By Corinne Marcoux
Imagine this: you wake up all tangled in your sleeping bag and realize that you are in Malawi, welcomed by the golden rays of the morning sun and the chant of the women cooking nearby. I was not dreaming; this is true.
The exploration and orientation phase of our adventure started the second I put my nose out of my room: traditional Malawian donuts filled my mouth and a quick Chichewa lesson filled my mind. And off we went! Our first few days in Makupo were filled with so many discoveries, activities and discussions that we were already day 6. We visited the village (60 inhabitants) as well as the surrounding villages, walked to the town of Kasungu and explored its very busy market, hiked to the top of Mount Kasungu under a burning sun, went to church and got to talk in Chichewa in front of hundreds of people who came to sing and pray, and got used to the life in the village. My senses have been more than busy recording all of these new experiences in a new environment. My ears enjoy the African chants and the music of the local language. The strong smell of too many people squeezed in a hot room just hit me and made me even more conscious of where I am. I cannot open my eyes wide enough to catch all the stars shining on a singular sky, to paint the glorious sunrises and sunsets, or to… see so many looks staring in my direction at the same time. My tongue works with my hands to greet people and learn about their lives.
It is only at the end of day 6 that culture shock was brought up; my senses and I were too amazed to worry about culture shock before that moment. It was the perfect opportunity for doubt to slowly invade my mind… Am I allowed to be that enthusiastic in such a difficult context? Can I avoid reproducing the stereotypes I do not want to reproduce, or are they inevitable? Answers are not easily found, but at least Dr. Stonebanks shared a thought with us that makes me go forward: people here want that their visitors actually do something to help, or at least try to do so. So I guess I will continue to feed my senses, so my confidence will bloom and I can be as proactive as possible in order to actually do something to help. Pangono pangono*.
* “Little by little” in Chichewa