By Lia Grant (McGill)
June 20th, 2014
We arrived back in Makupo today after a luxurious three days in Zambia at Zikomo Lodge and Safari. It was a beautiful stay; full of adventure on safari tours, laughter during evenings all together, and relaxation by the pool and in our suites. The safaris themselves were more than anything what made it worth our time. Seeing so many animals in their natural habitat while here in Africa was something I had not previously thought of as important, but it was absolutely exhilarating (the laughter-fit we all shared together on our dusk safari didn’t hurt either).
I have to admit, though, that I found it difficult at times to allow myself to feel content in Zambia. Even right upon arrival I felt myself very uneasy. We were greeted by the full staff of the lodge with cold drinks and moist hand towels, the owner insisting on her staff bringing our bags for us over to our rooms. It was incredibly jarring to suddenly be the epitome of a tourist, treated so very lavishly, completely separated from most all ‘real life’ either in Zambia or in Malawi. I have been trying to make sure I never allow myself to feel that way otherwise while here in Sub-Saharan Africa, wanting to (as much as is possible) understand the way that most people live their daily lives. Nonetheless, I pushed myself to enjoy the pause from my work and life in the community. I must note, however, that through that experience I was able to reflect upon the fact that we are not living as most people do even while in Makupo: we have a nice big space to work and eat in, cozy beds with bug nets to sleep in at night, meals cooked for us, laundry done for us, water brought to us, and more. These perks are not things that most people even in Makupo experience in their lives (and Makupo is a wealthier village than most, thanks to the money that comes in through Praxis Malawi). The truth is I will not be experiencing first-hand what it’s like to not have white-privilege while on this journey.
Overall, Zambia turned out to be an immensely introspective time; away from Makupo I was able to continue my planning for the play, and just generally contemplate and discuss my progress here. While I certainly went through culture shock upon arrival – going right away into disintegration phase (Stonebanks, 2013) – I feel that my emotional reaction turned out to be a facilitator in allowing me to rid myself of hidden oversights by bringing them to the surface.
It feels nice to be back in Makupo; it really has become a home away from home. As per usual, we were greeted by at least a dozen excited children. For the next several hours I played with them. As a teacher-in-training whenever I spend time with any children here in Malawi it occurs to me how difficult it is to communicate with them without a common language. Even simple things like, “gentler” are nearly impossible to convey to them (I got quite a few very intense high-fives today). Of course, to counter this, it is also incredible how easy it is to get by without much speech in other instances.
The debate between English and Chichewa is quite complex here, generally. English is the official language of the country, as it was colonized by Britain; however, the majority of the people in the villages speak very little English themselves. This is also in consideration amongst us in the Education team, as we want the children to get as much as they can in their learning, though there is a balance at play. If the children do not understand English well, or are not taught by an expert, they will struggle both in English Language Arts and in the other subjects that are taught in their second language. To counter this, the children should be provided with the opportunity to learn English well if it is seen as important in keeping up with the development of the rest of the world. It’s quite the debate, and a difficult issue to consider as we continue to work on curriculum. As it is right now, we have left it up to the discretion of the teacher. Hopefully more light will be shed on this issue in future years through other Praxis Malawi members.
For now, I am off to another busy day of work. We have Standard Two education units to complete, and I have a play to script. Tionana bwino.
Stonebanks, C. D. (2013). Cultural competence, culture shock and the praxis of experiential learning. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.). Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.