Muli Bwanji!

Hello friends!

Or, muli bwanji, in Chichewa, the language spoken throughout much of Malawi.

This probably (hopefully?) won’t be too long of a post as I am typing on my phone! My laptop has been left in Zomba while I travel this weekend.

As you can presume from the fact that I am writing to you all, I have indeed made it safely to Malawi. I arrived in Lilongwe (the capital) on Monday afernoon and spent the first few nights at a lodge while we went through orientation with WUSC Malawi (our sending Canadian organization). Us is the 8 female Canadian volunteer interns who are with the Malawi Student Without Borders program this time around. We arrived together and will see each other on and off I’m sure. Five of the girls are living in a volunteer house together in Lilongwe, two are staying at a lodge in Blantyre and that leaves just me! I am living in the back of a pastry/coffee shop called MaiPai (pronounced “my pie”), in Zomba.

The first few days watching the Lilongwe ladies settle into their home, making plans for shared tuk tuks and the weekend, I was feeling pretty nervous about the fact that I would be all by myself. Additionally, WUSC hasn’t sent volunteers to Zomba in a long time so no one could give me information on things to do, places to get groceries, good taxis to call etc. Considering everything in Malawi is done by word of mouth and who you know, this was a little stressful! In fact, all anyone could tell me was how beautiful Zomba is…not that I am complaining about natural beauty!

We spent our time in Lilongwe going over culture, language and little things like how to buy phone minutes, how to take mini buses (the slightly sketchy public transport), where to find the vegetable market. We also did some more work oriented tasks like reviewing how they want us to go about monitoring and evaluating our work and how to fill out our workplans.

Finally, on Thursday morning it was time to head to Zomba! It was about a four hour drive down to the more southern part of Malawi and we arrived just in time for my introductory meeting with my organization. I will be working for the next 3 months as a Youth Leadership Officer with “ArtGlo” or in longer terms, the Art and Global Health Centre Africa. They use creative leadership programs and approaches to health and development. For example, they have a program called Make Art Stops Aids and a Students With Dreams program (which I will mostly be working on) which gives university students funding and an open slate to develop creative development projects. They are then supported by the centre to impliment them and also grow in their own abilities as leaders. Having worked as a leadership facilitator at camp, I remember getting to watch the kids develop their skills and become more confident and how rewarding that process was so I am super excited to be working in youth programming again and with students at the university. From what I understand I will also be helping to update training manuals and write funding proposals. I’m sure I will get a better idea as I get settled in but that is what I know so far. I met a couple of coworkers who were super welcoming and very cool so I can’t wait to be introduced to everyone else on Tuesday!

Why Tuesday? It just so happens that we arrived right before a long weekend for a national holiday! Not wanting to waste any potential travel time, the other interns and I scrambled to get together taxis and hostels at Lake Malawi. We are going to Cape Maclear tomorrow (Saturday) and staying until Monday. Apparently it is the big tourist and expat hotspot so we will see!

That said, I will be living alone in Zomba so it made more sense for me to tag along to Blantyre and then taxi from there so I am visiting here until we leave tomorrow. More dinners with volunteers and my third city tour in three days! So far, so good.

I don’t have much to say about Zomba itself as I was just there for about 16 hours haha. Still, we walked around the “city” (its a more like a town, if that haha). But it is so green!! And at the foot of a mountain so safe to say, I am already obsessed. The coffee shop I will be staying at seems really cute and all the staff were so welcoming. I’m excited for my daily walks to work and to get to know the city and the people! More on my adventures there to come, I am sure.

I’m going to say goodbye for now! We are meeting with a WUSC volunteer who is a gender advisor so that should be super interesting. Keep posted for lake pictures because, I guess I am going on vacation this weekend! Not what I was expecting but I am excited 🙂

Until next time, Sam

Transitions

Friends! It’s been a while hasn’t it? I feel like I always end up busier than I intend to be and suddenly important things get pushed to the side, like long walks catching up with friends and writing on this blog! Still, I can’t help but be grateful for the busyness; it means lots of chasing passions and meeting with people who make my soul smile!

Alas, another semester has come and gone and with it, a new transition and adventure is quickly approaching. Yesterday was my last day of co-op at Volunteer Canada, today all my residents have moved out and I had my last pre-departure training before Malawi, tomorrow I have to leave Leblanc (forever my favourite residence) and say goodbye to all my Ottawa people. Then I have a week at home before heading off next Sunday for 12 weeks in a new country, on a new (to me) continent. Wild.

This is the first time I’ve left Ottawa feeling sad to leave my home here. After first year, I went to camp for the summer. I’d only lived in Ottawa for 8 months and during that time I had rarely strayed from campus. Additionally, all my friends were also leaving for the summer and heading back to their respective homes, traveling, working at camp, etc. So leaving felt natural and although I was glad to go back in September, I wouldn’t have called Ottawa my “home”town. I even wrote a blog post about not having a “home” per say!

However, it’s been nearly two consecutive years now of living in this city.  I have adapted to this place’s quirks and it’s quiet culture. I have favourite coffee shops and I’m a regular at an open mic night. I know where to go to find green space and where to go to find quiet and where to go to embrace chaos. My network is large and supportive and I feel known in Ottawa which was something I missed a lot when leaving Barrie. I like to know people and be known and have connections in many circles.

SO this summer leaving Ottawa is sad. But it makes me all the more grateful to remind myself that I once wondered if I’d ever feel at home again. I do and I will, wherever I go. I remind myself that wherever I go, there are places I can find and call my own and people who will see me and choose community with me. This last semester especially I have found myself feeling rooted in the communities God has created for me here in Ottawa. And I have been reminded of all the different layers that make up a network. From the people I smile at when I pass on campus to my residents who I am meant to guide and support, to my co-workers at co-op and my fellow CAs, to my dear friends with whom I share my heart and my dear friends with whom I share laughs, to people in my program I can debate with and learn from and my friends in different programs who open my eyes to new things, widening my perspective, to my Christian community and my Outdoor’s community, to my people I catch up with once a semester and the ones I make sure to see every week. I am so grateful to have these intermingling and oh so important, layered, and real relationships. As beautiful of a city I think Ottawa is, it is the people I have learned to call “mine” that I will miss the most in Malawi.

Isn’t it funny how much longer it takes to fall in love with a place when you know it may be permanent? When I went on exchange I quickly felt at home in my adopted city of Geneva and I will always have a home on Kitchi sands, despite having lived there for a collective time of maybe a year. But when I came to Ottawa, it took 3 full years to feel comfy and settled here. I find that so odd.

I think it’s because it takes longer to admit that your real and permanent life is transitioning, that you are not adopting a second or third home but moving your main base somewhere new. I really doubt I will ever call Barrie home again. Not because I dislike or because there aren’t still people there that I love but simply because my career and my life will call me elsewhere. So, I think I held onto that being “home” for as long as possible, even subconsciously.

I also have higher standards for Ottawa than I ever do for temporary homes. All those layers and intermingled connections I talked about? Those take time to cultivate. Deep friendships can sometimes happen quickly but having networks of co-workers and acquaintances and classmates and church families and friends in different places take time. Having people to wave at in the streets takes time. Having the barista know your order at the coffee shop near work takes time. Having people you can ask to pray for you takes time. Your go to study people, your outdoor adventuring people, your “listen to my deepest dreams” people and your “come have a beer with me” people all take time to find. Finding all those things at once? Takes a whole lot of time!

I still love going home to Barrie too, don’t get me wrong. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in the same town so it always feels familiar and I love going to see my family. But my dad is moving provinces, my mom lives in outside the city limits now and most of my friends are also off on their own new adventures. Ultimately, my ties there get weaker all the time and to me, those relational ties are much more important than the physical streets and buildings (and even those I recognize less and less each time I visit!). They say home is where the heart is, and my family will always be a home to me but Barrie itself is less and less.

More than anything, you have to build a life in order to build a home. Ottawa is no longer just the city I go to school in. It has slowly and surely become the place in which I centralize my life. It’s my home base when I travel and the place I know the most people. It’s where I’ve invested in people and in places and in connections. And I am grateful to be sad to leave.

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Transitions have never been easy for me. I think by now I put on a pretty good face and make it seem like I’m fine but since I was little I have cried at goodbyes. I still cry every time my mom drives away and leaves me in Ottawa and I cried a little leaving my job yesterday. I just love a lot and so it makes it hard to leave ya know?

But not to fear, Ottawa, this is all just temporary. Before you know it, it will be August and I will be back to couch surf with all those lovely friends I mentioned!!!! Praise Jesus for friends with open arms and open doors because low-key I will not have a literal, physical home for 3 weeks during summer school haha.

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And on that note? I AM GOING TO MALAWI IN ONE WEEK. HOLY COW!!

I have barely let myself get excited until now because everything has been so up in the air but I have a tentative flight – still no ticket, but you know, trusting that everything will work out – and I am (almost) free from residence, work and school so now I have time to dream about my internship, the things I will learn, the places I will go and the people I will meet.

Until then I am excited to spend a week snuggling my family, hanging out in the sunshine, eating food I didn’t have to cook, hiking (hopefully), driving the car, singing in the shower and talking to Jesus about how to make this experience as impactful as possible (for me and all my soon-to-be friends in Malawi)!

Until next time,

Sam

P.s. This my 100th blog post on Sam’s Grand Adventure!! How wild is that? Thanks to all for sticking with me and my ramblings for this long!

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I want to tell authentic stories

Ask anyone who knows me – I like to talk. Specifically, I like to tell stories. I try to keep them honest, to recount them the way they actually happened as best as I can. Sometimes I tell it in a dramatic or funny way but I keep it real. And isn’t that what a storyteller is? Someone who relays the facts without distorting them but also without boring people?

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The thing is, stories are how we relate to people. It’s how we share bits of our lives, parts of who we are. It’s a way to see that we aren’t alone in the world, a way to let people in, a way to be vulnerable. Sure, sometimes telling my friends about my crazy professor or my long drawn out adventure across campus to get a form signed may not seem like a vulnerable thing but it’s all part of the continual process of letting people in, of learning to relate to others and of learning how to confidently portray who we are.

But what if I didn’t get to tell my own stories? What if they were always being told by observers who didn’t really understand me and who wanted the narrative to fit their own perception of who I am? They say that there are three sides to every story: your point of view, the other person’s point of view and the truth. What if the other person’s point of view was the only one to be told, always, in every circumstance? More importantly, what if their version of the story always portrayed you as weak, incompetent, destitute or worse?

That is the danger of a single story.

As many of you may know, this summer I will be interning in Malawi as part of pursuing my degree in International Development. I am so very excited to have gotten a position with Art and Global Health Centre Africa as a Youth Leadership Officer and I cannot wait to go and live and learn with people on the other side of the world, in a continent I have yet to visit. As part of the course uOttawa has associated with the internship program, I have to go through 30-50 hours of pre-departure training this semester. We usually meet on Saturday mornings and discuss how to ask yourself powerful questions about your internship, how to look at issues of power, privilege and intersectionality, what is means to build capacity in your host organization and other topics to help each of us make the most of this incredible experience while also being as respectful, helpful, humble and open-minded as possible. I am grateful to be part of a program that cares about the ethics behind working internationally in the Global South. And after a weekend of training with WUSC, CECI and Uniterra, I am also feeling pretty blessed and encouraged by the insightful, intelligent, passionate and thoughtful other interns who will be going to Malawi at the same time as me, as well as those who will be in other countries this summer. It is very inspiring to be in a room with people who share your passions.

A week ago we watched a video recorded at TEDGlobal in 2009 called “The Danger of a Single Story”. The official description is “our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”(see video below).  Basically, she talks about the pervasive international perception of “Africa” as a poor country in need of saving, and the importance of exposing oneself to multiple stories or perspectives of individual countries and people in order to relate to them, to celebrate difference while also seeing the threads that tie us all together. At least that is what I got from her message, although it is far from verbatim.

When I got home, I started searching for movies, TV shows, YouTube videos and books about Malawi and/or by Malawians. I found very, very few. Those I could find were mostly written from the perspective of foreigners.

And so I guess what I have been pondering is, how do I make sure that when I tell stories about my time in Malawi, I am not perpetuating the single story? How do I stay true to my own perspective and also accurately portray other people’s experiences? How do I avoid telling stories that are not mine to tell while also using my opportunity to learn from the Malawian people and share my thoughts, feelings and lessons learned with those here in Canada who do not have the same experience? I want my time in this nation to impactful, to build capacity in my host organization, to build capacity in myself and to share knowledge with those who I have influence over, whether through my relationships, my social media, or this blog.

I know that my stories will always carry bias. The biases of being white, of being a Christian, of being Canadian. Of speaking English as a first language, of being a student of international development, of being straight and of the quirks of my own personality. Even that fact that I identify storytelling as being part of who I am, influences the way I communicate, the way people listen and the opportunities I am given to be heard.

I want my storytelling of my time in Malawi to be authentic, honest and true to both me and the people I share my experiences with.

I don’t necessarily have answers, no promises of how I am going to make that happen. But I want you all to know that it is something I am thinking about and something I am going sincerely make effort towards.

So watch this space. I am filled with anticipation. I feel very privileged to get to pursue the things I am passionate about and to have experiences I have dreamed of for a very long time. And I am excited to share them with you. Adventures come in all sizes and types and I try to live everyday like an adventure. But I have to admit, some are a lot more grand than others and I suspect my time in Malawi will be one of the greatest yet.

Please watch the video below and think about the ways in which you can explore broadening the narratives you hear.

Thank you for listening to my stories. I am so grateful to each of you for making space in your lives for my words.

Until next time, Sam