Another day in Makupo Village spent on curriculum development. We are at an exciting yet stressful stage now as we begin to go through the units to ensure we have covered all of the essential skills and knowledge the students will need as well as it having a good flow. It is a weird mixture of tension and exhilaration as we come to the end of our first bulk in the planning process. Mel has begun posting the units up on LEARN and getting more professionals involved. We are almost at the lesson planning stage which is awesome! It`s hard to believe how much time has passed and that I don’t have that much time left here in Malawi.
After lunch we went to another village to watch the Gule Wamkulu which is a native spiritual dance. There were about 5 guys dressed in rags and covering their faces with masks. The rags flailed around as they jumped and danced to the beat of the small buckets used as drums. There was one dancer in particular that scared me as he came up right into my face and I felt extremely uncomfortable. As they danced we were expected to give money but rather than waiting for the dance to end they would dive for the few kwacha that was there. There were two dancers that were in more colorful rags and were coordinated in their dances which I enjoyed but then as soon as they left the circle and the others came I would tense up once again. The final point where I was holding back from crying was when a guy with a full mask came on and was diving around, sometimes landing on the children, and was really close to my face and body. He ended his act by sitting directly at my feet `crying` asking for more and more money until two other men dragged him off. It was clear that the local people who understood the concept better were really enjoying themselves and laughing at the dancers but I generally felt really uncomfortable about the whole thing, especially as I don’t like it when faces are hidden. It really made me reflect upon the differences in such a celebratory dance compared to ones North America, maybe I only felt uncomfortable because I am used to a culture that is scared to truly express themselves. I still tried to enjoy it and make the most out of this new experience but in all honesty it caused more anxiety than excitement.
Today we were leaving Livingstonia and we watched the sunrise before packing. It was so different than yesterdays; there were no pre-sun colours, only the slow appearance of the fireball that quickly hid itself behind a cloud leaving only its reflection on the water. The changing colours on Lake Malawi made me wonder what the sun was doing behind the clouds, what am I missing? Little did I know I would be asking myself a similar question for the entire day.
We had our breakfast and walked down the mountain. We were worried about the bus being too heavy with us on it going down and it was a good excuse to hike. It took us two hours to get down the long and winding road. We took a couple of short cuts but got told not to so it was the dirt and rock path for us. Every now and then we would get a glorious breeze as we walked, that along with the view was perfect. As we saw the town approaching, the bus was getting close behind us so we decided to race it. We won! Soon enough we were on the road again. As we passed the area where we had seen the monkeys on the way up, we saw them again; this time they were running along side the bus. It was amazing to see the baby clinging on for dear life while the Mum sprinted with us.
About 30 minutes along the highway, we passed through a village. It was there that my thoughts were set alight. I saw a man wearing glasses and it seemed wrong. I have had the conversation multiple times with people about the lack of glasses but that was due to this fact I hadn’t actually seen someone in them. It was this sight and the confusion it struck in me that really made me think about it. When preparing to come to Africa I made myself envision the worst; extreme poverty, runny nosed children and huts for homes. As heartbreaking as these realities are, I felt it was hypocritical to focus on such a thing as poverty when our own countries are faced with it (not to the same extreme and population but still visible) yet we turn a blind eye to it. It took something as seemingly insignificant and taken for granted as glasses to push me to this point. For someone who needs glasses and feels incredibly uncomfortable without them, this reality of vision not being a necessity was mind blowing. The thought that the ability to see is not put into consideration due to the need for food, shelter and clothing being the focus gave new perspective on the lifestyle here. In Canada and Western societies, glasses are now a fashion statement, branding scam and academic power trip. They are invisible to us mentally and with contacts, they are invisible to us physically. Here in Malawi, they are invisible economically. The question I ask the people here is ‘what do you see?’ There is not a lack of glasses because people don’t need them…what do you see? Who is walking around not knowing that you’re meant to see each leaf on a tree and not just a green section? And then I ask myself, what do I see? With my glasses I have perfect vision but have failed to see. Failed to see reality in its simplest form. Failed to take into consideration something so essential to our lives due to its lack of tangibility, our senses.
The bus ride felt forever as I sat there going deeper and deeper into thought. Corinne saw my teary eyes and we discussed it until we both fell silent into the dark pit of reflection again. My aim for the rest of the ride was to keep my tears hidden but the more I reflected the harder it became. Our trip to Africa has been so amazing because of the beauty surrounding us. Just the thought of not being able to see it is enough to sadden me but my mind continued on. I went back to what we’ve seen and my naivety became more and more apparent. We had spent time in the Chilanga school for the blind, seen the kids and spoke with the head master and yet it didn’t register that no one was wearing glasses. We spoke about using magnifying glasses and printing books in huge font, but no once did we mention glasses. We take sight for granted to such an extreme that we don’t notice it at all.
I woke up with the rooster again today (I’m beginning to think he’s is following). I tried to sleep in but it only lasted 15 minutes, but I am glad I didn’t as I got to see the sunrise. The orange sky turned into pale pink and then seemingly out of nowhere the red fireball itself made an appearance once again. The view is so gorgeous I just can’t seem to fathom it all. When everyone else had woken up we had fried egg (another new meal) as well as bananas and peanut butter. Corinne then taught me how to play Bowa (a Malawian game) and I loved it! At 10:30 am we set off on our walk for the day. We went through Ukwe’s garden and saw how he sustains his site; he does an amazing job! Along our walk we first went to Manchewe falls which looks over the valleys like you ruled over them in a Lord of the Rings kind of style. The drop off was quite scary yet entrancing. We didn’t stay long otherwise Dr. Stonebanks would have had a heart attack, so we were off again. A bit further along we came to Kazichi falls where we sat under the shelter of a cave for a while watching the water pour down.
After a walk back up the cliff side we were back on the steady road up to Livingstonia. It wasn’t a particularly long walk but when we approached the base of the town it was a pretty steep climb up. It is crazy to think that they built a town at the top of a mountain. As a reward for reaching the top we ate our delicious homemade sandwiches from the lodge. We then walked through the town where there were events going on at the schools with people cheering. We had a drink and then decided to head back. The walk back was really quick and we realized the others were nowhere to be seen. We stopped at the side of the road for a while and some kids came over to play. As soon as I could see the others in the distance I started teaching the kids ridiculous celebration dances; it was great fun. It turned out that they had decided to stop at a hut that claimed to be a restaurant for a coffee, and they wondered why they were feeling sick after. Luckily we weren’t too far from the lodge and we could all shower and relax for the evening. A wonderful day yet again!
We had another 5 am start to set off for Livingstonia at 6. After a week of hard work I think everyone was ready for a brain break. We packed up the bus then went to Kasungu to pick up Keith and Jenny and then began our long drive. A few hours in, while I was listening to my iPod staring out of the window, I saw 3 little grey monkeys sitting on the side of the road. I was so excited to see these little fellers that I couldn’t imagine what was in store later on. We continued on the highway for another 3 hours and the trees began to change. There were pine trees donated by Canada to help with the deforestation issues that had risen here. But these were no ordinary pine trees, they were immensely high with the trunks looking like someone had gone and stretched them all. The tree looked like a usual pine tree that instead of having a small space at the bottom where the needles end they had a bare trunk lifting 30 foot in the air. It was fascinating to see how trees grow so differently when placed in a new environment, especially for someone who does nature camp at home. It was a few more hours on the road until we reached the windy roads over a mountain and we had to slow down as there were light brown baboon-like monkeys all on the road. We had about a 10 minute drive just staring at the dozens of monkeys: baby ones, big ones, ones meditating on posts, it was great.
By 12:30 pm we reached our last stretch of road. Let’s just say my little brother would have LOVED to take his dirt bike up it! It was so steep and windy that on a regular basis it would have caused concern, but add the fact that it was not paved and you have our last our and a half of travel. I thought it was great fun bouncing around seeing over cliffs and I was standing up to get a better view. Needless to say, the majority of the group didn’t share my enthusiasm on the matter. At one point we all had to get out of the bus because it couldn’t handle the weight and the angle. I think there were a few prayers being said along the way but due to our amazing driver we arrived safe and sound in a breathtaking environment.
We were staying at Lukwe Lodge, a place based on sustainability and environmentally friendly living. The view made you feel as though you were on top of the world. The valleys of trees below went on until it faded into mist, and the lake continued on into the sky. The noises of only birds and waterfalls set the tone for this idyllic site. We hadn’t eaten much all day due to our traveling so when our food came we were in awe. We had steak (a new meal for us here), salad (a new meal for us here) along with vegetable curry, rice, potatoes and bean salad. It was such a delicious meal that we couldn’t stop smiling for hours. We moved over to the fire and sat for a while but everyone was pretty exhausted by the day and with full bellies we went to bed.
I just can’t get over all of the things I have been able to experience and see while coming on this trip. I am so incredibly lucky to have this opportunity! I am off to go camping in a tent with Corinne and we are both so excited to get into our sleeping bags! What a day! What a life!
Today was another productive day with curriculum development. We officially have the unit bases planned out for the year. The majority of it has been typed up and sent to Mel in order to check its transparency. This is an exciting point in the development as it is becoming more and more concrete. Dr. Stonebanks had previously said that it is tough for us to do our work because it is an abstract project and not tangible but honestly at this point I really feel we have something to hold. It may not be a building but it is an incredibly important document, something deeper than a 3 foot foundation. I’m proud of everyone’s work and for staying in good spirits when it could have easily got the best of us. We couldn’t have gotten this far without the help of Thomas and Cynthia also; they are going to be great teachers!
In the afternoon we walked to the school site as construction had begun! I know this had been causing the professors such stress but they did it! They brought the community together to start building a school. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, these are amazing people. The bricks were in piles and the foundation dug out, I could not stop smiling. It was a mixture of a space dedicated to our work, the professors’ work paying off and a new school for this beautiful community that brought such joy to me. What an experience!