I think I may have just arrived back from one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Our Praxis Malawi group has just returned after having gone on an excursion to Livingstonia which is a settlement at the top of a mountain in the northern part of Malawi. After trekking up the windy and treacherous mountain road, we were rewarded with the luxury of viewing Lake Malawi and the surrounding mountainsides from Lukwe Lodge. There, we found an ecologically sustainable, hand-crafted place to stay in an incredibly peaceful and serene pocket of the mountains. Nevertheless, even as I found myself in this relaxing and refreshing change of scenery, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling thoughts weigh heavily on my mind. The guilt which comes along with the experience of going from a rather humble existence in Makupo to the treat of a touristy type of destination rested uneasily with me (as I’m sure it did with many of my colleagues). As we ate delicious food, had plenty to drink, and slept in gorgeous little cabins, I couldn’t help but feel the heaviness of the fact that most Malawians probably can’t afford to spend time in such a place. These mixed feelings of wanting to enjoy this break, but also wanting to stand in solidarity with the wonderful Malawians I’ve met have left me with both a belly full of food, as well as a mind full of food for thought.
We arrived back in Makupo today after a luxurious three days in Zambia at Zikomo Lodge and Safari. It was a beautiful stay; full of adventure on safari tours, laughter during evenings all together, and relaxation by the pool and in our suites. The safaris themselves were more than anything what made it worth our time. Seeing so many animals in their natural habitat while here in Africa was something I had not previously thought of as important, but it was absolutely exhilarating (the laughter-fit we all shared together on our dusk safari didn’t hurt either).
I have to admit, though, that I found it difficult at times to allow myself to feel content in Zambia. Even right upon arrival I felt myself very uneasy. We were greeted by the full staff of the lodge with cold drinks and moist hand towels, the owner insisting on her staff bringing our bags for us over to our rooms. It was incredibly jarring to suddenly be the epitome of a tourist, treated so very lavishly, completely separated from most all ‘real life’ either in Zambia or in Malawi. I have been trying to make sure I never allow myself to feel that way otherwise while here in Sub-Saharan Africa, wanting to (as much as is possible) understand the way that most people live their daily lives. Nonetheless, I pushed myself to enjoy the pause from my work and life in the community. I must note, however, that through that experience I was able to reflect upon the fact that we are not living as most people do even while in Makupo: we have a nice big space to work and eat in, cozy beds with bug nets to sleep in at night, meals cooked for us, laundry done for us, water brought to us, and more. These perks are not things that most people even in Makupo experience in their lives (and Makupo is a wealthier village than most, thanks to the money that comes in through Praxis Malawi). The truth is I will not be experiencing first-hand what it’s like to not have white-privilege while on this journey.
Overall, Zambia turned out to be an immensely introspective time; away from Makupo I was able to continue my planning for the play, and just generally contemplate and discuss my progress here. While I certainly went through culture shock upon arrival – going right away into disintegration phase (Stonebanks, 2013) – I feel that my emotional reaction turned out to be a facilitator in allowing me to rid myself of hidden oversights by bringing them to the surface.
It feels nice to be back in Makupo; it really has become a home away from home. As per usual, we were greeted by at least a dozen excited children. For the next several hours I played with them. As a teacher-in-training whenever I spend time with any children here in Malawi it occurs to me how difficult it is to communicate with them without a common language. Even simple things like, “gentler” are nearly impossible to convey to them (I got quite a few very intense high-fives today). Of course, to counter this, it is also incredible how easy it is to get by without much speech in other instances.
The debate between English and Chichewa is quite complex here, generally. English is the official language of the country, as it was colonized by Britain; however, the majority of the people in the villages speak very little English themselves. This is also in consideration amongst us in the Education team, as we want the children to get as much as they can in their learning, though there is a balance at play. If the children do not understand English well, or are not taught by an expert, they will struggle both in English Language Arts and in the other subjects that are taught in their second language. To counter this, the children should be provided with the opportunity to learn English well if it is seen as important in keeping up with the development of the rest of the world. It’s quite the debate, and a difficult issue to consider as we continue to work on curriculum. As it is right now, we have left it up to the discretion of the teacher. Hopefully more light will be shed on this issue in future years through other Praxis Malawi members.
For now, I am off to another busy day of work. We have Standard Two education units to complete, and I have a play to script. Tionana bwino.
Stonebanks, C. D. (2013). Cultural competence, culture shock and the praxis of experiential learning. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.). Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.
While travelling by jeep through the National Park in the alphabetically awesome country of Zambia, I began to think about the tourism industry present here in this area of sub-Saharan Africa – or at least that with which our group has engaged. It differs greatly from much of the tourist destinations present in many of the other parts of the world I have been fortunate enough to visit: the Coliseum of Rome, the Empire State Building in New York, the Louvre museum in Paris, or any of the amazing sights of London. Before I go off writing pieces for Daily Planet’s next issue of “Tourist Sites All North American’s Love”, I will get to the point. All of these aforementioned sites are man-made structures, ancient, somewhat more recent, and new, and draws visitors by the millions every year. The nations and cities where these are found are, of course, also home to natural beauties; here in Malawi and Zambia, I have yet to witness this duality of income-producing possibilities. The attractions that bring a great deal of foreign capital are natural sights and untamed wilderness, for the most part left unaltered by humans. The mountain of Livingstonia and the savannah plains of Zambia have been capitalized by humans – in many cases non-Africans. Both lodgings we stayed in were owned and managed by Caucasians – although one was born and spent a great deal of his life in Africa. The town of Livingstonia, too, was founded by Scottish missionaries.
It is interesting, I think, to consider this dichotomy. Despite the overwhelming European presence in Africa since the mid to late nineteenth century – a time when many man-made structures were being constructed in Europe and North America – there are very few of such monuments found in this region of Africa. Why? I suppose the largest factor was the role Europe envisioned for the African continent. Much of the landmass, in particular that which was located south of the Saharan desert, was designated as a territory ripe for exploitation, for temporary benefit followed by unceremonious discard. How different is my own visit here?
Under the ruse of a much needed break from our stressful humanitarian work (I only italicize because I at times consider how those living in the conditions we are working in are unable to take such breaks) we are treating these beautiful environments in a similar way. The parallels between a colonial occupation and our visit to Zikomo Lodge in Zambia have caused me significant disturbance and led to many questions.
At 5:00 am we were all on the bus heading for Livingstonia; our first “exterior learning opportunity”. I was really looking forward to it. That being said, I was also worried about all the work we still had to do, especially me because I am leaving a bit more than a week earlier than everybody else (so is Rita). Thankfully, the ideas for our units are being expressed and formulated rather well, however it is mostly the editing that is time consuming. Nonetheless, I think with a little more discipline we all as a group can step it up a notch in order to get more done each work day. This would not only allow for the editing, but also the final touches to be done in a stress free manner.
Now back to the “exterior learning opportunity”: We had an interesting day on the bus. It was not long before we got a flat tire, but later on we had the chance to have delicious lattes, cappuccinos and even macchiatos for some, eat too many chips, listen to music and sing along of course, stop in a local village to use their toilets and finally the last part of the drive was a very “sketchy” drive all the way up to the top of Livingstonia where we were staying at Lukwe Lodge. Even so, this was all worth it the second we saw one of the most absolutely breathtaking views I have ever seen. Words cannot describe the feelings or emotions that were passing through me while I gazed out into all the landscape had to offer. The view was filled with different heights of mountains, vegetation, villages a far and best of all, a view of Lake Malawi. Every part of me tried to take it all in at once, but I think it took the entire time we were there and until the very last moment before we left, and still I think I may have missed something.
It was not long after arriving there that everyone was dropping off their belongings in their gorgeous huts or Shayla and I, in our cute little tent. Then shortly after, it was time for relaxing and conversing over a nice cold beverage. The conversations were happy, but mostly grateful for our little escape. When supper time came, the gratitude filled the air 100 times more! The food was absolutely scrumptious and we had salad, without even getting sick! Need I say we were in heaven? This wonderful evening continued with much laughter and new nicknames for everyone… So much fun! I will not mention what time, but later on it was bedtime and Shayla and I cuddled to stay warm on that cold jungle mountain night!
Our little escape to Livingstonia has just been one of the countless opportunities I have had here that constantly remind me to simply appreciate more every minute of every day, no matter where I am or what I am doing. This is easy to say, but I challenge myself to keep the sense of appreciation alive within me even once I am back home, cooped up in my normal everyday life.
I had planned to write this blog post about the most majestic and serene defecation I have possibly ever had. It took place at Lukwe Lodge, beautiful accommodations located partially up Mount Livingstonia. Dusk had fallen as I sat, pants around my ankles, my second or third beer of the evening close at hand. A gas lamp completed the scene, as it provided just enough light to illuminate the tree canopy above me. I could not recall the last time I was at such peace letting loose my bowels…sorry.
The serenity of that moment remained with me for the remainder of our visit, and was capped off by a long but gratifying walk down the mountain from the lodge. It was not until, at the very bottom of the mountain, after becoming caught behind a small herd of cattle that I remembered where I was. As we walked to a shady resting spot, sights and smells of small rotting fish and a hanging pig carcass quickly brought me back to ground-level, real Malawi.
On the drive home, I was lucky to sit at the front of the bus, providing me with a view of the road and all it contained. Malawians of all ages attempting to flag down our bus for a ride, and looking disgruntled when we did not even slow down. Men struggling as they attempted to control their bicycles, laden with what appeared to be an impossibly balanced seventy pound stack of wood. Narrow misses with overcrowded mini buses. I felt a strong sense of gratitude for all that was provided for me during my life. I recalled the seldom occasions when I felt as though I was working hard, although only lasting short periods of time. This was followed by an almost overwhelming sense of guilt – something which quickly transformed into near rage as I felt powerless to do anything about it, and as I sensed that some within our group did not observe the same things or feel the same way.
While that evening was undoubtedly my most emotional one since I have arrived in Malawi, I hope it was a stride in the right direction, as I to direct myself towards a personal understanding of the realities or hurdles faced by those who chose to work in the field of community or international development. I was reminded of the reading of an article for class this past academic year. While I still disagree with many of the things stated by the author, his main point – essentially that the conscious of one working within the margins of society is wrought with self-doubt – has become much clearer to me.
Our trip, while incredible, seemed to have softened some of the group members’ resolve (or at least my own). Upon our return to Makupo, we were welcomed like some sort of heroic troupe by many of the village’s children, although surely not many, be they Malawian, Canadian, or Irish, realized how strange the scene was. In plain fact, we had just spent a large sum of money on this trip, money which could have been put towards any number of things. To say the money was wasted would be false, but personally I continue to have some trouble with the reality of the complication it brings in this place.