By Kimberly Gregory (McGill University)
I arrived in Malawi yesterday. We traveled over 24 hours to get here but the group of students and teachers that are part of the Praxis Malawi team this year are so friendly and interesting to talk to that it went by very quickly. I have traveled a lot in the past but this was my first time experiencing a culture that was so drastically different from my own. I had read a lot about the Malawian culture before coming here, however experiencing it first hand was completely different. For instance, I had read that the people in Malawi were very kind nonetheless; I think that this is an understatement or that it is simply that you cannot fully understand the extent of their kindness until you experience it. When we first arrived in the village of Makupo, all the members of the community were there to greet us. They had the biggest and most genuine smiles on their faces. They were clapping and singing. Also, every time we would introduce ourselves to someone they would give us big hugs as though we had known them for a very long time. It was truly heart warming. Over the past few days, I have gotten to know the members of the community even better and it has given me an even deeper desire to help them in any way that I can. Getting to know the people from Makupo better, also gave me the chance to better understand their needs, which is vital in order to develop a curriculum that is appropriate to them.
On Saturday, the day after we arrived, we walked to the town and people kept screaming “azungu“ to us. We had just completed a Chichewa lesson (the language spoken here) with Themba and I did not recognize the word “azungu“ as one of the words that we had learned. Thus, I asked one of the people from Makupo what it meant and he replied, “white people”. I was a little disturbed by this, however what disturbed me the most was that when we were walking along the road, people were acting like we were celebrities. The Malawian people were running up to us and waving at us with such excitement and fascination. Part of their culture is to wave at people when they pass by but this was different. I felt troubled inside of me because I knew that I had not done anything to deserve this kind of attention. Also, in our society people who are minorities are usually the oppressed thus, it was weird for me to come into a new culture as a minority and have so much power and influence.
When we finally arrived back at the hostel that night, I took my first bath and by bath I mean a bucket of water. When Grace handed me the bucket of water I thought to myself, “how am I going to be able to wash my whole body with so little water”. At that time, I had not realized how selfish this thought was. I was complaining about what I now consider to be, a sufficient amount of water to wash with, while “80% of Africans have no access to running water” (Caplan, p. 43, 2008). I grabbed my headlamp since it was dark outside and made my way to the bathroom. I inspected the bathroom for critters and then started contemplating which method I would use to wash myself in order to make sure I did not run out of water. I concluded that head to toe would probably be the best option. I struggled a little bit. I got massive amounts of shampoo in my eyes because I never wanted to keep them closed for an extended period of time in case an unwanted friend would decide to join me (i.e., snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, cockroaches etc.). To my surprise, when I was finished my shower I not only had quite a bit of water left over but I also felt clean.
This experience made me realize how fortunate we are in Canada to have an abundant amount of clean water. Looking back, it devastates me to think about the number of times I wasted large quantities of water without putting any thought into it. We take for granted this resource that we have which in the end, is essential to life. It is one thing to read about the lack of water in many parts of the world, but experiencing it is the best way to fully grasp the extent of the problem. I wish that more people from Canada could experience it because I think it would be the best way to raise awareness.