Why is this exciting? Well, first let me give you a little bit of background about myself…My professional responsibility as an educator is to be a gardener of life experience; conversation, walking, talking and collaborative learning are significant forms of dialectical learning. I am a proud member of Praxis Malawi, believing that social justice and developing praxis (connecting practice and theory into ‘doing’) are part of knowledge creation. My teaching in Gender Equity Studies has led me to explore HIV/AIDS Awareness through creating alliances and building social agency in a classroom/community collaboration model of Participatory Action Research (PAR). In 2011, I became a PhD Candidate at McGill University in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education. I have been traveling to Malawi as part of the Praxis Malawi team with undergrad students for four years now and the last two years have laid the groundwork for my doctoral studies of encouraging co-construction of a health policy initiative. I am a visual sociologist/educator who uses the technique of photovoice (picture taking & interpretation) to express personal narratives about everyday life in rural Malawi. Experiential Learning is a valuable stepping stone that encourages students to develop field research skills while examining knowledge transfer within multiple frameworks.
I am not your typical doctoral student. I have come to my education later in life and have combined experiential learning, and bringing two populations of people together (youth and seniors) to dialogue about their health concerns surrounding HIV and AIDS. I also enjoy working with undergraduate students to encourage them to enter the research field.
I have some significant mentors who have been instrumental in helping me figure out my learning trajectory. Therefore it is not unusual that I would do the same for the students who travel and research here in Malawi each year.
Now that you know a little more about me…back to the mountain experience. I attempted to climb Mount Kasungu on a previous trip and only made it one third of the way. The view was magnificent but I was not able to surpass my mental and physical challenges; the altitude is a challenge from a breathing standpoint. So, this year, June 1st, 2013 I and ten students as well as many people from the rural village where we are staying, climbed Mount Kasungu. There is a plateau where we ate lunch; whole wheat bread, lovely sweet bananas (nothing like them at home in Quebec) and peanut butter. A bit more water and a bit of a rest and up we all went to the final summit where the view was/is fabulous!! I will leave you there at the summit only to say that it was worth the four hour trek…and yes, I brought up the rear with the Chief of the village. So Google Mount Kasungu and check out Malawi!
Roommate bonding day!! It wasn’t really roommate bonding day but Corinne and I decided to make our perfect day. We set the alarm for 5:30 am to watch the sunrise as a start. We spent about an hour outside watching the vivid orange turn into pale pink as the deep red fireball rose behind a cloud. It then seemed to rise again from behind the cloud as the yellow morning sun we all see as we awake. The sounds of people in the fields and kitchen got louder and we got dressed so we could help make the breakfast. We helped make mandasi (doughnuts) and laughed with the women at our miserable looking knots. It was great fun and turned into great food.
It wasn’t long before we were all ready and getting on the bus to go climb Mount Kasungu. In my mind I had pictured a small overgrown trail path on a steady incline to the top. Nope. This hike was a wonderful challenge, the heat making it more so. It was extremely steep and at parts I was literally clinging onto rocks to climb up. I was one of the few people at the front of the group and on the way up we saw two monkeys playing. They were pretty close and it was an awesome experience seeing them in the wild. It was a fun but exhausting hour and half hike. What helped the climb was hearing a group of people singing while we climbed, who needs an iPod? We waited at the top for the others surrounded by an amazing view. We could see for miles and miles. Lakes, trees, villages, towns, mountains as far as the eye could see. It was great spending a couple of hours up there seeing the land that we have been walking on and learning about its history through its geography. It took us under an hour to get back down the mountain a different way but we had to stop for about 5 minutes to let a swarm of bees pass. It was so insanely hot on the way back as there was little to no shade and people began to struggle (including me). Due to how steep it was my hands got cut up from using the rocks for balance/support. As soon as we saw the bus we started to race, it was hilarious to see the group of exhausted people trying to run on jelly legs. While waiting for the others to make it down the mountain, Arshad used his iPad and I got to leave a message on my family’s voicemail which was a relief, although I don’t know how much they actually received. As we were sitting in the shade a group of kids came over and stared at us so we decided to teach each other random things like making owl noises with our hands. This was great fun and was interesting to see how human interaction goes above language barriers. When everyone else arrived we got onto the bus and headed back to the village. I came down really sick and had a massive headache due to the heat again. I felt better later on in the evening and we played cards.
Culture shock is becoming more and more prevalent within the hostel and the dynamic can shift quickly but then something like a centipede comes along and life is better. I will explain…Just before people went to bed Amy saw a centipede on the ground the size of a finger and the room exploded with screams and laughter. Amy took charge and bravely grabbed a shoe as she was in flip-flops herself and everyone else was either on top of a chair (Annabelle), holding a giant walking stick in the baseball stance (Roxy), in hysterics (me) or uselessly pointing at the bug. As Amy repeatedly smacked to creature it kept moving, blow after blow it was relentless. After strike 6 we were victorious! Feeling safe from creepy-crawlies we tucked in our nets under the mattress and slept through the night. R.I.P. centipede.