Tag Archives: arrival

New Sights

By Lara McTeigue

Setting sun on Campus

Setting sun on Campus

I was woken up with a startle at the airport upon landing in Malawi. I hurried to catch the rest of the group on our way to fill out VISA applications. The tiny space we entered that was the immigration area could be comparable to a large living room back home. There was a big sense of urgency as people came flooding in off of their flights and tried to find a surface to write on. Lines were identified by sheets of white paper with marker reading “cash/debit” and so on. While waiting in line, there were attendants wearing yellow “VIP” vests who ushered an older white lady to the front of the line. Was the man trying to help her because of her age? Soon a pattern developed however that found many people similarly butting ahead of us. I later learned that these guards were payed to help travelers jump the line which in turn caused the entire operation to slow to practically a halt every time. There was no order as 6 guards would huddle around one counter at a time or the man behind the desk would talk on his cell phone as he signed the VISA forms. About a ten foot line from the table to pay, our group waited approximately 45 minutes to get through.

As we collected our bags and made our way to our bus van, we were warned not to allow men outside to help us with our baggage. However, 8 to 10 men soon surrounded us and started loading our suitcases onto the truck. The men were hard to keep track of. Differentiating who was with our group and who were strangers was virtually impossible. Suffice it to say the men ended up getting paid to load the truck. On previous trips taken in the past, I’ve experienced similar scenarios of men trying to help with baggage for tips but these situations have normally been accompanied by close relatives. I noted that maybe one reason for the difference in outcomes this time could have been a result of our group of students not yet being very familiar with each other and our multicultural backgrounds which may have some effect on a varied range of instinctive responses to the situation.

On our drive from the airport to our campus, I was surprised to see so many people. This might sound funny, but for some reason I was taken aback by the practically constant stream of people by the side of the road on the nearly 2 hour drive. There were just so many people. Children, babies, mothers, fathers, friends were seen working, carrying water, playing or selling food. Most of them walked without shoes among the red soil ground cluttered with rocks and litter. Piles of unrecognizable fresh fruit, hanging raw meat under small straw huts and dead mice on a stick were common sights. Men approached our van during a gas stop trying to sell us eggs and used jackets. I wasn’t sure whether to smile, respond or do nothing. I wanted to follow the pace of the group, especially returners among us – keep in mind we were also all delirious from the long set of flights at this point – and they seemed to keep to themselves, so I did the same. Stop signs were clearly more like suggestions and there was no speed limit to speak of so the frequent horn honks kept me conscious despite my heavy eyes.

Kate announced from the front of the bus that we were getting close and I took a breath to try and remain open to whatever we were about to witness. The road veered off to a bumpy, I mean really bumpy, dirt narrow path between tall stalks of foliage on either side of the vehicle. Children’s yelling could be heard from the overgrown field around us but I couldn’t spot them. We pulled past a few decaying houses, I wasn’t sure if they were a part of the campus or not, before we came to a cleared opening where 30 to 50 unknown faces all stood staring and smiling at us. As soon as we got out of the van, strong hugs came from all directions with ecstatic exclamations and laughs. We kept receiving handshakes that had an extra squeeze or movement in it, a unique cultural custom I had yet to learn, as the faces seemed to blend together in the rapidity of it all. I spotted a large group children waiting excitedly to get their look at us foreigners. I waved to them and some waved back, others giggled and some looked away shyly. A young guy who must have been about 8 years old came running towards me to get a high five before we were pulled away and asked to get our belongings into the hostel.

We entered our rooms quickly and then took a rushed walk around the area. We peaked at the shower, washroom, tuck shop, community center, kitchen and security house. Everything moved so fast. It felt like the sun was beginning to set and we had only arrived 15 minutes ago. One young child called out sternly to me “come here” as he sat on a porch with a group of his pals which temporarily broke the fast pace of the tour. I replied that I’d “come back later” because I wanted to catch up to the rest of the group. As we continued, the sea of children following us grew. All of them had big grins or looks of awe on their small faces. Many of them asked my name. The boy who had called out to me earlier grabbed my hand and tried starting a game of thumb war. Or so I thought. I played along. He wasn’t really trying though as I beat him in a couple of rounds before I began to realize that perhaps he was unfamiliar with the game I grew up playing. I wondered if he was shocked that I was playing with him at all or if he was trying to be nice or if his game had a different set of rules. He kept pointing to his eye and my eye and saying “wila”. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say but later when I noticed the children pointing at someone else’s glasses, I assumed that maybe they were talking about eye glasses. I never previously thought of these accessories I wear every day that help me see to be such an exceptional privilege.

The First 48 Hours

By Kate Newhouse

All that red dirt

All that red dirt

I look down to the dry red dirt. I can see strokes from the broom that must have recently swept. I am back in Malawi and back with the red dirt. My feet already know what they are in for and my hair too, but my unsettled mind doesn’t know what’s in store.

As we get off the plane in Lilongwe we can see the excitement and energy surrounding us. We are quickly ushered to fill out our visa papers and wait in line. Dr. Stonebanks goes first. After moments of waiting it’s clear that people are paying the locals to help them jump the line. The local men in safety vests ask people if they need help and then rush them to the front of the line and fast track them through the next few lines, cutting in front of a long line of people. We wait and wait, but aren’t moving. It was frustrating and quickly got to me and made me upset with the local people and their need for money. The priorities here in Malawi are something I am not used to. In Canada, I am used to having certain things guaranteed. We have systems in place to support most different needs and wants, but here in Malawi the needs are so great and the need for money influences almost every action. These actions make it hard for me to open up and trust local people. I am constantly thinking of their actions. Why they are being this way? What do they want from me? What would they do if they could?  It becomes a wall for me; a huge barrier and it influences the actions I take. This impedes my conversations and my work. It’s a cycle I am trying to understand and work through.

This is my second time visiting Malawi. The first time I spent most of the trip in the honeymoon phase. I was figuring it all out and I was so in love with the campus and all the excitement that surrounds it. This time I hope I can really get my feet wet and try to understand this cycle. I need to find a way to penetrate the ideas and the thoughts and hesitations I have. I need to ask questions and persist on getting the answers and the honesty that is so critical. I need to begin the tough conversations.

We are reading William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden”. Here he talks about the importance and influence of foreign aid. He mentions that many sub-Saharan African governments spend their money on consumables and not on investments. I sense that local Chilanga residents do the same. It seems like anytime a Malawian makes money they buy necessities and then spend the rest quickly. That being said, I am sure all they are using the money for has a need. The money they receive may not be enough for their list of needs and wants, but it seems to be spent quickly. I am not an economist or a financial planner, but this makes sense. They are so used to spending what they have, as it usually isn’t much. I am wondering then where is the answer as Easterly makes me question a solution. Is there one?

I spoke with one of the ladies hired by Transformative Praxis: Malawi and she was very honest in saying that people here aren’t smart with their money. She mentioned having children and how many local people have children they cannot support. This she said is why children get married young and end up in unfortunate situations. She also spoke about the differences between men and women. She said men are often so focused on money and this leads them to not consider their children. The women want opportunities for their children, but their voices are often lost under the men.

Just being here 48 hours I feel like I have experienced so much. I know I have made no impact, but one honest conversation is a good start.

First Impressions

By Ashwini Manohar

Sun rising on the campus in Malawi

Sun rising on the campus in Malawi

Malawi from the air is barren — red earth stretching for miles, shrubs, trees and occasionally a collection of huts. My first impression of Malawi was buoyed by intense curiosity, and I’m ashamed to say, filtered through the distorting lens of my camera.

Despite never being interested in documenting my life with pictures, the moment the chartered bus started moving from the parking lot of the airport, I whipped out my phone, went to the video feature and started recording. Soon enough, we left the relatively wealthy Lilongwe and headed towards Kasungu.

Poverty was ubiquitous. And I was mindlessly snapping, driven by some obscene desire to capture what was streaming by my window. Twenty minutes into the bus ride, realization struck: what was I doing? Why was I consuming poverty in this way? None of the people I’d snapped had given me explicit permission to take pictures of them. I put my phone away, ashamed and angry with myself.

I don’t really know how to put into words what I felt after that, as I gazed out the window. Mostly I felt numb, I think, not connecting the shanty huts with the fact that people lived in them. Occasionally we’d pass a busy business district, run-down stores selling everything from coffins to salon services. Sometimes music blasted from an unseen speaker.

We turned right on to a bumpy dirt road after a while. “We’re two minutes away,” Kassie said when I asked if we were close. The bus slowed to a crawling pace. As we rounded a corner, the TPM campus came into view. I immediately got anxious. Amber was almost jumping off her seat with excitement at seeing all the ladies she’d formed deep relationships with last year. Coming out of the bus in the midst of her squealing and hugging (oh Amber) was a bit overwhelming, but the kind and incredibly warm welcome I received put me at ease. I was happy and secure.

That feeling has remained the last three days as I acclimated (and still am) to life in Malawi. The sun rises before 6 and sets by about 7 in the evening. Roosters call and dogs howl during the night, and sunsets are breathtaking. You get one pail of hot water to shower, along with a cup; the two showers are conjoined in a small concrete building with wooden pellets and doors that don’t lock from the inside.  The kitchen is outdoors — a cement structure with a partitioned pantry in the back, and most of the cooking is done with a charcoal fire in a mbaula: a clay pot handcrafted by women who poke holes in the bottom, which is then encircled by concrete and attached to a metal bottom that collects the ash from the burning charcoal. I recognized it from my childhood in Singapore. In preparation for Diwali, my grandmother would use it to fry her murukus (circular lentil biscuits) in a wok full of oil. I learned that a small mbaula costs about 1500 kwacha, or about $3 Canadian, and a bigger one costs about 2000 or 2500 kwacha, or about $4 or $5 Canadian. Almost every household has at least one.

All of Sunday I spent with Unna and Chimwemwe (which means Happiness in Chechewa, the language spoken in these parts of Malawi), who cook our meals, clean our hostel and haul water for us to clean ourselves and drink. Sunday was honestly the happiest I’ve felt this year. I learned how to make nsima and mpilu (green leaves that look like lettuce) and beans. Unna told me about life in Malawi — how women in Malawi relate to each other, the political system, what she feels about the political system, her husband and her two kids. I told her and Chimwemwe that the children in the field were making fun of my hairy arms, and they laughed at them too and said women in Malawi don’t really grow hair anywhere! (It’s true. I’m jealous.) We shared stories and laughed and had a really good time.

Though I am cocooned in a haze of happiness and contentment (Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase), confusion about my role in TPM and what TPM does still lingered. I was starting to get anxiety attacks because I didn’t want my experience for the next 5 weeks to be one of me floundering around for direction and for everything I do with the community here to be useless.

So on Saturday, I plucked up my courage and went to the professors’ house to ask Dr. Stonebanks and Melanie some questions. It was a good talk — I learned about the political structure of TPM, and of the nearby villages, and where the development committee fit in, which is what Amber and I were going to work on with the women in TPM.

I haven’t strayed beyond the protective boundaries of the campus, and want very much to walk through the villages. I’m sure that will happen in the coming weeks.

Tio nana (See you later).

 

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.

Bliss?

By Karen Jeffery (Trinity)

Our hostel

Our hostel

Accompanied by plenty of stares we departed the airport at Lilongwe. After our journey was much longer than we expected we were relieved to be on the final stretch of our journey, a 90-minute car journey to our home for the next five weeks. I couldn’t hide my fascination as I observed everything along the roadside. Everything was unfamiliar, but exciting and full of character. I smiled at the goats and the pigs roaming freely, the children helping their parents sell fruit at the side of the road, the people saluting our car full of white people and the bikes traveling from one village to the next – most loaded with two passengers. The names of the shops amused me most and almost all were in English; “Up Up Jesus” was a personal favourite.

Since arrival I have congratulated the contractor numerous times for our impressive hostel. It is far more than I expected, almost reminding me of a Mediterranean villa. At the same time, I’m acutely aware that this is far from the living conditions that our co-learners and workers return home to.

In the same way that there are five stages of grief, there are five stages of culture shock. The outlined phases are the honeymoon stage, the disintegration stage, the reintegration stage, the autonomy stage, and the interdependence stage (Stonebanks, 2013). Culture shock is something we’ve all been reading about and preparing ourselves for. I think experiencing culture shock is a crucial part of this project, a part that will allow me to become more realistic about health actions that can be taken by the locals, whom I have already become fond of.

Even after one day here I am questioning how I can experience the full depth of this culture shock when I am sleeping in a bed more comfortable than what I have at home. I’ve already been served three meals with chips amongst other western foods, we have electricity when we need it and the toilets and showers are much more glamorous than what I had been trying to prepare myself for. This state of bliss is not how Malawian people live. Honeymoon bliss this may be, but with such feelings of confusion, guilt and frustration with the unfairness of it all, could I be experiencing parts of the disintegration stage even after one day of being here?

This project aims to be a collaboration of people. A collaboration of different cultures, different skin colours, but all equal and all people. I can’t help but question how we can achieve this when so far all we’ve been provided with is stereotypical to the image of the superior western white person which is an idea we’ve come to try and break down.