Category Archives: Touring

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Home Sweet Home

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

Reflecting through a new lens

Reflecting through a new lens

We recently embarked on our first journey away from Makupo village. The crew awoke bright and early in preparation for the long ride to Livingstonia. The battery we use to charge our electronics was dead once again, so we enjoyed some sizzling hot doughnuts under candlelight prior to loading the bus and hitting the road. As we headed north, an eerie mist dispersed as the sun rose over the few peaks that dotted the landscape. A couple quick stops were scattered throughout our nearly five-hour trip before we came to the base of the mountain. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what we were about to experience next. Our bus began hopping every which way atop the rocks embedded in the dirt road. A number of bends, marked by small wooden signs, indicated our progress up the mountain. Sharp hairpin turns and a narrow path for our vehicle characterized our nearly one hour climb up the mountain. Once we reached our destination, Lukwe Lodge, there was a sense of relief that overcame the bus, and at the same time there emerged a sense of eagerness to explore the grounds. Our group was lead down to the primary lodge structure – a veranda overlooking the entire valley and facing a number of other surrounding mountains. Any description of the view or the emotional response that it produced would not even begin to do it justice.

A mountain top oasis

A mountain top oasis

Our full day away from the village was spent hiking the remainder of the mountain to the town of Livingstonia. It was astounding to see the drastically different lifestyle that residents enjoy atop this elevation. The University of Livingstonia can be found in the town, along with a number of other private homes and lodges for visitors. Life exists and flourishes at this extreme elevation. The radical journey that we had taken hiking the mountain and on the bus the day prior was something that seemed so foreign to me, but is something that these inhabitants have surely done hundreds of times in their life. On another note, the communities living upon this mountain and the surrounding ones are completely self-sustaining. All of their necessities are at their fingertips despite the extreme conditions, which is a true testament to their multitude of skills and ability to sustain all aspects of life.

Despite the amazing experience that we had while in Livingstonia, I think the most impactful portion of the weekend was, ironically, our return to Makupo. Upon our arrival back to the village, I caught myself saying in my head “Yay – I’m home!” I am confident that I am not alone in this feeling. When I really thought about this, it seemed like the strangest concept. I am thousands of kilometers away from “home”, yet I felt this unwavering sense of comfort coming back to Makupo. This speaks volumes, not only the welcoming nature of the local people, but also of the amazing ability of humans to adapt to significant differences in culture. By no means am I 100% integrated into the society, nor will I ever be. I can say, with gratitude, that the Praxis team has become my second family and Makupo, my home away from home.