The first few days of the trip were spent in Windhoek, the modern capital city of Namibia. Our days in the city were meant to learn about the country, but more importantly, to adapt to new surroundings. Tuesday, January 16, was our first real introduction to the country.
Our next leg of the journey was to Ondangwa. The ten hour bus ride took us across the open landscape of Namibia. The view out the bus window gradually changed the farther North we travelled. Rich red soil, full of iron, gave way to fine white sand. Fields filled with a thick bush changed to open plains with sparse trees. Fences disappeared allowing cattle, goats, and chickens roam freely.
The changes happened most drastically as we passed over an inner country checkpoint. The checkpoint was used by South Africa as a means to control black Namibians before the country was independent. Crossing the border required extensive paperwork and approval from multiple government bodies. Authorities often held up those trying to pass through, sometimes waiting as long as till dusk to let them through. Black Namibians weren’t allowed by law to be out of the home past sunset, and would could be hunted down and shot by the guards who had just let them go. The checkpoint today, legally serves as an agricultural barrier, but still greatly separates the country in a de facto sense.
The group was taken out of picture book Africa, and put into the Africa your grandma might warn you about. It’s difficult to describe the dramatic change in living conditions, or make you, the reader, feel the same way as I did. Poverty was obvious. Many families in the area live on only a few dollars a day, and sometimes without amenities we would consider fundamental. This lifestyle has existed for decades,
The Kafiti family was kind enough to let the group spend the evening at their home. Their “homestead” is similar to the way many live in Northern Namibia. They started with a few thatched huts and a stick fence, and have added more amenities through the years. Bathrooms, running water, and electricity are now common among houses like this. Our visit was a striking difference compared to anything many of us had experienced, but we were greeted with open arms.
“Feel at home,” is a phrase throughout the Northern part of Namibia. Everywhere you go this is said word for word to welcome you. I don’t know the history of the saying. Children may learn this in school, or maybe it’s some sort of divine interaction. Either way, the phrase makes you stop for a moment. How could I feel at home in a place so foreign and daunting? The generosity and warmth from the people of Namibia, is enough to make anything seem like your grandmother’s house.
Many of us felt most at home in the schools we visited. The group went to kindergartens, primary schools, and high schools. We brought soccer balls and learning materials for the children, as well as song and dance. Many instances we found ourselves in long programs to welcome us. These could be several hours long outside in 90+ degree weather. It was all done with good intention to show us respect, but a visit with the kids is all we needed. We shared our music, and learned the songs and dances they performed with passion. The children of Namibia are bright, respectful, and always have a smile on their face.
I could talk quite a bit more about our time here, but we’re off to our next destination now. If you have questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]