By Linden Parker
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!