Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Africa (page 1 of 14)

Fall Break Adventures

Author: Gwyneth Hoeksema

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

This past week was our Fall Break, in which we did not have any classes. Therefore, I tried to busy myself with things to do in the community. The most interesting and enjoyable part of the week was when some of us students went on a hike at Daan Viljoen Nature Reserve and when we went to the Independence Avenue block party. I enjoyed both events immensely and both made me feel closer and more connected with the community in Windhoek.

At the nature reserve, we were joined by some of the staff, which made it all the more fun. Daan Viljoen is a private nature reserve in which people can go camping and hiking. We were fortunate enough to see some of the wildlife that the park holds, including giraffe and baboons, while we were driving into the park. However, on the hike itself, we only saw baboons in the distance. We chose to walk the nine-kilometer trail, which proved to be rather grueling but very invigorating! It was a mountainous and rocky terrain which, at times, made everyone out of breath. However, accomplishing the challenge made the struggle, and getting up at 6:30 in the morning, all worth it. The amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the city of Windhoek in the valley below also made the hike worth it. While it was amazing to see the city spread out below, I also noticed a haze of smog surrounding the urban area. Being in a mountain valley and having very little rain often contributes to excessive smog. As we have learned in our environment class, Windhoek is one of the first cities in the world to turn gray and black water back into drinking water. This water reclamation solution is a fantastic example of how the city is working towards being more sustainable. However, the presence of the smog emphasizes how the city has more work to do to lessen air pollution. A possible solution to this would be to build bike paths in every neighborhood of the city. I have noticed that many people walk on the sidewalks already, but adding bike paths would be a safer, faster, and more sustainable way to get to work. This idea was also emphasized during the block party, in which many children and adults took advantage of the closed road by biking all around it. Overall, I enjoyed my walk through Daan Viljoen, and I would definitely do it again, as long as there was cloud cover.

The block party on Independence Avenue on Saturday morning was also enjoyable. It was one of the first times in which I was truly comfortable being out and about in the city. I was more comfortable because the goal of the block party was to encourage a safe, neighborly space for children and families to enjoy. I thought that this was an interesting idea, and it sounded like community building has been difficult in the past, or people have not felt as safe as the city wants them to feel. I can see evidence of this in the lack of parks and open spaces for children to play in and around the city, which understandably limits the ability of families to go places. Events, like the block party, are also few and far between which decreases the ability of families to be present in the community. The block party was an example of how welcoming the city can be for families, holding the possibility of future developments that will be more family friendly. Some of the friendly and fun things to do included big bouncy castles, fun music and drummers, and many food and clothing vendors. There were also vendors passing out some free food, including some delicious smelling dumplings that I wish I had eaten. There were also adults and children riding bikes and scooters around and running up and down the closed off street. The many numbers of people biking up and down highlighted the fact that I have not seen any bike paths in the city. I realized how lucky I am to be able to bike up and down the sidewalks and nice flat bike paths of my hometown without fear of being hit by a car. The ability to exercise in a fun communal way is a blessing and a way to bring my family together, as we all like to go biking with each other. It seems as if the city has not spent very much on establishing safe spaces for families to use. One simple solution would be to establish bike paths that could also increase the city’s environmental sustainability by lessening the amount of cars on the road. As I mentioned before, when I went to Daan Viljoen, there was a slight haze of fog over the city. Bike paths are also a fantastic way to reduce toxic smog commonly found above big cities.

Although it was only one block of activities, it was very enjoyable, and I am glad I attended. Throughout my stay here, getting out in the community has been difficult because I have been nervous about safety. However, the hike through Daan Viljoen and especially the Independence Avenue block party made me feel much more comfortable with my surroundings. It was lovely to get out of the house and go see some children running around the city center. I have to repeat how I have not seen very many children around our house in Windhoek, or in the city center. It was a refreshing change of pace to see young families and brought the realization that the city does not have as many family friendly spaces as it should. If Windhoek were to build more parks, playgrounds, and open green spaces for kids to play it also might increase the safety of the city by making its residents feel more comfortable. I definitely think that the city should host another event like that soon.

The weekend was very enjoyable and full of lots of community-based activities. These activities increased my comfortability with my surroundings and made the city that I am in much more familiar. Before this past weekend, my opinion of the city has been that it is filled with twenty-year old’s and up. This is due to our house being right next to the Namibian University of Science and Technology, or NUST. I often see college students, but I almost never see families with their children. However, the high concentration of young people at the block party offered me a more realistic idea of the demographics of the city. It also made me understand that the reason I don’t see many young families is because there are not spaces that those demographics can enjoy, there are not many parks or recreation areas for children to safely play. I truly enjoyed the weekend, and hopefully the city hosts more events like this before I leave Namibia.

Internships Galore – Windhoek, Namibia

Author: Gwyneth Hoeksema

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

This semester, we have a couple students doing internships at some important organizations around Windhoek. The two organizations that I am going to discuss today have had a great impact on the community and continue to try and better the world for marginalized groups in Namibia. Two of our students are working at Out-Right Namibia while I am working at Sister Namibia. 

Out-Right Namibia works with members of the LGBTQ+ community in and around Windhoek, trying to provide necessary resources and support. Although this is not my internship, I find the work they are doing to be incredibly important for marginalized members of the community. They deserve to be discussed and recognized for their work helping members of the LGBTQ+ community in Namibia. Members of my cohort, Isaac, Hailey, Gillian, and I went to a community meeting hosted by ORN on Friday and we witnessed some of their work in action. The meeting was mainly to answer any pressing questions that community members had about how the organization was either helping or hurting them. I thought that this was an excellent opportunity to get informed as an outsider about local events, policies, and problems that are occurring in Windhoek. One problem that was addressed by community members was the lack of a community feeling when at ORN. However, ORN-lead staff emphasized that in the past, people have taken advantage of ORN’s open door policies, which is why there are stricter rules for being at the organization during hours of operation, like the requirement to schedule meetings. I think this is necessary in any business because in the end, if ORN is not somehwhat organized then they will not be able to get work done efficiently. Community members also complained that this has created a less welcoming environment with an increased focus on business. ORN-lead staff combated this by emphasizing that although ORN is a business, they are still committed to encouraging hospitality to the community. I think this is a tricky distinction, for one because ORN should want to be a safe space for their community members. But also, ORN is still required to get things done for those members. So, they have to be welcoming but they also have to keep working. After all, ORN is not a social club. I liked hearing about all of these things though, because I would like to work in a non-profit someday. Hearing about the do’s and don’ts of running a non-profit was very valuable to learn. The gathering was very personable and I felt that everyone got to ask the pressing questions that they came with. It was fantastic to see an organization actively trying to hear what the community had to say and trying to improve themselves. This meeting made me hopeful that the LGBTQ+ community in Namibia has people who are actively trying to make their lives better, which is incredibly important because Namibia does not have very accepting policies regarding their LGBTQ+ citizens. 

My organization is also impactful as it provides helpful information and encourages women to actively make their lives better. Sister Namibia is formally defined as a feminist organization, so they work to inform women about their bodies, mental health, what it means to be a woman, and much more. They produce a quarterly magazine that is distributed all throughout Namibia. My supervisor explained to me that feminism is a Western word that does not have a specific or one-word translation in most of the languages spoken in Namibia. This Western influence often turns people off to the organization because they don’t want Western thought to change or alter their African culture.  So, one of the things the organization does is try to define what feminism means in an African context. This can be a difficult process because defining feminism also means defining toxic masculinity. Which is another difficult explanation because you have to discuss regressive behavior, like whistling at a girl from your car, and why that is not appropriate and should not be tolerated. Specifically in Namibia, there is a rape problem in which men often take advantage of women to assert their dominance. Because of this toxic situation, Sister Namibia hosts events to discuss things like this on Saturdays. They have gone to universities and other organizations to try and break down those barriers. Talking with other women and girls, but also men, to educate them on these issues. I find all of this work so fantastic. If women are not educated to appreciate their ideas, thoughts, bodies, etc. then they will never be able to appreciate their wonderful lives.

Sister Namibia also focuses on other women’s issues, like discussions about pregnancy and how to prevent it, as well as other things like reminding women to associate positive thoughts with their menstrual cycle, instead of feeling ashamed of it. Sister Namibia has even produced and tries to distribute reusable pads, called SisterPADS, to prevent young girls from missing school because of their menstruation cycle. The reusability of the pads also helps low-income households because continually buying feminine products is very expensive. I have been incredibly impressed with the work that this organization does. This coming Saturday is a panel on women’s rights at the University of Namibia which I think will be meaningful to listen to. I appreciate being able to understand how women in Namibia think about feminism compared with how I think about it.

So far, I have also been given good work to do, which I appreciate even though I am a brand-new intern. I am working on a short opinion piece about my experience with mental health issues from an American college student’s perspective. I am excited to provide insight into how Valpo has addressed mental health among their students, and hopefully there will be women and other students who read it who can connect to it. Sister Namibia’s goals of forwarding women’s rights and educating the public on how women should be treated is fantastic. As a woman, I resonate with the message they are putting out to Namibian women and girls. Overall, both Out-Right and Sister Namibia are important organizations and I am dedicated to keeping up with both of them even after I leave because I think they are doing such good work!

It’s Not Goodbye

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One of the biggest chapters of my life is coming to an end. Reflecting on my experience here, there were some important moments I would like to share with you. These are moments that changed how I view the world and how I view myself. These are moments of pure joy and raw uncomfortability. These are moments of subtle grandeur.

5. Waking up to watch the sunrise in the Namib Desert.

In the middle of the Namib Desert, with no technology, no alarm clock, no lights, I woke up a little before sunrise. It was bitterly cold and calm- and oh so peaceful. I walked up one of the nearby sand dunes and watched the sun peak over the mountains. Gold, pink, blue. The sky looked like painting. In this moment, I felt content. I felt no need to check Facebook or Snapchat. Nothing on my phone could ever compare to the beauty before me. Moving forward, I hope to wake up for more sunrises and give myself time in the morning to do nothing. In a time when we are constantly fed information through social media and text messages, it felt good to just be alone with my thoughts. I encourage everyone to take a few hours of your day to just sit and be present.

4. Surfing with my best friend

Throughout this trip, I have been blessed with the opportunity to check so items off my bucket list- one of them being surfing. Brennen, who is also from Valpo, shared the experience with me. While the water was freezing and the waves were relentless, I was proud of us being able to overcome the challenge. It may have taken us three hours and a few accentual gulps of sea water to get there, but we eventually rode the Atlantic waves. I have shared many great moments with Brennen- this will be an experience neither of us will forget.

3. Balcony Party

One of my favorite aspects of my time living in Windhoek was meeting new people. Some friends we met at Karaoke night invited us over to their balcony party. It was a great night of laughter, dancing, and enjoying the city view. Local Namibians are so welcoming and friendly- even though we were strangers at the party, it didn’t feel that way. I hope to keep in contact with the people I met here- they have made my stay in Namibia all the worthwhile.

2. Interacting with CGEE staff

While I have talked a great deal about my experience with my study abroad friends and cohort, I often forget to mention the people that make this possible. I was blessed to be the student of Lamont Slater for Politics of Development, Albertina Shifotoka for History of Racism & Resistance in Southern Africa, Monika Shikongo for Environmentalism & Sustainability, and Alex Sikume for Internship Class. Throughout these classes, I learned about Namibia and South Africa’s rich history and its connection to the United States. Not only the professors, but the support staff impacted my journey as well as Evelin, Sara, Passat & Donna. They were always full of smiles and deep wisdom. I am thankful for everyone who made this experience possible.

1. Dedicating the garden

Throughout the semester, we students decided to create a garden. It was difficult- the dirt is dry and rocky- but it was so worth it. In addition to the garden, we decided to paint the posts above it- each with our own creative flare. Mine is Namibia’s mountain scenery with the phrase “Seek Discomfort” on it. I got inspired from my favorite Youtubers Yes Theory that wholeheartedly believe in the idea. Throughout my journey here, I have sought a lot of discomfort so this phrase stuck with me. Not only that, but the whole collaboration just shows how diverse and creative our group is. Each person has greatly contributed to this beautiful group dynamic and I am blessed to be surrounded by such incredible
people.

Overall, I am grateful for my time in Southern Africa. I learned about topics never discussed in my classes in the states- such as apartheid. I overcame obstacles such as hiking up a rocky mountain to overlook the city. I embraced a culture both different and similar to my own. I made lifelong friends both in Namibia and throughout the cohort.

But now as I am packing to leave, I remember this is not goodbye- it is see you later.

Catching Waves

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Swakopmund & Walvis Bay, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

So last weekend, we embarked on our last trip. Our last long bus ride. Our last places to visit–Swakopmund & Walvis Bay. While most people assume Namibia, and Africa in general, is quite hot, our visit to the coast proved otherwise. Because the hot dunes met directly with the cool ocean, there was a thick fog consistently overhead. The sun went MIA. The breeze from the ocean snuck into our jackets. Our sun-burnt bodies were not prepared for this level of cold. However, the views of the ocean made it all worthwhile.

One of our first stops included learning about the Namibian Dolphin Project- an organization dedicated to gathering data on the abundance, distribution, and habitat whales and dolphins use in Namibia. Not only that, but they perform sea rescues for stranded animals and educate the public on the importance of marine conservation. The speaker Becca also handed us a booklet full of information about what they do and the animals they research. The booklet even included facts about the infamous leatherback turtle!

Honestly, listening to Becca reminded me of when I was a little girl obsessed with the ocean. I would read as many
books about marine life as the library would let me check out. Sharks, dolphins, turtles, clownfish, whales- you name it. Throughout my studies at Valpo, my passion for the marine world fell out of view. However, being right beside the ocean reminded me of it all over again. The trip to the Namibian Dolphin Project was both rewarding and reinvigorating.

So after we gulped down our lunch, we visited a fish factory. To be honest, my stomach was not prepared for the experience. They suited us up in what seemed like a cross between lunch-lady material and a hazard-mat suit. The rest of the tour was cold, loud, and left me with a strange taste in my mouth. While the two educational visits were fascinating, the real fun was just about to start.

The rest of the weekend we were granted free time to explore the city and I took full advantage of this opportunity. First, some friends and I went to kayak with some baby seals. And yes, it was amazing. The pups are so curious and playful- they come right up next to your kayak and splash around. Also, they sound like sheep for some odd reason. I couldn’t stop laughing about it! For so long, I just saw seals as some big floppy blob on TV but being up close enlightened me to how cute
they are. They are just so cute. Seriously, like water puppies.

After a morning of being surrounded by the cutest creatures in existence, my friends and I set off for another adventure. Growing up near the ocean for the first few years of my life propelled a passion for anything aquatic. However, I never got the chance to surf…until now. Luckily, a surfer around our age took us out onto the open ocean to learn how. After three hours of failing, flopping, and tiring myself out, I finally got to catch that wave. My eyes were red from the salt water and my body numb from the cold, but it was worth it. I successfully surfed a wave- and hopefully this won’t be my last.

The next day, before we left, we decided to fulfill a study abroad tradition and hike up Dune 7 (named that way because it is 7km from Walvis Bay). While everyone climbed up the steep and quickest side, my roommates and I followed a longer and less strenuous route. However, it didn’t matter how we got up there, the view was worth it. The sun glistened off the dunes in a golden hue. Miles and miles of sand. It was a sight unlike any other. Sitting down and watching the sunset was
the peaceful ending needed to conclude our last adventure in Namibia.

Ramadan in Rabat

Author: Garrett Gilmartin

Location: Rabat, Morocco

Pronouns: He/His/Him

So my study abroad program is over and most people are headed back to the United States to see their family and friends and enjoy the summer, however that is not what I am doing. I am kickin’ off my summer by visiting some amazing people I have met throughout my time abroad. First I stopped in Madrid to leave a bag with a friend who teaches english there. Now I’m in the capital of Morocco, Rabat. After this I’ll make a stop in London then make my way home, but my time here in Morocco has been one of the most impactful trips of my life.

The first time I went to Morocco was through my study abroad program. My program group took a ferry, in the beginning of the semester, from the south of Spain to Tangier, a major port in Morocco and a beautiful lively city. We quickly hopped cities to see as many sites as possible, forts, Moorish and Roman ruins, markets, and such. We went from Tangier to Asilah and then Rabat. Rabat is large city but it is not filled with skyscrapers and pushy independent people. Rabat is filled with the usual banks and supermarkets but also street markets and friendly neighbors. We stayed overnight with families for two nights and it was a blast. The last day we had to leave to see Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of Morocco, but I didn’t want to leave my new friends in Rabat. Alas, I had to return for classes but I promised I would visit them soon.

Now, here I am in Morocco in the end of May. Every year around the world Islamic people fast until the sun goes down every day for a month. This year the month of Ramadan was May. I am now staying with the family that I had originally met on my first visit and I couldn’t feel more at home. I am constantly reminded by my host father here that I am family and that I will always have a place within their family. In addition, my Moroccan family is fasting for Ramadan and refuse to let me fast with them. Instead, much like the islamic children, the family still prepares food for me. Many islamic children do not fast until they are older so they do not get sick or impede physical growth and development. The Moroccans I have met all stay up until two or three in the morning on a normal day but when it’s Ramadan they stay up until four or five in the morning. This is because once the sun is down they prepare and eat a meal but this is not dinner. It tends to be dinner like food, however, my Moroccan sister tells me that it is the second meal around midnight or one in the morning that they call dinner. There are two meals because when fasting, Muslims can eat from when the sun goes down to the first of the five daily prayers. So, I eat way too much every night and drink copious amounts of mint tea, the Moroccan special.

Ramadan changes more than the time Muslims and Moroccans eat and sleep. Rabat has a beautiful beach that is usually full all day and clear by the time the sun is down. During Ramadan the beach is full all day and full all night as people gather on the beach to watch the sun set and then to eat, sing, and dance. I got to experience this right thanks to my wonderful Moroccan family who prepared amazing food and showed me how to drum a Moroccan beat on the table. Ramadan also changes people’s moods because it is meant to be a time of giving and generosity. Many stores or stands say something like “Ramadan generosity” but in Arabic, of course. I have truly never seen anything like Rabat.

Now as I prepare to leave I remember all the things people said to me before Morocco. “Isn’t it dangerous?” “If it’s Ramadan you’re going to starve!” “Are you sure that’s a good Idea?”. It’s obviously important to think about food and safety when travelling but it’s important to not jump to conclusions about places that we don’t have experience with or research on. Morocco is super safe and there are so many welcoming people. I highly recommend Rabat for future or current study abroaders, but to be more broad, a take away for students wanting to study abroad is that if you want to go somewhere different, and maybe even shocking culturally, DO IT! You never know what you will find and who you will meet. The more scared or hesitant you are about that kind of trip the more you miss out or don’t enjoy the trip if you end up going. Embrace culture! Embrace life! Go out there and live.

How to Conserve Water

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: NaDEET, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Namibia is a dry nation. Most if its rainwater evaporates before it reaches the ground. Wet clothes are ready to wear in an hour’s time. Lotion is a must. Chapstick your new best friend. That being said, water conservation is of the upmost importance. While living in this sunset-colored country, I have learned a few tricks or two on how to live “green.”

(Right to left Support Staff and wonderful friend Donna, me, Professor of History Albertina).

Casually, us twelve students hopped into the van for another 6-hour drive to another location- this time the Namib desert. We have become pros by now at handling long road trips. Once we arrived, there was sand, sand everywhere. For the remainder of the weekend we would find sand in a million and one places. I am still emptying out sand from pockets and backpacks. But oh, did that sand become so beautiful at sunrise and sunset. We would run it through our fingers and watch the rays illuminate it as it trickled down. Living in the desert posed its challenges, but it all became worth it at nighttime. Each sunset, we would climb the nearest dune and stare endlessly at the horizon.

Then, we would stay there waiting for the stars to appear. Orion, the Southern Cross, then Scorpio. Sometimes we made up our own constellations and told our own stories. It felt so natural to be immersed in the world around us. And yes, we took lots of pictures.

While watching sunsets and counting stars were great aspects of the trip to the Namib desert, they were not the real reason we traveled there. We stayed in cabins run by NaDEET (Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust) a conservation revolving around water preservation and sustainability. Each day the staff there taught us a new way to reduce our waste and conserve what we have. First, we learned about light pollution. NaDEET lives in a Dark Sky District which means they need to cover their lights sources as to not pollute the night sky. For example, in my cabin, a tin can covered the lightbulb so the light only directed downwards where we needed it. Most lights, especially streetlamps, project light out not down which contributes to light pollution. Even though I live in a relatively small city in the states, I still have never seen the milk way or more than a few stars at night. I had no idea how much nighttime lights affect the sky- but now I have the knowledge to change my habits to reduce pollution and increase efficiency. 1. Cover lights. 2. Get LEDS- they last longer and use less energy. 3. Turn them off when not in use.

Another fun activity we did was make pizza- but in a solar cooker! A solar cooker works by concentrating the sun’s rays (which the desert has lots of) and trapping them to heat up the food like an oven would. It was a delicious and energy efficient experiment.

Might I add that my group’s pizza was the best.

But of all the activities and all the experiments, the most crucial was water conservation. Each cabin competed to use the least amount of water. Some people were joking about not showering for the whole time… No one wanted to sit next to those people. But in all honesty, this was one of my favorite parts. We learned how to use the shower-bucket method which reduces the use of water. The energy from the solar panels heated up the water in a tank, you collected it in one bucket, poured it into the shower bucket which had a valve that could release the water by gravity when needed. Instead of using gallons of water for 20 minutes, I used only a few and was still able to get clean. Also, the trip to get the water was a deterrent for using too much- maybe it was laziness of contentiousness- but either way it worked.

In a country that is mostly desert and receives little rainfall- especially this year during the worst drought in generations- I have learned how to conserve as much water as I can. So here are a few environmentally friendly tricks I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Turn down the temp of your water heater. Often it is too hot anyway, so you must go back and forth between the cold and warm knobs to get it right. This technique saves energy, water, and money!
  2. Compost. It reduces the amount of waste thrown in landfills.
  3. Take showers over bathes. They use less water. Keep them short and turn off the water in between lathering and shampooing.
  4. Fill up the sink with soap and water to wash dishes rather than letting the tap run.
  5. Reusable water bottles. This reduces the use and waste of plastic.
  6. Fix leaking faucet! A single drip for a year can waste over 2,000 gallons of water. That’s quite a bit of money down the drain too.

As I reflected upon my experience at NaDEET, I realized not only how beautiful the Namib desert is but also how important it is to conserve as much as you can. I am forever blessed for having this experience-it has opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Picture Book Come to Life

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Etosha, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Conservation. What is it? Or more importantly, what does it do? Here in Namibia, 20% of the nation is designated for conservation- particularly for preserving the local wildlife, land, and livelihoods. Recently, I was blessed to visit one of Namibia’s most well-known conservations Etosha National Park.

Throughout the drive to the camping ground, we were able to spot dozens of different species including zebras, elephants, giraffes, and springbok!

Even though there is a misconception that all of Africa is like this, the percentage is quite small. Throughout my travels to the rural North, the coast, and the desert, this was the first and only time I saw these types of animals. Like the United States, most of Namibia is spotted by farmland and cities. However, it was still breathtaking to be so close to animals I have only seen in picture books. You had to be incredibly quiet in the van as to not startle them. Some of the animals even stared back at us in question. It made me wonder what it felt like to be observed all the time- to be gawked at by tourists while just wanting to get a drink. The unease I got from the realization reminded me of my distaste for zoos. But at least here the animals are in their natural habitat.

Once we arrived at the campsite, we all took a collective nap. We have been traveling on and off for the past two weeks and craved uninterrupted sleep. After settling in and relaxing, a few of us took to the watering hole. We sat upon a large wall of rock observing the elephants and hippos who bathed right in front of us. It was a sight unlike any other. The crowd was so hushed if one person dropped a pen, scowls followed them. I remember holding my breath at times as to not disturb the peace. The silence paid off because we were able to observe these natural behaviors without the disturbance of a moving van.

At one point in the night, a herd of elephants came to visit. They played with each other, splashing water, bumping sides, and dancing around the watering hole.

The experience reminded me of how incredibly amazing they are and how small I am. So often our society gets wrapped up in the significance of our own existence, we forget about other life. Here, dozens of tourists and students sat for hours just paying respect to the beauty of elephants. We are in their space after all. Even though this moment brought me peace, at the same time, it saddened me. I recently saw an article about how the giraffe has made its way to the endangered species list. I worry about future generations only knowing what one looks like through old photos. These native animals, and basically all animals around the world, are important to earth’s eco-system. Polar bears need ice. Turtles need reefs. And giraffes need grassland. The more I learn throughout my time here, the more environmentally conscience I am becoming. But what can I do? What can we do?

If you are asking these same questions, read my blog that dives deeper into this topic. It takes place in NaDEET (Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust) a conservation that practices sustainability in the heart of the Namibian desert. To be quite honest, it has been my favorite place we visited in Namibia so far.

Also, enjoy this National Geographic like picture I took in Etosha.

 

 

The Untold Stories

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Outapi, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I distinctly remember before I left to study abroad in Southern Africa, my friend and I got  lunch together for an informal “see you later.” We talked about our lives, school work, and how  excited I was to travel to Namibia. I showed him a picture of Windhoek, the city I would be  living in. To his surprise, the photo displayed towering buildings, paved roads, and modern cars.  I am not telling this story to criticize his views, but to shed light on this mainstream idea of  “Africa.” Africa is a continent full of rich intertwining cultures. Every country, every area, every  city, is unique from the next. There is no blanket definition. Like in the United States, each family  has their own identity, ethnicity, and language. And all of this became quite apparent to me when I spent a week living with a family in rural Northern Namibia.

Before we left to Outapi, the instructors taught us basic greetings and how to ask for food, water, and the toilet in Oshiwambo, the local language. All of us were jittery with nerves. We stocked up on toilet paper, portable chargers, and exchanged ideas of how to properly bathe from a bucket. 

Surprisingly, the bucket shower became one of my favorite parts of the morning!

To be honest, I was holding in my anxiousness the whole 10 hour ride up there. As soon as we arrived and families started singing for us, my worries melted away. The families were as full of smiles as we were of exhaustion. But despite our heavy bodies, our spirits were up. We gathered around, greeted each other, and learned who we would be staying with for the week. My family welcomed me with open arms. I immediately felt loved by Meme Thusnelde and Tate Fillemon. (*Meme is the Oshiwambo equivalent of “M’am” as is Tate with “Sir”). Their daughter Margareth also welcomed and introduced me to her two year old son, Wofa (I never got the spelling but this is how it sounded). After the initial greeting, we were off! I climbed in the back of their pick-up truck and sighed my first breath of relief since we left Windhoek that morning.

While the instructors warned us countless times how hot it is in Northern Namibia, the heat still surprised us. It’s the kind of heat when you sweat, it evaporates before you can feel it. Hats are a necessity and sunscreen becomes your new best friend. Sleeping became a great challenge because my family’s tin house absorbed all the heat throughout the day. At night, I felt like I was sleeping in a microwave. Another surprising challenge was the food. While it was delicious and well-prepared, my body had a difficult time adjusting to it. But these minor inconveniences were drops in the ocean of this entire experience. My host sister and I laughed and danced with each other every evening. Her son and I chased each other around the farmstead. The stars every night speckled the sky is a brilliant hue. The fat chickens slept on tiny tree branches (which still makes me laugh just thinking about it). My host dad and I ran after a goat one night and planted a tree the next. My host mom hugged me warmly in the way only a mother can. While my body might have rejected the environment, my heart belonged in it.

There were dozens of fruit trees across the property. I was honored to help plant another!

I learned so much in my six days living with them. Greeting culture is the utmost importance. It took me until the end of the stay to fully get the sequence right.

  • “Walalapo Meme” (Good morning M’am)
  • “Walalapo” (Good morning response)
  • “Nawa?” (How are you?)
  • “Nawa, ehh?” (Good, and you?)
  • “Ehh” (Yes, good)

Even then, I do not know if that is completely correct. And the greeting changes depending on who you are speaking to and what time of day it is. It was difficult at first to get out of my American way of thinking. Here, you spend a whole five minutes greeting someone before you can carry on with your day. Back in the States I usually go for the classic Midwestern half-smile or “hey.” Here, you must face the person and acknowledge their presence- it is a form of respect. After practicing the greeting so often, it almost became second nature amongst us students. We even greeted each other that way at times. 

This journey has changed how I view life in multiple ways. For one, time is fluid here. There is never a rush. At first, my American “go go go” attitude became frustrated with the lackadaisical atmosphere. Now, I embrace it. In the States, we value time as money. Even when greeting someone we are short and to the point. Here, time is what you make it. My host family never rushed me to wake up, they never had a set schedule. We awoke when we got fed up with the rooster crowing. We made food when we got hungry. We talked when we wanted to and sat in silence when there was nothing to say. There was no pressure, just peace.

Important side note! The picture above is my host family’s field. Normally it would be towering with mahango plants at this time. Namibia is facing an extreme drought due to no rain in the rainy season causing crops and livestock to die at alarming rates. In a nation where 70% of the population relies on farming to sustain themselves, no rain is a crisis. We might not see climate change’s effects in the US, but here it is undeniable.

Reflecting on the experience so far, I am blessed to have met so many people from different cultural backgrounds in Southern Africa. Each of them has their own story to tell. Some are graduate students studying to be doctors. Some are musicians living off donations from passersby. Some, like my host family, are farmers in rural Namibia struggling to overcome the most devastating drought in their lifetime. Every person I meet paints a more colorful picture of what Africa truly is. It is not a single nationality, race, or language. It is a beautiful blend of people who each have a story to share- a story that needs to be heard.

My family and I took a photo together at the goodbye party. They provided me with a traditional Oshiwambo skirt and Ostrich egg shell necklace to wear. I will miss them dearly! (Right to left) Tate Fillemon, Wofa the baby, myself, the cab driver for the family, Margareth. *Meme Thusnelde was not able to attend the goodbye party due to work.

Part 3 in South Africa: Beaches, Night Life, and Sharks! Oh my!

Author: Alyssa Brewer

Location: Cape Town, Simon’s Town, & Gansbaii Bay, South Africa

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Arriving in Cape Town was a challenge. After a two-hour delay, a nine-hour bus ride, and a Home-Alone like dash through the bus stop, we made it. Once we arrived at the guest house, we collapsed on our beds and relaxed. All the while, I had no idea that the week to come would change my life forever.

So after some much needed rest, we toured the city. It was like Starbursts exploded across the town! The pastel-colored houses lined the streets as tourists took pictures on their doorsteps. At first, I thought of how beautiful it all was, but then I paused. Would I want people to take pictures of my house all day long? Answering my own question, I put down my camera. Instead, I opted for a far-away shot.

When you study abroad, you need to travel with a certain level of cultural sensitivity and respect to local residential spaces. Our professor Lamont instructed us that far-away pictures of the streets are acceptable but close-up ones are not.

Once we got a taste for the city and the food, we headed back to our guest house to sleep off our travels. The next day we visited the old fortress that housed the first slaves in Cape Town. It was a difficult topic to address but it was necessary, nonetheless. We also visited Langa, the oldest Township in Cape Town named after the first president of the political party African National Congress (ANC). The ANC played a pivotal role in ending the oppressive Apartheid regime in the 1990s but not everyone agrees that they should remain in power. In fact, we met one of the political members of the Democratic Alliance and he believes his party should be the ruling one. Of course, politics are complicated in every nation but especially in South Africa where democratic elections only started in the 1990s. The country is young and still figuring  itself out.

After a few more tours to museums, a pre-school, and a few gorgeous gardens that week, we were granted a free weekend. For the first time in what seemed like years, I slept in. Well, until 7am because my body runs on sunlight now. That day, a few of us decided to visit the infamous Bolder Beach where the South African penguins live. Who would have thought that penguins could be chilling in 90-degree weather? While they were so cute, the beach was quite crowded. Afterwards, we travelled down Simon’s Town to this barren beach that seemed to stretch for miles.

Well suited, the name of it was Long Beach.

After a long and beautiful day in the sun and ocean, we headed back to the guest house. It was an hour drive but luckily the journey was through stunning mountains. Yet again, I was reminded of the striking inequality as I passed mansion after mansion. Just the other day we learned about the aftermath of locals forced to leave their homes because the wealthy wanted their land. They rushed away from the bulldozers with only a suitcase in hand. And while apartheid is over, they still lost their homes. So even though the views were gorgeous, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the history behind them.

While everyone was preparing for the legendary hike up Table Mountain the next morning, I was finalizing a trip of a lifetime. For those who do not know me, it has been a dream of mine to go shark diving ever since I was young. And on this very day, I was blessed with the opportunity to do just that.

So Brennen, another Valpo student, and myself woke up at 5am, took a two-hour bus ride to Gansbaii Bay, scarfed down breakfast, squeezed into our wetsuits, and took a 15 minute boat ride to the sea. All the while, I was holding my breath for the moment my dream would come true. After setting up, putting on gear, and calming my nerves, I jumped in the cage. Five others, including Brennen, followed my lead. For the next few hours we got to witness sharks up close and personal. I was blown away by not only their beauty, but their strength as well. One even tail whipped the cage (trying to chase the bait, of course)! The entire time, I felt like a little girl traveling to Disney World for the first time. It. Was. Magical. I know most people would shriek away from the thought of being surrounded by sharks, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I was quite happy and extremely blessed to check #1 off my bucket list at 20 years old. This was the experience of a lifetime!

So as I reflected upon the weekend, I realized that I did not want to be anywhere else but present. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Even though we were dealing with difficult and emotional topics, it was needed to grow. I would never be exposed to the history and culture of South Africa had I stayed back at Valpo this semester. I would have never met so many influential people who had such a strong impact on their community. I would have never gone shark diving off Gansbaii Bay.

So if you are reading this and you are wondering if you should study abroad or not, as Shia LeBeouf famously put, “just do it.”

And yes, that is a real tattoo.

Part 2 in South Africa: Eludini

Author: Alyssa Brewer

Location: Eludini outside of Eastern Cape, South Africa

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

So today we visited Eludini, a small village tucked between mountains outside of the Eastern Cape. Even though we were only visitors for a day and a half, I learned and loved so much throughout this experience. The city life was exciting and new but there is something enchanting about Eludini. The towering buildings can never compare to the insurmountable beauty of the towering mountains. Grey sidewalks can never feel as comforting as green grass does under your feet. And the night sky takes on a different hue when no other light competes with it.

After breakfast, we embarked on a three-hour bus ride cozied up next to each other, silently sweating all the while. The air blasting through the windows was hot and dry. The drive was bumpy, jolting us left and right. But all these miniature frustrations made the destination worthwhile. Once we arrived, we couldn’t help but just sink into the recycled tire seats and gaze upon nature’s wonders.

There is something absolutely breathtaking about being surrounded by walls of lush green. Even though Johannesburg was amazing, the change of scenery felt like a breath of fresh air- quite literally. For me, the best part of it was the culture. Because Eludini was somewhat isolated in the mountains, everyone knew everyone. There was no urgency. People relied on rainwater, vegetables grown in gardens, and goats and cattle roaming about. The atmosphere was peaceful and inviting. Ours hosts were especially welcoming and prepared a gorgeous feast for us that night. My stomach and my heart were quite happy.

So, after we let the food settle in, we decided to carry on the program’s tradition of trekking up the mountain to watch the sunset. It was hot and sticky on the way up but the beauty washed away our discomfort. The view was…breathtaking to say the least- there is nothing like a multitude of colors painted across the sky.

 

The middle picture depicts Clare (left), Ava (center), and myself (right) laying down partly due to exhaustion but also to appreciate the sky above. We couldn’t help but reflect on all that we witnessed. This was one of the first times throughout the program when we could just sit back and enjoy the moment. At the beginning, we were overwhelmed with information and always on the move- there were so many sights to see and so little time to do so. However, at this present moment, we didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything- we could just be.

After the sun died down, we headed back down to prepare for the night in our grass-roofed cabins. We relied on kerosene lamps for sight which was a first for me. While it might have seemed inconvenient to not have cellar data or electricity, it felt like a great relief. We were completely off the grid- we were just present. So after one of the best night sleeps of my life, we got up early to start our day. It was barely 9am and I was already sweating buckets- I guess I picked the wrong day to wear grey. After what seemed like hours of walking in the heat (it was probably 30 minutes to be honest), we met up with a wonderful woman full of life and laughter. She took us into her kitchen to teach us how to  make bread from scratch. We followed her instructions, kneaded the dough, and waited for it to rise. But our task wasn’t over yet- we needed to gather firewood to cook the bread. All of us sighed when we saw how far down the forest was. The heat weighed down on our spirits but none of us gave up. We picked up as many sticks/branches as we could, attempted to place them on our heads, and carefully wobbled back up the mountain. It was a challenge, but I am proud that I accomplished it!

Next, we molded our dough into little biscuits and marked which ones were ours. Mine had a snowflake like design to it. With the coals created from the fire we started with firewood, we were able to bake our bread. It might have taken us half a day for the whole process, but it was so worth it in the end. Not only did we get to eat our delicious creations, we learned a valuable skill to carry on after this program. The woman full of smiles asked me if I enjoyed the experience- I couldn’t help but reciprocate her smile as well. I explained that while it was a bit challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed the day with her. I even bragged that when I return home, I can’t wait to show my family what I learned. She was so patient and accommodating with our group the whole day. I appreciated her welcoming energy and strong personality- she has and will continue to be an inspiration for me. Sadly, I never caught her name but her smiling face will be forever engrained in my memory. Even though visiting Eludini was a short-lived experience, it had an impact on me nonetheless. Thank you for following me along this journey. Part 3 in South Africa coming soon!

As always, keep on keepin’ on,
-Aly

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