Tag Archives: Corinne

The Power of Happy Pants

By Corinne Marcoux

Happy pants

Happy pants

Happy pants (adj.+ N): I. Loose, one-size-fits-all pants made of the colorful Malawian fabrics; II. Pants that bring joy and happiness to the person wearing them and the people around; III. Piece of clothing that has the power to make the person wearing it believe in what he/she does or can do.

Is there any need to say that I was feeling really happy and feeling on top of the world today? I had my happy pants on.

I was feeling the power of happy pants since I bought them in Cape Maclear on Sunday, but their magic really started influencing our lives as soon as I jumped into them this morning. In fact, I did not have to worry about what to wear for the day—happy pants and t-shirt and here you go. (This made me super happy, considering that choosing clothes in the morning often causes me unnecessary anxiety.) Also, Naomi`s breakfast smiled at her; the two donuts and the banana in her plate were forming a smiley face.

On top of these multiple joyful events, we were lucky enough to enjoy a story from Dr. Stonebanks when we got to our happy room at the Chilanga secondary school (for work purposes). It was the story of a development project: an experiential elementary school (Praxis Malawi, of course!). It is not sure yet if the classroom will be ready for September or not. It all depends on the main character of the story, the community. The community members are the only ones who can make the school project work in a sustainable way. The effort must come from them in order to create independence for the future. Giving more money than needed will not help in reaching the common goal of development. The moral of the story is thus that people tend to aim for a tangible product so that they have the satisfying impression that something has been done, and that we have to resist and focus on our work. Although invisible, curriculum development is really what is going to make a difference, probably more than the building of the classroom itself. So this is when happy pants come into play; wearing them helps us keep going and believing in the potential of what we do.

The rest of the day went wonderfully! We worked productively on creating the units—I worked on the Seasons and the My Senses ones. It all was positive, except at that moment when I felt that I did not have enough hours in the day to do everything that I wish to do… So I did what I now do when I feel a little worried: I go talk to Barbara. Indeed, her answer made me feel very happy again! She suggested to me to do a little bit of everything, and this is exactly what I did. With the help of happy pants, I found the time to play Bowa with Ruth (one of my Malawian friends in the village) and Amy. The pants gave me the force to believe in all the things that I could do to make me feel happy.

All to say that happy pants are indeed truly powerful because they make me realize that all the happiness and confidence they bring actually come from the person wearing them and believing a little more than usual in what she can achieve. We are building a pedagogy of hope. There is so much more we can do when we believe. Viva happy pants!

What to Do in Case of a Break Down

By Corinne Marcoux

Bus break down!

Bus break down!

Today was definitely a very interesting day. I am writing in the shade of a very big tree, next to the road: bus break down. Fuel pump problem, it seems. Everyone is busy doing what they do when they are waiting; we have three hours in front of us before two mechanics and another bus come to rescue us. Let’s take our Malawian time then.

It all started two days ago when we departed from Makupo in the direction of Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi. We all took place in our good old Toyota white van and enjoyed the five hour or so drive. It was fascinating to see the landscape change as we were heading south. Naomi (my wonderful roommate) and I were overly excited about the baobab trees that were suddenly taking part of the scenery—they are baobab trees after all! We arrived at the Fat Monkeys Lodge, Cape Maclear, in the middle of the afternoon. Beach. Blue water. Toilets that flush. I must admit that I had a little shock at first, trying to cope with the lack of transition from one physical and social environment to the other. I found the concept of Club Med-style vacations absurd, but I guess that the temptation of putting my swimsuit on was greater because this is just what I did. Wouldn’t we have done the same back home? So I spent an amazing two days watching breathtaking sunsets, swimming among tropical endemic fish of all colours, and feeling the pulse of Malawi to the rhythm of the drums.

Let’s get back on track: bus break down. I woke up this morning to the sound of the waves stretching on the shore. We went for an educational walk nearby the lodge and, most importantly, we had the privilege to experience the Rain Rock. It is a historical monument of Malawi, hidden in the dense vegetation as a mysterious part of the past forgotten and left behind in the present. The rock is carved with rock art and no one knows exactly who did it, or even if it is man made. Malawians used to gather near the rock and pray for rain. Today, touching the rock is supposed to bring you luck. So we all did, some twice rather than once.

Only over an hour after we hit the road to return to Makupo, we pulled over. Our bus had broken down.  At 2:15 pm, Arshad officially announced to us that another bus and two mechanics were on their way and should be there… in three hours. This is when things started to be interesting. The first reactions were humourous. The blame was first put on those who had touched the Rain Rock twice. It made sense. Once the blame was put on someone, we started making plans. The idea was to build a village in the nearby field and to create a new religion of worship to the Rain Rock. It made sense. Some other reactions from the group were:

“If the bus blew out, it would have ruined my day.” (Rebecca)

“Zzzzzz…” (Louisa)

“Toyotas are overrated.” (Dr. Stonebanks)

“I made a broom. I’m selling it if anyone is interested.” (Amy)

“We have a plan B now!” (Barbara)

We were commenting about the perfect location of the break down—next to a well—when we learned that the rescue team would arrive a little later than planned, because it was Sunday and everything was closed.

I decided to go outside and started writing by the tree. We all knew that this break down would be an adventure on its own, and we were not disappointed! I feel that I really got to appreciate the African life-style during the wait. People here seem to take their time; some kids actually have been watching the immobile bus and us waiting for many hours. I did take the time too. I reflected on what I can learn from a bus break down in the middle of Malawi. I realized my dream of climbing and playing into a tree. I played the a game of bowa (traditional Malawian board game) with Rebecca and Amy. I watched the sunset and the gorgeous colours following it. I admired the stars while lying on the road. When the replacement bus finally reached us, it was 8 pm…

These six hours of waiting were part of the journey. Barbara, compared the work of a fuel pump to the work of curriculum development: the fuel pump makes the fuel circulate just as curriculum development makes the curriculum circulate. I would add that you need the passion before circulating curriculum just as you need to look for a journey before taking the bus and make the fuel circulate. I now understand that these six hours were part of my journey, and that curriculum happens even when you are not physically developing it. When there is a break down, you just have to live the journey and make the passion alive.

Day 7, 8 and 9: Stop the Competition – No Man is an Island

By Corinne Marcoux

Malawian sunrise

Malawian sunrise

I was walking back from a nearby village with Francis* this morning when he taught me this proverb: no man is an island. (I need to specify here that my francophone background prevented me from encountering this phrase before. So please bear with me.) We were discussing how sharing knowledge and ideas was key to learning when he used the proverb. I just fell in love with the image, but…

No man is an island. Come on! No matter how appealing this image might be, we are hypocrites to think that we live according to this principle. “How many blogs have you written so far?” “Are people blogging right now?” “You are already at blog #4? I am only at #2…” We are comparing ourselves. There is a force stronger than ourselves that pushes us to focus on quantity and on the final product, and this force obviously manifested itself in each of us these past few days. Monday, we started to work on the project—we did some advance work and curriculum development brainstorming—and the so many comments made about blogging created a taboo around the idea of blog, now known as “the word”. We do not want to be behind. I do not want to be behind. We were making jokes about doing a competition, but actually competition is so profoundly rooted in our Canadian society that it makes us worried here. “I am still on blog #3; I hope it’s fine…”

No man is an island. Come on! We started to put some ideas together for the grade 1 curriculum we are building and, obviously, we wanted to be right. Right according to what? We wanted to make sure we were not completely off track with the current Malawian curriculum. We were wondering if we were following the unit model correctly… Is this project supposed to be experiential? But still, “we just wanted to make sure”.

No man is an island. What if we could make it happen? What if this land, Malawi, could bring us some wisdom? Going through the week as well as discussing with my peers and professors already helped me enjoy the writing and not feel guilty about simply enjoying it. These people are who I need to nourish my learning process. My peers are making my writing better. Our minds together are what is making the project possible. There is no way that my experience could even be without the people in the village. Maybe this is why I love the rising sun so much here; it shows me the horizon, and reminds me of the absurdity of walking alone in the immensity of the land. A continent from which I have so much to learn.

Zikomo Malawi.

*Francis is one of the co-learners working with us on curriculum development.

Day 3, 4, 5 & 6: Busy Senses!

By Corinne Marcoux

Early morning donut lesson

Early morning doughnut lesson

Imagine this: you wake up all tangled in your sleeping bag and realize that you are in Malawi, welcomed by the golden rays of the morning sun and the chant of the women cooking nearby. I was not dreaming; this is true.

The exploration and orientation phase of our adventure started the second I put my nose out of my room: traditional Malawian donuts filled my mouth and a quick Chichewa lesson filled my mind. And off we went! Our first few days in Makupo were filled with so many discoveries, activities and discussions that we were already day 6. We visited the village (60 inhabitants) as well as the surrounding villages, walked to the town of Kasungu and explored its very busy market, hiked to the top of Mount Kasungu under a burning sun, went to church and got to talk in Chichewa in front of hundreds of people who came to sing and pray, and got used to the life in the village. My senses have been more than busy recording all of these new experiences in a new environment. My ears enjoy the African chants and the music of the local language. The strong smell of too many people squeezed in a hot room just hit me and made me even more conscious of where I am. I cannot open my eyes wide enough to catch all the stars shining on a singular sky, to paint the glorious sunrises and sunsets, or to… see so many looks staring in my direction at the same time. My tongue works with my hands to greet people and learn about their lives.

It is only at the end of day 6 that culture shock was brought up; my senses and I were too amazed to worry about culture shock before that moment. It was the perfect opportunity for doubt to slowly invade my mind… Am I allowed to be that enthusiastic in such a difficult context? Can I avoid reproducing the stereotypes I do not want to reproduce, or are they inevitable? Answers are not easily found, but at least Dr. Stonebanks shared a thought with us that makes me go forward: people here want that their visitors actually do something to help, or at least try to do so. So I guess I will continue to feed my senses, so my confidence will bloom and I can be as proactive as possible in order to actually do something to help. Pangono pangono*.

* “Little by little” in Chichewa

Day 0, 1 & 2: Out of Imagination

By Corinne Marcoux

In transit

In transit

I was lying down in bed before departure but my thoughts couldn’t lay down to rest. They were fighting over the precious three hours of sleep that separated me from day 1.

Excitement, nervousness, happiness, uncertainty, name it! Thoughts were flying like little butterflies in my belly. I was thinking about luggage details I needed to remember for the next day. I was thinking back about the meeting we had the previous weekend at Bishop’s on curriculum development and trying to internalize what I learned about starting from universal concepts. I felt very nervous but couldn’t really point out why (now I know it had something to do with the unknown and the pressure I would put on myself). In the end, I tried to focus my thoughts on how incredible it was that my dream of going to Africa was about to come true…

The alarm clock rang at 3 am, and I woke up in a quite bad mood. It seemed like all the thoughts I fell asleep with just grew over night, and the smallest things irritated me in an exaggerated way. The positive side about this mood issue is that it forced me to deal with an uncomfortable feeling: on the way to the airport, I consciously reminded myself that irritability was my natural reaction to high stress, and since I preferred being excited and enthusiastic, I changed my mood! I hope that this specific moment will help me during my time in Malawi. Please remind me of this if I don’t!

The plane journey—which lasted for a good 24 hours in total—went well. We went from Montreal to Toronto to Adis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Lilongwe (Malawi). Already, it was different from what I was used to. The plane to Adis Ababa was crowded. The sounds were foreign to me. The landscapes differed from everything else I have ever seen before—they were spectacular!

We then took the bus to Makupo, the village that is hosting us. We were welcomed with screams of joy from the children, and singing and dancing from the women…and we hadn’t even gotten off the bus yet! The people of Makupo are very welcoming and generous and patient with our very clumsy Chichewa (the local language), which I totally forgot when I was in front of them. They really want us to make Makupo our home, and it is working so far.

That night, I slept so well, protected under my net, catching up for the last three days, and appreciating how all this experience is just above imagination.

Tionana bwino! (“See you later” in Chichewa)