Placement Update: Chikwawhat?

A couple days ago, I received my placement information. I wanted to blog about it as soon as I received the email but it’s just been so busy lately. I almost wonder if I should’ve taken the last week off work to get myself organized. Between the full-time hours, last minute medical checkups, packing, shopping, and planning for NYC… there just isn’t enough hours in a day. Most of the time I end up doing overtime into the next set of 24 hours.

But I received my placement!!!! Yayyyy!!!

*Drumroll*

I’m going to Chikwawa!

………..

Wait. Where is that?

Our returning JF Lauren had given me her handy lonely planet guide book and according to it, Chikwawa is a small town located near Blantyre – the commercial capital of Malawi. Chikwawa is also the name of the district the town is in. It’s located in southern Malawi, near the border to Mozambique. The area was one of the ones hit hard by the severe floods that hit Malawi during its rainy season this year. I’m expecting to see some relief NGOs or at the very least, a level of government relief. Which will be a weird thing to see since that never happens in Canada…

I’ll try to post more details of what I’ll be doing at a later time. For now, enjoy this wonderful map of Malawi!

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Madonna versus Banda

2 years ago, Madonna had a row with the then prime minister of Malawi Joyce Banda.

“Granted, Madonna is a famed international musician. But that does not impose an injunction of obligation on any government… to give her state treatment. Such treatment, even if she deserved it, is discretionary not obligatory,”

The statement that was released was apparently a mistake but not enough of a mistake to warrant an apology. It’s difficult to say who bears the brunt of the blame: Madonna for her mindless philanthropic work or President Banda for her lack of tact and conflict of interest?

As I’m getting ready to depart for Malawi in a month, I’m increasingly becoming aware of my ignorance. As much research and reading I’m trying to accomplish to attune myself with the history and culture, I know that it may be inevitable that I offend someone. I just hope that I don’t offend anyone powerful enough to kick me out of the country like Madonna did.

One of the packing tips I received from the venture team was about being cautionary with sunglasses. I guess covering up your eyes when speaking to someone is rude. I don’t think Madonna received the same memo.

“Junior Fellow”

I’m what they call a “Junior Fellow.” I guess it’s “junior” because I’m not legit enough to be qualified for a real “fellowship?” (If I sound bitter, I’m really not – it’s just self-deprecating humour)

Being a Junior Fellow (JF) means that I’ve endured the long and hard training since January and will now be permitted to venture out into one of Engineers without Borders Canada’s on-site ventures for the summer. For me, it means that I’m going away to Malawi for three and a half months to work with WASH (Water and Sanitation, Hygiene) Catalyst! I’ll be experiencing real life NGO (Non Governmental Organization) work and will supposedly become a cynical and bitter human being when I return. Upon my return, I am responsible for bringing back learning to my university chapter for that school year. Of course, that is contingent on me actually learning enough to teach anyone anything.

As of yet, I don’t really know what I’ll be doing while I’m in Malawi. In fact, I don’t think I ever gave Africa in general a second thought before considering applying for the junior fellowship position. My international interests were mostly Eurocentric while I was growing up with a pinch of Asian confusion (since I was a Korean kid growing up in a really WASPy Canadian small town).

So one of the things I did last week and this week was to google “Malawi” and borrow a few books from the library (Better late than never, right?). My most comprehensive accomplishment to date is reading Encyclopaedia Britannica’s page on Malawi. I’ve also picked up a copy of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind in an attempt to pick up cultural nuances.

A bit of reading probably won’t keep me from making any faux pas but at least I won’t be completely ignorant.

Here’s to being optimistic.

Countdown: One month and a day

I suppose that a month and a day from now, I’ll be sitting in an airport lounge, waiting to board my escape to the greatest adventure of my life. Africa, here I come.

Oh Gawd. One month and a day.

I haven’t packed yet. I haven’t done my foundational assignments yet. I have yet to deliver the last of the seemingly neverending paperwork.

One month and a day.

It’s the little things that trip you up when you are about to leave for a period longer than one rent cheque. Unlocking my cell phone, mother’s/father’s day presents, remembering to buy enough pads for the entire 3 and a half months I’ll be gone…

One month. And a day.

I’m not emotionally prepared for this. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave.

Counting down a month and a day from today.