Monthly Archives: July 2014

Putting the Azungu in Kasungu

By Suzanna Weedle (Trinity)

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Our home here is in Makupo village, in the district of Kasungu. For our first trip away, we travelled to Livingstonia. We stayed in chalets and tents in Lukwe Lodge, a tranquil, peaceful and breathtaking lodge halfway up Mount Livingstonia.

Embarking on a little vacation away from Makupo made me feel very uncomfortable. I desperately wanted to just keep working on the project. I couldn’t dispel this feeling of guilt that was festering within. Why should I get to enjoy the magnificent beauty of Livingstonia when so many of the Malawians couldn’t afford to do so? My thoughts drifted back to Roxy’s blog post, where she articulated this very same feeling. I understood it with much more clarity now as I experienced the persistent subdued unease, which rested beneath all the joy of the trip.

When we hiked the mountain, we had our bags on our backs, our cameras at hand and our sunglasses perched on our heads. These symbols re-contextualized us as tourists. Children would run and chant ”azungu, azungu” (white person, white person) whenever they got a glimpse of the white skinned creatures who had ventured into their land. Combine this with pointing, staring and laughing and you begin to become aware of your status as the minority. This undoubtedly perpetuated intense discomfort, as my skin seemed to beam white beneath the African sun. As an intellectual disability nursing student, I strive to understand what it feels like to be on the margins of society, with the goal of having a deeper sense of empathy for those in my care. I don’t think I will ever fully know what it is like to be marginalized, but I can only hope that experiences like this bring me one step closer to understanding the sheer power of labels and categories. It doesn’t matter whether there is malice in the use of the label or not, the very act of being isolated from the majority is enough to impact anyone’s self-perception.

Africa has endured centuries of extreme violence and oppression and everything we do is steeped in this recent history. Goffman, in his book ‘Stigma‘, propounds that an individual’s identity is largely defined by the nature of their affiliation with their group. What intrigues me is what being a white ‘azungu’ says about my identity here. What do I represent? Colonial oppression? A source of money? A naive tourist? An outsider? Welcome and exciting diversity? An unwelcome intruder?

I had never paid much heed to the colour of my skin in Makupo. When we returned, the consensus from the group was “It’s good to be home!”. This country and culture couldn’t be more different to my home life. The blazing African sun versus the pouring Irish rain, the crisp brown sand versus the moist green grass, the vibrant chichenji versus the dull raincoats and the vast vacant sky versus the Irish, grey laden, sky. In fact, as I sit here writing, goats and chickens are quarrelling outside my window, certainly not an everyday occurrence for me at home! It’s strange how you can be removed from everything familiar, every reference point of your reality and still feel right at home. I guess home really is where the heart is. Maybe it’s the incredibly wonderful, fun and intelligent group of people I’m here with or maybe it’s the extremely warm and welcoming Makupo community but every morning I wake up so grateful to be here and happily chirp “Madzuka bwanji” to the ladies in the kitchen.

Despite the huge contrasts between our cultures there are always moments when the similarities shine through. As I observe the Malawians greet almost everyone they see with a smile and a friendly inquiry of how they are doing, I reflect on how alike Malawians and Irish really are. The Irish “What’s the craic?” seamlessly transforms into the Chichewa “Muli bwanji?”. We share a history of British colonization and although in Ireland we now predominantly speak English, we too have a native language like the Malawian Chichewa and I’ve immensely enjoyed teaching the people here to greet me as Gaeilge.

As Dr.Stonebanks jokes “We put the asungu in Kasungu”, and perhaps we will always be azungu to the people here. This doesn’t mean we can’t change what being an azungu stands for. Perhaps Praxis Malawi will be successful in proffering the concept that some white people are here to empower, collaborate and listen, not oppress, dictate and ignore. In the meantime, I suppose I shall have to get used to the “azungu” chants and hope that, at least sometimes, these are chants of excitement about the possibilities that a shared knowledge base, sustainability and empowerment can bring.

Leaving is For Reunion

By Xiaoting Sun (Bishop’s)

Sunset in Monkey Bay

Sunset in Monkey Bay

People always say leaving is grieved, and yes it is true. On June 25, the day we went to Monkey Bay, it was also the day Emily and Rita left from Malawi. In the morning at 7 o’clock, we drove to airport. Last night Emily and Rita gave leaving card to everyone, and Emily also help me wrap my hair. It was so beautiful, it is my first time to do this kind of hair wrap. I said to Emily, “I will keep it as long as I can.” In about an hour we arrived at the airport and everyone got out of the car and gave them hugs. I saw Megan was crying.  I tried my best to control myself and I did not let tears fall down. I do not like to say goodbye because leaving means taking lots of things away and the only thing that remains is memory. We have stayed together now for around one month, and they have brought a lot of happiness to us; I still remember when we made guacamole. At first, I did not like it, but gradually I kind of liked it.  Sometimes I feel like one month is so long, because it has 30 days and sometimes it feels short as it is just one twelfth of one year. In this last week, I will try to remember everything here, even the petty things. I will try to remember every hospitable villager, every adorable child and the taste of breakfast, lunch and supper. I already am beginning to miss it all even if I am still here. Leaving is always grieved, but remember every time of leaving opens the possibility for reunion!

A Little Taste of Zambia   

By Clare Radford (Bishop’s)

Lighting up the water as if it were on fire

Lighting up the water as if it were on fire

This morning we are leaving for Zambia. It is crazy to think that we have just gotten home and that we are already leaving for another adventure in less than 40 hours! The education crew has really cracked down as we try to accomplish as much as possible. I am extremely happy about the progress we have made! The units look fantastic, though I’m so sad I won’t be able to see them in action.

We arrived at Zikomo Lodge in the late afternoon. As we got closer to the lodge we slowly left the busy streets and villages behind us, gradually emerged into the safari. When we pulled up to the lodge we were greeted with drinks and wet towels by the staff, as well the owner. The wet towels felt amazing after the long hot drive, wiping off the thick plaster of dirt from our bodies (the only downside of driving with the windows open down the dirt roads). Victory, the owner, bought the land in 2006, turning it into a beautiful resort. After introductions were made, we were surprised by Victory with an amazing gift. Those of us who were supposed to be sleeping in tents were being upgraded to their newly built family chalets. I wasn’t thrilled at first, as I had been hoping to experience sleeping in a tent while the lions roamed around us. Once I took my first shower outside under the stars, however, I quickly forgot how I had initially felt about the change.

Once we got settled I went for a short walk over to the river to watch the sunset, where I found pods of hippopotami talking amongst themselves. As I watched the sun slowly set, I couldn’t help but make up conversations of what they were saying to each other,

Youngsters: “Call to the others, let’s go! We’re starving!”

Head honcho: “Patience young ones”

I laughed to myself as I took in the assortment of reds and oranges that lit up the sky. I have seen my fair share of beautiful sunsets at my family’s cottage, but as the sun got lower and lower, the colours became darker, lighting up the water as if it were on fire. It is hard to believe that there could be another place so peaceful, especially after coming from such an oasis in Livingstonia. However, in Livingstonia we were completely secluded. Sitting here, out in the open, listening to the hippopotami has helped remind me that there is still so much out there that we haven’t seen, so much out there that we have yet to experience.

Following a night of listening to the animals calling out to one another while laying in my bed, waking up at 5 am was far from difficult, in the hopes of seeing some of the animals we had heard that night. At around 5:30 am we left for breakfast. We had what the Zikomo Lodge guides called “first breakfast” which consisted of a quick bowl of cereal or porridge and a slice of toast with a cup of coffee before heading out. The sun was rising as we began our first walking tour of the South Luangwa National Park. I wish I could go into every detail of our day, but even going on and on would not give it justice. I will, however, give you a short description of the variety of animals we saw. Numerous baboons, who didn’t seem to be phased at all by our presence, pukus, a type of antelope that gracefully leap out of eye-sight in seconds and impalas, which are a darker coloured antelope. Hippopotami, crocodiles, elephants also graced our day. We also saw guinea fowls, a bird that closely resembles a chicken and a hyena who had just caught his dinner. Warthogs, all of which we called Pumba, as well as giraffes, zebras, cape buffalos, and many different types of eagles, all of which helped make this an incredible experience. Even though we saw a wide range of animals, some in our group were somewhat upset about not encountering any lions. I can’t say I didn’t feel that same way. Having said that, after an evening of sitting next to the river with the hippopotamuses and listening to a local artist and his band, I had time to reflect on how grateful I am to be here and how much I appreciate to have the opportunity of being able to come on a trip like this.



Faux-Academics and Foucault

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

Teaching through t-shirts

Teaching through t-shirts

A mentor of mine recently told me that I need to decide whether I want to be one of those guys who brings a Foucault book to the café to pick up chicks, or a real academic who lives his work. If I remain the former, sooner or later, someone who embodies the latter will pose the question;what have you actually done?

A question I think myself along with many scholars do not wish to answer for fear of a definitive lack of a substantial answer. Technically speaking, all I have done in my undergraduate career up to this point is researching and rearranging large amounts of information to manifest some form of a cohesive argument. It has become a science. I go through these motions every class like clockwork. Time for  a change. Now that I am here in Malawi, let’s see if Foucault can provide some clarity in reflection.

In 1977 Foucault said that we must look at power not as a “dyadic relation of rulers and subject” but rather a power that manifests through the liberal and humane practices of bureaucracy, medicine, education and the production and distribution of consumer goods. Those involved in these systems of power, like my colleagues and myself, usually do not understand themselves as agents of oppression. Am I an agent? I’m most definitely not wearing a tailored suit.

Now that I am on the ground in Malawi, Foucault’s theories have become animated. One theory that I have been contemplating extensively is his notion that for every group that is oppressed there is one that is privileged in juxtaposition. Most Malawians are continually exploited and marginalized under the unilateral imposition of neo-colonialism, market fundamentalism and paternalistic policies rolled out by the global sharks. This institutional oppression has been written about by countless scholars (Caplan’s The Betrayal of Africa), but what about those acting in an oppressive role who do not realize their complacent agency in the nourishment of oppressive objectification? For instance; those working for charities working under the veil of generosity, but in reality are constraining those they work “for”. What about tourists?

I write this next to a pool at a Safari resort in Zambia, surrounded by rich mahogany and waiters on standby. I could jog to the nearest village where the poverty is violent. This lodge employs some locals and sells a few local goods, but what is it doing for those really on the fringes? What are we doing here? I search for witty anecdotes to impress my professor as these questions tear a hole in my already perforated epistemic fabric. None come, anxiety rises.

The last lodge we visited, Lukwe Lodge in Livinstonia, served as a place of solitude in the depths of human suffering, as it was one built and run utilizing permaculture. I felt as if I was part of the solution while I was there. But here in Zambia I am contributing to the cultural imperialism of the tourist industry, here I am an agent. An agent that just walked next to elephants.

Although omnihelpful (just made that up) in healing the nausea of uncertainty, I have begun to realize that, as Foucault alluded to, conceptualizing this type of exploitation solely in a macro Marxist framework does not do the situation’s depth justice. Let’s analyze a scenario; copper mining in Zambia.

Like Malawi, Zambia gets large amounts of foreign aid from the United States and the European Union, splendid. Splendid like potential partners in the darkness of that dingy club you went to once. Let’s turn on the lights. Natural resources that are extracted from Zambia, like copper, are worth twenty times the amount of foreign aid that goes in. These mining corporations sell the materials internally to avoid paying Zambian tax rates. The materials are funneled like cheap booze at a frat party into the mouths of a handful of multinational corporations-funnel held high by high priced Harvard lawyers, swarms of uneducated citizens, educated African elite and apathetic or unconscious Westerners. The latter being the type of people to travel to Zambia to sit around a pool at a Safari lodge. So who takes the blame; the sadistic elite or the apathetic majority?

Everyone plays a part in the continuation of these abject conditions, or, to use Paulo Freire’s term, dehumanization. How can we be human if our whole lifestyle is served through the systematic exploitation of other human beings? Ask yourself; why do your socks only cost four dollars at Wal-Mart? Ask yourself why the majority of people travel home from work and sit in front of a television rather than making music, engaging in dialogue with their neighbors, making love or making improvements?

What’s my excuse? I need to find one quickly. Bad breakup, sick mother, bullied, I couldn’t be bothered, I was weak. I am weak. I have not faced centuries of murderous oppression and manipulation. My father does not have AIDS. I can read, write and buy three dollar coffees and ten dollar cigarettes to fill the depths of alienation brought about by a steadfast Facebook addiction….and yet I can not engage in daily praxis for the alleviation of human suffering. It seems that this trip may be serving my own healing more so than the healing of the people of the Chilanga region.

For impoverished Malawians the excuses are a little easier. If you can’t read or write, how do you understand the legislation put in place to ensure the reduced tax rates for the corporations plundering your resources? The government is speaking in tongues of elitist verbosity, and I speak their language of complacent global objectivity with every breath of Folgers caffeine I exhale. At Livingstonia I’ve seen the coffee plantations from the top of the missionary castle built on the backs of slaves. What a view.

Even if the coffee bean farmers do get “fair wage”, who says what’s fair? Is fair being able to not suffer from starvation while plantation owners suffer from liver cirrhosis and high blood pressure via salty sirloins? I believe I have begun to think critically, as here there is no Facebook, music production capabilities, bars or relationships to provide temporary solitude. This solitude has been wonderful. The conclusions from this lucidity are breath taking…cardiac arresting.

How do you mobilize and animate your brothers and sisters if you do come to these conscious realizations? Charity work is the all encompassing solution for the West, in reality it mostly solves the public relations problem of having its cut-throat geo-political maneuvers criticized. Hand outs from the healthy to the homeless in the form of foreign aid, from the very countries providing solitude for the sinister, in castles adorned with geometric logos and archers armed with litigation and weapons of mass confusion.

Rhetorical question of the day: why is the education system flawed? Maybe because we aren’t taught to ask that question. Foucault, Friere, and my mentor may be on to something.

On the Subject of Empathy

By Aaron Thornell (St. FX)

My attempt to take a deep picture

My attempt to take a deep picture

May I apologize in advance for the corny nature of what you are about to read:

How does one walk a mile in another’s shoes when that person walks barefoot?

I am not sure how to answer this question, although empathy has recently become very prominent in my thoughts, and often does whenever we travel.  I had originally believed it to be an extension on my attempts to conceptualize the subject of trust in the Malawian – and indeed community development – context. I think, perhaps, it is more basic than these theorizations. Perhaps it is a natural instinct to imagine the life and thoughts of a young child in her school uniform, or a woman carrying water on her head, or a young man playing football? Perhaps it is a product of being in a place where one knows that many lifestyles will not resemble one’s own in most ways – as a result one becomes curious of the thoughts that another has. While I am thinking about the Praxis Malawi endeavor and the World Cup and blogs and girls, the other is thinking about … well I don’t know.