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Discovering Social Divide and Desert Transitioning to Oceans and Beaches: Namibian experiences of a student-volunteer

Part IV: Discovering Social Divide and Desert Transitioning to Oceans and Beaches

by Harrish Thirukumaran

Mural Symbolism

Painting, had been another relevant project that asked for our contributions as well. This opportunity was required for the entire group to equally participate in as part of a running tradition by the Brock University abroad program.

 A photo credit: Rachel

A photo credit: Rachel

It was also thoughtfully satisfying as not only could we devote our time to the BNC but to the wider Namibian community in Katutura. For instance, we had created special paintings in two local orphanages: Baby Haven and Dinosaur Land.

I mainly worked at Baby Haven during the scheduled days. The orphanage was composed primarily of children aged infancy to about 5 years. It was a bit saddening however as the kids were only taken in as babies hence Baby Haven and would eventually transfer out once reaching toddler age or until adoption. Yet, despite the problems we were able to restore an educational foundation within the facility aimed towards the impoverished children.

Our main objective was to paint the ABC’s across a gate wall from the actual house to visually teach the children about the alphabet. In this assignment, we had to brainstorm ideas in selecting out various objects that had started with a corresponding letter. By doing that it would also help the children understand how all letters are used to form words. For example, we had designated Apple for A and Elephant for E. It was effective as we were able to see the children’s curious and intrigued faces when recognizing the letters and objects themselves. They were even able to pronounce the words correctly which was great. I felt that though they were orphaned they had genuinely held considerable intelligence to figure out the alphabet. The kids were also just as loving as the BNC students as well.

Painting project

Painting project-pic by: Jen

A child named Nathan was especially fond of myself and was always interested about my volunteer actions. He even desired to help out with the painting too by grabbing a small brush and trying to work close to me. He had even affectionately called me “his partner” in this painting job. It was an intriguing sentiment as all the children tended to call us “partners” because we continuously helped each other out. He was incredibly playful during breaks as we had played some soccer with him and his friends along with giving him piggyback rides.

Throughout the course of the painting projects all of the sites had been brilliantly put together where they stood out outstandingly in their respective places. The Baby Haven site was absolutely stunning to view with your own eyes as it had produced an inspirational symbol of education that could flow into the unrefined children’s vessels.

Discovering The Social Namibian Divide

During the gist of the painting days of our volunteering collaboration, our group was obligated to take a tour within more parts of Katutura. Along with us for the ride was Patrick, an English professor at the University of Namibia who served as a semi-tour guide in teaching us the history and political life of Namibia. On the tour, we explored deeply through Katutura where we witnessed areas with considerable historical background as reiterated by Patrick. We had first traveled within a district that was complied with various large mansions in clean and compact street corners. All the houses were so astonishingly fancy that they are comparable to certain houses back in North America. The neighborhood abode had also been in a slanted position when driving through the area.

I believe we had even seen the former Namibian State House. Patrick had told that people who retained high incomes and other indirect accumulations of wealth exclusively owned one of the houses. He had established the idea of how the rich division lives in Namibia, which can be compared to certain communities in North America. However, he had also explained that the social capital of the richly affiliated territory was in a low state probably due to the financial stability contained amongst the people. That theory had also indicated that the residents required no crucial type of assistance. Although, it did not mean they were necessarily happy or socially cheerful. It was also strange as we were unable to see any pedestrians walking within the area as seen in the other major parts of the country.

Next, we soon arrived in a settlement area that was a considered newly formed in Katutura. The place was predominately nicknamed the “Silver City”. From seeing the area, we were able to see the stereotypically poverty-ridden area of Katutura firsthand. The sheer visual presentation of the place had hut-like houses built form metal and wood coverings. The area had established concrete evidence of a clear boundary line between the rich and the poor that had idealistically giving notion of pure economic inequality. Though it seemed we had reduced our knowledge awareness of the actual country to common media portrayals, Patrick had reassured an interesting difference in the divide. He explained this idea of a paradox within the social aspect of Namibia’s Katutura. In the dwellings, it seemed natural, homely, and comfortable by the moods of the residents. Through the drive we actually were able to see people walking through helping each other inside or outside their homes.

The youth were very independent as seen by them walking on their own or gathering materials for their families. In one shot, we also saw a group of kids who honestly looked joyous in each other’s company as well. We were able to observe the youth and adults contributing efficiently in running their homes and the entire neighborhood as well, in close perspective. A peculiar factor about the Silver City however was that basic incomes were powered dually from an array of car washes and bars; they were all placed across from each other on sandy streets. It was like a physical location pattern of these common establishments in this Katutura settlement.

The central impression acquired from the trip in both parts was to essentially bring up this ‘rich concept’ when describing the suburban/urban life of Namibia. It was the idea that the rich citizens may be ‘rich’ financially but the Silver City locals were ‘rich’ in their sense of social happiness linked to a prosperous community fueled by the people’s commitment to each other through simple living. Although the residents were financially inept to survive accurately in their Namibian lifestyles, their own working actions had firmly supported the old saying: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

Lastly, the Katutura Township tour had taught strongly on the daily affairs of the lower class citizens of Africa. In addition it had also entrenched the contradiction that all of Namibia was composed of severe poverty. In my opinion, it had presented that Africa is undoubtedly a continent that contains recognizable forms of political
and economic elitism.

BNC – Promoting Education and Learning

In the 1st and 2nd weeks at the heart of the BNC, I was able to engage with a few of the children through academic means such as reading and math. At the facility, the 5th graders were able to put on their small puppet show for our group that was rehearsed previously with our assistance. I was even in it myself, generously offered by my co-players: Johanness, Ben, Kali, and Laurencia. I had been casted as a crocodile character for one of the performances. I recognized their excellence in how they could clearly read their lines carefully and correctly to constitute good continuity with the story. Also, their actual puppets were very impressive along with Laurencia, Johanness, and Kali interacting with their characters for the first run.

Though all performances were admittedly great and pleasurable to watch, MaryBeth had noticed some crucial flaws that could easily be dealt with in their performances. Prior to one group commencing to play Owl Babies, she had explained that most puppet shows don’t have their characters talking in one area of the stage but should be constantly moving according to the actions to the story. This also called for some background sceneries as well to adhere to the current setting. Afterwards, I saw that the Owl Babies performers had evidently listened to MaryBeth’s advice. It was wonderful to see how John even decided to incorporate actual tree twigs into the story as the owls’ home. In which, he and his group members had set up a similar background to the story’s illustrations. It was very creative for the group to construct this background to seem more professional and realistic. In addition, it was indirectly intelligible on their part by adding the authenticity. Yet, I found it extraordinary how quickly the students grasped MaryBeth’s ideas and successfully tested it while inserting their own preferences to make their storytelling even better.

While working directly from the BNC, I had tutored in mainly reading and math with a small number of the students. However in retrospect, I felt I had tutored one individual directly named Benjamin. Ben was a 10-year-old 5th grader who was one of the students in the puppet shows as well. So during the days where I was able to attend the BNC for volunteering I had worked almost always with Ben along with other boys named Denzel, Alpertino, Innocent, and few more. For reading, it was nice when we began seeing some social connections such as needing a quiet place to read which was always prioritized by Ben for concentration which I thought was good to hear. We would always read inside their small library room with books such as The Bernstein Bears. Ben had considered the series his favorite collection of stories.

In most sessions, his reading was good as he was able to sound out the words and pronounce most of them correctly but at times he desired some assistance with some particularly difficult words such as nouns and adjectives. To help him out I would read one page where he was required to read the next. Through his ability he would pace a bit slowly while using his finger to guide himself in reading the sentences to ensure they went together in the correct pattern. This technique in my opinion is considered a fundamental tool in learning to read books that I had recently learned myself. Next, I found it fascinating and disruptive however when he compared the events occurring in the stories to his own experience with those specific affairs.

BBD091413

For instance, we read the book The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist where he often pointed out his remembrance of his time at the dentist like when he sat in the chair and tasted the special brush tools used by the dentist. It was also amusing as he would demonstrate the actions physically to me such as imaginatively brushing his teeth.

He even told me how the scrapper tool always felt painful to his teeth but helped keep them clean. Furthermore, when there were pictures he would often imitate them such as smiling widely with his teeth. From these moments, they were often irritating as I felt he always got off topic with reading the actual story, but I had also started to appreciate this curious characteristic underneath Ben.

That being how he regularly shares stories about himself that describe his own life experiences. Some were usually childish and often highlighted his troublesome attitude at times, which I witnessed during the last week. His face was also often in a serious mood but he was still a normal, energetic child like all of the BNC kids and would happily beg myself to play alongside him at the small playground. I believe my persona had somehow directly impacted him. From his stories and curiosity about myself set off our special bond with one another both mentally and physically.

In math, Ben had practiced his addition, subtraction, and multiplication tables in a small private room. To study, we had used bingo balls where I selected two numbers and he then had to add, subtract, or multiply. While enlisting the many numbers, I had also wanted to challenge him according to his skill. I had thought of complex multiplication problems mostly using single and double digit numbers. Throughout the many questions, he had managed on his own to capture the right answers. I found it exemplary seeing him use mental math to solve numerous equations as noticed by his plentiful quick correct answers after delivering a single problem. It was also smart of himself to ask for analysis from myself on his answers to ensure if he was right. Mental math was especially useful for him in addition and subtraction as by his discretion in problem solving. But for certain multiplication questions he did have to write out the problem on a marker board stemmed mainly from non-single digit numbers. Through his way of figuring out the problems I felt I could see that he understood the concept that each problem in multiplication was developed from a longer and more tedious version of addition. Other then mental math, it was excellent to see him go more hands on to tackle the math problems.

From our session, I hope Ben could contemplate that multiplication in its own way was a shorter and faster way to answer addition problems.

Surrealistic African Experiences: Etosha, Swakopmund, and Spitzkoppe

On the two weekends while in Namibia, our group was able to take breaks from our volunteering at the BNC and other projects. During the excursions, we had travelled to localities; Swakopmund, Spitzkoppe, and Etosha which were truly engrossing African experiences.

Swakopmund is a coastal town west of the main capital Windhoek that had maintained strong colonial ties to its former German ruler. Its architecture and historical sites backed this claim. There we were offered the opportunity to go sandboarding in the Namibian Dunes. I think it was certainly in Swakop where I had discovered more profoundly about the desert environment in Namibia. Once reaching the area for the activity, it was absolutely surreal planting my eyes at an actual desert. It felt very imaginary to just stare right at it.

In Spitzkoppe

In Spitzkoppe-pic by: Rachel

Visually, it was very mountainous that was all derived through a single grain of sand. The desert in length looked entirely endless, emphasized that further when we trekked across the hot sand to the highest point to sand board. Though sandboarding wasn’t preferably an exhilarating occasion due to its difficulty it was beautiful just to gaze at the skyline adorned by the abstractness of the desert. In addition, just seeing the pickup vans and the others’ smallness within the vast large complex made the activity more worthwhile.

Swakopmund was a defining example of the beauty of African landscape along with discovering the complexities of a desert environment, which are more abundant in the world than one might think.

The Proud Namibian Fishing Sector

Our transitional extension from Swakopmund was Walvis Bay, which was located relatively close in a considerable distance. Walvis Bay would be said to be the backbone of Namibia’s fishing industry and one of its most powerful economic sectors due to holding a significant exportation hub. Its importance is even highlighted due to it having a less flashy tourist appeal unlike Swakopmund. It was also striking to hear that Walvis Bay was once wholly owned and designated to South Africa. It was considered recognizable South African territory meaning that Swakopmund was a town holding a crucial international African border. During apartheid, the fishing sector was mainly profitable for South African businesses. However, a redistribution process went through after apartheid had been dismantled thus allowing Namibian sovereignty over the land.

Soon after, we headed onboard a boat for a tour of the harbour area.

While inside the speedboat we had travelled throughout the lake seeing many sea species within the water. Along the way, we had spotted a wide variety of pelicans, dolphins, and seals. Our tour guide had also explained how oyster shells are a popular food in the fish market that is collected through the ocean. The food being served on the boat was oyster as well along with other small refreshments.

It was also stunning to see the pelicans up close while the guide was feeding them. He had also noted that gender was identified among the pelicans based upon their differing beak colours, which was fascinating to learn. A superb aspect of the tour was definitely allowing the seals to come onto the boat. We were simply surprised by the permission of the sea creature to come on board. Their skin was composed of a rough and slick feel of a smooth tire when petted. In addition, their skin seemed to be very fur-like with wet spots that could be lifted up to see underneath their dark skin. At the front of the boat, lying on the hood was great as it was very relaxing to just look at the fast paced water causing an almost soothing feeling.

Now, having actually seen one seal on the boat reacting to its surroundings was undeniably entertaining but observing a small island with thousands of seals offshore was unbelievable. It was pretty neat having the dolphins swim by as well, visibly noticed by their fins sticking above the water along the pace of the cruising boat. We had even been served with a fine composition of assorted refreshments.

In my opinion, it had boasted the sophistication of the tour’s credibility. The guide had even offered the aforementioned oyster shells that were regularly caught in the Bay’s waters. After the excitement of the Walvis Bay tour it seemed amazing to be able to explore the extremely distinctive environments of both Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

Seeing Africa composed of desert transitioning to oceans and beaches was a unique observation to find in the continent.

Namibian Abstractness

Our next stop for the weekend was a place called Spitzkoppe that was devised of various rock and mountain formations. All of which contained a trail to walk through as a tourist attraction. The area was the site where we had took a group photo representing Canada and Brock University. During the expedition, our tour guide had noted us to spot a rare fauna known as a tree that uses leaves as ingredients for certain medicine. There had also been giant boulders adorning specific red cave drawings such as a notable rhino painting. The pictures had been derived solely by the artistic skill of the Bushmen tribal group in Namibia. The drawings have been approximately over 1,000 years old. Specific pieces of the artwork had been recognizable but at other times it was rather difficult to determine what the painting was or meant for that matter.

Yet, it was visually marvelous to gaze at and touch along with developing one’s own interpretation of the paintings. As reiterated, it was just simply transcendent to see how the African landscape was vibrantly diverse as further indicated by close ups of the vastly-detailed mountainous rocks and caves. After the conventional tour of parts of Spitzkoppe we soon proceeded to take the photo within the rock bridge. From my perspective, no words could even begin to describe the amount of excitement inhibited from walking beyond the ranges into the complex rock structure.

Imaginatively, the walk felt like a real adventure as seen among fictional stories such as Indiana Jones bringing along a first established notion of seeing Namibia and Africa as a whole. After taking the photo, we were able to set foot further into the rock configurations.

While overlooking the distance of the sandy grasslands, it had fully developed my perceptive discovery on the specialty of Africa. [To Be continued]

(Harrish Thirukumaran attends second year at Brock University, Ontario, during 2013-14)

Part I: A Notebook from Namibia: Window on Windhoek

Part II: Children Achieving Prosperity by Prioritizing Education

Part III: Instilling Patience and Social Skills via Sportsmanship