Goodbye Zambia, Hello Laramie

Morgan (right) with Gonzaga alum and current Peace Corps Zambia volunteer, Katie Polacheck (2017).

On the morning of Sunday, May 13th, I received my invitation to join the Gonzaga University Alumni Association. On Tuesday, May 15th, I said goodbye to my life in Spokane and got on a plane, starting my journey to Zambezi. There I started my transition out of the Gonzaga bubble.

Today is Tuesday, June 12thand I find myself closing another chapter of my life, Gonzaga-in-Zambezi. I have been filled with joy, enveloped in conversation, failed, questioned, and learned more than I ever expected. But my Gonzaga-in-Zambezi experience is the final chapter in Morgan Schindele’s Gonzaga story. I will not be returning to campus to be surrounded by my other Zam Zags. I will be starting a life in a new city, with new people, and hopefully a new job. The return to the states means more confusion and uncertainty for me. As I look at everything I have experienced the past month, my reflections and critical thinking cannot end when we fly out of Lusaka, it’s only the beginning.

For the past month I have been the only graduated senior on this trip. The majority of our group is starting their journey with Gonzaga and its connection to Zambezi, but I have closed the Gonzaga door. I have felt isolated because I am at a different stage of my life than all of the other students. I will not return to Spokane in the fall, I will not be on the retreat, I will not get to talk to the next group that teaches the computer course during their spring class. There are a lot of differences. Throughout my time both preparing for this experience and living it, I have focused too heavily on the differences between myself and the rest of the students. There are many differences, and my life is filled with ‘lasts’, but our differences are what bring out the important conversations. We do not have to agree with each other, or be the same age, or be in the same stage in our lives. We do have to listen to one another. 

At the start of the trip I was very focused on differences between my needs compared to the other students. I found that I separated myself from my fellow Zags. I neglected the relationships that should have been the easiest. Although I will not be returning to Gonzaga, these relationships matter. Each person has a different depiction of what Zambia was to them. My story is not the only story that will be told. Each perspective holds an important piece of what this experience has been. We will never have the whole story, we will never know every story, but we need to keep listening. I need to keep listening.

When I came to Zambia a month ago, I only listened to the stories of the new people I was meeting. I neglected the stories of those sleeping under the same roof as me. We have spent a lot of time reflecting throughout out Zambezi journey, and that is when we learn the most about our group. That is where I learned that it is okay to disagree, be different, and still be able to have a conversation. This is something I will take back with me. The ability to productively argue, to ask questions of one another. It is important to be comfortable being wrong, and asking questions about what you do not understand.

Coming back to the states, I find myself in dire need of more reflection. What has happened over the past month I could not possibly type in this post. I cannot comprehend all that has occurred and all the thoughts that inevitably will be circulating for the months to follow. I look forward to being able to have these conversations with my fellow Zam Zags. Moving 3 states away to Laramie, WY, forces me to be intentional with the relationships and conversations with the friends I have gained and have shared this time with. Many things we can relate on, but many things we have experienced differently. My time here has taught me that the differences we experienced are crucial to talk about. I hope I never stop asking questions, and I hope people never stop asking me questions.

We have shared stories, friendships, struggles, privilege, but now we are closing our Zambezi chapters. My struggle now is the fear of returning, of being alone and away from those that know what I am feeling. My reflection upon returning to the states will different than many of our other Zags, but we will all have moments of feeling alone and that no one understands. The process doesn’t end here, we will still need each other, need the stories, the conversations, and the friendships.  

As I pack my bag filled with gifts for loved ones, I am filled with sadness to leave. Yet I am also filled with joy that I have 21 other Zags who will not forget their time in Zambia. The young souls of the Zags still in their undergrad have fresh perspectives and are less bitter then my aged soul. I have observed the different ways we each form relationships, and learned ways of being more intentional in conversations. I have learned from everyone I have interacted with on this trip, but I am thankful that the other Zags have helped me see that difference stimulates growth.

Laramie is waiting for me, but Zambezi will always be on my mind. The friendships, young and old, will never be forgotten. The combination of Zags and Zambians, and everything in between, has given me endless conversations, endless questions and families on all sides of the world. Thank you Zambezi, Gonzaga, all of our loved ones, and bell hooks, for changing my perspective.

I am writing the last page of my final Gonzaga chapter, closing the book.

Kisu mwane,

Morgan Schindele

 

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In conclusion…there is no conclusion

♪ We hope to meet, rejoice again, hope to rejoice again ♪
Arriving in Zambezi to the familiar voice of Jescar Mukumbi leading the Chileña choir through their welcome program brought me back to the last song Jessi had sung to the group of 2017 Zags in Zambezi:
♪ Time has come to say goodbye, time has come to say goodbye, we hope to meet, rejoice again, hope to rejoice again ♪
Last June, I left Zambezi at peace with the idea that this was a time in my life that had come to a close. It was a time filled with confusion and frustration coupled with laughter and admiration, but a time that was through. My story would continue on somewhere else. I knew upon departure that I would hold close those moments spent bustling around in the back of the Land Cruisers in search of another learning opportunity. I would hold close partaking in three-hour-long masses with music and dancing that reminded me of the joy found in community worship. I would hold close cheering on the grade 7 students during their play performances with tear filled eyes. These moments amongst countless others have been constant reminders throughout the year of the power of engagement when I find myself falling into a mindless day of going through the motions of work and school. I had learned and loved with Zambezi but the script would not continue beyond our goodbyes at the airport. And yet I am learning that the script continues to be written. There is no conclusion.

I came back to Zambezi as the student teaching assistant. During my second visit I realized that the more I learn about Zambezi, the more I discover I have barely scratched the surface of understanding. I’ve found myself questioning more deeply my initial perceptions of the lives of individuals I have met, the community, and the parts of the culture I have interacted with. I’m challenging a lot more as opposed to taking things at face value. Lifestyles and cultural norms I thought I had figured out became much more complex than I made them out to be. I thought I had summarized the way the Zambian education system functions because of my short time spent teaching at Chileña last summer. The more formal, British-style education system made me think there wasn’t much student engagement, but I was misguided by my educational lens. This summer, I have come to learn through conversations with headmasters, deputy heads, and teachers from different primary and secondary schools these assumptions about teaching strategies and exercises I had generalized for all classrooms in Zambia were incorrect. There is no summary; there is no conclusion.

I have accepted the fact that the purpose of me being here is not to discover any sense of purpose but rather be present and listen to the different perspectives I have the chance to learn from. The trap that I find myself falling into is the frustration of not finding the answers to all my questions, and without them, I choose to summarize stories and experiences. This allows me to formulate my own explanations. It is naïve to think that I can summarize the lives of individuals and community structures with the limited experience I have as well as the personal biases that I carry with me into every interaction.

I can think of several individuals who have given me glimpses into their journeys thus far, but I could in no way provide a summary that holds the depth that these individuals are due. Last year I was introduced to a couple, James and Mary, who have been dressing Zags in the finest chitenge outfits for years. I spent many afternoons on their porch, making small talk and enjoying the calm pace at which it seemed they lived their day-to-day lives. My summary of James and Mary was that they were a nice family that provided me with an escape from the bustle of the market or the chaos of the classroom. There is no neat conclusion about who James and Mary are. I had the chance to reunite with these two, and yes, once again sit on their porch and chat. But this time I realized their lives are more complex than I had summarized them to be. James and Mary support many children and grandchildren, working tirelessly everyday to do so. (It can be easy to be fooled by their calm demeanor). They remind me of my hardworking parents, who began and continue to run a family business together. Tak and Carol can be found at the Grand Shanghai cooking and serving Chinese food just about everyday, in the same way James and Mary can be found sitting on their porch cutting and sewing Chitenge everyday. My parents have instilled a work ethic in me that I see James and Mary instill in their family. Work hard to earn what you want in life but make space for peace and laughter with your family along the way. This is and will continue to be more complex than my summary of a couple that sits on their porch and sews.

With my limited knowledge, I cannot give Zambezi or individuals I have met along this journey a summary. What I know I can do is share pieces of stories that continue to be written whether I am a part of them or not. I love to share these pieces because they are now a part of my story, but I want the world to know they are in no way summaries, there is no conclusion. I may not be back to Zambezi in the future but I refuse to make summaries. The stories continue.

 

Thanks Zambezi, thanks James and Mary, and thanks Mom and Dad,

Anna Yeung 

James, Mary, and I at the accompaniment dinner. “Their sweet Chinese-American daughter” -Jeff Dodd
(sorry for photo quality I took a photo of a photo because technology is my enemy)

 

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Reconsidering Expectations

May 18, 2018, 09:45 hours

The bush plane we are in slowly begins to descend as we approach the Zambezi airstrip. I look over the metal roofs, tall green mango trees, and the golden brown sand that coats the Zambezi streets. We fly over the single paved road in Zambezi and I turn around to Sanna in shock. Our eyes lock with a look of “what were we thinking?” Our bush plane makes a sharp turn toward the gravel airstrip and my eyes begin to fill with tears. I look down and see children from all sides running as fast as they can to the single airport building. A pit drops in my stomach and I feel goose bumps form over my skin. I turn back to Sanna, a single tear running down my face. The corners of my mouth stretch as far as they can, showing the most uncontrollable smile I’ve experienced. Our plane smoothly lands, and I feel overwhelming waves of shock, excitement, love and joy. A few minutes later, our plane is parked and we are exiting through the small cubby doors. The sole of my Chaco sandal hits the hot rusty red gravel road and I look up to see a swarm of children running my way. I turn my head and notice the Chilenga school choir singing, “We welcome you” in a soulful and loving melody.  I would soon learn this to be a common sound in Zambezi. That moment was filled with emotions of overwhelming love, joy, excitement, homesickness and fear of the unknown.

 

Before embarking on this journey, I inevitably conceived expectations and predictions about what I would experience while in Zambezi. From the moment I stepped out of the bush plane, my experiences failed to meet those expectations, and at other times exceeded those expectations.

Before arriving in Zambezi, I had many conversations with friends who had previously gone on the trip. From their stories, I expected I would meet many friendly and wise adults that I would form authentic and long-lasting relationships with. I imagined that I would stay in touch with them over the occasional email and frequent Facebook message. A week into being in Zambezi, I realized that my expectations of forming authentic and vulnerable life-long friendships with adults in just three short weeks might have been too ambitious. I spent most of my days at Chilenga teaching 6thand 7thgraders. I began to feel down on myself as I watched my fellow Zags making friends and finding their “person” in Zambezi. I questioned my ability to make friends and sometimes wondered whether I was more surface level than I thought. I struggled with the language barrier and finding appropriate questions to ask. I was confused because of the hospitality I experienced and how I didn’t see that transferring over into my relationships. As the weeks went on, I continued struggling with this. I was creating meaningful relationships, but they weren’t as epic and deep as I anticipated. I had to re-evaluate my situation and find meaning in the relationships I had created. I had to remind myself that I am enough, my hard work was enough, and most of all, my reflections on these experiences and the lessons I was learning were enough. I was reminded that, similar to at home, it takes me awhile to form deep relationships. I am good at socializing with new people, but it takes me awhile to call people “close friends”.  Contrasting that, I also learned, that it is possible to connect on an authentic level with someone within three short weeks. I learned that people are inherently interested and curious. I learned that merely saying “hello” could lead to an hour-long conversation in the market. I learned that no matter how hard I try, I don’t control the narrative and I can’t force relationships, but I can choose to engage and do my best to know people on an authentic and meaningful level.

From talking to the same friends that had been to Zambezi, I expected the people to be very kind and caring. However, those expectations were far exceeded. From the moment my Chaco hit the road Zambezi, I felt a form of love and compassion I had never experienced. At home, it is typical for people to be polite in public and for us to express love toward those we are close to. However, in Zambezi, I felt an inexplicable form of love from the people I interacted with. The mamas worked endlessly all day to put food on our plates and to wash our clothes, but not once did I feel anything but love from them. The tailors welcomed us into their shops with warm smiles and curious conversations. The parish at Our Lady of Fatima Church hosted us in their homes, put on events for us, and honored our work and presence in the community. The teachers at Chilenga spoke with us warmly and enthusiastically as we shared stories of our families and learned from the differences in education at home and in Zambezi. Our students admired us and worked so hard to adapt to our teaching style as we adapted to their learning style. They greeted us each day with a smile, a hug, and a unified “Hello Madam, how are you today?” The people I passed on my daily walk to the market would first stare, and then greet me with a welcoming “Musana mwane” or “hello.” The Zambezi community had no reason to approach us with such love and grace, but they showed me that you don’t need a reason to love someone. As cheesy as this may sound, the Zambezi community showed me that that loving isn’t an action, it’s a lifestyle.

 

June 8, 2018, 06:04 hours

Ten of us haul our bags into the back of the white Land Cruiser. We have grown accustomed to the tight quarters and bumpy roads of Zambezi. What was uncomfortable and squished three weeks ago now seems like a daily routine. We are oddly quiet on our short drive from the convent to the Zambezi airstrip. The journeys we have gone on in the Cruiser often involve loud signing and boisterous laughs. This morning, our journey was silent. We were greeted at the airstrip by a group of people that three weeks ago were complete strangers, but this morning their faces seemed more like family than anything else. Three preteen boys approach us as we unload our oversized backpacks stuffed with new chitenge and woven grass baskets. I approach them, unsure of what to say, because I know that for the first time in my life, when I say “goodbye,” I really mean “goodbye,” not just “see you later.” A simple Zambian handshake and hug with cheek taps on both sides is enough to communicate my gratitude and love for these people. “Jackson,” I say, “thank you so much for being a great friend and for showing me around the market on my first day. I will always remember singing Justin Bieber songs with you.” He looks at me and giggles as if he knows exactly what I am talking about. “Yes,” he says, “I will remember.” I break our eye contact to the sight of Mama Katendi frantically carrying two bags and a winter coat as she paces down the long gravel road toward us. “Hello Mama,” I greet her with a big hug. “Ah,” she sighs, “I can’t believe you have to leave.” Mama walks away to greet the rest of the group and I lock eyes with Grace K. Our teary-eyed contact and warm embrace nonverbally communicate our mutual despair that our time here was quickly coming to an end. As we boarded the bush plane I was filled with love, joy, sadness, and tears because of my amazement at the impact the Zambezi community has had on me during the last three weeks.

Kisu Mwane,

Devon Smith

 

p.s. Mom, Dad, Christian and Lorena, I miss you loads and can’t wait to see you in just 6 short days! Please tell Howie I say hi and that I miss him dearly. Also, if you could stock up on vegetables that would be much appreciated.

p.p.s. Our group safely arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, today. We are excited for the adventures of the next five days and look forward to sharing many stories when we return home.

 

 

 

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May We Never Lose Our Wonder

“May we never lose our wonder. Wide eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child.”
– Hillsong United

When I reflect on one of the many reasons I chose to come to Zambezi, I am reminded of my initial desire to escape the “real world” and be reminded of “simple truths.” In my time here, I have found there is no world that is more real than another, and there is no such thing as a simple truth. Every simple truth is just a complex one in disguise.

Each moment of this trip I have found myself in wonder. I stop, look, listen, breathe, and try to just be. I try to sit in the moment. However, I could never have expected how hard sitting in those moments could really be.

In the past three weeks, I have been challenged to change my perspective. Putting these experiences into words is hard for me because I feel as if they are lessons I will never stop learning. Earlier this week the health team traveled to Lishipa to install 24 Biosand water filters. We were working with Seeds of Hope, an organization focused on raising awareness about sanitation and providing clean water for families in Zambia. While there, I had the privilege of working with a man named Samson. We spent the morning teaching about the filters we would be installing, and then we did a brief lesson on waterborne illnesses. We laughed and told stories as we began the installation process under the unforgiving sun. (And, yes, I got burnt again just in case you were wondering, mom.)

Seeds of Hope was started by a couple who live outside of Zambia and is funded by international donors. Samson and the other Zambians who work for the company are at the mercy of donors from other countries to continue their work. They have appealed for government funding, but so far there has been no substantial assistance. Samson’s passion for the communities that go without clean water is not enough to fund the work that he does. Yet at the same time, Samson is involved in life-changing work that is transforming many families in Zambia that did not previously have access to clean water.

Along with working for this organization, Samson has just completed his education to be a primary school teacher. He wants to reach young children to instill in them a desire for education, advancement, and the importance of health. His goal is to build a school where all of the teachers who work there value educating the students more than their paychecks. Samson said that a lot of the reason people choose to teach in Zambia is because the government pay is good. He told me that he wished more than anything he could change the future of Zambia by changing the educational foundation for children.

I felt so conflicted when I ended my time with Samson. Here was a man who wants nothing more than to see Zambia thrive, to see the country rid of illness and corruption and to improve access to education. Yet because of the situation he was born into, he faces many obstacles. Because of the situation I was born into, I have been handed so much. I simply don’t face the same challenges.

In the story of Samson and so many other individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting, I am struck with a deep sense of the importance of storytelling. I am reminded that I am called to listen and receive, to meet people where they are, and to share this with others.

We live in a broken world full of broken people, no matter what geographical location we find ourselves in. This brokenness manifests itself in many ways. We often find ourselves in the world of our narrowed perspectives until we choose to step out of them. It is an active choice to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. It is challenging. It calls into question our identity, our purpose, our calling, and so much more. However, if we can look past the discomfort and lean into the wonder, everything starts to change. I was struck by the resilience of Samson and so many people I have had the pleasure of walking with in my short time here.

As we prepare to leave Zambezi, I am faced with the truth that I am conflicted in many ways. In my time here I have found, there is never one side to any story.
There are no easy answers. Behind every simple truth is a complex one that follows.
We are going to fail. Maybe that means we were finally curious enough to try.
It is a choice to enter into this confusing and formative way of thinking. This isn’t something that only happens once. Each day it is a transformation that we get the privilege of entering into. We get to choose to see the wonder in the world and let that transform us. I’m not sure it’s enough but one day I hope it will be.

Wakuzanga,

Alyssa Groscost

P.S.
To my CLC and my fearless leaders, I miss you and talk about you everyday. I can’t wait to hear about everything that I’ve missed. Praying for each of you and sending you a huge hug from halfway across the world. Big soccer kicks, T!
P.P.S.
Family and friends I miss you guys. Ryan, I hope you survived Vegas, and I can’t wait to hear about your summer so far. Can’t wait to eat my body weight in sushi with you when I get home.

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Chindende, Chindende (Slowly, slowly)

“Welcome Madam.” These are the words that greeted Maddie, Devon, Lexi and I every day in our English classes at Chilena. On Tuesday, we heard these words for the last time. We celebrated together in grade 8 and in grade 6, which provided an opportunity to reflect on everything we had done over the last two weeks.

We started at Chilena with a unit of lessons prepared and eager to meet our classes. As we met our students, my fellow teachers and I realized we needed to adjust to the Zambian classroom, and they needed time to adjust to us. The need to be flexible became immediately apparent upon entering our classrooms, and we knew there would be many changes. The Chilena students are accustomed to a more routine system of learning and are used to formalities I would have never expected out of middle schoolers back home. We are used to checking in with all of our students during independent work and taking breaks to sing songs or play games. Chindene, chindene, I get used to the formalities and learn the games and class encouragements that the students are accustomed to. The students begin to get comfortable with Lexi and I teaching and share their personalities and jokes with us while making incredible progress on storytelling.

Chindende, chindende.

The second change we made as teachers was adjusting how we taught. Our accents are strange and very hard to understand as are many of our speech patterns. We learned to adjust the speed of our speech and our phrases, and we picked up an accent somewhere between theirs and ours on some words. We changed the way we asked our questions and our approach to each day’s lessons. Our students have only been learning English for one year or three, and the original plans did not consider the diversity of language learners we would have. In our grade 6 class, we have students who seem fairly fluent while others routinely struggle, and one student wrote in either Lunda or hard-to-read guesses at English. We brainstormed lists of daily activities, used fill-in-the-blank style sentence starters, and tried to become comfortable with each other so that our students were not embarrassed to ask us questions when they needed help.

Chindende, chindende.

The third change the other teachers and I had to adjust to was that almost none of our assumptions about our students were true. Rock, paper, scissors needed to be explained. They were always incredibly eager to learn and would have sat listening to us teach for hours without much fidgeting. I do not think I have ever taught more attentive students, and they were incredibly quick learners. But our assumptions about how much time activities would take were way off. We mixed new ideas with the originals to better suit our students, sticking with Lexi’s visual aid that explained plot but following it with a list of activities we do in a day to practice identifying plot. We spent more time solidifying our basic knowledge of stories and also used some of our time to play games and sing songs together.

Chindende, chindende.

The last change we about what we wanted the students to create. We came here thinking we wanted a collection of individual stories on each element we taught plus longer stories that integrated all of those elements, or perhaps we would have them perform a play. We quickly realized a play would never logistically work— the grade 8 class has 64 students. Instead, we worked together to write short fiction stories and fill in the blanks for a structured “I am” poem. The writing took a long time, but we all enjoyed the process.

Chindende, chindende.

Though our adjustments came slowly, our final day of teaching snuck up on all of us. We felt like we were just getting to know our students, and the students were sad that we would no longer be here. We spent our day celebrating with arts and crafts for our celebration day on Tuesday. That night, we wrote notes in their exercise books and carefully snipped out pages to create stories. The next day, we handed out stories, lollipops, and pipe cleaners to our grade 8 students and said goodbye. We came back for grade 6, handed out stories, then went outside to play football. We ran around the field together, laughing together on our final day. We were joined by the other grade 6 class taught by Maddie and Devon, and we played as one massive group on the grass. Time passed strangely, and though it seems like a long time as I tried to run around in a dress on the field, it was time to head in much too quickly.

We left our students with lollipops that vanished before the period was over, storybooks they will hopefully cherish, a few new skills, and, with any luck, maybe a confidence boost.

As I reflect on my time at Chilena, I remember that many people asked what I would be doing on this trip. The student in my grade 6 class who originally could not write in understandable English finished our time here able to dictate incredible stories. They have all worked so hard, and everyone with consistent attendance finished their storybooks.  While I did teach, I learned so much more than I taught. I was humbled as I learned to change almost everything I knew about teaching as I taught these classes. I have gained a new flexibility in teaching because we had to change our lessons and would figure out for sure what we were doing in the moment every day in class. I will return a much better teacher, and I am so proud of these students I had the privilege to teach for the last two weeks.

Kisu mwane,

Katelyn

P.S. Friends and family, I miss you so much and am so excited to share all my stories and photos with you when I get home.

P.P.S. In answer to your post Mom and Dad, I have not seen many animals. Some butterflies and the chickens we have eaten. I have seen a lot of spiders (which I have grown used to—I know, who am I?) and the goats that roam around Chilena. Love you all lots, so excited to share my adventures with you!

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Purpose

Some of the women in our business and leadership. From left: Margarett, Colleen, Cleopatra, Grace Lombardi, Crescencia, and Bridget.

In a small yellow room filled with benches and chairs, a group of Zags prepare a stack of certificates to pass out. They sit next to a messy stack of nametags and two plates stacked haphazardly with cookies. Today is the graduation ceremony for the Gonzaga-in-Zambezi classes.  This celebration signals that the end of our time in Zambezi is sadly within sight. As the students enter the small classroom and take a seat, the air is heavy with a large mixture of joy and melancholy. As certificates are passed out, hundreds of photos are taken, and treats are exchanged along with congratulatory phrases and heartfelt messages, I begin to question my purpose here. 

Not surprisingly I, like many Zags, have struggled for awhile now to understand my presence in Zambezi.  While I was told prior to the trip that this would certainly happen, I never expected to be this caught up in the questions.  I questioned the depth and value of the teaching I have provided my students in the short 10 days of class I have taught.  Instead of the teacher leaving the students enriched in knowledge after their teachings, I can’t help but feel as though everyday the classroom has been reversed, and I have learned more from them.  Many in this community have a deep-rooted and rare desire to focus on serving others before serving themselves.  In the business and leadership class, many students stated their selfless desire to start a business that would first and foremost employ others while feeding and helping those who needed it, putting profit second. On a separate occasion I questioned a student on why he plans to let people pay for their orders after they are made rather than before, or why if someone doesn’t have enough money he will simply let them pay when they can. His response was a quizzical look followed by a smile that made me question why I even asked the question. The authentic lessons I have learned from my students and the surrounding community about being genuine, honest, and trustworthy people are far greater than any lesson I could possible give on creating businesses that earn profits and knowing how to lead it well. 

The end of classes has caused me to pause and reflect on my time in Zambezi. Most of my time here, I have struggled to identify how and what I am feeling. This struggle and the readings we did while preparing to come here, along with our discussions every night and the interactions we have everyday before and after class, I frequently have lifted both my hands to feel for my head and make sure it’s still attached to my body. My desires and dream to be truly immersed in this incredible community seem to be impossible while I am here. I wonder if I even deserve to be immersed because I am only here for a short time.  Have I evenfulfilled my purpose of being here?

There are moments in between trips or classes that fill my heart with joy when I see others fulfill their purpose. Just a day ago we visited a local orphanage where we separated into a female group and a male group. The health team was able to educate the adolescent girls on hormones and puberty with an accurate and incredible presentation starring Holly–who I know is destined to be an incredible nurse. They provided them with a reusable period pack while simultaneously chanting, “We are woman! We are strong!” The strength my fellow Zags showed in educating these young woman on adulthood and providing them with the means to attend school on days they normally couldn’t was an amazing display of the positive impact they have had on the Zambezi community.

The type of engaging interpersonal work that we are engaging in while abroad on this trip are ones that we cannot be taught but must experience on our own, outside of a classroom.  This has left me grateful for every experience I have had here and even the tension I sit with between balancing my understanding of the world and my purpose here. All I can say is that I am grateful for this opportunity to learn because it has taught me more than about myself than I could ever learn inside of a classroom.

LOVE,

Grace Lombardi

 

PS- SISTER!!! Congratulations on graduating!  I am so proud of you and still look up to you in more ways than one.  I love you so much and wish I was there to celebrate with you on your special day-Cal Poly is lucky to have you.

PSS- Brian!!! Congratulations on (almost) finishing and graduating.  I wish I could have been there and hope I see you before you leave for Italy or within the next year. Love and miss you- please bring me something fun back!

PSSS- Nonnie! Don’t worry I’ve been going to mass every Sunday and every mass has been 3-4 hours long so I’ve been saying lots of prayers for you an everyone else.  Your always in my thoughts and prayers- I love and miss you everyday.

PSSSS- Mom/Dad & Family and everyone else- I love and care about you all please know how dearly I miss you all and have been thinking about you everyday.

PSSSSS- PFC, I can’t wait to see you all soon! Please send updates on everyone and how everything is going! Miss you all

 

 

 

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Questioning My Fears

As we enter into our final days in Zambezi, I am experiencing so many emotions. I am filled with mixed feelings of happiness, gratefulness, and sadness. These past two weeks have been amazing; however, my experiences here were nothing like I expected them to be.

Prior to arriving in Zambezi, I shared my excitement with many friends and family members and attempted to explain what the program is all about. Most people responded with confusion as to why I chose to spend part of my summer in “Africa.” Some joked, with subtle seriousness, about how they thought I would not survive here. Even someone who was familiar with this program stopped me one day to talk to me about how worried they were for me to come here. I could go on about comments many family members and friends made to me sarcastically about this trip. But before I continue, I must recognize that I too had many anxieties and worries before arriving in Zambezi.

The first two days we were here, I found myself standoffish and not willing to engage. The anxieties I had gradually worsened, especially prior to my homestay. I was so nervous; I did not know what I would eat, where I would sleep, or really what I would do. As families arrived to pick up students, I spent the first hour trying to avoid getting sent to a homestay, thinking that if somehow I were last to leave, all would be well. It was not until I had a small conversation with Hannah regarding my fears that I realized I just needed to go for it and stop sitting around in the convent stressing about all the things that could happen that night.

I was eagerly welcomed by Elizabeth, my homestay mother, who was very excited to take me to a women-only event. For some reason I heard her say, “Kitchen Bath” instead of “Kitchen Party” when she was explaining to me where we would be going. For about five minutes, I found myself freaking out, thinking I would be entering a communal bath. I insisted I did not have to attend, but she was not taking no for an answer. Once I heard her say “party,” I knew I had it all wrong. She was actually taking me to a wedding reception, also known as a Kitchen Party. That party was so much fun, and it was definitely an experience I will cherish for a long time. I cannot believe I almost did not go because of my irrational fear that I would be soon bathing in a communal setting. 

As much as I hate to admit it, there have been many experiences like this. Coming into this trip with a negative lens only allowed me to be slapped in the face by the realizations of all the stereotypes and stigmas that lived in my brain. I often find myself questioning all the preconceived notions I have, along with those of my family and friends, and where they stem from. Why is it that almost everyone I talked to found it shocking that I chose to go to Zambezi or thought I could not survive? Why do we generalize a whole continent as somewhere that is unlivable? What do we know?

I have seen many commercials, fundraisers, and more that depict “Africa” as a place where everyone is famished. In no way am I proclaiming that I am not seeing real hunger. Simply, I would like to shine light on some things the media does not always bring attention to. That is how much so many people I meet value education. I have heard so many stories of individuals who are unable to finish or continue school because of financial issues. There are so many stories about people who have tried their absolute best to continue their educations, but they are unable to because of their situations and find themselves stuck and not able to improve their lives. I cannot count the number of times I have heard the phrase, “Finish your food. There are starving children in Africa.” Why do we not shine light on the desire for education many individuals here have? What about the desire to improve their cities, countries, and even continent? Why do we dehumanize so many by calling them a lost cause that only our benevolence can help? What do we know?

What I do know is that in the more than two weeks I have been here, I have seen stronger values and richer culture than I have ever experienced in the states. I know that each student in the Business and Leadership class has a desire to change their communities with their business proposals. I know that the students in computers are motivated to continue to develop and improve their communities with technology. I know that in the health class, the students have a strong desire to see change in the health issues they face. I know the students at Chilenga Primary School are eager each day to learn a new lesson.

Ultimately, what I know is that I have a lot to learn. My three short weeks in Zambezi will not even begin to allow me to understand an entire continent. However, I would like to say that in my time here I have learned so much. Many of my new discoveries have left me more confused than before, but I know these questions will be things I find myself pondering for the rest of my life. My time here in Zambezi is not supposed to give me all the answers. It is giving me the right questions that I will continue to struggle with.

Kalunga Akukisube, 

Margarett Qaqish

P.S. – To my family and friends, I miss you all so much. Please know I am thinking of you daily and cannot wait to share all my experiences with you. And yes, I love the food. See you very very soon. 

P.P.S- For all those wondering, Friday night we entered a choir concert competition and performed a mashup of “Where is The Love?” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” We even danced. And yes, it did fulfil my life long dream to be on “Glee.”

 

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Leaning into the discomfort

Nina, Holly, and Mama Katendi teach at Lwitadi.

It has been a privilege to feel discomfort in my privilege.

I find this happens when I go to the market.

Whenever there’s some free time in our busy schedules, a group of Zags usually find their way down to the market. It’s about half a mile from the convent down sandy roads.  The still, warm air is interrupted with the chattering of locals lining the streets, the sounds of the children in the rickety playground, and Zam pop from the barbershop on the corner. A normal day for the locals in Zambezi is disrupted by our presence. Soon after, we hear, “Chindele! Chindele!” and we have instantly stolen the attention of every person in the market. Their heads turn toward us with confusion and awe, and they stare intently at our bright skin and lightly colored hair. I feel my head fall, and I watch my feet shuffle through the thick sand. At home, staring would be considered rude. Here, stares are a gift not earned because of preconceived ideas about our wealth or education. They stare at our privilege. 

We walk by many shops and finally make our way to our intended destination: a chitenge shop. Colorful chitenge hangs from the walls and ceiling. As each of us enter, we fill the small space and begin our hunt. One chitenge in particular catches my attention, so I ask the storeowner, “How much?” 30 kwacha. I reach down into my wallet and flip through my cash. All I have left are 100 kwacha bills. That is possibly enough kwacha to pay for the storeowner’s tuition bill for her child’s next term at primary school. I’m immediately overcome with embarrassment and guilt for feeding into the stereotype about wealthy snobs from the United States being reckless with their money. I have a perfectly good chitenge back at the convent, and yet I’m still here thinking I absolutely need another just because I can afford it.

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It has been a privilege to feel discomfort in my privilege.

I found that this happened when I visited the Falconer Home Orphanage.

There is a world separating Mary and me. For every obstacle she faces, I will have been handed three opportunities. It’s not my place to break down these obstacles for her, and I am restrained by both language and time to give her what she deserves. For now, I share a lemon cookie with her, and whisper, “You are my sunshine” as she slowly falls asleep on my chest. She was so calm and graceful while slipping deeply into slumber, as if she had rarely been given the gentle touch of a mother. My time with Mary wasn’t enough, nor would an infinite amount have been, but my presence will not affect her in the way it does me. It’s a privilege to meet Mary, but it’s simply a disruption to her normal life.

Mary is two years old. She and her twin sister, Sherry, have lived in the orphanage most of their lives and will continue to do so for many years. I can’t help but compare their childhood to my own. I feel guilty knowing that my bedroom is large and comfortable and all mine. I feel guilt knowing that everyday I’m fed more than enough food, and if I ever want more, there’s an overflowing fridge and pantry. I feel guilty knowing that I have more clothes than I know what to do with. I feel guilty knowing that my toys were often new and abundant and never made of repurposed trash left on the ground outside my home. The materialistic differences between Mary and me do not dictate whether one life is better than another, but somehow mine still leads me on a path of endless opportunities. 

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It has been a privilege to feel discomfort in my privilege.

I found that this happened when I taught health lessons at schools in the bush.

When the health team arrived at the primary school in Malola, the first thing I noticed was the small size of the two buildings they used for educating over five hundred students. The second building wasn’t yet finished because the school’s PTA ran out of money to finish it this year, and the government can’t offer support, so it lacked a roof or any traditional furniture. Even so, the teachers are willing to be creative with the resources they have.

Our purpose for coming to Malola was to teach a lesson on menstruation to the sixth and seventh grade girls and hand out period packs containing reusable pads, a towel, and soap. Access to feminine hygiene products is rare, and even in places where they can be found in the market, the price is far too high. Because of this, many girls don’t buy these hygiene products but instead choose to stay at home when on their periods.  So, 3-5 days a month may be spent at home instead of in the classroom getting the education they are so eager to receive. In sum, that’s over a month of skipped school per year solely due to menstruation. These girls don’t choose to experience this, and they don’t choose their situation. It is just one of many obstacles adding to the difficulty of excelling in education. Not having a period pack has never stopped me from going to school. I have the privilege of buying my own hygiene products and many extras to keep on hand when needed. I left Malola overcome with shame.

Not all my teaching experiences have ended so sadly. Earlier this week on Wednesday, we had another opportunity to travel to a primary school in Lwitadi. The conditions of this school were similar to that of Malola, with over 300 students in only a handful of classrooms. These conditions, though, were not the focal point of this day trip. The class radiated positive and appreciative energy, which made for a perfect lesson led by Mama Katendi, Holly, and me. All three of us left Lwitadi feeling happy for the students and proud of our work.

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I’m humbled by everything that I’ve been able to witness in Zambia. As the days go on, I attempt to organize and understand all that I’m feeling; the tensions between laughter and awkwardness, joy and anxiety, and excitement and discomfort are like a whirlwind in my head. With all of this to feel, I find most experiences hard to fully comprehend. However, I do not believe that the reason I’m here is to find understanding. This trip is a gift that a select few are able to have, so I’m beyond thankful to simply sit in this tension.

It has been a privilege to feel discomfort in my privilege.

 

 

P.S. To Mom, Dad, and Nathan, I miss you like crazy and I’m so excited to see your smiling faces when I get home.  I promise I’m safe and having the time of my life, can’t wait to tell you all about it.  Also, happy early birthday ben!

P.P.S. Morgan wants to let her loyal family and friends know that she loves them and is thinking about them, and all the Zags love the Mama Schin comments!

 

 

 

 

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Starting the Conversations

Abby (left) leading the health team during a lesson earlier today.

My time in Zambezi so far has been filled with teaching classes, canoe rides, 3+ hour masses, dancing, singing, and meeting amazing people. I knew my time here would be short, but I didn’t realize how quickly it would go by. As our remaining time in Zambezi is rapidly diminishing, I’m realizing there is no way to fit in every experience I want to have. I want to revisit my homestay family and eat nshima and caterpillars again; okay, maybe not the caterpillars. I want to dance again with Rebecca, the employee of my homestay mom who taught us some very interesting dance moves. I want to teach my 12-year-old admirer, Patrick, about biology and go to his grandfather’s store in the market. I want to buy more beautiful chitenge and chat with the tailors as they make custom skirts and dresses. Even though I may not be able to do all of these things, I’ve had countless amazing experiences in Zambezi, so I have no room to complain.

An incredible experience that I get to have three times a week is teaching a health class. We teach the class in a little room off the side of the priest’s house. We somehow manage to stuff enough chairs and couches into our little room to fit the thirty or so students that come each time. Class starts at 09:00, but in Zambian time that really means 09:15. The students don’t seem to mind our tardiness and many of them show up at different times, weaving their way through the tightly spaced chairs to find a seat. We begin our class by reviewing material and then dive into new subjects that the students want to learn about.

Each time we teach, I’m overcome by the feeling that I’m not qualified to be teaching a health class to people who are much older and wiser than me. I’m also convinced that there are a few students in the class who could teach it better than us, and it makes me wonder about the benefit of our class. Are we giving them any new information or just telling them what they already know? Does it seem condescending when we explain something like malaria to them? They see it everyday, while all of my knowledge comes from research. I fight with these thoughts as we cover material that I don’t have a deep understanding of or experience with.

I know that I could give the students new information, but that doesn’t mean it would help them. I could tell them that CD4+ T-cells are the specific cell type that the HIV virus attaches to. I could go on to say that these T-cells are responsible for activating plasma B-cells and memory B-cells that produce antibodies to fight pathogens in our bodies, which is why people infected with HIV cannot fight infections as well. This would most likely be new information for all of the students, but it would be too complex and not useful to them. I find myself trying to walk a fine line between giving them new information and giving them information that they will be able to understand. I’m also struggling to take the knowledge I have and translate it to them in an understandable way. In college, I’m expected to have an extremely detailed understanding of material and it’s sometimes difficult to simplify it in a useful way.

I feel like in our classes we’re just scratching the surface of subjects, which is in part due to time constraints, but mostly due to our lack of knowledge on subjects. Students often ask questions that I don’t have an answer to, and I’m instantly aware that I’m just an undergraduate biology major and not a healthcare provider. Yet even so, I’m somehow “qualified” to teach a health class to Zambians who have significantly more experience in some of these topics than me. It’s hard to not feel like a phony, as Bridget would say.

Even though I feel under prepared to teach, there are moments when I can see the benefit of our class. On the first day of class, we had the students tell us what they wanted to learn. We were able to tailor the topics we taught based on their health concerns. We got lucky in that we had prepared for most of the topics they wanted to learn about, but there were some that we hadn’t even heard of, like the parasitic infection bilharzia. Allowing our students to dictate what we taught ensured that the information we shared was of interest to them and not just what we thought they should learn.

We also try to have a discussion-based class where we teach material, but allow our students to talk with each other and us about the topics. These discussions have led me to have a deeper understanding of the challenges the community faces. One of these discussions was focused around malaria and the use of mosquito nets. Jessie, who is a tailor in the market, told us that one of the reasons the nets aren’t used is because of poverty. Some people use the nets for fishing or to protect their gardens from insects and animals instead of using them to protect themselves from malaria. Additionally, she said that attitudes are a big reason nets aren’t used. People may use them for a time, but eventually stop using them because they get tired of it or don’t believe they will get malaria. We also dove into a discussion about the stigma surrounding HIV in their community. John, who is a very intelligent man in our class, told us about the struggle to provide HIV education to members of the community who were unable to attend school. This lack of understanding about the disease can perpetuate the stigma that surrounds the illness and spread fear due to misunderstanding. These conversations and more have given me insight into the Zambezi community.

Often as I leave class students approach me. Jessie tells me that the class is very interesting and that she’s learning new things. Later, when I come to her tailoring shop, she thanks me for a great lesson and conversation in class. I’m thankful she likes the class, but I really can’t take credit because the best parts came from the discussion among the students. John stopped me today after class and told me how much he was enjoying the class. I told him that I hoped some of the information we’re giving them is new or helpful because I’ve been concerned that we’re not providing new information. He assured me that he’s learning new things and we’re doing a good job. These kind comments from the students make me think that maybe I’m not a total fake after all.

I don’t know if our health class will benefit all of our students, but I know that I’ve benefitted immensely from hearing the discussions in class about public health concerns. I’ve learned so much hearing the students talk about their community and the problems they see. I may not be as knowledgeable as I’d like on some of the subjects, but I’m realizing that’s not the point of our classes. We are trying to start a conversation within the community and allow them to initiate the change. We are learning right alongside our students and that’s why we came. I hope that we were able to start a conversation that the students will continue after we’re gone.

 

Kisu mwane,

Abby Jamieson

 

P.S:

To my family and friends—I love and miss you all so much! I can’t wait to share my countless experiences with you when I get home. Mom and Dad, I hope you’re enjoying dinners by the fire pit and giving Choco extra kisses from me. Shelby and Sarah I hope school and work are going well! Also, happy late birthday Shelby…very late, but still. Zach I hope you have an amazing time in Europe! Take lots of pictures, including some of yourself even though I know you hate them. I miss you, but I’ll see you soon!

 

 

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My Friend, Geoffrey (Jo-free)

Colleen meets our chameleon friend after lunch. (Photo Credit Bridget Shoenberger)

 

Each day in Zambezi has fallen into some sort of routine. We wake up for breakfast, read the last blog post and comments, run around to prepare for our first class, teach, eat lunch, teach, eat dinner, reflect, and sleep. For those who have been to Zambezi, the word “routine” is to be taken very lightly. Lunch is often pushed back due to Jeff’s internal clock being set to “Zambia Time,” and some of our students have decided that class starts at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. My sleep is also typically interrupted by the confusion of my roommates yelling at each other in their sleep. (Thanks to Grace K., Bridget and the anti-malaria drug Malarone). As you may see, our “routine” is often shifted around and includes gaps of time that each of us is responsible for filling.

As many Zags would agree, one of my favorite ways to fill these gaps of time is by taking a trip to the market. These daily trips accompanied by the children who grab hands lovingly and locals yelling “chindeles” without missing a beat are something I look forward to every day. I often see our students from the business and leadership class posted at their shops or wandering the sandy roads in an effort to kill time before their next class at the convent. I try to stop and chat or invite them to walk with me, but having a meaningful conversation can be difficult while navigating the language barrier and many distractions of the market.

One day, I caught myself in those distractions. I was with four other Zags when we ran into one of our students, Geoffrey. I invited him to walk with us to George’s shop, our favorite place to buy snacks. (Yes, mom, I found snacks.) I was distracted by the important question, “Which soda should I buy?” when I managed to disregard Geoffrey’s patient presence as he stood a few feet behind me without money to splurge on a cold soda. To those of us from the United States, spending 7 kwatcha (70 cents) on a soda is something we can all afford here daily. But to Geoffrey and many other Zambians, spending 7 kwatcha on a soda just wouldn’t make sense.

The second we left the shop I blushed with embarrassment for my failure to offer to buy Geoffrey a soda especially considering that just a few minutes prior Garrett and I were overwhelming Geoffrey with questions about his life. We discovered that he and his family have little to no means of income. They are completely self-sustained by their family farm. Geoffrey has a wife and three children under the age of 10. They moved to Zambezi over three years ago in hopes to find more opportunities for work. In those three years neither Geoffrey nor his wife, Barbara, have had a job. When asked what he thought about the business and leadership class, Geoffrey’s face lit up as he explained how excited he was to be learning so much and working toward getting a certificate. He continued to explain how he plans on using what we teach him to find a good job or start his own business after completing our class.

We began to walk back through the distractions of the market and back to the convent. Along the way we stopped in a bakery where there was another selection of sodas. I turned to Geoffrey, who again was patiently waiting to the side. I asked if he would like a soda, and he responded, “Yes, but this would be better. I could bring it home to my wife.” I followed the gaze behind his small gold-rimmed glasses to a loaf of bread. 8 kwatcha. I handed him the bread after paying for it, and he thanked me repeatedly.

I learned that Geoffrey walks almost an hour each way to come to our class every day. He acted as if it was no big deal since it meant learning from us. Hearing this makes me question my credibility and ability to teach people twice my age when I don’t yet have my college degree. It makes me think a lot about our students’ tireless devotion to learning, a devotion I cannot say I have felt most of my life. Education has just been a part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember, and I find myself complaining about it far too often. The excitement and passion for learning that the children and adults of all ages possess here is inspiring. A college education that likely leads to an abundance of job opportunities is something most of our students here dream about.

As we continued to walk with Geoffrey, all of these thoughts and more flooded my mind. I could stand in George’s shop and buy a soda without thinking twice. I owe that to the opportunities I have encountered because of a free education and being born in the United States. Buying that soda, let alone a loaf of bread, isn’t a luxury that Geoffrey has, yet he never once asked me or any of my peers for a single thing.

Kisu Mwane.

Colleen

P.S: Mom- I’m taking good care of your camera and think of you anytime I snap a good pic. Sending you a big hug!! Dad- I trust you’re taking good care of the animals and will give Theo and Calvin a hug for me. Zz- Enjoy your last few days in Florence! Safe travels for wherever you are off to next, which hopefully involves going home? See ya at the airport? Val- I found John and Keith, and they both say hello! I’m still on the lookout for Bridget and baby Shelly. Thanks for the biggest hug in the whole world; Dev and I are sending one right back atcha. The rest of my friends and fam- I miss and love you all!! Can’t wait to exchange stories from the past month.

P.P.S: Happy Birthday Mama Kris!! The big 3-0. Wahoo!! We celebrated her birthday with some delicious nshima dumplings made by Jeff and cake! We will be sure to give her lots of hugs from friends and family at home.

 

 

 

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