Little Black Sambo
‘Sambo’ was originally a fictional character created by the wife of a Scottish doctor in the Indian Medical Service, Helen Bannerman. The purpose was reading material for her two young daughters.
An admiring friend returning to England persuaded Bannerman to let him show the book to London publishers. Without her knowledge, the copyright was sold to Grant Richards for a measly five pounds (Bader, Barbara, 1996). Bannerman not only lost a fortune but right of direction. Meaning, Bannerman was unable to control not only the direction of her story, but its distribution.
Once the story hit the United States, it turned from “The Little Black Boy,” to the “Little Black ‘Sambo (Bader, Barbara, 1996).'” The novel resonated in the US and became a permanent fixture among educated Americans. Since, the term ‘Sambo’ has been used to denigrate and ministerially caricature the Negro-American as lazy, conniving, and more.
Outside of our Pumula accommodation are statues with striking resemblance to ‘Sambo.’ To the casual observer, these statues may represent a beautiful landscape; one that recalls the antebellum south. To me, these statues represent symbolic-violence; representing centuries of forced humiliation and oppression. I can only imagine how the Namibian staff feels working around these retro-progressive figures. Hopefully, they do not understand the mental slavery they are forced to embrace. Or hopefully they do.
However, we live in a world with constant bigotry and consistent perpetuation of bigotry. I wonder if the makers of these statues understand the pain they cause other people, but then again, only 29% of Americans have the undergraduate education to recognize a travesty such as ‘Sambo’ (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2010).
I was cooking a big dinner of curry, brown rice, and lentils when Shunying decided she’d take a shower after her long journey and Princess laid down for a nap before dinner. Joanne knocked on the door. She knew it was around dinner time and was preparing to join us.
She was frustrated at her lack of internet access the day before when we landed, and her inability to reach Edwin Tijramba, who had suggested stopping by the day we landed. Joanne looked at the phone Jan Weiss left for us on the counter. “Does anyone know about this phone?” she said while holding it up. Suddenly, the phone began to vibrate in her hand.
“It must be Scobie,” referring to our new friend and driver who took us to the airport, and to go shopping. She handed the phone over to me.
“Hello,” I answered. I was greeted with a different Namibian accent than I knew Scobie to have. The person on the other line who was obviously confused by finding my voice at the other end. I asked him who he was trying to reach. “I am trying to reach Joanne,” I recognized the voice from hearing an audio sample he had sent along with Paula Leitz from her last visit as Edwin – our main contact and narrator for the film. “Is this Edwin?” I asked and proceeded to introduce myself. He told me he was right outside our gate. I told him great, and that Joanne would meet him up there to greet him.
I woke up Princess and told Shunying we had a guest and frantically cleaned up our modest cabin in an attempt for it to appear presentable to visitors. I briefly fretted my appearance before giving that up in favor of the task at hand. Princess emerged, groggy but excited to make Edwin’s acquaintance. Someone texted Maurice, attempting to rouse him from his jet lag nap. Edwin appeared at our door, with a smile on his face at seeing us all the first time.
I awkwardly attempted the customary handshake and introduced myself, and we went down the line. I invited him to stay with us for dinner, and we offered him a glass of Pinotage, a distinctly South African red wine. He took us up on the offer.
Conversation was easy and friendly with Edwin. Having the large amount of background information provided to us by the Leitz’, as well as our extensive research on Namibia and the relationship between PLU, made the evening go smoothly and it began to inform the direction we would take in crafting interview questions and revising our story arc.
The hours passed easily, and soon it was time for us to see what Windhoek at night was like. Shunying tested her phone by calling Scobie, and somehow, Princess found out from him that there was a party that evening – a 1950s party at the Warehouse Theatre, a popular hangout for young Namibians. Scobie said he’d be happy to take us if we were ready in half an hour.
Edwin stayed around while the three of us haphazardly put together “50’s” outfits. When we emerged, Edwin insisted taking a picture with the beautiful young women, and said he’d join us for a short while.
We strolled up to the gate, where we noticed the dapper young Scobie – dressed in jeans, a blazer, and a scarf.
We arrived at the Warehouse Theatre, a popular lounge and bar with young Namibians. It was 9:00pm local time and the place was packed with bodies. We were surrounded by beautiful, trendy people laughing and greeting one another warmly. This is in stark contrast to where Princess and I hail from where people look through and past you in a crowded room, barely acknowledging others’ existence. I find myself feeling more in touch with humanity and that there are so many of us when I am here.
We were struck by the friendliness, kindness, and affection that these people expressed to one another and to new friends. The touchiness and familiarity that the locals have with strangers is almost unnerving to a foreigner who might come from a more reserved or individualist society. People are so friendly in fact, that they kept introducing us to more and more people, and asking where we were going next to join us. Windhoek is also a small city in terms of population – about 50% more in terms of population than my hometown, Tacoma, Washington. When they answered a call from a friend inquiring about where they were heading to next and who they were with, they said, “I’m going to Vibe with Scobie and the Americans.” Windhoek is also a very cosmopolitan, international city. Beyond its long history of colonization and numerous indigenous ethnic groups, people from all over visit and move there
We eventually found ourselves with the assistance of Scobie at a nightclub called Vibe, a two story building with two bars, a dance floor, and pool boasting American hip hop and South African house music. We danced late into the night until we all fell asleep on our feet at about 2:00am. We marveled that locals regularly stay out until 5:00am with no difficulty.
We hugged Scobie goodbye when he dropped us off in Pioneerspark, Windhoek – ready to embrace sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
Today I had the pleasure of David Muller’s (production assistant to us for much of Melannie’s work during the UNAM graduation) company when we went to ConSoAV – a local audiovisual business that specializes in equipment rental and lighting, conference A/V, and local production (such as concerts and shows). ConSoAV had agreed to rent us lights for the during of our time shooting in Namibia and opened its doors to David and I today to switch out the previous lighting kit for something smaller and more suitable for quick set up and breakdown for our interviews of The Nine.
When we arrived, I met Brian, owner of ConSoAV. He led us through a winding labyrinth of nearly-empty shopping mall. The only business that was open at the time was a place that sells “take-aways” a South African colloquialism for “take out” in the United States. It was across from a field and near an industrial area. A small family was selling fruit under a tree.
We arrived in the large storage unit turned garage and my heart sang. The detritus of cannibalized stage lighting intermixed with sophisticated live-switching hardware felt like so many public television stations and theater back stages and that felt like home to me. I could have spent all day there fixing decrepit fresnels and fashioning sets of barn doors. It reminded me of the necessity of resourcefulness in any kind of creative endeavor.
The deft fingers of Brian and his coworkers quickly replaced broken parts with found materials. “This is Africa,” Brian said. “If it doesn’t work, we make it work.” I admired that ingenuity and silently hoped some of that would rub off on me.
On meeting Ms. Louisa Mupetami:
Ms. Mupetami is a petite, gentle woman with a small voice. Standing at about 5’ 0” she graciously opened her arms to greet all of us as soon as she recognized us outside of the building. Being the one to interview her was dream come true. It is not often that i see my own face reflected in the movement I love so much (sustainability) and knowing that a powerful Black woman was responsible for changing the face of her country blows my mind.
When I say that she has changed the face of Namibia, I mean that she has: CHANGED. THE. FACE.
As Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, she is responsible to changes and distribution in natural resource management across the country. She has orchestrated efforts to raise the Black Rhino population twofold and the elephant population by 300% since taking office.
She has also implemented countless education programs all over the country and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty out in the field. In fact– this Saturday, the junior members of the team are all going out with her to tag wild buffalo in the plains! She is everywhere and still manages to keep her programs running smoothly.The woman is amazing, and for a Black hippie woman interested in environmental conservation (AHEM! Me) she is a testament to our ability.
What’s most inspiring about her, perhaps, is the way she speaks of her accomplishments and duties as if anyone could have been responsible. She is incredibly humble about her work, and very patient with questions (and my fangirl-like awe of her).
Madame Secretary filled our hour-long interview with anecdotes about her time at PLU, the ways that she grew while there, and the genuine love she received from campus. She remained thoughtful and poised in her responses, while also vividly describing what it was like to live in the apartheid era of Namibia.
Her additions to the documentary are well received and have us all excited about the interviews to come.
Meeting her felt like a three hour dream and I am leaving deeply inspired by her drive and the impact she has had on her community. She will continue to do great work, and Namibians across the country will continue to be positively affected. She is truly one of the best things to ever happen to the country.
N E W S R E L E A S E
For immediate release
June 4, 2014
CONTACT: Andrea Capere [email@example.com]
FILMMAKERS EXPLORE THE VALUE of EDUCATIONAL CONNECTION ACROSS TIME AND CONTINENTS
What is the value of a college education to nine Namibians, to their country, to the world?
A group of documentary filmmakers from Tacoma, Washington USA are in Windhoek, Namibia during the month of June to uncover what higher education meant to a group of Namibians who studied in the U.S nearly 20 years ago. The filmmakers, made up of alumni, faculty, staff and students from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, will unearth the stories of nine Namibians who left their homes to obtain degrees in higher education in the U.S. and the profound impact this experience has had on their lives, careers, and nation.
“Namibia Nine” will be narrated by Edwin Tjiramba, Director for Communications and Marketing for the University of Namibia, who as part of a select group of 100 Namibians was awarded the opportunity of a lifetime in the late 1980’s–to study at various universities in the United States of America. They left Namibia as part of a post-apartheid strategy by the Namibian Lutheran Churches in collaboration with their American and German counterparts to give promising young leaders the opportunity to obtain college degrees that were not previously available to them in their home country. Tjiramba began his journey in higher education, along with eight colleagues, at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.
“I was born in Namibia,” Tjiramba said. “But my future began at PLU.”
Over the years, a total of nine have graduated from PLU and returned to their homeland. Now, almost 20 years later, Tjiramba graduated from the University of Namibia this year with a degree in law. His PLU alumni colleagues have been equally successful in their careers, from forensics to foreign relations, education to environmental policy making. The US filmmakers are exploring the deep relationship these Namibians have with each other and the university they call their “home away from home.”
“Namibia Nine” is sponsored by the Wang Center for Global Education at Pacific Lutheran University. The project is being supervised by Professor Joanne M. Lisosky, Ph.d. and Melannie Denise Cunningham, M.B.A. and Director of Multicultural Recruitment at PLU.
The project has a broad focus with a presence on Facebook (Namibia Nine), WordPress (www.namibianine.wordpress.com) and Instagram. Most unique for PLU, the project has developed a crowdfunding site (www.indiegogo.com/projects/namibia-nine).
Andrea Capere: PLU graduate (2014)
Princess Reese: PLU graduate (2014)
Shunying Wang: PLU student
Maurice Byrd: PLU student
While traveling, perhaps the most immediate difference one can understand, interact with, and will vividly remember is the barrier presented by language.
But, while language can isolate, it can also provide moments of comic relief and child-like delight to the weary traveler. As soon as we landed in London, and since (landing in South Africa and Namibia) we’ve found and held onto a few gems!
Pumula is Zulu for “to relax” or “lie down and rest”. And how fitting after such a long journey! This is the name of our hotel accommodations.
In South Africa, Namibia, and the UK: Elevators are called “lifts”.
Restrooms/bathrooms are referred to as “toilets”. Although it would seem impolite to call them this in the states, when you think about it, it’s actually a really direct way to ask for what you need. Our driver, a young Namibian with an Afrikaner surname told us a beautifully illustrated joke about a South African visiting the US and eating a taco for the first time. Hilarity ensues when he is asked if he would like a napkin for “the big mess”.
A diaper is a “napkin” and a napkin is a “serviette”. Do NOT make the mistake of asking for a napkin at a diner. You will be looked at, maybe glanced at twice, and then asked to clarify why you would need a diaper immediately after eating.
A safari is a “trip” in Kiswahili. While chatting with a woman on the bus that took us to our last plane, Maurice and Joanne were encouraged to take a ‘safari’ to the coast. Confused, they were wondering what safari options were available before quickly being told that a safari could happen anywhere, any time.
Hurrah to colorful language that we did not grow up using, but has already made us feel like we are learning!
Hurrah to learning new things and working to soak in as much as possible!
Hurrah to this miraculous safari!