Suj in Canada

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

Tag: Canada

There is a famine in Africa… again.

Two weeks ago I learnt that my host father in Malawi was facing some financial difficulties.

This week my friend told me that his mother in Malawi said that there is a food shortage in the country.

Today I realized that the two were related. But I don’t think I would’ve cared about the latter if it wasn’t for the former. 

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Actually, Malawi isn’t the only country in Africa that is currently facing a food shortage problem. Many other countries including Ethiopia are affected as well. The relatively poor harvests of last year are partially to blame as are the irregular weather patterns that bring floods and disease. Perhaps the government also bears some responsibility for the sufferings of some of its citizens because they manage the apparently abundant food reserves yet some people are feeling the strain of last year’s poor harvests. That is not to say that everybody in Malawi is on the brink of death – some people are managing just fine. However, food insecurity as a country is reportedly one of the worst in the last few years.

However, none of this is reflected in the mainstream media in Canada or the United States. I mean, sure, food shortages aren’t exactly domestic news material and there is so much going on in the world internationally that something like this is probably difficult to slip in among the crowded boxes of an 11.75″ X 21.5″. Yet that is exactly the problem. A man dying of starvation in Malawi is not “new” news. Why is that? Is it because it’s “just another famine in Africa?” Or is it because the famine is not severe enough to be a famine but is merely a food shortage?

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One of my former colleagues from the Chikwawa District Water Office challenged me today when I inquired about the food shortage. He asked me if I was asking because I wanted to donate. My immediate internal reaction was defensive.

‘I’m still a student. I don’t have a steady income and a ton of loans. Besides, doesn’t donating just create systemic dependence?’

I skirted around the uncomfortable question with some unsatisfactory response about not having an income or knowing where to donate to which he said something along the lines of ‘If you ask, you will find a place.’

And that made me uncomfortable because, in some ways, he was right. If I really wanted to donate, I could probably find a way. So instead of saying “I can’t donate,” a more honest response would be “I don’t want to donate,” as uncomfortable as it may be to say that.

I don’t want to donate. 

My reasons are legitimate, for me. I DO have student debt and I DON’T have a secure income at the moment. I DON’T WANT to risk being financially insecure in the immediate future so I’m being selective about my spending habits.

Yet I think I need to acknowledge that I’m not going to contribute financially to this problem out of CHOICE and live with the uncomfortable feeling of that decision, regardless of any moral judgment.

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I’m not really sure if there was a point to this blog post. I just felt like I needed to organize my thoughts because I had a lot of strong feelings about the issue this week.

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For people who wish to donate or help 

in some other capacity, I strongly urge doing research so that you can have the most positive impact. From just the news articles I’ve seen after a preliminary google search, it seems like the World Food Programme (WFP) and Unicef are trying to alleviate the situation. I’m not too sure what kind of methods they are using for this particular issue but it’d probably be a good place to start.

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A view of the beautiful gardens in Chikwawa

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Learning to be alone again…

Today has been the first really normal day since I’ve returned to Canada. And it sucks.

I’ve been unpacking and cleaning all day without seeing a soul except for the brief encounter with one of my roommates. This was my norm before I left. I treasured these moments of solitude when I could think and dance and just do whatever I wanted in the privacy of my own space.

But now.. It’s different.

When I first arrived in Malawi, I fought so hard to find my quiet place, to take some alone time away from my host family. I needed it. To organize my thoughts, to take a breather from the culture shock, to be myself in the presence of only myself…

Near the end of my placement, I hardly ever took any alone time. I’d grown used to the routines and become comfortable in the communal space where you are only ever alone in your mind. I now realize that I dearly miss the community, especially since nothing like it exists in my Canadian cultural norms.

So now what?

Instead of turning to netflix as an emotional handicap and substitute for being alone, I think I might just finish cleaning my room first. Then I’m going to order some takeout and maybe read a book and knit.

It’s lonelier, for sure. But I think I just need to accept that I’ll always love that part about village life in Malawi and try to rediscover the solitary activities that are different, but are also of value.

There is no such thing as the perfect environment. You just gotta work with what you’ve got… Or at least that’s what Malawi has taught me this summer.

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Today’s Reverse Culture Shock: I found myself frowning at the bus stop the other day and forced myself to smile. But it just felt awkward and out of place. In Malawi I had always tried to smile and be approachable but I’m finding that my norm here in Ottawa is to be as unapproachable as possible. The same seems to go for everybody else. But it’s funny because nobody would ever approach anybody else anyhow, regardless of a smile on their face or not.

There and Back Again…

We landed today. Especially in the midst of story sharing with my fellow JFs, Malawi already seems like a distant dream. Did that really happen?

At least I have the photos and WhatsApp messages to remind me that it was indeed very real.

But now that I’m back in Canada, I’m starting to afford an outsider’s look on my placement. What was my impact? Did I actually work with my stakeholders in mind? In what state did I leave my partner, the Chikwawa District Water Development Office?

Canada poses many questions of its own as well. This is the donor side of the world and I’m finding that I am questioning the coherence of the marketed work here with the actual work across the ocean. EWB certainly does not escape scrutiny.

But right now, I’m too jet lagged and haggard from the 24+ hours of travel from Lilongwe to Toronto to dig too deep into these systemic issues.

So until the next time…

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Oh Canada