By Kate Newhouse
We have just arrived at our village. As we drive in to the village we are greeted by women singing. Instantly many of us become overwhelmed with the kindness and how happy they seemed to see us.
We unloaded and brought out many soccer balls (or footballs as the Malawians call them) to start playing with the kids. It was nice to see so many children on the campus and we could feel it come to life.
As we watched the sunset the tremendous colours of blue, green, orange and yellow just made me feel settled. I was so happy that we were here after a long day of travel and I had mixed feelings about the next five weeks. I am excited to see what we can accomplish and see how it all works out. I have been talking about this trip for a year and it’s finally here.
We had a “team meeting” tonight where we all expressed our initial impressions. I talked about how we were viewed in the airport as just another group of white kids trying to “save” Africa. I didn’t like this and I wanted to explain to everyone in the airport that this is a project designed to last. Our work here is not going to take jobs away, but hopefully provide them with resources and knowledge to be sustainable year after year as my peers take part in this project as well.
During our team meeting, Dr. Stonebanks shared the story as to why the Transformative Praxis: Malawi logo was an eagle. He said it was from a professor in Malawi who he had lunch with and the story was about these birds acting as chickens pecking at the ground when a lion came by and asked why they were doing this. The birds replied that they were Malawian chickens and this is what Malawian chickens did. The lion said that they were actually eagles and that they should be soaring in the sky. We all agreed that this story was very representative of what we are trying to do. We want to show people what we can do and what they can do. Don’t be confined by labels, or norms, but think outside the box and create who you are and what you are capable of.
I am still so amazed that we are here and beginning to work so soon. I am still in the honeymoon stage of culture shock, but I can’t wait to experience all this project has to offer
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).
By Kassandra Norrie
After hours and hours of travel we finally arrived on campus yesterday. Although I am a returning Praxis Malawi member, I was still arriving into a lot of unknown since this is the first time we have been based on the new campus. As we got off the bus, welcomed by a group of singing women, I was hit by the first phase of culture shock: The Honeymoon Phase. Walking through the new hostel I was amazed with how beautifully everything had been brought together (there was not a roof in the last pictures I saw), and this was the end to the shortest Honeymoon Phase I have ever experienced. After coming in the back and walking through the building I emerged through the front of the hostel and into a construction site. Men were high on ladders painting the cement above the bricks and down on their knees painting the cement of the foundation. This all seemed great until I went to the professors’ house that still was not completed. Men were painting the outside of the hostel while another building, where professors were expected to stay, sat across the campus incomplete. I walked back out of the house, saw the men painting the hostel and immediately thought, “What a waste of time and money”.
I skipped over the depression of the Disintegration Phase and went right to where I left off three years ago into the Reintegration Phase. I was angry. The workers were painting our hostel while other buildings were still not completed. I had to remove myself from the group to reflect and place myself somewhere in “The Five Stages of Culture Shock” (Pedersen, 1995). Maybe the men painting were hired painters who could not help to complete the building? I do not know, because I never bothered to ask.
Understanding culture shock prior to our arrival in Malawi has enabled me to find my direction and help point others in the right direction as quickly as possible. I know why I am here. I have my goals set to work towards, and with such a short amount of time to work I am happy that my experience has helped me to negotiate my way through culture shock and come out facing in the proper direction.
About the Blog
From 2013 to 2017 students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi wrote blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi.