Interesting facts about my Tanzania mandate

Raj Patara's Blog - December 12th, 2016 8:53 PM


Thought  I would share a few facts  about wrapping up my mandate in Tanzania.

In my personal and humble opinion, I feel I have successfully accomplished most of the roles and responsibilities for my assignment at the National College of Tourism (NCT).  

I supported and motivated the students in both theory and practical aspect of their program.   Examples include, introducing students to new ideas and recipes for marketing to the consumers, as well as for the College's interest.  Most of the recipes were approved and tested by:  students, chefs, instructors and the principle.  The chef had shared with me, that  in the coming days, they will be doing a test pilot and are planning on  launch some of the recipes to the public.

On theory aspect,  some of the topics that were discussed with the students included: customer service, personal hygiene, allergies, and handling of food.   Since the students had come to know me, they were very comfortable with my presence.  Therefore,  I strongly sensed, students were very much engaged with these sessions.  Not only were they interested in learning more, but  the students always had questions for me and more importantly, there was continuous dialog happening between us.  Most of all, it was wonderful to hear the students perspective on the different topics we discussed about. Although it takes time and perseverance to develop any skills, nevertheless, I feel that I have helped the students to be more confident and self assertive in their daily activities and environment.  It was wonderful to hear the students saying, moving forward, they will remember and "promised" to be more engaged in their school lessons/homework, in addition to speaking English with their peers.

The wonderful Teachers and Staff at NCT

Having fun before starting class session


Blessed with many gifts

My last day at the National College of Hospitaity & Tourism

Raj Patara's Blog - November 22nd, 2016 8:24 PM

My last day at the College was very touching and emotional.  Words cannot  describe or express, the departure reception  I received from everyone: staff, teachers and students.   Therefore, I will let the photos say it all.

Being graced with the beautiful gifts from the studentsTea with the students

Front Desk Students

Front Desk

Chef Group


Movie Day for the Students

Raj Patara's Blog - November 17th, 2016 12:32 PM

During a conversation with the students, we talked about what they do over the weekends if they go out with their friends, to the movies etc.  I learned, due to financial reasons, most of the students have never had the chance to go to a cinema; and when the occasion rises, they rent DVDs and watch the movies at home.  Upon hearing this, I thought these students have to experience going to the cinema moments. So, I made arrangements with the Jovita and we planned a Friday afternoon movie day for them. The students were absolutely thrilled, not only they were going to see the movie in a cinema, but also got to visit the town “life” activity around Njiro, (where I was living).  Later on I surprised them with an ice cream treat at an ice parlor place.  The look on their faces was priceless, when they saw where they were and the treat they were going to have. The students very much appreciated this wonderful experience; they could not express their gratitude enough.  I truly felt very blessed and gratefully, for having the opportunity to do something unique for these amazing students. However, I could not say much about the movie, I fell asleep watching it.  But the students enjoyed it and that’s all that really mattered!

Movie Day

Movie Day




Ice Cream Palour

Raj’s clumsiness and embarrassing moments!

Raj Patara's Blog - November 17th, 2016 12:05 PM

For those of you, who know me very well, are aware of my clumsiness, and of course, I must maintain my reputation while here in Arusha as well.

While out for dinner one evening with the Uniterra staff members, including Leanne (volunteer), I was enjoying my french fries which were loaded with ketchup.  When all of sudden my fork jumped out of my hand (at least that’s what I think), and flew into the air, in turn, the fries landed and stuck on the front of my white shirt! In addition, the surplus ketchup made its mark and splattered everywhere on my shirt, and of course there was complete silence for a few seconds, everyone was astonished by this action. Of course, if that wasn’t enough of an embarrassing moment for one evening, next, when I was asked a question, I was expressing myself, with my hands, and then I decided to knock over a glass of red wine!   The rest of the story, I will leave to your imagination, other than my shirt had multiple colours that night.

Lab Session

Raj Patara's Blog - November 16th, 2016 1:46 PM

Although excited, I was feeling a bit apprehensive in demonstrating my skills on Indian cooking, to both Madam Chef Wilgatha and the students.   The recipe I had decided to make is called “mati”; basically it’s almost like a flaky pastry in texture, with a savory taste to it.   Since the College is looking for ideas on marketing, sellable food items to stores/consumers, thus the reason, I choose to make the mati.  From my experience, this item is very popular and sold in many shops/restaurants, in other parts of the world, (UK, India and Canada), and if I may say so myself, quite a tasty snack, for any time of the day.  Therefore, thinking of the College’s best interest, I decided to share this recipe with them.

I proceed to demonstrate my mati making with the, eager students, who wanted to learn and assist what this recipe entailed..  Once the matis were completed, they were shared with the senior management and faculty, as well as the students, to taste and for their feedback. Much to my delight, the matis were a great hit and loved by everyone, as a result, management is going to make plans on marketing to them to the public, in the very near future!

After work, I had gone to the grocery store to pick a few items, and I could not believe when I was a customer, buying the matis at this grocery store!

Making MatisMaking Mati












Continuation of my mandate at the College

Raj Patara's Blog - November 16th, 2016 1:06 PM

My mandate has been different everyday; not what I expected, but, its always pleasantly surprising for sure.
I was looking forward to today, thinking that things were back to normal at the College; and I would commence my work duties, as initial discussed the first week.  When I got to the College, I was surprised to see, everyone seemed to be on a mission.  Students, staff and instructors were seriously focused on their tasks.   I went to the kitchen, and saw it was similar; students were busy scrubbing the kitchen floors, counters etc.  I found out that, the Deputy Minster was paying a visit later on that morning, to the College!  Hence everyone was on pins and needles, to ensure the College was in immaculate conditions for his arrival.
Due to the unexpected activities going on around the College, it was decided, it was a good day for me to check out the market, for some spices I needed for my cooking. While waiting for the driver to pick me up, I was approached by the Jovita (Head Admin), to see if I could give the Front Desk students a short lesson on the pros and cons of a Front Desk's responsibilities/duties. Of course I happily obliged, (I was getting use to recovering very fast from the unplanned requests).  I am happy to say, this turned out be a very positive experience for both the students and myself.

Students cleaning the kitchen


In Class Session with the "Front Desk" Students

Raj Patara's Blog - November 16th, 2016 12:49 PM

I finally had the opportunity to participate, in the class sessions with the Front Desk”  students.  Of note, these students have chosen to complete their program, by specializing in either the receptionist or the chef fields.

Enthusiastically, I had prepared myself, with my research, notes on how to be an effective receptionist. In turn, I was feeling very pleased and confident with my preparations that I was going to share with the students.  At first the students were shy and a bit apprehensive, and reluctant to participate, in any channel of conversation.  Mind you, I was feeling nervous, myself.  But I managed to coax and encourage them; eventually the students started to open up to me.  Hence, they became very interested, engaged and the dialogue between us commenced, thus session turned out to be very constructive and positive.

On a related interest, in my view, when one is dealing with the public on many complex levels, I think it is essential for the individual to maintain his/her well being, in a optimistic manner. Therefore, during this session, I wanted to share my thoughts and views, on yoga and meditation, and the benefits of it.  However since yoga and meditation, is not well known in Tanzania, (from my observations), therefore, the students did not have any knowledge about it, and not receptive to learn about it - apart from one student.  This young student’s name was Valentine, out of the 7 students; he was the only male who was interesting in learning more about yoga and meditation!

I was happy to fulfill his request, and interestingly enough the girls appeared keen on participating as well.  If I may say so humbly, this session turned out to be a huge success, not only did the students enjoyed participating, they had fun, laughed, and eagerly trying doing the yoga poses, they appeared to be at ease and comfortable, in their environment.  In conclusion, I convinced the students to partake in meditation only if for 60 seconds, but since they all appeared to look so serene, while meditating, they were pleasantly surprised, to hear that their meditation lasted for 4 minute!  Afterwards, the students shared, that the anxiety/stress, they were experiencing earlier that morning had disappeared (they were having an exam this day). But now, they felt very much at peace, more energy and a happy state of mind.  Experiencing the results first hand, the students are interested and looking forward in learning more about yoga/meditation.  Of note, a couple of teachers also invited me to show them some of the yoga poses.


Front desk students


Photos of National College of Hospitality & Tourism

Raj Patara's Blog - November 13th, 2016 12:30 PM

Cake Measuring












Computer Lab



College Grounds


My first week at the National College of Hospitality & Tourism

Raj Patara's Blog - November 10th, 2016 12:02 PM

My work assignment at the National College of Hospitality & Tourism has been quite intriguing and full of surprises, thus far.  Originally, when I had a meeting with both chefs and the Administrator of the College, the duties and the work plans were confirmed and put in place as per the students’ timetable schedule.  Understandably,  I planned my prep work according to these commitments, and was prepared and ready for my first day at work, as well as the rest of the week (or I least thought so).  Unbeknown to me, these plans were put on the back burner; in turn, I ended up, participating and assisting the students in an entirely different capacity.

Reason being, the College got an impromptu order from a client to make lunches, for the week.  So to fulfill these requests, the students’ course schedule got re-jiggled, to accommodate these orders.  Which meant, instead of being in class for theory, the students got the opportunity to work on these menus first hand.

I too, was fortunate and got to work alongside, with the chefs and the students, I got the firsthand understanding, how a kitchen production operated, in a Tanzania College. Thinking back, this turned out to be a great opportunity for me.  In turn, I got to mingle with the students, in their “comfort territory”, appose to a formal classroom setting.   As a result, the students, started opening up to me and as such, we shared our stories back and forth of the cooking world.  We had many diversifying conversations, which often times ended up being somewhat complex.  To my amusement, the students enjoyed telling me (I think) what they are doing and in turn, telling me what to do and how to do it.  For example, a student who I would be working along with cutting veggies, would say, the size is good; but then another would come along, and say no, either they were too big, or too small!  I must admit it was quite the challenge cutting veggies, and keeping them a particular size, especial those hard ones.

Another piece of news I would like to share is, when a student found out I was from Canada, she immediately, made this strong statement, "white people are scared of their black skin" and she would be scared to come to Canada, because, "I will end up being a slave"… and I was so taken aback and stunned, when I heard those words.

On a general note, during the first full week of my mandate at the College was, I left my place around 6:15am, thus, in time to start work around 7:00am.  This was followed with tea 11:00 and lunch breaks, 1:00-2:00pm, the day concluded 4:00.  So before heading back home, I went to the Uniterra Office, to prepare for the next day sessions, (no internet at the College).  Such as, research, taking notes, printing or copying.  Of note, the copier in the Office only has the function to copy one page at a time.  So you can just imagine how long it would take to copy handouts for a class of 10 students!  Sometimes it was around 6pm before I got back to my place, and then I needed to ensure, I have had everything in place for the next day.

On a fashion note, not knowing how the laundry system worked in Arusha, I had brought enough clothes with me to last the duration. But then I found out, the College wanted me to wear only white tops, the pant colour did not matter. This was to maintain the white uniform structure, in the labs, amongst students and chefs.  Thanks goodness, I had brought 7 white tops with me, which last me for the week.  So now I have to wash these tops, at the weekend, for the start of a new week!

On a final note, everyone at the College is amazing, so, so friendly, especially the students, I feel so blessed to be working with a great bunch of wonderful students

Weather and village night life in Arusha!

Raj Patara's Blog - November 4th, 2016 1:44 PM

If anyone is interested…, the weather here is pretty awesome! It reminds me of the Canadian summer evenings, with the crickets making their music, but happy to say minus the humidity.

The mornings and evenings in Arusha, are very pleasant with cool gentle breeze, passing in and out, just a wonderful, pleasant feeling all around.  And even more so, waking up to the beautiful tropical plants and flowers, the blooms are so vibrant and full of amazing colours.  Although the afternoons, (between12- 5ish) are hot, but since there no humidity, it’s perfect.  During the afternoon when it gets hot, being inside with the very cool, light wind blowing, creates a charming atmosphere.  Oops did I emphasize on the weather a bit too much, since we are now in November!!

However, mind you, sleeping during the night is quite the unique experience.   It starts off in the evenings, when the guest house dogs can be heard, making their presence known, that they live at Aida’s Place as well.  They are usually let out around 9ish and of course, bursting with energy and excitement they have to release, start barking while, running around the lawn. Then it appears, as the village dogs congregate and start having their meetings, a bit later.  Which is howling, wailing, whining and barking, (one dog in particular, might be crying?).  Oh, cant forget the crickets, they are busy and very, very loud with their chit, chatter, practically most of the night.  Next are hens, constantly making their statements, with their cuckooing in the very, early morning hours (4:00am), and they go on and on. Shortly thereafter, the prayers come on for the Muslim community.  I suspect, to ensure that they are heard throughout the village, the speakers are on high volume, thus very loud and clear.  And of course, around 5:15 am ish, it is time for me to get up and start begin my preps, to leavefor work around 6:15 or so.

As to the insects, I was concerned about the mosquitoes, and the flies, but surprising I have not seen much, either of these pesky bugs. Except, for one freakin mosquito that tends to visit me, from time to time, and no matter how hard I try, my efforts are in vain trying to capture it. Oh well thank goodness, for the mosquito net.

I find all night activities very fascinating and interesting, so different from what I am used to back home, in Ontario!

My mandate with: National College of Hospitality & Tourism, Arusha

Raj Patara's Blog - November 1st, 2016 4:25 PM

On my first day at the National College, I was asked to make one Indian dish, for the students.  I was delighted to be given the opportunity, to show my cooking skills.  However, since I had no idea, that I would be expected to do any cooking on my first day, I had not prepared myself, in regards to what type of food making I would share with the community.  Recovering fast from the impromptu request, I decided to make pakoras.

Some students watched in awe, when I was preparing my “stuff”, while the eager ones, volunteered to assist me with the preparations. After the first batches of pakoras were cooked, students enjoyed "testing" them and talking amongst themselves, in their own language. I had no idea, what they were discussing, but they appeared to be enjoying the food. Of note, it was very interesting to see, some of the keen students were very observant, when they saw the batter getting low; they took the initiative to prepare more veggies for the it. Thus a good sign, everyone was having a great time during this session.  I am happy to say, the assignment was a great success, the students could not stop talking the pakoras. (And yes- the instructors enjoyed this treat as well).

My mandate: with National College of Hospitality & Tourism, Arusha

Raj Patara's Blog - November 1st, 2016 4:25 PM

On my first day at the National College, I was asked to make one Indian dish, for the students.  I was delighted to be given the opportunity, to show my cooking skills.  However, since I had no idea, that I would be expected to do any cooking on my first day, I had not prepared myself, in regards to what type of food making I would share with the community.  Recovering fast from the impromptu request, I decided to make pakoras.

Some students watched in awe, when I was preparing my “stuff”, while the eager ones, volunteered to assist me with the preparations. After the first batches of pakoras were cooked, students enjoyed "testing" themt and talking amongst themselves, in their own language. I had no idea, what they were discussing, but they appeared to be enjoying the food. Of note, i was very interesting to see, some of the keen students were very observant, when they saw the batter getting low; they took the initiative to prepare more veggies for the it. Thus a good sign, everyone was having a great time during this session.  I am happy to say, the assignment was a great success, the students could not stop talking the pakoras. (And yes- the instructors enjoyed this treat as well).

Journey to Tanzania

Raj Patara's Blog - October 26th, 2016 1:53 PM

Finally, I got myself settled and patiently waited at the designated gate area, until it was time for the announcements to board the plane.  But around 6:15am, I was getting a bit concerned..., then the announcement came on, gate has been change for flight, so and so! I rushed to the new gate, which took good 5 minutes of fast walking.  Apparently, the wrong gate # got printed on some boarding passes.

Sunday, October 23

At Philadelphia, waited patiently for the next transfer at the correct gate, but this time the flight was delayed by two hours. All the passengers were reassured that, arrangements were made at the other end, thus no one will miss their connections at Qatar’s airport.  I was very fortunate-again; I just made it in time for boarding my next connection. Finally reached Tanzania airport safe and sound, where I ended up ”bumping” into another L4C colleague, while filling out some paperwork.

On a final note:  my “Journey to Tanzania”, later on in the evening, I found out, that I was the “lucky chosen one-”; the airline had randomly opened and checked one of my suitcases, (security purposes). But broke the lock and zippers, to get into it!  Gee, here I was thinking, the suitcase got damaged and some kind person took the time to saran wrap it.

Just wondering why, they couldn’t have chosen the suitcase that did not have a lock on it!  Now I have to take the time to shop for a new suitcase, not too thrilled about this cost, I have incurred!

My Journey to Tanzania

Raj Patara's Blog - October 26th, 2016 1:50 PM

My flight was for 6:45am Saturday morning, flying out to Philadelphia, arrangements were made for the taxi to pick me up from home around 2:15am that morning.

Trying to sleep, between, Friday evening and just before my time to leave for the airport, I felt was not going to be productive. So Ramann (my daughter) who took the time to come from Milton, helped me with last minute packing and kept me company until 2:15am!

Saturday, October 22,

Getting to Toronto Pearson airport was kinda monotonous, at 3:15am.  However, going thru the check in process was different.  Upon checking my luggage, I was informed the suitcases were overweight by 1-2 LBS.  Must remove the extra items; otherwise, I will get nailed with a penalty fee of approx. $125.00 per suitcase, (A. Airline strict new policy), upon reaching Philadelphia, (such an inconvenience to shuffle things from the suitcase).

Moving on to the US customs, I had to fill out an online customs declaration form, on one of the computer stands.  I saw some icons that had the different countries signs on the screen, and seeing, one that had red and white, (Canada), I selected it. When I saw the writing in Chinese, guess what-wrong button, (didn’t bother to put my glasses on).  Of course, they did not have an icon for Canada, but rather separate instructions for Canadians users.  (LOL)


Daniel Gillis's blog - August 8th, 2016 2:34 PM

After more than 24 hours of travel spanning four flights, and covering four countries, four time zones, and three continents, I arrived safely at home Saturday morning. I was tired, desperately in need of a shower, and torn between which need I’d address first. As I dropped my bags inside the door of my condo, it became very clear from the wee fuzzball pawing at my pant leg and purring furiously that my first priority involved some much-needed snuggles.

Home. My home. Even though I wasn’t prepared to leave Malawi, it was nice to be home. Nice to spend the afternoon lounging with Elliot purring next to me. Nice to stretch out on my bed after spending more than 17 hours on one plane.

After an extended belly scratching and snuggles, I eventually started the process of unpacking,  doing laundry, checking the mail, and all the other things that signaled to me that my life back in Guelph had resumed from where it had left off over four weeks ago. And despite the combination of exhaustion that comes from travel, and the jet lag associated with traveling back in time through at least seven time zones (as is my understanding of the space-time continuum), it felt good to carry on with these every day tasks at home.

As I was enjoying the mundane and not-so-mentally-taxing activities that made up the bulk of my Saturday, I pondered how easy it seemed for me to fall back into my Guelph life full of kitty-related things, bills, making plans to meet up with friends, laundry, bed-making, and cleaning up the kitchen.

It was while I was cleaning up the kitchen that I opted to reward myself with some freshly brewed coffee direct from Malawi. As I reached to fill the kettle two things struck me. The first – I didn’t have to worry about the water that was coming out of my tap. Assuming all regulations had been followed and barring any unforeseen freak contamination, the water was safe to drink. I didn’t have to boil it to drink it. The second – I didn’t even question if I’d have enough power for the water to boil. More than that, I had both running water and electricity in abundance and at my fingertips.

These thoughts made me stop for a brief moment to think about the things that I take for granted every single day, the things that I just assume are going to function, and the things that I am typically warned about when they aren’t going to be available for a short period due to maintenance in the condo. Things that people in Malawi don’t experience in the same way.

And then I looked around my condo. To my left sat my french press full of freshly ground coffee waiting patiently for the water that boiled in the kettle to my right. Across the room I had turned up the volume of a show that I streamed on NetFlix using an app on my iPhone to louder-than-normal levels; an attempt to drown out the noise of my refrigerator that was cooling the condiments and pickles that defined perfectly my summer-of-travel food stores. And I was suddenly overcome with a sense of abundance, and a realization of not just taking things for granted, but having lost a sense of the wonder of our modern day conveniences.

And the day continued like this. I would begin some trivial task only to experience a brief moment where I realized what I don’t have to worry about in the day-to-day that is my life in Guelph, a brief pause where I would suddenly realize how quickly and easily I’ve lost the sense of wonder that surrounds me. I should be awed by the fact that I have infinite access to the sum of all human knowledge in a device that I can hold in my hands and carry with me almost anywhere1. I should be amazed that I can turn a tap and clean water just appears. I should be marveling at the fact that I can create ice during the hottest months of the summer. But for whatever reason, we have this amazing ability to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary and the boring, the just given and the expectation.

I don’t know that this is good or bad. I’m sure there’s probably some evolutionary purpose for not being constantly in awe of the things we see every day. Perhaps it allows us to process the rest of the world around us, or to ask new questions that haven’t been answered. But still, I think it’s good to stop and take note of the ordinary, to see the extraordinary in the everyday. Because some times there’s beauty and magic staring us right in the face, but we’re too busy to see it.

1In reality I find I’m more often than not frustrated with that silly little device because it isn’t fast enough, or because I have run out of memory to take another photo because it currently holds over 700, as well as several albums, and an entire collection of books. Nope – nothing amazing about that silly little thing at all.

Originally Posted Here

What I Take With Me As I Leave

Daniel Gillis's blog - August 8th, 2016 2:25 PM

So here it is, my final day in Malawi. In a few short hours (1:40pm Friday afternoon, to be precise) I'll be boarding the first of several glorified shiny lawn darts that will be launched through the air taking me away from Lilongwe, through Blantyre, Addis Ababa, Dublin, and finally Toronto on my long journey home to Guelph. If all goes according to my very detailed airline itinerary, I should be touching down in Toronto at 8:30am Saturday morning, meaning I should be at the door of my condo roughly around 10am or so.

While I'll be excited to spend my very short return to Guelph snuggling with the wee fuzzball and catching up with friends, I'm struggling with the fact that I'm leaving. As I wrote in my last post, I don't feel like I've done enough yet. But it's actually more than just that - and I'm really struggling to put it into words. The best I can say is that I've got this feeling in my gut that I'm not finished here; that I'm leaving for now, but that I have to and will come back.

And it's more than just wanderlust and my desire to adventure. It's that something here is pulling at me, pick-pick-picking at me from some part of my brain that I haven't yet been able to shine a light on, leaving me with this incredible gnawing feeling of incompleteness. It's as if there's this urgent hollowness that seems to grow in the pit of my gut as the minute and hour hands of the clock race towards the moment when I'll see the red soil of Malawi fall far below me, and the places and people I've met here will blend together to form a beautiful patchwork of farmland and villages; a simplified and aggregated memory of the experiences I've had while I've been here.

The best I can figure is that this all stems from the incredible richness and variety of the moments that have made my time here so incredible. I've talked of the incredible beauty of the country - the land, the burnt red soil, and the incredible and seemingly endless vistas that stretched out before me as we drove to a weekend getaway. I've already written about the spirit that seems to embody and define the people of Malawi, and I've mentioned on numerous occasions the people who I've met who have inspired me with their incredible hearts, their charm, and their openness to the world and how they might make it better. And it seems that these things have created a near perfect storm - a too perfect mix of all the right ingredients at just the right time - and it's almost overwhelming.

But tied to this is an incredible sense of urgency, one that I'm sad to say I had never heard of at home. I don't know if that's because the story wasn't newsworthy, or if perhaps I was distracted by any number of things happening around me, but I can't help but feel that I should have known better before I arrived here about the state of food security in Malawi. And this feeling is only intensified given that food security has become such a major part of my day-to-day since my students began the long journey towards developing the Farm To Fork program.

The fact is that Malawi has a population of roughly 16.4 million people. Last year, as a direct result of climate change, extreme weather, and changing weather patterns, combined with a lack of infrastructure common to developing nations, roughly 1.2 million people were going hungry and needed assistance. As stunned as I was to learn that fact, it paled in comparison to what I learned about the situation this year. Six point four million.

Let that number sink in.

Six point four million people, in a country of 16.4 million. That's pushing 40% of the population going hungry. What makes this so intensely worse is that Malawi is full of rich farmland - land that could and should be used to feed the country, but also generate income for its people. It has water to irrigate the crops. It has an incredibly resilient people to grow and tend to the crops. And yet that number - 6.4 million - still rips through my heart and my mind. The impending food crisis in Malawi is not something that should be happening - it goes against logic. And it's something that could be fixed - not by handing out food (although in the short term that is exactly what will be needed) - but by building the infrastructure and capacity of the people who live here and go to school here and work here.

And so as I leave here, I do so feeling that I'm leaving at the very time I should be staying to help. And it's not that I think that I will somehow fix things. It's just that I have this sense that I have to help; that I have to do whatever is in my power to make things better. And maybe this is the ultimate source of the urgent hollowness I feel.

Don't get me wrong, I'm leaving Malawi feeling privileged for this experience. I'm leaving with a sense that I've done the job I was intended to do. And I'm leaving with an overwhelmingly abundant supply of beautiful memories of laughter and new friends. But I'm also leaving knowing that I have much more work to do.

Farewell for now Malawi, but know that somehow I'll find my way back to the Warm Heart of Africa.


Originally Published Here 


The Space Between

Daniel Gillis's blog - August 3rd, 2016 8:39 AM

Today and tomorrow – that’s all that remains of my Leave For Change mandate with the Agricultural Research and Extension Trust (ARET) of Malawi. Two working days with which to finalize a set of deliverables, including a final report full of recommendations and ideas for partnerships that is intended to provide a path towards a long term program for effective data management, community outreach, education, and extension. Two working days to complete the various reports and exit documentation for World University Service of Canada (WUSC). And of course, two working days with which to say farewell – but not necessarily goodbye – to the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to work with for the past four weeks, and the incredible friends I’ve made along the way. 

It’s going to be a very full two days.

It’s a little hard to believe that four weeks have flown by so quickly. I’m sure that as I board the plane on Friday I’ll be feeling as if I had just stepped off the plane, blinked, and turned around to head back home. But despite the seemingly impossible bending of space-time that connects the beginnings and the endings of remarkable experiences, I know that in the space between I’ve collected countless memories, satisfied childhood dreams, added new and amazingly brilliant people to the list of people I call friends, and hopefully helped in some small way to build the resiliency and capacity of an incredible country and deeply beautiful people. 

The more I sit and reflect on this experience, the more I am impressed and inspired by Malawi and its people. Although the country is listed as one of the poorest in the world, and given the very real challenges that the country faces in light of climate change, food security, and insufficient infrastructure (to name a few), the people carry on every day with huge smiles. They speak about the beauty of Malawi from a place rooted deep inside, and in a way that tells me that they will not simply manage adversity, they will triumph over it. The spirit here is incredibly strong, and it’s impossibly inspiring. 

Malawi is indeed the Warm Heart of Africa. It’s evident in the burnt red soil, and in the brilliant red and pink and orange sunrises and sunsets. But more than that, much more than that, the Warm Heart of Africa is a badge of honour, an attitude and way of life that is evident in the smiling faces of every single person I meet here, in their unreserved hellos and good mornings or good evenings whenever I pass by. It’s in their hospitality and their desire to share their culture and language unashamedly and freely. This attitude seems to radiate from within them regardless of what they are doing or what their current lot in life, and it’s at once both heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s heartbreaking because the challenges they deal with every day could easily be solved if we spent more time caring about our fellow human beings than what any random celebrity is wearing, but it’s also incredibly beautiful because it speaks of a strength and resiliency and purpose that I hope to carry with me when I leave Malawi. 

Ultimately as I spend my last few days finalizing paperwork and putting the final touches on deliverables, I feel that I’ve cheated the system. WUSC sent me here with a mandate to work with ARET, to teach skills that would build capacity and resiliency in the organization so they could more effectively do the important work they do with and for the farmers of Malawi. But after four short weeks I feel that I’m about to leave here having learned far more than I’ve managed to teach, having shared in experiences that I would never get to experience at home, and having been reminded of the things that I take for granted on a minute-by-minute basis back home. I have gained so much from this trip that it seems for me to leave now is unfair, that I haven’t done enough with my time here. Malawi has given me far more than I feel I could ever give it in return, and for that I’m eternally grateful. 

I will miss this place but I know I’ll return. And in the time between then and now, I’ll do my best to keep the Warm Heart of Africa alive as I go about my day-to-day life. 


Originally Posted Here

An Unexpected Getaway

Daniel Gillis's blog - August 2nd, 2016 2:44 PM

Thursday night was Jon's last night in Malawi. To celebrate, we decided to head to a local sports bar for food and beverages. It was the typical band of misfits - Justeen, Jon, Dylan, and me - but we were also joined by Dylan and Justeen's friend Emma (who was in town on a visit from Cape Town), and the Other Canadians, Donovan, Chloe, Steph, Kacey, and Tom. Apart from us, and the few employees that worked there, the bar was empty. Of course, this didn't stop us from having a good night. Between pool, foosball, food, and beer, there was a substantial amount of laughter, stories about times abroad, stories of home, and even more stories about shenanigans.

Friday night was more of the same, and then some. I joined the same band of misfits, minus Jon, on an adventure to several of the local clubs. Again, the night was filled with laughter and stories, but this time accompanied by a hookah or two. Of course, given that I've had a constant cough since before I left Spain in mid-June, and since I'm not really a fan of smoke, I opted to stick solely with beer. I think this was a wise decision because when I woke the next morning my lungs, eyes, and sinuses were not terribly happy (thank you second-hand smoke). Regardless, it was a small price to pay for such a fun night with such a great crew.

Of course, this was only the beginning of the weekend. When I woke up Saturday I knew I had to get myself sorted as I'd accepted an invitation from Justeen to head to the beach with her, Dylan, and Emma. I can't remember if she asked me about this on Thursday or Friday because my memory is terrible, but given how much fun our previous adventures had been, I immediately said yes. And so, after carefully extracting the remnants of myself from bed, I set off after showering to fill my belly with all the coffee in the world and a dash or two of food. With that accomplished and feeling somewhat more human, I grabbed what I thought I'd need for the trip. Given that we were heading to the beach, I grabbed an extra pair of shorts, an extra shirt, and a towel.

Team-beach picked me up not long after I'd finished breakfast and packing. I threw my bag in the trunk and jumped in the car next to Steph - who was hitching a ride with Dylan back to Salima where she has been living this summer. We stopped for cash, and then headed to a market for food and souvenirs, and then were on the road. It was around the time that we stopped for cash that I asked Dylan and Justeen exactly what the plans were. This was also the time that I learned that Dylan had already booked our accommodations and we'd be gone for the weekend. For the record - Justeen may have told me this - but I have no memory of it. That's not her fault, I'm really just that much of a twit.

You don't have enough clothes. You don't have a toothbrush. You left your computer and iPad behind and you were going to work on your presentation and report for your community partner ARET. You don't have deodorant. You don't have ANYTHING!

These were all thoughts that immediately flashed through my mind. But just as quickly as they arrived I decided to sweep them away. I was about to spend yet another weekend with some pretty spectacular people in a beautiful country at an incredibly breathtaking lake. My enjoyment was not going to be guaranteed by a toothbrush, or a change of clothes, and it definitely wouldn't have been guaranteed by working on a presentation or a report all weekend. What would bring me joy would be to spend another weekend sharing food, stories, and laughter with Dylan and Justeen, and their friend Emma.

And with that, I gave myself over to the weekend and whatever it would bring. And as with most decisions like this that I've made in my life, it was absolutely the best thing I could have done. The weekend was amazing. The lake was gorgeous, and the sunsets were stunning. We shared the pool and our patio with a group of baboons. I soaked up the sun while I watched transfixed as a stream of ants worked tirelessly around me (taking the time to rescue several that had fallen in the pool). I thought about everything, and I thought about nothing, and I completely lost myself for short moments that felt like an eternity as I inhaled the beauty and tranquility around me. But most importantly, I spent the weekend with some truly remarkable people.


Originally Posted Here

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