Tag Archives: Lukwe Lodge

Livingstonia: History Matters

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

A view from the top

A view from the top

Leaving Makupo to go to Livingstonia was strange because I felt like I was entering a different world. As we were on the bus driving there, we started seeing streetlights, stop signs, and buildings. These were all things that I had not seen in a while. It made me realize how remote Makupo village really is. Despite this, the poverty in Livingstonia was still as prominent. On our way there, many of us needed to use the washroom, and therefore, we stopped at someone’s home. These people lived in little huts made of straw and mud. Their bathroom was a big hole deep within the ground. When you looked into it, you saw millions of larvae at the bottom. My selfish self was so disgusted by this, that I preferred going to the bathroom behind the bush. I was navel-gazing because I was only thinking about myself in this situation. However, now that I reflect upon this experience, I realize that this is a daily reality for the people who live there. I didn’t even want to use the bathroom there once and yet they must do so every day. How can life be so unfair? Also, in order to make their shower and bathroom a little bit more private, it was surrounded by straw. Nonetheless, you could see through the straw so it begs the question, what is the point? I guess they do what they can with the resources that they have. It must be difficult to live when you are lacking even the most basic of needs: shelter. I cannot imagine how they use these facilities during the rainy season.

When we finally arrived at the Lukwe Lodge in Livingstonia, I had many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was amazed by the view we had on the landscape; it was absolutely breathtaking. In front of us, there were these enormous curved shaped mountains. These mountains were covered with big beautiful trees. They looked like pine trees – it was reminiscent of Canada. It was truly one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever scene. As I was sitting on a swing overlooking this scenery an intense feeling of curiosity was aroused inside of me. I wondered: What is in there? What creatures live in those mountains that seemed so far away? What would it be like if I was walking through that forest? What details would I notice? I wondered all these things as I was watching the sunset. The sky had layers of purple, orange and pink. It was surreal. I would show you all a picture but no picture could truly capture the beauty that was in front of me.

The reason I stated that I had mixed feelings is because as much as I was amazed by this landscape, I also had an immense feeling of guilt. I was sitting on a swing, with a nice cold drink, overlooking this fantastic view and my biggest decision of the day was whether I would eat a sirloin steak or T-bone for supper. All of this, when only a few kilometers away, I knew that people were struggling with real issues like having proper shelter, famine, AIDS and the list goes on (Caplan, 2008). The Lukwe Lodge was incredible. I know that I appreciated my experience there even more because of what I had seen in these past few weeks. Nonetheless, the incalculable feeling of guilt stayed with me all throughout my stay in Livingstonia.

The next day we walked to the town of Livingstonia. This gave us the opportunity to get an even better view of the landscape as well as, see how developed the town was compared to other areas in Livingstonia. It took us about 1 hour to climb uphill to where the town was located. Once we arrived at the top of the mountain we saw a University, a museum, a church, among the structures that were there. They were all very beautiful. It made me question: How was all of this built? Who carried all of the bricks up this relatively steep hill? The answer was obvious but it took me a while to realize what it was. My colleague had picked up a pamphlet that was advertising the attractions to visit when arriving to the town. As I was reading it and discussing with him, it dawned upon me that the place we were visiting was built by slaves. However, nowhere in this pamphlet did they mention the harsh reality of slave labor. Why else would people carry tons and tons of bricks to the top of this hill? As I questioned this, I also imagined the amount of violence that must have been involved in this inhumane process. I felt nauseated by this thought.

Furthermore, in this pamphlet, the Scottish missionaries had claimed to have “contributed greatly to the development of Livingstonia” which is true. However, it made me question whether or not they were complicit in the oppression that took place towards the African people at this time. I questioned this because to this day, we see the repercussions that cultural imperialism has had on the African people. Meanwhile, many countries have benefited and developed enormously because of this kind of tyrannical behavior towards them.

As I searched for answers, I realized that what was missing in this picture was the truth. The true history of this town was buried. As Gerald Caplan had stated, “history matters”. I think that this is especially true when considering this situation. It is easy to be ignorant, especially when the truth is not explicit. However, people need to know these realities in order to better understand the subsequent evolution of Africa. Too many people have filled the lives of the African people with sufferance and coercion and this has helped to place them in the catastrophic situation that they are in today. History must be uncovered in order to fully grasp the realities of our world.

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Berkeley.

Looking Back and Gazing Forward

By Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks

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During my latest stay on mount Livingstonia, I had the chance to spend some quiet time and do things I otherwise have never been able to do during my last five (or is it six?) times at the magnificent Lukwe Lodge. In many ways, this chapter of Praxis Malawi represents many firsts for me. This was the first time I did not climb Mount Kasugu with the students, nor did I go to curios with them either, or even walk up to the top of Livingstonia to see the town. That crazy town at the top of a mountain that, to me, has always represented the madness of colonialism as I try and imagine Dr. Laws convincing the Malawians that building a mission at the top of the mountain is a sound idea. I get the escaping mosquitoes and malaria in the higher altitude and all that, but I still would have loved to be there when the local Malawians turned to each other and said, “Is he serious? Did he just say we’re hauling all the materials up the mountain??”

In any case, at this point there’s been enough of a relationship built with community that these sorts of excursions, like the hike up Mount Livingstonia, essentially run themselves and risks have been minimized through the experiences of trial and error. So, this time I hung back and had the time to do things I otherwise never have the chance to do; like take a nap in the sun, read a book, look at the landscape, observe some amazingly colourful butterflies, and investigate the workings of the compostable toilets. Okay, the last part was not that wonderful, but it was informative to the planning of our Campus. I don’t often get the time to read in Malawi. The first few trips usually involved packing a quantity of books that only made sense if my destination was for a conference on “coffee connoisseurs and speed reading”. Add to that my choice of books; not a single piece of fiction, but a stack of academic writings that I was sure to catch up on and revisit, but never do. Sure, who wouldn’t want to ruin a beautiful Malawian sunset while slogging your way through the uncooperative translation of Max Weber? Perhaps the original German writing is more enjoyable, despite the fact I don’t understand German, eh? Nowadays, I have learned to put a bunch of books on kindle so as to save luggage space on all the books I am guaranteed not to read.

There aren’t really many of those deep reading periods for someone coordinating a trip like this. You don’t get to have many quiet moments where you simply get “to be”.  There’s always something that needs to be organized, someone who needs to be reminded of coursework objectives, community meetings to attend (or reschedule and reschedule and reschedule…), finances to be reorganized so we have enough fuel to get the bus back to the airport, and a million questions to field. On this morning, however, the students went up the mountain with a for-real-certified guide, and I was alone to reread Frantz Fanon’s (1961), The Wretched of the Earth.

It’s been many years since I had first read Fanon’s book; in fact, it was probably at the end of my undergraduate years and more than likely a book that I picked up to have the appearances of being interesting when I sat around a campus café or bar. “Can I have a large cappuccino to go along with my book that clearly shows how smart and deep I am? Can you see what I’m reading?” I do remember it coincided with Gulf War One, and Fanon’s analysis of the oppressed Arabs of North Africa was particularly pertinent to me in those days. Even then, I wondered how such an influential book failed to make any kind of connections in any social justice circles in regard to action to a growing human tragedy, beyond the giant papier-mâché manikins of a distorted President Bush (senior), blowing whistles and banging drums at anti-war protests. Years later and Fanon’s book is still relevant … but what has changed? Frustrated, I put Fanon’s book down and ordered a cup of coffee, once again looking over the lush, green valley and trying to capture some of the peaceful moments I had lost when I decided to reread the book. And there “he” was on the cover of Fanon’s 2001 version of The Wretched of the Earth. Wearing old, worn and tattered clothes, emaciated “he” sits on the floor in some common outdoor space, looking away and simply waiting in anguish. I don’t know him, but I realize “he” is still everywhere in Malawi and, again, nothing has really changed.

On this trip of firsts, I try and remember “him”, and as we drive from Livingstonia and back to Kasungu, I see “him” everywhere. Of course, I haven’t just seen “him” through the window of a moving vehicle; I have met “him” as well. We have sat, and talked in brief exchanges, but “he” knows more about me, because this isn’t a first encounter for “him” either. “He” knows I will go somewhere else, perhaps somewhere on the side of a lush, green mountain and take the time to order a coffee and ponder over “his” picture. Even when we look for optimism and, I see “him”. The Chilanga community has already started moulding bricks as part of their “fair labour” contribution to the Campus, with the faith that this effort can turn into hope for their children, and it appears that there “he” is again. I want to believe this time I am mistaken in my recognition of “him”, and for the first time in my years in this area, things are starting to change.

Home Sweet Home

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

Reflecting through a new lens

Reflecting through a new lens

We recently embarked on our first journey away from Makupo village. The crew awoke bright and early in preparation for the long ride to Livingstonia. The battery we use to charge our electronics was dead once again, so we enjoyed some sizzling hot doughnuts under candlelight prior to loading the bus and hitting the road. As we headed north, an eerie mist dispersed as the sun rose over the few peaks that dotted the landscape. A couple quick stops were scattered throughout our nearly five-hour trip before we came to the base of the mountain. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what we were about to experience next. Our bus began hopping every which way atop the rocks embedded in the dirt road. A number of bends, marked by small wooden signs, indicated our progress up the mountain. Sharp hairpin turns and a narrow path for our vehicle characterized our nearly one hour climb up the mountain. Once we reached our destination, Lukwe Lodge, there was a sense of relief that overcame the bus, and at the same time there emerged a sense of eagerness to explore the grounds. Our group was lead down to the primary lodge structure – a veranda overlooking the entire valley and facing a number of other surrounding mountains. Any description of the view or the emotional response that it produced would not even begin to do it justice.

A mountain top oasis

A mountain top oasis

Our full day away from the village was spent hiking the remainder of the mountain to the town of Livingstonia. It was astounding to see the drastically different lifestyle that residents enjoy atop this elevation. The University of Livingstonia can be found in the town, along with a number of other private homes and lodges for visitors. Life exists and flourishes at this extreme elevation. The radical journey that we had taken hiking the mountain and on the bus the day prior was something that seemed so foreign to me, but is something that these inhabitants have surely done hundreds of times in their life. On another note, the communities living upon this mountain and the surrounding ones are completely self-sustaining. All of their necessities are at their fingertips despite the extreme conditions, which is a true testament to their multitude of skills and ability to sustain all aspects of life.

Despite the amazing experience that we had while in Livingstonia, I think the most impactful portion of the weekend was, ironically, our return to Makupo. Upon our arrival back to the village, I caught myself saying in my head “Yay – I’m home!” I am confident that I am not alone in this feeling. When I really thought about this, it seemed like the strangest concept. I am thousands of kilometers away from “home”, yet I felt this unwavering sense of comfort coming back to Makupo. This speaks volumes, not only the welcoming nature of the local people, but also of the amazing ability of humans to adapt to significant differences in culture. By no means am I 100% integrated into the society, nor will I ever be. I can say, with gratitude, that the Praxis team has become my second family and Makupo, my home away from home.


A Hidden World Found Within

By Clare Radford (Bishop’s)

Where it all began

Where it all began

Today we left for our first adventure to Livingstonia, which is a village located halfway up a mountain. The 5 am ‘cock a doodle doo’ that normally wakes me in anger was a nice way of getting out of bed and shortly after we were herded out the door. As we drove out of Makupo, the villagers had already started their day. The group, on the other hand, was still groggy and ready to get more sleep. We did, however, watch the sunrise, but soon everyone was napping. As the others slept, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the window. As we zoomed past what has now become so familiar, the landscape changed into heavily forested areas. My imagination began to stir up thoughts as to what one might find in such thickly wooded area. I later found out from one of my colleagues that the Canadian government donated the trees. As we continued driving past the woodland realm, my mind began to paint a picture of the fantastical world that might have been found within. My imagination brought me into dreaming of a town full of tiny people who’s houses were up in the thickly intertwined branches and the world below had unexplored portals where others had gone and never returned.

When we started to get closer to Livingstonia, I felt like we were on a roller coaster, going up and down, round and round. I didn’t mind, although when we reached the plateau of the mountain and the bus started to climb up the steep stoned path, my heart started to throb. I don’t think any of us had expected what was to come. Dr. Stonebanks made it clear to us that at any point we could get out and walk up. Our group took this as a challenge to be the first group to make it to the top together in the bus. At times you could see that some were struggling, as the bus made its way up the bumpy, uneven road. We pushed through, however, and I am happy to say we made it to our destination in one piece.

With the adrenaline rushing through our veins as we got off the bus, solid ground had never felt better. As we slowly recovered, we all walked down to the main seating area and took in the beautiful view. I wish I had words to describe the landscape but even the photos we took hardly capture the true beauty the land shared with us. After we got settled in, we had the most incredible dinner of our trip so far. Everything was freshly grown from the owner’s garden. We ate salad, sirloin steaks, and seasoned potatoes. There was a short moment of silence as everyone began to eat, taking in the old flavors we used to be so familiar with. We ate until our stomachs hurt. After the amazing meal, some of us went and sat by the fire while others went over to the bar. I decided to head back to our lodge to journal and reflect. Sitting on the porch under the stars, in complete silence, other than the voices of the others at the bar, I thought to myself that there was no better way to end the day.

I awoke the next morning in a daze, and initially I was not completely sure where I was. As I unzipped the tent I was blinded by the sun, but slowly found my way to the railing of the balcony and looked out upon the breathtaking view. I gradually made my way down to the main lodge to have breakfast, which consisted of over easy eggs, homemade toast with jam, and coffee. We had a relaxed morning, which I think everyone needed, before hiking up the rest of the mountain to see the village of Livingstonia. At Lukwe Lodge, I thought that the view couldn’t get any better; but as we made our way up the mountain, the scenery became a little clearer, and we could see across Lake Malawi and even more of the beautiful mountain terrain – possibly concealing the unknown creatures.

Food for Thought

By Rita Morley (St. FX)

Food prep in Makupo

Food prep in Makupo

I think I may have just arrived back from one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Our Praxis Malawi group has just returned after having gone on an excursion to Livingstonia which is a settlement at the top of a mountain in the northern part of Malawi. After trekking up the windy and treacherous mountain road, we were rewarded with the luxury of viewing Lake Malawi and the surrounding mountainsides from Lukwe Lodge. There, we found an ecologically sustainable, hand-crafted place to stay in an incredibly peaceful and serene pocket of the mountains. Nevertheless, even as I found myself in this relaxing and refreshing change of scenery, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling thoughts weigh heavily on my mind. The guilt which comes along with the experience of going from a rather humble existence in Makupo to the treat of a touristy type of destination rested uneasily with me (as I’m sure it did with many of my colleagues). As we ate delicious food, had plenty to drink, and slept in gorgeous little cabins, I couldn’t help but feel the heaviness of the fact that most Malawians probably can’t afford to spend time in such a place. These mixed feelings of wanting to enjoy this break, but also wanting to stand in solidarity with the wonderful Malawians I’ve met have left me with both a belly full of food, as well as a mind full of food for thought.