We landed in Lilongwe airport around midday Wednesday and to our delight we met a hostel co-coordinator, Francis, who took us to The Campus. The journey from the airport to the accommodation was one I can only describe as surreal. My eyes filled with amazement and fascination as we got to see women selling tomatoes on the side of the road and carrying heavy buckets of water on their head while no cars passed for miles. The fields full of sugar cane and maize really put into perspective the lifestyle I had pre-conceived before I arrived. As my main focus here is health and well being I looked around this brand new region wondering if people even had time to be unwell, or focus on pain or dwell on being sick. Making a living was a key component of survival. I felt a level of understanding and acceptance as to why people in these countries can put their health on the back burner. Making a living is the only means of food. Something so simple, yet most of us in other countries will always have food on the table without making a living. Being born into a level of poverty such as this is a question that really struck me. Such as being sick and having no medicine, no transportation or distractions. Being from this beautiful yet very poor part of the world is a question unanswerable, but contrast is definite. Why someone who has so much potential is given a life lacking basic needs and rights is overwhelming. I can only learn from this with the mindset I use while working as a student nurse with people with intellectual disabilities. I often feel that our world has people like us and people with disabilities to make us feel more. Individuals with a disability give us a real sense of why to care about others. In Chilanga where we stay in the Kasungu region I hope that I can strengthen these feelings. It’s important to me what I can bring home from this project as I learn more about this region each day.
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.
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.
We arrived safe and sound off the plane and landed in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi!! I met two wonderful women on the flight over who had shared their stories of returning home to Malawi. We stepped off the plane and one lady we had spoken with took a deep breath of fresh air and spread her arms to capture the beaming sun’s rays. After clearing customs we took a two-hour bus ride to the village of Chilanga, in the Kasungu region. On the drive here I was immediately struck by the poverty and the lack of transportation used by locals. Everyone seemed to be walking somewhere.
When we arrived at The Campus we were greeted by the locals and the women sang a beautiful song and welcomed us. We were all overwhelmed at the beauty and grandeur of the hostel. Similar to Aboriginal cultures, the people of Malawi unloaded our bags because they believed we were tired from traveling all day and suggested we rest while they unloaded our luggage. I was not sure whether I should sit back and let them do the work, but I could not stand around and watch, so I tried my best to help the women carry in our luggage.
From the moment we arrived, I noticed the gender role differences. The men were working hard clearing the fields, painting the buildings and taking part in the construction of the hostel. The women took care of the children, prepared the meals, and collected the water. They often placed heavy buckets of water on top of their heads for extra support. I asked the site overseer, if I could try and collect water. Thankfully, Dr. Sheerin spearheaded a fundraiser to build a well approximately 50m from the hostel, so I did not have to go too far to fetch the water. Some women in Malawi walk up to a mile to collect water, and sometimes it has to be for the whole day! When I was told this I had my first break down. I couldn’t help but think of how much water we waste in Canada, flushing 6L of water down the toilet when people here are struggling to collect fresh water.
It is now my third day in Malawi and I am getting concerned about how culture shock will hit me when I return back to Canada. For now, I hope that team Transformative Praxis: Malawi will bring positive changes to the people here so that they can learn to live a more sustainable life. Goodbye for now, or in Chechewa, tionana (see you later).