By Vicki Miller
Even though I have only been here for less than a week, there are a lot of things that I have cut down on or realized have been cut down in order to conserve. The first and most important thing that everyone, everywhere, needs to survive is water, H2O. I found that I use infinitely less water here during my daily life than I do in North America. Daily doings that require water in Malawi: bathing, hand washing, dishwashing, laundry, drinking, cooking and more. At home I use it for all the same things but I am not conscious of the amount that I use.
In Malawi, I use about half a bucket (maybe 6L) to bathe. At home, I let the shower run for at least 10 minutes, enough to fill the entire bathtub! It’s absolutely crazy how when something is so plentiful, you take it for granted.
When it comes to food, it is the same concept in North America in that one should not be wasteful. Here, especially on our Campus, there is always a way to use food if there are leftovers. It can be composted, shared with others or it can be given to the dogs. It is always used in some way, never put to waste. It make me furious when people in North America use the excuse of “there are starving children in Africa” to make you finish your plate. Yes! There are children in Africa who are starving, but there are also children (and adults) EVERYWHERE who are starving. How is me finishing my meal going to help them? It’s not.
Light in our world in North America is essential for everyday living, or so we believe. In fact, light is essential for everyday living everywhere. But we have a burning ball of gas many kilometers away, that rises and sets each and everyday without fail. Here we only use electricity when that thing called the sun is no longer in the sky. Without the sun, we cannot see and we cannot work. During the day there is no need to use electricity because the windows in the hostel let in enough sunlight to work by. It is frankly a waste of energy to use electricity when it is not 100% essential. We also use the sun to power the electrical things we need. Talk about efficiency.
In North America we take having a pair of shoes and a change of clothes for granted. Some of the children have shoes, but the majority of them do not. For them, shoes are not an essential part of their lives. Whereas in North America we throw shoes out and buy the latest styles like they are going out of style, children here get along just fine in their bare feet. They also make very good use of their clothing. They don’t throw it out the moment they don’t like it anymore, they wear it until it has so many holes in it that it can no longer be called a shirt, a dress or shorts. Chetinjes are the most amazing article of clothing around here, but I will go into that another time.
Things to be grateful for: socks, toes, durability
By Ryan Moyer
Through my visits to various villages surrounding the Transformational Praxis: Malawi campus, it has come to my attention that access to fresh water is a huge issue for the Kasungu population. The lack of safe drinking water is usually the first issue that comes to light through dialogue. The guilt hits as I sip fresh water from my Nalgene; the upper middle class version of a water bottle.
My water bottle is more outdoorsy than me; for shame. As I walk for hours a day through ferns and plants, and wildlife I’ve never encountered, I am beginning to feel a greater connect with the outside world, with mother earth. Okay hippy! But seriously, moments experienced walking through the Malawian countryside has really calmed me. The more I stay contained in the hostel, the more my thoughts do too, as they seem to flourish as much as the surrounding plants. But…streams are scarce. And in case you have forgotten, as some of my colleagues who wash their clothes every day have, water is important.
Conversing with local community has begun to elucidate the seemingly obvious, yet infrequently considered by some, intersections of the issue of water with other issues. How can one farm produce efficiently if their water is breaking their body down? These conclusions, some coming from visuals of ‘boreholes’, have begun to break me down as well; much faster than last year. I find myself choking back tears as I explain that I cannot provide immediate relief. But who wouldn’t? The Honeymooners! Need to work out, can’t start yelling already. I don’t know how Dr. Stonebanks is so relaxed when witnessing laughter instead of anger. I suppose both are powerful and motivating. Who am I to judge? I was emotionally schizophrenic last year. I wish the first years luck.
This ‘emotional schizophrenia’ has lead me to understand rather than get angry with members of other Praxis Malawi teams who have looked the same villagers in the face after hearing their life threatening issues and promised them wells, boats and boat motors. It is the subsequent travelers that must begin, not with a fresh slate, but with deep trust issues to combat. Trust issues that are amplified due to our Western/European roots. I would be angry too. Seeing anger amongst villagers is refreshing. The local community knows they have been screwed; on both a macro and a micro level; over and over again. How many times can a man be lied to before projecting complete apathy and indifference?
I believe it was the monarch and eloquent philosopher George Bush who publicly proclaimed that “You can fool me once, you can fool me….you can fool me….but I’m…I’m not going to be fooled again!”
Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.
By Kassandra Norrie
I sat as a guest today in a circle of chiefs who were meeting outside under a tree to discuss Praxis Malawi. As I waited for the discussion to be translated to me from their native language of Chechewa I watched the faces of the men. I knew the topics being covered and I could follow along if I paid close attention because English words were often added into sentences when there was not an equivalent Chechewa translation. By watching the faces of the men around me I could see which chiefs were agreeing or questioning the points being discussed.
Beyond the men in the circle there was a well that women were occasionally coming to use, and then continuing along their paths with a heavy bucket of water balanced on their heads. After a few women caused me to look up from the meeting I noticed that they always came and left with the same pail, yet maybe twenty or so buckets and pails were strewn across the ground around the well.
Some time later the after school program being led by Praxis Malawi members across the road from me finished and a group of young girls ran up to the well. I continued to focus on my meeting, but I was distracted by what I had just realized. The buckets and pails had not been abandoned at the well, but rather these girls had dropped them off on their way to school that morning. These girls had gone to school all day, participated in the after school program, and now as the sun was setting they had to fetch water before going home.
It took close to an hour for all of the buckets and pails to be filled, but the girls all stayed and worked together as a team. They took turns pumping the well (sometimes three at a time for the youngest), shuffling the pails under the waterspout, and playing off to the side. Girls could have easily taken their pail home once it was filled but they remained a team. The first girls to leave were the few with babies tied to their backs. Three girls lifted the heavy buckets onto their friends’ heads, then waved and sang usiku wabwino (goodbye) as girls expertly balanced buckets and walked away. Once all the pails were filled, they worked together again to lift all of the pails onto each other’s heads before walking away in all directions of the many paths.
All of these girls were elementary school aged. When I was that age, my only responsibilities were to do homework and play nicely with my siblings. These girls spent their day at school, did extra work in the after school program, and then worked as a team to fill pails of water to carry home. It took more than an hour of labour after a long day to bring home an element so natural and vital that we get so simply by turning a tap.
By Jessica Fobert
We arrived safe and sound off the plane and landed in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi!! I met two wonderful women on the flight over who had shared their stories of returning home to Malawi. We stepped off the plane and one lady we had spoken with took a deep breath of fresh air and spread her arms to capture the beaming sun’s rays. After clearing customs we took a two-hour bus ride to the village of Chilanga, in the Kasungu region. On the drive here I was immediately struck by the poverty and the lack of transportation used by locals. Everyone seemed to be walking somewhere.
When we arrived at The Campus we were greeted by the locals and the women sang a beautiful song and welcomed us. We were all overwhelmed at the beauty and grandeur of the hostel. Similar to Aboriginal cultures, the people of Malawi unloaded our bags because they believed we were tired from traveling all day and suggested we rest while they unloaded our luggage. I was not sure whether I should sit back and let them do the work, but I could not stand around and watch, so I tried my best to help the women carry in our luggage.
From the moment we arrived, I noticed the gender role differences. The men were working hard clearing the fields, painting the buildings and taking part in the construction of the hostel. The women took care of the children, prepared the meals, and collected the water. They often placed heavy buckets of water on top of their heads for extra support. I asked the site overseer, if I could try and collect water. Thankfully, Dr. Sheerin spearheaded a fundraiser to build a well approximately 50m from the hostel, so I did not have to go too far to fetch the water. Some women in Malawi walk up to a mile to collect water, and sometimes it has to be for the whole day! When I was told this I had my first break down. I couldn’t help but think of how much water we waste in Canada, flushing 6L of water down the toilet when people here are struggling to collect fresh water.
It is now my third day in Malawi and I am getting concerned about how culture shock will hit me when I return back to Canada. For now, I hope that team Transformative Praxis: Malawi will bring positive changes to the people here so that they can learn to live a more sustainable life. Goodbye for now, or in Chechewa, tionana (see you later).
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