17 April 2009


As you can see, I’m sticking with the Bob Marley theme for this entry as well. Keep reading and you’ll find out why.

I have decided to move out of my palatial, very western, comfortable guest house in Mangetti. I was thinking about moving for several reasons, but this week one of those reasons came to the forefront of my attention: racism.

Namibia is a very young country (19 years of independence after enduring the colonialization era) and inequality between blacks and whites still exists, especially in the bush. I noticed the type of attitude that Afrikaaners in the village (and some visitors) have towards the black community members and it really bothered me. It’s not really an ‘in your face’ discrimination, but there is a feeling of superiority that some of the whites have towards the blacks. I saw it when I arrived and I continue to see it daily. I have been thinking of ways to approach this situation with the Afrikaaners in the community (owners of the guest house where I’m living), but I wanted to be clear and have concrete examples of what I was speaking about.

Then yesterday I was approached by the owner of the guest house about my position in the house. He brought up the fact that I invite some colleagues to the house nightly to watch the soapy (soap opera). He asked that I not invite my colleagues over when there are other people (mostly white Afrikaaners) staying in the guest house. This gave me the perfect opportunity to inquire about my suspicions so I asked, “Why?”

He went on to tell me that not all people are comfortable with black people and that he wanted to avoid any of those situations. As you can imagine, I was burning up inside at this point. I told him that’s called racism and is not acceptable in this country, or anywhere in the world for that matter. He brought up several more points including that’s how he was raised and that it’s a business and he wants to give his guests a peaceful stay in the guest house. I countered with, “I don’t care if that’s how you were raised, it’s not fair or just” and then asked “Would it be a problem if I was inviting Afrikaaners over?” to which he responded, “Probably not.”

I stewed over this conversation for awhile and spoke with my principal about it. I decided that I needed to speak more with the owner of the guest house about this situation so I went to his house that night. I told him that it was his guest house and that I couldn’t tell him how to run it, but if he was honestly going to stand his ground about not letting me have visitors while other people were staying at the guest house (because of the level of discomfort the guests might get from seeing black people) that I was moving out. We talked for about 45 minutes about the issue of racism in Namibia, the US and throughout the world. He, himself, said he has no problem with black people, but I argued that not standing up for the black people in this community was just as racist as the people who come to Mangetti and feel discomfort around my colleagues. Passive racism is similar to active racism in that it’s still racism!

His main argument was that he did not want to disrespect his superiors who might come to the guest house and feel uncomfortable with my visitors (who are only there for 1 hour a night as it is). He referenced the Bible ALOT (I will spare details about that), especially when talking about respecting your superiors at all times. I asked, “Even when your superior is telling you to do something immoral?” and he responded “yes.”

His decision remained the same about the visitors, so I told him that I could not live in a house where I had to follow a rule that was laced with racism. As a result, within the month, I will move from my comfortable duds at the guest house. I will say “Mbaa” (Rukwangali for “bye”) to my comfortable bed, electricity, cold food and drinks, hot showers, TV and ample space and move into a mud hut. I am actually in the process of talking with community members and learners who are going to help me build my own mud hut by the school closer to the community.

I realize that my stance in this situation did not cause a change in the owner’s policy, but I do know that I brought up their racist attitudes and beliefs. I don’t think that happens very often with them. Therefore, I am happy to have at least brought it to their attention and maybe, just maybe, some change in their attitude will come from our conversations and my moving out. I also know that the community will not be happy with them when they hear why I am moving out, so there is a chance their attitudes and beliefs could be brought to their attention even more from community members.

It’s really hard to address something that has been etched into the way of life, here in Namibia, for generations and generations. But I felt I had to “get up, stand up” for what was right. Racism will not end in Mangetti with my move, and I fully realize that, but a stance needed to be made.


09 April 2009

The "One Love" Phenomenon

Greetings from Namibia at the beginning of a long Easter weekend. I'm getting ready to go camping at Ngepi Camp in the Caprivi Strip (the arm looking thing of Namibia). We're camping right on the river and will get to swim in the river in a cage that protects us from the crocs! Pretty cool, huh? :)



I do want to share a story from my beautiful village of Mangetti...

It's been 3 months since I moved into the most amazing place in the world, Mangetti. It seems like the time has flown by and at the same time, it feels like I've been here forever. The one constant struggle for me has been communication and connecting with my learners and people throughout the village. My learners speak decent English, but conversations are very challenging for them to uphold. The people in the community barely speak any English and I don't speak much Rukwangali.

I am a very social person, so you can see how this was a battle for me. I started ending class by saying "One Love" and showing them the ASL sign for "I love you." I wanted a way to connect with the learners through some type of sign (they do hand signs for their favorite artists all the time) and to let them know that I love them. I taught them what the sign meant and we listened to Bob Marley, "One Love" and soon all of my learners were responding with "One Love" at the end of class flashing me the "I love you" sign.

Walking through the village, I would hear my learners yell across the soccer field, school grounds or the location. "ONE LOVE, SIR!" while showing me the "I love you" sign. This started to spread throughout the younger grades as they saw the older kids doing it. Then it became an all school thing at one Monday morning assembly a few weeks ago. I brought a soccer ball from the States to give to the school and my principal thought it was such a nice gesture that he wanted to have an official presentation of the ball to the school during assembly. He asked me to say a few words at the end of the presentation and after my talk, I ended with "One Love" and the sign. All of my learners and even some of the younger kids responded. My principal, looking curious, asked what that sign meant so I told him and the whole school about the "I love you" sign. He then awkwardly made the "I love you" sign and showed it to me saying, "Oh, we love you too, Mr. James." If you knew my principal, you would know that this was the cutest thing in the world. He is the kindest, most easy going person I've ever met. So ever since that morning, all of the learners say "One Love" to me with the sign, even the 5 year olds who don't speak any English at all. It's even spreading to members of the community as some of them say it to me now with the sign.

It may seem silly to some, but it feels amazing to me because I feel like I am finally connecting with the village. It's only taken me 3 long months, but I love this connection.

Check out this picture of a young learner's shirt. He drew pictures of soccer players on the back of his shirt. You'll see that one of the players is making the "I love you" sign. :)