Category Archives: Praxis Malawi

First Impressions

By Yuyin Ning

The community center

The community center

The mini-bus drove away from Lilongwe airport. “So, here we are.” I thought. The building and the gardens in the airport were too pretty that I couldn’t believe it was the real Malawi.

Our destination was about 100 miles north of Lilongwe, near a town named Kasungu. I can see our mini-bus attracted people’s attention as we were driving out of the city. Since I’ve been told it is dry season at this time, I wasn’t expecting there would be so many green trees on the road side. I was surprised to know the weather was not humid or unbearably hot at all. I can feel the gentle breeze on my face. It was… quite comfortable.

Most of the villages we passed by were very small; actually only taking us less than one minute to drive through. I can see some apples, bananas, and squash were piled up on the street; some dresses, pants and sheets, hanging on the shelf. The big and fresh English letters of some advertisements were printed on the street’s shabby wall. I noticed that all women no matter how old were wearing dresses and man were wearing pants. Some women in pretty chitenjes were walking on the street, with a bucket of water or some bags of clothes or even a bunch of firewood on their heads!  I was so shocked at their excellent skills to balance it. Kids were running around with bare feet. They seemed healthy and happy. I was delighted that the people here were not as bonny-skinny as the African images shown on the television. I looked further, the view was more like the classic commercial pictures of travelling to Africa; the weeds are as tall as a human and the trees have very big trunks and twisted-shaped branches. I imagined there were giraffes or lions hiding behind the trees.

So, here is Africa. I thought.

After about 1.5 hours of driving on the paved road, the bus turned onto a dirt road. I knew we were approaching and became excited.  The striking and unique graffiti on the community center wall told us we have arrived.  We were all exhausted but very excited. When we get off the mini-bus, we were surrounded by a group of people. They were so friendly that they kept coming to shake our hands and some gave us hugs. I looked around. The campus is quite big and the buildings seems nice and clean. The yard is clean and tidy and covered by a layer of sand as all the weeds have been cleared.

We tried to walk around and then realized we were surrounded by a large group of children, whose ages ranged from 2-12 years old.  Some kids who can speak simple English kept asking, “Your name? How are you?” I said, “Hi, I am good. I am Yuyin. Nice to meet you.” Their English skills must be very limited because not many of them can answer me back. One little girl kept asking me, “My name? My name?” I realized that she was trying to know my name. I told her my name and asked her name as well. There was another group of children who cannot speak English and were just following us silently, sometimes laughing with the other ones. I guessed my Chinese name must be too hard for them because the little girl asked me at least four times “your name?”

Their eyes are so curious about us. They want to know everything about us. Dr. Stonebanks joked that we are the “walking TV” for them. We wondered how many of them know what is a TV.  There was a moment I asked myself, what is the influence of our arrival to this village? Will their life change even a little bit because of us? Will they study hard because of the desire to communicate with us? Do they even have a chance and money to study in the school?  If not, will they remember us decades later? Can we really do something “good” for them?

First Impressions

By Yue Yao

A beautiful view

A beautiful view

Early the morning of  June 6th, our TPM group was on the plane leaving for Malawi. It would be the first time I step on the land of Africa. It was so mysterious for me although I read much from book. And this time, I have this precious opportunity to get access to this mysterious land by myself, not as a tourist but as an assistant. I was so excited and nervous about things I would experience in the following month.

After a long trip, we arrived at Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Just as in my imagination: blue sky, green plants, and the airport was much more beautiful. Unlike in Ethiopia, the air in Malawi was very fresh, which made me delighted. We filled out the visa applications and waited in line for a long time because some people kept jumping the queue. At first I thought that those people might be very important guests, but then a Chinese person in line told us that it was just because they tipped local men in security vests. It was very unbelievable for me as I always thought that customs should have a set of strict rules to make sure it functions in an orderly way, and the fact was that every country I have visited before did have their rules of taking foreigners in. Obviously, there was not this same set of rules in Malawi. I felt depressed to see this, but I understood their needs of money because I heard that these officers only earned 50-60 Canadian dollars per month.

We took a minibus to our destination- Transformative Praxis: Malawi Campus. Although I knew it was in a rural area and I knew the situation must be worse, I was shocked by what I had seen on the way. Bald earth, red soil, shabby houses… everything implied the poverty of this place. I did know that Malawi was the third poorest country in the world, but I did not know the real meaning of poverty until I saw it for myself. Sadness was lingering as I saw those people living in such misery. But I also felt happy when passersby smiled and waved at us. I could see their kindness!

Around 2 hours on a bumpy road later, we got to the campus and were overwhelmed by the local people. They hugged me and welcomed me warmly. The happiness beat the fatigue immediately when I saw these lovely people! Kids were extremely excited with our coming, they smiled at us, fist bumped with us, and kept following us just as Dr. Stonebanks said as we were like televisions in their eyes. When we got into the room in the hostel, I found situation was worse than what I expected. It was very dark although there was a small bulb. We had to use flashlights to make sure that we were able to see our stuff. Worst of all, we were not allowed to charge our electronic equipment anytime we’d like, which meant I could not play phone games or music as I had to keep my power for E-books reading. After dinner, I had my first “bucket bath” in my life. It was interesting but I would be frustrated if could not take a shower for my whole life. I thought of the differences of African and my own life. I never realized that having running water was such a delighted thing. Before sleeping, we had a short meeting and I felt very moved by what Dr. Stonebanks said. He said that he wanted this program to keep going on even after he died. I thought everyone here, as well as all the warm hearted people in the world, definitely had the same great intention. But as Easterly mentioned in “The White Man’s Burden,” the West spent over 2 trillion dollars on foreign aid but failed to improve the situation efficiently. I wonder how we can contribute to education here, and there are a lot of answers I need to seek in the following month.

First Impressions

By Ning Ma

Campus showers

Campus showers

“What is that place?”

“Well, I take my shower here, with a bucket!”

This is the real Africa, not from the TV or the Internet, but what I see in person. Although I have read a lot of articles and news about Africa, it still not like what I thought it would be when I arrived here. On my way to Malawi, I have to say, the view is fantastic! I saw the most beautiful sunrise in my life on the plane. And you know what, here it is not hot at all! I even need to wear more than when I was in Sherbrooke! The funny thing is it is also my first time to walk to the terminal building with no shuttle bus, and there were only six or seven customs officers in the airport. On the way to the campus, I got shocked by the view of the roadside: shabby houses, ragged market and curious stares. Just like Dr. Stonebanks said, we are the walking TV for them. People have stopped their work and have put down all their stuff to look at us. I felt upset to see their houses with grass rooves and no windows.

When we arrived at the campus, we got a warm welcome from the local people. They hugged us and thanked us for coming. All the kids nearby came to see us and introduced themselves to us. A girl even held my hand to accompany me for the whole walk around which made me feel so warm. After that, I saw the “shower” place. At that moment, I knew why it is so hard here for people to get a better education. Their daily life even cannot be guaranteed, so how can they talk about their education. Reading an extract from The Eye of the Needle (Sobrino, 2008) helps me to wrap my thinking around this. As people from a better developing country, we cannot think their lives should be like this. This is exactly the ongoing injustice and stereotypes that lead to the unchanging or slow development in Africa. People use their silence to keep this sick system going. However, people from Africa also have the right to live in fancy houses, drink clean water and use advanced technology.

On June 10th, we went to the town nearby. At that place, I also saw many things that I have never seen before. The first thing that surprised me is that there were so many Chinese shops, some of them even have a Chinese name with Chinese characters. I heard from the local Malawian’s that many Chinese businessmen own these shops and hire local people to sell things. But most of the residents do not buy things here because they are expensive. They prefer buying things from the market. This place is a little bit like the night market in Taiwan, except they are selling second hand clothes and shoes. The prices are much cheaper here. During dinner that night, I had the first “candlelight dinner” with all my other team members since there was no electricity in the town of Kasungu. When the sun went down, all the town turn into darkness with only light from the moon. Actually, it was such a beautiful view and one that I could never see in Canada or my hometown.

Since I am still in the “honeymoon” stage, I hope I can feel more and deeper about the local culture soon.

Reference: “A very sick world”: Extract from The Eye of the Needle by Jon Sobrino, translated by Dinah Livingstone. (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2008).

Here We Go Again!

By Mark Freedman

Kasungu Mountain off in the distance

Kasungu Mountain off in the distance

Culture shock. It is a process we all go through when introduced to a foreign situation. It can happen to you if you’re from the country and just visiting the ‘big city’ for the first time, or if you travel to another part of the world where everything is different, the culture, the norms, the taboos, the way of life…literally just about everything. Well, such is a fact even when travelling to Malawi for the second time. Generally, there are five stages of culture shock, the honeymoon stage, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy, and interdependence (Pederson, 1994). I use the term generally as my way of describing how there is some give within the constraints outlined by these five stages. I imagine culture shock as if it were a mountain, where the climber goes through the excitement of a new hike before starting, looking up at the beautiful struggle ahead. Then throughout the hike, the climber sees all these new things, the trees, possibly animals, and all the way to the top, there are positives along the way, something that you can look at while you are getting tired half way through the climb and you think to yourself  “hey, this is still worth it, when I get to the top I’ll be able to enjoy it in the moment and for the rest of my life”. Feelings and aspects associated with each stage of culture shock, I believe, can be evident throughout the entire journey. However I can’t be certain for the fact that I believe I won’t reach some of the later stages of culture shock as they may take consecutive months to develop while living or being in a situation that is unfamiliar.

When we first got to the campus a few days ago, it felt familiar, everyone from the community that has become involved with TPM over the years was there to greet us, and coming back for the second time, it was nice and comforting to see the familiar faces and receive a personal greeting. The campus looks great. There is a new security house, a new addition since last year, the soccer pitch has grass on it, which school boys from the community got together to make possible. And seeing Kasungu mountain from the campus was definitely a honeymoon stage moment, having hiked it last year. But I have also already had moments where I’ve felt like a kid out of place.  Just yesterday we went into town and while at a shop I was gathering the money I had put aside in my pocket; keep in mind this is Malawian Kwachas (the local currency) I’m talking about. So, while I gathered the bills, all of which were different denominations, and took them out of my pocket, I began to count, and hand the cashier money, and count, and hand him more change, and count again.  Quickly I became flustered and was in a sort of shock where I just didn’t know what to do. It turned out that I didn’t give him the right amount, even though I counted about three times. I goofed, for lack of a better term. The feeling that ensued shook me a bit, but I realize that this moment was a moment of culture shock, being in an unfamiliar situation and not knowing what to do. But I feel I have definitely improved in getting to know the culture here, improving my cultural competence, if you will. In that sense, I definitely feel more comfortable in engaging with the locals Malawian’s especially with the few who know me from last year.

I will say this though, no matter the occasional feeling of being flustered, or shook by something, so far there is always an equal or greater moment of joy and hominess.

First Impressions

By Lina Xu

Sunrise on the plane

Sunrise on the plane

It was on a rainy afternoon of June 5th that we headed for Montreal for the preparation of the early flight the next day. Thanks to the arrangement by our organizers, we were driven to a hotel which provides shuttle service to the airport in the early morning.

The morning call alarm rang at 2:40 am the next morning and we packed and caught the 3:30 am bus to the Montreal airport. Although it was still early, there were many people in the airport. We gathered at the counter of Air Canada at 4:00 am, sticking group labels on our bags and writing down our contact information. Our group took shape at this moment. Fortunately, we arrived at the airport early since we were informed that our flight was an hour earlier than what we were told by the agent. It was a short flight from Montreal to Toronto. During the transition in Toronto, we saw so many Asian faces there and I was somehow homesick. It took us 13 hours to fly from Toronto to Addis Ababa by Air Ethiopia, who provided fantastic service and tasty food during the flight. What impressed me most was the sunrise, which was so marvelous to see on the plane. It was my first time to see the sunrise. Arriving at Addis Ababa, it was completely a different world: the crowded passengers and the out-of-service escalators reminded me of the old train stations in China. There was no toilet paper and you may see some Africans doing make-up in the restroom and some women are well-dressed. It was a hard time for us to transit in Addis Ababa since there was no seats available at the waiting area. We stood for two hours before we boarded on the plane and it took us four hours to arrive at our final destination, Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.

We were excited on stepping on the earth of the African continent. We were here finally after the long journey. At the entrance of the Customs, an old friend of our program director was waiting for us. He greeted each of us with his big smile; I have already tasted the warm heart of Africa at this moment. The procedure of going through the Customs was tedious. As Chinese citizens, we could apply for visa upon arrival. There are two counters for visa application, one for checking on the application form, the other for payment and issuing the visa. People gathered and crowded outside the counters in line. I assumed 30 minutes was sufficient since there were only five people in front of me. But something weird happened, the number of people who were in front of me was getting large since the staff with VIP vests jumped the queue from time to time. It was also strange that people who came for airport pickup could enter the Customs area. Later, I was told that it is normal as long as you are familiar with the officials, you could come in. In addition, by giving US$5 bucks you would not have to wait in the queue. I was surprised by this for the reason that I believe the Customs is a sacred place, which stands for authority. How could they challenge the authority like this? I did hear about the terrible bribery in Malawi, but I did not expect it happen the minute I walked off the plane. Anyway, it took us over one hour to go through the visa application and the Customs. During our wait in the Customs area, I was also told that the salary for the officials in the Customs was only around US$60 per month. It was a relief to see some people holding names of visitors at the exit and at least we could see some order in this country.

The airport in Lilongwe is beautiful with shops for mobile services, travel agencies and car rentals. Outside the airport, the blue sky and green trees reminded me of southeast Asian countries. Our airport pick-up van was a Toyota, whose front window was broken and there was no security belt. Sitting in the van, holding tightly onto the side rails, I prayed along the way. The road outside the airport was acceptable since they were smooth. Scattered earth-made houses were seen with few brick-made houses. Many local people wandered around their house, and I wonder if they have a job or not during the dry season.

I believe there is a lot for me to discover on this mysterious field,  and I am looking forward to what is to come.