By Taylor Lowery
Time is both slow and fast here. A general routine fills the day allowing for time to pass, yet the tranquility of just “being” and “doing” seems to stop time in its place. The work feels easy, fun and creative.
I’ve come to realize that when you are confident in what you are doing it is easy to feel comfortable; when tasks fall within your realm of understanding it is easy to feel competent and it is easy to be yourself. This comfort is a feeling I am very weary of. Wasn’t I on this adventure to get away from my comforts? Wasn’t this the time to step into something a little more unknown?
I have been told that learning comes when you are outside your comfort zone- that box that you draw just around the perimeter of what you know and of what you are used to. This theory is known to Education students through the Education Psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who called this your Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), the zone of what you can achieve when you receive scaffolding to step just outside of what you can already do on your own.
So following this theory, I must move past that work which I feel most comfortable doing and into an area which I feel more uncomfortable. Once I reflected on this I realized that what scares me most right now is my comfort in this project and the notion that soon I should probably step out of it.
If I could peel apart the layers of this comfort, I might find that what give me the most shelter is the interactions I choose to surround myself with. If I wish to fully immerse myself in this experience I think I need to gain some confidence in engaging in dialogue- not with my young adult peers, not with the English speaking cooks, or our Malawian teacher friends- but in dialogue that is not convenient; dialogue that must be worked towards, and translated; some dialogue that requires me to sit in discomfort.
From my readings on Freire, he speaks dialogues praise, and in fact dismantles any development (Pedagogy) work that does not include dialogue at its core. This is what I realized I needed help doing. My father likes to say, ” You are only a stranger until you say hello”. I hoped to get a little further than this.
I decided to bring my concerns to the attention of the group. We decided to set up meetings with four of the nearby villages to talk about Education and their ideas on its future place here. One person expressed some apprehension, “how about if we don’t like what we hear? Aren’t we trying to bring a different perspective to Education? Don’t we want to be different?” I thought about this for a second but questioned that without dialogue how would we even know where to start and develop if we don’t know the current ideas, attitudes and realities? How can this school’s curriculum (the work we are here to help construct) serve the community if we don’t even bother to ask?
Dr. Stonebanks suggested we have discussion groups with just the woman as they would be the only ones to give us an honest opinion, and not just what they thought we “wanted to hear.” Meetings were arranged then changed, then rescheduled due to funerals…then etcetera, etcetera… but they finally took place. Debriefing afterwards illuminated a lot, confirmed other things and also changed some of our original lesson focuses. I will not go into detail here about the conversations as I have already done a lot of reflection and as I am sure others are blogging about these conversations so I wish not to saturate the topic.
What I do want to express however, is the amount of joy I felt when I recognized a familiar butterfly in my stomach just prior to our meeting with these women. I also really reveled in the awkward moments during the actual conversations, such as when I was offered cooked corn from a toddler and when the women asked us for a water well. This was the feeling I was searching for, the evidence that I was stepping out of the comfort and into the unknown.
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