Tag Archives: life

People Are People

By Rita Morley (St. FX)

One witness of my fall

One witness of my fall

Yesterday I fell off the top step of our outdoor latrine in the village of Makupo. I had just walked out of the bathroom when the door handle detached from the door. I promptly lost my balance, fell backwards off the 1-meter platform, and landed with a thud on my rear end, door handle still in hand. It was one of those moments when you feel like crying, not from injury, but from sheer embarrassment.

There was a large group of ladies going about their day’s work in the kitchen area behind me and I quickly realized that they had witnessed the whole event. All I could think was “Oh my goodness, they’re all going to rush over here full of concern and make me sit down and rest – they’re going to be so worried!” However, what happened next pleasantly surprised me. One lady came over to see if I was all right and as soon as I said with a smile “I’m ok”, she started to laugh! Then I started to laugh and then all the other ladies started to laugh at the whole scene. I laughed until my belly hurt and I couldn’t speak anymore!

This small instance got me thinking about cultural differences. Who am I to think that these women have the time of day to worry about coddling someone who clearly isn’t hurt? Unlike in the West where people seem to spend a lot of time worrying about the frivolities of life, here in Malawi it seems to me that most people can’t afford to worry about being nit-picky about the quotidian. In Makupo Village the children are allowed to play barefoot outside, the chickens and goats roam free-range, and the women prepare meals made mostly of food grown here in the village, sans the latest health food trends from the likes of Planet Organic.

I’m not saying that this village is a perfect utopia where injuries are healed with a smile and harsh economic realities are remedied through a wholesome meal. What I am saying is that the people here seem to have learned which things are worth worrying about and which things aren’t. I’d certainly have to agree that the comic scene of a naïve Canadian student falling off the bathroom step is worth a laugh!

So, now I’m off to start my research and community development projects in this Malawian reality that is so very different from that of my own home. I am not unaware that while some of these differences will be refreshing, others will create challenges. However, I do know that it will be the similarities that will propel me forward and motivate my research. People are people, whether our complexions reveal the beautiful deep hues of a Chewa of Makupo or the freckled fairness of a Nova Scotian, and it seems we all want similar things in life.


My Heart has Been Warmed by the “Warm Heart of Africa”

By Dale Perks

A new experience

A new experience

Singing, dancing, chanting, and clapping….this is how the villagers of Makupo greeted us as we arrived in the village and stepped off the bus. Although we were complete strangers to each other, a certain “magic” was transforming at that very moment, with a feeling as though we’d known each other for a lifetime. As we awkwardly attempted to speak Chichewa, such as “moni” and “muli bwanji” (which is hello; how are you) the villagers reciprocated with warm hand shakes, hugs, and smiles. It’s hard to put these feelings into words, but perhaps it could be humbly described as “heart-warming.”

Despite all of the preparation that occurred before departing on this trip, I do not think one could ever be fully prepared for the cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that one experiences in such a place. It’s been a struggle for me about deciding on what to write in this blog, as I have had so many enriching experiences already. So, instead of recounting every event, I’ve decided to focus on writing about some of the feelings that I’ve experienced in relation to some of the special moments in hope that it will give others a sense of this amazing project and the incredible journey I am on, thus far.

One of the prominent feelings I have felt so far has been joy, which has been elicited at varying moments, such as when I’ve woken up to the sounds of the women singing as they go about doing their chores; when I’ve watched children playing soccer and interacting with the students; when I’ve gazed at the beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the African sky; when I’ve observed the interesting insects that wander about including the varieties of spiders, praying mantis and colourful butterflies;  and when we participated in a large community meeting with neighboring villages whereby the senior village chief spoke to all the leaders, welcomed us and expressed his enthusiasm and support for the Praxis Malawi project. It brought tears to my eyes to see the expressions on the faces of the men and woman who listened so attentively and expressed a desire to collaborate as a community with all of us in our goal of moving forward with all of the various projects.

Perhaps the strongest feeling that I have experienced so far has been a sense that my heart has been “warmed” by the people of Malawi. For example, during one of the visits to a neighboring school, I was overwhelmed by the reception we received. I must say, being surrounded by hundreds of children all at once, who wanted to hold my hands, touch my white skin and give me hugs, was exceptionally heart-warming. I will particularly cherish the moments when I danced and sang with some of the children from a secondary school. Another exceptional moment was when we climbed Mount Kasungu, which was quite a challenge. As we finally reached the top of the mountain we gathered in celebration by joining hands with some of the villagers that had guided us up the mountain and we did a group “high five”. There was no distinction of color or race….just feelings of unity and warmth. Another special moment that stands out in my mind is when we visited the district hospital in Kasungu. At one point during the village I stopped to say hello to a woman who was bedridden on one of the wards. We held hands and when I asked her how she was feeling, she smiled looking deeply in my eyes and replied with a hopeful expression “ I am trying to be well.”

I have also experienced feelings of uncertainty and fear at various points since we’ve first arrived in Makupo. For example, the first time I encountered  a “sausage bug” in the house I’m staying in, I was a little startled. Luckily Professor Stonebanks came to my rescue, explained how these insects are harmless and he gently scooped it up in his hands and released it the wild. I’ve since become an expert at catching and releasing these critters that seem to make their way into my house in the evening. I also had a close encounter with a six inch worm-like creature (it was actually a millipede) that was hiding behind the wipes that I reached for in the outhouse.  It scared the ‘begeegees’ out of me! I ran out of the outhouse in a panic and went looking for Dr. Stonebanks. Thankfully it turned out to be the harmless type, unlike its distant relative which apparently has fangs and bites. I mustered up the courage to hold it in my hands and then set it free. Most recently, I discovered a spider spinning a web between two posts outside my house. At first it was thought to be a harmless spider despite it’s scary looking legs, but it was later confirmed by the Chief that in fact it was a poisonous spider and had and had to be killed. Another scary moment for me was during one evening, shortly after we arrived in the village, when I was walking from my house to the student lodge in the pitch dark. Unfortunately,I took the wrong path and realized I had no clue where I was. At the very moment I was feeling stressed one of the security guards who figured out that I was going the wrong way escorted me to the lodge.

Finally, I’ve also experienced feelings of intrigue in relation to the many new things I have witnessed and experienced. For example, it was interesting to eat goat and nsima for the first time, as well as bathe (and wash my hair) with a simple bucket of water in an outside bath house. I’ve been intrigued by how the village woman cook over a fire and make the most delicious meals and how they carry water in buckets on their heads without ever spilling a drop, and how bricks are made with water and sand and laid out in the sun to dry.

It’s been an interesting and wonderful experience so far, and I hope to continue to share with all of you some of my experiences, as we move forward with this brilliant project and continue on this very special journey.


June 23 – Keep Good Company

By Naomi Crisp

Loving life

Loving life

Today was a strange day in the hostel. Linden and Jae were leaving the next day and it was obvious that it was on their mind. By 9 am Jae, Annabelle, Elise, Themba and Snowden were off to climb Mount Kasungu again. This made it even weirder as the hostel felt empty. People finally had a chance to sleep in, blog, journal and read. I took the opportunity to work by myself in typing up the advance work that we did as a sort of preface to the curriculum development process. This took me all morning and partly after lunch but I still didn’t complete it all. At that point my mind was mush and we were to leave within the hour to walk to Kay Jay Pee`s. It is funny how far that 5km walk felt the first time we did it and how easy it has become now. Our time spent at Kay Jay Pee`s was wonderful and relaxing. There were huge crowds in Kasungu as there was a political even going on but we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. The food was delicious! We had samosa, wing balls, burgers, kebab, chips, salad and a chocolate cake from Francis`s birthday. It got cold quickly when the sun went down and even though I was enjoying myself I was eager to wrap myself up in the sleeping bag. We were incredibly spoilt and I cannot wait to see Keith and Jenny again on Saturday.

Just Another Perfect Day

By Jae Oh

Making breakfast mandazi

Making breakfast mandazi

I open my eyes with the sounds of roosters and distant church bells letting me know it is 6 am. I stretch a little inside the warmth of my sleeping bag and take a peek at the daylight coming through a window. ‘Another exciting day is about to start!’ I struggle with the bug net as I get down from my bed and step out though a creaking door. Only some dim sunlight fills in the hostel but that is enough for me to start reminiscing about yesterday in my journal. One of the kitchen ladies brings in hot water bottles for tea or coffee, fresh fruit which are mostly bananas, and hot steaming mandazi, local donuts, for breakfast. The smell of fresh brewed tea and sweet bread wakes people up one by one and soon the breakfast table is bursting with conversations about last night’s dreams or plans for the days to come. A typical morning in Makupo Village begins.

Hard at work

Hard at work

The curriculum development crew, eight passionate Canadian university students with Francis, Thomas, the new teacher at the new school, and a prospective high school teacher, Cynthia, get together from 9 to 4 at our working room in Chilanga High School. There, we gather our brains to build unit plans for a grade one curriculum merging with the Quebec Education Program to suit the culture and needs of the local people. The new school site has been decided and foundations are already set in place encouraging us to catch up. At first, the task in front of us seemed so big and impossible to finish in time; however, once the crew got into the rhythm, the momentum started to build. Two weeks went by like a flash and we are already looking into editing and finalizing what we have accomplished. We separate into smaller groups and work on several units at a time and share ideas and suggestions when problems arise as a big crew. Any ideas and parts I overlook, others will lend helping hands and vice versa; we became the real example of entrepreneurship, creativity, and critical thinking that we aim to portray through the new curriculum.

Mouthwatering nsima and sides dishes

Mouthwatering nsima and sides dishes

After a hard day’s work comes a delicious meal. For lunch or dinner, either rice or nsima is served with various side dishes, such as beans, green mustard leaves, peas, cabbages, eggs, goat or beef meat, and the new addition, soya pieces fried in tomato, onion, and curry base. Some are similar to Korean cuisine, but much greasier, which is understandable considering meat is not a part of the daily food for many locals and they need an alternative source of fat. I helped out in the kitchen a few times, making mandazi or cutting vegetables and the ladies are always glad to have extra hands and stories to share. The only rule is to never touch rice because it has been a problem where people occasionally find rocks breaking their teeth.

De-stressing is another important part of the day to get replenished and energized for the work ahead. After dinner, people gather around the sofa, checking up on each other and sharing light conversations and jokes. Some break away from the group to have a relaxing time on their own, by writing journals and blogs, reading books, or listening to music. Once in a while, we get to reconnect with the outside world through internet and phone calls. Whenever I receive calls or emails from the beloved ones, my heart warms up the way it never did and I appreciate the memories we share. Funny thing is that I’m describing a typical day but for three weeks, not a single day went by the same as other days. Each day has been a special day. One night, we all danced around a bonfire and built closer ties with the Makupo villagers. By a lucky chance, we had a rainy day which is very rare during this dry season. It looked more like mist than rain but the sudden weather change and drop of temperature reminded us that it was, in fact, winter in Africa. When the day comes to an end with the moon rising among millions of starts, another perfect night in Malawi starts with wishes of good night and snuggling back into the sleeping bag, drifting off into adventurous dreams. Usiku Wabwino! Good night!

Like Any Other Wednesday

By Annabelle Lafrechoux

My new alarm clock

My new alarm clock

This Wednesday started out like any other day….not really.

I have now spent a whole week in Malawi and I am stunned to see how fast my sense of normality has evolved. This is now my new typical day:

–          Getting awakened by the crowing of the roosters of the village somewhere around 5:30 am.

–          Feeling lazy for staying in bed until 6:30 am.

–          Finally getting out of my bed which means getting out of the mosquito net which I must make sure is well sealed so that no unknown creature creeps in during the day.

–          Going to the bathroom and starting by doing a round check for Flat Stanley spiders.

–          Eating homemade doughnuts for breakfast.

–          Setting out at around 8:00 am and walking around, visiting and interviewing people related to our project until 12:00 pm.

–          Eating lunch which usually consists of rice, beans and some sort of greens.

–          In the afternoon we work as a group on curriculum development.

–          After our working sessions, fatigue soon follows me.

–          Motivating myself to go out and be part of the community.

–          Usually ending up playing with the numerous children who always hang around the hostel.

–          Getting used to responding to the name Hannah Montana. As a matter of fact my name is too difficult for most to understand or say so I have chosen to go by Anna. It ends up that the children have heard of Hannah Montana so they have decided to call me by that name. It has reached the point where even the adults are calling me by this name.

–          Starved, supper which is usually rice, beans, some meat and some greens.

–          Try to get some personal work done such as journaling and blogging.

–          By 7:30 pm I am getting sleepy and abandon my work to join the others in the sofa area where we always share good laughs.

–          Finally decide to go to bed when I feel that it is a reasonable hour to do so (somewhere around 8:30 – 9:30 pm)

–          Brush my teeth outside while stare gazing. The stars in Makupo are amazing, we can see so many more stars than we do in Canada.

–          Inspection of the bed to make sure nothing crept in it during the day.

–          Enjoy some reading before finally sleeping.

On our daily journey

On our daily journey

I simply wanted to share with you our typical days in Makupo village. It is amazing to see how fast we have adapted as a group to our new surroundings.