Two weeks have passed and the wall is still empty. At noon the wall is hit by the huge African sun and is blasting legit heat waves, it hurts my eyes to even stare. It’s even bigger now with the lime on. When I was painting the top part of the wall, my legs were shaking, one hand with the tray and one with the brush. It was only 5 meters high, but having a phobia for heights, I would say it’s quite an achievement getting myself to even go near that ladder.
The design is nearly ready, with a plot twist at the end when we found out that the wall is not as symmetrical as we thought it would was. The contractor shamed the paint we got, and the roughness of the wall literally devours my pencil when I try to sketch. I realized I couldn’t draw the grids alone, so two of my colleagues and a couple of little Malawian boys were helping me hold the strings and eyeing the straightness; it was fun and rainbows until I realized that the bottom part is also not straight. So I slowly crawl back into my thinking hat to think of a better way to map the design, and probably map my whole plan.
While sitting on the porch of the community center, looking out as the little helpers are playing jump rope with the strings. I would describe the site as rocky, rough, uneven, and full of construction bits and shards. They boys had no shoes on, and every time they land on the ground from jumping there is a huge THUD, THUD, THUD. My initial reaction would be ‘Stop you fools! You’ll all hurt yourself!’ But a part of me was so amazed by the constant laughter and that none of them were bothered by my horrified expression, I just watched. Nothing happened. My background music continued to be laughter’s of Malawian kiddies. As I gazed off at the sunset I realize I need to grow tougher skin, not just on my toes, but everywhere. I must overcome that stupid ladder, but also my mind has to be tougher and more critical.
If I have to describe my approach to art, I would say that I am very stubborn and that I get attached to ideas that lead me being not very open to critics. I take many things to heart and find it hard to believe that there is a ‘better way’. What I need to work on is being very open minded about ideas of others, even the people who are not familiar in my area. I remember having a very strong dislike for abstract art and realizing later that my work has some degree of ‘abstract’ in it.
My obsession with symbols plays a big part in my lack of critical thinking. I get attached to putting symbols in my work without making it come out naturally between my research. It slows me down most of the time. I find that I work the fastest when I see and hear things from other people, not when I try digging in my brain to find something that is not there. During the period of this course, we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of dialogue. Being engaged in deeper conversations will assist our journey in experiential learning. Being ‘searchers’ instead of ‘planners’ will eventually produce a richer result.
Being surrounded by the luxury of the hostel, I can definitely feel the isolation from the reality outside the ‘bubble’. A wonderful chef feeds us, there are a couple of women who do our dishes and laundry, and the hostel is constantly being cleaned. I try to be very helpful by fetching bath water (and showering cold!), doing my delicate laundries and some small dishes. I find myself being very careful not to do too much that it seems like I am taking their jobs away. The women here use the word ‘assist’ instead of help. They want to assist us and want our assistance; we all learn better that way.
Because of early nights and early mornings, my dreams lately have been very vivid. Walking out of campus is like snapping out of one. Almost like a sudden feeling of falling, or a slap in the face. When outside, the living conditions of many villagers are bittersweet to see. Even though most villagers I’ve passed have sincere painted smiles on their faces, nearly everyone had no proper footwear, ripped clothes, and drippy noses. Already coming from where poverty is very saturated, I try to accept what I see. Using a model that describes the five stages of culture shock (Pederson, 1995), I find myself struggling back and forth between the Honeymoon stage and Disintegration stage (anger at self). Sometimes it’s blissful and sometimes I get snapped back to the horrifying truth about life of many who are living right at our doorsteps.
But I guess truth is not always horrifying. When a colleague of mine was feeling guilty about the help she was receiving from the villagers, a Malawian lady said to us that they are so proud to ‘assist’ us. As long as we do our parts, it will all add up in the end. She also told us that people here have no choice but to be happy, because they know that life is short, and that they have no time to sit down and feel sad about the unfairness of luck. If people can choose where they want to live, some places may even be deserted. Being alive is enough push to keep people striving. ‘We can’t be sad forever because we know that life is going to end one day’. That kind of attitude is what I imagine stage four, Autonomy (acceptance) will be like. I think I am on my way.
Growing up, I see myself as an active listener and a nosey observer. I look up at the clouds and never fail to see some sort of picture. There was a period when I was convinced that I was a cloud expert. In long car rides, as the cloud moves along with us, I can go on forever about what is happening up there. I also love listening and looking for the changes in tone and expression so if charisma is a person, I am her audience.
A lot of unexpected events happened today. Other than exchanging a portrait of the contractor for the use of the ladder through the course of the project to finishing a third of the mural design, the massive wall of the community hall is already being plastered by my newly made friend. I spent nearly the whole day with him, surprisingly the language barrier did not affect my learning, and I observed what he was doing. The owner of the tuck shop helped me translate some sentences which surprisingly are not technical at all, especially when I was learning how to plaster a wall. ‘Iwe Sekerera’ means you are smiling or literally ‘you smile’; I kept saying that to the man plastering the wall when he wasn’t smiling as much, as a gesture to reassure myself to stay out of guilt for not being so much help to him (I was terrible at throwing the cement to the wall). Because I was saying that multiple times to him, it was our own personal greeting style. It reminded me that nourishment was necessary when building relationships, and observing is the way to go.
Sometimes when I spend too much time looking at the wall, it gets bigger, and I have felt very discouraged about my project because of how I want it to have a very high impact. The book I am reading now is called ‘About Looking’ written by John Berger. He is a critic and writes a lot of small chapters on all different kinds of art. A quote from a French book during 1950’s about La Tour when translated is “Painting is a magic interpretation of the most profound thoughts and the most beautiful dream” (112), which sheds a bit of light to my doubts. An idea does not happen in a day, it requires a lot of trust and research and a lot of looking.
However, being creative has a great burden to it. For example, when we suggested that the mosquito nets could be used as a football net, it sounded like a very good idea at first but Dr. Stonebanks told us that when fishermen were using the mosquito nets as fishing nets, the rates for Malaria shot up exponentially.
If I can ever master the art of looking, I am pretty sure I will become a cloud expert when I retire.
Berger, J. (1980). About looking. New York, NY: Pantheon Books
When we arrived, I had one concern that was resonating in my head. As far as my intention for this trip goes, how will I ever get out of the stereotype of a young ‘asungu’ believing that she could save everyone in Africa’?
Perhaps, I do not want to bear the guilt of people mistaking my intentions as a chance to ‘be touristy’ and do some humanitarian work, because it is completely the other way round. I find myself being mad for having better ‘luck’ than many people here. Being completely aware about the amount of time and the specific tasks I have, I try not to get belittled about my project and the impact it will produce. I do not want to be lost in the belief that I am the change, but I want to believe that I can complete my part and be a part of the big picture, in the long run.
Africa is often wrongly referred as a whole homogenous country. When we complain about the things we cannot have or when we couldn’t finish our food, people around us overuse the phrase ‘think about the kids in Africa’. As a young child I never understood how that phrase and my follow through actions would make any children in Africa get less hungry? Especially now that I got to meet so many of the Malawian children living in very poor conditions, they are still smiling more than that kid back home who couldn’t play on his iPad during dinner. In my opinion, that phrase was used upon us to create guilt and false generosity. The heroic characteristic that the western world has built around the ‘more privileged’ has been soiled into many minds hence making many feel like a few weeks away would make them come back home heroic. We are students on loans, we are not millionaires, we implement ideas with our little gofundme accounts. My peer said to me, ‘We are not handing out water bottles, we are laying a foundation for the long term.’ It is always useful both when I am feeling upset and when I am feeling too much of the bliss.
Lately I have been feeling a lump of guilt about many people suffering closer to home. Many of us forget that we have access to projects in Canada for the indigenous people who are living in conditions very close to a third world country. However, still I am more exposed to humanitarian work so far away from home. I feel like there is a strong culture of voluntourism that cannot be easily changed. Many often come for a short time, thinking that they succeeded and leave.
We love being heroes, but as harsh as it may sound, it is very important to remind ourselves the most beautiful flowers do grow in the darkest place.
My name is Kirsten Dobler and I am a third year Elementary Education Major with a Minor in Music from Bishop’s University. I’ve become very invovled with the School of Education at Bishop’s and I hope that this project will help me to link my learnings to real life. The value of education is something that is very important to me and I hope that by sharing and learning together we can make the world even just a little bit better.
I come from a small town called Powell River, just about as far West Coast as you can get. I ventured east for the first time in 2011 with a volunteer program called Katimavik and soon after I made my way to Bishop’s and I have called it my home ever since. I’ve recently began au pairing in Italy during my time away from school and I have had the pleasure of traveling around Europe on my weekends off. I hope to continue my worldly adventures and making a postitive impact as I do so.
As I mention before I greatly value education, especially in places that have different ideas and ways that we do. I also understand the importance of respecting the people and land that we will be sharing in Malawi. I hope that we can make meaningful connections with the people of Malawi. I am very excited to meet the challenges that we have ahead.
My name is Natchasiri but everybody calls me Froy or full out Froy Choi! I was raised in a beautiful island au tropicale Phuket, Thailand. I lived there my whole life, so coming to Canada is a very exciting step for me! I have been here for my second year at Bishop’s University studying Fine Arts and I am having the best time of my life! I grew up in a British school with amazing multicultural background friends, so my favorite thing to do is adapt and learn new things! My interest circles around from photography, painting, writing, cinematography, science, astronomy, to cooking! I joined Praxis Malawi so I can experience a whole new culture that I know very little about and along the way make a difference for the new soon to be friends. I know that my contribution will count in the long run.
My father, who works as a plastic surgeon, always stresses to me that I am the citizen of the world, and compassion and selflessness is what we do best as humans. I am blessed with the lifestyle I have, enough to eat, enough to use. Therefore giving back and sharing is the wisest thing someone could do, whether it’s knowledge or dreams. When I look back and compare Canada to Thailand, or perhaps any countries I visit, I see one obvious similarity that there will always be people that are enthusiastic enough to lend a hand. My purpose for this trip is not to only find myself, but mainly to bring life into the community as much I can, and I can’t wait to discover everything and to share! I also can’t wait to meet my team!! See you soon.
My name is Alexandra (Alex) Bernier and I am a second year Mathematics and a first year Education student at Bishop’s University. I was born and raised in the beautiful green state of Vermont in a French-speaking home. I chose Bishop’s for its small size, because it’s not too far from home and I have dual-citizenship. I enjoy playing volleyball, road biking, and playing the ukulele (even though I have not come close to mastering it yet). This summer, after the Praxis Malawi project, I will be returning to summer camp for the fifth year as a counselor. Camp has been a big part of my growth along with being a personal care aid to a young girl with disabilities during my last year of high school. I am enthusiastic, open-minded, and my friends tell me it is easy to approach me when they need to talk about things. I believe good communication is key for a healthy relationship and a healthy life style. Through my own struggles in life, I have found that inner-peace is really important to find clarity and to be happy. Ways I have found help me are by surrounding myself with people that challenge me and are respectful, being active, doing yoga, listening to music, reflecting, and meditating.
My Name is Kate Newhouse. I am a third year Elementary Education Major and Psychology Minor at Bishop’s University. I am from Oakville, Ontario, which is about 8 hours away from Bishop’s. I love to be involved here at Bishop’s and so from first year on I have joined many different clubs and I am now a Dance Club Coordinator, Competitive Dance Team Choreographer and Dancer, Fashion Show Choreographer and Dancer, A part of Big Buddies and a Stage Manager for plays in New Plays and TheatreActiv festivals, I am part of the BU Blog Project as well. I am organized and up for the challenges that this opportunity will surely present.
Howdy, My name is Marten. I was born in Ontario, but I’ve never lived there. I was raised on a trapline on the Alaska Hwy, near Whitehorse, Yukon. I’m not scared of bears, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable driving on a freeway. A pivotal point on my timeline was at age 5, when I was introduced to soccer. The next landmark was at age 9, when my siblings were born. Since then, my story has been a combination of the great outdoors, soccer, and trying my darndest to be a real role model for each person I meet, particularly the young ones. These days I’m a player/coach/team manager for the Bishop’s Men’s Soccer Club. Bishop’s is treating me well, but it is by no means a final destination for me. I’m really motivated to indulge in this project in Malawi. I know it’s going to be transformative. Hopefully we can contribute to something more long term as well.
My name is Victoria (Vicki) Miller and I am in my 3rd year at Bishop’s studying Elementary Education and minoring in French. I am originally from Holliston Massachusetts, which is about 45 minutes outside of Boston, so as expected I am a die-hard Bruins, Red Sox and Patriots fan. I spent my junior year of high school studying abroad and living with a family in the Alps of France and was able to travel a bit around Western Europe. It was amazing being immersed and learning so much about another culture and life-style. I speak fluent French and it is a huge part of the reason why I am here at Bishop’s and in the province of Quebec. In my free time I like to read, skate, listen to music and practice karate. I love working with kids and meeting new people. In fact, I am going back to a camp in Central Maine for my third summer after our Malawi trip. I am so excited to meet everyone and go on this amazing adventure together!
Hello everyone, my name is Jessica Fobert and I am a second year Education student at Bishop’s University. I spent two years studying in my hometown at St. Lawrence College in Cornwall, Ontario. I loved the feeling and opportunities that small schools provide, so I chose to come to Bishop’s University. I have a major in Social Studies (history and geography) with a minor in Psychology. If I could choose, I would continue to add more disciplines because I have a passion for learning. That is one reason why I want to teach is because my students will continuously be providing me with new knowledge and secondly, I am passionate about helping others out. My mother comes from El Salvador, a third world country, and she never got the opportunity to get an education. I want to provide learning experiences for those who do not get that chance. As a future educator, I plan to travel and teach, so that I can learn more about other cultures and how other groups of people live. I plan to share my experiences with my future students so that they can learn about and respect the diverse world we live in.
I am very proud to say that I have the privilege of returning to Malawi for a second year. My name is Ryan Moyer and I am attending Concordia University in Montreal to continue my studies in sociology at the graduate level. As last year’s trip was extremely motivating and transformative, I am very excited to return to Malawi and I am looking forward to building on past relationships in order to get things done.
It is really exciting to be returning the year that the new campus is going up, as it seems metaphoric of opportunities for new meaningful change to arise. I am enthusiastically beginning to work in the field with the concept of adult education/life-long learning. University was the most transformational experience of my life thus far, and I would really be honored if I could add any input towards making adult education accessible in Kasungu.