Tag Archives: Shayla

Home Sweet Home

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

Reflecting through a new lens

Reflecting through a new lens

We recently embarked on our first journey away from Makupo village. The crew awoke bright and early in preparation for the long ride to Livingstonia. The battery we use to charge our electronics was dead once again, so we enjoyed some sizzling hot doughnuts under candlelight prior to loading the bus and hitting the road. As we headed north, an eerie mist dispersed as the sun rose over the few peaks that dotted the landscape. A couple quick stops were scattered throughout our nearly five-hour trip before we came to the base of the mountain. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what we were about to experience next. Our bus began hopping every which way atop the rocks embedded in the dirt road. A number of bends, marked by small wooden signs, indicated our progress up the mountain. Sharp hairpin turns and a narrow path for our vehicle characterized our nearly one hour climb up the mountain. Once we reached our destination, Lukwe Lodge, there was a sense of relief that overcame the bus, and at the same time there emerged a sense of eagerness to explore the grounds. Our group was lead down to the primary lodge structure – a veranda overlooking the entire valley and facing a number of other surrounding mountains. Any description of the view or the emotional response that it produced would not even begin to do it justice.

A mountain top oasis

A mountain top oasis

Our full day away from the village was spent hiking the remainder of the mountain to the town of Livingstonia. It was astounding to see the drastically different lifestyle that residents enjoy atop this elevation. The University of Livingstonia can be found in the town, along with a number of other private homes and lodges for visitors. Life exists and flourishes at this extreme elevation. The radical journey that we had taken hiking the mountain and on the bus the day prior was something that seemed so foreign to me, but is something that these inhabitants have surely done hundreds of times in their life. On another note, the communities living upon this mountain and the surrounding ones are completely self-sustaining. All of their necessities are at their fingertips despite the extreme conditions, which is a true testament to their multitude of skills and ability to sustain all aspects of life.

Despite the amazing experience that we had while in Livingstonia, I think the most impactful portion of the weekend was, ironically, our return to Makupo. Upon our arrival back to the village, I caught myself saying in my head “Yay – I’m home!” I am confident that I am not alone in this feeling. When I really thought about this, it seemed like the strangest concept. I am thousands of kilometers away from “home”, yet I felt this unwavering sense of comfort coming back to Makupo. This speaks volumes, not only the welcoming nature of the local people, but also of the amazing ability of humans to adapt to significant differences in culture. By no means am I 100% integrated into the society, nor will I ever be. I can say, with gratitude, that the Praxis team has become my second family and Makupo, my home away from home.

 

A Closer Look at Two Different Worlds

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

Sniff sniff - I smell a comparison

Sniff sniff – I smell a comparison

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live someone else’s life? I don’t think we can ever fully grasp what others are going through on a day-to-day basis, but gaining insight into other peoples lives is, without a doubt, a humbling experience.

We recently had the opportunity to visit another village, Bwanali, within the Chilanga region. Although our resident village of Makupo is vastly different from our Canadian homes and has already provided me with a fresh perspective, it is an extremely privileged community within the area and the Malawian context.  The aim of our visit to Bwanali was to better understand the local standard of living.

We walked along the main road, with bicycles and cars whizzing past us in all directions. The hot sun pounded on my back, the heat penetrating through to my core. The journey began with a fifteen-minute walk along the main road before veering left onto a narrow unpaved pathway. We passed by small homes as the local children ran about. When we arrived at our destination, we were motioned to enter through an opening in a tall “fence” of woven grass. The resident family welcomed us with open arms as though they had known us a lifetime. We walked past two small structures on either side of us before reaching the pigpen. There were three or four stalls beside one another, each containing around a dozen pigs. Their meal had just been given to them and they stumbled over one another fighting for every bite, in anything but a graceful manner.

a-maize-ing visit

a-maize-ing visit

We soon noticed a large pile of dried maize resting on the ground. The local women, whose home we had been graciously invited into, picked up a corncob and began to demonstrate their practice. Each kernel is to be shed from the cob using nothing but your bare hands. The maize is then taken to the mill and used in many of the local dishes. We all asked if we could help them and they kindly accepted with a slight chuckle. I was passed a cob and hesitantly began to apply pressure to the end. I suddenly felt something give way and my first little bunch of kernels spewed all over the bamboo mat on which we were sitting. After a short amount of time, our host brought out a metal pot filled with a liquid substance called thobwa. The drink itself is made of maize and was described by a few members of our group as resembling crunched up corn chips in drink form. They make this drink by hand using their homegrown crops, as an alternative to expensive store bought drinks. It was far from a familiar taste, but was an experience nonetheless. After our taste test, we continued removing the kernels of corn from the cob. The friction between my thumb and the cob of corn produced a burning sensation that led to the formation of a blister. My hands and fingers began to fatigue after a short twenty minutes, while the locals often withstand hours on end of this type of vigorous work.

When I have opportunities to observe other lifestyles in action, I can’t help but compare them to my own. In many ways, I don’t think this comparison is fair. Cultural context is drastically different and the two contain few parallels, if any. Nonetheless, I find this involuntary comparison occurring.

Our lives in Canada, as well as the wider Western world, are often strictly centered around scheduling and time. On the contrary, in Malawi, in large part due to the manual nature of the labour performed, timing is much less constraining and punctuality less emphasized. I walked to this community instead of driving, as I would have at home. When I arrived I saw pigs as a locally grown source of food. At home, I would buy my food from the grocery store or in a restaurant and rarely consider the source of this food. The local people here work hard shucking corn and fetching pails of water from the well, whereas we pass the time watching television or consumed with our Iphones.  Our hosts graciously accepted us into their home without hesitation, despite the fact that we were mere strangers. I couldn’t help but think that my hospitality would not even compare to their warm demeanor. It is not to say that one way of living is better than the other, it is only to say that they are vastly different.

So, as much as we wonder what others go through on a daily basis, I do not think we will ever fully understand. I will say, however, that experiences like this get us one step closer.

 

Praxis Malawi in Motion

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

The journey to Chief Koamba

The journey to Chief Koamba

The last few days have been crazy busy, however, there has been considerable movement forward. The Praxis Malawi project is continually changing and its fluidity is what makes it a truly remarkable project. For the past four years, there have been groups of Canadian students and professors contributing to this initiative in Malawi. This past week has made me realize my role in this endeavor and the work that has been done in past years. I am privileged of beginning my contribution atop a solid foundation.

Individuals in the community that have previous experience with Praxis Malawi are more invested in the initiative now than they ever have been. The reason, I suspect, is undoubtedly the strength of groups of students and professors that have come in years past. The local community members understand that our group is not going anywhere and that although this is a long-term plan, we are committed.

Last Wednesday, we had the opportunity to meet with the chiefs of many of the villages in the Chilanga region. Our afternoon began with a 30-minute walk through the Malawian vegetation, on dirt roads and grassy paths, until we reached Chief Koamba’s house, the senior chief of the Chilanga district. We stepped through the door way and to the side of a transparent white cloth, with beaded details, hanging from the ceiling. The room was furnished with green carpets and turquoise walls. Couches and wooden chairs boarded the perimeter of the room upon which we sat. First, the Chief’s wife entered the room and we introduced ourselves to her individually. She shortly exited the room and the Chief returned 20 minutes later to greet us himself. Soon, we left the room through the same door which we entered and gathered on the lawn across from his house. There were already many local community members assembled on what looked like large bamboo and canvas mats. We soon realized that the community members already seated were local village chiefs: individuals carrying the highest statuses in the region. The meeting commenced with words from Chief Koamba and continued with many others adding their thoughts, including the Chief’s wife, Dr. Stonebanks, and other villagers. One by one, we all introduced our research initiatives. As our meeting came to a close, the village chiefs expressed their concerns and excitement towards the project.

I must express my gratitude towards those students and professors that have come in the past, because they have established relationships with many of the Malawian people. While I can appreciate the contributions that have been made in the past, I also recognize that there is much yet to do. In the history of Praxis Malawi, there has never once been such a meeting of the Chiefs of the Chilanga region. I am confident in saying that this meeting was another step forward in the development of the campus and the area.

Muli Bwanji

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

The smiles are contagious

The smiles are contagious

The warm heart has truly exceeded my expectations. All of my preconceptions of the country have either been confirmed or denied in the most positive way possible. When we arrived at Makupo village, the children greeted us on the street and ran alongside our bus until we parked in front of the building which we would be calling home for the next five weeks. The villagers gathered around our bus as we all offloaded. The children danced and the local women sang in Chichewa, the vernacular language of Malawi. The locals acknowledged us one by one with the phrase “Muli Bwanji,” meaning “how are you”. I attempted to respond in their language, but inevitably struggled.  Even so, I was graciously accepted.  At the risk of sounding cliché, it was an unforgettable experience.

Within the past few days, I have seen immense progress in every capacity. Our Praxis Malawi team began as a number of individuals, but now resembles a family. Our research projects have developed in a similar manner; we originated with personal goals, but we are now working as a cohesive unit, using collaboration as a method to maximize impact. An important factor of the Praxis Malawi initiative is the use of co-learners. These are individuals in Makupo Village and the surrounding communities that are interested in one of the realms that are being pursued, and wish to contribute to the development of that component. This premise emphasizes the importance of a reciprocal relationship, with ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ occurring between all participating parties.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to gather with our designated co-learners. Dale and I met with Grace and Lonjezo, both of which are Makupo villagers, and commenced our research on the condition of local health. We spent hours discussing a variety of prominent local health needs including Malaria, Diarrhea, Coughing, Parasites and Malnutrition, just to name a few. Near the end of our conversation, we touched on a few sensitive topics, the last of which was rape. We were told that rape of women is suspected to be a very common occurrence in this region, yet it is rarely reported. A recent case, reported on the radio, consisted of a six-month-old baby girl being raped by an older relative of her family. In any context, this kind of action is unacceptable, but I found myself extremely alarmed by the news of this six-month-old girl. This was not out of ignorance; instead, it was because of my observations of the Malawian people. I respect the nature of the relationships that I have witnessed while on the ground. There is genuine devotion to family and siblings. There is immense support between neighbors and community members. There is hospitality beyond belief.  There are many qualities of the local Malawian society, which I truly admire, but this story, among others, has emphasized the need for modifications of the current system.

With this in mind, I think that my time in Malawi will prove to not only enhance the development of the Chilanga region, but also my own knowledge and hopefully the communities that I return to in Canada. The concept of a co-learner has never been so clear. Malawians have much to learn from Canadians, but the opposite may be even truer. No one person is ever perfect and the same goes for countries, regions and communities. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all have something to learn from one another and there is always room for growth.

Introducing the 2014 Group: Mount Allison University

Shayla Baumeler

Shayla Baumeler

My name is Shayla Baumeler and I am a student at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. I have grown up in Victoria, British Columbia my whole life but have recently completed my first year of living on the east coast. I am currently enrolled as a Biochemistry major and I am planning to double minor in International Development and Hispanic Studies. I love being involved in my community in many ways, including through sports such as volleyball and softball, through local volunteer initiatives and through pretty much everything else in between.  In addition, I am extremely passionate about photography and documenting my experiences through my images.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the human body and have been interested in entering the medical field. Through my travels from a young age, however, a passion has ignited within me to become more involved in the development of health care in developing nations.

In 2010, I traveled to a rural village in India and helped build a school for the local children. The following year, I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina and worked in a Community Centre in the slums. Although both of these experiences were vastly different, one in a rural village and the other in a populated slum, I still observed poverty to its greatest degree. At the same time, the local people were the happiest people I had ever met. These experiences, among others, changed my perspective on my life. So, when I was told about Praxis Malawi, I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

While in Malawi, I am going to be working on the health initiative with a few other members of the group. We will mainly be doing preliminary research on the state of health in the village of Makupo and surrounding areas. We will be connecting with local families and villagers to understand their previous experiences with the health care system and ultimately where they see it progressing in the future.

More than anything, I am excited to connect with the local Malawians and the Praxis Malawi team to learn more about myself and the wonderful world around me. Thanks in advance for tuning into our blog; I look forward to taking this journey with you!