Our last homestay for the semester was in a rural setting in villages where one of our professors coincidently was from. He just moved back from living in America for 28 years- yet the families we were staying with were already his family. I was most excited to get an “authentic” experience with this homestay…but also a little nervous since I had no idea what I was getting into. I was in Otjoherango, a small village that is part of a Herero reservation near the north of Namibia. The Herero are one of the ethnic groups here, and I’ve never been to an Native American reservation, but apparently the concept is very similar. Meredith, Amy, Jess and I were all in the same village- each about a 10 minute walk from each other.
We didn’t have a toilet…or running water or electricity for that matter, I had bugs the size of small children in my room and was constantly told exactly what to do and when to do it…I wasn’t even allowed to go to the bathroom alone for the first few days. But I LOVED it. It was one of my favorite weeks yet. There was something so nice about how simple life was there.
I lived on a pretty big family compound…I never really figured out how everyone was related- but at any given time there were about 5 20 some year old women, 5 or 6 kids under the age of 14 a couple of men and a couple of Grandmas. Oh and let’s not forget the 50 some cows. Our goats unfortunately lived a couple of kilometers away. The houses are little small structures all made of cow dung.
Before we left we had about 3 Herero lessons so we’d be able to communicate better. Well those were essentially worthless I figured out from the get go, so I trashed my notes and just repeatedly said the 3 words I knew to my host mother while she laughed at me. Everyone else spoke fairly decent English, save for the small children who were so terrified of me that I never really got close enough to talk to them. No really, I even tried bribing the children with lollipops, even then if I dared touch them they ran screaming.
Our days were fairly simple. You name it, I milked it. I gave it my best shot to milk the cows and the goats, and while I did greatly improve, I don’t see being a milk maid in my future anytime soon. I was basically allowed to do it for the novelty, then they would come along behind me and actually take care of the milking. There were lots of walks and afternoons spent sitting and talking. The highlight was getting to drive the donkey cart back from the goat farm one day. They were a little surprised when I took the reins, but I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Those donkeys can fly when they want to…imagine the looks on all the people in the village’s faces as the white girl comes flying through driving the donkey cart.
Meredith’s house was literally our “town”- the front of their house was a general store and they even had electricity! So the four of us would meet up for cold drinks in the afternoons to get our much needed fanta or lemon twist kick.
We were all sent with a big box of food, which I was a little uneasy about at first- it seems a bit imposing and superior to show up with my own food, specifically a box of rice krispies. But I never saw much other food at my house so I was pretty thankful in the end. We ate lots of pasta or rice with various soups and lots and lots of ketchup. Other than the unfortunate day of canned meat…which looked at tasted like cat food in every possible way, the only meat I ate was cow liver once and springbok once. We ate lots of porridge for dinner, and it was hard to tell how normal what we were eating was, or if they were just eating it for me.
I went to church…didn’t understand a word of it, but I was there, got dressed up in the traditional Herero woman outfit and taught the primary school Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Getting dressed was quite an ordeal in itself- these women wear this everyday, and it was easily in the 90s everyday we were there. Quite possibly the most impractical outfit there is. Underneath the main dress there is one skirt and two jumpers…in addition to the shawl on top and heavy hat that is meant to resemble cow horns. They waited until dark to dress me because they knew I’d be too hot otherwise.
All of us students got back together one day to go a a Herero commemoration festival in the nearest town. We didn’t have much of any idea what was going on…it had to do with the war verse the Germans where nearly the entire ethnic group was exterminated. We got to meet the chief and get blessed- but the real highlight is that one of the MCs was wearing a carolina shirt.
The day before I left was our expedition to the mountain. I was pretty excited to get to climb the mountain I had looked at all week…and we were taking the donkey cart- it doesn’t get much better than that! Well that is until our donkeys are terrible and we get a flat tire before we can even leave to come back. It was gorgeous while we were up on the mountain- the landscape reminds me a ton of Utah. The way back was pretty rough though. Me and one of my host sisters left everyone behind and would ride about 100 meters, then pump the tire. We eventually had to just walk behind the donkeys, then wait several hours for a new tire before we could go home. It was quite the adventure, and quite the sunburn as well.
6 days was pretty much the perfect amount of time- I loved the time there, but I was ready to go by the end. Onto the next adventure!