Tag Archives: Rita

Feeling Optimistic

By Rita Morley (St. FX)

Praxis Malawi Chilanga campus

Praxis Malawi Chilanga campus

Today I just have to say that, despite the many set-backs and tough learning curves throughout this trip, recently I’ve been feeling quite optimistic. Even though we still have time left to go here in Malawi, I can’t help but feel that our group is already making progress. Perhaps this feeling will be a fleeting one, but nevertheless, I’ll use it to fuel my work ethic as long as it lasts. It’s funny though – even as I mention this optimism, I am a bit suspicious of it, as though it could just be the bliss that comes along with ignorance. Maybe the only reason I’m content for the moment is that I’m not working hard enough or that I don’t see the big picture well enough. How do I know that my perspective of myself within the overall vision of Praxis Malawi isn’t skewed?

However, while this bit of scepticism does manage to seep its way into my thoughts, I do trust in the leadership of our group. Dale, Fintan, and Dr. Stonebanks have all exceeded my expectations in their roles as teachers, leaders, and mentors. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so supported by a team of educators before and perhaps that is one of the reasons I’ve been feeling optimistic. In fact, it may not be so much external context which has promoted my positive outlook, as my own shedding of self doubt. Our teachers here on this learning experience have really shown faith in my abilities and ideas which has provided encouragement for the continuation of my work here in Malawi.

There are bound to be other conflicts and set-backs during the remainder of our Praxis Malawi visit, but for the moment, I’m going to ride this wave of optimism.

Food for Thought

By Rita Morley (St. FX)

Food prep in Makupo

Food prep in Makupo

I think I may have just arrived back from one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Our Praxis Malawi group has just returned after having gone on an excursion to Livingstonia which is a settlement at the top of a mountain in the northern part of Malawi. After trekking up the windy and treacherous mountain road, we were rewarded with the luxury of viewing Lake Malawi and the surrounding mountainsides from Lukwe Lodge. There, we found an ecologically sustainable, hand-crafted place to stay in an incredibly peaceful and serene pocket of the mountains. Nevertheless, even as I found myself in this relaxing and refreshing change of scenery, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling thoughts weigh heavily on my mind. The guilt which comes along with the experience of going from a rather humble existence in Makupo to the treat of a touristy type of destination rested uneasily with me (as I’m sure it did with many of my colleagues). As we ate delicious food, had plenty to drink, and slept in gorgeous little cabins, I couldn’t help but feel the heaviness of the fact that most Malawians probably can’t afford to spend time in such a place. These mixed feelings of wanting to enjoy this break, but also wanting to stand in solidarity with the wonderful Malawians I’ve met have left me with both a belly full of food, as well as a mind full of food for thought.

Man, I Feel Like a Woman

By Rita Morley (St. FX)

Carrying water

A beautiful, strong woman of the Chilanga region

After having been here in Makupo for a little bit now, I have to say that one of the big differences I’ve noticed between this culture and our Western culture at home in Canada has to do with gender relationships. While I’m sure that the ways in which genders interact with one another is bound to differ slightly depending on cultural context, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with the drastic difference I’ve felt as a woman moving from the Canadian context to the Malawian context.

Ask most people around here about the woman’s role in community and they will probably tell you that the Chewa people follow a tradition of matrilineal hierarchy, which in many ways sounds very progressive to the ears of a liberal-minded young Caucasian female. However, after observing and experiencing some social interaction in Malawi, I have to question whether or not this tradition is really put into practice. While I have seen instances of true respect for women and seen that in certain situations villagers seek the opinion of a women, more often than not, it seems that it is the men of the villages that take charge in leadership roles, that women have less of a chance to continue formal education, that in a situation of a pregnancy outside of marriage it is the woman who takes responsibility, and that it doesn’t seem to be widely accepted for a woman to go out and socialize in public.

Don’t get me wrong – it is evident that the Malawian women I have met thus far are incredibly strong people. However, their strength supports their communities in a humble way, behind the scenes. These women have the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, farming, and child-rearing. They do all these tasks and more while seemingly maintaining an awareness of the goings-on on the leadership and decision-making end of things in their villages. And perhaps my perspective has been conditioned by the Western ideal of needing to receive credit for any contribution one makes to society, but I can’t help by see that the women here are relegated to work behind the scenes, while the men are allowed the opportunity to make formal decisions and lead their villages in a more public way.

I’ve been thinking about this issue of gender interaction in the villages here for some time now, but I have to say that what truly spurred me on to write this blog has been my own experience more so than what I have witnessed. I have never felt so fortunate to have grown up in a society that (for the most part) values women and their ideas. I have never before felt too obviously female, like I have it tattooed on my forehead. It honestly hasn’t been such a distinguishing factor in academic or workplace settings for me before now. Here in Malawi, my experience so far has been that in work and research situations, respect from villagers for ideas and leadership comes first to my male colleagues. This is not to say that they bring this on themselves, but more so that this attention to men seems to be the automatic mindset of our friends and co-workers in Malawi. Working in this context will certainly be a good experience for me and I am eager to make ties with the women here because (to a certain extent) I can now empathize better with their context.

People Are People

By Rita Morley (St. FX)

One witness of my fall

One witness of my fall

Yesterday I fell off the top step of our outdoor latrine in the village of Makupo. I had just walked out of the bathroom when the door handle detached from the door. I promptly lost my balance, fell backwards off the 1-meter platform, and landed with a thud on my rear end, door handle still in hand. It was one of those moments when you feel like crying, not from injury, but from sheer embarrassment.

There was a large group of ladies going about their day’s work in the kitchen area behind me and I quickly realized that they had witnessed the whole event. All I could think was “Oh my goodness, they’re all going to rush over here full of concern and make me sit down and rest – they’re going to be so worried!” However, what happened next pleasantly surprised me. One lady came over to see if I was all right and as soon as I said with a smile “I’m ok”, she started to laugh! Then I started to laugh and then all the other ladies started to laugh at the whole scene. I laughed until my belly hurt and I couldn’t speak anymore!

This small instance got me thinking about cultural differences. Who am I to think that these women have the time of day to worry about coddling someone who clearly isn’t hurt? Unlike in the West where people seem to spend a lot of time worrying about the frivolities of life, here in Malawi it seems to me that most people can’t afford to worry about being nit-picky about the quotidian. In Makupo Village the children are allowed to play barefoot outside, the chickens and goats roam free-range, and the women prepare meals made mostly of food grown here in the village, sans the latest health food trends from the likes of Planet Organic.

I’m not saying that this village is a perfect utopia where injuries are healed with a smile and harsh economic realities are remedied through a wholesome meal. What I am saying is that the people here seem to have learned which things are worth worrying about and which things aren’t. I’d certainly have to agree that the comic scene of a naïve Canadian student falling off the bathroom step is worth a laugh!

So, now I’m off to start my research and community development projects in this Malawian reality that is so very different from that of my own home. I am not unaware that while some of these differences will be refreshing, others will create challenges. However, I do know that it will be the similarities that will propel me forward and motivate my research. People are people, whether our complexions reveal the beautiful deep hues of a Chewa of Makupo or the freckled fairness of a Nova Scotian, and it seems we all want similar things in life.

 

Introducing the 2014 Group: St. FX University

Aaron Thornell

Aaron Thornell

My name is Aaron Thornell, and I am a student at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. I was born and raised in Ottawa, and am a fervent sports fan and participant. I have played hockey and soccer for most of my life, and have recently tried my hand(s) at rowing at St. FX. I consider myself so lucky to come from an amazing and loving family, and owe an incalculable amount of thanks to my parents and older sister.

During my three years at St. FX, I have studied history and development, and am hoping to enter the field of development in the future. Specifically, my interests lie in the realm of sport, and have directed a great deal of my studies and efforts towards the emerging field of sport for development. I am a firm believer that it is a wonderful way to garner participation, enthusiasm, and cohesion in projects. I think that sports can also be very helpful in conveying ideas relating education and health to young people.

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do some traveling, but have never been lucky enough to visit Sub-Saharan Africa. I am extremely excited to immerse myself in the Malawian culture as much as possible, as well as take in the lessons of the people and the land itself. During my time in Malawi with the Praxis Malawi project, I am hoping to continue research in this field of sport for development. I feel very fortunate to have been provided an opportunity to work with members of the community in Malawi in the organization of the campus sports field. I am hoping help in any way possible, primarily by listening to the desires of the community members. Most of all, I believe this opportunity will be a wonderful learning experience, and I am sure I will be discovering a great deal about myself.

Rita Morley

Rita Morley

My name is Rita Morley and I hail from the beautiful province of Nova Scotia, Canada. I have been so fortunate to have grown up in a big, loving, and very supportive family. My own personal development has certainly been influenced by many a kitchen table discussion about community and its multitude of components. Being privy to these conversations of family and neighbours, I have inherited a strong sense of the importance of human rights, social justice, leadership, participation, and the true interconnection amongst human beings.

Building on this foundation, I am now on my way to earning a degree in Development Studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and through my studies I have connected with the Praxis Malawi Project. While in Malawi, I will be researching about what factors are involved in forming a healthy and holistic sense of community. In order to gain some new insight and learn from the village of Makupo, I will be helping to facilitate reciprocity and communication between the various projects of Praxis Malawi and the village leadership.

This will be my first time to the continent of Africa and I am very grateful and excited for this opportunity to learn and grow through meeting new people and experiencing a different culture. I am jumping into this experience with openness and dedication. Wish me luck!