fields of wildflowers- stagger brush, tall marsh senecio, highveld senecio, hottentots' tea, narrow-leafed vernonia swarmed with butterflies, poison apple, wild verbena, wild dagga, clusters of protea shrubs, fields of common agapanthus, skies filled with birds of prey and LBJ's, telephone wires dotted with sastrels, wydaks, and swallows, and trees ripe with masked weaver nests- and then the cities emerge, first their informal settlements lined with row upon row of tin and rock and sadness, then the government houses overrun with people and add-on shacks, then the businesses, those great warehouses of human exploitation and focal points for a white elite clinging to its apartheid-begotten economic prowess and power, and then those beautiful houses of the rich, the politicians, and the string-pullers, surrounded in high walls, oak trees, and razor wire.

And what did you see? A country divided between have and have-nots, a place where the government has done little to improve the lives of its constituency, a place where you are defines who you are, and how much razor wire says how much you have to lose and how much you should give in guilty remuneration. You see a place described in books you've read, in lectures you've attended, and in conversations you've had in bars with individuals who've experienced more than you want to believe, You find no matter what you're "mistaking Africa," that regardless of what you've been told, it hasn't prepared you. Because what outsider can apprehend a life in a land so divided by dichotomies of tradition and modernity, capitalists and their human capital, western religion and traditional belief, rural and urban, rich and poor, non-white and white, and a hundred more categories you haven't even assimilated. 

Welcome to South Africa. 

Windhoek to Johannesburg, South Africa — Day 11

  We met with a variety of grassroots political organizations, including the Anti-Privatization Forum (APF) and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC). These are progressive, activist organizations that work in the former townships and newly emerging informal communities. They are opposed to the ANC government's neo-liberal economic agenda. Some of their activities include illegally reconnecting electricity that has been cut off to poor residents who are unable to pay their bill. We had a sit down lecture and question/answer with Trevor Ngwane, a co-director of the APF.

Toured Soweto with activists in the SECC and APF.
Visited an informal settlement in Soweto. Visited Hector Pieterson Museum. This is a museum built in honor of a thirteen-year old student killed by the government during the Soweto student uprising in 1976. Pieterson is said to have been the first person killed during the government crackdown on the student's opposition to being educated in Afrikaans, the language of the Afrikaner government. Evening lecture by Dr. Gordon on the politics of privatization and neoliberalism.

Monica Bell said:
Music has long been a vehicle for social activism in southern Africa, particularly during the anti-apartheid struggle. One specific genre of protest music was jazz. In the 1920s, "marabi jazz" was born in South African slums. By the 1950's, "mbaqanga" — the most distinctive form of South African jazz music — was created. Mbaqanga is a combination of marabi, American jazz, and "kwela," another musical style that developed in Soweto during the 1940s and 1950s. A major hub of musical activity of this genre was Sophiatown. Sophiatown was notable for being one of the few areas where black people could own property, and thus, a number of well-known black South Africans lived there. Sophiatown was the first place to be bulldozed after the Group Areas Act, and most of the musicians who lived there went into exile. However, the music of Sophiatown, as the music of Harlem in the same time period (I am reminded of Billie Holiday's protest against lynching, "Strange Fruit"), remained ad inspiration to people who were fighting against apartheid. 

Scott McPherson said:
Soweto was indescribably poor. The children follow us around, begging for money. The conditions are atrocious... communal water taps serve thousands of people, the living conditions are the same as in the squatter camps outside Windhoek, if not worse. In the Africa summer, these poor people are living inside corrugated metal shacks, 9 or 10 or 11 people to a shack, without anything as "simple" to an American as air conditioning.

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