By Yue Yao
Early the morning of June 6th, our TPM group was on the plane leaving for Malawi. It would be the first time I step on the land of Africa. It was so mysterious for me although I read much from book. And this time, I have this precious opportunity to get access to this mysterious land by myself, not as a tourist but as an assistant. I was so excited and nervous about things I would experience in the following month.
After a long trip, we arrived at Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Just as in my imagination: blue sky, green plants, and the airport was much more beautiful. Unlike in Ethiopia, the air in Malawi was very fresh, which made me delighted. We filled out the visa applications and waited in line for a long time because some people kept jumping the queue. At first I thought that those people might be very important guests, but then a Chinese person in line told us that it was just because they tipped local men in security vests. It was very unbelievable for me as I always thought that customs should have a set of strict rules to make sure it functions in an orderly way, and the fact was that every country I have visited before did have their rules of taking foreigners in. Obviously, there was not this same set of rules in Malawi. I felt depressed to see this, but I understood their needs of money because I heard that these officers only earned 50-60 Canadian dollars per month.
We took a minibus to our destination- Transformative Praxis: Malawi Campus. Although I knew it was in a rural area and I knew the situation must be worse, I was shocked by what I had seen on the way. Bald earth, red soil, shabby houses… everything implied the poverty of this place. I did know that Malawi was the third poorest country in the world, but I did not know the real meaning of poverty until I saw it for myself. Sadness was lingering as I saw those people living in such misery. But I also felt happy when passersby smiled and waved at us. I could see their kindness!
Around 2 hours on a bumpy road later, we got to the campus and were overwhelmed by the local people. They hugged me and welcomed me warmly. The happiness beat the fatigue immediately when I saw these lovely people! Kids were extremely excited with our coming, they smiled at us, fist bumped with us, and kept following us just as Dr. Stonebanks said as we were like televisions in their eyes. When we got into the room in the hostel, I found situation was worse than what I expected. It was very dark although there was a small bulb. We had to use flashlights to make sure that we were able to see our stuff. Worst of all, we were not allowed to charge our electronic equipment anytime we’d like, which meant I could not play phone games or music as I had to keep my power for E-books reading. After dinner, I had my first “bucket bath” in my life. It was interesting but I would be frustrated if could not take a shower for my whole life. I thought of the differences of African and my own life. I never realized that having running water was such a delighted thing. Before sleeping, we had a short meeting and I felt very moved by what Dr. Stonebanks said. He said that he wanted this program to keep going on even after he died. I thought everyone here, as well as all the warm hearted people in the world, definitely had the same great intention. But as Easterly mentioned in “The White Man’s Burden,” the West spent over 2 trillion dollars on foreign aid but failed to improve the situation efficiently. I wonder how we can contribute to education here, and there are a lot of answers I need to seek in the following month.
By Ning Ma
“What is that place?”
“Well, I take my shower here, with a bucket!”
This is the real Africa, not from the TV or the Internet, but what I see in person. Although I have read a lot of articles and news about Africa, it still not like what I thought it would be when I arrived here. On my way to Malawi, I have to say, the view is fantastic! I saw the most beautiful sunrise in my life on the plane. And you know what, here it is not hot at all! I even need to wear more than when I was in Sherbrooke! The funny thing is it is also my first time to walk to the terminal building with no shuttle bus, and there were only six or seven customs officers in the airport. On the way to the campus, I got shocked by the view of the roadside: shabby houses, ragged market and curious stares. Just like Dr. Stonebanks said, we are the walking TV for them. People have stopped their work and have put down all their stuff to look at us. I felt upset to see their houses with grass rooves and no windows.
When we arrived at the campus, we got a warm welcome from the local people. They hugged us and thanked us for coming. All the kids nearby came to see us and introduced themselves to us. A girl even held my hand to accompany me for the whole walk around which made me feel so warm. After that, I saw the “shower” place. At that moment, I knew why it is so hard here for people to get a better education. Their daily life even cannot be guaranteed, so how can they talk about their education. Reading an extract from The Eye of the Needle (Sobrino, 2008) helps me to wrap my thinking around this. As people from a better developing country, we cannot think their lives should be like this. This is exactly the ongoing injustice and stereotypes that lead to the unchanging or slow development in Africa. People use their silence to keep this sick system going. However, people from Africa also have the right to live in fancy houses, drink clean water and use advanced technology.
On June 10th, we went to the town nearby. At that place, I also saw many things that I have never seen before. The first thing that surprised me is that there were so many Chinese shops, some of them even have a Chinese name with Chinese characters. I heard from the local Malawian’s that many Chinese businessmen own these shops and hire local people to sell things. But most of the residents do not buy things here because they are expensive. They prefer buying things from the market. This place is a little bit like the night market in Taiwan, except they are selling second hand clothes and shoes. The prices are much cheaper here. During dinner that night, I had the first “candlelight dinner” with all my other team members since there was no electricity in the town of Kasungu. When the sun went down, all the town turn into darkness with only light from the moon. Actually, it was such a beautiful view and one that I could never see in Canada or my hometown.
Since I am still in the “honeymoon” stage, I hope I can feel more and deeper about the local culture soon.
Reference: “A very sick world”: Extract from The Eye of the Needle by Jon Sobrino, translated by Dinah Livingstone. (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2008).
This entry was posted in 2017, Praxis Malawi and tagged arrival, Kasungu, Ning on June 16, 2017 by Melanie Stonebanks.
By Yuyin Ning
The mini-bus drove away from Lilongwe airport. “So, here we are.” I thought. The building and the gardens in the airport were too pretty that I couldn’t believe it was the real Malawi.
Our destination was about 100 miles north of Lilongwe, near a town named Kasungu. I can see our mini-bus attracted people’s attention as we were driving out of the city. Since I’ve been told it is dry season at this time, I wasn’t expecting there would be so many green trees on the road side. I was surprised to know the weather was not humid or unbearably hot at all. I can feel the gentle breeze on my face. It was… quite comfortable.
Most of the villages we passed by were very small; actually only taking us less than one minute to drive through. I can see some apples, bananas, and squash were piled up on the street; some dresses, pants and sheets, hanging on the shelf. The big and fresh English letters of some advertisements were printed on the street’s shabby wall. I noticed that all women no matter how old were wearing dresses and man were wearing pants. Some women in pretty chitenjes were walking on the street, with a bucket of water or some bags of clothes or even a bunch of firewood on their heads! I was so shocked at their excellent skills to balance it. Kids were running around with bare feet. They seemed healthy and happy. I was delighted that the people here were not as bonny-skinny as the African images shown on the television. I looked further, the view was more like the classic commercial pictures of travelling to Africa; the weeds are as tall as a human and the trees have very big trunks and twisted-shaped branches. I imagined there were giraffes or lions hiding behind the trees.
So, here is Africa. I thought.
After about 1.5 hours of driving on the paved road, the bus turned onto a dirt road. I knew we were approaching and became excited. The striking and unique graffiti on the community center wall told us we have arrived. We were all exhausted but very excited. When we get off the mini-bus, we were surrounded by a group of people. They were so friendly that they kept coming to shake our hands and some gave us hugs. I looked around. The campus is quite big and the buildings seems nice and clean. The yard is clean and tidy and covered by a layer of sand as all the weeds have been cleared.
We tried to walk around and then realized we were surrounded by a large group of children, whose ages ranged from 2-12 years old. Some kids who can speak simple English kept asking, “Your name? How are you?” I said, “Hi, I am good. I am Yuyin. Nice to meet you.” Their English skills must be very limited because not many of them can answer me back. One little girl kept asking me, “My name? My name?” I realized that she was trying to know my name. I told her my name and asked her name as well. There was another group of children who cannot speak English and were just following us silently, sometimes laughing with the other ones. I guessed my Chinese name must be too hard for them because the little girl asked me at least four times “your name?”
Their eyes are so curious about us. They want to know everything about us. Dr. Stonebanks joked that we are the “walking TV” for them. We wondered how many of them know what is a TV. There was a moment I asked myself, what is the influence of our arrival to this village? Will their life change even a little bit because of us? Will they study hard because of the desire to communicate with us? Do they even have a chance and money to study in the school? If not, will they remember us decades later? Can we really do something “good” for them?
By Lina Xu
It was on a rainy afternoon of June 5th that we headed for Montreal for the preparation of the early flight the next day. Thanks to the arrangement by our organizers, we were driven to a hotel which provides shuttle service to the airport in the early morning.
The morning call alarm rang at 2:40 am the next morning and we packed and caught the 3:30 am bus to the Montreal airport. Although it was still early, there were many people in the airport. We gathered at the counter of Air Canada at 4:00 am, sticking group labels on our bags and writing down our contact information. Our group took shape at this moment. Fortunately, we arrived at the airport early since we were informed that our flight was an hour earlier than what we were told by the agent. It was a short flight from Montreal to Toronto. During the transition in Toronto, we saw so many Asian faces there and I was somehow homesick. It took us 13 hours to fly from Toronto to Addis Ababa by Air Ethiopia, who provided fantastic service and tasty food during the flight. What impressed me most was the sunrise, which was so marvelous to see on the plane. It was my first time to see the sunrise. Arriving at Addis Ababa, it was completely a different world: the crowded passengers and the out-of-service escalators reminded me of the old train stations in China. There was no toilet paper and you may see some Africans doing make-up in the restroom and some women are well-dressed. It was a hard time for us to transit in Addis Ababa since there was no seats available at the waiting area. We stood for two hours before we boarded on the plane and it took us four hours to arrive at our final destination, Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.
We were excited on stepping on the earth of the African continent. We were here finally after the long journey. At the entrance of the Customs, an old friend of our program director was waiting for us. He greeted each of us with his big smile; I have already tasted the warm heart of Africa at this moment. The procedure of going through the Customs was tedious. As Chinese citizens, we could apply for visa upon arrival. There are two counters for visa application, one for checking on the application form, the other for payment and issuing the visa. People gathered and crowded outside the counters in line. I assumed 30 minutes was sufficient since there were only five people in front of me. But something weird happened, the number of people who were in front of me was getting large since the staff with VIP vests jumped the queue from time to time. It was also strange that people who came for airport pickup could enter the Customs area. Later, I was told that it is normal as long as you are familiar with the officials, you could come in. In addition, by giving US$5 bucks you would not have to wait in the queue. I was surprised by this for the reason that I believe the Customs is a sacred place, which stands for authority. How could they challenge the authority like this? I did hear about the terrible bribery in Malawi, but I did not expect it happen the minute I walked off the plane. Anyway, it took us over one hour to go through the visa application and the Customs. During our wait in the Customs area, I was also told that the salary for the officials in the Customs was only around US$60 per month. It was a relief to see some people holding names of visitors at the exit and at least we could see some order in this country.
The airport in Lilongwe is beautiful with shops for mobile services, travel agencies and car rentals. Outside the airport, the blue sky and green trees reminded me of southeast Asian countries. Our airport pick-up van was a Toyota, whose front window was broken and there was no security belt. Sitting in the van, holding tightly onto the side rails, I prayed along the way. The road outside the airport was acceptable since they were smooth. Scattered earth-made houses were seen with few brick-made houses. Many local people wandered around their house, and I wonder if they have a job or not during the dry season.
I believe there is a lot for me to discover on this mysterious field, and I am looking forward to what is to come.
By Lara McTrigue
I was woken up with a startle at the airport upon landing in Malawi. I hurried to catch the rest of the group on our way to fill out VISA applications. The tiny space we entered that was the immigration area could be comparable to a large living room back home. There was a big sense of urgency as people came flooding in off of their flights and tried to find a surface to write on. Lines were identified by sheets of white paper with marker reading “cash/debit” and so on. While waiting in line, there were attendants wearing yellow “VIP” vests who ushered an older white lady to the front of the line. Was the man trying to help her because of her age? Soon a pattern developed however that found many people similarly butting ahead of us. I later learned that these guards were payed to help travelers jump the line which in turn caused the entire operation to slow to practically a halt every time. There was no order as 6 guards would huddle around one counter at a time or the man behind the desk would talk on his cell phone as he signed the VISA forms. About a ten foot line from the table to pay, our group waited approximately 45 minutes to get through.
As we collected our bags and made our way to our bus van, we were warned not to allow men outside to help us with our baggage. However, 8 to 10 men soon surrounded us and started loading our suitcases onto the truck. The men were hard to keep track of. Differentiating who was with our group and who were strangers was virtually impossible. Suffice it to say the men ended up getting paid to load the truck. On previous trips taken in the past, I’ve experienced similar scenarios of men trying to help with baggage for tips but these situations have normally been accompanied by close relatives. I noted that maybe one reason for the difference in outcomes this time could have been a result of our group of students not yet being very familiar with each other and our multicultural backgrounds which may have some effect on a varied range of instinctive responses to the situation.
On our drive from the airport to our campus, I was surprised to see so many people. This might sound funny, but for some reason I was taken aback by the practically constant stream of people by the side of the road on the nearly 2 hour drive. There were just so many people. Children, babies, mothers, fathers, friends were seen working, carrying water, playing or selling food. Most of them walked without shoes among the red soil ground cluttered with rocks and litter. Piles of unrecognizable fresh fruit, hanging raw meat under small straw huts and dead mice on a stick were common sights. Men approached our van during a gas stop trying to sell us eggs and used jackets. I wasn’t sure whether to smile, respond or do nothing. I wanted to follow the pace of the group, especially returners among us – keep in mind we were also all delirious from the long set of flights at this point – and they seemed to keep to themselves, so I did the same. Stop signs were clearly more like suggestions and there was no speed limit to speak of so the frequent horn honks kept me conscious despite my heavy eyes.
Kate announced from the front of the bus that we were getting close and I took a breath to try and remain open to whatever we were about to witness. The road veered off to a bumpy, I mean really bumpy, dirt narrow path between tall stalks of foliage on either side of the vehicle. Children’s yelling could be heard from the overgrown field around us but I couldn’t spot them. We pulled past a few decaying houses, I wasn’t sure if they were a part of the campus or not, before we came to a cleared opening where 30 to 50 unknown faces all stood staring and smiling at us. As soon as we got out of the van, strong hugs came from all directions with ecstatic exclamations and laughs. We kept receiving handshakes that had an extra squeeze or movement in it, a unique cultural custom I had yet to learn, as the faces seemed to blend together in the rapidity of it all. I spotted a large group children waiting excitedly to get their look at us foreigners. I waved to them and some waved back, others giggled and some looked away shyly. A young guy who must have been about 8 years old came running towards me to get a high five before we were pulled away and asked to get our belongings into the hostel.
We entered our rooms quickly and then took a rushed walk around the area. We peaked at the shower, washroom, tuck shop, community center, kitchen and security house. Everything moved so fast. It felt like the sun was beginning to set and we had only arrived 15 minutes ago. One young child called out sternly to me “come here” as he sat on a porch with a group of his pals which temporarily broke the fast pace of the tour. I replied that I’d “come back later” because I wanted to catch up to the rest of the group. As we continued, the sea of children following us grew. All of them had big grins or looks of awe on their small faces. Many of them asked my name. The boy who had called out to me earlier grabbed my hand and tried starting a game of thumb war. Or so I thought. I played along. He wasn’t really trying though as I beat him in a couple of rounds before I began to realize that perhaps he was unfamiliar with the game I grew up playing. I wondered if he was shocked that I was playing with him at all or if he was trying to be nice or if his game had a different set of rules. He kept pointing to his eye and my eye and saying “wila”. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say but later when I noticed the children pointing at someone else’s glasses, I assumed that maybe they were talking about eye glasses. I never previously thought of these accessories I wear every day that help me see to be such an exceptional privilege.
By Mark Freedman
Culture shock. It is a process we all go through when introduced to a foreign situation. It can happen to you if you’re from the country and just visiting the ‘big city’ for the first time, or if you travel to another part of the world where everything is different, the culture, the norms, the taboos, the way of life…literally just about everything. Well, such is a fact even when travelling to Malawi for the second time. Generally, there are five stages of culture shock, the honeymoon stage, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy, and interdependence (Pederson, 1994). I use the term generally as my way of describing how there is some give within the constraints outlined by these five stages. I imagine culture shock as if it were a mountain, where the climber goes through the excitement of a new hike before starting, looking up at the beautiful struggle ahead. Then throughout the hike, the climber sees all these new things, the trees, possibly animals, and all the way to the top, there are positives along the way, something that you can look at while you are getting tired half way through the climb and you think to yourself “hey, this is still worth it, when I get to the top I’ll be able to enjoy it in the moment and for the rest of my life”. Feelings and aspects associated with each stage of culture shock, I believe, can be evident throughout the entire journey. However I can’t be certain for the fact that I believe I won’t reach some of the later stages of culture shock as they may take consecutive months to develop while living or being in a situation that is unfamiliar.
When we first got to the campus a few days ago, it felt familiar, everyone from the community that has become involved with TPM over the years was there to greet us, and coming back for the second time, it was nice and comforting to see the familiar faces and receive a personal greeting. The campus looks great. There is a new security house, a new addition since last year, the soccer pitch has grass on it, which school boys from the community got together to make possible. And seeing Kasungu mountain from the campus was definitely a honeymoon stage moment, having hiked it last year. But I have also already had moments where I’ve felt like a kid out of place. Just yesterday we went into town and while at a shop I was gathering the money I had put aside in my pocket; keep in mind this is Malawian Kwachas (the local currency) I’m talking about. So, while I gathered the bills, all of which were different denominations, and took them out of my pocket, I began to count, and hand the cashier money, and count, and hand him more change, and count again. Quickly I became flustered and was in a sort of shock where I just didn’t know what to do. It turned out that I didn’t give him the right amount, even though I counted about three times. I goofed, for lack of a better term. The feeling that ensued shook me a bit, but I realize that this moment was a moment of culture shock, being in an unfamiliar situation and not knowing what to do. But I feel I have definitely improved in getting to know the culture here, improving my cultural competence, if you will. In that sense, I definitely feel more comfortable in engaging with the locals Malawian’s especially with the few who know me from last year.
I will say this though, no matter the occasional feeling of being flustered, or shook by something, so far there is always an equal or greater moment of joy and hominess.
By Kate Newhouse
I look down to the dry red dirt. I can see strokes from the broom that must have recently swept. I am back in Malawi and back with the red dirt. My feet already know what they are in for and my hair too, but my unsettled mind doesn’t know what’s in store.
As we get off the plane in Lilongwe we can see the excitement and energy surrounding us. We are quickly ushered to fill out our visa papers and wait in line. Dr. Stonebanks goes first. After moments of waiting it’s clear that people are paying the locals to help them jump the line. The local men in safety vests ask people if they need help and then rush them to the front of the line and fast track them through the next few lines, cutting in front of a long line of people. We wait and wait, but aren’t moving. It was frustrating and quickly got to me and made me upset with the local people and their need for money. The priorities here in Malawi are something I am not used to. In Canada, I am used to having certain things guaranteed. We have systems in place to support most different needs and wants, but here in Malawi the needs are so great and the need for money influences almost every action. These actions make it hard for me to open up and trust local people. I am constantly thinking of their actions. Why they are being this way? What do they want from me? What would they do if they could? It becomes a wall for me; a huge barrier and it influences the actions I take. This impedes my conversations and my work. It’s a cycle I am trying to understand and work through.
This is my second time visiting Malawi. The first time I spent most of the trip in the honeymoon phase. I was figuring it all out and I was so in love with the campus and all the excitement that surrounds it. This time I hope I can really get my feet wet and try to understand this cycle. I need to find a way to penetrate the ideas and the thoughts and hesitations I have. I need to ask questions and persist on getting the answers and the honesty that is so critical. I need to begin the tough conversations.
We are reading William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden”. Here he talks about the importance and influence of foreign aid. He mentions that many sub-Saharan African governments spend their money on consumables and not on investments. I sense that local Chilanga residents do the same. It seems like anytime a Malawian makes money they buy necessities and then spend the rest quickly. That being said, I am sure all they are using the money for has a need. The money they receive may not be enough for their list of needs and wants, but it seems to be spent quickly. I am not an economist or a financial planner, but this makes sense. They are so used to spending what they have, as it usually isn’t much. I am wondering then where is the answer as Easterly makes me question a solution. Is there one?
I spoke with one of the ladies hired by Transformative Praxis: Malawi and she was very honest in saying that people here aren’t smart with their money. She mentioned having children and how many local people have children they cannot support. This she said is why children get married young and end up in unfortunate situations. She also spoke about the differences between men and women. She said men are often so focused on money and this leads them to not consider their children. The women want opportunities for their children, but their voices are often lost under the men.
Just being here 48 hours I feel like I have experienced so much. I know I have made no impact, but one honest conversation is a good start.
By Ashwini Manohar
Malawi from the air is barren — red earth stretching for miles, shrubs, trees and occasionally a collection of huts. My first impression of Malawi was buoyed by intense curiosity, and I’m ashamed to say, filtered through the distorting lens of my camera.
Despite never being interested in documenting my life with pictures, the moment the chartered bus started moving from the parking lot of the airport, I whipped out my phone, went to the video feature and started recording. Soon enough, we left the relatively wealthy Lilongwe and headed towards Kasungu.
Poverty was ubiquitous. And I was mindlessly snapping, driven by some obscene desire to capture what was streaming by my window. Twenty minutes into the bus ride, realization struck: what was I doing? Why was I consuming poverty in this way? None of the people I’d snapped had given me explicit permission to take pictures of them. I put my phone away, ashamed and angry with myself.
I don’t really know how to put into words what I felt after that, as I gazed out the window. Mostly I felt numb, I think, not connecting the shanty huts with the fact that people lived in them. Occasionally we’d pass a busy business district, run-down stores selling everything from coffins to salon services. Sometimes music blasted from an unseen speaker.
We turned right on to a bumpy dirt road after a while. “We’re two minutes away,” Kassie said when I asked if we were close. The bus slowed to a crawling pace. As we rounded a corner, the TPM campus came into view. I immediately got anxious. Amber was almost jumping off her seat with excitement at seeing all the ladies she’d formed deep relationships with last year. Coming out of the bus in the midst of her squealing and hugging (oh Amber) was a bit overwhelming, but the kind and incredibly warm welcome I received put me at ease. I was happy and secure.
That feeling has remained the last three days as I acclimated (and still am) to life in Malawi. The sun rises before 6 and sets by about 7 in the evening. Roosters call and dogs howl during the night, and sunsets are breathtaking. You get one pail of hot water to shower, along with a cup; the two showers are conjoined in a small concrete building with wooden pellets and doors that don’t lock from the inside. The kitchen is outdoors — a cement structure with a partitioned pantry in the back, and most of the cooking is done with a charcoal fire in a mbaula: a clay pot handcrafted by women who poke holes in the bottom, which is then encircled by concrete and attached to a metal bottom that collects the ash from the burning charcoal. I recognized it from my childhood in Singapore. In preparation for Diwali, my grandmother would use it to fry her murukus (circular lentil biscuits) in a wok full of oil. I learned that a small mbaula costs about 1500 kwacha, or about $3 Canadian, and a bigger one costs about 2000 or 2500 kwacha, or about $4 or $5 Canadian. Almost every household has at least one.
All of Sunday I spent with Unna and Chimwemwe (which means Happiness in Chechewa, the language spoken in these parts of Malawi), who cook our meals, clean our hostel and haul water for us to clean ourselves and drink. Sunday was honestly the happiest I’ve felt this year. I learned how to make nsima and mpilu (green leaves that look like lettuce) and beans. Unna told me about life in Malawi — how women in Malawi relate to each other, the political system, what she feels about the political system, her husband and her two kids. I told her and Chimwemwe that the children in the field were making fun of my hairy arms, and they laughed at them too and said women in Malawi don’t really grow hair anywhere! (It’s true. I’m jealous.) We shared stories and laughed and had a really good time.
Though I am cocooned in a haze of happiness and contentment (Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase), confusion about my role in TPM and what TPM does still lingered. I was starting to get anxiety attacks because I didn’t want my experience for the next 5 weeks to be one of me floundering around for direction and for everything I do with the community here to be useless.
So on Saturday, I plucked up my courage and went to the professors’ house to ask Dr. Stonebanks and Melanie some questions. It was a good talk — I learned about the political structure of TPM, and of the nearby villages, and where the development committee fit in, which is what Amber and I were going to work on with the women in TPM.
I haven’t strayed beyond the protective boundaries of the campus, and want very much to walk through the villages. I’m sure that will happen in the coming weeks.
Tio nana (See you later).
By Amber Fortin
Moni! Hello! After over 18 hours of travelling we finally arrived at the campus. It was strange because some things have changed a lot, but others have stayed the same. Either way it is very comforting to be back on the campus. I have found myself overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done as many of the projects have fallen to the wayside and even been forgotten. But thankfully one project still seems to be standing; the sustainable chicken coop cooperative project that I worked on last year with the Women’s Group. There are over 27 baby chicks running around the campus now, two roosters and 6 hens, all of which are healthy and growing free-range. Many people would say it was out of laziness that the other projects fell apart, but being around the culture here in Malawi; I can say that laziness is not something I would use to describe anyone. Work is 24/7 for most people and usually they only receive enough kwacha to survive on. The projects seem to have fallen apart due to lack of leadership and limited sense of ownership due to the project being on community land. These are not problems of laziness; these are problems that come with group dynamics and a lack of structure in the group. Once the group structure that Transformative Praxis: Malawi members provided by being here every day during the setup of these projects was not as present, the structure seemingly began to deteriorate. This year my 5 weeks will definitely be more challenging, as there are more projects I am dealing with than just the chicken cooperative. Hopefully, the Women’s Group, Ashwini, and I can work together to find solutions to the challenges of the last year.
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