The Final Days—Leaving PAY, NID, and our Namibian Family
Over the two weeks working in the garden, I learned from Ursula that the quality of the soil in the area was fairly poor, so my immediate thought went to we need to get some earthworms into the soil to help the plants. To my surprise, earthworms were not a simple commodity you could pick up just anywhere. Rather after multiple trips to different stores, Ndako and I together found a single earthworm in Windhoek. With one worm literally placed directly into my hand at the garden store, I became determined to find where I could get PAY enough worms to build a worm bed. With the help of Ndako, I found out that out by the coast of Swakopmund, four hours away, was the only (known) earthworm cultivator who supplies the entire country. As someone who grew up fishing, and with an abundance of worms in my backyard, it was actually hard to wrap my brain around the fact that something as essential to soil as an earthworm was not easy to find. It was even more shocking when I found out my garden club girls had never seen an earthworm before, and were even scared of them. But all that meant for me was that for our trip out to Swakopmund, I had a mission pick up some earthworms to bring back to PAY.
One of most difficult challenges the girls faced was cleaning a space in the back of the garden that had become a rubbish heap of plastics, bones, and newspapers. It took multiple days of shoveling and evening out the soil, and carrying large heavy garbage bags of the rubbish out of the garden to eventually make space for what became a new cabbage bed. In addition to the cleaning, I wanted to give these girls the opportunity to take some ownership over their space, and to do this we painted buckets for them to grow their own individual plants, which I bought them each their own to care for. At the end of the trip, when our time at PAY was ending, I had the girls come together and make a check list of the activities that need to be done daily to maintain the garden, such as water the plants and pull the weeds, all which they had learned over the two weeks. The goal was to leave a space that was workable again, could continue to be improved, and was something the girls and a PAY in general could be proud of. I even remember at one point one of the girls mentioning to me how beautiful the garden was beginning to look again, and that was all because of their own hard work.
In addition to working at PAY, I managed to stay heavily involved with some of the upcoming projects NID has for the crucial upcoming elections. I got to witness multiple live-filmed news panels which Pandu participated in. I even got to participate in a radio debate with him and some of the local college students about “Does voting matter to the youth?”. One of the things that stood out to me the entire trip is how informed all of the citizens in Namibia seem to be about the economic and political state of their country. From reading the newspapers, and talking to random people at bars, I quickly learned how fearless and outspoken people are about their opinions. People were quick to ask me about my opinions on the political stance in the USA, making it apparent they are almost more informed than I am about my own political state. I think the freedom of speech that the country has in place is a beautiful accomplishment, and my impression is that people are definitely exercising their right to use it. In addition to that, one of the things I loved and respected most about the country is how direct the process behind everything appeared. When Pandu and I needed to talk to the Ministry of Education, we drove to their office and walked in. When we needed to assistance related to an upcoming grant with the British of Higher Commission, Mpho came to our house and sat down with us. I am certain some of the nature of this is because of the size of the country and government; however, it makes the process of impact so much easier compared to the hoops we have to jump through just to get a meeting with someone in the USA.
On the last day in Namibia, having everyone back at Helio for our final presentations was a moment I realized how many connections and friends we had made, and the tasks accomplished in such short period of time. It was really something to be proud of. In addition to that, I realized how emotionally I had been touched by my interactions with everyone in this time period. I reflected on the heartache I had when I first experienced where my friend Dario was living, and how I would come to realize the vastly wider spectrum of poverty that is in Namibia compared to the USA. I also thought a lot about the only time I ever felt fear in Namibia, which was during my first eye-witness account of police brutality. The emotions I felt with these interactions were something I managed to share with my friends, but I soon realized were solely my feelings, as it was the reality and norm for many of those who live in Windhoek. I also thought about how when I was out in either Katatura, the mall, or bars, how excited many of the Black men and children were when I would talk to them, or even at a minimum wave to them. How many people I met wanted to exchange contact information so quickly over Whatsapp “just to stay in touch.” When I spoke to someone about this, I was told that the White people of Namibia rarely will step foot into some of the spaces I spent the most time in, and if they do they certainly are not waving hello or stopping to have a conversation. These were just a few of many things I was informed about before even stepping foot in Namibia and after I got there, but I learned no amount of reading or talking could have prepared me for.
As we packed our bags and headed off to Cape Town for the last leg of our trip, we said our “see you laters,” and got back on the plane. Again on the plane, I saw the same demographics as coming in, but this time with a whole new understanding of why that is. When we landed in Cape Town, immediately noticed a more modern feel to the city in terms of the infrastructure of buildings. It was faster paced, and I got the impression people were more aggressive. No one was stopping to just chat or say hello to one another, and the only times people would stop Larry and I would be to ask us for money, which happened repeatedly. Even at the markets when we were shopping around there was this pressure of being hustled. My overall impression of this space, though we were only there for a short time, is that it is not community-centered but rather much more money-oriented. I left Cape Town thinking I could have skipped this leg of the trip, and left happy from my experience in Namibia.
Coming back to the USA, and even a few weeks after the trip, I have still been thinking a lot about what I saw and learned. I have thought about how there are projects I have in mind that I would love to come back to regarding work at NID. I also thought a lot about the reactions and impressions my friends and family have towards Africa as a whole, and how those impressions they shared before I left were almost completely wrong. People I know in America anticipate a place that is dangerous to walk, a place where people are unclothed and starving, a place where there is no bathrooms or water, a place where people are uneducated. Though there is that type of poverty where we were, like there is everywhere, I realized how much our media has influenced Western perception of “Africa” as a whole and not a place with many countries with their own cultures and traditions. The media doesn't tell you that many of the people in Namibia can speak more than 3 languages, or that a large portion of the youth a college degrees. We don't think about all of the informal experiences that have shaped how the people of Namibia think and live.
Further, it made me think about conversations I had with my own family, and how quick they were to blame and judge the environment, the people, and the overall circumstances, rather than sit down and listen about the mechanisms and history in place that creates such an space for people. It also made me think about Wainaina's 'How To Write About Africa,' and how despite there being literature and media about the successes of different African people, and abundance of art and science creations from people of Africa, in America we often paint a bleak picture and future for the people of Africa. I currently have the impression that many American people do not want to think about the role of history, economics, and politics and how they play out in global way that impacts everything from how much the US dollar is worth to why some counties export all of their resources. But when I talked to the people of Namibia, people out at bars and the ones who came by our house, it was apparent the passion and love for their country Namibia. It was also apparent their awareness of the political situation and its impact on their lives, and how they want better opportunities for their people just like everyone else does. At the end of the day, people are people, and want better opportunities. So as I end this blog, I hope that I have “written about Africa” in a way that shows the strength, the drive, and the passion that I had the pleasure of witnessing and living for two weeks.