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In the Spirit of “Isness”

August 19, 2010

I’m generally not a big comparer, but since arriving in Malawi, four days ago, I have had trouble not drawing lines between what I see, feel, smell and do to my experience in Ghana 5 years ago. In fact I have thought very little about my life back in Canada and very much about my 4 months in Ghana in 2005. I’m not saying my comparisons are a bad thing, or that I regret them, or even that I should stop. This continent all too often gets grouped into one large stereotype and I’m learning more than ever, just how false that is. Appreciating differences can make us stronger, and recognizing diversity is important.

During our pre-departure training, we were introduced to the concept of “isness” (one thing isn’t better or worse, it just ‘is’). This brought a name to something that I’ve often thought about and felt, but never really been able to name, especially not so aptly. I’ve felt it quite strongly in the last couple days, here are a few of my observations to show what I mean:

Ghana: Outgoing street food vendors at three feet intervals along the road
Malawi: Quiet restaurants that are often tucked away in markets or behind walls

Ghana: Bustling capital city that is hoping with people and shops
Malawi: Laid back capital city that mostly shuts down after dark

Ghana: People who take great pleasure in reaching out to welcome and greet you
Malawi: People who are very pleased when you reach out and greet them

Ghana: Sleeping without even a sheet to keep cool
Malawi: Snuggling under multiple blankets at night to keep warm

Ghana: Many choices of dishes all very different from western food
Malawi: Minimal choices of dishes, quite similar to western food

I recognize that it’s been a while since I’ve been in Ghana, so my recollections may be somewhat skewed, and that first impressions of Malawi are very surface level from just a few days here. I look forward to revisiting these descriptions in a little while to see if and how they have changed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. minashahid permalink
    August 20, 2010 12:16 pm

    Hey Alyssa!!!!

    Great post – I think “isness” is a great way to describe the differences between Malawi and Ghana!! I too have been comparing often life in Zambia to now life in Ghana! It’s a challenge sometimes to not relent in that previous experience, especially since it is the only other experience I have in sub-saharan Africa! I think you got it bang on with some of the differences. I’m going to work on just seeing Ghana as Ghana, but I still believe the comparisons are good for my own learning and reflection.

    I’m missing you and the crew a lot, I’d love to have a nice long phone conversation about this topic in the future!!

    take care,


  2. Sandra permalink
    August 20, 2010 1:33 pm

    Hey Alyssa! Very interesting how different you are finding the two countries. Also very true that the whole area is often lumped together–I certainly would have expected the two places to be much alike. But I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about the area. (I don’t think I could find Ghana or Malawi on a map without studying it for a long time!) I’m looking forward to having my eyes opened through reading your blog! 🙂
    Also, I like the concept of “isness”!

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