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).

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