It is the first official full day at The Campus. Everyone is slowly waking up under the miles and miles of sky (under our beautiful roof of course). I awoke to the quiet bustle of the women that have been hired to clean the hostel. It is surprisingly pleasant to wake up to sweeping. I am currently sitting on the red soil that covers all of the grounds, and filled in my shoes. I am sitting under a small summer hut that has been made for us. It looks a bit like a gazebo. After my walk around The Campus this morning, I began to reflect on our arrival to the new Campus.
I did not try very hard after our many days of travel to keep my eyes open on the bus ride to The Campus, but when I did open my eyes I found merchants coming up to the side of the bus selling apples. Many people watched as we drove by and some waved to us with big smiles on their faces. I fell asleep again and I woke up as we were driving onto The Campus. As we drove down the red dirt road, packed into the bus with our suitcases, we could see that there were already people on The Campus awaiting our arrival. As we pulled in near the door, the women began to sing for us. I was tremendously moved by this and held in my emotions as we exited the bus. Coming off of the bus we were showered in hugs and handshakes from the people that we will be working with for the next five weeks. After our initial hellos we began to unpack the bus. A line of women, as well as our students began to take the bags in from the bus; however the women were very persistent on carrying the bags. This was the first moment of uncertainty that I had. I was unsure of the etiquette in this situation. Was I being rude if I did not help, or was I taking a job away that they are being paid? I am still not completely certain, but we found a way for everyone to participate last night and I am sure we will find ways again when they arise.
Once we got settled in, we noticed that there were a lot of children standing around with us so we brought out a ball to play with. The boys quickly ran with Marten to the soccer pitch and the girls played by throwing the ball to each other. As we began playing with the girls we decided to try a name game. We shared many laughs as we tried to speak their names and they tried to speak ours. It will be a lot of work to remember the names of everyone, but I am really hoping that I can remember at least a handful. The children only learn to speak English once they start grade three, so only the older children speak English. This lead to a lot of silly following-the-leader happening. I got to dance around and have all of them copy me while laughing at our silly actions. I even got them to do the chicken dance, and they thought it was hilarious. We played until the sun went down and we had to go inside. Before the children left, everyone got hugs and high fives and said many ‘see you tomorrows’.
One of the main goals that we discussed before we left for Malawi was bringing this new Campus to life. When we arrived, as we were welcomed onto The Campus with smiles and laughter, it felt alive. Even after the two days of travel to come here, we were all excited to play with the children and take a look around The Campus. Last night felt like the first moment of life that I am sure will continue on in the next five weeks, and hopefully after we leave.
Nothing felt real until the night we settled into the hostel and saw our Campus for the first time. Between a 12 hour flight from Toronto to Ethiopia, a couple hours in the Addis Ababa airport then a two and a half hour flight until we finally landed in Lilongwe, it had been a long voyage. Once we landed in Malawi it took another two hours driving in a bus with our insane amount of luggage until we finally arrived in the village of Chilanga. While on the bus ride to the campus that afternoon, kids ran pointing and shouting “azungu” over and over again in the villages we passed through. Azungu means white people in Chechewa, the language spoken here. This was very unsettling for me as there was a very strong sense of dependence and importance in our presence. The belief that we know everything and can fix all of their problems is also evident. Post-colonial aftermath is still very real.
Once we arrived at The Campus, the women began singing and clapping and thanking us. Many of us didn’t know how to react out of surprise. We played with the kids to try to learn their names; all the kids really enjoyed copying our funny dances and trying to say our foreign western names. The hostel is beautiful and more than I imagined. I feel guilty living here while just down the street there are small deteriorating homes that people are living in on a daily basis, whereas I am only here for 5 weeks, and this is not my daily reality.
I thought that I knew what to except when arriving in Malawi for my second year in a row, however I was wrong. I knew that I would experience culture shock despite having been here before but I thought that I would go through each stage as described by Pederson (1995) swiftly and with ease. As it turns out, I have completely skipped the honeymoon stage and have gone straight to the disintegration stage. Perhaps this was brought upon by my colleagues’ explicit euphoria from their new surroundings. On our drive to the hostel they were so amazed by everything, ironically they were even astonished by things like cows, chickens and goats which are not uncommon in Canada; a clear characteristic of the honeymoon stage. Another moment that drove me straight to the disintegration stage was when I saw the new location as it was even more prestigious than the last. It was a little mansion; the entrance had rounded stairs, the kind that is reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture. It had tall ceilings, and the rooms were enormous, much bigger than the rooms that you would find in most middle class Canadian homes. The beds had brand new mattresses with thick warm sheets for colder nights. Seeing this place invaded me with a sense of guilt because we had just driven from the airport where the majority of homes we saw were disheveled huts made of straw and mud. The only thing that brought me comfort was the fact that I knew this hostel would one day be used for students who want to study in the area. Thus, it was not a castle built exclusively for what was clearly the “white privileged people”.
I am concerned that living in this place creates barriers between us and the local community. Paulo Freire (1970) says “solidarity requires that one enter into a situation of those with whom one is solidary” (p.49). Living here prevents us from experiencing how most Malawians live and it reinforces the power inequities. In fact, I am living an even more privileged lifestyle than I would at home. There are people who cook for us and they have been cooking us the kind of meals that you would eat at a five star hotel. Meanwhile, many people here wonder if they will even be able to provide some sort of starch based meal for them and their family. Furthermore, there are even people who clean for us. I am aware that this is a way to provide direct economic relief, however there are certainly repercussions to this. Freire (1970) proposes that “the resolution for the oppressor –oppressed contradiction involves the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class” (p.56). There is already a clear dichotomy between the Malawian people and us Canadian students; did this have to be further reinforced by our living conditions? Do these power dynamics prevent us from building true reciprocity?
I fear that this upper class lifestyle will distract or even blind people from the entrenched poverty that surrounds us and in turn this lack of consciousness will contribute to less meaningful work in the field. It makes it too easy to return to the safe nest and forget the atrocities of the outside world and forgetting will not bring about the critical reflection that is needed when working on a project like this.
Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.
Freire, P. (1970). The pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury: New York.
I felt a sense of relief after all the overwhelming events happening on The Campus. A meeting with the Tuck Shop owner took place in the hostel discussing his plans, our suggestions, and questions about the Tuck Shop. The Tuck Shop is a new brick building that was constructed close to the Community Center where the friendly and committed owner is starting a business in selling items to the community. First impressions of him are good and he seems very excited about the potential success and a trustworthy partnership. He is getting ready to open the shop in two days. His cultural experience and understanding allows him to set appropriate prices that the villages will be able to afford. This presents a welcoming business environment to the community so that they won’t feel cheated and are happy to buy locally. An aspect I can bring to this project is my math skills. Calculating how much he pays for items, how much he can sell them for, what profits are made, and having an organized system. Other ideas have been to start a tab for the Transformative Praxis: Malawi members to make buying easier and to give the Tuck Shop owner money in advance to go buy supplies for the shop.
This has been my first relationship where respect was earned from both cultures to develop a sustainable Tuck Shop for the community. This is much different than when interacting with the children who copy and surround us constantly, with what I would say is undeserved respect and the idea that we are better or smarter than the rest of their community members.
I cannot wait until the end of our five weeks in Malawi to see the progress of the Tuck Shop. I hope it is appreciated and used often by the community long after we have returned home.
Arriving in Malawi was the most magical experience I have ever had. I was wide-eyed at everything the moment I stepped off the plane in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital); the people, the cars, the lack of trees and all the goats and chickens roaming around. We pulled into The Campus in Chilanga to about twenty women singing and clapping; it was all for US! It was amazing the amount of warmth and bienvenue the entire community showed us. This being my first time in the village, it was all new, but it felt like coming home.
Things to be grateful for: the weather, the food, and the hospitality.