Tag Archives: Taylor

Canadian Critic

By Taylor Lowery (McGill)

Taylor 3The other students and I have a lot of time to chat here. I have found it interesting that many of us have expressed a similar weariness to the idea of returning to our privileged countries, our homes full of amenities, or our jobs serving bratty children with no idea of how much they really have. There is this almost unanimous discontent with our home culture, and a favoured appreciation for the community culture we find here. Although we can look around and see a lot of services that lack initiative/support, it’s hard for myself and the other students to feel anger towards the locals, we do not see them as being anything but gracious for having us here and sharing their time and resources. As Dr. Stonebanks says, nobody wants to be the one to be mean to an African, but at a certain point you need to engage in difficult conversations, ones that encourage locals to speak up, get angry, feel critical, feel passionate towards the development of their own home. What I can recognize for myself at least, is my current tendency to tack my feelings of disappointment onto the inadequacies of my own people.

I don’t want to find fault in the people of Malawi. I think who am I to have any judgment over how the people here conduct their business? About how they participate? The amount of feedback they give? Sure I think to myself it would be nice if the Malawian teachers we are working with would say “Hey Taylor, that idea you just proposed is rotten and here’s a better one;” I would sing out Hallelujiah! To date most of the ideas of us “Azungus” (white people) are only greeted with positivity. This is beginning to unnerve me but not to a point yet where I feel comfortable feeling critical. For now, all I can come up with are some criticisms for the ‘Developed’ areas. Here are some good ol’ fashion poems expressing my frustrations and observations with my own peers and society. These are the things I feel “comfortable” being critical of.

 

Comfort is a Privilege

 To couch yourself from the discomforts of life is a benefit enjoyed by few.

An equilibrium of body and space.

A soft touch, at a safe space.

Comfort is a privilege.

 

When God said let there be light, He forgot to mention the fuse might blow.

Some will be illuminated;

Feel the warmth of being considered individuals in a whole.

Comfort is a privilege.

 

Said the West, “I’m so hot, I am dying of thirst.”

Here the semantic slip ups run deep

When you’re surrounded by those whose reality you actually speak.

Man is comfort a privilege.

 

The time has come to shake the dust.

When the uncomforted ones speak this message at us:

Be quiet. Sometimes your words are better left unsaid.

Just sit. Because your height is already seen.

Please listen. Just listen to the voices around.

 

Your comfort should not matter here.

It is your turn off the couch.

****************************************

Space Fillers

Can’t stop won’t stop to just

S

I

T

Uncomfortable with a pause…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ……………………………………………………………………………………….plans…………………………………………………………………………………schedule ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………plans……………………………………busy..……………………schedule………

(Unnerved with one silent moment in moments)

Must make NOISE, f ill    S   P   A   C   E

Those “umms” kill grace

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ These are my people.

 

*****************************************

If the hills had eyes

 

If the hills had eyes, they would watch till the end.

If the trees had feet they would stay.

Or maybe they would run away from the sounds

of the chainsaws merrily at play.

 

If the stones had ears they would skip

the track where their ripple causes pain,

as the war blew apart the stones from their wall…

if only they had arms to rebuild it again.

 

If water had a heart is would beat for the sun

its passions adding up to a cloud.

Mix in some acid and hazy confusions

and the tears fall back down to the ground.

 

If man had the foresight to look at this Earth

through the eyes of those hills high above,

he might see that his ego has blinded the growth

of humanities worldwide love.

Forgetting Comfort

By Taylor Lowery (McGill)

taylorJune 7th

Time is both slow and fast here. A general routine fills the day allowing for time to pass, yet the tranquility of just “being” and “doing” seems to stop time in its place. The work feels easy, fun and creative.

I’ve come to realize that when you are confident in what you are doing it is easy to feel comfortable; when tasks fall within your realm of understanding it is easy to feel competent and it is easy to be yourself. This comfort is a feeling I am very weary of. Wasn’t I on this adventure to get away from my comforts? Wasn’t this the time to step into something a little more unknown?

I have been told that learning comes when you are outside your comfort zone- that box that you draw just around the perimeter of what you know and of what you are used to. This theory is known to Education students through the Education Psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who called this your Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), the zone of what you can achieve when you receive scaffolding to step just outside of what you can already do on your own.

So following this theory, I must move past that work which I feel most comfortable doing and into an area which I feel more uncomfortable. Once I reflected on this I realized that what scares me most right now is my comfort in this project and the notion that soon I should probably step out of it.

If I could peel apart the layers of this comfort, I might find that what give me the most shelter is the interactions I choose to surround myself with. If I wish to fully immerse myself in this experience I think I need to gain some confidence in engaging in dialogue- not with my young adult peers, not with the English speaking cooks, or our Malawian teacher friends- but in dialogue that is not convenient; dialogue that must be worked towards, and translated; some dialogue that requires me to sit in discomfort.

From my readings on Freire, he speaks dialogues praise, and in fact dismantles any development (Pedagogy) work that does not include dialogue at its core. This is what I realized I needed help doing. My father likes to say, ” You are only a stranger until you say hello”. I hoped to get a little further than this.

I decided to bring my concerns to the attention of the group. We decided to set up meetings with four of the nearby villages to talk about Education and their ideas on its future place here. One person expressed some apprehension, “how about if we don’t like what we hear? Aren’t we trying to bring a different perspective to Education? Don’t we want to be different?” I thought about this for a second but questioned that without dialogue how would we even know where to start and develop if we don’t know the current ideas, attitudes and realities? How can this school’s curriculum (the work we are here to help construct) serve the community if we don’t even bother to ask?

Dr. Stonebanks suggested we have discussion groups with just the woman as they would be the only ones to give us an honest opinion, and not just what they thought we “wanted to hear.” Meetings were arranged then changed, then rescheduled due to funerals…then etcetera, etcetera… but they finally took place. Debriefing afterwards illuminated a lot, confirmed other things and also changed some of our original lesson focuses. I will not go into detail here about the conversations as I have already done a lot of reflection and as I am sure others are blogging about these conversations so I wish not to saturate the topic.

What I do want to express however, is the amount of joy I felt when I recognized a familiar butterfly in my stomach just prior to our meeting with these women. I also really reveled in the awkward moments during the actual conversations, such as when I was offered cooked corn from a toddler and when the women asked us for a water well.  This was the feeling I was searching for, the evidence that I was stepping out of the comfort and into the unknown.

Just Like You

By Taylor Lowery (McGill)

Just Like YouUnprepared, but totally authentic. I had just finished writing a to-do list when I walked past the community center and was greeted by a group of adolescent boys. I asked one of their names, as one generally does upon first meeting, and thought to write down what I heard. Suddenly about 15 kids crowded around and I had them say their name and repeat it back to them to clarify. Then I wrote down what I heard phonetically. Mostly they just laughed because I have probably said something ridiculous, such as “I eat my fingers for lunch.”100’s of times I repeated and they laughed or they nodded, or the older ones even took the pencil from me and wrote their names properly. That chorus of laughter is ingrained in my mind now; their laughs and those smiles.

I think I have gained a companion on that day. She sat beside me the whole time and corrected my pronunciation, breaking it up into syllables for me. She was very patient and always cushioned her feedback with a smile, giving me permission to smile back. This game of “help Taylor remember your names” was played for an hour. Different kids coming in and out of the huddle, more laughs and smiles, and still that little teacher by my side. We played until my paper was full of names written in every different direction and all different handwriting.

I could tell that these were patient kids and so eager to be a part of the learning process. But mostly, I could tell that this pencil I had in my hand was a BIG deal. And of course, so was my skin colour.

Forward to the next day- this experience still in my mind and my overwhelming feelings of privilege standing strong. I had a conversation with a young mother, whose child I had met the day before. I asked her how receptive she would be to send her 10 year old to an after school program run through Praxis Malawi. When she seemed open to the idea I asked what she might like her daughter to learn at this program. She thought for a second and then responded, “I would like her to learn to be just like you.” I smiled, slowly said “we will see what we can do,” and she left. And I started to cry. Not knowing exactly what was meant by her request, I could only think to interpret it as, “I want you to give my child the same opportunities that you seem to have, to be here and to have all these great things happening to you.” Or maybe she just meant that she wants her daughter to speak English, or to be inquisitive, confident, educated or… maybe she meant to be white. Whatever her meaning, the task seemed impossible. I am the way I am because I was lucky enough to be born into a world where nothing was out of reach; a world where I always had access to a pencil.

It is possible I am extrapolating, as in the moment I didn’t have the emotional capacity to clarify what she meant by “be just like you” but for some reason, this beautiful compliment was wrapped in such sadness. I am told that this feeling is understandable and as prescribed in the steps of culture shock I am smack dab in the middle of the Disintegration phase (Pedersen, 1995). The excitement of our first day welcome over, and now the tag team of guilt and helplessness have moved in and will probably be tenants for awhile. Hopefully their lease will be up in a couple days and I can rent some more productive feelings.

References

Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.

The Welcome Party

By Taylor Lowery (McGill)

The beauty of Malawi

The beauty of Malawi

The group exits onto the tarmac and breathes in the Malawian air. When we enter the airport, there was lovely jazz playing and a friendly vibe. As we walked out of the scramble of luggage I was frightened as a man grabbed at the cart of bags I was assigned and started walking away with it. From behind I was being yelled at “keep hold of your cart” but I couldn’t understand why. We were following our guide and I thought he must be working for Praxis Malawi. With the yelling still happening directed towards me I grabbed hold with one hand and kept hold until the end. After the short walk to the van, he asked for a tip and of course I had no Malawian currency yet and therefore nothing to give. A minute and a half out of the airport and already my first lesson: In a developing country, kind gestures are not solely purposed for kindness. They simply cannot afford to be.

The 2 hour drive to The Campus was a whirlwind of emotions. The window was down, and the air felt fresh after the cabin air on the flight. The ebb and flow of vans and transport trucks passing each other, the honking, the street walkers and vendors, the bikes holding more people and goods than would be legally allowed in North America.  My stomach was still a little scared from the altercation at the airport but I decided to slowly allow myself to ease into the environment, and to my pleasant surprise began to really see everything in a more beautiful light. The smiles, the fabrics of colourful patterns, the little waving hands and pointing fingers saying “hey, white people!” were even a charming occurrence.  I found each doubled bicycle ride, the balanced baskets and buckets on well trained heads, the gathering of friends and families, and the small babies poking out from behind their mothers or sisters- beautiful. The playing, the laughing, oh it looked like so much fun. Even the extreme amount of responsibility for people of all ages seemed fun. Back home the only thing a 12-year-old would be responsible for is maybe taking their chiwawa for a walk. Here 12 year olds were in charge of whipping their 4 oxen home. How cool is that?

This beautiful collection of people and activities was in the foreground of a splendid backdrop of dried vegetation between tracks of caramel dirt roads. The escarpments in the distance looked like they had gigantic leafy green ants marching across the top and spilling down the sides. Colonies scattered in parts and bunched in others. The horizon displayed a naval brigade in the blue ocean sky. The white, fluffy ships were varying in size and shape, some heavier and more important than others but together commanded a presence- striking fear and awe all in one moment.

We pulled off the pavement and onto the dirt road and we knew we were close. Greeted by running children behind the van, singing woman and cheerful men- the experience was unanimously overwhelming for me and my classmates. We stood there shaking hands, unable to communicate but smiling. One member of the group finally had the idea to bring out a soccer ball and this was greeted by a course of cheers. Together we were entertained, learning names, running around in the most energizing, organized chaos I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. Soon the sun started to set and all the Canadian students took a second, looking up at this fantastic purple and pink sky. The children had seen it a million times and were not interested in stopping one second of play to admire the beauty.

I was suddenly overcome with how stereotypical my current state was in the 5 step process of culture shock, outlined and discussed in this course extensively (Pedersen, 1995). I was smack dab in the middle of the honeymoon phase described as a general playful excitement and overall sense of euphoria (Pedersen, 1995). Interestingly I could totally pin-point the exact moment this feeling had evolved. In the van, in the attempts to protect myself from the fear and shock residing in my stomach, I made a deliberate choice to change the fear into positive curiosity. This stage is a defense mechanism.

I suddenly felt unsure of my place, here in the football field, kids looking up at me, the colour of my skin entertaining enough. I stood back and decided to wait my feelings out. Maybe tomorrow I would have a better idea of what I was doing here.

Pedersen. P (1995). The five steps of culture shock: Critical Incidents around the World. Wesport, (Greenwood Press)

Introducing the 2015 Group: McGill University

Kimberly Gregory

Kimberly Gregory

My name is Kimberly Gregory and I am 23 years old. I am currently doing my Bachelor in Kindergarten and Elementary Education at McGill University. I was born and raised on the south shore of Montreal, in a small town called St-Lambert. I am someone who is very athletic, which is in large part due to my 13 years of experience as a high level gymnast. Gymnastics has taught me that with discipline and hard work you can accomplish almost anything. This is a quality that I believe is essential when taking part in an experiential learning opportunity, especially in a developing country like Malawi, where facing unfamiliar obstacles is a daily normality.

In 2008, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa, as well as Zimbabwe. It was the most memorable voyage of my life. The natural beauty and wildlife that surrounds this part of the world is astounding. Nonetheless, what really left an imprint on my psyche was the extreme poverty that entrenches some of the areas I visited. Although I was aware that extreme poverty like this existed, I never realized the scale of the problem before seeing it first hand. As a result of this, I was determined to join the Praxis Malawi endeavor in 2014, in order to attempt to alleviate human suffering in the Kasungu region of Malawi.

I am returning to Malawi this year as it was the most enriching experience of my life. I learned a lot academically, but I also learned a tremendous amount about myself. The issues that you confront while you are there truly allow you to grow as an individual. It also permits you to see life in general, from a new and clearer perspective. Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa” and I think that there is no better way to describe it as the people are hospitable, kind. and find joy in their lives despite the horrifying conditions that they live in. I am very excited to see the campus come alive this year as the members of Praxis Malawi, as well as the local community have been working extremely hard to develop ways to support sustainable independence of local cultures. I hope that my experience from the previous year will allow me to use my time more wisely, in order to accomplish short-term goals, which will yield long-term benefits.

 

Taylor Lowery

Taylor Lowery

People who know me best would say that I am a creative, sensitive and levelheaded individual that is always looking for ways to make life and learning more fun.   I am a self-appointed, full-time advocate for enthusiastic participation in whatever life throws my way. But when life throws me a day of downhill skiing, followed by a night of board games and watching movies, I couldn’t be happier. I believe that attitude is everything and with this outlook, life becomes less about learning how to weather the storm and more about learning how to dance in the rain. I am eager to start this adventure and as always ready to learn, listen and gain new perspectives. Oh and laugh. Because life is better when you are laughing.