This mountain I’m climbing down

Rights Media Education Officer Ali Schofield reflects on the hills and valleys of Blantyre, where she spent her six month internship in Malawi. Photo by Nina Lex.

As I sat in Toronto’s Pearson airport five months ago getting ready to board the first of three flights to Malawi, I got an email from my father containing a quote that he thought was relevant to this particular moment in my life – my first time moving to Africa.

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it,” said Charles Dudley Warner.

With less than two weeks left in Malawi I can see the base of this mountain that I have gradually (and reluctantly) been climbing down.

And while I certainly experienced the wonderful feelings of nervousness and excitement that do come at the beginning of any journey, there have been many more felt since then; of delight, yes, but also of fear, wonder and love.

Just a few weeks after arriving in Malawi, the country broke out into two-day long national protests, and from inside my house on the first day, July 20th, I heard gunshots for the first time in my life. I would be lying if I said that even from the relative security of my home there wasn’t a part of me that was frightened –  frightened for my friends reporting in the field; frightened for my new countrymen and women; but perhaps most frightened that if the violence kept up I would be forced to leave the country too soon.

Luckily that did not happen.

Luckily I was able to continue with my work and get to know my colleagues and students at the Malawi Institute of Journalism.

I was told before I left Canada, that even on a day when it seemed my whole world had been turned on its head, I would get out of bed for my students – and this is true.

Being able to work with them on MIJ’s human rights radio program, Neighborhood Watch, has been a pleasure. Their passion for addressing human rights issues in their communities has astounded me on a weekly basis; I do my best to empower them but they are truly motivated by the injustices they see. On top of this they are bright and keen and have infectious smiles and I feel privileged to get to know them.

And then there have been those fateful moments when I have met new people, who have become acquaintances and friends: the lady who owns a restaurant in town; our amiable neighbors; colleagues who have introduced us to their communities and invited us for a “braii” (barbeque).

We have made friends who make wonderful music that can move a crowd a mile away and make us laugh so hard you think you might die happily giggling. They are people to spend hibernation days with, when the threat of more protests and potential violence becomes too great and we think it wise to stay inside.

And I’ve had my fellow interns – my “chemwenwe” and “chemwali” (my brother and sister) – with whom I have shared all of this.

I’ve endured protests and potential parasites; I’ve finally started to look right when I cross the street; I’ve beaten my friend Travis in bawo in less than four minutes, and have been beaten myself by many a Malawian.

I have learned basic Chichewa and made Malawians laugh with my attempts to speak it seriously, and I have come to say good morning to nearly every person I pass on my way to work.

I have become a Malawian (an honorary one, at least) at a time when this country has begun to change; when the people have risen up to demand good governance and when they have then been intimidated back into near silence.

I believe that the delight that Charlie Warner was talking about is that moment when you allow yourself to revel in the unknown and wonder what might happen on your trek. While my experience is nearly over I know not how it will end, so I’d say there’s still some of that delight left.

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