Tag Archives: reading

In Regards…

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

ryan 3In Regards to Hope and Doubt

My hope dwindles daily in this search. I wonder if Paulo Freire’s theory of dialogical education has ever really worked, or if it is completely irrelevant in post-modernity. There is no doubt that dialectics are dead, and all the Hegel quoting in the world won’t bring them back to life. So how can someone so confidently categorize humans into two neat categories of oppressor and oppressed? It’s like Freire is trying to pitch the world as a sequel to “A Christmas Story”, in which the ‘oppressed’ rise up and strike back at the bully! Then the bully realizes the immorality of his action and is all the better for it.

Freire (1970) states that “the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole” (46), and since he was writing in the 1970’s this can be forgiven, but anyone who has even dipped a toe in post-structuralism is aware that there are no poles; they never existed. They were made up by theorists to simplify and sell books. Marxism and Freire at times commit the murder of anomie, like the game of chess being played through kaleidoscopes, explained using a simple game of 20/20 checkers as an example.

I doubt Freire’s theories often. Yet, I can’t debate them it if I don’t try to put them into action, if I don’t honestly test them.  And so, I still have hope.

In Regards to Love

“I remember you were conflicted. Misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power; full of resentment. Resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screaming in a hotel room. Lovin’ you is complicated.”

-Kendrick Lamar.

Paulo Freire throws around the word love as if it’s a hot potato; frequently and with determination. Unraveling and making sense of that word is a task that is impossible, like biting ones own teeth. Some may embrace love as the soaking of “pleasure from this charming and absurd difference that nature has put between the sexes” or, and seemingly most often, love is simply a “narcissistic game of capture and control” (Baudrillard, 1990, p. 17). I find myself combating the latter of the two theories of the L word as I proceed in work. The quotation that begins this piece states “Lovin’ you is complicated”, as everyone runs the threat of becoming adept to misusing their influence. Those without it may travel to Malawi and all of a sudden be granted sway and power based on skin colour and wealth alone. And as Peter Parker’s passing uncle proclaims, while looking at a young Spider Man; “With great power comes great responsibility”. In participatory research it is imperative to lessen ones influence, this is a large responsibility, yet in the face of slow or non-existent progress it is tempting to bypass community input and proceed using ones own best judgment. Honest dialogue here can be difficult, as it many times has meant reminding groups of my own inability to help in any type of practical or immediate way i.e. reiterating that “I am not a water specialist! I cannot build a well!” This gets tiresome, and I sometimes find myself resenting those who look to me to solve these structural problems because of my skin color. The honest answers I give can lead to very somber and morbid moods amongst the group, as this answer smothers any hope of clean water arriving any time soon. As they did for Dr. Stonebanks during moments of reflection, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s words, concerning a researcher’s merit, begin to cross my mind often, repeating like a skipping CD.

“Are they useful to us?? Can they fix our generator? Can they actually do anything?” (Smith, 1999, p.10, from Stonebanks, 2014, Confronting Old Habits Overseas)

In Regards to Tranquility

“We live in a world of more and more information, but less and less meaning”

-Jean Baudrillard

The above quote isn’t exact, as I don’t have Internet access to check its validity. I suppose that’s a good point to start on. There is no Internet here, and no television. No Blu Rays. No cell phone. Limited advertising. Basically, a lessening of the debauchery of signs. It has brought a certain level of tranquility. A new appreciation for the stars has resonated with me. In the urban metropolis the light pollution disallows their viewing, and when I do stay in the countryside I usually work during the evenings and miss their greeting. Here, I have the time to sit and just admire. I suppose these new feelings of tranquility have stemmed from spending more time with myself, whether reading or otherwise. Western society doesn’t allow for much time to yourself, and, even if it does, people don’t seem to embrace it. They’re either plugged into an iPod or fiddling with their smart phone. If you can’t spend time with your own thoughts, you’re in trouble. It’s been really nice to do that lately.

References

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Baudrillard, J. (1990) Fatal Strategies.

Kendrick Lamar (N/A) To pimp a butterfly.

Our Failure

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

Our FailureUpon finishing the reading of The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan, I have been furthering my reflection on Africa, its relationships, its triumphs and challenges. After taking courses on Problems in International Development and African Politics I gained critical thinking skills and a clearer understanding of global politics as well as the issues that have been perpetuated by the extensive exploitation of underdeveloped countries. The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan gives a great summary that explores not only the history, but also the exploitation and the problems the continent of Africa faces.

The amount of interest in Africa has always been evident, but colonialism and the horrific slave trade raised these interests promoting more interference by other countries in the continent. Now, “Africa is deeply divided by a sense of vexing fault lines – French versus English speakers, North versus South, Christian versus Muslim, South Africa versus Nigeria, democrats versus dictators, terribly poor versus poor,” (Caplan, Gerald p.114). These divisions in many cases are caused by outsider interferences as well as the historic preconceived notion that Whites know what is best, which is now a misconception that plagues true African independence. What I mean by true African independence is that even though countries in Africa have become independent after colonialism, the Western world still has its hands in politics, resources, trade, and economic affairs of Africa. Whether through bribery, arming guerilla movements or extremely high loan interests, the influence is still very much present in everyday societies of Africa. Developed countries have interests in many cases, which are disguised as aid, but in reality their reward is far greater than countries in Africa, which they are “aiding”. As long as, “Western countries treat aid as a political tool to advance their own self-interest, and so long as most International Non-Governmental Organizations compete against one another, the prospect of a more rational and less wasteful system remains a pipedream. In the meantime, we criticize Africans for being inefficient,” (Caplan, Gerald p.107).

My heart aches more than ever; I cannot stand the historic and present exploitation that my disgustingly privileged country and its allies inflict on this magnificent continent and its people to this day. Between 5 million and 2.5 million BCE, our ancestors emerged in Ethiopia and eastern Africa, we all came from this continent at one point, yet a serious lack of respect for human rights from our global relatives is evident in every continent and in every country. Even Canada currently has been under pressure from the United Nations for is human rights abuses against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, some of which do not have clean drinking water or safe housing on reserves. Canada, like other Western countries, favor the rich and ignore many issues which are left to sit and rot. As well there is a tendency to assist those who can give something back, those who are of interest and use. “For years, African and Western leaders have had a cynical little deal – African governments would pretend to reform themselves and the Westerners would pretend to live up to their pledges and help them,” (Caplan, Gerald p.113). USAid and the World Bank are examples mentioned multiple times by Caplan as exploitative organizations. Here in Malawi I have noticed many organizations including USAid, World Vision and Jw.org in lavish buildings with green shrubbery despite the dry season. Aid often has strings attached, whatever it does for the country in need, which is often unclear, aid always benefits the rich country most. Italy and the United States are among the most selfish offenders of this “tied” aid. Our despicable ancestors and present “developed” countries began and continue to exploit those who cannot afford any food. My favorite quote is as follows from the finale of this novel, which I think really rings with truth and should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to give and respect human rights as well as appreciating what you have.

“We need to help Africa, not out of our selfishness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crisis, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. Many speak without irony of the desire to “give something back”, without realizing the cruel reality of the phase. In fact, that’s exactly what the rich world should do. We give back what we have plundered and looted and stolen. Until we think about the West’s relationship with Africa honestly, until we face up to the real record, until we acknowledge our vast culpability and complicity in the African mess, until then we’ll continue- in our caring and compassionate way –to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse,” (Caplan, Gerald p.127).

References

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.

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.