By Karen Jeffery
Accompanied by plenty of stares we departed the airport at Lilongwe. After our journey was much longer than we expected we were relieved to be on the final stretch of our journey, a 90-minute car journey to our home for the next five weeks. I couldn’t hide my fascination as I observed everything along the roadside. Everything was unfamiliar, but exciting and full of character. I smiled at the goats and the pigs roaming freely, the children helping their parents sell fruit at the side of the road, the people saluting our car full of white people and the bikes traveling from one village to the next – most loaded with two passengers. The names of the shops amused me most and almost all were in English; “Up Up Jesus” was a personal favourite.
Since arrival I have congratulated the contractor numerous times for our impressive hostel. It is far more than I expected, almost reminding me of a Mediterranean villa. At the same time, I’m acutely aware that this is far from the living conditions that our co-learners and workers return home to.
In the same way that there are five stages of grief, there are five stages of culture shock. The outlined phases are the honeymoon stage, the disintegration stage, the reintegration stage, the autonomy stage, and the interdependence stage (Stonebanks, 2013). Culture shock is something we’ve all been reading about and preparing ourselves for. I think experiencing culture shock is a crucial part of this project, a part that will allow me to become more realistic about health actions that can be taken by the locals, whom I have already become fond of.
Even after one day here I am questioning how I can experience the full depth of this culture shock when I am sleeping in a bed more comfortable than what I have at home. I’ve already been served three meals with chips amongst other western foods, we have electricity when we need it and the toilets and showers are much more glamorous than what I had been trying to prepare myself for. This state of bliss is not how Malawian people live. Honeymoon bliss this may be, but with such feelings of confusion, guilt and frustration with the unfairness of it all, could I be experiencing parts of the disintegration stage even after one day of being here?
This project aims to be a collaboration of people. A collaboration of different cultures, different skin colours, but all equal and all people. I can’t help but question how we can achieve this when so far all we’ve been provided with is stereotypical to the image of the superior western white person which is an idea we’ve come to try and break down.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here