The First 48 Hours

By Kate Newhouse

All that red dirt

All that red dirt

I look down to the dry red dirt. I can see strokes from the broom that must have recently swept. I am back in Malawi and back with the red dirt. My feet already know what they are in for and my hair too, but my unsettled mind doesn’t know what’s in store.

As we get off the plane in Lilongwe we can see the excitement and energy surrounding us. We are quickly ushered to fill out our visa papers and wait in line. Dr. Stonebanks goes first. After moments of waiting it’s clear that people are paying the locals to help them jump the line. The local men in safety vests ask people if they need help and then rush them to the front of the line and fast track them through the next few lines, cutting in front of a long line of people. We wait and wait, but aren’t moving. It was frustrating and quickly got to me and made me upset with the local people and their need for money. The priorities here in Malawi are something I am not used to. In Canada, I am used to having certain things guaranteed. We have systems in place to support most different needs and wants, but here in Malawi the needs are so great and the need for money influences almost every action. These actions make it hard for me to open up and trust local people. I am constantly thinking of their actions. Why they are being this way? What do they want from me? What would they do if they could?  It becomes a wall for me; a huge barrier and it influences the actions I take. This impedes my conversations and my work. It’s a cycle I am trying to understand and work through.

This is my second time visiting Malawi. The first time I spent most of the trip in the honeymoon phase. I was figuring it all out and I was so in love with the campus and all the excitement that surrounds it. This time I hope I can really get my feet wet and try to understand this cycle. I need to find a way to penetrate the ideas and the thoughts and hesitations I have. I need to ask questions and persist on getting the answers and the honesty that is so critical. I need to begin the tough conversations.

We are reading William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden”. Here he talks about the importance and influence of foreign aid. He mentions that many sub-Saharan African governments spend their money on consumables and not on investments. I sense that local Chilanga residents do the same. It seems like anytime a Malawian makes money they buy necessities and then spend the rest quickly. That being said, I am sure all they are using the money for has a need. The money they receive may not be enough for their list of needs and wants, but it seems to be spent quickly. I am not an economist or a financial planner, but this makes sense. They are so used to spending what they have, as it usually isn’t much. I am wondering then where is the answer as Easterly makes me question a solution. Is there one?

I spoke with one of the ladies hired by Transformative Praxis: Malawi and she was very honest in saying that people here aren’t smart with their money. She mentioned having children and how many local people have children they cannot support. This she said is why children get married young and end up in unfortunate situations. She also spoke about the differences between men and women. She said men are often so focused on money and this leads them to not consider their children. The women want opportunities for their children, but their voices are often lost under the men.

Just being here 48 hours I feel like I have experienced so much. I know I have made no impact, but one honest conversation is a good start.

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