For those of you who were starting to wonder whether I had been eaten by a lion, I can assure you that I am back home safe and sound. Back home in Norway, that is! And even though I have had a good time and experienced a lot during my seven weeks in Namibia, I have to say that it feels extremely good to be back home too.
Matt, the American Peace Corps volunteer in Khorixas, asked me the day before I left; so, what will you tell all the people at home when they ask if Namibia was as you expected it to be? And that was not an easy question. Because it wasn’t really as I expected it to be, but then again, I can’t really say exactly how I expected it to be, either.
To put everything I have experienced this summer down on paper would be impossible. And for that matter, I don’t think I have realised everything I have learned yet, I guess that comes with time and distance. But what I do know is that I have learned a lot; about Namibia, about other people and cultures, and not to forget – I have learned a lot about myself.
Of course I have experienced both positive and negative things during the last seven weeks. I have seen things that made me cry, I have heard things that left a big lump in my troat. The words “extreme poverty” and “living of less than a dollar a day” have become painfully real to me. Because even though they have tried to hide the extreme poverty in areas called Donkerhoek (The Dark Corner) outside the towns (out of sight, out of mind?), it is there. One of the UN’s millenium development goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger within 2015. There is certainly a long way to go. The people in Donkerhoek have never heard about the UN. They live in sheds with no electricity or water, and struggle to get one meal a day. Seeing this, the millenium goal seems so far away. I don’t see how it can be obtained. But I certainly hope that there is a way.
The crime rate is also high, and as a response to this there were always guards with guns in the grocery store, in the pubs, everywhere. I guess they were there to protect us, but I always found it a little uncomfortable. And one thing I think I could never get used to is the lack of freedom I often felt. I am used to being able to walk home alone at four o’clock in the morning, or go jogging by myself in the woods. Now I couldn’t be outside after dark, not unless I had someone go with me. In Khorixas that was OK, because I always had someone to walk with, but in Windhoek it was more difficult. To walk around in the centre by myself was OK, but I tried not to go outside downtown. And I couldn’t take a taxi alone either, so I was pretty much stuck in the centre or at the guesthouse. The fact that I couldn’t go out alone after dark made me feel that six hours were cut off my day, and I didn’t like that feeling. This has really made me appreciate the freedom I have here in Norway, a freedom which I always used to take for granted.
But I shouldn’t only focus on the negative side, because I have experienced a lot of great things this summer also. One thing is the culture, all the music and dancing – that will bring you in a good mood even if you’re having a bad day. I have met a lot of really nice people, and the hospitality and friendliness that I met from people was amazing. Namibians might not be rich when it comes to material things, but they are certainly very rich in culture, hospitality and friendliness. And my host family was great. It was so nice of them to take me into their house for a few weeks, and they not only took me into their home but also into their family. After the four weeks I spent up there I really felt like one of the family, and it was sad to leave. The children were a wide range of ages – 2, 8, 18 and 20 – so they all had different interests which meant that I got to experience a lot of different things. I can’t wait to see them again when I go back this winter.
And I have also met some other amazing and inspiring people who have started many interesting projects for children from poor or troubled areas. Since my project is about sports for development, I also wanted to talk to people who have started other sport projects in the country. And it turned out to be quite a few. I met a woman who had started a weekly football tournament for several hundred kids to keep them away from doing “not-so-good”-things and give them confidence and organization skills. I met a guy who had started an organization that imported thousands of broken bikes from abroad so that people could learn mechanical skills and open small businesses, in addition to exercising and improving their health. I met someone who had started an organization that focused on young kids who had come in trouble with the police – and which also organized sports events to keep these kids out of the streets. And I met many more. And to see what these projects do for the kids - how happy they are when they are playing, and how much they appreciate having something like this to do – that is a great sight. I know that sport is not a miracle cure that can fix all the problems in the world. Not by a long shot. It doesn’t end poverty, hunger, criminality or conflicts. But it can certainly be a helping factor in some cases. And it gives the kids something to do, a free time where they can think about something else than all the difficulties at home. Sports can’t help them all. But it can help some. And that’s important too.