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.