Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Few Days of Travel in Zambia

By Xiaoting Sun (Bishop’s)

Elephant in Zambia

Elephant in Zambia

Today was the third day since we arrived in Zambia. Every day we got up at 5:30. It is early but I do not even feel tired, because I was curious about everything in here where the environment has not been changed a lot by humans. There are all kinds of wild animals, such as: elephants, hippos, giraffes and lot of birds which I did not know the names. They have different colors of feathers such as; blue, shining red, orange, and white. You cannot imagine how beautiful they are. In the afternoon, we did a safari in a big, open car. We saw elephants. I never thought I could see a wild animal like this at such a close distance, just two or three meters from us. At that moment I was so excited and nervous. I was excited because I was finally able to see elephants not at the zoo, nervous because I was worried that the elephants would assault us. Victoria, who is the owner of this camp said if we follow the nature’s rule, those animals will not hurt us. Yes, the rule in Zambia is so important. You know the rule, you can play the game, and otherwise, you definitely lose. When our car was close to the elephants, all of us were quiet quickly, because our voices would scare them. In the afternoon around five, we were sitting on the bank with the moaning of hippos, and a bottle of Savanna. Enjoying the sunset, seeing the color of sky turn orange and red slowly. This moment was the best time in my whole day, also the moment that let me feel so close to nature, like a silent communication with nature, making me feel so peaceful and calm all the way from deep inside.

This afternoon, we watched a show which was performed by local singers and dancers. They displayed graceful rhythm and enthusiastic dancing. Even though, they did not have professional dancing performance clothes and only wore simple decoration, but in following the dancing those simple clothes look so special and unique. One of the songs was about the appeal to humans to protect animals and the forest, not to hurt them or take part in excessive deforestation. That let me realize they were the real protectors of nature.

Unexpectedly, the people of Zambia all have a very strong sense of environmental protection. Victoria said, that in the past few years, the number of elephants is reducing by a ten percentage rate with every year. The reason is that people are hunting and if it doesn’t stop then within ten years the elephant will be extinct, which will also impact other species. The same the situation is happening with the lion as a spectacular number of lions is declining. I thought we could see the king of animals –lion, but we did not. That made me feel a little bit of regret. But maybe this little bit of regret will make this safari become more unforgettable and impressive.

This safari gave me a chance to be close to nature and see the original appearance of nature. I learned a lot from this safari. It also made me think more about who we really are. Animals are our friends and they need protection from people. Stop hunting animals, please! They also have a family, and also need love; this love from each of us. This world not only belongs to people, but it also belongs to those adorable animals.

Who’s Supposed to be the Hero?

By Lia Grant (McGill)

June 23rd, 2014

One balloon can bring a smile but as soon as it pops the fun is over

One balloon can bring a smile but as soon as it pops the fun is over

There are so many people here in Malawi in need of help. In particular, I feel myself drawn to helping the children, as they can do very little to help themselves. And there are so many children in need: those who seem most malnourished; those with injuries; those whose teeth are already rotted away; those that cry frequently due to issues of abandonment; and the list goes on.

Most recently, looking at a smaller problem, I have noticed that one of the boys I have been working with in the play has been wearing a pair of shoes that are way past what most Canadians would call “garbage”. They are too small for him – his big toes are protruding out of the front of the shoes – and the sides are completely open. I have seen him trying to fix them, though they are sure to break open again every time within mere moments of mending. After observing this, at the end of a play meeting, as Maxwell and I walked back home to Makupo with the setting sun, not able to get this from my mind, I asked Max how much it would cost to get this boy a new pair of shoes. The answer is approximately 5000 Kwacha (around 10 dollars). More than anything, I want to get him a new pair; I can’t help but picture the look on his face as I pull out a nice new well-fitting set of sneakers from my bag. However, I am also aware that there are many children with no shoes at all, let alone other more serious problems.

The hardest moments for me here over the last four and a half weeks have without a doubt been observing hardships of individuals and realizing that I am not able to help them all – at least not enough. I personally cannot treat Malaria for the duration of every child’s life, I can’t adopt every child who seems neglected, I am not even certified to heal infected wounds, and I can’t buy shoes or toothbrushes for every child. It’s been very difficult for me to face the fact that this is bigger than myself. For every individual child you try to help, there are countless who also need the same aid. Moreover, some help today doesn’t mean help in the long run. Yes, by all means, hold the child who is crying and needs comfort, but understand that you are actually doing very little.

Vast changes need to be made – changes that will help everyone. Even Praxis Malawi is not going to be able to help everyone. It is, however, working towards real and positive change for the people in the Chilanga community, which is a step in the right direction. We are working towards getting the community very actively involved in their own development – through education, health initiatives, and more. People in Malawi, and all over the world, need to feel empowered. They need to be able to help their own children.

Through discussions with Dr. Stonebanks, Ryan, Suzanna, other members of our group, and through readings, I’m even realizing how much I disagree with many foundations (which I will not name here) as well as the nature of the Western “AID” system in general, which claim to be saving countless lives throughout Africa and in other impoverished countries. They like to play the part of the heroes, coming in and helping the oppressed, and specifically children. However, after all the oppression that has gone on, mainly due to colonization, what people really need is not more heroes to save the day but the opportunity to find their own voices, their own strength. (Not to mention the fact that a lot of the money that is funneled into foundations, as well as “AID” in general, does not actually go to the people in need.)

This is not to say we should not try to help on a personal level – not at all – bring a smile to a child’s face if you can. But also realize that people need help, though not in the traditional sense of give and receive. They need the sidekick that supports them enough to see their own strength, not the hero that takes all the glory.

Livingstonia: History Matters

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

A view from the top

A view from the top

Leaving Makupo to go to Livingstonia was strange because I felt like I was entering a different world. As we were on the bus driving there, we started seeing streetlights, stop signs, and buildings. These were all things that I had not seen in a while. It made me realize how remote Makupo village really is. Despite this, the poverty in Livingstonia was still as prominent. On our way there, many of us needed to use the washroom, and therefore, we stopped at someone’s home. These people lived in little huts made of straw and mud. Their bathroom was a big hole deep within the ground. When you looked into it, you saw millions of larvae at the bottom. My selfish self was so disgusted by this, that I preferred going to the bathroom behind the bush. I was navel-gazing because I was only thinking about myself in this situation. However, now that I reflect upon this experience, I realize that this is a daily reality for the people who live there. I didn’t even want to use the bathroom there once and yet they must do so every day. How can life be so unfair? Also, in order to make their shower and bathroom a little bit more private, it was surrounded by straw. Nonetheless, you could see through the straw so it begs the question, what is the point? I guess they do what they can with the resources that they have. It must be difficult to live when you are lacking even the most basic of needs: shelter. I cannot imagine how they use these facilities during the rainy season.

When we finally arrived at the Lukwe Lodge in Livingstonia, I had many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was amazed by the view we had on the landscape; it was absolutely breathtaking. In front of us, there were these enormous curved shaped mountains. These mountains were covered with big beautiful trees. They looked like pine trees – it was reminiscent of Canada. It was truly one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever scene. As I was sitting on a swing overlooking this scenery an intense feeling of curiosity was aroused inside of me. I wondered: What is in there? What creatures live in those mountains that seemed so far away? What would it be like if I was walking through that forest? What details would I notice? I wondered all these things as I was watching the sunset. The sky had layers of purple, orange and pink. It was surreal. I would show you all a picture but no picture could truly capture the beauty that was in front of me.

The reason I stated that I had mixed feelings is because as much as I was amazed by this landscape, I also had an immense feeling of guilt. I was sitting on a swing, with a nice cold drink, overlooking this fantastic view and my biggest decision of the day was whether I would eat a sirloin steak or T-bone for supper. All of this, when only a few kilometers away, I knew that people were struggling with real issues like having proper shelter, famine, AIDS and the list goes on (Caplan, 2008). The Lukwe Lodge was incredible. I know that I appreciated my experience there even more because of what I had seen in these past few weeks. Nonetheless, the incalculable feeling of guilt stayed with me all throughout my stay in Livingstonia.

The next day we walked to the town of Livingstonia. This gave us the opportunity to get an even better view of the landscape as well as, see how developed the town was compared to other areas in Livingstonia. It took us about 1 hour to climb uphill to where the town was located. Once we arrived at the top of the mountain we saw a University, a museum, a church, among the structures that were there. They were all very beautiful. It made me question: How was all of this built? Who carried all of the bricks up this relatively steep hill? The answer was obvious but it took me a while to realize what it was. My colleague had picked up a pamphlet that was advertising the attractions to visit when arriving to the town. As I was reading it and discussing with him, it dawned upon me that the place we were visiting was built by slaves. However, nowhere in this pamphlet did they mention the harsh reality of slave labor. Why else would people carry tons and tons of bricks to the top of this hill? As I questioned this, I also imagined the amount of violence that must have been involved in this inhumane process. I felt nauseated by this thought.

Furthermore, in this pamphlet, the Scottish missionaries had claimed to have “contributed greatly to the development of Livingstonia” which is true. However, it made me question whether or not they were complicit in the oppression that took place towards the African people at this time. I questioned this because to this day, we see the repercussions that cultural imperialism has had on the African people. Meanwhile, many countries have benefited and developed enormously because of this kind of tyrannical behavior towards them.

As I searched for answers, I realized that what was missing in this picture was the truth. The true history of this town was buried. As Gerald Caplan had stated, “history matters”. I think that this is especially true when considering this situation. It is easy to be ignorant, especially when the truth is not explicit. However, people need to know these realities in order to better understand the subsequent evolution of Africa. Too many people have filled the lives of the African people with sufferance and coercion and this has helped to place them in the catastrophic situation that they are in today. History must be uncovered in order to fully grasp the realities of our world.

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Berkeley.

On the Subject of Outsiders

By Aaron Thornell (St. FX)

Who gets to go on the bus?

Who gets to go on the bus?

Over the course of my time in Malawi, one reality has become increasingly clear. Through several lessons, very few of them easily learned, I have realized that the presence of outsiders changes things. In some instances, the outsiders are residents of other Chilanga region villages; in others, outsiders are even members of particular families. The most drastic changes occur, it would seem, when non-Malawians (such as myself and the rest of the Praxis Malawi group) arrive on a sub-Saharan scene. The rules of the game, as I initially came to understand them, have changed.

One instance of this came recently. The issue of paying the men who had been working on clearing the football pitch quickly came to the fore. After discussions with a co-learner and other members of the community, a figure of what would be appropriate wages was determined. My co-learner and I then enlisted a prominent community member to aid in the hiring, tracking of workers’ hours and overseeing of the project. At the time of writing this, the men had been working for nine days, with the understanding that wages would be doled out after the tenth. I was initially concerned about the length of this period of time, knowing that some of these men surely had other employment opportunities, or that perhaps the funds would be needed on a more regular basis. My concerns persisted over the period of time during which I was physically separated from the project, although I did learn about the reality constricted communication and the obstacles it poses (I wrote a letter for the first time in quite some time). Upon my return, I found my fears had been unfounded, as the work had continued to go smoothly. A discussion and some reflection helped me realize that perhaps the trust of the workers had stemmed from the presence of outsiders – in particular when these outsiders hold the money. Despite this, however, I also learned that some of the men had expressed concerns that, due to the position of the man we had asked to oversee the project, they would be told the work had been voluntary, as part of a community development project. (This gave me a sense of hope for the future of the Praxis Malawi project, in which voluntary group contributions would begin to assist in the development of the campus.) At the same time, it further emphasized the importance of certain power dynamics present in the region.

The realization concerning the presence of outsiders has also given me cause to pause. I believe most in the Praxis Malawi group were aware of the changes that might arise from our presence in a country such as Malawi. I am only now coming to terms with the archetype we (or at least I) are taking on in some instances. This is sometimes exemplified by children asking (not begging, mind you) for money as we pass by on the road. This does not bother me, but instead has caused me to consider what effect money might have on trust – between Praxis Malawi students and the community, as well as within the community. I have, at times, held worries that trust between me and the community may be lacking. The vision of the field, for instance, was only somewhat conceived of through “common reflection” (Freire, p. 69), although the action planning and construction has been more mutually conceived. The realistic role I hope the field can play is one I presented, pre-conceived, but I feel I failed in encouraging the community members to challenge the idea.  I feel as though there would be little opposition to the idea itself, but differences might arise in regards to the role it can play in the community. Perhaps, however, that is the beauty of this project which I’ve been so lucky to take on. Each member of the community feels at liberty to assign their own vision to it – or none at all.

Madzi, Agua, Eau, Uisce, Water…The Essence of Life!

By Emily Parker (Bishop’s)

Pumping water

Pumping water

How long are your showers? Do you let the water run while you brush your teeth? Simple things some of us are not careful with, while Malawians and ¾ of the world are struggling to have access to clean drinking water everyday (Caplan 2008). If this makes you feel bad, it probably should! In all seriousness though, I chose to write about water as a reminder and a form of awareness for us all, including myself.

Without water we would not only be in trouble, but dead-to put it bluntly. Now that I am in Malawi and the water is so restricted, I realize how much water we use for drinking, bathing, cooking, washing, electricity, construction, you name it! Not only that though, when we use it, we use extremely large quantities. Meanwhile, 80% of Africans do not have access to running water (Caplan 2008).That being said, the villages in Africa that actually do have running water are considered privileged, if not wealthy. While even these villages with running water are dangerously restricted, so it seems unimaginable what other villages are going through.

Moreover, even the process of getting water is a tedious task. I have seen countless women pumping water and then transporting litres of water balancing on their heads and some with babies on their backs all at the same time. Meanwhile, back home we simply turn the tap and Voilà, water for everyone! The strength and time difference it takes to access one of life’s necessities from one place in the world to another is huge!

Showers/baths consist of a bucket of water-boiled over the fire and a small cup for rinsing off. Personally, I enjoy bucket showers and I find it incredible how little water I do need to get clean while at home we/I let the water run the entire time. The difference in water consumption is simply unbelievable. However, does this make us bad people? No! It just means that we must use water more responsibly and the first step is awareness then doing it and finally sticking with it! It is not enough just think about it. We need to make the daily decision with a clear goal in mind of reducing our overall use of water; even small changes can make a huge difference.

Balancing water

Balancing water

Remember, actions speak louder than words. Water is for most parts of the world an extreme luxury because of its rareness and vital-ness whereas at home it has become a “luxury item”. We have sparkling water, pools, hot tubs, Jacuzzi baths, and we all know the list goes on and on… The worst part is bucket showers are in fact, so lovely! I want one in Canada!

All in all, I do understand that the realities back home and in Malawi are completely different; I just wish we could help in any small way possible. I also find myself wondering a lot why we, as Westerners are so privileged. This issue will most likely be addressed soon enough when I go into greater detail about reverse-culture shock upon my return to Canada.

References:

Caplan, G. L. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Groundwood Books.