Tag Archives: reflection

Oxcarts and Shiny Trucks

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

oxcartsYesterday, when I was on an adventure with members of a local research team, I passed by a big office building in Kasungu. We were walking to use the computers at an Internet café that serves dial up internet at 20 kwacha per minute rather than four dollars per latte. The walk there was one and a half hours…the walk back was longer. No one I was with seemed to consume any food or water over the entire 6-hour period. I had a litre and a half of water and two granola bars, and still felt like gravity had eaten more Wheaties than me that day.

Three hours of walking, in the relentless sun, for a total of 42 minutes, exactly, of Internet time. If that doesn’t tell you members of your team is committed, I don’t know what does. Just the fact that many laughingly took part in that walk for such a small amount of Internet time, and ultimately knowledge, made me reflect on our society’s propensity to complain… in groups, on Facebook, everywhere…about everything that doesn’t matter.

I’m writing this while listening to The Suburbs by Arcade Fire on an iPod, and it has made me think of how growing up in the suburbs everyone would complain about the ‘sprawl’, and the subsequent walking times, or bus connections, or this, or that. Walking three hours for some Internet access wouldn’t even cross someone’s mind as an option.

“Grab your mother’s keys, were leaving.”

-Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

Although I am a tad nostalgic for the simple times of growing up in the suburbs, you know… street hockey, running through sprinklers, all that stuff—I do not miss the lack of depth and lack of… really of anything in that lifestyle. The monotonous routines, devoid of any type of human emotion, let alone adventure, gets plastered over by shiny cars and manicured lawns. And some never grow out of this chase for the aestheticization of the transpolitical, or in other words, to appear ‘civilized’. This bourgeois idealism born from the French Revolution just will not die, people will not evolve…always high school, always high school. I saw it yesterday at the office building.

It wasn’t my first time there, I had visited the building last year to sit down with World Vision and visit one of ‘their villages’. It is the one structure in Kasungu, besides the gas station and the hotels, that could pass in a Canadian city. The inside is a dark mahogany style wood and some of the seats have leather. It resembles Canadian parliament, and also Bishop’s University’s main building, so that the bourgeois will feel comfortable! “Oh yes, I know this wood and this leather, I think I’ll get along with these people.”

Outside, the lawns are tip-top…that guy who lived in the house across from me growing up, the one who spend more time on his lawn than with his kids, would agree. The area’s concrete is crackless, and on top of that concrete sits the nicest vehicles one can find in Kasungu; brand new shiny pick-up trucks. And these trucks belong to the NGOs and the Not-for-Profits that are housed inside. The ones that are supposed to be working hand in hand with the poor people of Kasungu. Yet they all drive $40, 000 Toyota trucks. Why? Well, just like high school, you need to look good! But really, it’s just a mask on wheels.

“And all of the houses they built in the 70’s finally fall and nothing at all. Meant nothing at all, it meant nothing.”

-Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire (N/A) The suburbs, The Suburbs

A Long Walk in My Own Shoes

By Vicki Miller (Bishop’s)

shoesThe Transformative Praxis: Malawi group took our first walk into Kasungu town all together yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful, yet difficult and unsettling experience. I say this because I did not feel like myself on this walk. I felt like there was a large neon sign over my head reading “AZUNGU”, meaning “white person” in Chechewa. We passed through many small villages on our walk into town, and each time we passed, we got yelled at, stared at, or pointed at. At one point villagers came up to us and shook our hands and even hugged some of us.

I felt as if something was wrong with me, or maybe my hair was crazy or my pants were inside out. I continued to search for a reason why these people held such fascination towards the entire group and myself. I then realized that it was none of those things; it was the color of my skin. It really hurt that entire villages would look at me, point at me, and only see a young Caucasian girl. They did not see me for who I was; they did not see me for Vicki.

I later asked one of my co-learners what the villagers intentions were, because it was hard to determine if they were fascinated, disgusted or afraid of us. Deep inside, I think that it was a combination of a lot of those things, and my co-learner explained that it was mostly out of fascination because they do not see “azungu” every day.

I have been taking a lot of time in thinking about why I am here and what “changes” I am going to make and what experiences I am hoping to get out of my five weeks. During this thinking time, I have been reading Dr. Stonebanks’ Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning in which he notes that our “living requirement” of living near a rural Malawian village is “to momentarily immerse the most privileged (relatively) in our world to the manner in which the vast majority of humanity lives”. I by no means consider myself very privileged, or even close to one of the most privileged in the world. But, using the word “relatively” changes things, because in my small town in Central Massachusetts, I am an average, middle class, Caucasian, female. Nothing special, no more privileged than the rest of my homogenous white town. The majority of the children attend public school, the majority of them graduate high school and the majority of them attend some form of post-secondary education. To put all this into perspective, the majority of children here in Malawi cannot afford a pair of shoes.  Compared to the majority of people here, I am rich and very privileged. Now that I am surrounded by people living in such different living situations than my own, and who do not all have the same educational opportunities I had, I am more grateful than ever that I was able to have graduated high school, attend a wonderful university, and come out of it all with no debt or student loans. I can thank my parents for all that, but I never had control over when or where I was born, or how much money I would have access to, or what kind of education I would be able to afford.

I have noticed, more than anything, the weight of being an American university student, because as Dr. Stonebanks states, “Canadian and American university students are amongst the most privileged in the world.” That weight has made me stand out and has given me privilege that I never asked to have. Even having the time, money, education and mere opportunity to come to Malawi is something that a lot of people do not have. I believe that what I have to do now is take advantage of these opportunities that I have been given and make a difference here in Malawi.

Things to be grateful for: education and not missed opportunities

Reference: Stonebanks, C. Darius. (2013). “Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning”. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.) Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.


Things That You Can Live Without, But You Still Miss

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

missJune 11, 2015

Over the past week and a half I have been thinking about the things that I took for granted at home. I’ve compiled a list with the help of some others to express a couple things that I would be able to live without, but still pop into my mind every once in a while.


  1. Porcelain: I recently had a little bout of food poisoning (don’t worry mum, I am very okay now) and there were many hours that I wished to feel the smooth cool of a familiar toilet as I lived through cement and a plastic seat. An honor mention to this is flushing. This flushing is in opposition to the general abyss that is our compost toilet.
  2. Tap Water: The drinking water is definitely sufficient, but I have actually dreamt about drinking tap water and never feeling satisfied. There’s something about sticking my head under the faucet that gives me fond memories.
  3. Clean feet: No matter how hard I try there is always red dirt on my feet. Even when I’m wearing socks. I have even given up on dumping out my shoes too often.
  4. Couches: I have this thing where I just love couches. We have a lot of common space, and we totally do not need a couch, but the inner potato in me would love to lounge and make lesson plans. I have discovered that if you push some of our table chairs together you can get a couch like feel, while napping under the table. This is not favorable when people want to be productive at the table.
  5. Useful Junk: It’s so often that we are told ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’, but there isn’t even scraps that are up for grabs. Materials aren’t always in abundance so it gives our term ‘resourceful’ a different meaning.
  6. Google: We have it so lucky. I now understand why people bought encyclopedias.
  7. Blissful Ignorance: This one travels with anyone who has been exposed to any sort of difficult knowledge. Once naïve thoughts are so easily crushed as we face the challenges of self-expansion and worldly understanding. Every day we are challenged with many new things, and ultimately we will grow and prosper.

To Plan and to Search

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

The sun sets early at the hostel

The sun sets early at the hostel

June 10, 2015

I have had a realization that has led me into many hours of contemplation. I am going to attempt to deconstruct it in this blog post. After many years of blissful ignorance I entered a course and the reality that I am living in a way that has taken away the soft glow that I once believed there to be around the world. Not that I don’t see this in the Western world, because I know it’s there. It’s just that there it is easier to see things as an outsider. This glow that I saw (metaphorically, obviously) occurred because of the goodness in the world. It was a strong glow in which I felt was due to the kindness and compassion of the world. It was people doing the right thing for the right reason. People so often believe that these little lights are enough in life, but not in the world of planners and searchers.

In a recent reading that we read, we learned about planners and searchers. I am going to attempt to break it down. A planner is someone that is told or is shown that a certain location needs light. Planners raise money to get lightbulbs and send the lightbulbs to the locations where they think that they lightbulbs should be. They believe that by providing and sending over the lightbulbs they have contributed enough and all of the happy feelings should be theirs. All of these lightbulbs are sent over in good heart and with good intentions, but when it comes to it, these people are not actually sharing light, they are sharing lightbulbs. Searchers move in ways that allow their light to be shared. A searcher goes beyond sending the lightbulb to the location they bring the light to the location. Searchers go on-site and they move. They work with the locals on the ground to get information and create a charge. With this charge that they have created with the community they become able to make the lights work. Rather than just supplying the light, they have acted as a catalyst and have brought the means to make light.

Okay, now back to the soft glow that I used to believe encompassed the earth. With all of the NGO’s and projects designed to help communities, our society believes that there are lights in the places that we’ve given lightbulbs. Unfortunately, in many, if not all, communities that need light, only have lightbulbs. There are so, so many lightbulbs, but there are few people that are willing to go and to make the changes necessary to get the lightbulbs to work.

I once believed that kindness gave the world a soft glow. With our actions we created ways in which you could soften a heart of stone, or take the green out of a greedy man’s eyes. Maybe many, many years ago this was the case, but as I come to know and learn more about our shared space on earth I am beginning to doubt the possibility of an everlasting glow. Unfortunately, I have no solution or even a hint of one. I know that the work I am doing may help some people, but I don’t know that this will be enough. There is a quote I often think about that goes, ‘Everybody has a little piece of them that wants to save the world. It’s okay if that world is your own.’ If I don’t do everything in my power to save this earth, I don’t know that my own world would be saved either. Now it’s time to get moving.

Size Matters

By Vicki Miller (Bishop’s)

size mattersEven though I have only been here for less than a week, there are a lot of things that I have cut down on or realized have been cut down in order to conserve. The first and most important thing that everyone, everywhere, needs to survive is water, H2O. I found that I use infinitely less water here during my daily life than I do in North America. Daily doings that require water in Malawi: bathing, hand washing, dishwashing, laundry, drinking, cooking and more. At home I use it for all the same things but I am not conscious of the amount that I use.

In Malawi, I use about half a bucket (maybe 6L) to bathe. At home, I let the shower run for at least 10 minutes, enough to fill the entire bathtub! It’s absolutely crazy how when something is so plentiful, you take it for granted.

When it comes to food, it is the same concept in North America in that one should not be wasteful. Here, especially on our Campus, there is always a way to use food if there are leftovers. It can be composted, shared with others or it can be given to the dogs. It is always used in some way, never put to waste. It make me furious when people in North America use the excuse of “there are starving children in Africa” to make you finish your plate. Yes! There are children in Africa who are starving, but there are also children (and adults) EVERYWHERE who are starving. How is me finishing my meal going to help them? It’s not.

Light in our world in North America is essential for everyday living, or so we believe. In fact, light is essential for everyday living everywhere. But we have a burning ball of gas many kilometers away, that rises and sets each and everyday without fail. Here we only use electricity when that thing called the sun is no longer in the sky. Without the sun, we cannot see and we cannot work. During the day there is no need to use electricity because the windows in the hostel let in enough sunlight to work by. It is frankly a waste of energy to use electricity when it is not 100% essential. We also use the sun to power the electrical things we need. Talk about efficiency.

In North America we take having a pair of shoes and a change of clothes for granted. Some of the children have shoes, but the majority of them do not. For them, shoes are not an essential part of their lives. Whereas in North America we throw shoes out and buy the latest styles like they are going out of style, children here get along just fine in their bare feet. They also make very good use of their clothing. They don’t throw it out the moment they don’t like it anymore, they wear it until it has so many holes in it that it can no longer be called a shirt, a dress or shorts. Chetinjes are the most amazing article of clothing around here, but I will go into that another time.

Things to be grateful for: socks, toes, durability