Tag Archives: Roxy

But I Don’t Want To Leave My Room

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

Learning to live in groups like hippos

Learning to live in groups like hippos

I’ve never liked camp. Or at least, I’ve never liked the idea of camp, since I’ve never been. The group activities, the organized sports, the silly little crafts and the whole “creating new friendships” always seemed ridiculous to me. At the beginning of every school year growing up, I always had friends who would have stories of the great time they had at summer camp. I would always stare at them, bewildered and unconvinced.

“You actually like going there?” I’d ask, after they had finished telling me about the fun they had experienced beading necklaces or playing touch football. (I’m guessing at this point. To be quite honest I usually zone out when people tell me about camp. But I feel like those are the types of activities one does at camp.) “You do that on your own free will?!”

I was always told that I just didn’t understand. The only reason I didn’t like camp was because I had never been. And you know what? That was just fine with me. Why spend your summer outside of your comfort zone with a bunch of people you didn’t even know, when you could just stay home and do whatever you please?

You understand now why whenever I would tell anyone that I knew about my plan to go to Africa that summer, I would get looks of confusion.

“You’re going to spend 5 weeks in one house with a bunch of different people? But Roxy, you hate people.”

I don’t hate people. That would be ridiculous. I am, however, a very introverted and solitary being by nature. You know that kid who, whenever the teacher would give the option to either work alone or in pairs, would choose to work alone? I was (am) that kid. So why was this girl, who was so against camp and who would choose to be alone instead of with a bunch of other people 95% of the time, joining a program that would force her to spend all her time with 10 other people?

To put it simply: because unless I decide to live the life of a hermit, I can’t avoid being around people forever. And considering I don’t really know how to hunt or grow crops or even construct a basic shelter, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the hermit-life is out of the question for me. Like I stated in one of my past blogs, I can’t stay in my comfort zone forever. If I want to continue with my education and to someday go out and get a job I need to be able to live and interact with a mix-match of different types of individuals.

Yes, living in one house with 10 other people can be challenging. You’re with the same people for five weeks; working with them, eating with them, relaxing with them, going on excursions on the weekends with them. You have to spend 7+ hours with them on untrustworthy buses, and 12+ hours with them on (thankfully) more trustworthy planes. And they’re there to witness your finest moments: when your hair is sticking up in ways that defy the laws of science, when you incoherently stumble to the table where you can sit face-down in a cup of coffee or tea and when you walk back into the hostel dusty, windswept and slightly sweaty after spending a few hours walking to various locations.

Even as I write this, my laundry hangs to dry behind me on jump ropes tied to the ceiling beams, my underwear on display for all to see. Boundaries have shrunk down to almost nothing and that’s a hard thing to get into. These are a group of people that, 9 times out of 10, you’ve never talked to before. And now you’re travelling with them to a completely different country to live and work with them for 4 to 6 weeks as you all deal with major culture shock. That’s a lot to deal with and, for people who’ve never lived with a group of people around their own age before, that’s a lot to get used to.

Was it difficult? At first, yes. I’m used to being able to come home from school and going to hide in my room for a while after spending a day socializing. I need time by myself, to have space to breath and just sit quietly with no one else around. While being here, having time by yourself is pretty much non-existent unless you want to sit in your room under a bug net (which I wouldn’t recommend). You’re forced to get used to being around a bunch of people all the time. And you do get used to it. Of course there are still little spats that occur here and there, as that would normally occur in any setting if a bunch of people were put together. But as time goes on you do feel more comfortable with all those other people around.

And now with the first two people leaving this Monday, I imagine that it’s going to feel strange with the lack of two members in our group. We get so used to seeing everyone all the time that with them gone, it’s going to be very obvious that something changed.

I think now that I’ve experienced what this is like, I’ll be more open to activities and educational trips that involve being with other people for extended periods of time.

I’m still never going to camp though.

They’re still super lame.

Stop Your Flappin’ Little Chicken Girl

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

Self portrait

Self portrait

A couple days ago, I came to the realization that I was already two weeks into my five week experiential learning trip. Along with wondering where the time went (I still feel like it’s May and no one can convince me otherwise), I found myself thinking back to the first few days that I had spent in this new environment.

I realize how ridiculous that must sound. That I’m sitting here “thinking back” to a time that had only passed a few weeks ago. I sound like an 11 year old who, while telling a story about an event that happened a couple years ago, starts it off with a statement such as “back when I was little…”. But as ridiculous as it sounds, it honestly does feel that way. Even though time seems to be racing by, it also feels like we’ve been here a lot longer than we actually have. My concept of time has been completely thrown off; when I return back to Canada, my friends and family will find me clutching onto a calendar in one hand and a watch in another.

Back when I first arrived here I felt like I had been thrown into a city I had never been to before during rush hour and was told to find my way out of it without a map. I wasn’t sure what it was I was supposed to be doing, who I was supposed to be talking to or where it was I was supposed to be going. The hostel we’ve been staying has been dubbed the Chicken Coop, which accurately describes how I felt during that time. Running this way and that, squawking confusedly, flapping my arms and occasionally snacking on corn and various types of seeds.

Now that I’ve been here for a while, as short as that may be, I feel much more grounded and confident in my surroundings. What’s helped me the most in achieving this is my newly created routine. Routines do a very good job at making people feel more comfortable and settled (okay not everyone, but a good chunk of people). Being confused and unaware about what it is you’re going to do during the day or week or month can have serious consequences on your outlook towards how that day (or week or month) is going to turn out. You’re stuck dealing with a bunch of surprises that you never asked for. And not the nice ones either like snow days or when you open up a compartment in your car and find a bag of Jolly Ranchers. No, you’re stuck with surprises like:

“Why hello there, don’t mind me, I’m just a giant terrifying spider who has decided to watch you while you shower. Would you like me to hand you that bar of soap over there?”

or

“Top of the mornin’ to ya, I’m the wind and I’m going to make sure I’m really strong and loud throughout your entire interview so that you really hear me while you’re recording, since I have so many important things to say.”

It really just leaves you unprepared and slightly anxious about everything in your day-to-day life. Is this what’s going to happen? Is that what’s going to happen? Who knows? I don’t!

Now that I’ve managed to get into a more concrete routine, my life has become a lot easier. I no longer wake up wondering if this is an appropriate time to wake up or if I’ve either slept in too late or woken up too early. There’s no point during the day where I’m completely lost as to what everyone else is doing and where I’m supposed to go next. And the interviews that take place don’t fill me with thoughts of “what am I even doing here?” I now know how to introduce myself and my project to the individual I’m about to interview, where I should set up my camera so that I get the best picture possible, how I should go about my interview and the types of questions I should be asking.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Who knows, maybe after spending five weeks here with the routine that I’ve created for myself, I’ll be going back home to sleep at 8 pm every night and waking up at 5 am every morning to watch the sunrise.

(yeah, right)

In Which I Think Too Deeply into Nice Things (Yet Again)

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

This past weekend brought a much anticipated event: the trip to Lake Malawi. You could see it on everyone’s face as they asked each other for advice on what to pack and how much money they should bring to be able to buy present for their loved ones. As they excitedly talked about all the different fish they would be able to see and how they would be able to spend three days without worrying about the dreaded deadline of blogs (or “the b-word” as it was referred to in hushed, dramatic whispers).

Don’t get me wrong. We love living in Makupo and we absolutely did not come all this way to Malawi for the promises of little weekend trips. But the first week of work has certainly taken a toll on us. Everyone has dealt with their own different stresses, unexpected surprises and excitements as they start their projects. After four days of all of us dealing with our own crazy and everywhere emotions, I feel we all needed to take a small break from our regular routine. It was necessary to step back from our work for a little bit and take a breather.

The drive to our destination was long but interesting. It’s amazing to be able to travel through Africa and to see all the different villagers, towns and landscapes. Each hour that passed by signaled that we were getting closer and closer to our final stop, and gave me more and more time to think about what exactly it was that we were doing.  After all that we had already seen and experienced, was it really okay for us to be going to a resort? My conscious was quietly telling me otherwise.

The final stretch right before we reached the resort helped highlight and underline my feelings of uneasiness. Right outside the walls that surrounded the vacationing spot was a very poor village. Driving past the village and through the gates into “Fat Monkey” (the resort), I felt waves of guilt and thoughts of “why do you think you deserve this?”

The more I thought about it, I realized I didn’t really have an answer. Why did I think I deserved this? How could I sit here and laze around on this beautiful beach while right outside there were people who couldn’t even afford new clothes for their children. I had only worked for four days, and even then half of that was spent figuring out what exactly it was that I was trying to accomplish; “testing the waters” so to speak.

The villagers right outside the walls, didn’t they deserve this? They worked much harder than I did, so why was I given the right to enjoy a piece of their land more than them?

With the montage of 80’s music playing at the outdoor bar and the several other travelers sunbathing on the beach, it all seemed so bizarre to me. Who were these people that traveled all the way to Malawi just to spend their time at a beach resort? Is this all they did when they came here? It looked so odd in my mind when I pictured them going back home and telling all their family and friends that they had been to Africa.

“You haven’t been to Africa at all!” I wanted to yell at them. “This isn’t traveling, this is hiding.”

Hypocrisy at its finest I’m afraid. In the past few years I had gone to a few resorts with my family to places such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic. I’ve always loved them and claimed that I had been to those countries; what did this mean now?

I spent the three day weekend mulling this all over. During that time, we were taken on a little motor boat (to which Elise and I found was hilariously named the Shanana, the nick-name of our friend back home) to a small island in Lake Malawi. While we were there we got to spend a day on a huge slab of rock that made up a make-shift beach and were given the opportunity to swim (or snorkel) in what could only be described as an aquarium. After spending an amazing day there, the same tour guides took us around the area that we were staying at (Cape Maclear) and showed us several historical sites. Such as the grave site of the missionary doctor William Black who had passed away in 1875. They also helped us figure out reasonable prices for all the little knickknacks we wanted to buy.

Elise and I were able to interview the two tour guides (some of that footage will hopefully be in our upcoming mini videos that we’re working on. Oooh! Aaah! A spoiler. How exciting!). They explained to us about the tourism projects that they were working towards, along with informing us that all these projects were going to be used to help give back to the communities that lived along the Lake at Cape Maclear.

Leaving the resort that Sunday, I had a much more positive view towards the vacationing spot. It was beautiful; there was no arguing with that. “Disgustingly beautiful” as my father had put it, while we were watching the sunset over the lake to create a scene one could make a postcard out of. But there was more to it than that, which I was aware of now. These tourist spots may edge on being a little ridiculous, but that didn’t mean they were bad. If they were providing jobs and giving back to the community that surrounded them, then they were doing a good job in my opinion. And going to those resorts didn’t make you a terrible person. They needed visitors to come; how else would they make income and keep the place running? What made someone less of a good person was if they came to a resort and refused to look over the walls that surrounded them. You need to be aware of the country you’re visiting; you can’t stay hiding behind perfectly trimmed hedges. If you’re visiting a different country, go out and take trips around. Go see the different sites and places and get the full experience of the place. Then, at least in my mind, you can say that you properly visited another country.

You might as well be at any beach resort if you do otherwise.

Crawling up the Mountain

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

At the top of Mount Kasungu

At the top of Mount Kasungu

I’d like to start off this blog post by just letting everyone know: I climbed Mount Kasungu. While I didn’t climb it in 29 minutes (which I was informed, was the fastest time a Canadian has climbed up the mountain that they knew of), nor was I the first one in our group to get to the top, I still made it. It’s an achievement for me, and I’m proud of myself for sticking through it and making it all the way to the top.

I hope that by the end of these five weeks, the same can be said for my project. (The statement about sticking through it, of course. Not the one about finishing it all in 29 minutes because then you would know there’s an obvious problem with your work).

This week marked the beginning of my project. And the birth of a little, evil voice in the back of my mind, whispering malicious things to me about the outcome of my final product.

“You’ll never finish on time,” it says as I try to write a schedule of the work that needs to get done.

“That will never be enough footage to make anything useful,” it scoffs as I worriedly check the amount of tapes i still haven’t used.

“And you thought it would look even a little professional,” it laughs as I watch the video-camera’s screen as the interview takes place.

“Do you honestly think this is going to make a difference in anyone’s life?” it questions me as I lay awake at night, self-doubting every decision I had ever made that led me to this point in my life.

I do realize that stressing out won’t help anything and certainly won’t help any work get done. And I understand that pretty much everyone who has taken place in this project has gone through the same feelings of self-doubt once they start their work. There’s that worry that maybe you’re not focusing on the ‘right’ thing. Does your work even matter in the great scheme of things? I had a moment of great self-doubt after I finished my first day of work and decided by the end of it that I should just stop making little videos and save all the dogs in Malawi instead. Which was so unlike me, since I always scoff at the commercials that plea at you to save all the animals in the world, while there are still so many human beings in need.

But there I was, bursting into tears as I told people about the tiny, malnourished dog that came to sit near me while I was conducting one of my interviews.

“There were cactus needles all over it,” I exclaimed to which ever poor soul unfortunately asked me how my day went. “Why wouldn’t they just take the needles out!? Why did they just ignore it?!”

Now that I’ve calmed down, I realize that maybe saving all the dogs in Malawi and taking them home with me wouldn’t be the best thing to do (sorry Mom). I do understand that my project is important and that I should stay working with my original focus. The problem is that stress finds a way to make you feel that whatever it is that you thought would be a good idea, is now really really extremely unimportant and won’t help anything or anyone.

Now that I’m actually going out and interviewing people (both in the village of Makupo and in other villages) I’m aware of just how much this project puts me out of my comfort zone. Meeting new people everyday and asking them if you would be allowed to talk with them as a rather large camera is facing them a few feet away, especially when both of you speak two different languages, is something I never thought I would be doing.

The whole task of doing the interviews has taken me on an emotional roller coaster. It will start off with Elise, our co-learner and I choosing who we’re going to interview next. Then we’ll spend a bit of time writing down notes on what questions we should ask him or her as I worry that our questions aren’t good enough, or that we’re not asking enough questions, or (my worst fear) that our interviewee would find our questions too snoopy and would refuse to answer. What if the individual sees me as some nosy girl from Canada with some fancy, expensive camera intruding in their lives.

Once I get past the first meeting and the general uneasiness I feel whenever I meet someone for the first time and start the actual interview, my fears and worries just melt away. So far every person that I’ve talked with has been so nice and open to being asked all these questions and being recorded. And by the end of every interview, all my old worries aren’t anywhere to be seen. Of course, they are sitting and ready to return for the next interview, but that’s just something I’ve dealt with my whole life unfortunately. Who knows, maybe by the end of these five weeks I’ll have an easier time talking to new people (maybe, hopefully, possibly).

I do love my project and I’d like to make sure no one thinks otherwise. Yes, it’s a lot of work. And yes, it does cause me to stress over it a tad. But I’m getting a very up-close and personal look into Makupo and the other villages surrounding it. And I get the pleasure of being able to hear and share the voices of Malawi that would otherwise go unheard.

Just like climbing Mount Kasungu, this project is going to be difficult and the end won’t necessarily seem like it’s near, but finishing it will feel like such a great personal accomplishment and in my opinion, all the work will be worth it.

Introspection of an Introvert

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

Roxy at the airport

Roxy at the airport

All those feelings of how prepared I thought I was for Malawi are now gone. Hearing stories and reading papers beforehand can make you think you’re that much more prepared, that you somehow have a sort of “upper hand” on culture shock and anything else you may feel. But once you get there, at least for me, everything you thought you learned and thought you were ready for gets thrown out the window.

Sitting in the many plane rides, waiting for hours on end, no part of me believed I was going to arrive in Africa. Even after we landed and were riding in the bus through Malawi, it still didn’t seem to register in my brain. It felt like an outer body experience of sorts; like I was watching a documentary instead of actually being there.

Once we reached the village of Makupo though, it was a whole different story. Driving into the village with so many of the villagers of different ages running next to the bus cheering and singing really pushed me back to reality. I had such a rush of different emotions as I stepped into the excited crowd: the awe of finally registering the fact that I was in Africa, the extreme gratefulness of having people I had never met be this welcoming, the feeling that I really didn’t deserve this big of a welcome since I hadn’t even done anything for them yet and the nervous feeling, that I’m well acquainted with by now, that I usually always get during large social interactions.

The people of Makupo have been nothing but generous and kind from the very start. From giving us a lovely place to stay, providing us with more-than-enough food, making sure our bathroom areas are close to the ones back home (which, as silly as it sounds, makes a difference) and letting us know that their village is our village; that their home is our home.

So far my only day of pure “honeymoon stage” occurred on the first day we arrived. After that I have been experiencing mood swings every day that could match the ones of a 13 year old girl. Walking around the village I would think about how amazing it was that I was actually here, but then I would suddenly start thinking about something or someone back in Canada and would feel an almost crippling amount of homesickness. Visiting the villages surrounding us, I found all the children following behind us at a slightly shy distance, waving and smiling at us, adorable, but then I’d look at their dirty, tattered clothes and would feel horrible that children even younger than my little sister had to live in situations like these.

I had a slight “crash” when I forgot to say part of a response in Chichewa when someone asked me how I was (I managed to say “fine” but forgot to ask them “how are you?”). I felt so awful and horrible and embarrassed, with thoughts running through my mind that basically equaled the idea that “this person now hates me, they think I’m extremely rude”. I realize now that those feelings were far from reasonable and if that had happened back at home it really wouldn’t have bothered me.

Moments like these are part of the reason why I decided to join Praxis Malawi (besides wanting to give any sort of help I could provide and gaining new experiences from a place I had never been to before). If you were to ask anyone who knows me, they would agree whole-heartedly that I’m a very introverted person. I tend to stay in my comfort zone as much as possible. I decided that I couldn’t spend my whole life perfectly content hiding in my quiet spaces. Coming to Malawi has forced me out of those quiet spaces. Everyone here speaks to us in Chichewa so we’re put on the spot where we have to answer back and practice the language, instead of being able to sneak around and avoid everyone. And during my unnecessary mood swings I stopped myself from hiding away in my room, deciding instead to stay with company and work past the ridiculous emotions.

I chose my project based off that decision as well; having to go around and conduct many different interviews will help me come out of a shell more and become more comfortable in social settings. Right now thinking about my project fills me with a bit of stress, since it seems like such a big thing to take on in such little time. But I’m sure once I start it I’ll get into a schedule, more or less, and it will seem more tangible.