Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This Life Is Lekker, by Cindy

After an amazing trip visiting Kat in December, I wanted to share a little about our experiences. I have been back in the US for a while now and debated about how to write about our many typically African experiences. Cage diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa, sand boarding in the most amazing sand dunes in the world, seeing the African Big 5, walking with lions, white water rafting in the Zambezi and seeing a baby crocodile 50 feet from the boat after we had just all been in the water, were all amazing experiences. However, I figured you could read about all those stories in travel magazines. So here are a few stories that might not make it into to National Geographic.

The first week of my trip I accompanied Kat and her Peace Corps friends on a long road trip to Cape Town. It was great to meet all the people that Kat has become so close with over the past year. My jet lag gave me an excuse to sit and listen to their conversations without having to participate much. I heard many stories of the day to day Namibian life and culture that they speak so matter-of-factly about. I overheard conversations about funny things the learners say and do, sad commentary of the realities of life in poverty, and the latest dramas of the twice dubbed over Spanish soap opera (that those who had electricity and access to a tv were able to see). I was surprised how well they knew each other and how comfortable they were around each other. In many ways, it was as if they became a tight nit family in such a short time because of the unfamiliar situations they went through together.

One night in Swakopmund, we met up with a couple of Kat’s Namibian friends and went to a Sheeben (tiny bar that is actually more like someone’s house that sells beer). On our way over there, we found out that the power was out in the whole city and by the time we got there, we found out that the power was out in all of Namibia! Surprisingly, everyone just lit a few candles and kept on like normal. When the power came back on, we headed over to a concert that started in true “African time” at 2:30am. We had many interesting conversations, but when they started calling me the blind one because of my glasses, I realized how poverty affects every aspect of life. I have never thought of my glasses as a luxury, but it iss now clear that in Namibia unless you are in fact blind, glasses are a luxury.

It was so interesting to do things with Namibians that they might do ordinarily in the everyday life. I quickly learned that there was not personal space like we are used to. Anything that anyone had was shared with everyone around. People that we didn’t know were sharing their beers with us and ours with them. Three or four Namibians were all sharing the same cigarette and we were all sharing the endless supply of raisins/nuts that someone brought with them. It was in the Sheeben that I first saw a Namibian open a bottle of beer with his teeth. It was amazing – he opened it with his teeth with more ease than I can open one with a bottle opener!

It is hard to explain the poverty we saw there. We saw many houses made out of nothing but a couple of tin planks. I kept thinking that the only places that I have seen anything like this were in Ghost towns, but in Namibia, this is where people eat, sleep, and live everyday – no electricity, no running water, just dirt floors and tin roofs. The most amazing thing was to see the pride people take in their homes, even though they live in the some of the worst conditions in the world. People were actually sweeping their floors. Yes, their dirt floors. I can’t imagine that they ever thought they were finished or how they felt like they accomplished anything, but it just goes to show the spirit in the people.

I don’t think about race much in the US, but in Namibia, I couldn’t help it. The most surprising thing that I learned on the trip was that there is still so much racism in Namibia. The affects of ending apartheid just over a decade ago are apparent everywhere. In addition to “We reserve the right to refuse service” signs at almost all of the restaurants, stores, and places of business, I couldn’t help but notice that all the workers were black and all the customers and owners were white. It was such a strange dynamic between the haves and have nots. After only two weeks in Namibia, I could feel a difference when we went to Zimbabwe. I found myself relieved that there were black people with us as customers. I know Kat has said this many times, but for the first time, I really did feel the color of my skin.

What I learned most on this trip was how much I still don’t know about Namibian life and culture. I have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the unique, kind, and struggling people that we can all learn from and benefit from. In a country of up to 60% unemployment, the people’s spirit has to be their biggest asset and I truly felt their kindness and positive spirit. I now understand that when Kat says that you have to be there to understand it, I know that the realities are beyond my wildest dreams.


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