Tag Archives: Lake Malawi

In Which I Think Too Deeply into Nice Things (Yet Again)

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

This past weekend brought a much anticipated event: the trip to Lake Malawi. You could see it on everyone’s face as they asked each other for advice on what to pack and how much money they should bring to be able to buy present for their loved ones. As they excitedly talked about all the different fish they would be able to see and how they would be able to spend three days without worrying about the dreaded deadline of blogs (or “the b-word” as it was referred to in hushed, dramatic whispers).

Don’t get me wrong. We love living in Makupo and we absolutely did not come all this way to Malawi for the promises of little weekend trips. But the first week of work has certainly taken a toll on us. Everyone has dealt with their own different stresses, unexpected surprises and excitements as they start their projects. After four days of all of us dealing with our own crazy and everywhere emotions, I feel we all needed to take a small break from our regular routine. It was necessary to step back from our work for a little bit and take a breather.

The drive to our destination was long but interesting. It’s amazing to be able to travel through Africa and to see all the different villagers, towns and landscapes. Each hour that passed by signaled that we were getting closer and closer to our final stop, and gave me more and more time to think about what exactly it was that we were doing.  After all that we had already seen and experienced, was it really okay for us to be going to a resort? My conscious was quietly telling me otherwise.

The final stretch right before we reached the resort helped highlight and underline my feelings of uneasiness. Right outside the walls that surrounded the vacationing spot was a very poor village. Driving past the village and through the gates into “Fat Monkey” (the resort), I felt waves of guilt and thoughts of “why do you think you deserve this?”

The more I thought about it, I realized I didn’t really have an answer. Why did I think I deserved this? How could I sit here and laze around on this beautiful beach while right outside there were people who couldn’t even afford new clothes for their children. I had only worked for four days, and even then half of that was spent figuring out what exactly it was that I was trying to accomplish; “testing the waters” so to speak.

The villagers right outside the walls, didn’t they deserve this? They worked much harder than I did, so why was I given the right to enjoy a piece of their land more than them?

With the montage of 80’s music playing at the outdoor bar and the several other travelers sunbathing on the beach, it all seemed so bizarre to me. Who were these people that traveled all the way to Malawi just to spend their time at a beach resort? Is this all they did when they came here? It looked so odd in my mind when I pictured them going back home and telling all their family and friends that they had been to Africa.

“You haven’t been to Africa at all!” I wanted to yell at them. “This isn’t traveling, this is hiding.”

Hypocrisy at its finest I’m afraid. In the past few years I had gone to a few resorts with my family to places such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic. I’ve always loved them and claimed that I had been to those countries; what did this mean now?

I spent the three day weekend mulling this all over. During that time, we were taken on a little motor boat (to which Elise and I found was hilariously named the Shanana, the nick-name of our friend back home) to a small island in Lake Malawi. While we were there we got to spend a day on a huge slab of rock that made up a make-shift beach and were given the opportunity to swim (or snorkel) in what could only be described as an aquarium. After spending an amazing day there, the same tour guides took us around the area that we were staying at (Cape Maclear) and showed us several historical sites. Such as the grave site of the missionary doctor William Black who had passed away in 1875. They also helped us figure out reasonable prices for all the little knickknacks we wanted to buy.

Elise and I were able to interview the two tour guides (some of that footage will hopefully be in our upcoming mini videos that we’re working on. Oooh! Aaah! A spoiler. How exciting!). They explained to us about the tourism projects that they were working towards, along with informing us that all these projects were going to be used to help give back to the communities that lived along the Lake at Cape Maclear.

Leaving the resort that Sunday, I had a much more positive view towards the vacationing spot. It was beautiful; there was no arguing with that. “Disgustingly beautiful” as my father had put it, while we were watching the sunset over the lake to create a scene one could make a postcard out of. But there was more to it than that, which I was aware of now. These tourist spots may edge on being a little ridiculous, but that didn’t mean they were bad. If they were providing jobs and giving back to the community that surrounded them, then they were doing a good job in my opinion. And going to those resorts didn’t make you a terrible person. They needed visitors to come; how else would they make income and keep the place running? What made someone less of a good person was if they came to a resort and refused to look over the walls that surrounded them. You need to be aware of the country you’re visiting; you can’t stay hiding behind perfectly trimmed hedges. If you’re visiting a different country, go out and take trips around. Go see the different sites and places and get the full experience of the place. Then, at least in my mind, you can say that you properly visited another country.

You might as well be at any beach resort if you do otherwise.

If It Isn’t Working, Just Press ‘Escape’

By Elise Brown-Dussault

Women hard at work

Women hard at work

After a strenuous first week of work, the group was rewarded with a weekend expedition to a resort on the shores of Lake Malawi. The break was anything but unwelcome—I personally found that I was beginning to be especially cranky and exhausted by the time Thursday rolled around—but it also left me with a guilty after-taste. The amount of fun that I had swimming, spelunking and snorkeling is much more than could ever be considered reasonable; nevertheless, that nagging sensation followed me everywhere.

Something that is often emphasized in the interviews Roxy and I are conducting is just how hard-working most people are here. When we interviewed Lucia, a woman easily in her late sixties, she informed us that she had been in the fields since 5AM—and, nine hours later, she’d been too busy to eat yet. The women in the village described a typical day’s task, and there was no time to rest between cooking, cleaning, fetching firewood and taking care of their offsprings. Sunshine or rain, it seems that most Malawi dwellers are always at work. Even on Sundays, when most choose to take a breather, one cannot overlook the crops or ignore the children. Case in point, reality doesn’t come equipped with a stop button in most cases.

Yes, we have all been working arduously. However, we are privileged with an escape, an opportunity to momentarily disregard the poverty we’re being submerged in. It’s difficult for me to imagine the village women lying on the sand in revealing swimsuits, or hopping from rock to rock while chasing after lizards. So although I feel lucky, I also feel like a cheat. Didn’t everybody’s mother teach them that one can’t simply quit when the going got rough?

Despite my inhibitions, I also realize that these breaks are just what young adults need when undergoing culture shock. After a crazy 72 hours (elongated by the 6-hour wait by the side of the road when our bus broke down) the first day back at work was a smashing success. I only hope that this cycle of hiatus-productivity continues to take effect!

Weekend Fun Fun Fun!

By Rebecca Clement

Sunset on Lake Malawi

Sunset on Lake Malawi

On the weekend, we went to Lake Malawi.  The location we stayed at was shockingly beautiful.  All we heard prior to leaving was how amazing the location was and I built it up in my head that we would be staying in an amazing place.  I soon realized that this was actually really dangerous since I didn’t want to be disappointed when we got there so I imagined the worst of the worst so that I would be content with just about anything.  Turns out it worked.  It was not what I initially expected but amazing in its own respect.

The first night we got there we went swimming and then hung out on the beach while watching the sun set which was stupendous.  We then ate supper and some of us shared a few beers.  I showed Annabelle how to play Bawo, a game that was taught to me a couple of days before by Themba.  We were soon joined by Francis, Thomas, and Peter, local men that accompanied us on our journey.  They soon joined in our play and I realized how much more I actually had to learn about the game.  Some of the things they were doing were simply amazing.  An example of this is how fast they made their decisions, having done all the calculations necessary to know exactly where their piece would fall.

On Saturday we got on a boat and went to an island nearby to do some sun bathing and snorkeling.  I left behind the mouth piece and just used the goggles and went swimming with the fish.  I fed them bread while I was under water and was the most popular fish for a few seconds at a time.  All the fish wanted to be my best friend and one liked me so much that he wanted a taste of me.  He managed to get his mouth around the tip of my index finger and I had a moment of panic.  I actually had to go straight to the surface because of how much it shocked me.  Soon afterwards though I tried again but this time panicked when I saw them all coming towards me so I threw the bread at them while still underwater and swam away backwards watching them swarm the floating piece of bread.  It was quite brutal actually.  Like a bunch of starving wolves tearing apart and devouring a fresh kill. It was my first time doing something remotely related to this and I was living on a cloud all day because of it. When we got back I got to have my first real shower since I left Montreal, well shower-ish.  It did come pouring out from on top through a shower head but the water was as cold as if it was coming directly from the lake.  I didn’t care though.  After all that lake water it was extremely nice to have a “real” shower.  Afterwards we went out for supper and ate at a place that had pizza.  This kept me up on my cloud even longer.  To be honest though, I stayed on my cloud even when the electricity went out and pizza was no longer an option.  Luck was on my side however and the lights turned on right before we were about to hand in our order of food.  After pizza, we went to a new place, still on the beach, where people were doing a drumming performance around a camp fire. The night ended and I was still in awe as to how amazing the day was.

Learning to play Bawo with Themba and Frank

Learning to play Bawo with Themba and Frank

Sunday was spent sight-seeing and shopping which meant a lot of walking.  It was an extremely hot day and my arm hurt from a rock I had punched by mistake the day before.  The finger I sliced was a little swollen and I felt like I was getting no circulation in my arm.  Apparently this is a common feeling the day after punching something.  Honestly this is the first time I’ve punched something.  They wouldn’t call it experiential learning though if we didn’t learn new things. Anyways, even though I was extremely uncomfortable I cannot say that anything dampened my mood.  Not even the bus breaking down on the way back and being stranded on the side of the road for 6 hours.