By Amber Fortin
I think culture shock has begun hitting me. I catch myself in Penderson’s (1995) Honeymoon stage in culture shock, often because I am constantly in awe at the beauty of Malawi. I am so grateful to be here and I do not want to take any moment of this experience for granted. I have dreamed of travelling across Africa my whole life; watching discovery channel in amazement at the diversity and foreign animals, so I wanted to witness it with my own eyes. Yet the beauty cannot hide the poverty here in the villages. The poverty is difficult to swallow and adjust to, especially seeing it every day. Despite all the reasons to be sad here I am witnessing happiness in the smallest things which Westerners take for granted; Whether this is because Malawians regard the ‘azungu’, white presence, as saviors or just the beauties in life. I find myself frustrated by the kids’ excitement due to my skin color and their awe in just merely watching me like I am an extinct animal and it’s a miracle that I am in front of them. Many of the kids are so young that they have never seen someone of another skin tone.
I am also becoming increasingly frustrated at Western culture and our society. The priorities I had and that others have are not truly important. Feelings of selfishness and shame are embedded in me looking back at my own life and what I have taken for granted for so long, such as clean water or even running water. I knew before but until you witness it and live with it, you cannot understand. Here some women and children must walk 1 km with a large pail of water on their heads and a baby on their backs to get back home. I am constantly astounded at the strength of the people here. I just wish I could do more, that I could actually help but money is not necessarily what is needed here. Creative problem solving, entrepreneurship, understanding and empowerment are what I hope to leave here.
Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.
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