Tag Archives: Amber

Back Again

Contemplating in the sun hut

Contemplating in the sun hut

By Amber Fortin

Moni! Hello! After over 18 hours of travelling we finally arrived at the campus. It was strange because some things have changed a lot, but others have stayed the same. Either way it is very comforting to be back on the campus. I have found myself overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done as many of the projects have fallen to the wayside and even been forgotten. But thankfully one project still seems to be standing; the sustainable chicken coop cooperative project that I worked on last year with the Women’s Group. There are over 27 baby chicks running around the campus now, two roosters and 6 hens, all of which are healthy and growing free-range. Many people would say it was out of laziness that the other projects fell apart, but being around the culture here in Malawi; I can say that laziness is not something I would use to describe anyone. Work is 24/7 for most people and usually they only receive enough kwacha to survive on. The projects seem to have fallen apart due to lack of leadership and limited sense of ownership due to the project being on community land. These are not problems of laziness; these are problems that come with group dynamics and a lack of structure in the group. Once the group structure that Transformative Praxis: Malawi members provided by being here every day during the setup of these projects was not as present, the structure seemingly began to deteriorate. This year my 5 weeks will definitely be more challenging, as there are more projects I am dealing with than just the chicken cooperative. Hopefully, the Women’s Group, Ashwini, and I can work together to find solutions to the challenges of the last year.

This is Malawi

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

This is Malawi

Blue skies

Perseverance

Burdened mothers

Maize fields

Red earth

Broken

This is Malawi

Warm breeze

Life’s struggle

Sweat of the brow

Burning sun

Days of harvest

Barefoot

This is Malawi

Clay bricks

Food scarcity

Strength

Relentless thirst

Tradition

Poverty

This is Malawi

Our Failure

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

Our FailureUpon finishing the reading of The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan, I have been furthering my reflection on Africa, its relationships, its triumphs and challenges. After taking courses on Problems in International Development and African Politics I gained critical thinking skills and a clearer understanding of global politics as well as the issues that have been perpetuated by the extensive exploitation of underdeveloped countries. The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan gives a great summary that explores not only the history, but also the exploitation and the problems the continent of Africa faces.

The amount of interest in Africa has always been evident, but colonialism and the horrific slave trade raised these interests promoting more interference by other countries in the continent. Now, “Africa is deeply divided by a sense of vexing fault lines – French versus English speakers, North versus South, Christian versus Muslim, South Africa versus Nigeria, democrats versus dictators, terribly poor versus poor,” (Caplan, Gerald p.114). These divisions in many cases are caused by outsider interferences as well as the historic preconceived notion that Whites know what is best, which is now a misconception that plagues true African independence. What I mean by true African independence is that even though countries in Africa have become independent after colonialism, the Western world still has its hands in politics, resources, trade, and economic affairs of Africa. Whether through bribery, arming guerilla movements or extremely high loan interests, the influence is still very much present in everyday societies of Africa. Developed countries have interests in many cases, which are disguised as aid, but in reality their reward is far greater than countries in Africa, which they are “aiding”. As long as, “Western countries treat aid as a political tool to advance their own self-interest, and so long as most International Non-Governmental Organizations compete against one another, the prospect of a more rational and less wasteful system remains a pipedream. In the meantime, we criticize Africans for being inefficient,” (Caplan, Gerald p.107).

My heart aches more than ever; I cannot stand the historic and present exploitation that my disgustingly privileged country and its allies inflict on this magnificent continent and its people to this day. Between 5 million and 2.5 million BCE, our ancestors emerged in Ethiopia and eastern Africa, we all came from this continent at one point, yet a serious lack of respect for human rights from our global relatives is evident in every continent and in every country. Even Canada currently has been under pressure from the United Nations for is human rights abuses against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, some of which do not have clean drinking water or safe housing on reserves. Canada, like other Western countries, favor the rich and ignore many issues which are left to sit and rot. As well there is a tendency to assist those who can give something back, those who are of interest and use. “For years, African and Western leaders have had a cynical little deal – African governments would pretend to reform themselves and the Westerners would pretend to live up to their pledges and help them,” (Caplan, Gerald p.113). USAid and the World Bank are examples mentioned multiple times by Caplan as exploitative organizations. Here in Malawi I have noticed many organizations including USAid, World Vision and Jw.org in lavish buildings with green shrubbery despite the dry season. Aid often has strings attached, whatever it does for the country in need, which is often unclear, aid always benefits the rich country most. Italy and the United States are among the most selfish offenders of this “tied” aid. Our despicable ancestors and present “developed” countries began and continue to exploit those who cannot afford any food. My favorite quote is as follows from the finale of this novel, which I think really rings with truth and should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to give and respect human rights as well as appreciating what you have.

“We need to help Africa, not out of our selfishness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crisis, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. Many speak without irony of the desire to “give something back”, without realizing the cruel reality of the phase. In fact, that’s exactly what the rich world should do. We give back what we have plundered and looted and stolen. Until we think about the West’s relationship with Africa honestly, until we face up to the real record, until we acknowledge our vast culpability and complicity in the African mess, until then we’ll continue- in our caring and compassionate way –to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse,” (Caplan, Gerald p.127).

References

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

Culture Shock Update

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

Culture Shock UpdateI think culture shock has begun hitting me. I catch myself in Penderson’s (1995) Honeymoon stage in culture shock, often because I am constantly in awe at the beauty of Malawi. I am so grateful to be here and I do not want to take any moment of this experience for granted. I have dreamed of travelling across Africa my whole life; watching discovery channel in amazement at the diversity and foreign animals, so I wanted to witness it with my own eyes.  Yet the beauty cannot hide the poverty here in the villages. The poverty is difficult to swallow and adjust to, especially seeing it every day. Despite all the reasons to be sad here I am witnessing happiness in the smallest things which Westerners take for granted; Whether this is because Malawians regard the ‘azungu’, white presence, as saviors or just the beauties in life. I find myself frustrated by the kids’ excitement due to my skin color and their awe in just merely watching me like I am an extinct animal and it’s a miracle that I am in front of them. Many of the kids are so young that they have never seen someone of another skin tone.

I am also becoming increasingly frustrated at Western culture and our society. The priorities I had and that others have are not truly important. Feelings of selfishness and shame are embedded in me looking back at my own life and what I have taken for granted for so long, such as clean water or even running water. I knew before but until you witness it and live with it, you cannot understand. Here some women and children must walk 1 km with a large pail of water on their heads and a baby on their backs to get back home. I am constantly astounded at the strength of the people here. I just wish I could do more, that I could actually help but money is not necessarily what is needed here. Creative problem solving, entrepreneurship, understanding and empowerment are what I hope to leave here.

References

Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.

A Torn Heart

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

In need of repair

In need of repair

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.