By Ashwini Manohar
Lying in bed on my second night in Malawi, I decide that I had spent all five weeks of my last trip here in the honeymoon stage of culture shock, because it occurs to me that this is what disintegration feels like. I am officially in stage two of culture shock, and unequivocally miserable.
So listless I am, in fact, that words like ‘excited’ and ‘happy’ and ‘hopeful’ have been expunged from my vocabulary. Everything is grey. My limbs weigh a ton. I kick dust when I walk, not because I want to, but because I’d rather drag my feet around than lift them. The mattress I slept on last year (which I loved) is now too thin, and I wake up with my shoulders and hips aching. The food is now too greasy. Why is everything fried? My feet, perpetually caged in hiking boots, are hot and damp and entirely uncomfortable. I break the rules and walk around with flip flops in the hostel one evening. I sigh a lot. I frown a lot. I worry about impending wrinkles from all the frowning and UV damage. I slather my skin in more sunscreen than I need, more times during the day than necessary. I’m a quarter of a century old. I think about Botox. I feel sad. My stomach makes awful noises. I dig out my makeup case from my luggage and spend fifteen minutes every morning putting on foundation, mascara, lipstick and filling in my eyebrows. I feel a little better. Temporarily. I’m bloated and gassy.
I’m such a walking caricature of privileged misery that even in the depths of it, I realize how ridiculous I must look to someone on the outside. This is like the anguish Kim Kardashian must feel when she breaks a fake fingernail. Or so I imagine.
I walk around to the tuck shop the very same day we arrive on campus. This was my project last year.
The shelves are gnarly and twisted, and there is barely anything on them. The walls look like someone has trickled watery poop all over it. The counter is half the size it used to be.
There was heavy wind and rain I was told and the roof tore off. We had termites everywhere, it was so humid in here that things started spoiling. We fixed the roof and I spent my own money to buy termite repellent to spray everywhere. Then I was told people said, “Asha’s coming, we’ll wait, she’ll fix it.”
No, I almost scream. This is your community tuck shop. Why were you waiting for me? What if I hadn’t come back this year?
Smiles but there is no answer at this point
By Yuyin Ning
Disintegration Stage: As the euphoria of the “newness” wears off, the perceive negative reality of the host culture begins to affect the student in an uncontrollable way. Confusion, tension and frustration are then mixed with a student’s desire to attempt to “fix” problems in the host culture. An overwhelming feeling of despair and hoplessness is often described, with thoughts of self-blame and hopelessness. (Pedersen, 1995; Stonebanks, 2013, p264)
As planned, we had the chance to observe some classes at Chilanga Sighted Elementary School. The First class was a Standard Five Class. The moment we showed up in the classroom, all the students stood up and said: ” Good morning Sir.” We smiled and answered back:” Good morning, students.” The headmaster said something in Chichewa (local language) and arranged for us to sit at the back of the classroom. Class started. Not surprisingly, many of students kept staring at us now and then. I ignored them, and there was a kind of similarity rising up. I was pretty sure the same thing would happen if some “asungu” (foreigners) showed up in my elementary school.
The feeling of similarity showed up in my mind a couple times when I was eating “Nsima” (a local food made by corn flour and water); when I saw the chicken or goats running around; and when I was watching the beautiful starry sky. I grew up in a small village in China. I didn’t think of my early childhood experience often until I got here.
I looked around the classroom. There were about 50 students sitting on the ground sharing seven English books. They sat in circles with the English book in the middle. Each group had about 6-12 students. The teacher was talking in front. I couldn’t hear clearly. A lot of people were gathering outside of classroom, waiting for the procedure of getting national IDs. Their voices came into the classroom directly from the window without glass. I couldn’t see clearly. The black board was in really poor condition. It was very hard for students to concentrate on the class. Not to mention too that some classes were given outside of the classroom since there was not enough classrooms in the school.
The English class session lasted for about 30 minutes. The students were reading the paragraph in the textbooks. The teacher was very encouraging them to read and answer questions by saying: “Try it!” “Thank you for trying.” Therefore, the students were all willing to answer questions by raising up their hands and clipping their fingers to show their eagerness. Despite the very poor environment, the teacher was trying her best to create a safe and secure English learning environment for children.
After class, we had a very short talk with the teacher. She mentioned that for the students learning English, it was very difficult for them to comprehend some concepts that are not familiar to them, such as the word “pub”. There is no electricity in the school. The only way is to draw on the paper. The study resources are too limited here. I totally understand what she means. When I was learning English, a similar thing happened to me. I understood what the word “bus stop” meant literally, but I couldn’t comprehend it. Because there is no bus in my village, and the bus in the town stopped whenever we waved our hands to it.
The fact of the limited resource here makes me really upset. Everything about us is new to them, who we are, where we from, what kind of food we eat, what kind of life we have. The simplest life back in Canada is something far beyond their imagination. I thought about their situation and the reason behind of it, the government system, the education criteria, the teachers development. Is there anything we can do here? In every school, you can see “The future is in education” on the wall. The rest of the schools are on strike because of the absence of holiday pay from the government. Obviously, it is complicated with what it said on the wall and what is reality.
In the five stage of culture shock: honey moon, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy and interdependence. I am in the second stage: “disintegration”.
About the team
The 2017 Transformative Praxis Malawi team was made up of students from Bishop's University. They spent four weeks on the ground in Malawi collaborating on various projects.