As a young undergrad at CSULB, I was involved in the anti-apartheid movement. I was involved with human rights issues long before college, however, this was at my heart as I wanted to live in Africa. There was no sure sense of whether I wanted to be an anthropologist and work alongside the Leakey’s, a biologist and work along Jane Goodall or Diane Fossey or some career in the medical field and work with an organization such as Doctors Without Borders. What mattered to me was my choice be full of heart and something that would be seen as good and positive in the world.
It has turned out that I spend my time as both a formal and informal educator – science, maths, history, citizen of the world, gardening, quilting, friendships and so on. All of these things seemed to make me human rather than what I may have idealized myself as being earlier in my life.
Although apartheid was ‘demolished’ and Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, apartheid continues to be alive and well on the continent of Africa – it just seems to be called something else. I found this out as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia in 1998-1999. If you are not clear on the history of this region of Africa, it bears out some research to understand how Namibia became an independent country in the late 1980’s and the relationship Namibia has/had with South Africa.
Ten years after independence, things were not anywhere near different from the worst of the worst of any inner city in America – in fact, far worse. Education was just wending its way out of the capitol city, Windhoek, and reaching out into the various village regions. The movie The Gods Must Be Crazy best reflects what was going on and not what Namibia showed promise to become. I was amazed that even though the movie was supposed to be funny, it turned out to be more historical fiction and even then, not much on the fictional side.
When I ended up in the Caprivi Strip (an area I desperately wanted to live in as it was near the Zambezi River and above the Red Line) which was remote, beautiful and perhaps the best representation at the time of Sub-Saharan Africa, I was in love with it all. I don’t think there was anything which could have dissuaded me from my soon to be long term camping trip/cultural adventure/learning experience of a lifetime/friendship building opportunity. I met so many wonderful people, I do not quite recall the white S. A.’s or Afrikaaners which drove me crazy at the time; I remember the Namibians – the tribe members of my region and the lessons they taught me.
I remember my host family in Okahandja, who were Herero and Nama/Damara, of which one of my Namibian Grandmothers looked very much related to me by skin color, hair and body type. Natasha and Wilhelm Brinkman were my host parents and there could be no better parents! My grandparents were wonderful. I felt truly loved. I had cousins/sisters/brothers – a full family!
I also clearly remember a young man named Peter Simasiku, from Cincimani, the village where two other Peace Corps Volunteers (Abby and Rob) taught. Peter was not part of my host family in Okahandja – he was a member of a tribe in the Caprivi. He seemed to have been ‘raised/taught’ by various Peace Corps Volunteers over the years and had taken a liking to what he learned of American Culture, or that which Peace Corps Volunteers could provide. Peter was the little brother we all wish we had growing up – he took to the joy of learning and was always happy. His smile is what always intrigued me – it was both pure happiness with a touch of teen-age naughtiness. He was sincere, well spoken and genuinely caring. There was something about Peter which just made you want to be in his presence – his abundant glow about living.
Peter wanted to become a teacher. The last I had seen of him, he was in teacher training college and I was (and remain) quite positive he would be an outstanding, committed and wonderful teacher. The last I saw of Peter was about a week before a terrible civil war in the Caprivi Strip. I never saw him again, but I found out Peter was the person who went to check up on me and many other volunteers to make sure/certain we got ‘out’. Peter was the one who found what might have been left of our personal belongings and got them to Peace Corps. Peter was forever etched in my mind – not for what happened after I was gone, but the person I knew and thought the world of while I was in Namibia.
Peter explained to me that Simasiku meant ‘born in the night’. Although I know this is a literal meaning, I took it as something more expansive. I have always let Simasiku mean something such as dream come true or what could really happen if one believed because those are also things born of the night. Inside, I always promised myself that should I ever be fortunate enough to need a name for an organization or business that was about something ‘good’, it would be called Simasiku.
During the past month I was packing – of all the things I could not part with and feared losing were pictures – particularly those of family and Peace Corps (my other family….). I scanned and printed copies so the originals could stay at home with my mother – in a safe place. One of the pictures I stumbled on was Peter and I had placed it by the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible and oft sung by The Byrds:
A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
There was nothing ‘religious’ behind putting his picture with this portion of the bible – it was what Peter made me realize as a volunteer. It was the same feeling I had when I stumbled on the picture all these years later. There is indeed a time for where I am in my life right now.
It has now been 10 years since Peace Corps and a different ‘Simasiku’ is coming to fruition – the dream I have had for so very long, since childhood – to be back in Africa.
I think I found Peter on Facebook this morning. I have sent an e-mail. I would like to meet Peter as an adult, as a teacher, as the very embodiment and promise of what I believe Africa has to offer the world.