Howdy from the Zambezi River! As our journey comes to a close, I am reflecting on some of the amazing experiences I have had while studying abroad in Namibia. Some of my most profound moments have been when I realized how my perspectives have evolved during this trip.
Before coming to Namibia, I made assumptions about many things pertaining to Namibian culture. I had conducted some research prior to my departure about communal farming vs. commercial farming. Based on what I read, I concluded that commercial farming was superior to communal farming. This is an assumption that I actually kept throughout the majority of this trip. It wasn’t until the second half of the trip that I began to change my perspective on this topic.
Our group had the pleasure of visiting the Topnaar village just outside of the Gobabeb Research Center. While there, we met Oma and Opa, an elderly couple living in the Topnaar village. The Topnaar people farm communally as their means of survival. Oma did most of the talking and answered almost all of our questions.
She told us what an average day looks like for her and her husband. In the morning, she wakes up, makes breakfast, tends to her garden, prepares meals, sews dresses, minds the goats, does the wash, and household cleaning. To add to this long list, she has recently started to craft as a potential source of income.
For a couple like Oma and Opa, transitioning to commercial producers would be a bad idea. Communal livestock production only contributes 5% of the total agricultural output in Namibia. If Oma and Opa decided to go commercial with their goats, they would not be able to sustain. Even if they could sustain themselves, there is still little to no infrastructure that could support a physical move to market.
For the Topnaar community, communal farming is a key aspect of their culture. They are family oriented and hardworking. They help each other because they are not threatened by one another. If the Topnaar community all decided to go commercial, it would skew their cultural norms in a negative way.
When a fellow student asked if Oma and Opa were happy with the way they lived, Opa spoke up for the first time. He answered in such a way that speaks volumes to the Topnaar community’s way of life. He said, “What more could I want? I have my goats.”
In some cases, Americans have a tendency to be influenced by the ideology of the “American Dream”. Many feel that working hard and making money is what makes a person’s livelihood. I will admit that I used to be of the same school of thought. However, as I look at people like Oma and Opa, I realize that their livelihood comes from their ability to do what they value as important.
Does my changed perspective mean that I no longer value making money? No, that would not be the best mindset to have for my life goals. What my changed perspective means is this: as I strive to accomplish my goals in life, I will always remember that my living and my livelihood are two different things. My living is what keeps me alive and my livelihood is what keeps me happy.
Studying abroad in Namibia has truly been life changing. As this experience comes to an end, I am exceedingly grateful to those who facilitated this amazing journey. Thank you Dr. Jones, for pushing me to empathize with others and their culture. Dr. Wingenbach, I am so grateful to you for pushing me out of my comfort zone and helping me to grow as a person. Thank you, Professor Redwine, for providing me with a new set of skills to tell my story and cultivate my voice. Lastly, Dr. Rutherford, thank you for challenging me to step out from behind my camera and to actually look at Oma and Opa. My eyes have been opened and my heart has been filled to its measure. Thank you.
Just now on the Zambezi,