A Reflection on One Year in Namibia
30 October 2003
"In this way the moons and
the seasons passed."
--Things Fall Apart by Chinua
Hello! So I imagine youíre all being inundated with trick-or-treaters. They
donít have Halloween here, but Iím sure I could introduce the idea. So
tomorrow in class Iím going to try and explain itÖ "Yeah, we have this
holiday where you dress up like scary or cute things and go around to your
neighbours and they give you sweets." Then again, they sort of have it here
every day. They dress up like poor kids with no shoes and greet the iilumbu
by saying "Give me sweet." See, it even rhymes with trick-or-treat.
Except we donít give them anything and theyíd rather eat an egg than throw
it at our house.
Speaking of eggs, our chicken has been dating this rooster for a
few days so weíve stopped eating the eggs and weíre hoping they might hatch.
There are four in the nest so far, but the chicken is not sitting on them yet. Ever since it fell in love with the rooster, it
escaping from our yard and becoming quite a loose chicken. One day it was even
outside the school fence (the taller one with barbed wire.) So I went out to try
and herd it back into the school yard, but to no avail. Luckily, one of the
guards came and caught it for me, so I just
carried it back into our yard. One of the other teachers saw me carrying the
chicken and asked, "Are you going to eat it?"
"If it keeps escaping like this, we are!"
I wonder if this will also work as a parenting technique? "You know,
Johnny boy, we used to have a chicken that kept leaving the yard and we ate it.
So I suggest you just stay inside that fence, young man."
Last weekend we had a big noisy party at our house to celebrate our one year
in Namibia. A total of 26 volunteers came over the weekend. The good thing about
our fellow volunteers is that they bring the party, all we had to do was provide
the venue. Jacque and Kelly organized all the food, so everybody brought
something, like a bag of frozen chicken, tomato sauce, bread, etc. The only
problem was that it rained on Thursday, so all the grass hoppers hatched on
Friday night and our house was a mess of bug carnage. We were worried that the
water would go out, like it has every weekend for two months, but it never did.
Instead the power went out on Saturday, which was a problem because Anand
brought his DVD-laptop and I had
every intention of watching movies all day.
Even with this delay, I still managed to watch (most of) six moviesóequal to
the amount Iíve seen in the last year.
I feel like I ought to have some philosophical reflection on being here one
year. All I can really say is that itís true what they sayóit takes your
first year to understand whatís going on, the second year you can try to
accomplish something. I look back on the time when we first arrived, and I feel
like I was so naÔve and didnít know anything. There are still many things I
donít understand, but I at least know that I absolutely hate marking papers
and being asked for money, that goats can be as annoying as leaf-blowers on
Saturday mornings, that taxi drivers make the best friends, that you shouldnít
wear flip-flops into the biting-ant section of the yard, that chickens
are impossible to catch, that ice-cream and atheism are luxuries, that freak
spiders can be ten centimeters long and really hairy, that 50 degrees F can feel
really cold, that lightning is attracted to the color red in Namibia, and that
luck is more reliable than anything else here.
So have I changed through all this? Probably. But itís often difficult to
gauge how much youíve changed until you return to the place that has remained
the same and realize you donít fit anymore. Like my jeans. Leave it to me to
come to Africa and get fat. The problem is that cookie ingredients are much
cheaper and easier to get than fresh produce.
As far as the culture is concerned, my perspective has definitely changed.
When I first came here, I had some idea of embracing the culture and becoming
fully integrated. But I have realized that that is impossible. I canít even
fully adopt my own culture, so how did I expect to adopt one so
different--especially one that is based on traditions? Generally, I think
"tradition" is just an excuse for doing something that doesnít make
sense anymore. On the other hand, being in this culture has made me more aware
of just how "American" or "westernized" I am. I used to like
to believe I was some entity entirely independent from my cultureóthat I was
able to think about everything rationally and come to the best decision.
However, I now see that even that belief is a product of my culture. So I think
the way to survive in a different culture is not that you have to adopt it, or
even fully adapt to it, but you just have to be aware of it. For example, itís
not that my way of acting is correct or incorrect, itís just that I have my
way of doing things and they have theirs.
But some things Iím starting to like about their way of doing things. For
example, with my AIDS club, we decided last week to put on a show for the school
this Saturday evening (November 1st). So, just like that, in one week theyíre
coming up with a whole program consisting of a drama, songs, poems, speeches,
raps and posters. The beauty of it is that I do virtually nothing. Iím using
my Taoist leadership skills of leading by not leading. I just gently nudge them
in this direction or that, and they do the rest. Apply to that a little of the
Bhagavad-Gita non-attachment to the outcomes of things, and my life here becomes
pretty simple. If only I didnít have 183 papers to mark every time I gave an
assignment, my life would be perfect here.