Suj in Canada

Recently back from Malawi after 3 months of working with WASH Catalyst. Currently missing those mandazis…

Month: May, 2015

The Urban Malawi

Since yesterday and until tomorrow, I’m scoping out Blantyre – Malawi’s hub of capitalistic happenings. Whereas all the other JFs across the continent have started their placements, I’m still making my way down to Chikwawa.

From the little I’ve seen so far, Blantyre is definitely a happening place. It’s all people, fashion (weavessss), and cars everywhere.

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The downtown core isn’t a mine of skyscrapers like Chicago or Toronto but all the shiny buildings seem to proclaim a wealth that is not yet present in the surrounding rural districts.

It makes me wonder how much of a difference it makes in someone’s life if s/he grew up in Blantyre as opposed to someplace like Mangochi or Balaka. I have met people in districts who were originally from Blantyre so maybe it doesn’t make a huge difference in opportunities. As always, it’s probably part of a complex system of a number of different factors.

Today’s culture shock: The average life expectancy in Malawi is around 55. It has been quite rare to meet an elderly person.

How to kill a chicken

On our first night in Mangochi, our coach Gabe took us to his friend Jackson’s house for dinner. What ensued following dinner was a hilarious showdown between Gabe and a chicken while the rest of us watched from the sidelines.

I witnessed the death of 5 chickens that night.

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When plucking the feathers, dip the dead chicken in scalding hot water.

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is how much more connected Malawians are with their food than most Canadians. I’ve eaten chicken a thousand times but that was the first time I’d ever seen a live chicken be killed. In contrast, almost all the meals I’ve had so far in this country have been locally sourced. Except the cheese.

It’s definitely a different feeling to know how something was probably raised and prepared. And if I’m not sure, I can always ask someone.

Not really sure if there is much value in this observation but I thought of it as food for thought.

Today’s culture shock: Ugly produce is definitely a thing here. In general, everything has more colour.

A Lilongwe from home…

All the WASH Cats + Brett (WASH Coordination) are heading out today to do job shadowing with some of the venture staff before being sent off to our respective placements.

Anita (U of C) and I are heading south of Lilongwe with Monique (Long Term Fellow) to meet Gabe (another LTF) in Mangochi. According to the Lonely Planet, Mangochi used to be an important hub for the slave trade. 

Lilongwe has been a good transition from Canada to working in the districts. It was nice to have almost all the comforts of home one last time before being bombarded with greater culture shock. Still feeling a bit homesick but it’ll be nice to move on to something new. 🙂

Today’s culture shock: They drive on the other side of the road here… (British Colonialism) 

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Plaza in Lilongwe

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Near a market in Lilongwe

Moni Malawi!

After a 12 hour flight from Toronto to Addis, our WASH (water and sanitation, hygiene) JF team said goodbye to the other JFs. About 5 hours later, we landed in Lilongwe (the capital) and met the EWB WASH team in Malawi.

Internet is really expensive so I haven’t had a chance to write an update until now.. O.O but I have lots of pictures to share. 🙂

Much has happened during these four days in Lilongwe. Mostly, lots of culture shock and learning. Between the fun and the homesickness, it’s hard to find alone time to process what everything actually means… But more about that later. 🙂

Today’s culture shock: the dirt is red.

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Ethiopian Airlines was the best 10+ hours flight I've had. Quinn and Max were my flight buddies and then we parted ways in Addis.

Bon voyage!!

This is just a short status update since I’m at the airport and won’t have internet for the first little while after I land.

It’s exciting, scary, and my malaria pills make me feel sick but I’m ready. 🙂

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National Tingz

Bittersweetly, today is the last day of pre-dep. Us Africa JFs are getting on a plane tomorrow morning and OMG I’M NOT READY YET.

But it’s okay. I take comfort in the solidarity among my fellow JFs.

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Feeling half as wise and twice as hungry

4 days ago I started feeling an ache in my mouth. So I went to the dentist on Friday morning and received some unfortunate news. I essentially had 3 options: take a bunch of painkillers with me for the duration of my trip, risk an overseas operation, or just get my wisdom teeth out that day. That day, I chose to pull 2 of my wisdom teeth. It’s been a full 1 day since.

Surprisingly, it’s been alright so far. And even if it isn’t, I’m leaving the country soon for the greatest adventure ever. In other words, about the numbness in my jaw… (Zero f***s given).

“Bigger on the inside”

I used to feel sorry for the little old lady who lived in a shoe. First of all, she lived in a smelly shoe. It was probably quite smelly since it had to be a used shoe. I mean, how could she afford a new one when she had so many children that she didn’t know what to do?

But now I realize that she was a very happy woman. I know this because that’s exactly how I feel, as the little girl crammed in the EWB house with 24 roommates.

It’s been half a week since I met up with my counterparts for pre-departure training and I feel like I love every one of them already. I’ve learned that the dreamy eyed look past JFs have when reminiscing about their pre-dep is not a misguided memory. It’s the truth.

Privacy is an impossibility in a house of 25. No room or floorspace is left unoccupied every night. I live, breathe, sleep, and experience every moment of every day with these people. But it’s okay because my privacy is traded for something better and stronger: camaraderie.

And they inspire me to be a better version of myself.

Before Malawi: 10 things that I think will probably happen

Tomorrow is the start of my pre-departure training in Toronto. Everything is happening so fast and in hindsight, I probably should’ve set aside more time between Ottawa/moving, New York, and going to visit my parents. But I can’t really do anything about anything anymore.

However, one thing that I can do before leaving is a written reflection of my expectations and concerns. I thought it’d be kind of fun and horrifying to later compare my imaginings to the reality. Because lists are generally boring, I’m going to attempt this one in a buzzfeed style.

10 Things that I think will probably happen in Malawi this summer

1. I’m going to offend somebody.

Like Lauren (our chapter’s return junior fellow) has said to me time and time again, ‘it’s going to happen.’ So I’m just going to get over it and move on to more important things.

2. It’s going to be lonely….

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… at least only for the first few weeks. I’m having flashbacks of first year University when a little awkward girl decided it’d be a good idea to go live somewhere far away where she doesn’t know anyone. It seemed to work out then, so hopefully I’ll manage to pull off the same feat. Or I could just bribe people with candy.

3. Gonna save the world.

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It’s one of the most common sendoffs I’ve been receiving when people find out I’m going to Malawi this summer, “Have fun saving the world!” I wish I could save the world in 3 months. My coop work terms were 4 months each and one of my biggest accomplishments during my most recent one was understanding almost all of the acronyms that were used at the meetings.

4.Internet withdrawal will be hard.

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My understanding is that I won’t have it every day and I won’t be able to stream stuff. This is a good thing because it’ll force me to interact with my real time surroundings. But the withdrawal will be real too.

5. People will be friendly and nice…

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… is what I’ve heard. I have no reason to believe that this information will prove false.

6. I’m going to stand out. 

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And people will probably treat me differently because I’m a Westerner. I’m sure they have an idea of what Westerners are like just like we have ideas about what Africans are like. It’ll be interesting to see how much of those stereotypes will prove to be true.

7. The biggest danger is not Ebola. 

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I don’t even think Malawi had any outbreaks. And I’ve been so heavily vaccinated and medicated that I don’t think I’m going to catch anything. Plus super cleanliness is apparently a big part of Malawian culture. I think that I probably had a higher chance of getting sick on the metro in NYC.

8. Food is gonna be bland. 

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And it’ll probably be offensive if I take hot sauce. Although I did find a Korean restaurant in the guidebook so maybe if I get homesick, I’ll trek out there and just drink a vat of hot pepper paste.

9. My toilet will be a fond memory. 

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But I will survive. If everyone in Malawi can do it, I can too. No big deal.

10. This is going to be the most important and incredible thing that has happened to me since birth.

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I have little experience, no expertise, and no knowledge of the culture. I’m a foreigner and the fact that I’m going to be able to sit in and work among Malawian District Officers is kind of crazy. Kind of really crazy.

This is going to be great. 

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