Contemplating my arrival

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of posts by students from Michigan State University in the U.S. and LUANAR University in Malawi who participated in the Frugal Innovations Program of the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

By Lauren Lucas

Aug. 11, 2015

While laying beneath a mosquito net, listening to bats chirp through my walls and hyenas laugh in the distance has a way of inducing a sense of stirring adventure. it has also repetitively led to a contemplation of why and how I’ve ended up here.

In just a few short days, I have experienced feelings of inadequacy, immense joy, apprehensiveness, easy laughter, and some very real fear. It has made me question a great number of things regarding the value of my Americanized perspective, the likelihood of exchanging useful information in bustling market settings, and the potential for long-term or noticeable change resulting from this work. Yet, every new day poses the potential for progress and increased confidence in our group’s goals.

In an effort to entertain myself in the absence of an Internet connection, I recently began to read old notes written earlier this year.  Scribbled on the first page of an old notebook, my own handwriting quotes Horace, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous conditions, would have laid dormant.” (Ironically, beneath this sentence I’ve written, “Disconnect to connect.” which is an issue I’ve decided to tackle a different day.) It feels as though I’ve written myself, and my fellow MSU partners, an encouraging note to help with the navigation of a new culture, of occasionally overwhelming interactions, and marketplace crowds. It would be silly to assume that I will ever fully understand the various intertwining systems that make up Malawi’s food systems during our short stay. Instead, the companionship of LUANAR students, coupled with my inevitable uneasiness has created a space for incessant question-and-answering, knowledge sharing and comparing, and a set of fresh eyes to ask the other, “but why?” over and over again.

I can only look forward to the challenge this program has posed to my own role as a student, as a researcher, and as a visitor. Existing miles away from my comfort zone has allowed for a blank slate of information exchange, out of both pure curiosity and absolute necessity (Why is there such gender disparity among nearby marketplace vendors? How do you say “bathroom” in Chichewa?) I look forward to the upcoming immersion in a singular marketplace, the hopeful development of relationships with sellers of market goods, and the friendships that inevitably form among a group of people that are all a little nervous, scared, and excited to work together.

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