Category Archives: Makupo

My Heart has Been Warmed by the “Warm Heart of Africa”

By Dale Perks

A new experience

A new experience

Singing, dancing, chanting, and clapping….this is how the villagers of Makupo greeted us as we arrived in the village and stepped off the bus. Although we were complete strangers to each other, a certain “magic” was transforming at that very moment, with a feeling as though we’d known each other for a lifetime. As we awkwardly attempted to speak Chichewa, such as “moni” and “muli bwanji” (which is hello; how are you) the villagers reciprocated with warm hand shakes, hugs, and smiles. It’s hard to put these feelings into words, but perhaps it could be humbly described as “heart-warming.”

Despite all of the preparation that occurred before departing on this trip, I do not think one could ever be fully prepared for the cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that one experiences in such a place. It’s been a struggle for me about deciding on what to write in this blog, as I have had so many enriching experiences already. So, instead of recounting every event, I’ve decided to focus on writing about some of the feelings that I’ve experienced in relation to some of the special moments in hope that it will give others a sense of this amazing project and the incredible journey I am on, thus far.

One of the prominent feelings I have felt so far has been joy, which has been elicited at varying moments, such as when I’ve woken up to the sounds of the women singing as they go about doing their chores; when I’ve watched children playing soccer and interacting with the students; when I’ve gazed at the beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the African sky; when I’ve observed the interesting insects that wander about including the varieties of spiders, praying mantis and colourful butterflies;  and when we participated in a large community meeting with neighboring villages whereby the senior village chief spoke to all the leaders, welcomed us and expressed his enthusiasm and support for the Praxis Malawi project. It brought tears to my eyes to see the expressions on the faces of the men and woman who listened so attentively and expressed a desire to collaborate as a community with all of us in our goal of moving forward with all of the various projects.

Perhaps the strongest feeling that I have experienced so far has been a sense that my heart has been “warmed” by the people of Malawi. For example, during one of the visits to a neighboring school, I was overwhelmed by the reception we received. I must say, being surrounded by hundreds of children all at once, who wanted to hold my hands, touch my white skin and give me hugs, was exceptionally heart-warming. I will particularly cherish the moments when I danced and sang with some of the children from a secondary school. Another exceptional moment was when we climbed Mount Kasungu, which was quite a challenge. As we finally reached the top of the mountain we gathered in celebration by joining hands with some of the villagers that had guided us up the mountain and we did a group “high five”. There was no distinction of color or race….just feelings of unity and warmth. Another special moment that stands out in my mind is when we visited the district hospital in Kasungu. At one point during the village I stopped to say hello to a woman who was bedridden on one of the wards. We held hands and when I asked her how she was feeling, she smiled looking deeply in my eyes and replied with a hopeful expression “ I am trying to be well.”

I have also experienced feelings of uncertainty and fear at various points since we’ve first arrived in Makupo. For example, the first time I encountered  a “sausage bug” in the house I’m staying in, I was a little startled. Luckily Professor Stonebanks came to my rescue, explained how these insects are harmless and he gently scooped it up in his hands and released it the wild. I’ve since become an expert at catching and releasing these critters that seem to make their way into my house in the evening. I also had a close encounter with a six inch worm-like creature (it was actually a millipede) that was hiding behind the wipes that I reached for in the outhouse.  It scared the ‘begeegees’ out of me! I ran out of the outhouse in a panic and went looking for Dr. Stonebanks. Thankfully it turned out to be the harmless type, unlike its distant relative which apparently has fangs and bites. I mustered up the courage to hold it in my hands and then set it free. Most recently, I discovered a spider spinning a web between two posts outside my house. At first it was thought to be a harmless spider despite it’s scary looking legs, but it was later confirmed by the Chief that in fact it was a poisonous spider and had and had to be killed. Another scary moment for me was during one evening, shortly after we arrived in the village, when I was walking from my house to the student lodge in the pitch dark. Unfortunately,I took the wrong path and realized I had no clue where I was. At the very moment I was feeling stressed one of the security guards who figured out that I was going the wrong way escorted me to the lodge.

Finally, I’ve also experienced feelings of intrigue in relation to the many new things I have witnessed and experienced. For example, it was interesting to eat goat and nsima for the first time, as well as bathe (and wash my hair) with a simple bucket of water in an outside bath house. I’ve been intrigued by how the village woman cook over a fire and make the most delicious meals and how they carry water in buckets on their heads without ever spilling a drop, and how bricks are made with water and sand and laid out in the sun to dry.

It’s been an interesting and wonderful experience so far, and I hope to continue to share with all of you some of my experiences, as we move forward with this brilliant project and continue on this very special journey.


Climbing Mount Kasungu: Challenging but Worth It

By Kimberly Gregory

A view from above

A view from above

On Sunday we climbed Mount Kasungu. This was a very challenging experience. I usually consider myself as being someone who is pretty in shape therefore I figured that it would be a fairly easy activity however, I was wrong. We started by walking approximately 5km to get to Mount Kasungu. As we were walking towards it, I was thinking to myself “wow, that mountain is looking bigger and bigger every minute”. I was panicking a little bit but I thought to myself, “if everyone else can do it, so can I”. Once we arrived in front of Mount Kasungu we got introduced to our theme song for the trip, “Personality”. We danced and laughed; this surely calmed me down, temporarily at least. Then we started climbing.

The first 10 minutes were not so bad but then it started getting steeper and steeper.  After about 20 minutes of intense climbing, I needed to sit down to take a break. I felt dizzy and out of breath. I was very thankful that I was with a very caring group of people who were more than willing to take breaks once in a while and who were also very encouraging. To be honest, I think that this is what kept me going because it would be a lie to say that there wasn’t a few times when I thought, “maybe I should just go back down”.

This activity was not only challenging physically but also mentally. Every step I took, I watched where I put my feet to make sure that I was not stepping on any bugs or even worse, poisonous spiders or snakes. I would also take a few seconds to choose which rock I would step on and to determine whether or not it was stable enough to support my weight. I came extremely close to slipping and falling down many times. The only thing that saved me was being able to grasp on to the sturdy branches around me, as I was about to hit the ground. For these reasons, I would say that it was as much a physical workout as a mental one. (I thought that the way back down from the mountain would be easier however, it was also quite challenging. Luckily, one of the Malawian people held my hand for the steeper parts, which prevented me from falling.)

The view from the top of the mountain was absolutely breath taking. It made all the hard work worth it. I was happy that we had the opportunity to stay up there and enjoy the view for about a half an hour. We took many pictures, shared snacks, screamed and danced. All in all, it was a lot of fun. I even got the opportunity to see a family of monkeys. They were absolutely adorable and even though I have seen monkeys in real life before, it never seizes to amaze me to see them in their natural habitat.

I felt very accomplished when I finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain. Now, as we walk past Mount Kusungu everyday, I tell myself with pride, “I climbed that mountain”.

Makupo is the Pulse to the Warm Heart of Africa that is Malawi

By Lia Grant (McGill University)

May 31st – June 1st, 2014

A warm welcome

A warm welcome

With the end of a month and the beginning of a new one, an epic journey begins. It is presently June 1st – 5:03 am. I have been awake for maybe an hour. I stumbled awake at the realization of the practicality of my dream about something Malawi-related. I lay in bed for the next fourty-five minutes, unsure whether to simply get out of bed or keep trying to sleep, knowing we are hiking up Kasungu Mountain today. Finally, as Rita, my roommate, woke herself, I was able to get out of bed. I whispered to her as she came back in the room after her short excursion outside, explaining that I was awake but that I was afraid of lifting my net to retrieve my head-lamp, imagining that there were spiders crawling all over my net. In fact, I actually have yet to see one of these infamously large spiders in Rita and my room at all, though others have been finding them crawling about their own bedrooms, only mildly concerned (the girls, not the spiders – who I am sure are concerned).

Here I am now, in the common-room, no longer afraid of my irrational fear thanks to being able to verbalize it to someone else. Several members of the Malawian community are up as well – they are conversing outside, getting ready for the day ahead. The rooster is up, and as the hour keeps creeping forward, I’m sure others will start to appear from their bedrooms as well. We have all been going to sleep and getting up quite early – following the cycle of the sun. In this quiet darkness, with our third day in Malawi about to begin, it seems a perfect time to reflect upon the days that have passed already.

After our immensely long flight – during which time I agonized over trying to sleep – we arrived in Lilongwe. We collected our baggage and with only a short delay headed off towards the village of Makupo by bus, our home away from home for the next month. The ride from Lilongwe to Makupo was only about an hour and a half. There was so much to see as we drove along the road, but after only a few minutes I began to doze off. Along with several others from our group, I slept almost the entire way to Makupo. Glad that I’d gotten a little shut-eye, I awoke when I heard we were finally nearing our destination. Still drowsy, an immense number of women, men and children awaited us outside. We were greeted by so many welcoming faces, cheering and song, even as we still sat in the bus, coming to a full-stop. Overwhelmed due to our long voyage, both lethargic and tired, I felt myself ready to start crying. Thankfully, I told myself to hold my tears and simply give myself to moments ahead.

We greeted each member of the community one by one, speaking in a combination of English and Chichewa. (I was very happy that I had taken the time to practice my Chichewa greeting at the airport before we even left.) After several minutes, we all entered our new home, Canadians and Malawians together. Chief Makupo welcomed us on behalf of the village, and in turn Dr. Stonebanks said a few words as well. The rest of the day was spent getting to know the village a little. In particular, many of the girls and I got to know the children. The very young ones held our hands, and we walked from path to path, looking upon the beauty before us. We played with the children for the next several hours, the time passing by in a blur, our exhaustion nowhere to be found. Around 6:00 pm the sun was almost set and it became dark – time for us to get inside and unpack, and time for the children to return home to their mothers and fathers. As I stood outside saying goodnight to a small group of children that remained, and said to them, “see you tomorrow!” they taught me a new beautiful phrase in Chichewa, “Tionana mawa!”.

The “dzuwa” is up now. 6:00 am. Time for another day.

Why You Need to Experience Something in Order to Fully Understand It

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill University)

On our way

On our way

I arrived in Malawi yesterday. We traveled over 24 hours to get here but the group of students and teachers that are part of the Praxis Malawi team this year are so friendly and interesting to talk to that it went by very quickly. I have traveled a lot in the past but this was my first time experiencing a culture that was so drastically different from my own. I had read a lot about the Malawian culture before coming here, however experiencing it first hand was completely different. For instance, I had read that the people in Malawi were very kind nonetheless; I think that this is an understatement or that it is simply that you cannot fully understand the extent of their kindness until you experience it. When we first arrived in the village of Makupo, all the members of the community were there to greet us. They had the biggest and most genuine smiles on their faces. They were clapping and singing. Also, every time we would introduce ourselves to someone they would give us big hugs as though we had known them for a very long time. It was truly heart warming. Over the past few days, I have gotten to know the members of the community even better and it has given me an even deeper desire to help them in any way that I can. Getting to know the people from Makupo better, also gave me the chance to better understand their needs, which is vital in order to develop a curriculum that is appropriate to them.

On Saturday, the day after we arrived, we walked to the town and people kept screaming “azungu“ to us. We had just completed a Chichewa lesson (the language spoken here) with Themba and I did not recognize the word “azungu“ as one of the words that we had learned. Thus, I asked one of the people from Makupo what it meant and he replied, “white people”. I was a little disturbed by this, however what disturbed me the most was that when we were walking along the road, people were acting like we were celebrities. The Malawian people were running up to us and waving at us with such excitement and fascination. Part of their culture is to wave at people when they pass by but this was different. I felt troubled inside of me because I knew that I had not done anything to deserve this kind of attention. Also, in our society people who are minorities are usually the oppressed thus, it was weird for me to come into a new culture as a minority and have so much power and influence.

When we finally arrived back at the hostel that night, I took my first bath and by bath I mean a bucket of water. When Grace handed me the bucket of water I thought to myself, “how am I going to be able to wash my whole body with so little water”. At that time, I had not realized how selfish this thought was. I was complaining about what I now consider to be, a sufficient amount of water to wash with, while “80% of Africans have no access to running water” (Caplan, p. 43, 2008).  I grabbed my headlamp since it was dark outside and made my way to the bathroom. I inspected the bathroom for critters and then started contemplating which method I would use to wash myself in order to make sure I did not run out of water. I concluded that head to toe would probably be the best option. I struggled a little bit. I got massive amounts of shampoo in my eyes because I never wanted to keep them closed for an extended period of time in case an unwanted friend would decide to join me (i.e., snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, cockroaches etc.). To my surprise, when I was finished my shower I not only had quite a bit of water left over but I also felt clean.

This experience made me realize how fortunate we are in Canada to have an abundant amount of clean water. Looking back, it devastates me to think about the number of times I wasted large quantities of water without putting any thought into it. We take for granted this resource that we have which in the end, is essential to life. It is one thing to read about the lack of water in many parts of the world, but experiencing it is the best way to fully grasp the extent of the problem. I wish that more people from Canada could experience it because I think it would be the best way to raise awareness.





By Louisa Niedermann

Day 21:

Gule Wamkulu dance

Gule Wamkulu dance

This afternoon we went to see the Gule Wamkulu dance. This dance cannot be performed on missionary land; therefore we had to walk to non-missionary land to watch the dance. A bunch of the local villagers walked with us to watch the dance. The costumes were really detailed and colorful.  We ended up waiting for over an hour and a half for the dancers to start. This is another example of “Malawian time.” Even though it took a while for the dancers to start and the dance was unorganized, because they did not have drums to dance to, it was an interesting experience to watch the dance of this tribe.

Trying sugar cane

Trying sugar cane

People here do not usually brush their teeth; they use sugar cane as a substitute. People walk and chew on the branch and then spit it out. A bunch of us have been interested in trying it, but we had to be careful not to get a hard piece because we could break out teeth. Sugar cane was very interesting, it wasn’t the taste that was bad but it was the texture, it felt like you were going to get splinters in your mouth. The curiosity of this item made me keep eating it. I really enjoyed trying something that was common here but that we do not do back at home.

Day 22:

I was supposed to go to the Changkanga School to watch their after school sports program, however something came up and I was not able to go. Because I had promised everyone that I would go pick up their “happy pants” in town, I still went. I ended up going alone with Francis.  It felt strange being the only white person walking through the market.  I normally have the comfort of others around me but today I was all-alone. I felt the stares of the people around me. Although I did not hear the normal shouting of people saying “Azungu” I could tell people were wondering why I was there.

Construction of the school

Construction of the school

Later that night all of us took a walk to where the new school is being built. It is coming along. There were bricks that had been placed which were around 2 feet high. I could really get a sense of the classroom and how the work that we were doing was going to come together into this classroom.