Saturday, October 24, 2009
There, under three rows of seats lay three goats tied together at the feet, helpless and in distress. Now, generally I find it strange to witness goats bound flat to the backs of bicycles, heads limp and bobbing to the rugged terrain, eyes gazing perhaps to the life they watch become more distant as they approach their ultimate fate under the blade of a panga knife (or maybe the gaze is an expression of shock and by default, a submission to their captor), but in any event, a goat is an entirely different piece of cargo in comparison to chickens or fish--the usual baggage brought on board any transport here. What makes it so different (regardless of the fact that it just is different) is the sound that erupts from the very depths of its soul. A goat in distress with its eyes budding open and mouth ajar with fear, is a sight and sound that can disturb even an inanimate object. It's terribly unsettling and when you have goats hollering and babies crying from goats hollering you begin to feel uncomfortably disturbed.
Watching the plump stomach heave up and down I couldn't resist running my fingers across this pitifully helpless creature. Maybe I'd be able to instill calm through compassionate touch...I'm not sure, but as I am a symbol of the ram myself I did only what I could know to do by instinct (mind you I was invoked a little by curiosity too). But no, that doesn't change the fact that a goat near death is a goat near death. In an attempt to resist the shackles that bound its helpless body to the floor, a shrilling call out accompanied by outrageously violent sporadic convulsions makes sitting close to distress slightly dangerous. During this commute I was kicked fiercely by two tied hooves and as such the man sitting beside me (dressed in gentleman-like attire) placed his foot on its legs suppressing this goat further against its will.
Though I felt terribly for this goat--and the others that lay under the rows ahead--I couldn't help but wonder just how much it will be enjoyed on the table of its receivers. I could definitely go for some goat myself right about now....
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tuesday, Oct 20, 2009
It’s 5:45am. I can feel the cool air passing through the cracks in the doors and as such, I am awake early. Strangely, but predictable enough, the sky is a beautiful overcast blue. Never has the sun hidden its face while being in Malawi these past weeks but today it’s different. The coolness in the air and colour of the sky indicate that the rains will come, if not today, then very soon. It’s too early still but with variations in climate these days I wonder if we can expect them sooner than late November.
I have more interviews to conduct with a panel of three others from the secondary school. Yesterday we conducted 5 interviews and not one made the cut for our teacher training course. All of the people applying were teachers (or so their resume states), but their English was very poor which resulted in many of us, including me, moving on to other questions when our questions could not be answered or worse, answered incorrectly.
This morning we will reassess the other applicants and start the interview process over again. This will delay the start date of the course but it is a necessary measure to take to ensure we have the right candidates selected. Once everyone is chosen we will begin training. I will have the students for a third of their course and I will be teaching Methodologies, Testing, Measuring, Feedback, Appraisal, and Evaluation. I will be using a text that has been provided: “Becoming a Teacher in a Field Based Setting” by Donna Wiseman et al., and printed in Canada, 2005. Interesting indeed. This has been provided by the Education Coordinator who is Malawian so I am going to make the assumption that this book will suit their needs as well as mine, not only for this training course but for guidance in teaching at the secondary school upon completion of this course and in the event that they are hired into a position when one becomes available. Hopefully I can develop a rigorous syllabus based on information provided within these pages.
We interviewed about 7 people which took us through the lunch hour and didn’t end for a good 3 hours. After organizing a list of people selected to meet with us for final discussions regarding the teacher training I bolted to the camp administration office to post the list—I hadn’t eaten since 6:00am and it was around 3:00 at this point so I figured rushing would get me to food a lot quicker than sauntering.
Before reaching the admin office I ran into 4 people. I discussed having dinner with one of them; engaged in conversation with two others, one of which is a new student in my class and who was a pilot back in his home country; and the other is an Ethiopian refugee who I’ve befriended and have come to trust and appreciate very much. The fourth person was a lovely man who’d helped to organize a meeting between myself and a case worker from JVA in Nairobi to discuss work in the refugee field. They all waited for me to post my notice and then I talked to each person one by one. How patient they are, really.
The new student and Ethiopian walked with me through two of the markets we have here in Dzaleka. I was in search for an onion, soya protein, potatoes and rape. Stopping here and there they waited patiently for me to purchase and bargain for what I needed. I apologized to my Ethiopian friend for taking so long and his response was, “for what are you sorry for?” He smiled at me with a look that told me everything was fine, that this wasn’t a burden on him at all. Somehow, nothing seems to be burdensome on people here, nothing but living here that is.
The two walked me home (as my body guards they say). After they left I spoke with other man who'd been waiting for my return. After the small talk he told me that he loved me. I told him he didn’t and that he didn’t know me at all to profess such love. He told me I should ask him “why.” So I did. He told me this:
“I have seen you walk among the people. Some people come to the camp and we say hi to them but they simply say hi and rush on their way. You don’t do that though, you talk to the people. You can’t know how much that is appreciated. There is nothing for us here, it is like a prison. So, when you talk to us it makes us very happy, it makes us feel good again.”
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Reader be warned: this is a LONG entry
Sunday October 18, 2009
JRS staff was granted a four day holiday last week--Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Margaret, Jacqueline and I took that opportunity to visit Malawi's Nkhata Bay--Kande Beach, and Nkhotakota. This was made possible entirely from the generosity of Margaret's father who booked a last minute flight from South Africa to visit his daughter. And so, the weekend unfolded...
Thursday morning the three of us hitched a ride with a JRS staff member to the airport. Though the flight wasn't to come in until 12:15, we arrived there bright and early for 8:45am because had we taken local transit we would have been waiting in town all morning to arrange the transport. That didn't sound like a good option. Instead, we had a chance to drink a cup of coffee, have a sausage with bread and read to pass the time.
Her dad had rented an AVIS vehicle but we weren't aware of this until he arrived so, we chatted with one of the representatives who tried to rent out his own personal vehicle as he claimed it was the only one available. This wasn't true of course. After probing the man with questions, we discovered there were two other vehicles which were actually the company's cars. We thanked him but waited for her dad to arrive.
Turns out he had rented one before he flew from South Africa. After much discussing with the AVIS rep we landed ourselves a vehicle, a white Volkswagen though I'm not sure of the year. Little did we know this car would endure much hardship before arriving back to its parking space.
We loaded up the car, broke into the Toblerone chocolate and headed out towards Kande Beach. The ride was fantastic. Definitely a different change of pace from using minibuses and land cruisers. It was a car ride, one with the freedom to stop at any moment for any given reason. It was like driving thorough Quebec--the winding roads, hilly landscape, open bush and rocky patches here and there. In fact, sometimes I thought we were driving through the Canadian Shield and other times, Newfoundland. We stopped many times to take photographs and children who saw us demanded we take their pictures too (Chambola). Of course this can't be done without them demanding money but we only gave once or twice.
A memorable photo stop was amid a sugar cane plantation. The vast grasses and setting sun created the perfect setting for a photograph. Not to mention the naked boy swimming in a swallow reservoir of water. I withheld from taking photos but let me tell you, Margaret’s dad is a fantastic photographer and captured a brilliant photograph of this boy sitting in rushing water. He was given kwacha in thanks. I think his smile told us it was ok.
After much driving through twilight and into the darkness of night, we arrived at the Kande Beach resort along Lake Malawi. We arranged the rooms and met for dinner in the open chalet and then called it a short evening as we headed to bed around 9:30pm.
Awaking nearly at the crack of dawn (6:15), we quickly gathered a few things together and headed to the riding stables down the road. There we met three other girls who were taking the guided Horse Safari tour as well. We strapped on our chaps and black jockey helmets, signed a waiver for liability purposes and stood among the horses as each of us one by one was placed on a horse to best suit our skill level. I was put on Toots, a finicky horse, one that liked to run and would get spooked by dogs or anything moving in the bush.
Trailing behind the other, we departed up the mountain with the horses. This was a beautiful scene but one that could not be captured on my camera. Just as we'd arrived my camera battery died; picture taking was left up to Margaret's father. In any case, what I captured is that in memory and now in print. The small homes buried within the hills, the farm land tilled by locals living in clearings beyond the trees, and hidden schools, cows and goats were among the many things we passed on our two hour journey through the mountain tops.
We had agreed that four of us would canter together with the head leader starting us off. The first two times we did this it was fine, my horse liked to pick up speed and catch up with the others but together, Toots and I cantered well. It wasn’t until the last canter that we faltered with being sync. We were going at a fast trot and I started to think about what falling off a horse would be like. I thought about what I would say in a blog if I fell, what damage would be done and how I'd even be able to write with a broken arm...then we started to canter.
It wasn’t long before our group of four and all the others were brought to an immediate stop. I was the last of the four and had suggested we slow down and stop just as we were taking a gradual left turn. My left foot had quickly slipped out of the stirrup and I was leaning forward just a tad too much that I started leaning over Toots neck losing control and balance. Before I knew it, I was sliding off my horse landing on my right shoulder and side. I quickly looked at my horse’s hooves to assess whether I’d be trampled but she stood there calmly and I was up on my feet in seconds. My face, arms and clothes were covered in a grey soot but I was more or less fine. I had a few scrapes on my lower back and dirt/road burn on my forearm but other than that I was not seriously hurt. It had to happen, I suppose all the thinking before hand prepared me for this fall. Apparently I took it well.
We ended up walking the horses through a marshy area and then back to the lodge where we were staying. The horses were de-saddled and had a moment to rest. The best was yet to come. Stripped down to our swim suits we mounted our horses bare back and led them to the water. This was a beautiful scene. Holding the bridle, we led them into the water. Some laid down and splashed around, others walked in and out of the water testing the depth and moving among the others. The waves lapped against their bodies and they glistened in the morning sun. Before we knew it we were back on the beach and the horses were re-saddled and led back to the horse stables.
The rest of the day consisted of us resting in the shade and beach and reading and enjoying the quiet and calm sound of waves crashing against the shore. Just before dinner, we opened the bottle of wine Margaret’s dad surprised us with and drank to the sunset. Dinner was a tasty beef stew with rice and a chickpea curry with rice that Margaret and I shared together. A satisfying end to a perfect day on Lake Malawi.
Breakfast was at 7:00am and we were out of the lodge shortly after 8:00am. We headed to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Up to this point the car was doing alright, it had endured a couple bumps along the way but nothing that it would endure down this road meant for a 4x4. I’m not sure how we made it along the choppy winding roads with the engine shutting down every few hundred feet but we did. We successfully made it to “Malawi's hidden treasure,” the wildlife reserve.
A man by the name of Andrew (a Malawian) led the four of us on foot, for a two hour hike into the wild. Armed with an M16 we trekked through sand and over rock to the shallow river bend which had mostly dried up throughout the dry season. We scanned the river bed and found, just a short distance away, crocodiles hovering their eyes above water. There were a few of them that emerged and swam slowly along the side of the bed furthest away from us and then disappeared into the water. After a short time we continued on our way uphill to find the waterfall that had almost dried completely as well. We were told that elephants can be seen here from time to time but not today. We’d passed the large footprints along the way indicating they’d been around days before but not this day.
Further still and into the hot of the forest in search of wildlife (i.e. lions, elephants, leopards, baboons) we were stabbed by thorns, slashed by sharp twigs and burned by the blistering sun. To save you the suspense-- though a letdown it may seem--we didn’t come across much in terms of harmful wildlife. What we did end up seeing however, were a number of baboons, and a bush buck, lots of incredible trees and hovering flies. By the time we trekked back to the car, it was the hottest time of the day and we were exhausted and out of water. The mission then was to head back to Nkhotakota to the Pottery Lodge and then back towards our sleeping accommodations at Sani Beach.
The car had a terrible time on the way out of the reserve. We’d offered our tour guide a lift to the town and he directed us down a faster road. This road however, was worse than the first. At one point we all had to abandon the car and have Margaret’s dad lead the way solo. Slowly moving across the broken, bumpy, and very rocky earth we made our way to the tarmac but the damage to the bottom of the car is without question. Good thing the car company doesn’t do an assessment of wear and tear beneath the vehicle. Or, I would argue, at least not Malawi.
We dropped Andrew in town, grabbed a couple cold beverages, and drove to Pottery Lodge to enjoy their store full of mixed pottery items and decompress on the cool of the beach. It wasn’t long before we left-- there were no room in the inn. We traveled backward toward Sani beach lodge and after a few wrong turns and pointless phone calls for directions we arrived to a dark, lonely lodge. No one was around and there was no food available for dinner. Two fish, that was it.
We left to find the next lodge along the strip of the lake. Each one we went to didn’t have food and/or no space for the four of us. We hadn’t eaten since the morning and it was dark at this point and getting on 8:00. We somehow managed to find the Safari Lodge with food but no space. We ate, and drank and left fairly soon after we got there to head backwards again to the Stone Terrace Lodge. There was no power, and they had to heat hot water for us for bathing. As nice as this place was, it was far too expensive for what it could offer but we stayed there anyway as we had no other choice. The best thing about that place was the bathtub...what a glorious feeling it was to pour a bucket of hot water into the tub and run the cold water until it was just right. I haven’t had a true bath experience since I left Winnipeg. Beautiful.
We took our morning breakfast back at the Safari Lodge. We had a magnificent view of the lake and all the food came served on beautifully decorated pottery dishes. In fact, I enjoyed the appearance of the mug I was drinking out so much that I asked the server if I could buy it off the restaurant. Haha, yes, the answer was yes. Haha, so, I bought it for about $4 CAD. This completed my morning and trip hands down!
The rest of the way home was smooth sailing (no major bumps this time around) but I’m fairly certain there is something wrong with this vehicle, I’m kind of thinking it’s abnormal for a car to lose power in the middle of driving...I don’t know, I could be wrong about that.
Regardless of damage done, the weekend was peaceful, the colours, sights and sounds brilliant and time spent with friends outweighed the bumps in the road. Seeing the fallen leaves in the forest was a pleasant reminder of what fall would look like if I was in Winnipeg now...then again, I've seen it before and I'll see it again, I likely wont ever see Malawi's hidden treasure ever again. ***
Friday, October 9, 2009
It is the weekend and I'm torn in two: half of me exists in this world full of endless goods and services while the other half longs for understanding, for being fully present with the people I've come to work alongside in the camp. I can sleep in the comfort of a semi-furnished bedroom in the capital city yet I yearn for the challenges camp living brings, for the insecurity that rests outside that bolted door. This conflict of interest is creating a mental dilemma that I'm struggling to overcome.
I can't help but wonder what my former students/ new found friends are up to tonight? Are they safe beneath the sheets or are they fearing the night? How can I know their stories if I am here and they are there? Is there shouting outside our bedroom window or are people hollering in the distance? Is our elderly, shoeless and half blind guard sitting alone tonight wondering where we are this night? Is he disappointed he wont be teaching us Chichewa or does it make any difference to him at this point?
How many crickets occupy the latrine tonight and are the spiders out for their evening feast? Has our mouse found the goodies left behind in our pseudo kitchen? Are the bees boring holes in the rafters and are the termites chewing their way through the walls? What do the stars and milky way look like tonight? There is nothing like staring into an African night sky in absolute darkness, it's magnificent. Would the wind on the plateau bring a sense of relief from the heat...I wish I knew.
My heart is there while my body is temporarily planted here.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Wednesday October 7, 2009
I’ve been dismissed from my duties with the TOEFL students. This is because they have now received the TOEFL curriculum from WUSC and will be very busy quickly preparing to complete their studies before they take their examination. This is both a breath of fresh air as well as a road block to my being here, particularly as the placement is only three months. I still have my ESL classes four times a week which is great and there has been talk about me taking on 5 adult refugees who have credentials as teachers but who need to expand their knowledge of English so that's something on the horizon already. There is a curriculum that I will follow and this would be a crash course for two months starting this month. I'll know in a couple days what will take place from here.
I want to mention that I received a nice complement today from a Congolese man who has attended my morning ESL classes. After my morning class ended today he came to me and said, “Madame, I wanted to tell you that I really enjoy the way you teach the class, it’s very engaging. I used to be a teacher in Congo and I taught the way you do.” He shook my hand the way Africans do and I thanked him, "Thank you, thank you so much." This is the kind of confirmation I have been hoping for.
I invited a couple girls from my class to our house here at camp as it was one of the girls 26th birthday. I bought biscuits for the girls and made tea. It was very nice. We listened to music and they told me their story about fleeing Congo. I can't post about it as it would be a breach of confidentiality as well as a potential security factor but I have definitely logged this story.The most important thing to mention is that she's safe here, for now, and despite the hardship she's smiling. She's beautiful.
Margaret and I went to Godfrey’s for dinner-- a neighbors house about 30 feet away. He cooked Nshima and beans for us and had Margaret stir the nshima, I took photos. It was a quick dinner, we just ate and ran. We both weren't sure if he wanted our company for longer than the meal. It was nice to be invited for dinner though, I think it helps to build our credibility and trust in the camp.
To be honest though, I’ve hit a low, not a big low, but a low. This week, I have had nothing on my agenda for my work at JRS due to the change in schedule. However, the key is not to be discouraged, I need to think positive and know this isn’t permanent. I just wish I could have greater control over what I want but perhaps this is the lesson to be learned. If the refugees here can’t plan their next day forward can I really expect to do the same?
Now, this is by no means a profound thought but I wanted to mention this anyway seen as how it’s on my mind. Honestly, if anyone is going to say anything about this country being unproductive or underdeveloped I want to at least argue that one reason is most definitely due to heat!
Yes, I know, I’m breaking ground with this but seriously, it’s hot out today. We haven’t done much because we had to drive into Lilongwe to get our visas worked out, but we’re tired! It’s because we’re hot! I can understand people’s sluggish nature and the slowness that can prohibit completing tasks--it’s HOT here and there is little escape from it. I know I can form many arguments for underdevelopment in this country, but for the sake of arguing, I want to put this out there.
Diet in Malawi
I might be the only one who cares about this so I’ll say I’m writing this one for me. For whatever reason I feel the need to outline my average food intake during most weeks.
- Breakfast: bread/toast with peanut butter or jam OR a boiled egg and tea
- Lunch: soup OR protein bar OR fried egg sandwich (maybe a samosa or two from the market)
- Dinner: Rice/Pasta/ with peas, tomatoes, garlic, peppers (and tuna sandwiches on Thursdays)
- Snack: mandas (deep fried dough balls), bread, fruit, ground nuts, biscuits, and chocolate.
Alright, now that I’ve done that I can really see where my diet is lacking and thus, the reason for why I might be tired all the time. Meat is difficult to come by here unless I want to slaughter my own chicken or goat or have someone do it for me.Somehow, that seems to be too much work at this point. However, I've just discovered they sell soy protein the in camp which is delightful! I have sufficiently found a meat replacement and am hoping to see changes in energy level soon!
A few thoughts
- There is a 50 km stretch of road to the camp that is being built at the moment. It’s been in construction since the rains ended in March 2009. The rains are expected to begin again in late November—I have a fear it won’t be completed. If that’s the case then the mounds of dirt that occupy the sides of the road and the unfinished drop off could potentially be washed away with the heavy force of the rain. I have two major concerns if this is the case: that we will be isolated here with no way out of the camp while malaria sweeps through like a unwelcome visitor and second, that the hard work put in since March could be wasted in a matter of hours
- “Dzaleka refugee camp is considered to be a 4 star refugee camp; it’s one of the best camps in Africa.”
- I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing goats roaming the side of the roads. I really like this about Malawi. Yes, Malawi in general!
- Since when do white people come to work in a refugee camp but don’t want to talk to anyone living here? A few people have said this to me couple times because if they see a white person walking quickly they think it means they don’t want to talk to a black person. Is it that lack of education that continues to divide black from white and white from black? I thought we were past the stereotypes and misconceptions?
- I’ve been told if a white person is associating with a Rasta in town then other people who aren’t Rasta’s think that whites don’t like them. Really?
- I guess dashboards in minibuses aren’t required to work. None of the gauges worked on our trip this morning. I’m sure we were traveling at 20km/hour for some distance this morning which is fine I suppose but still very strange considering we're usually going over 110km/hour. I guess safety standards are quite different here.