Copyright Prita Music 2009-2016
Now that I've gone and come back, I cannot even begin to explain how wonderful and meaningful this trip has been. I feel changed as a person and I feel like my understanding of the world has completely expanded. I was once someone who’d never been camping and knew very little about the world outside my Prita bubble. I have just spent three weeks without wearing makeup, without straightening my hair, living in a house with no electricity and seeing the biggest bugs in the world…and being OK with all of it. I've taken baths with a little pail and I have climbed the biggest mountain I’ve ever seen and I didn’t die (though I thought I was going to when I was climbing). I've also grown as a musician because I've had the opportunity to sing in public three times in Africa. A year ago, Africa is the last place in this world that I would have thought would hear me sing. I got to sing in a church, sing at a member of parliament's house and sing for the whole village! That alone just blows my mind.
Along with singing, there are a few memories that really stand out from this trip. The first one was when we just arrived at our home in Makupo Village. Everyone in the village was there waiting for us. Our van door slid open and I could see all the villagers staring at us, and we were doing the same to them, trying to get a grasp of what was going on and get a feel of who these people were. I was the first one to get out of the van and there was a moment of complete silence and hesitation. A woman welcomed us with a big smile and offered a handshake. I don't know what came over me but I just hugged her instead. It was like with that hug, all the awkward ice crashed to the floor and everyone started laughing and talking all at once. The silence was totally broken. I got bombarded by women and children all wanting to hug me. They swarmed me… it was amazing! I didn’t see any of my group members until I got into our house because there were so many new faces surrounding me. It was honestly the most amazing, loving, warm welcome I have ever received and it was from people who didn't even know me! This gem of a memory was a great way to start this study trip and only a pre-cursor of more of the love and warmth that Malawi was to show us.
Another gem moment was when we visited an orphanage. As we got to the orphanage, the orphans started to sing and dance to greet us. Their singing was amazing. It was so in tune and they harmonized their voices, a cappella, with such ease. I picked up one of the orphans and she smiled up at me with the cutest little face in the world. When it came time to put her back down, she wrapped her legs around my waist really tight so it was impossible to put her back down. Her caretaker had to come and rip her body away from mine. It was so unexpected and it made me very emotional. It was such a real, short, raw moment but yet still so powerful. My heart went out to her and all the orphans in Malawi. We met so many. They all live a life I just can’t quite wrap my head around. They were definitely some of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my life. I really wish that they never give up hope and that they keep their heads high and looking forward. They have so much potential, such brilliant minds and amazing qualities as human beings.
During this trip we also had the opportunity to meet people involved in Malawi's Government. One particular interview really stood out to me and it was with a woman named Emily and a man named Aleke Banda. Aleke Banda is a member of parliament and works with Emily with an organization called Kunyanja Development Organisation (KUDO). Emily is the executive director of KUDO. We learned that KUDO is doing a lot of amazing things to help the people of Nkhata Bay South. It is one of the poorest areas of Malawi. They are helping these people become more self-sufficient by teaching them skills such as carpentry, brick laying, tinsmith, sewing, cooking, baking, and giving them livestock such as pigs and goats. They have a community center that also feeds orphans and provides life skills for youths. Emily spoke a lot about women and how they have no voice in this society. It was always something that bothered her and so she decided to leave her job in the city and work in the village to help her fellow villagers. She said something amazing that really struck me personally. She said that she didn’t know why she was doing this, but that something deep in her heart was telling her to just do it. The moment she said that, I started to cry. She was doing so many amazing things, she is the voice for these women and she is just one person. It confirmed my decision to follow my own heart and she was an excellent example of one individual making a huge difference. Just looking at her, one knew she was doing the right thing and that she was going to succeed. Aleke Banda also spoke very inspirational and motivating words. He used to be a cabinet member of the MCP, which is the old government of Malawi. Aleke told us that he once gave advice, which was not favored by the prior government, and he was sent to jail for 4 years and under house arrest for another 8 years for giving that advice. He inspired me because he fought for his values despite what others thought. Look at him now, still fighting and making a huge difference for these people living in Nkhata Bay. KUDO may be a small organization, but they are doing something so grand, and they have got the ball rolling. It was just amazing to me.
Though I met amazing people and experienced life changing situations, the memory that I will never forget is when we were on our way back home. We had just flown from Kenya to Amsterdam. I remember this moment so clearly that I still get a warm feeling all over my body. I stepped into the airport after getting off the plane and I got my first whiff of cologne for the first time in weeks. I kid you not; I got goose bumps all over my body. A feeling of tremendous gratitude swept over me and I realized right there and then how much of my beautiful life I'd been taking for granted. I had forgotten how great the smell of perfume was and it is something we all probably smell every day and don’t even think twice about. I think that after going to a poorer country like Malawi and then coming back home to the west people can react differently. I've seen people come back and just hate the way we live here. They become cynical and irritated and look down on a western way of life. I feel that I had the total opposite experience and I feel like going to Africa has made me appreciate my life here in Montreal so much more than I thought I did. I'm now left in this constant mode where I’m enjoying all the simple little things that I took for granted. I’m taking long showers, eating slowly and enjoying my food. It is true that I went without so many of these little things in Africa and still survived and it is true that there are a lot of things that I have that I don't need, but I just feel so lucky now to have them to make my life just a little bit more easy. They make my life more pleasant. I have a bathroom in my house, I have running water, I have a shower, I have a washing machine…. These are all things I lived without in Malawi and all things I took for granted until I went to Africa.
I went to Africa to follow the feeling in my heart, not really knowing where it would lead me. I was convinced that the reason why I had to go was to make a difference in the world. By going to Africa, I have expanded my awareness as an individual and that in turn HAS made a difference…, just that the difference has been made in my life and for that, I am forever thankful.
Prita Chhabra (January 2008)
Following My Heart
When I was a kid, there were two people whom I pretended to be: Bette Midler and Oprah Winfrey.
I would sit in front of my mirror and watch myself interview my dolls and I’d listen and sing along to all my Bette Midler cassette tapes non-stop. To this day, when I sing, I get a strong feeling in my heart and my ultimate dream is to be a famous singer. Music moves me and drives me. I can't describe the feeling in my heart except that it's a strong burning that I cannot ignore. I’ve always said that music is the blood that runs through my veins. I’m following this feeling in my heart to see where it will lead me. It's exciting and scary all at once.
So what does this have to do with me being in Africa? Well, on the eve of my birthday this year, I finished watching Oprah's DVD special. She really inspires and motivates me. The last segment I watched was about her trip to Africa. I was so moved and inspired that I couldn'’t stop crying! Most importantly, I got that same feeling in my heart as the one that drives me to sing. I felt so driven and passionate. I just knew that this year of my life had to be different. I couldn’t just think about making a difference, I actually had to DO something to make a difference. I made a wish and prayed to God asking to please present me with an opportunity to follow this strong feeling. I swore that if any opportunity were presented, I would go for it. I didn’t know why I became so motivated and passionate, but something in my heart was telling me I had to become involved and just like with my singing, I couldn't ignore the feeling.
Lo and behold, the opportunity was granted to me when I started school at Vanier College in the fall. At orientation, we were given a student planner and the first page I opened up to was one with a flyer about a study trip to Malawi, Africa. The flame in my heart burned and I knew right there and then, without a doubt, that I would be selected for this trip.