Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Let's Go to Dance"

To hopefully answer some questions that you might have I'll give you a quick run down of what exactly it is I'm going to be doing this summer in Namibia.

The Organization:

I'm working with a group called WorldTeach, which is a Harvard-affiliated organization that I found out about from my freshman proctor (Harvard's version of an RA or Resident Advisor who lives in the freshman dorms). WorldTeach sets up summer, semester and year long work experience programs for college students and adults alike, and like the name suggests mainly concerns itself with positioning these volunteers as teachers in foreign countries. You can learn more about WorldTeach at

The Work:

After a week-long training session directed by WorldTeach in Namibia's capital city of Windhoek I will be heading out to my host community to start working. I will be primarily teaching 'computer literacy' to teachers and 'learners' (students) at Nakayale Combined school in the North-central region of Namibia. Though the school has a lab of 20 or so computers, many students and teachers, so I'm told, aren't computer literate. Thus, I'm responsible for coming up with lesson plans and working under the educational development goals of the Namibian government to spread technological awareness in the country.

English is the official language of Namibia, though very few people speak it from birth. That means language will be an immense though not impossible barrier for my teaching. Just another exciting challenge! Here's a Youtube video of some native language instruction:

The Location and Living:

WorldTeach has set up a volunteer placement for me in the North-central region of Namibia, right below Angola. Specifically, I'll be a few KM outside of a city called Outapi, which is in the Omusati region of the country. This is where I will be (denoted by the A flag thing):

I'll be living with a host family.

I think that's the general low-down on what it is I'm doing specifically. If you have more questions, please feel free to comment and I'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

The school's principal and some students.

What I'm assuming is a school building.

The school's staff!


"The Cluckers"

Admittedly, the notion of setting foot on African soil is somewhat of a novel idea to me, one fueled by 'otherized' conceptions of the contient and whimsical safari fantasies. The thought that maybe I was ignorantly/ethnocentrically portraying the continent in my mind's eye first confronted me this semester in my introduction to Anthropology class when we watched a documentary about the market for African 'artifacts' in the United States. The quotation marks here are fully intentional. As the film described, certain groups of African-American immigrants recreate and sometimes fully fabricate/invent African 'artifacts' that are then sold for a profit as 'imported goods.' The film clearly painted Americans as ignorant consumers eager to buy some sense of African cultural capital.

When beginning to share my summer plans with friends and family, this not so subtle 'otherism' unraveled even more. "Oh, Griffin, you can run barefoot with the Africans!" some would jokingly say. "You'll come back clicking," others declared. Even I, perusing the aisles of REI feel like a victim of cultural misunderstanding. Do I really need a fancy hiking backpack, water purifiers, a slough of medications and an inordinate amount organization on the home front just to live somewhere else? Is Africa really so different?Though the answer to that question is 'yes,' such a truth comes nowhere close to protecting me from feeling like a confused carrier of cultural contradictions and perplexities.

My goal with this post is not to present unfounded truisms, but rather to share how I already see the malleability and creation of culture in a tangible manner. Though the origins of African 'otherism' are antiquated with time a closer look at the subtleties show how fresh latent ethnocentrism is/can be in our veins. What I realize now is that actions I take and cultures/ideas with which I identify have histories and meanings shot through them, and that's something that I won't be able to take for granted in the next two months.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Testing 1,2,3...

I'm home in Oregon and getting ready for Africa!