Category Archives: Personal Narrative

Technology in Malawi

By Kate Newhouse (Bishop’s)

technologyOn Saturday we went into town to do some shopping and to go to the Internet café. We left after lunch and started our hour and a half journey. The walk went by quite quickly as we had lots of people to chat with and we even stopped to enjoy some sugar cane.

As we left after lunch we arrived into town later than we had planned, everything was closed. They kept the Internet café open just for us and we tried to contact home; Many of us for the first time. This Internet café was not what I was expecting and so unlike home, unlike the Western world. I had typed up an email and had it ready to send, but when I sat down I realized the state of these computers. They were so old. I couldn’t believe it. This was almost exactly like our first family computer we got just starting the millennium and here we are 15 years later and I feel like I have gone back in time.

One of my fellow Praxis Malawi peers is studying adult education here and  he took the locals he was working with to the Internet café just the other day. He said for many of them it had been the first time any of them had been to the café and none of them knew what to do with a computer.

While I was reading the Betrayal of Africa I came across this quote, which inspired me to write this blog. “While travel in Africa is both difficult and expensive, communication is not. Email and the Internet have created links that have not been possible in the past. Out of many small groups emerges a large continent-wide, even worldwide movement.” (Gerald Caplan, 2008, p. 118)  I agree that technology and the Internet have helped the problem of communication, but my short experience here has made me believe otherwise. I know that I am in a rural area where poverty is an issue and therefore Internet and even power isn’t a priority by any means, so then how it this helping?

 

References

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.

Things That You Can Live Without, But You Still Miss

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

missJune 11, 2015

Over the past week and a half I have been thinking about the things that I took for granted at home. I’ve compiled a list with the help of some others to express a couple things that I would be able to live without, but still pop into my mind every once in a while.

 

  1. Porcelain: I recently had a little bout of food poisoning (don’t worry mum, I am very okay now) and there were many hours that I wished to feel the smooth cool of a familiar toilet as I lived through cement and a plastic seat. An honor mention to this is flushing. This flushing is in opposition to the general abyss that is our compost toilet.
  2. Tap Water: The drinking water is definitely sufficient, but I have actually dreamt about drinking tap water and never feeling satisfied. There’s something about sticking my head under the faucet that gives me fond memories.
  3. Clean feet: No matter how hard I try there is always red dirt on my feet. Even when I’m wearing socks. I have even given up on dumping out my shoes too often.
  4. Couches: I have this thing where I just love couches. We have a lot of common space, and we totally do not need a couch, but the inner potato in me would love to lounge and make lesson plans. I have discovered that if you push some of our table chairs together you can get a couch like feel, while napping under the table. This is not favorable when people want to be productive at the table.
  5. Useful Junk: It’s so often that we are told ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’, but there isn’t even scraps that are up for grabs. Materials aren’t always in abundance so it gives our term ‘resourceful’ a different meaning.
  6. Google: We have it so lucky. I now understand why people bought encyclopedias.
  7. Blissful Ignorance: This one travels with anyone who has been exposed to any sort of difficult knowledge. Once naïve thoughts are so easily crushed as we face the challenges of self-expansion and worldly understanding. Every day we are challenged with many new things, and ultimately we will grow and prosper.

To Plan and to Search

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

The sun sets early at the hostel

The sun sets early at the hostel

June 10, 2015

I have had a realization that has led me into many hours of contemplation. I am going to attempt to deconstruct it in this blog post. After many years of blissful ignorance I entered a course and the reality that I am living in a way that has taken away the soft glow that I once believed there to be around the world. Not that I don’t see this in the Western world, because I know it’s there. It’s just that there it is easier to see things as an outsider. This glow that I saw (metaphorically, obviously) occurred because of the goodness in the world. It was a strong glow in which I felt was due to the kindness and compassion of the world. It was people doing the right thing for the right reason. People so often believe that these little lights are enough in life, but not in the world of planners and searchers.

In a recent reading that we read, we learned about planners and searchers. I am going to attempt to break it down. A planner is someone that is told or is shown that a certain location needs light. Planners raise money to get lightbulbs and send the lightbulbs to the locations where they think that they lightbulbs should be. They believe that by providing and sending over the lightbulbs they have contributed enough and all of the happy feelings should be theirs. All of these lightbulbs are sent over in good heart and with good intentions, but when it comes to it, these people are not actually sharing light, they are sharing lightbulbs. Searchers move in ways that allow their light to be shared. A searcher goes beyond sending the lightbulb to the location they bring the light to the location. Searchers go on-site and they move. They work with the locals on the ground to get information and create a charge. With this charge that they have created with the community they become able to make the lights work. Rather than just supplying the light, they have acted as a catalyst and have brought the means to make light.

Okay, now back to the soft glow that I used to believe encompassed the earth. With all of the NGO’s and projects designed to help communities, our society believes that there are lights in the places that we’ve given lightbulbs. Unfortunately, in many, if not all, communities that need light, only have lightbulbs. There are so, so many lightbulbs, but there are few people that are willing to go and to make the changes necessary to get the lightbulbs to work.

I once believed that kindness gave the world a soft glow. With our actions we created ways in which you could soften a heart of stone, or take the green out of a greedy man’s eyes. Maybe many, many years ago this was the case, but as I come to know and learn more about our shared space on earth I am beginning to doubt the possibility of an everlasting glow. Unfortunately, I have no solution or even a hint of one. I know that the work I am doing may help some people, but I don’t know that this will be enough. There is a quote I often think about that goes, ‘Everybody has a little piece of them that wants to save the world. It’s okay if that world is your own.’ If I don’t do everything in my power to save this earth, I don’t know that my own world would be saved either. Now it’s time to get moving.

Size Matters

By Vicki Miller (Bishop’s)

size mattersEven though I have only been here for less than a week, there are a lot of things that I have cut down on or realized have been cut down in order to conserve. The first and most important thing that everyone, everywhere, needs to survive is water, H2O. I found that I use infinitely less water here during my daily life than I do in North America. Daily doings that require water in Malawi: bathing, hand washing, dishwashing, laundry, drinking, cooking and more. At home I use it for all the same things but I am not conscious of the amount that I use.

In Malawi, I use about half a bucket (maybe 6L) to bathe. At home, I let the shower run for at least 10 minutes, enough to fill the entire bathtub! It’s absolutely crazy how when something is so plentiful, you take it for granted.

When it comes to food, it is the same concept in North America in that one should not be wasteful. Here, especially on our Campus, there is always a way to use food if there are leftovers. It can be composted, shared with others or it can be given to the dogs. It is always used in some way, never put to waste. It make me furious when people in North America use the excuse of “there are starving children in Africa” to make you finish your plate. Yes! There are children in Africa who are starving, but there are also children (and adults) EVERYWHERE who are starving. How is me finishing my meal going to help them? It’s not.

Light in our world in North America is essential for everyday living, or so we believe. In fact, light is essential for everyday living everywhere. But we have a burning ball of gas many kilometers away, that rises and sets each and everyday without fail. Here we only use electricity when that thing called the sun is no longer in the sky. Without the sun, we cannot see and we cannot work. During the day there is no need to use electricity because the windows in the hostel let in enough sunlight to work by. It is frankly a waste of energy to use electricity when it is not 100% essential. We also use the sun to power the electrical things we need. Talk about efficiency.

In North America we take having a pair of shoes and a change of clothes for granted. Some of the children have shoes, but the majority of them do not. For them, shoes are not an essential part of their lives. Whereas in North America we throw shoes out and buy the latest styles like they are going out of style, children here get along just fine in their bare feet. They also make very good use of their clothing. They don’t throw it out the moment they don’t like it anymore, they wear it until it has so many holes in it that it can no longer be called a shirt, a dress or shorts. Chetinjes are the most amazing article of clothing around here, but I will go into that another time.

Things to be grateful for: socks, toes, durability

In Regards…

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

ryan 3In Regards to Hope and Doubt

My hope dwindles daily in this search. I wonder if Paulo Freire’s theory of dialogical education has ever really worked, or if it is completely irrelevant in post-modernity. There is no doubt that dialectics are dead, and all the Hegel quoting in the world won’t bring them back to life. So how can someone so confidently categorize humans into two neat categories of oppressor and oppressed? It’s like Freire is trying to pitch the world as a sequel to “A Christmas Story”, in which the ‘oppressed’ rise up and strike back at the bully! Then the bully realizes the immorality of his action and is all the better for it.

Freire (1970) states that “the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole” (46), and since he was writing in the 1970’s this can be forgiven, but anyone who has even dipped a toe in post-structuralism is aware that there are no poles; they never existed. They were made up by theorists to simplify and sell books. Marxism and Freire at times commit the murder of anomie, like the game of chess being played through kaleidoscopes, explained using a simple game of 20/20 checkers as an example.

I doubt Freire’s theories often. Yet, I can’t debate them it if I don’t try to put them into action, if I don’t honestly test them.  And so, I still have hope.

In Regards to Love

“I remember you were conflicted. Misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power; full of resentment. Resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screaming in a hotel room. Lovin’ you is complicated.”

-Kendrick Lamar.

Paulo Freire throws around the word love as if it’s a hot potato; frequently and with determination. Unraveling and making sense of that word is a task that is impossible, like biting ones own teeth. Some may embrace love as the soaking of “pleasure from this charming and absurd difference that nature has put between the sexes” or, and seemingly most often, love is simply a “narcissistic game of capture and control” (Baudrillard, 1990, p. 17). I find myself combating the latter of the two theories of the L word as I proceed in work. The quotation that begins this piece states “Lovin’ you is complicated”, as everyone runs the threat of becoming adept to misusing their influence. Those without it may travel to Malawi and all of a sudden be granted sway and power based on skin colour and wealth alone. And as Peter Parker’s passing uncle proclaims, while looking at a young Spider Man; “With great power comes great responsibility”. In participatory research it is imperative to lessen ones influence, this is a large responsibility, yet in the face of slow or non-existent progress it is tempting to bypass community input and proceed using ones own best judgment. Honest dialogue here can be difficult, as it many times has meant reminding groups of my own inability to help in any type of practical or immediate way i.e. reiterating that “I am not a water specialist! I cannot build a well!” This gets tiresome, and I sometimes find myself resenting those who look to me to solve these structural problems because of my skin color. The honest answers I give can lead to very somber and morbid moods amongst the group, as this answer smothers any hope of clean water arriving any time soon. As they did for Dr. Stonebanks during moments of reflection, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s words, concerning a researcher’s merit, begin to cross my mind often, repeating like a skipping CD.

“Are they useful to us?? Can they fix our generator? Can they actually do anything?” (Smith, 1999, p.10, from Stonebanks, 2014, Confronting Old Habits Overseas)

In Regards to Tranquility

“We live in a world of more and more information, but less and less meaning”

-Jean Baudrillard

The above quote isn’t exact, as I don’t have Internet access to check its validity. I suppose that’s a good point to start on. There is no Internet here, and no television. No Blu Rays. No cell phone. Limited advertising. Basically, a lessening of the debauchery of signs. It has brought a certain level of tranquility. A new appreciation for the stars has resonated with me. In the urban metropolis the light pollution disallows their viewing, and when I do stay in the countryside I usually work during the evenings and miss their greeting. Here, I have the time to sit and just admire. I suppose these new feelings of tranquility have stemmed from spending more time with myself, whether reading or otherwise. Western society doesn’t allow for much time to yourself, and, even if it does, people don’t seem to embrace it. They’re either plugged into an iPod or fiddling with their smart phone. If you can’t spend time with your own thoughts, you’re in trouble. It’s been really nice to do that lately.

References

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Baudrillard, J. (1990) Fatal Strategies.

Kendrick Lamar (N/A) To pimp a butterfly.