People say that communication transcends language and that you don’t need a common language to understand one another; however in a country whose national language is English I find myself confused a lot of the time, take that back, I am confused pretty much all of the time. I get lost in their Namlish or just confused because social cues are different here than American customs (duh). For example when you greet someone in Wamboland, The North, girls and women are to bend at the knees to show respect and boys and men are to nod their heads. They also do this three part handshake and a two part hug, so needless to say I am constantly confused about what is going to come next or what I am even doing at the exact moment when I am doing something. I just find myself giggling playing it off as I am an ignorant American. At site the problem is that they don’t speak English, in the villages people speak in their mother tongue. This is one problem I have observed; the level in the English in the village is significantly lower. Today I sat in a 6th grade English class in a location Five Rand Primary School, and the 6th graders I observed had better English than the 10th graders at the school where I will be teaching. The problem lies with the fact that it makes it more difficult to participate on a National level when you don’t speak your national language well, or understand your rights as a Namibian if you don’t know what they are saying. An example of this would be that many children don’t realize corporal punishment is illegal and that as children they too have rights, they even have a Ministry whose primary goal is to represent the rights of both children and women. Okay back though to what I wanted to share, because that was a slight tangent.
Just to give you an example of how different relationships are here in Namibia I wanted to share our Information Sheet on Male/Female relationships in Namibia:
- Usually male/female interactions are perceived as romantic or sexual
- In rural Namibia friendships between boys and girls are discouraged
- It is usually easier for Namibian men to interact with foreigners because of gender norms + education/exposure (in some places in Namibia a women’s place is seen to still be in the home)
- Friendship + Friendliness can be perceived as romantic/ sexual interest
- Romantic proposals are more direct but acceptance or denials are more indirect in this culture than the US (For example many men say “I will take you out”, I also hear marriage proposals are common, however I have yet to receive one)
- Infidelity on the part of men generally is accepted but not on the part of women
- Differences in cultural norms + values can be amplified in romantic relationships (this is more a word of caution to us Peace Corps volunteers offered by our Namibian counterparts)
- In rural areas, public displays of affection are considered rude
- It is not uncommon for men to have more than one partner (There are public service announcements here saying that having one partner is the better way to go, better morally and better to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS)
- Love is used often and with different meanings
- Casual dating isn’t really practiced nor understood (According to my host sister from Windhoek, this is not necessarily true, but I think it might be more accurate to say in rural areas this might resonate some validity)
- Marriage between extended family members traditionally occurs in some communities
- Hand holding between friends of the same sex is just a sign of friendship (similar to Europe)
- In most rural areas homosexuality is not accepted (I am not sure because there was some disagreement by our trainers but some thought Namibia had gone so far to make it illegal)
- There can be expectation that children will be produced in a relationship
- Breaking up can have serious, at time violent consequence especially when initiated by a woman
- It is uncommon for women to initiate relationships or romantic encounters and situations where this occurs may lead to future violence and labeling in the relationship
- Sugar Daddies and Mommies are common and when a person goes out of their way to entertain a person of the opposite sex, it may mean that they have an agenda (This is something I am nervous about, because it apparently is a problem here with learners who rely on a Sugar Daddy or Mommy to provide their most basic necessities, and there is little that can be done to protect these children)
- If someone is allowed into the bedroom of the opposite sex, it typically means that they are then allowed to pursue sexual activity. (Namibians were shocked to find that we hang out in our Bedrooms with friends in the US, it was funny one of the trainers went so far to say, “That’s why we have sitting rooms here in Namibia, but not the bedroom.”
So compounded with the language barriers needless to say I spend a lot of time confused. I never understand people’s intentions here, specifically men’s. Everyone is so incredibly nice but I never know if hanging out with a guy means something that I am unaware of. I do know that you have to be direct with Namibians, because you will spend all day hinting at something if you take a less direct approach to communication. For me this will be something new because I am not the most direct of people.
Changing topics completely this past weekend was quite possibly one of the most difficult I’ve had here in Namibia so far. My friend and I went running Saturday morning, like usual, and like usual my dog Tiger tried to follow me, so he slipped out as I was leaving and the puppy followed him, so I turned around and put them back in the yard, but the two managed to get out again and this time I gave in and allowed them to follow us. We ran through the neighborhood towards town, because on the weekend we will grab breakfast on our jog, so we went into the grocery store leaving both the puppy and Tiger outside. While we were inside Tiger was hit/ “knocked” by a taxi. The security guard at Spar came to find me because everyone in town knows Tiger as my dog and I came out to find him dragging himself with only his two front legs. There was a man who tried to help us, but Tiger was in so much pain and would snap at us if we tried to move him or touched his leg, he did drive me back to my host mom and together we went back to get Tiger. After 3 attempts we finally got him onto the back of a truck with his head in a sack and we took him home. He stayed with us for the weekend, but had to be put down because he was in excruciating pain. He was such a funny dog because even yesterday when I came home from my jog I found him lying outside of the gate, because he had tried to drag himself out of the yard. RIP Tiger.
I am going to once again change topics because as I write this blog it is 6:00 pm here and there are kids playing outside with car tires. It’s always funny to see how kids entertain themselves here. Of course there are those children who also spend hours in front of the television watching both Namibian, South African, and American television. But then you will see kids playing soccer with bottles, or running down streets barefoot that are lined with broken glass or chasing after tires. When I was at site I was their entertainment for the few days I was there. They would either follow me around as I walked around the school yard or they would just happen to pass by the teachers house on every trip they took anywhere in the village. I am their oshilumbo, white person, and I cannot exactly blend in. My principal did tell me I would be Wambo in no time though because I was eating the porridge, spinach, and drinking lots of oshikundu (the traditional drink, which is pretty good, even with its bug parts).
House on myside of town
Combi coming to pick us up, you can tell it’s an American car because the license plate is red, and the US is number 21 because we were the 21st country to recognize Namibia as a free country, Angola is number 1
Military watch tower
Shoprite in the distance
The Craft Market burned to the ground, which is pretty terrible because the venders had paid with loans for the crafts from other countries and are now left with huge debts and no way to repay them
Spar bakery, it can make any rough day better 🙂
Supermarket, looks similar right?!
Notice the Butchery on Wheels sign, Namibians LOVE their meat and eat so much of it. They also eat Biltong, which is essentially like Jerkey and they make it from every animal it seems like.
Neighborhood we walk past on the way home, its on the nice side of town
Graveyard we walk past daily, there are graves dug and they are waiting for the casket to be added, its weird. Also here everyone is buried, not many are actually cremated so there are many graveyards that are quite full
Some of the learners I observed and taught
This little guy was crawling around our house last night