Tag Archives: Ryan

Faux-Academics and Foucault

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

Teaching through t-shirts

Teaching through t-shirts

A mentor of mine recently told me that I need to decide whether I want to be one of those guys who brings a Foucault book to the café to pick up chicks, or a real academic who lives his work. If I remain the former, sooner or later, someone who embodies the latter will pose the question;what have you actually done?

A question I think myself along with many scholars do not wish to answer for fear of a definitive lack of a substantial answer. Technically speaking, all I have done in my undergraduate career up to this point is researching and rearranging large amounts of information to manifest some form of a cohesive argument. It has become a science. I go through these motions every class like clockwork. Time for  a change. Now that I am here in Malawi, let’s see if Foucault can provide some clarity in reflection.

In 1977 Foucault said that we must look at power not as a “dyadic relation of rulers and subject” but rather a power that manifests through the liberal and humane practices of bureaucracy, medicine, education and the production and distribution of consumer goods. Those involved in these systems of power, like my colleagues and myself, usually do not understand themselves as agents of oppression. Am I an agent? I’m most definitely not wearing a tailored suit.

Now that I am on the ground in Malawi, Foucault’s theories have become animated. One theory that I have been contemplating extensively is his notion that for every group that is oppressed there is one that is privileged in juxtaposition. Most Malawians are continually exploited and marginalized under the unilateral imposition of neo-colonialism, market fundamentalism and paternalistic policies rolled out by the global sharks. This institutional oppression has been written about by countless scholars (Caplan’s The Betrayal of Africa), but what about those acting in an oppressive role who do not realize their complacent agency in the nourishment of oppressive objectification? For instance; those working for charities working under the veil of generosity, but in reality are constraining those they work “for”. What about tourists?

I write this next to a pool at a Safari resort in Zambia, surrounded by rich mahogany and waiters on standby. I could jog to the nearest village where the poverty is violent. This lodge employs some locals and sells a few local goods, but what is it doing for those really on the fringes? What are we doing here? I search for witty anecdotes to impress my professor as these questions tear a hole in my already perforated epistemic fabric. None come, anxiety rises.

The last lodge we visited, Lukwe Lodge in Livinstonia, served as a place of solitude in the depths of human suffering, as it was one built and run utilizing permaculture. I felt as if I was part of the solution while I was there. But here in Zambia I am contributing to the cultural imperialism of the tourist industry, here I am an agent. An agent that just walked next to elephants.

Although omnihelpful (just made that up) in healing the nausea of uncertainty, I have begun to realize that, as Foucault alluded to, conceptualizing this type of exploitation solely in a macro Marxist framework does not do the situation’s depth justice. Let’s analyze a scenario; copper mining in Zambia.

Like Malawi, Zambia gets large amounts of foreign aid from the United States and the European Union, splendid. Splendid like potential partners in the darkness of that dingy club you went to once. Let’s turn on the lights. Natural resources that are extracted from Zambia, like copper, are worth twenty times the amount of foreign aid that goes in. These mining corporations sell the materials internally to avoid paying Zambian tax rates. The materials are funneled like cheap booze at a frat party into the mouths of a handful of multinational corporations-funnel held high by high priced Harvard lawyers, swarms of uneducated citizens, educated African elite and apathetic or unconscious Westerners. The latter being the type of people to travel to Zambia to sit around a pool at a Safari lodge. So who takes the blame; the sadistic elite or the apathetic majority?

Everyone plays a part in the continuation of these abject conditions, or, to use Paulo Freire’s term, dehumanization. How can we be human if our whole lifestyle is served through the systematic exploitation of other human beings? Ask yourself; why do your socks only cost four dollars at Wal-Mart? Ask yourself why the majority of people travel home from work and sit in front of a television rather than making music, engaging in dialogue with their neighbors, making love or making improvements?

What’s my excuse? I need to find one quickly. Bad breakup, sick mother, bullied, I couldn’t be bothered, I was weak. I am weak. I have not faced centuries of murderous oppression and manipulation. My father does not have AIDS. I can read, write and buy three dollar coffees and ten dollar cigarettes to fill the depths of alienation brought about by a steadfast Facebook addiction….and yet I can not engage in daily praxis for the alleviation of human suffering. It seems that this trip may be serving my own healing more so than the healing of the people of the Chilanga region.

For impoverished Malawians the excuses are a little easier. If you can’t read or write, how do you understand the legislation put in place to ensure the reduced tax rates for the corporations plundering your resources? The government is speaking in tongues of elitist verbosity, and I speak their language of complacent global objectivity with every breath of Folgers caffeine I exhale. At Livingstonia I’ve seen the coffee plantations from the top of the missionary castle built on the backs of slaves. What a view.

Even if the coffee bean farmers do get “fair wage”, who says what’s fair? Is fair being able to not suffer from starvation while plantation owners suffer from liver cirrhosis and high blood pressure via salty sirloins? I believe I have begun to think critically, as here there is no Facebook, music production capabilities, bars or relationships to provide temporary solitude. This solitude has been wonderful. The conclusions from this lucidity are breath taking…cardiac arresting.

How do you mobilize and animate your brothers and sisters if you do come to these conscious realizations? Charity work is the all encompassing solution for the West, in reality it mostly solves the public relations problem of having its cut-throat geo-political maneuvers criticized. Hand outs from the healthy to the homeless in the form of foreign aid, from the very countries providing solitude for the sinister, in castles adorned with geometric logos and archers armed with litigation and weapons of mass confusion.

Rhetorical question of the day: why is the education system flawed? Maybe because we aren’t taught to ask that question. Foucault, Friere, and my mentor may be on to something.

The Power of Romanticism: Fear and Self-Loathing in Malawi

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

Looking ahead

Looking ahead

“Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without the quality.”

The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevera, p.398

Is there such a thing as action motivated by a moral compass completely emancipated from one’s own desires? Tough question, here’s a half answer; you never truly know someone until you know what they want. As a student, academic achievement is my currency to buy upward social mobility and power. Good grades are respect. Good grades are acceptance. Academic achievement is the beast of burden that carries my dreams of actually doing something meaningful.  With so much appearing to ride on my first real academic endeavor here in Malawi, how do I maintain composure?

Every sports team tryout I ever attended was a failure. I would crack under the pressure like a Pinto’s engine cylinder and either double dribble in front of the coach or throw the pass out of bounds. I stutter every time I approach a woman I’m attracted to, or even men I feel intimidated by. The physiological effects I feel during job interviews could be compared to heroin withdrawal. If I’m ever interviewed outdoors during the Canadian winter my perspiration could form a skating rink.

With embarrassment as a shadow, I began to win and succeed by default; I would not engage with challenges.  Smart right? With so many years of this activity gradually becoming my natural stress response, the duty of emancipating tradition is a trial, an internal one as well as one which is external while working in the Chilanga region. Up until now (maybe still but to a lesser degree) I’ve mostly been asking; Is this the best I can do? Am I asking the right questions?  Will this get me good grades? The egoism is deafening. I’ve been raised and have been complacent in a system that promotes competition, hedonistic activity and romanticism at all costs, like they’re going out of style. Well the cost is lack of progression and solutions, and hopefully those mindsets are going out of style. These traditions allow for the evasion of any type of critical thinking or self-loathing as we float down the lazy river of Western society. Behind the fences of the water park are those who built the place and harvested the pineapples we sip from. But, our drinks have frilly umbrellas and the six o’clock news is doing a segment on puppies, so calm down.

The question has arisen in my research of cooking stoves; If the cooks are aware of all the benefits of the cooking stove vs. their usual three rock fire system, why don’t they use the cook stove? Another question has arisen; Why was I not more engaged in finding an answer before now(Question mark) Tradition most definitely has a part to play in all of this. I hope in finding answers to the questions which mark my own inability to shake tradition, I can reflexively conclude some questions that arise from tradition in Makupo.

If the goals define the action and mine have been; impressing a professor, befriending my peers and getting good grades, then I have been walking the wrong path for three weeks. I have wasted time. I have beat the hell out of any type of personal progression or potential community growth with a continued direction of naval gazing solutions that ultimately were manifested to benefit myself.  In typical fashion the challenge of engaging in knowledge transfer in dialectical form was swapped for knowledge transfer that is one sided in the form of a proposed English lesson.  White ego, white privilege, orientalism, Euro-centric; whatever you want to call it, continues to creep into my praxis. It’s just easy to romanticize neo-liberal solutions, because that has most often been done in these situations and because…well, it provides comfort in the midst of ambiguity and an overwhelming sense of futility. An academic placebo effect.

Ram Dass is a writer and former UC Berkley psychologist that has been monumentally influential in how I conduct my life. His teachings revolve around the perception of time, as the title of his book Be Here Now clearly illustrates. His teachings are relevant, ironically, here and now more so than they have ever been. I mustn’t consider past failures or even future dreams of employment in my current work. If I emancipate traditional practices of hedonism, immediate gratification (cursory solutions) and the fear of failure, only then will I be able to progress. I said at the beginning that academic achievement is the beast of burden that carries my dream of doing something meaningful, but here in Malawi I already am, here and now.

Romance is a wonderful feeling, but one filled with nostalgia for the past and lust for the future, along with acts of false generosity. Love is working on solutions, here and now, with, not for, the people of the Chilanga region. But, to do that, I need to turn off the news, put down the pineapple, get out of the lazy river and climb the fence to work from, not for, the margins of society.

Still I Search

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

Peeking into another world

Peeking into another world

School Girl: Where are you from?                                               Me: Canada                                                                                 School Girl: It is nice there?                                                       Me: Yes, it is.                                                                               School Girl: Can you bring me there?

 

Saturated in my surroundings I tripped on a shimmed step and almost fell face first into a stand filled with dried fish, neatly laid out in little piles drying in the sun. I was wandering through the abusive smells of the Kasungu Market, smells pungent enough to make “Love Panther” smell like moth balls. I walked in awe, intoxicated by sounds and colours so vivid a rave juxtaposed to this market would seem like an episode of Mr. Rogers. Engage sensory overload. The poverty was lucid….and so was the energy. My camera was rendered null by the impossibility of capturing this diversity.  Maybe that’s just what I told myself in the fear of being robbed.

Three days prior it was our day to depart and I had slept maybe three hours the night before in a town called Grimsby at a family member’s home. I had fallen asleep to the sound of a blind and deaf dog walking around aimlessly. His hair had grown beyond management. He resembled some type of robotic mop cleaning the urine stained floors he was responsible for. It was no surprise his nails hadn’t been trimmed either, producing a sound that was somewhere near a disgruntled five year old playing on a flat snare drum. It didn’t even really bother me that much, it more so helped. Coupled with my anxiety it served as white noise to keep my mind from contemplating the unknown. The unknown of Africa, of Malawi, of my colleagues, my professor, the village I was flying to and in short, everything else.

Seventy two hours ago it was the fear of the unknown that kept me from sleeping and it is still omnipresent now. Twenty-four hours a day I’m not really sure what to say or how to act. Most Western social cues are rendered null. It’s a constant uneasy feeling, like watching a sex scene on television with your parents, or a Rob Ford interview.

The only thing that seems to allow me to stop the constant contemplation, reflection and misdirection is a few beers, “This commercial brought to you by; Carlsberg.” Carlsberg is the only beer one can get a hold of around here as they have successfully Rockefellered the alcoholic market in Malawi. These beers are usually coupled by a few stories told in a thick Cocknee accent by the local bar owner. In a few days I’ve heard of elephant tramplings and drunk dogs attacking pigs in the market followed by screaming AK47s….and those are just the ones I feel comfortable repeating on a public forum.

Like myself, he’s white and therefore together here in Malawi we are part of an extremely marginal minority. The only other time I saw white people was in the lobby of a swanky hotel. In Canada minorities are often institutionally oppressed, verbally and physically abused and alienated. Being part of the white minority in Malawi leads to quite the opposite, at least in a stage of culture shock known as the “Honeymoon Stage”- a veil of tourist mentality which provides comfort in the face of extreme poverty, disease and oppression. One notices the screaming and smiling children running after your bus, or running after you in the streets, begging you to take a picture with them- the attention feels good. My ego was eating it up. As deeper analysis set in I begin to realize that it is mostly children who pay you this type of attention. The children do not yet know the horrors of their (and mine) colonial past, or the continued defamation of human rights carried out by neo-colonialist multi-nationals on the geo-political battle field, all to serve the insatiable consumer appetite of the West, or at least perpetuated by the West’s apathy. There are also plentiful amounts of smiles, waves and greetings (Ndadzuka Bwanji?) from the older crowd, but I’m becoming quite cynical in estimating the undercurrent of motives that these greetings are travelling on. The educated and conscious Malawians we meet are more critical of our presence, for good reason. In these types of interactions there is no screaming of “Asungu” (meaning white person) and no shock from our presence. They have seen us coming before and knew we would come again.

Throngs of mission groups and NGOs have probably set foot on the same ground I am now, shook hands with the same people I did today and maybe even made the same type of promises-only to leave. They left after their church was built, after their research was done and after they had enough pictures of them holding Malawian babies. I’ve realized that in order to really get serious about assisting my Kasungu friends, I would need to make a long term commitment and I would need to embrace a new emancipated pedagogy that stresses the importance of the oppressed being their own example.

Teach a man to fish, don’t drop fish off and take a photo for Facebook while doing it. The pressure of putting systems for progress in place within 36 days is immense. What provides me comfort is knowing that not only can I continue researching back home in Canada, but I now realize that this re-location has provided a much needed reaffirmation of the importance of my career choice as well as the importance and appreciation of information emancipated from the West’s curriculum.  The guilt I mentioned earlier may in part be from avoiding this type of information, because, well, it’s hard to swallow. Now that I am immersed in it, it’s impossible not to.

The wealth in Canada is so pronounced compared to where I am now, naturally the question arises as to how this polarization of wealth and disregard for human rights is continued and how can this human suffering be alleviated. Still I search.

Introducing the 2014 Group: Bishop’s University

Emily Parker

Emily Parker

Hello everyone! My name is Emily Parker and I am currently enrolled in the Elementary Education program at Bishop’s University. I just finished my second year in the program. I am someone that cannot stay in one place. I love to travel, meet new people and be active! My favourite sports are rugby and soccer, as well as skiing in the winter time. Some of my other hobbies include: cooking and baking; consequently I love reading as many different kinds of vegetarian, vegan and raw cookbooks as possible; seeing how I am a vegetarian! I have a big family composed of my mother, older brother, step-dad, two step-sisters and one step-brother (I am the youngest). You could say I’m one lucky girl!

My expectations in Malawi are not to have any too specifically, because I hope to take the entire experience day by day and live it to the fullest! However, I look forward to developing the Grade 2 curriculum with the 3 other education girls. We already got the chance to work together a little bit and it went very well; we fed off each other’s ideas wonderfully. That is why I am so eager to continue on this project with them in Malawi. I also look forward to developing my secondary research focus which is to create and incorporate a realistic nutrition component into our curriculum based on their local farming resources. All in all, I want this experience to be all about learning and sharing knowledge not only with the others on the trip, but with the locals of the area. Let’s be honest; I’M EXCITED!

 

Xiaoting Sun

Xiaoting Sun

Hey, everybody. My name is Xiaoting Sun. I am a 23 year old international student of Bishop’s University. I am from south of China—Guilin, which is a very famous tourist site in China. This is my second year in Canada and my major is economics. This summer I also teach some students Chinese. I am kind of an outgoing girl. I love traveling as through travel we can see a lot of things which we cannot imagine, and learn something which we cannot find in the textbook. You will have a fresh look to this world and also the people who is beside you. I like watching movie and after watching I like talking about the plot with my friends. I like dancing, work-out, shopping with friends, and beautiful clothes like all the girls like.

The focus of my research is about understand how a micro-loan project can help the local people change their economic situation and improve their quality of life. Moreover, what kind of financial help they really need. I am just excited and nervous about it as after tomorrow our fantastic adventure will begin!!! Hoping the people and animals like us.

 

Megan Blair

Megan Blair

My name is Megan Blair and I will be going into my second year at Bishop’s University in International Studies. I am someone who is relatively outgoing and I enjoy being around people just as much as I enjoy my alone time. I am a very active person and sports have always been an important part of my life. My favorite sports consist of soccer and snowboarding. I have a passion and a desire to travel. I have not been all over the world but traveling the world is definitely on my to-do list. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Haiti four times (on humanitarian trips) since the earthquake in 2010. That is where I discovered my passion for helping others and contributing to something bigger than myself. One of my favourite parts of going to Haiti is meeting the people and getting the chance to talk to them. I really enjoy making a difference in people’s lives and I feel like Praxis Malawi will offer me so much more than a simple Humanitarian trip. People have told me that you can’t go to a country expecting to change the lives of millions of people. But what I have learnt is that to the few people whose lives I may have touched, it matters to them.

Praxis Malawi will help me to grow as a person and as a student. It will be challenging and I expect it will change me in so many ways. I hope to embrace this amazing opportunity to learn from others – those traveling with the group and the people we will meet in Malawi. I am hoping that this opportunity as well as the chance to interact with people from such diversified backgrounds will open my eyes to different programs of study that may be of interest to me. As well, I am hoping to discover a little more about myself. I am hoping this trip will allow me to see my own full potential and what I can accomplish.

 

Clare Radford

Clare Radford

My name is Clare Radford and I am currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies at Bishop’s. I am in the program for Primary/ Elementary. I am from Ottawa Ontario and come from a big family of six. I am the second oldest out of four kids. I have an older sister, a younger brother and a little sister and my mother and father. My family means everything to me. They have been an amazing support system helping me achieve my dreams and I owe them an infinite amount of thanks.

I love meeting new people and being active. I have played hockey for most of my life along with many other sports and activities such as kickboxing, karate, rugby, swimming and water skiing.

My expectations in Malawi are simple. I hope to take every day and make the most of it. I am very excited about becoming as involved as possible in the program that has been planned for those of us on this project. As well, I look forward to being a student of the Malawian people and learning from the land itself. I am sure that this journey will also lead me to learn a great deal about myself as a Canadian and of course as just a person too.  I look forward to developing the Grade 2 curriculum with the other educations students. Recently, we worked together to develop some of our ideas for the Grade Two curriculum. This experience was very productive and positive.  I am also really looking forward in developing my secondary research focus of gaining a better understanding of how the educators of the Malawian schools as well as members of the surrounding communities may use the sports field that will be built on our campus. I am sure that this journey will be a real adventure of learning and I am very grateful that I will have this opportunity to visit Malawi with the Praxis Malawi program.

 

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer

I’m a full-time sociologist (in training), writer and reader as well as a part-time runner, painter, poet, basketball player, music producer and boxer. I enjoy informed conversation. My favorite colour is forest green. I have a spectacularly weird family, a lot of stories that would make my mother faint and a keen eye for adventure. I was creatively named Ryan Moyer by my parents in 1989. “Ryan” was the thirteenth most popular baby name that year and apparently means “little prince” or “young royalty”. Considering neither of these descriptors are viable, I wonder why this name was chosen for me to scribble on my rent cheques?

Juliet begs the question of “What’s in a name?” as her intellect, heart and reason (no doubt fueled by a rush of rebellion and teenage hormones) come into conflict with her families traditonal knowledge and hatred for another family. If you don’t dabble in classic theater, I’m sure many of you may have seen the 1996 version of “Romeo and Juliet” (probably for the sex appeal alone, as it is featuring the equaly beautiful Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes) where Shakespeare’s answer to the question can be summed up with a romantic “not much”. Conversely in “Anne of Green Gables” the protagonist states that a rose wouldn’t smell as nice if it was called “skunk-cabbage” and, continuing their streak of stealing material, “The Simpsons” claimed a rose wouldn’t smell as sweet if it was called a “Stenchblossom”.

Both of these answers hold a certain amount of truth and prove valuable lessons, not the least of which being that great artists steal. Shakespeares answer of course asserts that all things akin are that way regardless of categorization, stratification or, of course, name. The second is that regardless of this likeness, language and social stratification do wield power, but, only if you don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses. Are you curious enough? I’m trying.

Umberto Eco wrote an essay aptly titled “A Rose by Any Other Name” in which he describes the dangers of translating literature from one language to another, most noteably that there can be misconceptions and misrepresentations that occur during this translation. These misrepresentations can occur in the translation of culture as well. Formerly colonized subjects (Malawi gained independance in 1964) are homogonized and, as Franz Fanon writes, “over-determined from without”. With that, I am no longer willing to accept this type of informational artifice, hense this trip to Malawi.

What does the name “Africa” represent in my mind, and more so, what does the categorization of Africa as a “developing” continent mean? Most of my knowledge on Africa, prior to the preparation for this venture and some cursory analysis’ for papers, has been provided through Western film and broadcasting corporations. Moving images of death, guns, disease and, as the 1995 film “Congo” so terribly portrayed, deadly animals. The continent seemed so uncivilized and dangerous, with no explanation as to why it was in such despair and poverty. Why am I repeatedly being told such a superficial story?

So, to conclude, I depart in order to tell my own.