Fear. We all feel it at times. Even right now we feel it as we sit in our homes, waiting anxiously to see friends, eat in restaurants, and dispel the invisible virus that may touch us all. I have heard before, “Don’t embrace fear, be fearless.” However, being fearless isn’t possible. My grandfather who was a one-star general in the U.S. Army and served in three wars had a mantra. If you are not fearful going into battle, there is something wrong.
While fear is a natural human emotion, there is something we can embrace to counteract it. Courage. I learned this lesson while interviewing the Namibian Ambassador to the United States Monica Nashandi. Her story appears in my book A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World.
Over chamomile ginger tea served on a silver tray, Ambassador Monica Nashandi started our conversation: “I’ll tell you the story of Namibia. It’s a country that was colonized by the Germans for about thirty years, and then was under South African control for seventy years, including the apartheid time. Namibians launched a struggle for independence. In this struggle, women participated hand in hand with men.”
Nashandi looked at me intently through her dark-rimmed rectangular glasses, demonstrating her concentration and openness. With short hair and a friendly demeanor, you would not guess that she once held a gun at the frontlines for Namibia’s independence.
She painted a vivid picture of Namibian history, lamenting the exploitation, stolen resources, and discrimination of her people. “Women were doubly exploited,” Nashandi argued. “Traditionally, women were supposed to be confined to the kitchen — that is exploitation. And then they were exploited by the system because it favored men over women.” Nashandi recalled that the two career options available to women during apartheid were to become a nurse or teacher. Namibian independence was crucial for the people and critical for women.
Born into the apartheid system under heavy South African military control, Nashandi attended one of the two missionary schools that taught English. She remembered how students were harassed, fields were destroyed, community members were arrested, and Namibians were beaten up. In a graphic image, she said, “There were military vehicles with people tied to the exhaust pipes, dragging them to death.”
Nashandi’s school was near a large military base, which meant that the harassment of the students and teachers was a frequent occurrence. “They would come at night and harass us before school started. Then they would go into the classrooms with their weapons and kick out the teachers to disrupt the school. We were so scared.” Nashandi and her friends discussed participating in the struggle for independence but staying inside the country was too risky. With a few of her classmates, she escaped by crossing the border to Angola. Out of fear that her family would be harassed, she didn’t tell them she was leaving.
Imagine that kind of resolve — not telling your mother you are leaving your family and fleeing the country. Nashandi’s dedication to protecting her family and the willpower to improve her country was astounding.
In 1978, the South Africans launched an airborne attack on the refugee camp organized by the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO). Nashandi survived, but some of her friends died, and it motivated her to go and fight. Although fearful, she embraced courage. Trained by the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, she joined SWAPO’s armed wing unit and fought on the frontlines in the Namibian War of Independence. During that time, she met her future husband. As the war raged, Nashandi got married “in the bush.”
Emerging from the shadow of apartheid and fighting for independence were only precursors to a turning point in her journey. While in exile in 1983, Nashandi attended the University of Zambia and got her diploma in youth and development. A year later, she gave birth to her daughter. When her daughter was only ten months old, Nashandi left her with the refugee camp community as SWAPO sent her across the world to campaign for Namibia’s independence.
Curious what happened next? Her story continues in Chapter 3 of the book as she used courage to rise in the ranks of leadership. Through a winding path, she became Namibia’s first woman Ambassador to the United States.
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World. I hope you enjoyed the post! If you’re interested in reading A Seat at the Table, it is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo! If you want to connect, follow me on Twitter @realSusanSloan and reach me on my website susansloan.com.