Yesterday, 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.”
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.”
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”
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.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Through my visits to various villages surrounding the Transformational Praxis: Malawi campus, it has come to my attention that access to fresh water is a huge issue for the Kasungu population. The lack of safe drinking water is usually the first issue that comes to light through dialogue. The guilt hits as I sip fresh water from my Nalgene; the upper middle class version of a water bottle.
My water bottle is more outdoorsy than me; for shame. As I walk for hours a day through ferns and plants, and wildlife I’ve never encountered, I am beginning to feel a greater connect with the outside world, with mother earth. Okay hippy! But seriously, moments experienced walking through the Malawian countryside has really calmed me. The more I stay contained in the hostel, the more my thoughts do too, as they seem to flourish as much as the surrounding plants. But…streams are scarce. And in case you have forgotten, as some of my colleagues who wash their clothes every day have, water is important.
Conversing with local community has begun to elucidate the seemingly obvious, yet infrequently considered by some, intersections of the issue of water with other issues. How can one farm produce efficiently if their water is breaking their body down? These conclusions, some coming from visuals of ‘boreholes’, have begun to break me down as well; much faster than last year. I find myself choking back tears as I explain that I cannot provide immediate relief. But who wouldn’t? The Honeymooners! Need to work out, can’t start yelling already. I don’t know how Dr. Stonebanks is so relaxed when witnessing laughter instead of anger. I suppose both are powerful and motivating. Who am I to judge? I was emotionally schizophrenic last year. I wish the first years luck.
This ‘emotional schizophrenia’ has lead me to understand rather than get angry with members of other Praxis Malawi teams who have looked the same villagers in the face after hearing their life threatening issues and promised them wells, boats and boat motors. It is the subsequent travelers that must begin, not with a fresh slate, but with deep trust issues to combat. Trust issues that are amplified due to our Western/European roots. I would be angry too. Seeing anger amongst villagers is refreshing. The local community knows they have been screwed; on both a macro and a micro level; over and over again. How many times can a man be lied to before projecting complete apathy and indifference?
I believe it was the monarch and eloquent philosopher George Bush who publicly proclaimed that “You can fool me once, you can fool me….you can fool me….but I’m…I’m not going to be fooled again!”
Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.
I can’t even convince my good friends to listen to my stories about Africa’s trials and tribulations without them being a few pints deep. Prior to departure, I spent 10 days with friends and family in the GTA catching up, getting nostalgic and gossiping. Towards the end of our last family gathering, I asked my family members if they knew why I was going to Africa and what I was doing there. They responded with answered filled with a slur of sociology buzzwords that surprisingly did somewhat resemble my purpose and project. This situation brought about the realization that Chomsky may be right; humans usually remember only the ‘gist’ of what has been heard in speech. It also made me wonder if it was them whom had ignored or forgotten what I had explained about my project due to their busy lives, wandering minds, apathetic attitude or discomfort in addressing the situation, or rather if it was myself who had failed in animating just how important, interesting and imperative this work is. If it is the latter, this is something I will have to remedy during my week making preliminary visits to villages. Here we go again!
My name is Kirsten Dobler and I am a third year Elementary Education Major with a Minor in Music from Bishop’s University. I’ve become very invovled with the School of Education at Bishop’s and I hope that this project will help me to link my learnings to real life. The value of education is something that is very important to me and I hope that by sharing and learning together we can make the world even just a little bit better.
I come from a small town called Powell River, just about as far West Coast as you can get. I ventured east for the first time in 2011 with a volunteer program called Katimavik and soon after I made my way to Bishop’s and I have called it my home ever since. I’ve recently began au pairing in Italy during my time away from school and I have had the pleasure of traveling around Europe on my weekends off. I hope to continue my worldly adventures and making a postitive impact as I do so.
As I mention before I greatly value education, especially in places that have different ideas and ways that we do. I also understand the importance of respecting the people and land that we will be sharing in Malawi. I hope that we can make meaningful connections with the people of Malawi. I am very excited to meet the challenges that we have ahead.
My name is Natchasiri but everybody calls me Froy or full out Froy Choi! I was raised in a beautiful island au tropicale Phuket, Thailand. I lived there my whole life, so coming to Canada is a very exciting step for me! I have been here for my second year at Bishop’s University studying Fine Arts and I am having the best time of my life! I grew up in a British school with amazing multicultural background friends, so my favorite thing to do is adapt and learn new things! My interest circles around from photography, painting, writing, cinematography, science, astronomy, to cooking! I joined Praxis Malawi so I can experience a whole new culture that I know very little about and along the way make a difference for the new soon to be friends. I know that my contribution will count in the long run.
My father, who works as a plastic surgeon, always stresses to me that I am the citizen of the world, and compassion and selflessness is what we do best as humans. I am blessed with the lifestyle I have, enough to eat, enough to use. Therefore giving back and sharing is the wisest thing someone could do, whether it’s knowledge or dreams. When I look back and compare Canada to Thailand, or perhaps any countries I visit, I see one obvious similarity that there will always be people that are enthusiastic enough to lend a hand. My purpose for this trip is not to only find myself, but mainly to bring life into the community as much I can, and I can’t wait to discover everything and to share! I also can’t wait to meet my team!! See you soon.
My name is Alexandra (Alex) Bernier and I am a second year Mathematics and a first year Education student at Bishop’s University. I was born and raised in the beautiful green state of Vermont in a French-speaking home. I chose Bishop’s for its small size, because it’s not too far from home and I have dual-citizenship. I enjoy playing volleyball, road biking, and playing the ukulele (even though I have not come close to mastering it yet). This summer, after the Praxis Malawi project, I will be returning to summer camp for the fifth year as a counselor. Camp has been a big part of my growth along with being a personal care aid to a young girl with disabilities during my last year of high school. I am enthusiastic, open-minded, and my friends tell me it is easy to approach me when they need to talk about things. I believe good communication is key for a healthy relationship and a healthy life style. Through my own struggles in life, I have found that inner-peace is really important to find clarity and to be happy. Ways I have found help me are by surrounding myself with people that challenge me and are respectful, being active, doing yoga, listening to music, reflecting, and meditating.
My Name is Kate Newhouse. I am a third year Elementary Education Major and Psychology Minor at Bishop’s University. I am from Oakville, Ontario, which is about 8 hours away from Bishop’s. I love to be involved here at Bishop’s and so from first year on I have joined many different clubs and I am now a Dance Club Coordinator, Competitive Dance Team Choreographer and Dancer, Fashion Show Choreographer and Dancer, A part of Big Buddies and a Stage Manager for plays in New Plays and TheatreActiv festivals, I am part of the BU Blog Project as well. I am organized and up for the challenges that this opportunity will surely present.
Howdy, My name is Marten. I was born in Ontario, but I’ve never lived there. I was raised on a trapline on the Alaska Hwy, near Whitehorse, Yukon. I’m not scared of bears, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable driving on a freeway. A pivotal point on my timeline was at age 5, when I was introduced to soccer. The next landmark was at age 9, when my siblings were born. Since then, my story has been a combination of the great outdoors, soccer, and trying my darndest to be a real role model for each person I meet, particularly the young ones. These days I’m a player/coach/team manager for the Bishop’s Men’s Soccer Club. Bishop’s is treating me well, but it is by no means a final destination for me. I’m really motivated to indulge in this project in Malawi. I know it’s going to be transformative. Hopefully we can contribute to something more long term as well.
My name is Victoria (Vicki) Miller and I am in my 3rd year at Bishop’s studying Elementary Education and minoring in French. I am originally from Holliston Massachusetts, which is about 45 minutes outside of Boston, so as expected I am a die-hard Bruins, Red Sox and Patriots fan. I spent my junior year of high school studying abroad and living with a family in the Alps of France and was able to travel a bit around Western Europe. It was amazing being immersed and learning so much about another culture and life-style. I speak fluent French and it is a huge part of the reason why I am here at Bishop’s and in the province of Quebec. In my free time I like to read, skate, listen to music and practice karate. I love working with kids and meeting new people. In fact, I am going back to a camp in Central Maine for my third summer after our Malawi trip. I am so excited to meet everyone and go on this amazing adventure together!
Hello everyone, my name is Jessica Fobert and I am a second year Education student at Bishop’s University. I spent two years studying in my hometown at St. Lawrence College in Cornwall, Ontario. I loved the feeling and opportunities that small schools provide, so I chose to come to Bishop’s University. I have a major in Social Studies (history and geography) with a minor in Psychology. If I could choose, I would continue to add more disciplines because I have a passion for learning. That is one reason why I want to teach is because my students will continuously be providing me with new knowledge and secondly, I am passionate about helping others out. My mother comes from El Salvador, a third world country, and she never got the opportunity to get an education. I want to provide learning experiences for those who do not get that chance. As a future educator, I plan to travel and teach, so that I can learn more about other cultures and how other groups of people live. I plan to share my experiences with my future students so that they can learn about and respect the diverse world we live in.
I am very proud to say that I have the privilege of returning to Malawi for a second year. My name is Ryan Moyer and I am attending Concordia University in Montreal to continue my studies in sociology at the graduate level. As last year’s trip was extremely motivating and transformative, I am very excited to return to Malawi and I am looking forward to building on past relationships in order to get things done.
It is really exciting to be returning the year that the new campus is going up, as it seems metaphoric of opportunities for new meaningful change to arise. I am enthusiastically beginning to work in the field with the concept of adult education/life-long learning. University was the most transformational experience of my life thus far, and I would really be honored if I could add any input towards making adult education accessible in Kasungu.