Peace Corps Narnia
“Namibia, huh. You sure it’s not Nambia? I’m pretty sure it’s Nambia. Or Narnia. Is Peace Corps sending you to Narnia? I bet Africa is full of lions, witches, and centaurs. Will you bring me back a centaur?”
While my friends and family are geographically and fictionally challenged at times they supported my decision to quit my job, sublet my condo, uproot my life, and move to another continent. In all truthfulness, they knew protesting my decision was futile as I had set my mind on moving to Africa and they knew that this day would inevitably come.
I had visited South Africa years earlier and fell in love with the natural beauty, vibrant life, and people. I was lucky; my interest in human rights, African studies, and enduring friendships prepared me in ways that would only become evident once I accepted the assignment in Namibia. I am not one to go into a situation unprepared and, as such, drew upon the knowledge of South African friends and their stories of living under the apartheid regime, Namibia’s struggle for independence from South Africa, and how the racial issues impacted their personal past and present.
Namibia, formerly South-West Africa, was incorporated as a fifth province by South Africa and the white minority were represented through South Africa’s Parliament under the apartheid regime. Life under the classification system was difficult for all races; a coloured friend recounted his tales of growing up in a second-class society where he wasn’t able to interact with whites but also was shunned by the black community, a black friend explained how she has lived in the same township her entire life and still sees the influence of apartheid, a white friend recounted his time in the South African Border War under mandatory South African Armed Forces conscription where he was trained to believe that he was fighting terrorists.
These stories served as stepping-stones as I navigated friendships, underlying distrust for white foreigners, and the complexities of daily interactions of life in Namibia. While many locals would treat me like a movie star others would use their might to undermine my work as retribution for injustices inflicted on them by previous generations and it became clear how deep these issues ran even after 20 years of independence.
So when someone asks what was the most memorable moment of my two years in Namibia I respond that it is the knowledge that we are not so different from each other as we choose to believe. We all deal with issues of race, gender, wealth, and other segregating factors; we all see injustice in an unfair world; and we all do things in the name of patriotism. These things do not separate us; they, in fact, show us our true similarities.
My friends were right in some respects; while there are lions and witches (though no centaurs) in Africa there are also people, like you and me, getting up and making daily decisions that impact their jobs, family, and friends. Sometimes they will make heroic choices and sometimes they will make not so great choices as we all do, everyday.