Linda Raven had what she calls a ?very stereotypical, white, suburban, middle class, Catholic childhood? in South Bend, Indiana. However, it should be no surprise that she now lives happily in Windhoek, Namibia. Allow me to explain.
As a young child, Raven?was naive about most things outside of her city. But when she got to middle school, that all changed. ?I started learning about the famine in Ethiopia, nuclear war, US involvement in Central America and other issues that sort of rocked my world,? she said. ? I wanted to fix all? the problems of the world.? I became a little hippy child.?
But like the majority of people, after graduating from college with a degree in mechanical engineering, she abandoned her idealism for a ?real job,? working as a U. defense contractor in Southern California.
?I loved living in California, enjoying the beach, the mountains, the natural wonders.? But I hated my job.? I was not inspired.”?So what did she do? She moved to Northern California to work at a small startup. But that job left her unfulfilled as well.
?I didn?t have a clue what to do. So, my sister suggested I join the US Peace Corps. It was out of the blue, but perfect.?
Perfect, but perhaps for the wrong reasons, she remembers. Unlike her childhood dreams, she did not join the Peace Corps to save the world. She joined to buy some time and have experiences that would hopefully give her guidance about what to do with her life. And for that, she felt guilty, until she spoke with other Peace Corps volunteers.
?Much to my surprise, almost no one I met when I got into the Peace Corps was there to save the world either,? she said. ?In hindsight, I think anyone there to save the world wouldn’t last long, as you soon realize that’s not possible.? We were all there for self-serving interests, which were possible to accomplish in the timeline.?
As a Peace Corps volunteer, Raven?worked in Namibia. Three years later and ?overwhelmed by the desperate need? to rectify the gross inequality she had seen, Raven?started to feel like the work she was doing in the name of ?development? wasn?t enough. It wasn?t getting to the root of the problem and even appeared to be serving the interests of the donors more than the recipients.
When I meet people in the US, I’m always careful to say that I live in Namibia, but many people simplify it for themselves and say something about me living in ‘Africa’, which I don’t think is particularly useful.
So she traveled for six months to try to process it all. Then moved back to the States to work in the renewable energy business.
?I figured I would just keep my head down, do something I could do with my mechanical engineering degree and make the world a better place in my small way.? After two years of that, this itch to understand what I had seen in Namibia became too strong.? So, I decided to go back and get a master?s degree? in international development and social change.? I chose to go to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts because they are very critical of mainstream approaches to development.?
As the two-year program came to a close, Raven?stumbled across a job opening in Windhoek, Namibia, teaching about development to university students from the United States on a study abroad program.
?I was over the moon!? she said joyfully. ?This was an opportunity that would allow me to continue asking these critical questions [about development], while working with people who are culturally a bit similar to me, while living in Namibia, and earning a salary!? What more could you ask for??
Raven?loves her job as the program coordinator and instructor for the Center for Global Education and Experience. She enjoys the slow pace of life in Windhoek, has made several friends and even started teaching Yoga. ?When I first came to Namibia as a Peace Corps volunteer, I found teaching without a background in education extremely stressful.? My sister sent me a book on yoga which ended up being a lifeline.? It made me feel very empowered of my own life.? I wanted to share this with others.?
Namibia is a richly diverse nation, and while this diversity is seen the capital city, it is clear that certain neighborhoods are a true reflection of the people that live within them. ?Klein Windhoek, Eros and Olympia are higher end suburbs.? They are quite expensive, and mainly white?, says Raven.
?There are people of color in these areas, but not so many.? So, people of color living in these areas should be prepared for stares and to see doors getting locked when they walk past. Windhoek West, Pioneers Park and Hochland Park are a bit more diverse and friendly.? Most of the other neighborhoods are predominately black.? While some of them are quite nice, they may be hard to live in for white people. For black people moving to Windhoek, some of these areas could be nice.?
As a White American, Raven is often reminded about Namibia?s history of conflict between the races.
?Although apartheid ended 25 years ago, the city is still very much defined by race,? she told us. ?Few people have interracial friendships. There is interracial cordiality and small talk, but as far as really hanging out with people and feeling close, I don’t see it very much.?
She recalled one particularly telling incident when a group of her students went to a ?white? night club. ?An African-American student was dancing with a white student.? When he went to the bathroom he got beaten up by four white boys yelling at him in Afrikaans.? Of course, he had no idea what they were saying and I think once they heard his American accent screaming in English, ?What the hell?? they probably figured out what was going on.? But Namibian or American, obviously no one should be beaten up for dancing with someone from a different racial group.?
As a foreigner, she?s also found challenges socializing with white Namibians, who often speak in their mother tongue, especially when they are discussing black or colored Namibians. ?There are often awkward moments where they use coded language to talk about ?them.?? I’m never quite sure how to be true to myself and respond in a way that could encourage the person I am speaking with to think deeply about what was said…I have been rebuked on more than one occasion for speaking about race in Namibia when I’m not from here and don’t fully understand it. I don’t want to just shut people down, I want to engage in dialogue.?
Despite some of the barriers, Raven?is happy and has no plans to move back to the United States. In fact, she?s about to marry her Angolan partner, and may be moving to Angola.
The thing she misses most about the US is her family. ?My parents are aging, moving into assisted living and overall requiring a lot more assistance.? I have nieces and nephews who hardly know me. I often wish I could blink and come back to the U.S. to visit for a weekend now and again.?
She believes more people don?t visit – or move to – Africa because of stereotypes and ignorance about just how large and diverse the continent is. ?If they hear a negative news story about something that happened in one place, they seem to assume that the entire continent has that problem.?
If you are an American or non-African considering a move?to Africa, Linda?s advice is: pack light. ?I often see people showing up with huge suitcases, it looks like they think there is nothing here.? Trust that you will find what you need wherever you are going, or something even better.
Raven?says even people familiar with Namibia are prone to making offensive statements. ?I sometimes hear people refer to Namibia as ?Africa-lite?.? I really don’t know what that means. I think people are referring to the fact that there is potable water in the taps 24/7, reliable electricity and minimal corruption.? So does this mean that Africa, by definition, means contaminated water, irregular electricity supplies and corruption?? What hope do we have for the continent if Africa by definition must be these things??
Raven?attributed a lot of fear associated with visiting the continent with ignorance, the kind that is perpetuated by today?s media. ?I think there is still so much unfortunate ignorance about amenities which are available on the continent and security.? It?s a huge continent with so much diversity throughout.? Since many people are unfamiliar with the geography if they hear a negative news story about something that happened in one place, they seem to assume that the entire continent has that problem.?
?When I meet people in the US, I’m always careful to say that I live in Namibia, but many people simplify it for themselves and say something about me living in ‘Africa’, which I don’t think is particularly useful?, she added.
If you are an American or non-African considering a move?to Africa, Linda?s advice is: pack light. ?I often see people showing up with huge suitcases, it looks like they think there is nothing here.? Trust that you will find what you need wherever you are going, or something even better.?