During my pre-service training I spent three weeks living in a village in Oshana Region, learning Oshikwanyama and practicing teaching science. I lived with a host family, walked 45 minutes to and from school each day to teach my classes and learned to live without electricity or running water. It is also here that I feel in love with Namibia’s people, landscape and dark starry sky.
Over the past weekend, I went back to my host family’s house for the wedding of my host cousin. Everyone donned his or her best attire, looking beautiful and bright! They sang, danced and were merry. While there I came to the realization that as my service comes to an end, I have made a full circle… quite literally.
My first day of community-based training, I was dropped by the Peace Corps kombi at my new home that was full of (many, many) strangers due to the wedding of my host aunt. I remember being so overwhelmed, afraid that I would say a something wrong and offend someone. There were people everywhere, tents sent up around the house, and I had no idea who actually lived here, where I would be staying. (I was silently hoping that it wasn’t everyone.)
I was put on food duty with a bunch of women, who each told me their name and how they were related to the family. (I promptly forgot each as I met the next person.) We made massive tubs (not bowls, tubs… bigger than a baby’s bath tub) of potato salad with sugar, canned hot dogs, tangy mayonnaise, pineapple Fanta and a few potatoes. We stayed inside the kitchen huts to avoid the sun, while waiting for the wedding party to arrive from church. Cool drink was passed around and I drank more than I should have. When he heard cars and horns honking, we rushed to get dressed. We went out to meet the bride and groom as they came in. I was passed around from group to group showing off my “fluency” in the language through greetings. I remember being relieved once my language teacher and Brooke, a fellow trainee who lived with my host uncle’s family, showed up. We ate meat and drank cool drink until the stars came out above. That was my first wedding in Ovamboland.
This weekend, Brooke and I returned for another wedding at my family’s house. However, this time was different. I took a taxi to the nearby shopping mall where I waited for “someone” (an unidentified person from the house, who was driving my sister’s car) to pick me up. When I arrived, I walked into a house full of (many, many) family members who greeted me with smiling faces, happy to welcome me home for the wedding. I threw my things into my room and walked around the house greeting familiar faces. When there is a wedding, EVERYONE contributes and helps to get ready, so I jumped right in. I scavenged and carried plates to the wedding tent, held babies so their moms could get things done, and handed out drinks. When the wedding party arrived to the house, I rushed to get dressed to welcome the bride and groom along with the rest of the family. I looked on as my meme gave a speech (dressed like a Kween), as the couple did their traditional walk around the house, and as the bridal party danced in the tent. I wasn’t shown off this time, I was greeted in local language. Brooke and I ate meat and drank cool drink until the stars came out again. When the ladies of the family went to sing and dance for the sleeping bride, we were there enjoying it and trying to “lililili” like them.
As I took part in this wedding, I came to a few realizations. This will probably be my last wedding in Ovamboland and definitely the last at my host family’s house (at least during my service). I have come full circle with both my first and last weddings being at the same house, with the same people, however I have changed. During the last almost two years that I have lived here in Ovamboland, I have had experiences that will last a lifetime.
My biggest realization over the weekend was this… while meeting so many new people overwhelmed me the first time, this weekend I was welcomed home with open arms by family. When I got picked up for this wedding, a meme in the car asked my name, to which I said Ndeileh (my Sierra Leonean name which I used during training, since no one could say Clarice). She exclaimed “OH! You are Mee Alvina’s Ndeileh!” My host family here might not be blood related, but they have taken care of and watched out for me over my service. When I need a place to stay they will open their house to me. When I need to get picked up from the bus, someone is waiting there for me. When I thank them for doing these things, they say, “Why are you thanking me? You are my sister...” Knowing that they have adopted me as their daughter, sister, niece and cousin brings me so much joy. They are my Namibian mother, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles. So we’ve dropped the word “host.” They are just my family and that is forever. And that is the best realization of all.