Well I went to the weddings back in October and have had this written for forever, but better late than never ne?! When I was on my way to site visit, I had the chance to go to an Owambo wedding in Windhoek. It was certainly interesting, for the cool cultural things that I saw, and mostly because it represented what I find fascinating about Nam – that traditional and modern exist alongside each other at all times. The night before the wedding was a traditional Owambo ceremony, and I caught the end of it, when the bride-to-be sat in the middle of her family room as friends and families came up to her while everyone sang. The last person to come up to her was her grandfather, which apparently was a really big deal because he left his farm to come see her. It was cool!
The next day we actually went to someone else’s wedding, also Owambo, but the ceremony was pretty modern. Apparently before the wedding begins the bridal party spends time together, so they all showed up late, and had to scramble for seats in the way too small church, leaving me feeling all kinds of awkward because I somehow ended up in the same row as the bride’s parents […?] and I don’t think many of her close friends made it inside the church. Ah well. The wedding was pretty standard as far as I can tell, half in Afrikaans (which I’d only been learning for 2 weeks, so I didn’t understand anything), half in Oshiwambo. The interesting part though came when the minister decided to speak in English [hooray!] and give a 20 minute speech about domestic violence. He incorporated it alongside the idea that the marriage vows of ‘obeying’ your spouse do not mean violence is allowed or to be tolerated. He went on to talk about how God doesn’t expect the wife to endure violence and adultery. Although I would never think to hear about this topic during a wedding, it was so cool to see how engaging and passionate the minister and then the oshiwambo translator were about this. In this society, cheating is so common, and I’ve already talked about the high prevalence of domestic violence. It was really awesome to hear the minister include the expectations of monogamy and equality into his sermon, especially because ministers are so influential in such a religious country.
After that wedding, even though we missed the actual ceremony, we went to the reception for Bride #1 from the night before. It was a reception with swag [apparently she is the niece of Namibia’s first President!]. I followed my Principal’s wife around, as the men were sitting off together, and we went to check out the food in the kitchen. I was a little taken aback when I walked in and almost stepped on a cow… skinless, chilling on the floor. I just stared at it for a while, and realized the only portion with skin was the head, which I noticed from an ear poking out from a trashbag covering. Then I saw a massive bucket of potato salad with flies swarming around it. One of the women mentioned to me that once when they had a bucket that size, the women didn’t have a spoon to stir it, so someone just used her arm, and reached down so her entire arm was in the salad stirring. This was the point at which I decided I was going to try and stay away from eating at future wedding receptions, or else fear some stomach issues. [Ed. note: at this point in my service, new me will definitely and without a doubt eat free and delicious food at a wedding reception. What was I thinking!?]
Anyway, fast forward to the present. Last week in our daily teacher meeting my principal told us that one of the young male teachers at my school was going to be absent from school for the next two days, as his child had died. As far as I know his son’s death was unexpected, he was only a few days to perhaps a week old. Later during the day I found out that classes were being cut short and all the teachers would be attending the funeral. We all headed over to the hospital, and stood outside singing as some people went to view the baby. The minister read some prayers [all of this was in oshiwambo], and then we all stood by as the coffin was placed in the bakkie. The coffin was so small, I have never seen anything like it. We then all followed a slow car procession to the cemetery that is right next to my host family’s neighborhood. As we walked to the back of the cemetery, I noticed something that fundamentally gave me a reality check. As we went further into the cemetery [which I assume is relatively new to Luderitz from the recent dates on the tombstones], I realized that the graves on the right side of me were different than those on the left. Once we reached our spot for the funeral I understood why. There is a whole section of the cemetery that is for children, specifically babies. Their graves do not have tombstones, and naturally are much, much smaller. Sometimes living in Luderitz gives me a bit of an illusion that my life is not that different than life in America. Moments like this one serve to remind me that I don’t live in America, I live in a developing country, a country where maternal healthcare is not up to standards. Anyway, that aside, the service began, again everything was in Oshiwambo so I, along with half the teachers who also didn’t speak the language, stood in support as several other teachers led in the hymns. The minister gave a sermon, after which they lowered the baby’s coffin into the grave. After this, my colleague placed the first shovelful of sand into the grave. He then stood next to it and watched as all of the males in attendance each took turns shoveling sand to fill the grave, while the women sang owambo hymns. After the grave had been filled the men all went to the back of the cemetery’s plot and collected rocks. All of the children’s graves have a rectangular piling of rocks on top of the grave in place of a tombstone, with a wooden cross at the front that has a plaque with the child’s name and dates of birth/death. The men arranged this, and after another short sermon the service was over. Definitely some interesting cultural experiences.