By Ryan Moyer
Yesterday, when I was on an adventure with members of a local research team, I passed by a big office building in Kasungu. We were walking to use the computers at an Internet café that serves dial up internet at 20 kwacha per minute rather than four dollars per latte. The walk there was one and a half hours…the walk back was longer. No one I was with seemed to consume any food or water over the entire 6-hour period. I had a litre and a half of water and two granola bars, and still felt like gravity had eaten more Wheaties than me that day.
Three hours of walking, in the relentless sun, for a total of 42 minutes, exactly, of Internet time. If that doesn’t tell you members of your team is committed, I don’t know what does. Just the fact that many laughingly took part in that walk for such a small amount of Internet time, and ultimately knowledge, made me reflect on our society’s propensity to complain… in groups, on Facebook, everywhere…about everything that doesn’t matter.
I’m writing this while listening to The Suburbs by Arcade Fire on an iPod, and it has made me think of how growing up in the suburbs everyone would complain about the ‘sprawl’, and the subsequent walking times, or bus connections, or this, or that. Walking three hours for some Internet access wouldn’t even cross someone’s mind as an option.
“Grab your mother’s keys, were leaving.”
-Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Although I am a tad nostalgic for the simple times of growing up in the suburbs, you know… street hockey, running through sprinklers, all that stuff—I do not miss the lack of depth and lack of… really of anything in that lifestyle. The monotonous routines, devoid of any type of human emotion, let alone adventure, gets plastered over by shiny cars and manicured lawns. And some never grow out of this chase for the aestheticization of the transpolitical, or in other words, to appear ‘civilized’. This bourgeois idealism born from the French Revolution just will not die, people will not evolve…always high school, always high school. I saw it yesterday at the office building.
It wasn’t my first time there, I had visited the building last year to sit down with World Vision and visit one of ‘their villages’. It is the one structure in Kasungu, besides the gas station and the hotels, that could pass in a Canadian city. The inside is a dark mahogany style wood and some of the seats have leather. It resembles Canadian parliament, and also Bishop’s University’s main building, so that the bourgeois will feel comfortable! “Oh yes, I know this wood and this leather, I think I’ll get along with these people.”
Outside, the lawns are tip-top…that guy who lived in the house across from me growing up, the one who spend more time on his lawn than with his kids, would agree. The area’s concrete is crackless, and on top of that concrete sits the nicest vehicles one can find in Kasungu; brand new shiny pick-up trucks. And these trucks belong to the NGOs and the Not-for-Profits that are housed inside. The ones that are supposed to be working hand in hand with the poor people of Kasungu. Yet they all drive $40, 000 Toyota trucks. Why? Well, just like high school, you need to look good! But really, it’s just a mask on wheels.
“And all of the houses they built in the 70’s finally fall and nothing at all. Meant nothing at all, it meant nothing.”
Arcade Fire (N/A) The suburbs, The Suburbs
By Vicki Miller
The Transformative Praxis: Malawi group took our first walk into Kasungu town all together yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful, yet difficult and unsettling experience. I say this because I did not feel like myself on this walk. I felt like there was a large neon sign over my head reading “AZUNGU”, meaning “white person” in Chechewa. We passed through many small villages on our walk into town, and each time we passed, we got yelled at, stared at, or pointed at. At one point villagers came up to us and shook our hands and even hugged some of us.
I felt as if something was wrong with me, or maybe my hair was crazy or my pants were inside out. I continued to search for a reason why these people held such fascination towards the entire group and myself. I then realized that it was none of those things; it was the color of my skin. It really hurt that entire villages would look at me, point at me, and only see a young Caucasian girl. They did not see me for who I was; they did not see me for Vicki.
I later asked one of my co-learners what the villagers intentions were, because it was hard to determine if they were fascinated, disgusted or afraid of us. Deep inside, I think that it was a combination of a lot of those things, and my co-learner explained that it was mostly out of fascination because they do not see “azungu” every day.
I have been taking a lot of time in thinking about why I am here and what “changes” I am going to make and what experiences I am hoping to get out of my five weeks. During this thinking time, I have been reading Dr. Stonebanks’ Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning in which he notes that our “living requirement” of living near a rural Malawian village is “to momentarily immerse the most privileged (relatively) in our world to the manner in which the vast majority of humanity lives”. I by no means consider myself very privileged, or even close to one of the most privileged in the world. But, using the word “relatively” changes things, because in my small town in Central Massachusetts, I am an average, middle class, Caucasian, female. Nothing special, no more privileged than the rest of my homogenous white town. The majority of the children attend public school, the majority of them graduate high school and the majority of them attend some form of post-secondary education. To put all this into perspective, the majority of children here in Malawi cannot afford a pair of shoes. Compared to the majority of people here, I am rich and very privileged. Now that I am surrounded by people living in such different living situations than my own, and who do not all have the same educational opportunities I had, I am more grateful than ever that I was able to have graduated high school, attend a wonderful university, and come out of it all with no debt or student loans. I can thank my parents for all that, but I never had control over when or where I was born, or how much money I would have access to, or what kind of education I would be able to afford.
I have noticed, more than anything, the weight of being an American university student, because as Dr. Stonebanks states, “Canadian and American university students are amongst the most privileged in the world.” That weight has made me stand out and has given me privilege that I never asked to have. Even having the time, money, education and mere opportunity to come to Malawi is something that a lot of people do not have. I believe that what I have to do now is take advantage of these opportunities that I have been given and make a difference here in Malawi.
Things to be grateful for: education and not missed opportunities
Reference: Stonebanks, C. Darius. (2013). “Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning”. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.) Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.
By Kirsten Dobler
June 11, 2015
Shortly before I left to come to Malawi we lost Toni Marciniak. I have tried to describe who Toni was to me in many ways but each way seems too short. Toni was a brilliant football (soccer) coach, hollering at us from the sidelines to get on our bikes, ensuring us of our abilities on the sidelines, and encouraging us in times of doubt. Rage was more than just a soccer team that played on the weekends. We travelled together, we warmed up in sync, and we played with a connection that I have not experienced on a football team since. Our success, even though we were so young at the time, had a large part in the ways that Toni, and Erros, coached us. As a player that definitely developed after the first season I can completely attest to the unconditional support that Toni gave me, and my love of the game. Toni’s presence in my life stretched past the field; as a father to three awesome people (sometimes I even thought that Chase had some Toni aspects) and a counselor at school that I know would always be available for a chat, but he came the most alive on the football pitch. It was here that we shared some amazing wins and some very, very tough losses. At the end of the day Rage is a part of my life that I will always look back on and smile, many parts in thanks to Toni.
I have been in Malawi for two weeks now and I have been thinking about Toni a lot this week. At the beginning of the week Marten began a week of football matches, so I have been watching a lot of football. Each day I think a little while longer about Toni and about football. As I stood on the sidelines today I began to think about football and the ways that it brings together communities. It is especially visible in Kasungu, the area that we are in, because each team brings with them their community. Men young and old line the sidelines with their arms folded as they watch the U20 players fight for village pride. Children are dancing on the sidelines waiting for a goal to be scored so they can run onto the field and celebrate. A sense of community that I have witnessed in no other location has come to life in a way that celebrates whole communities. I know that in Canada this is something that we might feel more when we are watching hockey, but I can’t help but imagine Toni standing on the sidelines here, watching the lads.
I have come to the realization of the importance of football in the world. Football is a language that translates into all languages. The objectives and the rules are universal, while the spirit is infectious. Sports are so critical in communities and they create bonds between members and the community. Every night our Campus field comes to life as people crowd the sidelines. Every night I smile when I think of how excited and proud Toni would be for me being here and to know that football is such an important element. On the very last game that we played as Rage, Toni gathered us together and asked us if we knew what carpe diem meant. Of course we were fifteen, so we didn’t know, and I remember how pinnacle it was for me. This was the closest that we came to provincials and as we circled around Toni and he expressed to us (in a very Robin Williams circa Dead Poets Society) that this was an opportunity for us to live in the moment. I have never played as hard as I did in that game. I remember so clearly so much of the game, most particularly when Julie scored the first goal and it was the first glimpse of our future as a team. Of course we all know of the tears that were shed at the end of that game, but carpe diem stayed.
There are many moments when I am running for student government at Bishop’s or deciding which European country that I am going to visit while au pairing in Italy that I think carpe diem. I am very sad that I was not able to come home to give Hills, Kate and Jord big hugs, but I know that the rest of the community was there. However I know that Toni would be proud and probably would love to hear about the influence of football, even in small villages of Malawi, Africa. I have recently began thanking my parents for raising me with the confidence to go all the places that I have gone, but I have many other people that I should also be thanking. Toni shared with us so much of himself, leaving everything that he shared with us to live on, both on and off the football pitch. Toni shaped us football girls with his leadership, his passion, and his belief in all of us. For that I am forever grateful. RIP Toni.
By Amber Fortin
This is Malawi
This is Malawi
Sweat of the brow
Days of harvest
This is Malawi
This is Malawi
By Kirsten Dobler
June 11, 2015
Over the past week and a half I have been thinking about the things that I took for granted at home. I’ve compiled a list with the help of some others to express a couple things that I would be able to live without, but still pop into my mind every once in a while.
By Natchasiri (Froy) Kunaporn
Two weeks have passed and the wall is still empty. At noon the wall is hit by the huge African sun and is blasting legit heat waves, it hurts my eyes to even stare. It’s even bigger now with the lime on. When I was painting the top part of the wall, my legs were shaking, one hand with the tray and one with the brush. It was only 5 meters high, but having a phobia for heights, I would say it’s quite an achievement getting myself to even go near that ladder.
The design is nearly ready, with a plot twist at the end when we found out that the wall is not as symmetrical as we thought it would was. The contractor shamed the paint we got, and the roughness of the wall literally devours my pencil when I try to sketch. I realized I couldn’t draw the grids alone, so two of my colleagues and a couple of little Malawian boys were helping me hold the strings and eyeing the straightness; it was fun and rainbows until I realized that the bottom part is also not straight. So I slowly crawl back into my thinking hat to think of a better way to map the design, and probably map my whole plan.
While sitting on the porch of the community center, looking out as the little helpers are playing jump rope with the strings. I would describe the site as rocky, rough, uneven, and full of construction bits and shards. They boys had no shoes on, and every time they land on the ground from jumping there is a huge THUD, THUD, THUD. My initial reaction would be ‘Stop you fools! You’ll all hurt yourself!’ But a part of me was so amazed by the constant laughter and that none of them were bothered by my horrified expression, I just watched. Nothing happened. My background music continued to be laughter’s of Malawian kiddies. As I gazed off at the sunset I realize I need to grow tougher skin, not just on my toes, but everywhere. I must overcome that stupid ladder, but also my mind has to be tougher and more critical.
If I have to describe my approach to art, I would say that I am very stubborn and that I get attached to ideas that lead me being not very open to critics. I take many things to heart and find it hard to believe that there is a ‘better way’. What I need to work on is being very open minded about ideas of others, even the people who are not familiar in my area. I remember having a very strong dislike for abstract art and realizing later that my work has some degree of ‘abstract’ in it.
My obsession with symbols plays a big part in my lack of critical thinking. I get attached to putting symbols in my work without making it come out naturally between my research. It slows me down most of the time. I find that I work the fastest when I see and hear things from other people, not when I try digging in my brain to find something that is not there. During the period of this course, we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of dialogue. Being engaged in deeper conversations will assist our journey in experiential learning. Being ‘searchers’ instead of ‘planners’ will eventually produce a richer result.
By Marten Sealy
I would like to take this opportunity to share examples of some situations and conversations that I’ve experienced here. I’ve had both of these conversations with several people on different occasions, and the exact replies are varied, so they’ve been left out.
I will be glad if this post helps to ‘personify’ some of the portraits found in each issue of National Geographic.
Myself: I’m sorry, I’m not handing out anything material, nor can I promise you any grand solutions.
Friend: *Disappointment, occasionally mixed with confusion, as if to say, “but you’re from Canada.”*
Myself: You see, I could hand out 100 dollars right now, and I’d be fine, but I’d never see that money again. I know that it would be received gratefully, and it could help feed or clothe many people today, but it would do nothing for future generations. It’s tempting, but I have other plans for that money. If I invest that money in Canada, in my education, then someday I may be in the position where I can really help the people of this country.
This brings understanding, but I have to be careful not to make specific promises. It’s definitely one of the most difficult things to communicate.
Friend: *questions about Canada*
Myself: *honest (and modest) answers*
Friend: Canada is a blessed country
Myself: Hmm…I’m fortunate to have been born in Canada, yes, but a blessed country? That depends who you ask. Do you know the history of Europeans coming to Malawi/Africa?
Friend: Yes, they came from the UK, Portugal, France, etc. Wealthy white people.
Myself: Well, if millions of those Europeans had decided to move to Africa, bringing their families in such great numbers that they crowded the black people off of their original land, would you call Africa blessed?
Friend: Ah, you’re from Canada, but you’re not proud of that?
Myself: That’s a hard question to answer my friend. I live a comfortable life, but wealth isn’t everything. Everyone should be proud of their roots.
Friend: That is true. Thank you. [occasionally: I’m proud to be Malawian]
This often concludes with a head nod and a moment of silence.
By Jessica Fobert
The Experimental Farm is coming together a lot faster then I was expecting. The women arrive each day at 9am and work strenuously until noon before the sun gets too hot. I am constantly amazed at the hard work that these women engage in on a daily basis. Creating a compost pit and building a garden has been an exhilarating adventure. While I teach the women about composting and experimental farming, they teach me of the diverse ways of gardening here in Malawi. For example, because of the heat from the sun, gardeners cover their garden beds with hay so that the water is not evaporated and the garden remains moist. Also, the women have used trees as poles and tall grass to make a fence to protect it from animals. I have noticed that Malawians are very creative and innovate people; they make use of as many resources as possible. My co-learner said that we needed to purchase a hoe for the garden so that we could construct the garden beds and dig up the ground. When I was given the hoe it was just the metal part with no handle attached. Malawians search for a piece of wood to make their own handle and custom design their tools to their needs.
I am learning new techniques and skills each day that the women return to the garden, and in return I am showing them some interesting and diverse ways of experimental farming. For instance, I gathered the women around me as I took 4 toothpicks and poked the side of an avocado seed and then suspended it over a cup filled with water. The women were amazed at what I was doing, and I informed them that this is a different way of planting an avocado tree. Let’s just hope that it grows! We are also experimenting with growing tomatoes upside down. Yes, you’ve read correctly… upside down. We have placed 4 tomato plants each in a separate bucket and cut a hole at the bottom of the bucket. The rationality is that it prevents bugs from eating the plants and that no sticks are needed to support them. I think just about everyone thinks we’re a little crazy, but we are experimenting and I hope that we achieve some success.
By Katie-Alana Schouten
Today we ran an After-school program collaborating with the Education students based on hygiene and hydration. We showed the children the technique of hand washing to the song of the Macarena. We were then challenged with the option of providing an education outlet for children with disability. Instead of focusing on the school system of education it was proposed to start a temporary program where we can act as aids for the children during the lessons.
I felt unsure at first because a temporary program can end very quickly in Malawi. I thought it wasn’t sustainable as in this area there may be no teachers or no teachers to care to follow up the education that has started for people with disabilities. I also deeply felt that I didn’t have the skills to support these children, to meet their ever- changing needs. I felt and feel inadequate in doing something from my own mind that I couldn’t witness and criticize. Becoming the do-er instead of the audience was really a threat in this instance.
The role of the nurse became so much clearer in such a short time. This outlet of education wasn’t only for these children, but for us too. I hope it allows us to be holistic and focus on all the person’s needs. From a quick visit to the community we had during the week I could already see the need for the children with disabilities to be happy and fulfilled in experiences. Instead here, they are forced to stay at home due to the discrimination they face in the schools and in the villages.
I had an experience as a student nurse in practice where I found it difficult to participate in real communication with clients. I was always better at writing and doing physical work than communicating properly. A senior nurse told me that I could get anyone to participate in anything if I did it with love and kindness. Likewise, if I communicated with kindness I could achieve anything. This means meeting peoples individual needs in their current situation.
I liked her advice.
For someone with intellectual disability it can be difficult for some children to interact and communicate as directly as we would and that’s where my love for this role comes from. Individuals with a disability teach us to listen, to care and have patience, which is so difficult for me to do. I remember in school always being taught and talked at. We never had a conversation with our educators and our opinion wasn’t allowed because of being incorrect to the textbook. This created tension in me as a person because I didn’t feel like I was being listened to or understood.
Having the opportunity to create a space where individuals can reach their own achievable potential in Chilanga is amazing. Being able to focus on ability rather than what the individual may not be able to do is life changing. In an ideal world it should be an aspect of all education and not just for our children with individual differences.
‘Education recognizes energy and potential within each person and each community, and tries to empower them to make their full contribution to the process of building a new society in which it is possible for all people to meet their fundamental human needs.’ (Hope,Timmel &Hodzi, 1984).
Hope, A., Timmel, S., & Hodzi, C. (1984) Training for transformation : A handbook for community workers. Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press.
By Kate Newhouse
On Saturday we went into town to do some shopping and to go to the Internet café. We left after lunch and started our hour and a half journey. The walk went by quite quickly as we had lots of people to chat with and we even stopped to enjoy some sugar cane.
As we left after lunch we arrived into town later than we had planned, everything was closed. They kept the Internet café open just for us and we tried to contact home; Many of us for the first time. This Internet café was not what I was expecting and so unlike home, unlike the Western world. I had typed up an email and had it ready to send, but when I sat down I realized the state of these computers. They were so old. I couldn’t believe it. This was almost exactly like our first family computer we got just starting the millennium and here we are 15 years later and I feel like I have gone back in time.
One of my fellow Praxis Malawi peers is studying adult education here and he took the locals he was working with to the Internet café just the other day. He said for many of them it had been the first time any of them had been to the café and none of them knew what to do with a computer.
While I was reading the Betrayal of Africa I came across this quote, which inspired me to write this blog. “While travel in Africa is both difficult and expensive, communication is not. Email and the Internet have created links that have not been possible in the past. Out of many small groups emerges a large continent-wide, even worldwide movement.” (Gerald Caplan, 2008, p. 118) I agree that technology and the Internet have helped the problem of communication, but my short experience here has made me believe otherwise. I know that I am in a rural area where poverty is an issue and therefore Internet and even power isn’t a priority by any means, so then how it this helping?
Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.
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