Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There’s a party in the camp and we haven’t been invited. Somewhere in the distance there are many people shouting and screaming; you’d almost think people were watching a soccer match by the way they’re carrying on. It sounds as though people were joy ridding down one of the stretches of road leading into the camp, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on from the inside. The absence of electricity tonight seems as though it could be a reason for the excitement. Again, we’re not sure.

I was called into a meeting with a refugee and a JRS staff person to assist with translation from English to French and vice versa. It was an interesting task and very difficult indeed. I couldn’t fully convey what needed to be expressed by either party and felt helpless in the grand scheme of my role there. This refugee had a police report with him that attested to his claim of victimization from others in the camp. Apparently his house was set on fire and there was something about poison involved as well. I didn’t read the report, all I know is that this issue is out of the power JRS has and needs to be dealt with by UNHCR. The trouble is UNHCR has loads of cases like this on their desk and this one will just be another reaching the bottom of the pile. I wonder how it is people maintain the strength to find the will to survive. Resilience, that’s how.

The TOEFL class I had today was an engaging class indeed. I arrived shortly after 1:30 and got into presenting right away. We started off outlining the objectives of the lesson and then I asked each person to tell me their name and one thing they learnt about climate change from yesterday’s lecture. I wanted to see if they had caught onto the major components I’d mentioned. To my surprise, many of them had. I had introduced some new ideas to them and wasn’t sure if they’d grasped the ideas. Apparently so! They’re like sponges soaking up all the information provided. I think it’s wonderful and am slightly jealous at the same time seen as that’s a skill I have not yet been able to successfully develop—not to this standard anyway.

After going around the table I introduced a new topic that relates to climate change: population control. Turning off the lights, closing the blinds and door, I opened up my power point presentation introducing this highly contentious debate. The lecture generated a lot of discussion which was great and many students brought forth many ideas and comments they had about population growth within the African context. They also inquired into the Canadian lifestyle and the importance of child rearing in our culture. From the discussion generated, many seemed disappointed that we live a rather individualistic life. I agree with them to some degree.

I think we steered away from the main topic at hand but the conversation was still a good one to have. I believe we all learned a lot from one another. For me, the reasons many gave for child rearing in Africa affirmed the lectures and readings I had been exposed to during my studies as an undergrad in International Development. It was a wonderful feeling to be reminded of that which I’d learned in previous years and also that many understand the value of education and how awareness can be a catalyst for change. That’s an encouraging piece which I took home with me today.

Tuesday September 22, 2009

I had my first lecture today. To my surprise I had an undiscovered confidence in myself. I spoke about climate change to the students for one whole hour! I had printed off an article that had recently been published from the World Watch Institute and made reference to a fresh-off-the-press NewYork Times article which provided supplementary ideas to support the resource guide I was using as my notes for this lecture. At the end, I concluded with a short reading from Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre policy briefing on Environmental Migrants, being sure to indicate that there is a significant difference between people fleeing from conflict and others who flee from environmental hazards.

I’m not sure how I kept their attention for a whole hour but somehow we got through it together. I’m not sure how much they retained but I will be sure to do re-caping on this tomorrow. I think I’ll continue the climate change theme and add in the widely contested population control debate. I have a power point presentation on my computer from my Ethics of Development course at the University of Winnipeg and feel it will contribute to the climate change debate and our use of resources. Didn’t expect to be able to speak with such passion to this class, I wasn’t sure I’d prepared enough. In fact, because I know myself, I know I didn’t prepare well enough or long enough but it still went rather well. At least I think it did.

It was market day today which meant that the camp market space was full of outside vendors selling their goods at reduced prices. Things of all kinds can be found here: mounds of clothes and shoes, soaps and shampoos, mirrors and foot scrubbers and of course the regular food items such as peas, tomatoes, onions, eggs and oil. My favourite deep fried balls of dough were being sold by numerous vendors as well. Can’t go wrong with 10MK for two Mandez buns, they’re quite delicious.

This market is fairly extravagant. It’s busy and there is lots of people busy trying to make a sale. Somehow bargaining here seems to be limited to certain items. Most people aren’t willing to bargain down, I’m not sure why. Perhaps they’re already at their lowest prices? Or maybe they’re trying to take advantage of the wealth they believe we must have. Not sure.

A couple students came by our place after class and told me they felt depressed afterward. They felt that they’d be the victims of climate change but also acknowledged that knowledge is power and because they are aware of the issues pertaining to warming weather they can be more fully aware to make change when they have the power to do so. They are hoping for a better life in Canada. I hope they make it there. Hopefully I’ll be able to contribute to their learning for the TOEFL. I’m committed to them now. I guess that’s obvious though, it’s late and I’m exhausted from the weekends adventures yet I’m still up working on my lesson for tomorrow. I’ll go to sleep happy tonight.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Saturday Sept 12, 2009

It’s 4:30am. Boom, boom, boom. I’m not sure how close the nearest bar is but the sound of the base amp is distinct. There are people shouting in Chechewa though I do not have a clue what’s being said. This is the red light district, who knows. Waves of music line the background; it’s unclear what’s playing but it’s a significant reason for people to be out in the first place. There is rustling in the trees, the bushes. The dry grass makes this movement more pronounced.

I imagine a busy street with cars and people moving briskly about. People know it's unsafe to be out yet they do it anyway so I'm not sure how to imagine this scene. Instead, I wonder how much illegal activity is taking place as I write these words.

Dogs are barking. There has to be at least three dogs and they sound vicious. I’m not sure what has brought on their snarls and barks but it may be a good indication that there is some suspicious activity going on outside these walls. People are moving about, opening and closing heavy metal gates...they’re clunking from every passing person.

In the foreground there is a delightful sound countering the bustle and unimaginable: the delicate and innocently peaceful sound of chirping birds. There is also two birds calling to one another. Sounds like a mating call...whatever it is it brings a sense of calm with it.There is an orchestra of sound, of movement all around; who knows how far the sound has traveled to wake me tonight, all I know is I feel safer beneath the sheets. Hopefully the nightcrawlers stay in tomorrow night...

Better Days – Goo Goo Dolls

Tonight’s the night the world begins again

And it’s something simple where we could live

And something only you can give

and that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive.

And there’s one poor child who saved this world

And there’s 10 million more who probably could

if we all just stopped and said a prayer for them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blame it on sickness...

Thursday, Sept 10, 2009

Okay, it's been a long day so those who are reading are lucky because this wont be a long one.

At the end of today, Margaret and I were introduced to the Jesuit Refugee Service staff and office. We were quickly shown around, covered some basic inquires and then were handed keys to lock up for the night.

We decided to get groceries before it got dark (which it did while we were out). Did some running around with the JRS guard/handy-man, and returned to our accommodations to find the door locked. This wouldn't have been a problem if I had taken the keys with me but I had left them locked in our room! Fabulous. Seriously, how is it that I tend to embarrass myself to such extent on the first day, or first major meeting of our "employer?" Typical.

We ended up having to switch SIM cards with the guard to get the number of our supervisor, got picked up to stay at her place for a while, then got an extra set of keys from someone else, and found our way back here. In total, two hours of the night was shot to my carelessness.

Final words: I'm tired, my sinuses and my body are too sick to stay awake any longer and so I'm heading to bed after this post. Hopefully others are having better luck today :)

Goodnight all!

Laughing to tears

It’s incredible how much laughter can erupt from 4 girls who are hungry, over tired, hilariously funny, and incredibly cynical. I will miss nights like this one; it’s one I hope to remember forever.
Around 7:00pm the four of us WUSC volunteers decided we had hungry stomachs and placed an order with the lodge cook for our dinners. Three of us decided on fish sandwiches and the other requested chicken and rice. Thirty minutes goes by...then forty hour. Where on earth is our food? At the hour the cook asks if we’d like bread with the fish sandwich. Ummm, yes? We hear a squawking outside...must be fresh chicken tonight!
Of course all the while we’re waiting, we can’t help but crack up over all the small things about our day, the people we’ve met, the conversations we’ve had, the memories we hold back home and all the uncertainties and complications in between. I’m not sure if the medication I’ve taken today has side effects which the doctor failed to mention but it felt as though maybe, just maybe, I was given something other than the basic pain killers and anti-biotics. We couldn’t help but joke that maybe they’d given me ecstasy with the motivation being “welcome to Africa, have fun!” I say this because I was literally crying laughing. Tears were streaming down my face for a good hour. Everything was funny. EVERYTHING!
One hour and 15, still nothing. One of our comrades decides to use the public toilet room and before we know it she’s whimpering, “guys, I can’t get out, the key broke.” Haha, what!? This is FUNNY stuff. Literally. We can’t believe how the events of the day have gone, now this? This was to be expected for sure! While the shemozzle of the locked-from-the-inside toilet room was going on our food finally arrived. One hour and 45 minutes later. I couldn’t help but burst into a laughing fit. The fish sandwiches consisted of two petite “Gambo” fish (local fish), and dry bread toasted with the ends cut off. Of course I had to capture this on film! How did we wait 1 ¾ hours for this! ? Haha! Yes, this is funny stuff for sure!
Before indulging in our 300MKW meal, we waited and watched in awe as one of the guards pried open the toilet room door with a crow bar. The day was saved but seriously, if anyone had been there for this I’m confident you would have found this to be hysterical! At the end of the day, and a broken bathroom door later, we finished our dinner and headed to bed. Hopefully I'll be able to post a picture of our dinner so you can laugh at this too...we'll see.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hospital visit

Wednesday Sept 9, 2009

Students without Borders met the Uniterra Volunteers today. Most, if not all of them are French which adds a healthy amount of flavour to our group energy! We had participated in orientation today at the WUSC office and then headed to the local clinic to visit with a doctor who introduced us to the common sicknesses caused by mosquitoes, water, and contaminated food. I love how my question “what are the long term side effects of using anti-malaria drugs for the span of 6 months to a year?” was answered with “I recommend you use a mosquito net, yeah, that will be much better.” Haha. If anyone out there does know, I’d love to know the answer! In summary, don’t drink the water, wash your veggies but don’t eat them at restaurants, and use a combo preventative measure for beating those pesky mosquitoes: mosquito repellent, long sleeves and nets.

After the clinic we all had lunch together at a local restaurant. WUSC picked up the tab. From now on, i think I’m going to stick with chicken curry and rice; it’s a little more filling than everything else but let me tell you it’s not all that cheap. It’s expensive to live here...Food is about the same price here as in Canada. Somehow, we’ve only been here 4 days and I’ve already spent 40USD. When you think about it, that’s a lot of money. Then again, we did by a cell phone and that’s a little pricey.

I have landed in the hospital. Well, not really. I have come down with a persistent cough, weak muscles, and dizzy head (not malaria). Under the guidance of the WUSC staff I have sought medical attention and have been prescribed Glycodin (cough syrup), antibiotics (i.e. antihistamine), and pain killers. Haha.

A little extreme perhaps. In fact, the daily dose amounts to 12 pills and 3 teaspoons of cough syrup. If anything else, I’ll take a few here and there and then stash the rest away for emergencies in the camp. I’m not on my death bed by any means, I am sure it’s simply a result of the dust everywhere and the many garbage fires burning just outside our window. But this is how illnesses are treated here. Drugs, drugs, drugs. It cost me 10USD.

“Jambo” – hello in Swahili

Tuesday, Sept 8, 2009

A transport truck passed by and we waited for the dust to settle before continuing on our way... The road to Dzaleka refugee camp is under much construction which makes driving with windows down a high risk for a dusty imprint on the lungs, let alone on clothes and skin at the end of the day. Needless to say, we’ve all started to develop a little cough.

The first person who greeted us was a man who was teaching woodworking to men who’d been living in the camp for most of their life. He spoke in French and most of us could follow his introduction but mostly, we were confused because he spoke to fast. We said ‘a bientot’ and went to visit the women working in the sewing classroom. I met a quiet lady from Congo, she was sewing a green men’s shirt. I wanted to talk more with her but we left fairly soon after we arrived. There will surely be an opportunity for me to do so in the coming months.

Next we visited with the TOEFL students and their teacher, Hannuk. It was great chatting with them. Telling them all about what to expect from University in Canada and how to prepare for the work load demand on your time and energy as well as loneliness, was a lot of information for many to digest in one meeting; I think it helped to put the competitiveness into perspective. Many aspire to be doctors, others business administrators. One would like to be a dentist and another involved in cinematography. Most did not know how difficult it was to get into medical school, I wonder if they will now be reconsidering their aspirations? I am encouraged to think of all I can teach them, guide them. Apparently their greatest fear is loneliness.

After meeting with the students we met with the camp administrator, the big man working for the UNCHR. Interesting meeting indeed, I will save details for another time perhaps. The discussion was about twenty minutes after which, we left and toured the camp with Celest (not her true name in order to preserve anonymity), one of the TOEFL students. She is from Rwanda and is here with her family in Malawi. I’m not sure what her story is but she would like to come to Canada to study business administration and design. I will make a point to work hard with her; I’d like her to pass the test so WUSC will sponsor her in Canada next August.

Celest brought us to the various districts in the camp. It was organized in such a way that we were walking in a labyrinth of thatched brick huts, passing open grills selling samosas, avoiding scattered garbage and animal dung between steps. Some people would find this shocking but I could only embrace it. What an experience to be guided by this refugee student into the world that she’s known for six years now. If only I knew Swahili I could communicate with most of the people who have sought temporary settlement here. For now ‘Jambo’ will do.