I’ll never forget my first day in a Malawian newsroom.
I came in eager, ready to utilize countless hours of preparation and training done in Toronto. I was rushing around like a mad woman, introducing and explaining myself to everyone. I figured first impressions were the key to success in any new job.
I wanted instant gratification.
I wanted results.
After all, there were gripping stories everywhere I looked, and my inner-journalist wanted to start telling them immediately. I thought I was doing everything right until an editor pulled me aside, and said,
“You’ll have to be patient. We move at a much slower pace here.”
I was speechless.
It was my first day, and I had already overlooked a key intercultural difference – the value of time.
In Malawi, things get done when they get done. Time is not the tool used to structure, plot and organize because you are in a constant battle with resources. Anything and everything has the potential to backfire due to factors beyond your control.
There may be no fuel for transport, no phone cards to call sources, no recorders for your looming radio report, no internet for research and no electricity to write your script.
People are also speed bumps. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that functions never start when they’re supposed to, and sources to be interviewed have a 49 per cent chance of showing up.
Malawian journalism is slow journalism; an oxymoron that’s taken me months to wrap my head around.
The western stereotype of over-caffeinated reporters anxiously chasing deadlines doesn’t exist here, and as a results-driven individual, it was difficult not to resent this. But those words kept running through my head: “We move at a much slower pace here.”
With patience, understanding, and laughter, working as a journalist in Malawi has taught me to appreciate the journey and not the destination.
It’s in the moments where the odds are stacked against you that you are able to surprise yourself. You compromise, you make backup plans, you adapt. But most importantly, when you learn to move slow your happiness stems from the process, and not the end result. Think of the snail seeing the beauty in every inch of its tedious movement.
I’ll always remember a day I spent out in the field with one of my colleagues. We knew our seven minute special report was due imminently, yet we had no interviews for a variety of reasons, mostly sources not honoring time commitments. On this particular afternoon, there was enough fuel for us to take a motorbike out for interviews. As we cruised down the tree-lined streets of Lilongwe with the wind blowing in our faces, we were grinning from ear to ear because we were so grateful to be out there.
But this is Africa where nothing is predictable.
The bike broke down.
We were stranded.
In this moment, we were given a choice: either we give up, or we soldier on.
We chose the latter, and spent nearly two hours in scorching heat with a group of good humored villagers helping us push-start the bike. When we finally heard the rattle of the engine, we felt untouchable, invincible, elated. It was a small win, seemingly insignificant, but it spoke volumes about our commitment to getting the story.
Our report (which almost missed deadline and was severely lacking in resources) was honored with an award from the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Malawi Chapter. But even if it hadn’t won, I would’ve been content with the memories of producing it despite the overwhelming obstacles.
This experience was one of many that radically altered my perspective on North America.
In Canada, the paradox of our society flooded with endless resources is that we have more conveniences, but less time. Our unlimited access to technology is supposed to makes our lives easier, but it just means we can do more things at once. We are too afraid of slowing down, of being confronted by life without distraction. The ultimate goal of accomplishment is our main motivating factor, so much so that we forget to stop and smell the roses along the way.
Now, when I walk to work or to the grocery store, I don’t speed walk like I would on the bustling streets of downtown Toronto. Instead, I casually stroll and allow my surroundings to leave an impression.
The street vendors sometimes laugh, and say,
“Hey! My sistah! Why you not rushing like the other Mzungu’s?”
It makes me smile.