By Marten Sealy (Bishop’s)
Canada seems such a distant place already. I’ve been absent in my role as a “westerner” for a week so far, cocooning, preparing to return home a new person. What happens in the cocoon, mind you, is a very active process.
Living on the new Campus, which is still under construction, is a bizarre sort of stark utopia. The hostel in which we are living is at the heart of the Campus, and during the day it is surrounded by locals whom have been hired as cooks, cleaners, carpenters, painters, security, and more. The employees work hard, but it is not uncommon to find several workers taking a break in the shade between jobs. I’ve found it very rewarding to join them and converse about whatever happens to be on my mind. People tend to have uniquely interesting perspectives which surface as soon as you switch off autopilot, and I’m having no trouble at all achieving that. I think people in any setting strive for genuine human interaction, but colourful ads and screens can distract them. People here don’t get distracted.
My co-learner, a phys-ed teacher and football coach at the local secondary school, loves to discuss the differences between his country and Canada. We share a rich dialogue. I practice honesty and modesty, admitting that our wealth can bring comfort to life, but preaching that full bellies and big TVs aren’t the holy grail that they’re built up to be. If there is a life of ultimate quality, then it contains something far more profound.
As a footballer, I’ve had punctuality drilled into my head as a key element of respect. Multiple coaches have reinforced: If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. You can show a coach that you’re worth their time by being well nourished, rested, dressed, warmed up, and otherwise fully prepared both mentally and physically before they even arrive. The attitudes in Malawi are different. My co-learner and I have begun referring to the two mentalities as “African time” and “Canadian time”. When deciding upon a meeting time we make sure to distinguish which mentality will be used. When my co-learner arrives before me, he might tease, “today I was the Canadian and you were the African”. These are obviously massive generalizations, but I laugh and accept the title with pride.
The reason that 1pm can casually turn into 2 or 3 or 4pm is not just due to a lack of clocks and watches. I walked with my co-learner to visit and deliver a message to six villages yesterday, and it was a great chance to practice my greetings and conversational Chechewa. We stopped to chat with villagers somewhere between 50-100 times along the way. Greetings in Chechewa are very thorough. When you run into a group, you often greet each individual separately, and when a group is meeting with another group, the time taken is multiplied.
Even though we had a lot of ground to cover, there wasn’t the faintest sense that we were in a rush. We’ll get there when we get there. We walked for hours in the hot sun, and my legs became tired, but my mind was still fresh. My thoughts were racing the entire time, but distance covered is not what tires the mind. It is the burden of stress that saps the mind of its energy – I vow to be forever weary of accumulating stress after I return to Canada.