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One Year in Namibia

A Reflection on One Year in Namibia
30 October 2003

“In this way the moons and the seasons passed.”
        —Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Hello! So I imagine you’re all being inundated with trick-or-treaters. They don’t have Halloween here, but I’m sure I could introduce the idea. So tomorrow in class I’m going to try and explain it… “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 don’t give them anything and they’d 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 we’ve stopped eating the eggs and we’re 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 has been 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 movies—equal to the amount I’ve 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 it’s true what they say—it takes your first year to understand what’s 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 naïve and didn’t know anything. There are still many things I don’t 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 shouldn’t 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 it’s often difficult to gauge how much you’ve changed until you return to the place that has remained the same and realize you don’t 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 can’t 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 doesn’t 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 culture—that 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, it’s not that my way of acting is correct or incorrect, it’s just that I have my way of doing things and they have theirs.

But some things I’m 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 they’re 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. I’m 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 didn’t have 183 papers to mark every time I gave an assignment, my life would be perfect here.

Love, Sera

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