Friday, September 21, 2012

American Cultural Day

Early Saturday morning, a few of us trainees walked from our homes in the location (a word for the more run-down suburbs of towns where black Namibians were forced to live in during the era of apartheid) to the training center.  We had been planning for almost two weeks, and the day had finally arrived.  We would be showing our new Namibian families our American culture.  We had been so privileged to experience the many different cultures of Namibians a month prior, and it was our turn to sing and dance and cook foods from our land. 

Just like the incredible diversity the Namibians have, we wanted to show our families the wonderful diversity that America is so known for.   Unfortunately most non-Americans only know us from the television shows they see on TV.  This was a day for us to not only show them that we are so much more than the Amazing Race and Barack Obama, but also how we as a culture have embraced the cultures of so many other countries.

We began the day slowly, like all events in Namibia do.  Having a better understanding of ‘Africa Time’, this did not bother us like it would have two months ago.  Slowly, family and friends trickled in, and we showed them some dances we know.  Of course, we began with the Macarena.  We tried to get some of our friends to join, but they were much more content watching us make fools out of us.  That was fine, because we were having a lot of fun.

After a few speeches from our trainers, it was our turn.  Our language groups had written and practiced speeches in our new languages, thanking our families for all of the wonderful kindness and patience they had shown us.  These people, who do not have a lot to begin with, were willing to take us into their homes and treat us like family.  To many of them, everything we did was completely foreign and confusing, much the same way their actions were with us.  But we slowly had a beautiful cultural exchange.  Our speeches acknowledged their kindness and thanked them profusely for their love and friendship. 

Here is a video of my speech in Otjiherero.  I must warn you, that while I did write the speech, it was done in English and translated.  Therefore, I probably only understood half of what I was saying and just memorized the pronunciation of the other half.  Still, I don’t think I did half bad for only 2 months of language training and 3 days of practicing the speech!

(Well, apparently there's not going to be any videos from me.  The internet here is so slow that it won't let me upload them.  I will hopefully figure out how and put them up as soon as possible.)

Finally, the most important part of the day arrived!  The food!  Those of us that had been in charge (myself, Laurel, Sam, and Lindsay) had spent the last week buying food and supplies during our lunch breaks and after sessions for the different groups.  We had people making Mexican food (tacos!) Italian (pizza, spagetti and garlic bread) Southern (mac and cheese, which I ate 2 serving of.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone.)  Desserts (pies, cookies, and cake) Jewish (latkas, for the new year), Cape Verdian (a wonderful bean soup from the two who transferred from there), American (chili and cornbread) Asian ( curry, and other dishes I can't name) and Breakfast (french toast and scrambled eggs).  Even though I was unable to try everything, I could tell that everyone was really enjoying the food.  It was nice to not only show our thanks for the families taking us in as their own, but also show them what we find ‘normal’ food back home.  It was also really nice for us to be able to eat ‘normal’ foods!

While preparing for this day was incredibly long and stressful, I was so happy that I had chosen to be part of the committee working on it.  It was the least I could do for everything that has been done for us over the last 2 months.  This was also an unofficial goodbye party for all of us and our families.  In less than a week we will all be gone from Okahandja, living in our new homes.  I know, though, that I will always have a family to turn to in Okahandja.  I hope that I will be able to visit them, and them me, many times over the next 2 years.  While we have not always seen eye to eye (which is normal for 2 completely different cultures with no knowledge of the other), we have learned and grown so much!  I will miss seeing them every day, and I hope that this event showed them how much I care.  How much we all care about our new families.

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