Sunday, November 1, 2009

Past days...

Thursday October 29, 2009

Yesterday afternoon I found my way to the primary school to find a book on basic Swahili. I found one that’s for beginners without the English translation. This may be difficult for me but most people here do speak Swahili so it should be no problem to learn, right? I hope.

Around 3:30pm I met with one of my ESL students/friends and he took me on a tour of the camps borders. We walked to the highest elevation and took pictures overlooking the was incredible to see the number of grass thatched huts all clustered together. When you walk through it doesn’t seem so crowded but from a birds eye view it most definitely is. We walked for about an hour, met a few of his relatives, ran into a few elders and talked to a number of excited children along the way.

He dropped me around 4:50 so Margaret and I could head to a friend of ours for dinner and drinks. Turns out he lives very close to us which was very convenient. We ended up in the company of 4 refugee friends with grilled goat, and roasted banana’s, Fanta, coke and beers served before us. It was delicious! The banana’s had the distinct taste of sweet potato that I remember well from Zambia, and the goat, though a little tough at times, was just as succulent as I recall.

We all had a few drinks passing the night away. We took out my Swahili book and attempted to go through vocabulary, we laughed and talked about their hopes and fears of moving to Canada, and we informed them about cultural approaches to dating and relationships. We assured them we would be there for them when they come and I think they also hope that they will be chosen to live close to such friendly Canadian’s like us.

Monday, October-26-09

For some reason I can hardly get myself out of bed in the mornings at camp. I’ve decided that it’s likely the weather here versus Lilongwe-- windy and cold. The temperature at night is just so in Lilongwe that you only need a light blanket whereas here I snuggle into the warmth of the fleece cover sheet and fall into a deep sleep. When the alarm rings I avoid getting up to avoid the cool air against my skin. If my theory is correct then I can expect to have long weeks at the camp feeling overly tired and exhausted. Only until we find ourselves in Lilongwe will I be rested.

The teacher training program started today. I was the "teacher" that started them off on their first day: Basic phonetics. Fun. Haha, it actually wasn't too bad. As for my ESL conversation classes I have conducted differently the past two days. I have given over the teaching authority to the students so they can facilitate their own learning.

Women and Men, this was a topic chosen from a “creative conversations” book I have borrowed from the National Library in Lilongwe. The questions pertain to roles of men and woman and whether or not women can do similar jobs as men; if women should have the same sexual freedom as men and whether young girls should have the same independence as young boys. These types of questions generated a lot of discussion but the opinions expressed were many that I hadn’t anticipated.

The class is always 98% men so the variation in answers was limited. On the whole I can say that most men hold the following values:

  • Women can’t do construction or housing improvements because they are weaker than men
  • Women should not have the same sexual freedom as men because they should submit to their husbands
  • Young girls must not be given the same independence as boys because they will be disobedient, they can be taken advantage of and they will seem less marriageable if they have a freer mind
  • The husband should also manage the finances in the household because he does more work than his wife does; he earns the money so he should use it as he pleases.

Of course there are many students who believe women and men have equal rights and that the answers to the above should be answered as opposites. But it’s difficult to accept some of the traditional values when I come from a culture that weighs women and men, in most cases, on a balanced scale. Furthermore, as one student commented, their answers are based largely on scripture which is where our arguments differ. I’m not sure how to comment on this.

The major point of this entry is a reminder to myself that I am actually faced with cultural differences everyday whereas my experience in Zambia simply wasn’t so. Perhaps I wasn’t as aware as I am now but regardless, I want this to be a reminder that there were moments here when I felt out of my element and misunderstood. Thank goodness our differences have not divided us, some days I fear it might.

Tuesday, October-27-09

Witch craft

There was a knock at my door around 3:30 this afternoon. Who could this be I wonder. I opened the door and found a middle aged man standing alone.“Madame, can you help me for few minutes, I need to speak with you.” I replied with, I’m busy, I have company right now can it not be another time? He responded with urgency and said that it would only take a little while. I welcomed the discussion.

He said he is a Malawian from Mzuzu and is in need of something to help his legs heal. I could see that his feet were covered with scares from sores from the past but his legs I wasn’t sure about. He said that in order for him to be cured he needed a piece of my hair...a few strands, about 3 inches long and the thickness of a few strands of straw. I didn’t understand how this could help him. I thought maybe this was some kind of traditional practice that could cure him in some way (or to his belief anyway). I’m used to people asking me for things so I really didn’t think much of it, though I did think it was a very strange request.

He pulled out a black container from his bag and opened it to expose a pink cream he claimed was medication. I told him to wait a minute, shut the door and consulted the three girl friends I had visiting. They were shocked and persistent in saying NO, YOU CAN’T! Apparently, he would have taken my hair to a medicine man and arranged to do some bad things to me or try to get me to fall in love with him or something of an odd sort. “This is what they call magic here in Africa. Tell him that you wont and that you’re Christian, this will protect you,” they said.

And I did. I told him I would not but that if he needed something else perhaps I could help him with that but not with this. He inquired as to why but I just insisted that “I’m sorry, I simply cannot. As k someone else for their hair, someone else can help you but I cannot.” He stared at me in disbelief and annoyance and finally said, ok. Fine. Fine. I said I’m sorry and shut the door.

Everyone whom I spoke to regarding this agreed that this man would have used my hair for witchcraft or black magic and that it would not be safe for me to give it to him. They all felt relieved knowing the girls were here with me at that time because if they hadn’t been I would have cut my precious locks and given it to him. To me it’s difficult to say why someone would want it, there are many things about culture that differ from my own so who am I to really question it. At the end of the day, it’s just hair right? What really would have been the harm? To a non believer in Witchcraft, nothing.


Oh mother! Yes, we have just seen a TARANTULA sitting outside of our door at the camp. There is no question about that that’s for sure. Perfect opportunity for a photograph let me tell you, wow.

Margaret is officially my hero though. She stepped up to the plate and did the unthinkable: she killed it with a brick! I’m telling you, she’s got guts that girl. I just stood there, hands over my mouth trying to keep a squeal from escaping. She flat out dropped a brick on it saving us all, including the mouse we found in the kitchen from death.

Of course I can’t help but let my curious, imaginative mind entertain the possibility that this spider was a symbol, an bad oman one might say, or warnning from the man who’d been here earlier looking to use my hair for medicinal purposes. I mustn’t entertain this idea though. I’m told it’s dangerous to believe in Witchcraft and that it’s better I simply don’t allow myself to drift away with thoughts about evil intentions against me. But how is it that EVERYONE I’ve ever met from this continent claims to be a true believer? I have yet to meet ONE person who does not.

1 comment:

  1. Witchcraft over there is pretty intense isn't it! I'm also glad you didn't give up any hair.

    (As I was reading your story, and it came to that part I thought "NO JAMIE, DON'T DO IT!") :)