I have two words to say about Lukwe lodge in Livingstonia – Amazing – Wait was that two words? Oh well you get the idea. The place we stayed at this weekend was built on the side of a mountain, which creates many outstanding and breathtaking view points. Some are seen from the front porch of the cabins available to sleep in, as well as from the bar where you have staff happy and eager to help you. There were two options for the sleeping arrangements, cabin or tent. The cabins slept two and the tents also accommodated up to two depending on the size of the mattress inside. Yes, I did say mattress. I got to share mine with Annabelle and we had an absolute blast hunting insects at night before bed. I could do without the bruises however from her grabbing my arm whenever she would find one.
View from behind the waterfall
Oh and I didn’t even mention the waterfalls yet. Not only is this place built on the side of a mountain but there is a group of waterfalls within walking distance of the place. They were so close that we could constantly hear the sound of the rushing water. On Saturday we walked to three different locations where we could see the waterfalls from. Two of which brought us so close to the falls that if we were allowed and had enough bravery we could have touched them. This though would have been extremely dangerous considering the height of the potential tumble we could take. There was one place in particular that I really enjoyed which was when we went into a cave that brought us behind the falls. Here we could sit and watch the water come crashing down. The noise did not allow for much conversation since it drowned out any voices around. This for me would have been an ideal place to sit and rest for a while. I would have liked to eat lunch there (yummy yummy sandwiches) and just spend time in the silence that such noise creates. We haven’t had a lot of chances to do things like this due to how busy we are being kept and how we are often surrounded by someone. You tend not to realize how daunting this aspect of the trip is until the fatigue of it finally hits you and you need to get away at the most inopportune time.
The weekend on a whole was amazing however and it got me thinking as to why not many people are aware of this country’s existence considering what a beautiful place it is. Could it be that Africa has adapted such a negative name in the ears of the rest of the world? Is it because of the stereotypes that people have associated to it? Could it be because people have been thinking “Oh poor Africa” instead of “Oh wow Africa”? I don’t feel qualified to answer these questions since realistically I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. I don’t claim to be an expert but it is the questions I have been asking myself. How can such an amazing place go unnoticed?
Since I’ve arrived I have yet to have a dream which for me is extremely weird since I normally dream on a nightly basis. I was feeling jealous because many of the girls were having extremely vivid dreams that they have been sharing with the group. When I mentioned that I hadn’t had a dream yet it became a daily thing to mention whether I had had a dream yet or not. It took awhile but I am happy to write that I have finally had a dream! And it’s not one I can share because it is much too embarrassing. Which is so frustrating. I’m used to being able to share anything with my boyfriend even if it was the most embarrassing thing ever. I’m missing the feeling of being able to tell someone everything and anything when it pops into my head. What’s hard about this living situation is we are a group of strangers that not only live together but work together as well. Living in close quarters brings the inconvenience of never being alone. However though I have these moments of frustration I am still greatly enjoying my time here. Feelings of missing my family are being mixed in with feelings of enjoyment as we carry on with our curriculum development. We had our first whole day of curriculum development today (06-10-13) and I have to say I’m really enjoying it. Though being in Malawi is amazing in itself, I’m extremely glad that I’m doing something that I enjoy. I find that missing my loved ones goes away when I’m working since I’m being kept well occupied. The others involved in this project are helping to keep me well occupied and entertained as well. It’s a comfort to know that the weeks coming up will be spent with people whom I truly enjoy.
Something that gave me a moment of pause while speaking with Cynthia, a teacher in training who is working as a co-learner with us, was when she told us that teachers here have not been paid in the past three or four months and would probably never receive the pay that is due to them. This got me thinking about the teachers’ motivation to continue being teachers. At first I thought “Wow you must really be dedicated to the idea of education to work without pay” but then realized that it is possible that they might just be working for the hope of future pay. When I brought this up with Cynthia on a separate day she told me she couldn`t tell me why people do it but thought maybe it was a little bit of both. She also included that when you first start to work as a teacher they postpone your pay because they’re “adding you to the system”. She told us a story about how one teacher went without pay for two years before being added to the system. By the end of the discussion, I learned about many of the hardships of teachers here in Malawi. This got me thinking about what I would do if ever I was put in this situation. I still haven’t reached a conclusion but will get to you if ever I do.
On the weekend, we went to Lake Malawi. The location we stayed at was shockingly beautiful. All we heard prior to leaving was how amazing the location was and I built it up in my head that we would be staying in an amazing place. I soon realized that this was actually really dangerous since I didn’t want to be disappointed when we got there so I imagined the worst of the worst so that I would be content with just about anything. Turns out it worked. It was not what I initially expected but amazing in its own respect.
The first night we got there we went swimming and then hung out on the beach while watching the sun set which was stupendous. We then ate supper and some of us shared a few beers. I showed Annabelle how to play Bawo, a game that was taught to me a couple of days before by Themba. We were soon joined by Francis, Thomas, and Peter, local men that accompanied us on our journey. They soon joined in our play and I realized how much more I actually had to learn about the game. Some of the things they were doing were simply amazing. An example of this is how fast they made their decisions, having done all the calculations necessary to know exactly where their piece would fall.
On Saturday we got on a boat and went to an island nearby to do some sun bathing and snorkeling. I left behind the mouth piece and just used the goggles and went swimming with the fish. I fed them bread while I was under water and was the most popular fish for a few seconds at a time. All the fish wanted to be my best friend and one liked me so much that he wanted a taste of me. He managed to get his mouth around the tip of my index finger and I had a moment of panic. I actually had to go straight to the surface because of how much it shocked me. Soon afterwards though I tried again but this time panicked when I saw them all coming towards me so I threw the bread at them while still underwater and swam away backwards watching them swarm the floating piece of bread. It was quite brutal actually. Like a bunch of starving wolves tearing apart and devouring a fresh kill. It was my first time doing something remotely related to this and I was living on a cloud all day because of it. When we got back I got to have my first real shower since I left Montreal, well shower-ish. It did come pouring out from on top through a shower head but the water was as cold as if it was coming directly from the lake. I didn’t care though. After all that lake water it was extremely nice to have a “real” shower. Afterwards we went out for supper and ate at a place that had pizza. This kept me up on my cloud even longer. To be honest though, I stayed on my cloud even when the electricity went out and pizza was no longer an option. Luck was on my side however and the lights turned on right before we were about to hand in our order of food. After pizza, we went to a new place, still on the beach, where people were doing a drumming performance around a camp fire. The night ended and I was still in awe as to how amazing the day was.
Learning to play Bawo with Themba and Frank
Sunday was spent sight-seeing and shopping which meant a lot of walking. It was an extremely hot day and my arm hurt from a rock I had punched by mistake the day before. The finger I sliced was a little swollen and I felt like I was getting no circulation in my arm. Apparently this is a common feeling the day after punching something. Honestly this is the first time I’ve punched something. They wouldn’t call it experiential learning though if we didn’t learn new things. Anyways, even though I was extremely uncomfortable I cannot say that anything dampened my mood. Not even the bus breaking down on the way back and being stranded on the side of the road for 6 hours.
Here’s a list of the great things that have happened here since you last heard from me.
1.We started doing our research and things are going very well. For the first week of our research, our mornings have been spent on what everyone has been referring to as advance work. Basically, what we have been doing is community research which will be further clarified in point 2 of this blog post. What I wanted to discuss right now though was the amazing group dynamics of our curriculum meetings. Pretty much this is a great group of people and I’m looking forward to moving forward with them as a group. I find that the way we work is extremely productive and fun at the same time. We’ve managed to stay professional, culture shock or not, and we’ve been really good with staying on topic. However our curriculum development meetings have only been 1-2 hours and the atmosphere might change with an increase of frustration and fatigue that comes with longer hours of work (which will come when the advance work is finished). Regardless though, I feel the need to say it, these girls are great.
2.Interviewing the surrounding villages and the nearby schools. Our advance work was based on collecting information about the schools and communities that are surrounding the construction site for the school. For the villagers, we wanted to know what they thought about a school being built on that plot of land since some of them used the land for farming purposes. All the villagers we interviewed were happy with the prospect of receiving a school that would be closer, especially the women who feared for the safety of their children and grandchildren. Right now the children would either need to cross a street with fast moving cars or cross a bridge that gets flooded and dangerous during the rainy season. Interviewing the people was a big moment for me since it was the first time that I felt I was doing something important and relevant to education. Though I couldn’t do anything for them about the land they would need to cultivate elsewhere, I was able to talk with them about the education of their children and ask them questions relevant to such a topic. It was also the first time I felt anything about being in Africa. I remember thinking “wow this is awesome” and actually felt it. For the schools that we visited (3 in total), we got to interview three head masters and observe classrooms in progress. In total I got to observe 2 standard 1 (grade 1) classrooms and 2 standard 2 (grade 2) classrooms and at least one per school. Since we’ve arrived, people have been telling us about the over packed classrooms of 100+ students. What I’ve learnt from my visits is that yes that each classroom has an approximation of 100 students but from what I saw, only 60-70 of these students are actually attending.
Dancing around the fire
3.The dance around the fire with the local women. This was also a big moment for me since for one it was simply amazing and because it was the first time I was able to connect with the women of the village on a fun level. On the most part our interactions have been me testing out my Chichewa through passing greetings and simple requests (pretty much just asking for bath water). At the beginning, it was mostly the children who were dancing while they sang along with their mothers but then the entire thing turned into a dance circle where we would be pulled into the circled or singled out and made to come into the circle and dance. After a while, we tried including some of our own songs but found it difficult to find a good dancing song that we could all sing. Pretty much all we had to sing as a group was songs by The Spice Girls and “The One That I Want” from Grease. The women were amazing about it too. They encouraged us to share and were supportive when we faltered and failed. They even started singing “This time for Africa”. Over all it was a night of fun and laughter. For once, the girls stayed up past nine o’clock with me and I wasn’t the last one to go to bed.
Normally I can be content in any surroundings given to me since I’m pretty flexible and able to adapt well. However during the process of writing this blog I’ve realized one aspect I find hard about these living conditions. I am missing the alone time that I would use to just break out into song. As I type I’m listening to the soundtrack of Rent and am finding it extremely hard to hold back. This feeling of restraint is making me quite frustrated actually and I’ve come to realize that my downtime activity is not reading or drawing but singing. Even if I’m not that much of an accomplished singer, I love making a fool of myself in front of my dog by singing and dancing like a maniac. Though I’m sure many would find it amusing at first, I’m sure they wouldn’t have the same patience as my Bitsy baby has with me.
I think that since I’ve arrived in Malawi I’ve had the tendency to over analyse everything around me. I believe this to be my way of protecting myself from the disintegration stage of culture shock. This is the stage where you start internalizing bad feelings due to the extreme change in environments. From what I’ve understood, an example would be seeing a malnourished child and thinking to one’s self “what am I doing developing curriculum when I should be helping to get the child better nourished?” In other words, the visitor starts blaming themselves for the hardships of the host environment and takes it out on themselves. In “Rebecca in Herland” (https://blogs.learnquebec.ca/praxismalawi/days-1-5contemplations-of-culture-shock/) I actually thought about bringing one of the children home with me. I was staring at the child while we were all sitting under a tree and I thought to myself “wow what a happy kid I want to help him and bring him home with me to take care of him”. I immediately felt bad and ashamed about the thought and then reflected on how I’m not one to judge and take him away from his mom and his way of life just because I think my way of life is better. I’ve also realized that this is not something that I would do if I saw a really happy kid back in Montreal. Of course if the child was ill-treated then yes, but who ever heard of a child getting taken away from his parents because he was too happy? This sort of internal reasoning actually is why I think I haven’t been feeling extremely sad about things here. I could have looked at the child and started thinking about how sad it was that he was so happy but has so little, that he should be given more, and that I felt that I should be giving more and that it’s still not enough and and and, spiral down into a deep dark depression. I could do that. Or I could think about it, and while thinking about it, lose all emotional connection to it. Though this way of looking at things is protecting me from the effects of culture shock (temporarily according to Dr. Stonebanks) I feel cold at times since I’m not feeling sad for things that are sad.
My analytical thoughts actually are self-defeating when it comes to analyzing myself and sometimes the people around me. It’s causing me to feel bad because I’m drifting away from the person I want to be. I’ve always wanted to be the type of carefree person that doesn’t let little things in life bother her. However I find that being in a position where I’m constantly analyzing I find myself trying to make sense and explain the things that I’m seeing. This is forcing me to become bothered by little things because I’m looking too deep into them. However after the meeting we had with Dr. Stonebanks about culture shock I was reminded to re-prioritize and focus solely on myself. Be happy and carefree and you will be happy and carefree.