By Marten Sealy (Bishop’s)
This has been such a detour. I used to look at a thick book and wonder where the author found the fuel to fill many pages. I was an avid young reader, but I often worry that the time might come when I would be called upon to contribute back to the pool of knowledge from which I quenched my thirst. I was intimidated. I’m a perfectionist, which means that the nozzle controlling my flow of thought onto the page is slow. Some unseen power is confining me to a sad little leaking dribble. Give me a fire hose. Let me soak everything. It’s frustrating. Woe is me. I’m reflecting now, and realizing how silly that fear of authoring a big book really is. Have some humility, Marten.
The truth is, a “fire hose” would do me no good. What reservoir do I really have to pull from? I walk around, eyes wide open and head held high convinced that I see a lot, but I’m a little bit full of myself! Patience Marty, you’ll be an elder someday. Keep those eyes open, but don’t worry about preaching at the ripe age twenty. You’ve got to be young and dumb before you can ever hope to be old and wise. Perhaps someday I will organize myself and decide upon a collection of thoughts cohesive and important enough to be ‘book worthy’. For now, let me share what has perked my senses recently, coupled with some modest insights.
- The lackadaisical pace here is deceiving. The Malawians I’ve met tend to speak slowly and take frequent breaks, which frustrated me at first. Punctuality is a foreign concept here, and after they arrive, you still count on people to predict how long a job will take. Now, let’s put that into perspective…we’ve been here eleven days and a lot has been accomplished, jobs are done eventually. As much as I like using deadlines as a motivator, they cause stress, and I dislike stress. I am learning to embrace this culture that paces itself.
- North American athletes are spoiled. We’re three games into a six villages tournament, and the first two matches didn’t have lines on the pitch. The ‘pitch’ is dirt, with slightly crooked goal posts, and only half of the players wear shoes. There’s two (dangerous) stumps that still have to removed, and there’s no netting or backstop to keep the ball from flying in the deep grass (home to snakes and thorns). An entire village often shares a single ball, which costs an average week’s wage, and only lasts two to three months. Despite everything, the footballers here are easily on par with strong players from Canada. I can still wow them with my juggling tricks, but probably because I’ve had the opportunity to get touches on the ball alone. That privacy doesn’t come easily here. When a ball comes out, it is usually swarmed very quickly.
- At the football pitch yesterday, some young girls were selling ‘ ndas’ (Malawian bannock). I admired their entrepreneurial spirit, and attempted to purchase something to eat. I presented my 1000 Kwachas note (just over two dollars). The poor little girl frowned, and I realized that they were unable to make change for the 1000 Kwachas. When you order a beer in Chilanga, it’s upwards of 500 Kwachas, a Coca Cola is at least 160 Kwachas. I had to find someone that could break my one, one thousand note in half, and then someone else to split a five hundred note further. Finally I was able to do business with the girls, who are only asking 20 Kwachas for two pieces. Pennies.
- When passing by rural villages, people stop and stare. Babies often cry and hug their mothers. Children with more confidence might swarm you, and/or chant. ‘Asungu Asungu!’, which is basically a slur for white people or foreigners in general. It can feel like you are some sort of alien visiting a sheltered planet.
- It has become a fundamental objective of mine to share genuine interactions with the villagers. This is not as simple as learning local customs and talking about football. These topics are safe and comfortable, but meaningful conversations require a departure into the unknown. Have you ever really connected with someone who’s lived in a mud hut all their life? I don’t mean to discourage; it’s very possible. The dusty soil is perfect for scratching our illustrations. In Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he identified an inaptitude of many well-intentioned volunteer aid workers to truly trust and have confidence in the abilities of the oppressed. He writes: ‘to consider oneself the proprietor of revolutionary wisdom – which must then be given to (or imposed upon the people) – is to retain the old ways’. I’m doing my best.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.