By Ryan Moyer
Yesterday, when I was on an adventure with members of a local research team, I passed by a big office building in Kasungu. We were walking to use the computers at an Internet café that serves dial up internet at 20 kwacha per minute rather than four dollars per latte. The walk there was one and a half hours…the walk back was longer. No one I was with seemed to consume any food or water over the entire 6-hour period. I had a litre and a half of water and two granola bars, and still felt like gravity had eaten more Wheaties than me that day.
Three hours of walking, in the relentless sun, for a total of 42 minutes, exactly, of Internet time. If that doesn’t tell you members of your team is committed, I don’t know what does. Just the fact that many laughingly took part in that walk for such a small amount of Internet time, and ultimately knowledge, made me reflect on our society’s propensity to complain… in groups, on Facebook, everywhere…about everything that doesn’t matter.
I’m writing this while listening to The Suburbs by Arcade Fire on an iPod, and it has made me think of how growing up in the suburbs everyone would complain about the ‘sprawl’, and the subsequent walking times, or bus connections, or this, or that. Walking three hours for some Internet access wouldn’t even cross someone’s mind as an option.
“Grab your mother’s keys, were leaving.”
-Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Although I am a tad nostalgic for the simple times of growing up in the suburbs, you know… street hockey, running through sprinklers, all that stuff—I do not miss the lack of depth and lack of… really of anything in that lifestyle. The monotonous routines, devoid of any type of human emotion, let alone adventure, gets plastered over by shiny cars and manicured lawns. And some never grow out of this chase for the aestheticization of the transpolitical, or in other words, to appear ‘civilized’. This bourgeois idealism born from the French Revolution just will not die, people will not evolve…always high school, always high school. I saw it yesterday at the office building.
It wasn’t my first time there, I had visited the building last year to sit down with World Vision and visit one of ‘their villages’. It is the one structure in Kasungu, besides the gas station and the hotels, that could pass in a Canadian city. The inside is a dark mahogany style wood and some of the seats have leather. It resembles Canadian parliament, and also Bishop’s University’s main building, so that the bourgeois will feel comfortable! “Oh yes, I know this wood and this leather, I think I’ll get along with these people.”
Outside, the lawns are tip-top…that guy who lived in the house across from me growing up, the one who spend more time on his lawn than with his kids, would agree. The area’s concrete is crackless, and on top of that concrete sits the nicest vehicles one can find in Kasungu; brand new shiny pick-up trucks. And these trucks belong to the NGOs and the Not-for-Profits that are housed inside. The ones that are supposed to be working hand in hand with the poor people of Kasungu. Yet they all drive $40, 000 Toyota trucks. Why? Well, just like high school, you need to look good! But really, it’s just a mask on wheels.
“And all of the houses they built in the 70’s finally fall and nothing at all. Meant nothing at all, it meant nothing.”
Arcade Fire (N/A) The suburbs, The Suburbs
By Vicki Miller
The Transformative Praxis: Malawi group took our first walk into Kasungu town all together yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful, yet difficult and unsettling experience. I say this because I did not feel like myself on this walk. I felt like there was a large neon sign over my head reading “AZUNGU”, meaning “white person” in Chechewa. We passed through many small villages on our walk into town, and each time we passed, we got yelled at, stared at, or pointed at. At one point villagers came up to us and shook our hands and even hugged some of us.
I felt as if something was wrong with me, or maybe my hair was crazy or my pants were inside out. I continued to search for a reason why these people held such fascination towards the entire group and myself. I then realized that it was none of those things; it was the color of my skin. It really hurt that entire villages would look at me, point at me, and only see a young Caucasian girl. They did not see me for who I was; they did not see me for Vicki.
I later asked one of my co-learners what the villagers intentions were, because it was hard to determine if they were fascinated, disgusted or afraid of us. Deep inside, I think that it was a combination of a lot of those things, and my co-learner explained that it was mostly out of fascination because they do not see “azungu” every day.
I have been taking a lot of time in thinking about why I am here and what “changes” I am going to make and what experiences I am hoping to get out of my five weeks. During this thinking time, I have been reading Dr. Stonebanks’ Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning in which he notes that our “living requirement” of living near a rural Malawian village is “to momentarily immerse the most privileged (relatively) in our world to the manner in which the vast majority of humanity lives”. I by no means consider myself very privileged, or even close to one of the most privileged in the world. But, using the word “relatively” changes things, because in my small town in Central Massachusetts, I am an average, middle class, Caucasian, female. Nothing special, no more privileged than the rest of my homogenous white town. The majority of the children attend public school, the majority of them graduate high school and the majority of them attend some form of post-secondary education. To put all this into perspective, the majority of children here in Malawi cannot afford a pair of shoes. Compared to the majority of people here, I am rich and very privileged. Now that I am surrounded by people living in such different living situations than my own, and who do not all have the same educational opportunities I had, I am more grateful than ever that I was able to have graduated high school, attend a wonderful university, and come out of it all with no debt or student loans. I can thank my parents for all that, but I never had control over when or where I was born, or how much money I would have access to, or what kind of education I would be able to afford.
I have noticed, more than anything, the weight of being an American university student, because as Dr. Stonebanks states, “Canadian and American university students are amongst the most privileged in the world.” That weight has made me stand out and has given me privilege that I never asked to have. Even having the time, money, education and mere opportunity to come to Malawi is something that a lot of people do not have. I believe that what I have to do now is take advantage of these opportunities that I have been given and make a difference here in Malawi.
Things to be grateful for: education and not missed opportunities
Reference: Stonebanks, C. Darius. (2013). “Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning”. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.) Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.
By Kirsten Dobler
June 11, 2015
Over the past week and a half I have been thinking about the things that I took for granted at home. I’ve compiled a list with the help of some others to express a couple things that I would be able to live without, but still pop into my mind every once in a while.
By Kirsten Dobler
June 10, 2015
I have had a realization that has led me into many hours of contemplation. I am going to attempt to deconstruct it in this blog post. After many years of blissful ignorance I entered a course and the reality that I am living in a way that has taken away the soft glow that I once believed there to be around the world. Not that I don’t see this in the Western world, because I know it’s there. It’s just that there it is easier to see things as an outsider. This glow that I saw (metaphorically, obviously) occurred because of the goodness in the world. It was a strong glow in which I felt was due to the kindness and compassion of the world. It was people doing the right thing for the right reason. People so often believe that these little lights are enough in life, but not in the world of planners and searchers.
In a recent reading that we read, we learned about planners and searchers. I am going to attempt to break it down. A planner is someone that is told or is shown that a certain location needs light. Planners raise money to get lightbulbs and send the lightbulbs to the locations where they think that they lightbulbs should be. They believe that by providing and sending over the lightbulbs they have contributed enough and all of the happy feelings should be theirs. All of these lightbulbs are sent over in good heart and with good intentions, but when it comes to it, these people are not actually sharing light, they are sharing lightbulbs. Searchers move in ways that allow their light to be shared. A searcher goes beyond sending the lightbulb to the location they bring the light to the location. Searchers go on-site and they move. They work with the locals on the ground to get information and create a charge. With this charge that they have created with the community they become able to make the lights work. Rather than just supplying the light, they have acted as a catalyst and have brought the means to make light.
Okay, now back to the soft glow that I used to believe encompassed the earth. With all of the NGO’s and projects designed to help communities, our society believes that there are lights in the places that we’ve given lightbulbs. Unfortunately, in many, if not all, communities that need light, only have lightbulbs. There are so, so many lightbulbs, but there are few people that are willing to go and to make the changes necessary to get the lightbulbs to work.
I once believed that kindness gave the world a soft glow. With our actions we created ways in which you could soften a heart of stone, or take the green out of a greedy man’s eyes. Maybe many, many years ago this was the case, but as I come to know and learn more about our shared space on earth I am beginning to doubt the possibility of an everlasting glow. Unfortunately, I have no solution or even a hint of one. I know that the work I am doing may help some people, but I don’t know that this will be enough. There is a quote I often think about that goes, ‘Everybody has a little piece of them that wants to save the world. It’s okay if that world is your own.’ If I don’t do everything in my power to save this earth, I don’t know that my own world would be saved either. Now it’s time to get moving.
By Taylor Lowery
The other students and I have a lot of time to chat here. I have found it interesting that many of us have expressed a similar weariness to the idea of returning to our privileged countries, our homes full of amenities, or our jobs serving bratty children with no idea of how much they really have. There is this almost unanimous discontent with our home culture, and a favoured appreciation for the community culture we find here. Although we can look around and see a lot of services that lack initiative/support, it’s hard for myself and the other students to feel anger towards the locals, we do not see them as being anything but gracious for having us here and sharing their time and resources. As Dr. Stonebanks says, nobody wants to be the one to be mean to an African, but at a certain point you need to engage in difficult conversations, ones that encourage locals to speak up, get angry, feel critical, feel passionate towards the development of their own home. What I can recognize for myself at least, is my current tendency to tack my feelings of disappointment onto the inadequacies of my own people.
I don’t want to find fault in the people of Malawi. I think who am I to have any judgment over how the people here conduct their business? About how they participate? The amount of feedback they give? Sure I think to myself it would be nice if the Malawian teachers we are working with would say “Hey Taylor, that idea you just proposed is rotten and here’s a better one;” I would sing out Hallelujiah! To date most of the ideas of us “Azungus” (white people) are only greeted with positivity. This is beginning to unnerve me but not to a point yet where I feel comfortable feeling critical. For now, all I can come up with are some criticisms for the ‘Developed’ areas. Here are some good ol’ fashion poems expressing my frustrations and observations with my own peers and society. These are the things I feel “comfortable” being critical of.
Comfort is a Privilege
To couch yourself from the discomforts of life is a benefit enjoyed by few.
An equilibrium of body and space.
A soft touch, at a safe space.
Comfort is a privilege.
When God said let there be light, He forgot to mention the fuse might blow.
Some will be illuminated;
Feel the warmth of being considered individuals in a whole.
Comfort is a privilege.
Said the West, “I’m so hot, I am dying of thirst.”
Here the semantic slip ups run deep
When you’re surrounded by those whose reality you actually speak.
Man is comfort a privilege.
The time has come to shake the dust.
When the uncomforted ones speak this message at us:
Be quiet. Sometimes your words are better left unsaid.
Just sit. Because your height is already seen.
Please listen. Just listen to the voices around.
Your comfort should not matter here.
It is your turn off the couch.
Can’t stop won’t stop to just
Uncomfortable with a pause…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ……………………………………………………………………………………….plans…………………………………………………………………………………schedule ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………plans……………………………………busy..……………………schedule………
(Unnerved with one silent moment in moments)
Must make NOISE, f ill S P A C E
Those “umms” kill grace
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ These are my people.
If the hills had eyes
If the hills had eyes, they would watch till the end.
If the trees had feet they would stay.
Or maybe they would run away from the sounds
of the chainsaws merrily at play.
If the stones had ears they would skip
the track where their ripple causes pain,
as the war blew apart the stones from their wall…
if only they had arms to rebuild it again.
If water had a heart is would beat for the sun
its passions adding up to a cloud.
Mix in some acid and hazy confusions
and the tears fall back down to the ground.
If man had the foresight to look at this Earth
through the eyes of those hills high above,
he might see that his ego has blinded the growth
of humanities worldwide love.
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
In Regards to Hope and Doubt
My hope dwindles daily in this search. I wonder if Paulo Freire’s theory of dialogical education has ever really worked, or if it is completely irrelevant in post-modernity. There is no doubt that dialectics are dead, and all the Hegel quoting in the world won’t bring them back to life. So how can someone so confidently categorize humans into two neat categories of oppressor and oppressed? It’s like Freire is trying to pitch the world as a sequel to “A Christmas Story”, in which the ‘oppressed’ rise up and strike back at the bully! Then the bully realizes the immorality of his action and is all the better for it.
Freire (1970) states that “the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole” (46), and since he was writing in the 1970’s this can be forgiven, but anyone who has even dipped a toe in post-structuralism is aware that there are no poles; they never existed. They were made up by theorists to simplify and sell books. Marxism and Freire at times commit the murder of anomie, like the game of chess being played through kaleidoscopes, explained using a simple game of 20/20 checkers as an example.
I doubt Freire’s theories often. Yet, I can’t debate them it if I don’t try to put them into action, if I don’t honestly test them. And so, I still have hope.
In Regards to Love
“I remember you were conflicted. Misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power; full of resentment. Resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screaming in a hotel room. Lovin’ you is complicated.”
Paulo Freire throws around the word love as if it’s a hot potato; frequently and with determination. Unraveling and making sense of that word is a task that is impossible, like biting ones own teeth. Some may embrace love as the soaking of “pleasure from this charming and absurd difference that nature has put between the sexes” or, and seemingly most often, love is simply a “narcissistic game of capture and control” (Baudrillard, 1990, p. 17). I find myself combating the latter of the two theories of the L word as I proceed in work. The quotation that begins this piece states “Lovin’ you is complicated”, as everyone runs the threat of becoming adept to misusing their influence. Those without it may travel to Malawi and all of a sudden be granted sway and power based on skin colour and wealth alone. And as Peter Parker’s passing uncle proclaims, while looking at a young Spider Man; “With great power comes great responsibility”. In participatory research it is imperative to lessen ones influence, this is a large responsibility, yet in the face of slow or non-existent progress it is tempting to bypass community input and proceed using ones own best judgment. Honest dialogue here can be difficult, as it many times has meant reminding groups of my own inability to help in any type of practical or immediate way i.e. reiterating that “I am not a water specialist! I cannot build a well!” This gets tiresome, and I sometimes find myself resenting those who look to me to solve these structural problems because of my skin color. The honest answers I give can lead to very somber and morbid moods amongst the group, as this answer smothers any hope of clean water arriving any time soon. As they did for Dr. Stonebanks during moments of reflection, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s words, concerning a researcher’s merit, begin to cross my mind often, repeating like a skipping CD.
“Are they useful to us?? Can they fix our generator? Can they actually do anything?” (Smith, 1999, p.10, from Stonebanks, 2014, Confronting Old Habits Overseas)
In Regards to Tranquility
“We live in a world of more and more information, but less and less meaning”
The above quote isn’t exact, as I don’t have Internet access to check its validity. I suppose that’s a good point to start on. There is no Internet here, and no television. No Blu Rays. No cell phone. Limited advertising. Basically, a lessening of the debauchery of signs. It has brought a certain level of tranquility. A new appreciation for the stars has resonated with me. In the urban metropolis the light pollution disallows their viewing, and when I do stay in the countryside I usually work during the evenings and miss their greeting. Here, I have the time to sit and just admire. I suppose these new feelings of tranquility have stemmed from spending more time with myself, whether reading or otherwise. Western society doesn’t allow for much time to yourself, and, even if it does, people don’t seem to embrace it. They’re either plugged into an iPod or fiddling with their smart phone. If you can’t spend time with your own thoughts, you’re in trouble. It’s been really nice to do that lately.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Baudrillard, J. (1990) Fatal Strategies.
Kendrick Lamar (N/A) To pimp a butterfly.
By Amber Fortin
Upon finishing the reading of The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan, I have been furthering my reflection on Africa, its relationships, its triumphs and challenges. After taking courses on Problems in International Development and African Politics I gained critical thinking skills and a clearer understanding of global politics as well as the issues that have been perpetuated by the extensive exploitation of underdeveloped countries. The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan gives a great summary that explores not only the history, but also the exploitation and the problems the continent of Africa faces.
The amount of interest in Africa has always been evident, but colonialism and the horrific slave trade raised these interests promoting more interference by other countries in the continent. Now, “Africa is deeply divided by a sense of vexing fault lines – French versus English speakers, North versus South, Christian versus Muslim, South Africa versus Nigeria, democrats versus dictators, terribly poor versus poor,” (Caplan, Gerald p.114). These divisions in many cases are caused by outsider interferences as well as the historic preconceived notion that Whites know what is best, which is now a misconception that plagues true African independence. What I mean by true African independence is that even though countries in Africa have become independent after colonialism, the Western world still has its hands in politics, resources, trade, and economic affairs of Africa. Whether through bribery, arming guerilla movements or extremely high loan interests, the influence is still very much present in everyday societies of Africa. Developed countries have interests in many cases, which are disguised as aid, but in reality their reward is far greater than countries in Africa, which they are “aiding”. As long as, “Western countries treat aid as a political tool to advance their own self-interest, and so long as most International Non-Governmental Organizations compete against one another, the prospect of a more rational and less wasteful system remains a pipedream. In the meantime, we criticize Africans for being inefficient,” (Caplan, Gerald p.107).
My heart aches more than ever; I cannot stand the historic and present exploitation that my disgustingly privileged country and its allies inflict on this magnificent continent and its people to this day. Between 5 million and 2.5 million BCE, our ancestors emerged in Ethiopia and eastern Africa, we all came from this continent at one point, yet a serious lack of respect for human rights from our global relatives is evident in every continent and in every country. Even Canada currently has been under pressure from the United Nations for is human rights abuses against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, some of which do not have clean drinking water or safe housing on reserves. Canada, like other Western countries, favor the rich and ignore many issues which are left to sit and rot. As well there is a tendency to assist those who can give something back, those who are of interest and use. “For years, African and Western leaders have had a cynical little deal – African governments would pretend to reform themselves and the Westerners would pretend to live up to their pledges and help them,” (Caplan, Gerald p.113). USAid and the World Bank are examples mentioned multiple times by Caplan as exploitative organizations. Here in Malawi I have noticed many organizations including USAid, World Vision and Jw.org in lavish buildings with green shrubbery despite the dry season. Aid often has strings attached, whatever it does for the country in need, which is often unclear, aid always benefits the rich country most. Italy and the United States are among the most selfish offenders of this “tied” aid. Our despicable ancestors and present “developed” countries began and continue to exploit those who cannot afford any food. My favorite quote is as follows from the finale of this novel, which I think really rings with truth and should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to give and respect human rights as well as appreciating what you have.
“We need to help Africa, not out of our selfishness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crisis, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. Many speak without irony of the desire to “give something back”, without realizing the cruel reality of the phase. In fact, that’s exactly what the rich world should do. We give back what we have plundered and looted and stolen. Until we think about the West’s relationship with Africa honestly, until we face up to the real record, until we acknowledge our vast culpability and complicity in the African mess, until then we’ll continue- in our caring and compassionate way –to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse,” (Caplan, Gerald p.127).
Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.
By Vicki Miller
A little girl, about eight-years old, walked into The Community Center to participate in our After School program. The very first thing I noticed was the curiosity in her eyes. She didn’t say anything as the children got into two circles. She simply looked on and stood with everyone else. I also noticed a small child, no more than two-years-old, tied to her back wrapped in her chitenje. The young two year old girl had the same look of curiosity in her eyes as her older sister. The older sister sat down next to me as we started a ball-name-game. She untied her sister and placed her down next to her. She continued to pay extremely close attention to her sister and helped her participate in the game. After the program, the little girl retied her sister on her back and crossed the road and out of sight.
She is such a young girl with such a different life than I lived when I was eight years old. I would go straight to daycare after school, have a snack, go home, eat dinner, listen to my dad read me a story, then go to bed. I never had more responsibilities than making sure I ate my lunch or that I got on the right bus home. I cannot imagine the great responsibilities this little girl had, like taking care of her sister as well as herself. I am simply awed by this little girl and I am very glad that she continues to be herself and keep a slightly toothless smile on her face.
Things to be grateful for: sisters, chitenjes
By Natchasiri (Froy Choi) Kunaporn
When we arrived, I had one concern that was resonating in my head. As far as my intention for this trip goes, how will I ever get out of the stereotype of a young ‘asungu’ believing that she could save everyone in Africa’?
Perhaps, I do not want to bear the guilt of people mistaking my intentions as a chance to ‘be touristy’ and do some humanitarian work, because it is completely the other way round. I find myself being mad for having better ‘luck’ than many people here. Being completely aware about the amount of time and the specific tasks I have, I try not to get belittled about my project and the impact it will produce. I do not want to be lost in the belief that I am the change, but I want to believe that I can complete my part and be a part of the big picture, in the long run.
Africa is often wrongly referred as a whole homogenous country. When we complain about the things we cannot have or when we couldn’t finish our food, people around us overuse the phrase ‘think about the kids in Africa’. As a young child I never understood how that phrase and my follow through actions would make any children in Africa get less hungry? Especially now that I got to meet so many of the Malawian children living in very poor conditions, they are still smiling more than that kid back home who couldn’t play on his iPad during dinner. In my opinion, that phrase was used upon us to create guilt and false generosity. The heroic characteristic that the western world has built around the ‘more privileged’ has been soiled into many minds hence making many feel like a few weeks away would make them come back home heroic. We are students on loans, we are not millionaires, we implement ideas with our little gofundme accounts. My peer said to me, ‘We are not handing out water bottles, we are laying a foundation for the long term.’ It is always useful both when I am feeling upset and when I am feeling too much of the bliss.
Lately I have been feeling a lump of guilt about many people suffering closer to home. Many of us forget that we have access to projects in Canada for the indigenous people who are living in conditions very close to a third world country. However, still I am more exposed to humanitarian work so far away from home. I feel like there is a strong culture of voluntourism that cannot be easily changed. Many often come for a short time, thinking that they succeeded and leave.
We love being heroes, but as harsh as it may sound, it is very important to remind ourselves the most beautiful flowers do grow in the darkest place.
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.