Friday, November 2, 2007

Part Six: First Reflections on Oshakati

We lived in two houses: one for the boys, one for the girls. We slept on foam mats on the floor. There were six girls in my room, and four in the other. We had two bathrooms. One shower, for bathing. One bathtub, which would soon be used for washing clothes. We each had a backpack, a sleeping bag, and a few outfits. Cat was allergic to wheat and had brought a suitcase full of gluten-free food. Anna, Kaylen, and Aften had lost their luggage somewhere along the way, so we shared clothes, soap, antimalarials.

We arrived in Oshakati on a Thursday and would not start school until Monday. The first few days were spent experiencing the culture. Enthony and Andrew introduced me to Oshikandela, a thick yogurt drink. I wasn't a fan, but whenever we stopped for gas or went into town, they would buy some.

I'd spent my whole life being "Mexican-American", whatever that means. I was intermediate. I was brown. I was a woman of color, wasn't I? But as soon as I stepped foot on African soil, I was white. In Namibia, there was only black and white. I was an American. From the way that I looked, people knew exactly who I was and where I was from; for me, it was unsettling.

Most billboards in Namibia feature condoms or alcohol. I wasn't shocked by the fact that there were condom billboards, but I was surprised by the sheer number of them. However, they were completely outnumbered by alcohol ads. Nearly every other shop that we saw was a bar. I asked Bonita if alcohol was inexpensive in Namibia. She told me that it wasn't, and didn't say much more about it; people would rather spend their hard-earned money on alcohol than on food or clothing.

I wondered if my heart should break more for those living in economic poverty or in spiritual poverty. I was experiencing a lot of guilt at this point. Guilt because I had never known what it meant to be in need. Guilt because I lived on my own and rented a room that was bigger than some of the shacks I was seeing. Guilt because I had never washed clothes by hand. Guilt because I was born halfway around the world and rarely ever thought about this side of the world.

I was very quiet during the first few days in Oshakati. I didn't want to speak and allow my thoughts to seem less real, or more frivolous. Andrew had quickly become one of my closest friends on trip. "Where are you?" he would ask me. "Are you overseas?" It seemed that if I wasn't lost in thoughts of Tempe, I would forget about it altogether. I would steal quick memories of my ASU friends, salt river tubing, my dog. But most of the time, I was still in Namibia, wondering how to respond to the things I was experiencing.

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