Monthly Archives: May 2013

First Days in Makupo

By Linden Parker

Learning to dekernel corn with Ruth

Learning to dekernel corn with Ruth

After traveling for over 24 hours, with less than 5 hours of sleep, we arrived to much fanfare in the village of Makupo. The children were cheering on the street and the adults were singing a song welcoming us to the village. In some ways it was as I expected and yet I was still overwhelmed by the excitement and inviting nature of the locals. I also should have been prepared for the greetings in Chichewa, but for some reason that also caught me off guard. I had not prepared in advance for exchanging the common greetings, but the villagers were very patient and encouraging of our attempts. This continues to be the case. They continue to exchange greetings at all times of the day and nicely direct the greeting to each of us individually. This allows us to practice many times a day. It’s starting to come a bit more naturally, but I still pause, stumble and mix up my responses. People tend to offer up the correct words in Chichewa very fast, but we have so many opportunities to try that I am never overly offended or frustrated – it has only been two and a half days after all.

Yesterday, we spent the day touring the village and surrounding area, including the three schools that are nearby. During the walk the guides were very informative and willing to answer any and all questions about the local agriculture, traditions, governance, and history. They also ask us questions about Canada in return, but I have a hard time finding a balance between sharing information and not contributing to the divide between us. I think they often just cannot comprehend many aspect of North American lifestyle, just like we cannot grasp the full details of life in places we have never been. One of the gentleman said that he thought that it just snowed year round in Canada and a young woman was surprised that the corn that we eat back home was not grown in our own farm. The latter conversation occurred when Corinne and I were invited to learn how to take kernels off of a corncob. It was surprisingly difficult and she was very concerned about us hurting our thumbs. She shared the trick to protect our thumbs and even she admitted that they struggled with some of the tighter kernels. The biggest admittance was the amount of work it takes for them to make the corn flour, between the planting, harvesting, shucking, dekerneling and taking it to the mill. She told us that they work together in the village to help each other get it all done. The children as young as five years old can help out after sitting and learning from their mothers over the years. The whole challenge of this process made me feel bad about eating the nsima (cornmeal grits), but I do realize that it is their most common food and they enjoy sharing with us. I have had the same concerns about eating the meat and the vegetables that are less commonly grown in the area. I’m sure my comfort with this will go in and out and talking with the other students will help me work through it.

I am very much enjoying this immersion experience and find that I keep having more and more questions and “a-ha!” moments. The responses and observations are thought-provoking for me personally and I’m also keeping track of the information that I think will be useful for the curriculum development. We have one more day of relaxation and then we’ll be jumping into the curriculum work. I’m hoping we find that everyone’s incredible generosity continues to aid us in this work. I’ll report back after our first few days into the project – Monday we visit the site where the new school will be built!

May 30th: The Warm Heart of Africa

By Naomi Crisp

My new family

My new family

After tucking my bug net into the mattress I was out for the night until the sound of the rooster woke me. It was still dark outside so I went back to sleep. At 6am I heard people in the main room so I joined them. To my relief there was already tea on the table, one cup later and I was social. The women had made some delicious doughnuts along with fruit for breakfast. A while later Themba gave us a short language lesson (Chichawe) and a detailed tour of the village. Everyone in Makupo is family and it seems like a wonderful system of ownership alongside community collaboration (a value to consider in curriculum development). After the tour we had time to ourselves in which I went and took some pictures because I know Mum would want to see everything from a mango tree to the toilet.

We had some lunch and the Themba took us on a tour of the surrounding villages. I found this interesting as the villages are all so different yet the same. Some were bigger, spread out, smaller houses, more banana trees or fewer people, each village was their own. We learned a lot along the way about lifestyle and culture, which made it very clear how important these few days of discovery are in order to create a school that is appropriate for the area.

We did a loop which took us to the schools which gave us a great idea of what they look like here. The system felt very British in nature but the class sizes were about 70 per grade (called standards here). At the primary school there are about 31 teachers and 2000 students, a lot bigger class sizes than we are used to. Students don’t start school until the age of six as play is an important role in a child’s growing up process. Close to the secondary and primary school was the Chilanga School for the Blind where we found the children singing, an absolute pleasure to watch.

The tour was incredibly informative from how bananas grow to the procedure of burial services. Longjezo was great at answering every question I came up with in that nature. When we got back from the walk I went straight outside to meet Gift. He taught me all kinds of general knowledge information, such as, the wind stops in the hot season, they play netball and soccer, mangos grow in the wet season, popcorn is popular, soy is used a lot, there are 3 months off of school but spread out throughout the year, as the students age their subjects go from general to specific, and the rain feels neutral but the wind is HOT.

After a few hours and the sun was fading, I went to have a shower, and by shower I mean a bucket. I thought it would be a negative experience but I was so happy just to be clean! Just before dinner I suddenly felt really sick and had to run outside to throw up. I was worried that this was the start of a long train of foreign sicknesses but in all honesty it was just the adjustment to the heat, I was fine from then on. We sat on the couches for the remainder of the evening discussing topics that naturally lead to education being a room full of teachers. I found today that the heat and new environment must be respected and my body needs its rest.

May 27, 28, 29: This Time for Africa

By Naomi Crisp

First thoughts of Malawi

First thoughts of Malawi

Right now I am sitting under a mango tree in Makupo, Malawi… Africa! I am being blessed with a warm sun and needed breeze. I am facing 10 village children dancing with their fuchsia flowers and digging their feet into the copper dirt. It has been an incredibly long 3 days but I have arrived to the place I have heard so much about and worked hard to get to.

My travels started on Monday night as Dr. Stonebanks collected me from my apartment at 9:30pm and then Elise on the way up to their house. We rested there until 1am and then the adventure began. Dr. Di Mascio was kind enough to drive Dr. Stonebanks, Arshad, Roxy, Elise and I to Montreal airport. As our Praxis Malawi group was signing our luggage through, the chaos began. One of the girls happened to bring her old passport rather than the new one. Barbra’s husband and Mel came to the rescue at 4 am retrieving the passport and getting it to the airport. Needless to say, the stress levels were very high and the race was on. The passport arrived but she had to get the next flight to Toronto. When everyone was back together again in the Toronto airport the stress died down and our crew began our 3 hour wait for the next flight to Ethiopia.

This flight was the big one, 12 hour on a busy airplane across the ocean. We all tried to sleep but it seemed impossible due to crying children, stale air and airport seating. Even though I can honestly say the flight was far from wonderful it did not dismay me in any way as I knew this was the flight that took me to Africa. As we flew over Atbarah at about 2 am (May 28th), I saw the most amazing sunset out of the window. The bright reds and contrasting blacks and blues were a sight I will never forget, it gave a strange feeling of understanding… though I don’t know of what it was directed towards.

The flight went on as the day broke and my cold that I had been fighting off came back for a visit, making the flight that much more enjoyable. A few airplane meals later we landed in Ethiopia. A rush of excitement came over me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I was so close to being in Malawi (a place I could only dream of being) doing a project I now have the maturity and knowledge to complete. Ethiopia gave me drive (no matter how tired my body was). With a short lay over in a busy airport we were on board the plane heading to Lilongwe, our destination. Due to the pure exhaustion of traveling, the flight was a 3 hour confusing mix of reality, dream and chicken curry.The plane landed and I could see nothing but dirt and trees on both sides, confusing me even more so, but around the corner was the airport and our bus to take us home to Makupo. An easy transition of plane to bus put us on the road to the village.

It was difficult for everyone to stay awake on the drive as the sun was so hot and the wind blowing through the window so magnificently and people faded off until we slowed to enter the village. We awoke to the screams of excitement from the children as they chased the bus along the dirt road. Turning the corner, the children were joined by the adults singing a choir of such joy and welcoming. That moment was one of love and family.

We got out of the bus and were individually welcomed and introduced in both English and Chichawe to everyone and set up things in the hostel. This was all a bit overwhelming but appreciated nonetheless. The chief gave a beautiful welcoming speech that came from the heart and was expressed through his eyes. Dr. Stonebanks replied in an equally loving statement. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing with children and walking around the village, talking to people and starting to allow ourselves to accept this amazing land as our own.

The air is cooling now, the children gone and my friends inside so I will leave this blog by expressing the peace that is felt in this moment.

Getting Ready

Discussing the how and why of curriculum

By Linden Parker

After an amazingly informative and collaborative Curriculum Building Workshop, we are ready to set off for Malawi. Those of us who will be working on curriculum development spent the weekend getting to know each other and the intent of our project in Africa. I definitely felt less anxious after the weekend because there is one less unknown to face in the days ahead. The Stonebanks’ were incredible hosts and there was a perfect blend of relaxed bonding time and time spent discussing and exploring the curriculum work.

Imagining what could be

Imagining what could be

Back home, it took a bit of effort to get everything packed just right, but I am truly getting excited now that my bags are ready and sitting by the door. We meet early tomorrow morning at the Montreal airport and after 24  hours of travel we will arrive in Malawi. WOW!

Introducing the 2013 Group: Champlain College

Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

My name is Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks. I’m a 17 year old Liberal Arts CEGEP student with a passion for the written word. My many talents include finding quiet hiding places, being able to read sheet music, remembering useless quotes from movies, and reading up to 3 books per week. I enjoy dying my hair many different colours, watching pointless reality TV, reading books on dystopian societies, listening to music that makes me sad and writing small pieces of work that I hide from the public.

The focus of my project is to create small film vignettes of the life in Makupo, Malawi, the people who live there and the obstacles they face, along with documenting the progress of the other projects that will take place around me. My aspirations towards this trip and project consist of learning all about a culture that I did not have much knowledge towards before, finding out ways we would be able to assist the people living there and documenting it in a way that’s accessible for other people to learn about it, and hopefully not getting eaten by a hippo or an anteater in the process.

 

Elise Brown-Dussault

Elise Brown-Dussault

My name is Élise Brown-Dussault. I’m a seventeen year-old college student. I love swimming in oceans, writing corny songs, and eating giant bowls of oatmeal. I can probably identify most plants in a North American garden by both its French and Latin name, but I can never remember what daisies look like. Things that I’m good at include making sandwiches, assembling furniture and doodling. Things that I’m bad at include opening bottles, passing the vacuum cleaner and describing myself in a single paragraph (just in case you couldn’t tell).

I feel simultaneously excited and terribly anxious about my involvement in the Praxis Malawi project. I hope to contribute something positive to the journey, even if I feel uncertain about the changes a seventeen year-old can make. Nevertheless, I feel like it’s a beautiful opportunity to find out. Regardless of what I discover, it’s sure to be a fantastic adventure.