Monthly Archives: June 2013

A Perpetual Shadow in History

By Elise Brown-Dussault

The view from the mountain

The view from the mountain

I imagine that the way an outsider would have observed our trek to Livingstonia—sweat dripping from our temples, hiking boots skidding on loose pebbles, dry coughs triggered by the heavy dust—hardly differed from how Livingstone and his comrades appeared when they were first led up the mountain by Malawians in the 19th century. Although the times and circumstances have changed, the essential has remained the same: that Westerners, in an attempt to understand and adapt, relied heavily on the locals to try and develop what they felt was a dire situation. I’ll wager that the Malawians who helped him establish his mountaintop city were amused, just like those who accompanied us on our hike; a slight smile splayed on their lips as they skipped nimbly up the path, while our eyes bulged in fear of the incredible altitude. There is no doubt in my mind that David Livingstone and his company would have perished without the local help they received—and yet their names are forgotten on Livingstonia’s relics and monuments. It seems terribly unfair, especially since the Malawians were the ones to carry the materials up the mountain to build the city in the first place, that they are denied of any credit.

This particular historical sequence is in no way unique. Most cases of colonialism include the thankless work of natives which had previously occupied the land, such as the case in most American colonies. But after the difficulties we encountered ascending to Livingstonia, the injustice seemed particularly prominent. I can’t even begin to understand how grueling it must have been to climb the steep 20 kilometers when even walking down left us winded.

Throughout our journey, we have almost always been treated as treasured guests—as friends. It makes me feel slightly uneasy to think that even after the azungus have freely altered the environmental, political and educational context of Malawi (with minimal consideration of those affected) that we are greeted as benefactors. Nevertheless, I do keep in mind that I’ve come here with only my best intentions and that it’s improper to continually expect contempt from our hosts. Instead, I focus on being merciful for this friendly reception. With each passing day and after every unfortunate incident (most of them including Old Breaky, our bus) I am floored with the kindness and concern we are granted.

A monument to Livingstone's men

A monument to Livingstone’s men

Livingstone, despite his shortcomings, was also full of benevolent intent. According to our guide, he chose to build his city atop the mountain because he’d observed a significantly lower malaria rate amongst those who lived there. His decision, although impractical, wasn’t completely illogical. Perhaps he dreamed of a better life for himself and the locals; one where the devastating illness wasn’t so prevalent. My only hope is that we, in this new generation of azungus, can continue to work in partnership with Malawians to develop their country but also remember to give credit where it is due.

A Near Death Adventure

By Louisa Niedermann

Day 18:

View from my lodge

View from my lodge

We got up early like we normally do when we are headed on our weekend adventures.  This weekend we are headed to Livingstonia, which is a village at the top of a mountain. In general I try and sleep as much as I can during our road trips. Today was no different, until we hit the bottom of the mountain and our bus was going to start to climb. I don’t think anyone expected what was yet to come. The road was filled with stones; the bus ride was very bumpy as it went side to side all the way up the hill. At times, the bus was so close to the edge, all I could picture was the bus tumbling all the way down the hill where the bottom was nowhere in site. Although there were near death experiences, our driver was really good and controlled the bus very well. When we were almost at the top, the bus stalled at a steep point. My heart started racing and I saw my life flash in front of me. We all had to get out of the bus and Dr. Stonebanks and Arshad gave the bus a little push and it was able to climb up the rest of the mountain without difficultly.

Excited from our long trek up the mountain, we got out of the bus and explored this remarkable man-made lodge.  I was lucky enough to land myself a spot in one of the lodges, while the others camped out in tents. The lodge hung-over the mountain and had an amazing view of the landscapes from the deck. A few times I stopped to take everything in and reflect on the scenery my eyes were seeing. After we got settled in, we had the most incredible dinner on this trip so far. Everything was fresh from their garden. We ate salad, steak, potatoes, bean salad, and a really good tomato sauce. With each bite we would taste new flavours and we all ate until our stomach hurt. After our amazing meal, we all sat by the campfire and got warmed by the heat. It was a lot colder at the top of this mountain.

I was curious if any animals come into the lodges while people are sleeping. Right before bed the owner (Ukwe) explained to me that bush babies, which are little monkeys, look for food at night and may come into the lodges, but he said not to worry because I would not even know they were there. My second irrational fear is Bush Babies coming into my lodge in the middle of the night and climbing on me.

Day 19:

I woke up all cozy in my bed, not wanting to get out. I headed to a wonderful breakfast, which consisted of fried eggs, homemade toast and tea. We had a relaxed morning, which I think all of us needed before heading higher up the mountain to see the village of Livingstonia.

Today was not a very good day for me. My stomach was throbbing and climbing up the mountain did not help as it maybe even made my stomach hurt more.  However, I still tried to enjoy the views and scenery as much as I could.  The pain in my stomach was worse at some points than others. When the path was only steps away from falling to a horrible death, that’s when the pain in my stomach was the worst. The fainting and dizziness sensation came over me and I had to focus hard to not slip and fall. I could not turn back, I was determined, this was a once in a lifetime experience and it was something I was not going to give up for a stomach ache. I tried to grasp certain moments as much as I could, which made me appreciate them even more.

Garden at Lukwe Lodge

Garden at Lukwe Lodge

After our day of hiking we explored the enormous garden the owners had created. Everything looked so fresh and well maintained. The owners did an incredible job creating this magical garden. While exploring this never ending garden of fresh fruits and vegetables, all I could think of was how much my mom would love this garden.

Day 20:

6 am sunrise

6 am sunrise

I am not an early riser, however I could not miss the opportunity to see the sun rising over the scenery.  The sunrise was very beautiful and I was glad I forced myself out of bed to see it.

Instead of risking our lives and having a heart attack every second by taking the bus down the mountain, all of us decided to walk. It was a nice walk down the mountain, and I feel I could appreciate the views much better without being scared for my life. Once I got down, I figured that I should go to the bathroom because I did not know when we would stop next. I got pointed in the direction of the bathroom, which was a shack at the end of an alley with a lock on it. I had used bathrooms like this a few times; I wasn’t expecting much and was just going to use it and get out. I unlocked the door to find a hole in the ground but as I tried to lock the door behind me, it sprung open. I was going to try and figure out a way to lock the door but then a cockroach crawled out of the hole.  I took a deep breath and I told myself I could still use this bathroom. The next thing I knew, I shook my head, I could not do it and I got out of there. This was the first instance where I could not do something that was out of my comfort zone here in Africa. I felt embarrassed, I could not use this bathroom which is normal to the people who live here.

Linden and I at Livingstonia

Linden and I at Livingstonia

The rest of the bus ride, I kept to myself, reflecting on all the amazing trips we were taking and how each day I am learning new things about the country I am living in.  We drove by different villages, some with satellite dishes on every roof while other villages had houses that were barely standing. I listened to my familiar music while my eyes explored the unfamiliar countryside.

The Power of Sowing, Mulching and Watering Seeds

By Frank Juvenal

Mulching after sowing

Mulching after sowing

Just like animals, all other living things need water and care for their survival. Since I started working on the garden project, it looks like people in the community are excited as they come and help out.  I was very impressed on how young people came in to help and sow the seeds. Not only did young men come but they also offered to water the garden so that it can be sustainable since it is near the borehole (well).

Then, twelve beds were made and we sowed ten different veggies that includes: Greens such as Mustard, Rape, Chinese cabbage, and a local one called “Bonogwe.” In addition, Tomatoes were decided to be in two beds so that they can have enough to harvest and also because they take up much space, Red Onions also took two different beds since people use it often. Cabbage, Pumpkin and Bush beans were also sowed. I then thought of introducing Carrots just because I was told that no one in Makupo has ever tried to plant them. In addition, not many people eat carrots as they are scarce. It was such an amazing experience since people who were volunteering were first giving ideas on how big we want the beds to be and in what direction the beds should face. However, I was surprised to see how they reached a conclusion after such a short discussion since everyone in the group had their own ideas that were different from each other. I then had a chance of introducing the “Foundation for Farming” techniques that involve mulching all the crops as the mulch will eventually decompose and form manure and thus improve soil structure.

Pumpkins after 6 days

Pumpkins after 6 days

After the sowing was done, I was impressed to see four guys willing to go and cut grass to put on top of the beds as mulch. Therefore, all the beds were mulched as seen in the picture and finally we watered the seeds. At that point, everyone in the community was curious about how the seeds would come out.  We eventually waited patiently and all the seeds took three to four days to germinate. The crops finally came up and they all look healthy just because of the care and effort that was put by the people in the community. When I look at how fast the garden has been constructed, I think of the words that I was told by ‘Alinafe,’ one of the young men that was helping out.  He said “Umodzi muli mphavu” which means ‘There is Power in Unity.’

We Have All Gone Shack Whacky or Maybe We Are Just Tired

By Amy Simpson



I spent about forty-five minutes staring at the blank page of my notebook not able to decide what to write about or what not to write about for my blog. So here are some tidbits of the conversation that followed as we sat around on the couches in the hostel.

– Whoever slit the sheets is a dirty sheet slitter. Repeat three times. Brenda’s saying from Newfoundland.

– I learned today that in the late 50’s there was a mine in Newfoundland where they would mine Fluorspar. Fluorspar is a mineral.

– There are two friends in this world, one is named Mr. Pickles and the other is named Mr. Green.

– I convinced myself this afternoon that the beef we were eating tasted like maple syrup. I say “convinced myself” because according to everyone else it didn’t, not even close.

– We have all gone shack whacky and the laughter is uncontrollable.

Whenever I can’t think of what to write or I am thinking with a pen and paper at hand I doodle. My rough drafts of my notebook are filled with doodles, so here is a collage of doodles that I have accumulated through many moments of blank page syndrome. Someone told me that if you don’t know what to write just start writing and the rest will come, so this is the final product.

June 16th – What Do You See?

By Naomi Crisp

Sight without seeing

Sight without seeing

Today we were leaving Livingstonia and we watched the sunrise before packing. It was so different than yesterdays; there were no pre-sun colours, only the slow appearance of the fireball that quickly hid itself behind a cloud leaving only its reflection on the water. The changing colours on Lake Malawi made me wonder what the sun was doing behind the clouds, what am I missing? Little did I know I would be asking myself a similar question for the entire day.

We had our breakfast and walked down the mountain. We were worried about the bus being too heavy with us on it going down and it was a good excuse to hike. It took us two hours to get down the long and winding road. We took a couple of short cuts but got told not to so it was the dirt and rock path for us. Every now and then we would get a glorious breeze as we walked, that along with the view was perfect. As we saw the town approaching, the bus was getting close behind us so we decided to race it. We won! Soon enough we were on the road again. As we passed the area where we had seen the monkeys on the way up, we saw them again; this time they were running along side the bus. It was amazing to see the baby clinging on for dear life while the Mum sprinted with us.

About 30 minutes along the highway, we passed through a village. It was there that my thoughts were set alight. I saw a man wearing glasses and it seemed wrong. I have had the conversation multiple times with people about the lack of glasses but that was due to this fact I hadn’t actually seen someone in them. It was this sight and the confusion it struck in me that really made me think about it. When preparing to come to Africa I made myself envision the worst; extreme poverty, runny nosed children and huts for homes. As heartbreaking as these realities are, I felt it was hypocritical to focus on such a thing as poverty when our own countries are faced with it (not to the same extreme and population but still visible) yet we turn a blind eye to it. It took something as seemingly insignificant and taken for granted as glasses to push me to this point. For someone who needs glasses and feels incredibly uncomfortable without them, this reality of vision not being a necessity was mind blowing. The thought that the ability to see is not put into consideration due to the need for food, shelter and clothing being the focus gave new perspective on the lifestyle here. In Canada and Western societies, glasses are now a fashion statement, branding scam and academic power trip. They are invisible to us mentally and with contacts, they are invisible to us physically. Here in Malawi, they are invisible economically. The question I ask the people here is ‘what do you see?’ There is not a lack of glasses because people don’t need them…what do you see? Who is walking around not knowing that you’re meant to see each leaf on a tree and not just a green section?  And then I ask myself, what do I see? With my glasses I have perfect vision but have failed to see. Failed to see reality in its simplest form. Failed to take into consideration something so essential to our lives due to its lack of tangibility, our senses.

The bus ride felt forever as I sat there going deeper and deeper into thought. Corinne saw my teary eyes and we discussed it until we both fell silent into the dark pit of reflection again. My aim for the rest of the ride was to keep my tears hidden but the more I reflected the harder it became. Our trip to Africa has been so amazing because of the beauty surrounding us. Just the thought of not being able to see it is enough to sadden me but my mind continued on. I went back to what we’ve seen and my naivety became more and more apparent. We had spent time in the Chilanga school for the blind, seen the kids and spoke with the head master and yet it didn’t register that no one was wearing glasses. We spoke about using magnifying glasses and printing books in huge font, but no once did we mention glasses. We take sight for granted to such an extreme that we don’t notice it at all.

It makes me wonder, what else am I not seeing?