Tag Archives: touring

Crazy Canuks and the Creation of a New Civilization

By Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks


Naomi our intellectual

Remember the Crazy Canucks? Well, they are back and in Malawi. We had a bus breakdown on the way back from Cape Maclear and what would have been a quick call to CAA and a thirty minute wait in Canada became a six and a half hour “experience” living on the side of the main Malawi highway. Luckily, we all had our share of ideas of what was wrong with the bus and Linden did a great job of yelling out “Check the oil! Did you check the oil? I would check the oil” to make sure everything was covered. Equally lucky was that despite Linden’s gags, the problem was not with the oil…because if it was the oil, we would never live down the fact that we did not check the oil. Personally, I thought it was a problem with low windshield wiper fluid.

This could have been a very, very bad situation and the students did an outstanding job putting a positive spin on something we had no way of controlling. In all honesty, the best laid plans in Malawi can go astray; it’s just the way it is. It doesn’t stop us from trying to plan everything we possibly can, but we have to realize there are just some things out of our control. Fortunately, the bus stopped next to a small village with lots of trees for shade and a water pump. Local villagers had no problem with all of us spilling onto their land to find shade from the hot sun and gave us friendly smiles and simply went about their business. As the minutes passed, a call for a new society was laid out … just in case a rescue bus was never sent. At first Amy produced a mini broom made of discarded corn husks, proudly claiming that her skills would ensure that we had a means to sell a fundamental (and cute!) product that would economically sustain us. After the first hour, when people realized that the replacement bus had not even left the shop…things went all Lord of the Flies.

Corinne our president

Corinne our president

With a knife in hand, I declared myself “The Tool Maker” and fashioned two pointy sticks. Handing the sticks to Louisa and Barbara they became our military, ready to defend us against all things that feared pointy sticks. With security taken care of, spirits were high and people started accepting responsibilities left, right and center. Someone let out a cry, “What will you do for your new country” and people accepted the challenge. Elise took up the essential responsibility of fulfilling the role of “Book Critic” and continued to read her paperback novels. In response to the Champlain student’s noble sacrifice, Brave Arshad then took on the responsibility of “Movie Critic” and watched the arduous four hour film Gettysburg on my Itouch, but the batteries died after an hour and half (btw, I told him the South won, please keep this between you and me!). Roxy became our chronicler, furiously taking detailed notes of everything that occurred around her, so that future generations would know how they glorious new world was built. Jae sacrificed the comforts of our newly found utopia and acted as conduit between us and the rest of the world by staying on the bus, just in the remote chance rescuers ever came. Realizing that this could potentially take decades, Jae put herself in a hibernation like state to assure that someone would be there, a sleeping diplomat if you will, to show the way to what would certainly become a highly successful civilization. A civilization needs leadership and it was declared that whoever could climb the highest in the giant tree that was providing us shade would govern our people, so Corinne became president and Linden vice-president. With a proven track record of being able to make tiny brooms, Amy went on to be the “Minister of Eventual Industry”. Naomi sat at the bottom of the great tree and placed a book over her head, and by using osmosis became our intellectual. With the conjoined Hollywood name of “Rebel”, Rebecca and Annabelle were our counter-culture, “keeping it real”, while at the same time reminding us that our society was a precious thing that needed to be guarded against usurpers. I think Frank stood on the highway and shook his head at us…what purpose this served was a mystery…but nonetheless gave our society mystery, perhaps a new religion?!

Okay, about 43% of what I wrote actually took place.

Seriously, I am reminded of when Melanie and I were offered a short-term contract with a major university with a study abroad program. Our job was to teach basic classroom management strategies for the cohort as they were bound for China to teach ESL classes. Months later, when we ran into the director of the program he exhaustedly told us of countless phone calls he received from students, screaming over the phone that they had just seen a cockroach in their bathroom and demanded immediate evacuation. A lesser group of students would have been overwhelmed by the experience of being stranded on a Malawi highway for hours. This group simply carried on. Crazy Canucks!

Weekend Fun Fun Fun!

By Rebecca Clement

Sunset on Lake Malawi

Sunset on Lake Malawi

On the weekend, we went to Lake Malawi.  The location we stayed at was shockingly beautiful.  All we heard prior to leaving was how amazing the location was and I built it up in my head that we would be staying in an amazing place.  I soon realized that this was actually really dangerous since I didn’t want to be disappointed when we got there so I imagined the worst of the worst so that I would be content with just about anything.  Turns out it worked.  It was not what I initially expected but amazing in its own respect.

The first night we got there we went swimming and then hung out on the beach while watching the sun set which was stupendous.  We then ate supper and some of us shared a few beers.  I showed Annabelle how to play Bawo, a game that was taught to me a couple of days before by Themba.  We were soon joined by Francis, Thomas, and Peter, local men that accompanied us on our journey.  They soon joined in our play and I realized how much more I actually had to learn about the game.  Some of the things they were doing were simply amazing.  An example of this is how fast they made their decisions, having done all the calculations necessary to know exactly where their piece would fall.

On Saturday we got on a boat and went to an island nearby to do some sun bathing and snorkeling.  I left behind the mouth piece and just used the goggles and went swimming with the fish.  I fed them bread while I was under water and was the most popular fish for a few seconds at a time.  All the fish wanted to be my best friend and one liked me so much that he wanted a taste of me.  He managed to get his mouth around the tip of my index finger and I had a moment of panic.  I actually had to go straight to the surface because of how much it shocked me.  Soon afterwards though I tried again but this time panicked when I saw them all coming towards me so I threw the bread at them while still underwater and swam away backwards watching them swarm the floating piece of bread.  It was quite brutal actually.  Like a bunch of starving wolves tearing apart and devouring a fresh kill. It was my first time doing something remotely related to this and I was living on a cloud all day because of it. When we got back I got to have my first real shower since I left Montreal, well shower-ish.  It did come pouring out from on top through a shower head but the water was as cold as if it was coming directly from the lake.  I didn’t care though.  After all that lake water it was extremely nice to have a “real” shower.  Afterwards we went out for supper and ate at a place that had pizza.  This kept me up on my cloud even longer.  To be honest though, I stayed on my cloud even when the electricity went out and pizza was no longer an option.  Luck was on my side however and the lights turned on right before we were about to hand in our order of food.  After pizza, we went to a new place, still on the beach, where people were doing a drumming performance around a camp fire. The night ended and I was still in awe as to how amazing the day was.

Learning to play Bawo with Themba and Frank

Learning to play Bawo with Themba and Frank

Sunday was spent sight-seeing and shopping which meant a lot of walking.  It was an extremely hot day and my arm hurt from a rock I had punched by mistake the day before.  The finger I sliced was a little swollen and I felt like I was getting no circulation in my arm.  Apparently this is a common feeling the day after punching something.  Honestly this is the first time I’ve punched something.  They wouldn’t call it experiential learning though if we didn’t learn new things. Anyways, even though I was extremely uncomfortable I cannot say that anything dampened my mood.  Not even the bus breaking down on the way back and being stranded on the side of the road for 6 hours.

The Perks of Spontaneous Teleportation

By Elise Brown-Dussault

Drifting away

Drifting away

Whilst on my first humanitarian trip in Guatemala, I found inexplicable joy in pruning citrus trees on a farm. The branches were thick with thorns and my arms were burning with the effort of wielding the giant shears; regardless, two years after the fact, it is one of my fondest memories.

When I returned home, I began to experience an odd form of flashback. On hot sunny days, when the sun shone down on my bare forearms, I would close my eyes and momentarily be transported back to that day on the farm, where the combination of toil and sun had resulted in pure exaltation. As someone who has a rather short concentration span, very little is necessary to transport me elsewhere.

The shock factor is twofold, I’ve found, when traveling abroad. Last week, for instance, I decided to engulf myself in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Situated in suburban England, the novel’s setting could not have been more diverse to mine. After devouring pages of lush descriptions of sea-swept cottages, first-world melodrama and pretty flower gardens, I was surprised to look up and find myself sitting on an old sofa in rural Africa. When I audited a first-grade math class last week, I was immediately brought back to my own childhood, wherein my seven year-old self struggled to understand basic concepts in a school where she didn’t speak the language. When we snorkeled in the depths of Lake Malawi with the cichlids on Saturday, I imagined myself swimming in my best friend’s old aquarium (I seem to slip out of my own skin with alarming ease).

The shock of the return to reality is unfailing, but each one brings an ever-expanding awareness of my surroundings. The fact that it keeps happening might suggest that it’s taking me a long time to situate myself in Malawi, even if I’ve already been here for two weeks.

Grounded or not, I feel much like a sponge—every day, I absorb an enormous amount of events and ideas. A lot of the things I’m seeing and living are sticking with me. I feel completely floored at the amount of things we’ve done in two weeks.

In loving memory

In loving memory

As was the case with my first trip abroad, the reverse phenomenon will most certainly occur upon my return. I’ll be driving down a dirt road and find myself in the backseat of our infamous Toyota Apex bus. I’ll listen to “Who Let the Dogs Out” and hear the hilarious rendition performed by the children in Cape Maclear, whose chorus varied to include chickens and ‘azungus’ (white people). Of this I am glad—this way, I get to carry these experiences with me wherever I am.

Arriving at Makupo Village

By Annabelle Lafrechoux

Our new home

Our new home

From landing in Malawi, to going through the unwelcoming customs and even while riding the caravan to get to Makupo village, the whole experience seemed unreal. I couldn’t quite grasp the reality of being a part of this exceptional project. It only hit me once we entered the village and I saw the faces of the children and woman waiting for us and singing a welcoming song. A whole delegation followed the caravan increasing in size as we entered deeper into the village. An overwhelming feeling of gratitude washed over me, to see so many people so happy to see our group was exceedingly heart warming.

At this point, my enthusiasm lifted up. It was also at this time when I realized there was no use trying to work on the curriculum; we still had too much to learn about the life of this community before being able to design a curriculum with them. With this in mind, Rebecca and I went to explore the village. We were soon escorted by a local named Fraser. He guided us through the village, introducing us to various members of the community and showing us various buildings such as the chicken coop and the tobacco drying and storage house.

An enjoyable moment that took place was when we met Enus. We had seen him at the original greeting but he had seemed somewhat shy and consequently was mostly forgotten by the crowd. I was happy to get a second chance to engage with him. He had an attention-grabbing story to share. He used to be in the police force until he had a stroke which left him in a wheelchair. My knowledge about villages being so little, at first I was concerned of what his life in the village might be like since he couldn’t access every building and is unable to contribute to the village activities. But I soon realized that that is not how the villages functions. As a matter of fact, his knowledge from the police force was put to good use. They designated him as the head of security that protects the village from other villages which might be interested in their wealth. He also talked about his new house that was built especially for him with a ramp access. I particularly enjoyed this meeting since I could see and feel the pleasure that he felt in reaction to my interest in conversing with him, even though to do so I needed Fraser’s assistance to translate.

This pretty much sums up my first day in Africa, with much more adventures to come.

First Days in Makupo

By Linden Parker

Learning to dekernel corn with Ruth

Learning to dekernel corn with Ruth

After traveling for over 24 hours, with less than 5 hours of sleep, we arrived to much fanfare in the village of Makupo. The children were cheering on the street and the adults were singing a song welcoming us to the village. In some ways it was as I expected and yet I was still overwhelmed by the excitement and inviting nature of the locals. I also should have been prepared for the greetings in Chichewa, but for some reason that also caught me off guard. I had not prepared in advance for exchanging the common greetings, but the villagers were very patient and encouraging of our attempts. This continues to be the case. They continue to exchange greetings at all times of the day and nicely direct the greeting to each of us individually. This allows us to practice many times a day. It’s starting to come a bit more naturally, but I still pause, stumble and mix up my responses. People tend to offer up the correct words in Chichewa very fast, but we have so many opportunities to try that I am never overly offended or frustrated – it has only been two and a half days after all.

Yesterday, we spent the day touring the village and surrounding area, including the three schools that are nearby. During the walk the guides were very informative and willing to answer any and all questions about the local agriculture, traditions, governance, and history. They also ask us questions about Canada in return, but I have a hard time finding a balance between sharing information and not contributing to the divide between us. I think they often just cannot comprehend many aspect of North American lifestyle, just like we cannot grasp the full details of life in places we have never been. One of the gentleman said that he thought that it just snowed year round in Canada and a young woman was surprised that the corn that we eat back home was not grown in our own farm. The latter conversation occurred when Corinne and I were invited to learn how to take kernels off of a corncob. It was surprisingly difficult and she was very concerned about us hurting our thumbs. She shared the trick to protect our thumbs and even she admitted that they struggled with some of the tighter kernels. The biggest admittance was the amount of work it takes for them to make the corn flour, between the planting, harvesting, shucking, dekerneling and taking it to the mill. She told us that they work together in the village to help each other get it all done. The children as young as five years old can help out after sitting and learning from their mothers over the years. The whole challenge of this process made me feel bad about eating the nsima (cornmeal grits), but I do realize that it is their most common food and they enjoy sharing with us. I have had the same concerns about eating the meat and the vegetables that are less commonly grown in the area. I’m sure my comfort with this will go in and out and talking with the other students will help me work through it.

I am very much enjoying this immersion experience and find that I keep having more and more questions and “a-ha!” moments. The responses and observations are thought-provoking for me personally and I’m also keeping track of the information that I think will be useful for the curriculum development. We have one more day of relaxation and then we’ll be jumping into the curriculum work. I’m hoping we find that everyone’s incredible generosity continues to aid us in this work. I’ll report back after our first few days into the project – Monday we visit the site where the new school will be built!