Perfectly Tense

KatieP

As we sit around the breakfast table each morning and hear the previous day’s blogger read her or his post and all of its comments, I am often brought to tears. My fellow Zags’ descriptions of the astounding beauty of Zambezi and its people is more filling than any homemade banana bread (shout out Joel and Lindsey), and the interconnectedness of the Gonzaga-in-Zambezi community, its alums, and its fervent supporters assures me of my place here. I, too, am so grateful for children who cling to my arms and leave traces of dirt, for sweet bush bananas, for handstands and rooibos tea and sunburns that reflect back the color of my love for this bright place. It’s hard for me to concentrate on anything but goodness for too long as I sit in the hot Zambian sun, writing this post and pretending I know how to eat sugarcane. But I think that, to some extent, we are all guilty of glorifying Zambezi—all 22 of us and each of you reading this blog from around the world. It is human nature to idealize any place that is a home. Zambezi is beautiful both by itself and because we love it, because our lives change here, but the love and transformation we feel can blind us to the ways that Zambezi falls short of our hopes.

There are so many good and pure things about Zambezi, and I do not mean to diminish the beauty that my classmates have so gracefully communicated. However, if we do not recognize problems in the Zambezi community, we inadvertently show that we do not respect Zambians enough to believe that they are capable of enacting positive change. By seeing or saying nothing, we define Zambezi as a lost cause, something that is beyond fixing, and we establish ourselves as people who will love a place for a time, think about it often, and detach ourselves from the parts that do not align with our idea of a picture-perfect African experience. Here, I have come to know the glaring reality of my privilege. When I see the trash on the sandy roads or feel uncomfortable when someone yells “chindele” at me in the market, I have the comfort of knowing that I can return to a safe place 10,000 miles away.

At dinner the other night, we hosted a Catholic priest whom many of us have gotten to know through our classes. After the craziness of two dozen hungry people scraping forks against plates and after one individual was lucky enough to find a flattened chameleon under her plate (a trick we’ve been playing on one another), Father Chomba asked us a question more surprising than any dead lizard: what is the most disappointing thing about Zambia? There are many easy answers, several of which someone could guess without having ever traveled here: the treatment of people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS, unclean water, subpar healthcare, etc. I am beginning to see that, for many chindeles, it is easier to list off the problems Africa faces than to name its countries and know their differences. While these issues make Zambezi seem worlds apart from my life in Spokane, it is the everyday problems that families and communities face that make me feel as though I haven’t traveled very far at all.

Right before the end of the spring semester, I was invited to the going away party for a 5th grader I saw each Wednesday at an after-school program. His mother was asked to leave a recovery program just months before her graduation because she had started to use drugs again. Because of one choice a parent made, the whole trajectory of this boy’s life might change. He is sweet and considerate and has often told me about the “lil bit of Jesus” in his heart, but I worry that this harsh world will chip away at his strong character. In Zambezi, I have met children who want only to be talked to, listened to, held and cared for deeply. It seems that children around the world are the innocent victims of adults’ shortcomings. It is not something unique to Zambezi or Spokane.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to stay overnight with a woman from our host church who lives in a rural community on the outskirts of Zambezi. Racheal opened up her home to me and Lindsey, graciously shared a meal with us, and showed us the beautiful shape of her life—its depth, its soft spot, its firm reliance on God. After dinner, we sat out under the brightest stars I have ever seen, and I talked with her nephew about his interest in studying history. When I asked him for a story about Zambian history, he told me about the destruction of peaceful tribal culture by European disease and colonization. In return, I told him of my trip to the Blackfeet reservation this spring and the similarities between the stories of our two continents. Lindsey and I cozied up in our shared bed and journaled, and I remember being at a loss for words because I was so overwhelmed with experiences and conversations. Not much of what I wrote down that night makes sense, but there is one phrase that I’ve repeated many times since that night, and I think it perfectly describes what I have learned here in Zambezi so far: none of us is very different at all.

As a global community, we struggle—hard—against one another, against government, addiction, and infidelity, but that does not mean that we never triumph and reach a place of virtue and peace. As a global community, we strive for justice and the greater good, but that does not mean we do not, at times, meet failure and sink deeply into its blinding darkness. In the moments where I find myself thinking of Zambezi as either all good or all bad, I must remind myself to wrestle with the tensions, to ask questions, to practice self awareness, to let little hands braid my tangled hair into a hundred twists.

Kisu mwane,

Katie Polacheck, Class of 2017

PS- Happy graduation to my baby sister. I’m so proud of you, Bear, and I’m sorry I can’t be there to support you on your day. It’s like first communion all over again! Happy early 20th to Zackery, too. Hope London is treating you well! Miss and love you both.

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Finally Speaking the Same Language

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“Everybody laughs in the same language,
because laughter is a universal connection”

My first day at Chilenga primary school was one of the most frustrating experiences I have had. I walked into the small blue and white school at 9:00 am amid a chorus of “Good Morning Madame, how are you?” I was eagerly anticipating the difference I would make in this grade 6 classroom. I had visions of lengthy stories being written and children writing me letters in the years to come, thanking me for my help in learning English. I heard so many stories from years past about the satisfaction of teaching at Chilenga and the meaningful relationships built between students and teachers.

Almost all of those dreams flew out of my head the moment I realized that most of the children would not even be able to pronounce my name. (I am known in my two grade 6 classes now as “Teacher Wioley”). I quickly realized that concepts that seem obvious to us—like “author” or “beginning, middle, and end”—were too difficult, and what I thought to be a very simple curriculum would need to be edited even more. I learned what it felt like to look into the eyes of someone who truly cannot understand you and feel helpless, having no way to bridge that gap and help them to learn. All of my questions were met with “Yes” or “No” answers, and even reading a 10-page elementary school book was a struggle. It was a true test of my patience and empathy. I left the classroom feeling rather dejected and questioning whether or not this was something I could really do. On the three-mile walk back through the village of Chingalala, followed by a symphony of “Chindele, how are you?,” I was able to voice my frustrations to the rest of the education group and found that each class was at a varying level of literacy, but overall things were going to be tougher than we thought. Back at the convent we heard about how well all the other classes were going and I felt even more discouraged about the work that my group was doing. My team was able to come together to reform our curriculum and help me become more confident about the information I was going to teach the next day. With these adjustments and a new mindset provided by my group, I was able to change my attitude, let go of previous frustrations, and tackle the new day.

For my morning class on day 2 I made my way to Chilenga with words of encouragement from Jeff and Josh bouncing around in my head, determined to make a dent in the lengthy curriculum we had prepared – I was going to teach these kids about topics and details whether they liked it or not. My plans quickly changed when the students and teachers gathered around the car the moment we arrived, giving warm welcome to a large supporter of the new library outside of the students’ classrooms. As we were operating on Zambian time, the celebration of song and dance took longer than expected, and I was left with almost no time to teach what I had planned. So I decided to switch things up a bit. After I reviewed what we had learned yesterday, I told everyone to stand up. The kids’ faces, which had previously looked rather bored, lit up at the chance to move around and wake up their bodies. After asking them if they knew any fun games to play and receiving blank stares, I took charge and decided to teach them “Boom Chicka Boom.” I exaggerated my movements and facial expressions and yelled as loud as I could “I SAID A BOOM CHICKA BOOM.” I was met with delighted faces and screaming laughter. The students eagerly responded with a “boom chicka boom,” and when I had them do it “underwater style” they dissolved into giggles. Their laughter was contagious, and I giggled along with them as we came up with different ways to sing and dance to our new shared song. This mutual experience connected by laughter reminded me that we are more similar than we may think.

There is a lot of laughter here in Zambezi. There is laughter among our Zambezi family at the convent. There is laughter among the children singing and playing outside our gate. And there is laughter by the people of Zambezi. Sometimes they laugh at us because our accents are silly or because we accidentally say Kanawa mwane instead of Chimena mwane. And sometimes they laugh at us because we are wearing our chitenges wrong or because we dance funny. But this time, I wasn’t being laughed at. We were laughing together. I had found my way in and we were finally communicating. Some might argue that love is the universal language but after this encounter, I believe it is laughter. In this moment, it truly didn’t matter that 21 kids had no idea what a character or a setting was – they were having fun and so was I, and that’s all that counted.

Everyday at Chilenga isn’t going to be easy. And chances are that by the end of my time here my students won’t have perfect storybooks, and I might not have made a difference at all. And maybe my life won’t be permanently changed by these people. But the one thing I can count on, the one thing I can look back on and always remember, is the time we laughed together because we were finally speaking the same language.

Riley Ramage, Class of 2017

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A Day in the Life

Reilly SunsetHello blog readers. Most of the previous posts have provided excellent insight into some of the emotions we experience and some background of the program in Zambezi. However, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce what a day in the life of Zambezi is like. So here goes.

This morning I awoke with a start under the vast mosquito web netting that makes me feel like a princess. I immediately began calculating ways to silence the rooster that has dutifully provided a 4:30am wake-up call three mornings in a row now.

This morning, the engineering squad took a stroll to the market in order to charge the new battery we had purchased for a project. We took off after breakfast with battery in hand. As we waddled through the sandy roads, children flocked to the street in order to get a glimpse of a few lost “chindeles,” the Luvale word for outsider. It seems that the first words Zambezi children are taught to say in English are “How are you??” followed by “yes” and “thank you.” It is not uncommon to find children as young as two or three yelling “chindele how are you?” When we would reply “Good, and you?” they would simply respond “yes, thank you,” feel our arm hair, then run off again.

Upon entering the “old market,” it is usually a good idea to brace one’s senses so that the smell of dried fish does not hit you quite so hard. Collin, Allie, and I, being complete neophytes to the scent of salty fish baking in the sun, were hit with the full force of the odor and had to take a moment to absorb the experience so that we could describe it as a form of “imagery” to our professor, Jeff, later on. We eventually found the place where we could charge our battery and left it there for the remainder of the day while we meandered through the town to attend to other activities.

Our next errand was to visit our friend Samson in order to look at the pontoon crossing for tomorrow. We realized we were ten minutes late, and after debating whether we should walk a little faster, we quickly dispelled the notion realizing that the concept of Zambian time applied here. Zambian time means you that when you make it to an appointment, you make it to an appointment. Start times are just kind of suggestions, but everyone is happy because they know the meeting will happen eventually, no matter the hour. During classes later today, a group interested in health education arrived an hour and a half after the decided start time for the session, but no one was really that miffed about it because that’s just how things go. The concept of Zambian time is a brilliant one and I hope that maybe a few professors on Gonzaga’s campus would be willing to adopt the idea.

Anyway, back to Samson. Our friend Samson works for Seeds of Hope, an organization that builds bio-sand water filters that can be installed in homes and are good for a lifetime. Tomorrow we will venture to a village called Mize, across the Zambezi river. Today we decided to inspect the river crossing in order to ensure the filters’ safe transportation for tomorrow. After helping a broken car roll up the river bank and failing a price negotiation with the pontoon operator, Samson suggested that we take the canoes available at the shore to the other side in order to inspect the road. On the other side, Samson began a lengthy conversation with a few women sitting under a shady tree in the sand. Approaching us glumly after his discussion, he looked up and said “I have some bad news for you.” He solemnly looked each of us in the eye, all of us thinking that somehow our whole project won’t work out, me preparing for the worst. And he says, “these women don’t have any fish.” We each nod and purse our lips in a silent, sorrowful fashion looking from one to the other. With as much sincerity as I can muster, I tell Samson I am sorry and we have a moment of silence for the lack of fish.

The roads being as inspected as possible, and the pontoon man agreeing to meet us at eight hours the next day, the engineers began our walk home on the only paved road in Zambezi, recruiting anyone we could for our engineering classes throughout the week. We met Jeff and LaShantay along the side of the road and stopped to watch a casual goat fight. Collin tells me the mother was teaching the baby goat how to butt heads for its inevitable encounters later in life. I guess goat diplomacy is at an all time low these days.

Jeff and I continued our stroll through to the old market again while Allie, LaShantay, and Collin returned back to the convent for a recharge. Jeff convinced me simply by saying he was on a biscuit hunt. And biscuit hunt he did. In no less than thirty minutes, Jeff hit four shops, purchased 6 different packets of biscuits, had an interesting conversation about a Lunda bible, bought two toilet seats, and secured a ginger beer for the walk home. It was like poetry in motion. During the transition from our toilet seat purchase to the Lunda bible conversation, we ran into a man asking about our classes for the week, a fairly common question we hear from people in the market. The man began discussing his interest in enzymes, and we informed him that the health team could probably talk to him about this issue. The silences became more drawn out as the man tried to find the right words to sufficiently articulate his thoughts in English. After a particularly long pause and perhaps a small, but firm throat clearing from Jeff, the man spurred into speech, admitting that he was indeed drunk, but that we should forgive him and that maybe he would come to classes anyway.

Tonight was special because we had two visitors, Father Dominic, a priest from Solwezi and a good friend of the program, and Ann, a supporter and advocate for the library project at Chilena Basic School. Tonight at dinner Mama Kawatu, our chef extraordinaire and cultural guide, led a welcome song in Luvale to greet the newcomers. As we clapped and sang, the new arrivals grinned broadly and greeted each of us in turn. We sat for dinner and the hum of voices filled the air. The emotions felt by our visitors reflected our own. We are finally settled here in Zambezi. With good food, good friends, and good energy surrounding us, Zambezi is now home.

Reilly Dooris, Class of 2015

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Together, We Can

Hannah's Post

 

Emotions travel in waves through my body as I observe the scene unfolding before my eyes. I stand quietly alongside Mama Kawatu under the shade of a large tree as I take in every aspect of the experience from the perimeter. I crave to join the crowd of people who wait in anticipation, but I stay off to the side, so that I can observe this beautiful moment with all of the detail and activity it presents.

The large semi-truck slowly backs up, and women shoo eager children away from the truck’s path. Groups of women sit in clusters, also watching the scene from a distance. Silence overcomes the area, as we all carefully listen to the sounds of the heavy metal doors opening to expose the seemingly endless boxes of books from the truck’s container.

All sizes and colors of hands clap in celebration or reach up to touch the first boxes of books that are unloaded. Swarms of children and youth fight for the chance to support just one corner of a box. It seems as if the eager people below are still unaware of the sheer number of books that will soon fill the Chilena library’s shelves. Twenty thousand books will be accessible to a population that is always seeking new knowledge and further understanding.

In the most disorganized and least efficient way possible, all 20 pallets of books find their way into the library building. The chaos of unloading books pushes me into a state of sensory overload, with sweaty bodies pushing past others in a rush to drop off one box so that they could transport another and an occasional team of eight young children who resemble a team of ants attempting to carry a fallen potato chip five times their size. Although I crave efficiency in this process, I recognize that the chaos is evidence of each person’s desire to have a hand in the culminating event. In fact, this overwhelming number of hands DID play an important role in the realization of a dream- a dream so profound that many may have thought it to be an impossible one.

Gonzaga’s partnership with the Chilena Basic School began in 2008, when Gonzaga students dreamt of creating a sustainable partnership in which organic forest honey from Zambia could be directly purchased from local beekeepers to be sold nationwide. The bursts of flavor coming from each honeycomb would surely provide incentive for thousands of people around the world to financially support the beautiful partnership that was budding. Zambia Gold, a student organization in partnership with the Zambezi community, was born. Although these founding students envisioned a golden future for the partnership, I doubt that they could have imagined this monumental moment. Years ago, Zambia Gold interns like myself sat down with leaders in Zambezi and asked them to identify needs in their community. For a community seeking improved education and literacy, access to literature was an important need.

Hundreds of pounds of honey, countless hours of students sharing their Zambezi experiences with people at home, years of construction to form the library, endless prayers by teachers and parents for their children to become educated, and months of books journeying to Zambia on a ship have led up to this moment. Finally, the many hands and hearts that have invested in this project can celebrate a culmination. Together, we have done this.

As I write this post from a shady spot on the front porch of the convent, I am overcome with gratitude for the immense blessings that Zambezi has showered me with both last year and this year. I tell my Zambian brothers and sisters that they are teaching me more than I can possibly teach through health lessons. Although I attempt to tell them, I am certain that they have no idea the ways that this community has enriched my life. The partnership that binds the Zambia Gold team to the Chilena community and binds the hearts of Gonzaga students to the people of Zambezi is the kind of connection that I dream of cultivating as I walk down the many paths that life leads me down.

As the Chilena community thanks us 100 times over for playing a part in the realization of this dream, I can only attempt to convey in words my thanks for the ways this community has changed my heart and mind. The practice of accompaniment has shaped what I know to be true about the world, and even who I know God to be.

I am thankful to know that walking alongside another, with the hope of further understanding the human experience and uncovering meaning in our lives, is the most gratifying and life-giving thing. I cannot express my gratitude to be walking alongside another ZamFam this year. It has been an absolute joy to watch 19 faces experience Zambia’s blessings for the first time, and I am already impressed by each person’s willingness to dive deep into authentic relationship with their new Zambian friends.

Friends, the future is looking very bright (or shall I say golden?). I do not yet know what vision the Zambia Gold partnership will work towards next or what other profound insights this ZamFam will gain through their experiences, but I do know one thing: together, we can. And together, we will.

Hannah Van Dinter, Class of 2016

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Intertwined

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When I first landed in Zambezi, my hands disappeared into a sea of ebony. They were poked, rubbed, squeezed, and shaken. My hands touched Zambia before my feet could even reach the ground. Small, soft, dirty hands gently grasped my sweaty, nervous hands. Additional hands reached in, trying to claim at least a finger of their own. Warmth ran up my arms, down my spine, and filled my heart. As I walked toward the crowd of our wonderful greeting crew, various hands welcomed me to my new home for the next few weeks. This first experience has made me realize the importance of human contact and connection.

Our distal ends bear the brunt of our interactions with the world. They are the first physical contact with humans, objects, and the world around us. They provide a sensory experience that influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions. During my short time in Zambezi thus far, I have come to understand how intertwined humans really are.

Last night, members of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church graciously opened up their homes to our group. Peter, Nick, and I traveled to Mushuna outside of Zambezi. Us “chindeles” (outsiders) were welcomed and celebrated by the entire community through handshakes, claps, dancing and many hugs. Violet and Steven, our hosts, along with their five children and about forty neighboring children showed us one of our first true cultural experiences. This village, with no electricity or running water, bases their community on using their resources and working together. They grow most of their food, build their houses out of mud bricks, and most families share one room for sleeping. During our night’s stay, we learned about food, etiquette and traditions of Zambians. Vast differences in culture and lifestyle unfolded; however, many similarities stood out to me. The parents were extremely hard working and wanted the best for their children. Additionally, I bonded with the twenty-year old daughter over music, dancing, and goals for the future. Peter, Nick, and I departed this morning with hugs around our legs and waist from the many happy children and hand shakes from Violet, Steven, and other adults of the community.

In general, I am not a touchy person. I value my personal space and find I share love in other ways. However, since my arrival in Zambezi, I have grown to not only normalize human contact, but to actually enjoy it. Human contact has shattered the walls between strangers and friends. Each person I have met has treated me as a friend and welcomed me with open arms. Additionally, human contact has broken language and cultural barriers. It has enhanced broken conversations with those who speak little to no English and has helped me make my point when I pronounce my Lunda or Luvale greetings wrong.

To me, hands have come to symbolize togetherness: shaking the hands of elderly Zambians, clapping in unison to the beautiful singing of the church choir, walking hand-in-hand with children, and receiving countless waves as I walk by. Hands have broken barriers and have reminded me that no matter our cultural differences, we are very similar in our interconnectedness as human beings.

Kisu mwane,

Kenzie Fuller, Class of ‘16

P.S. Hello to all of my family and friends back at home! I am missing and thinking of you! I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all.

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Sharing burdens

Mama Kawatu unloads books for Chilena Library

Mama Kawatu unloads books for Chilena Library

Unlike quite a few members of our team, this is my second time back on this beautiful continent. Three years ago I went to the rural town of Nyerii, Kenya, with a non-profit from my hometown, Reno. Our purpose for this trip was to help set up a tutoring system and distribute shoes and water filters to poor children and families in Kenya. There were some incredibly meaningful parts, but in many ways it felt like we came as rich Americans to help the poor and needy Kenyans who would be plagued by diseases from dirty water, unable to attend school because they didn’t have shoes, and in need of love from our group because they didn’t get it otherwise.

The water filters probably helped a few of the individuals who could actually understand our demonstrations, and if the children had school fees and no shoes, now they could probably attend school. Although we had good intentions, we were still the “saviors” that came in and left believing we did so much to help those in need. Looking back, I feel like much of the trip was flawed in what we did and how we did. Regardless, this trip still had an incredible impact on me and influenced the type of work I hope to do with the rest of my life.

I wanted to come to Zambezi because I expected this trip to once again bring me to a culture and people that I love, but this time we wouldn’t come as “saviors” ignorant to the strengths of the people we are there to help. This time we would come as equals, loving and serving one other as “mutually indebted” friends who believe in a shared humanity.

The very first moment we arrived here, it already seemed different. Getting off the plane yesterday we were greeted with excited smiles and a big welcome sign from our Zambian friends who waited in the hot sun for hours for our arrival. It reminded me of how my grandma picks me up from the airport when I visit her in LA—eagerly waiting, with an excited smile, and a sign welcoming me in her home. It felt like we were family or long-time friends even though it was my first time here.

When we come, we teach classes and bring expertise valued by the local community. But we also receive help from a dear friend, Mama Kwatu. She helps us shop, prepare, and cook meals for us with our limited supplies and knowledge of Zambian cuisine, while also sharing conversations about her life with whichever student is lucky enough to help her make meals that day. Authentic relationships are built not based on free handouts from strangers but on the idea that we are “mutually indebted” to one another and delighted in getting to know one another more deeply.

Although classes don’t start until Monday, I hope and imagine I will form a deep friendship with some adults in our class. Just the letters that past Zambezi students send back to dear Zambian friends shows me that these relationships are built on vulnerability and love for each other. Although I haven’t made such relationships yet, I know that if I give a small gift when I leave it will be because I am showing love and appreciation for a friend rather than giving something to someone with less than me.

It is challenging for me to recognize and admit that the trip to Kenya that impacted me so much had some important flaws, but it also encourages me to seek and prioritize accompaniment, reciprocity, and “mutual indebtedness” with both my new Zambian friends and with whomever I end up working in the future, as I am considering Peace Corps after graduation and even possibly a vocation promoting rights for marginalized women (hopefully in a country like Kenya or Zambia).

I am so thankful for this experience and for our faculty who are committed to challenging the view many people have when they come to developing countries. Although it is impossible to practice accompaniment and reciprocity perfectly, I can now see how to strive for it in the next two and a half weeks and long after I leave Zambia.

To all my family and friends, I love and miss you! Can’t wait to come home and share all my stories from Zambezi with you. Thanks for the love, support, and prayers!

Love always,

Lindsey Hand, Class of 2017

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Welcome Home

This is it! Today was the day we all were waiting for. Today, we arrived in Zambezi. After an exhilarating exploration of a few exotic places of the world and 24 hours of plane travel, we were all anxious to arrive in Zambezi. We had prepared for the past six months to come to this place, and it was time to see what it was all about and begin our incredible growth process.

I waited until the afternoon to make the three-hour flight to Zambezi. After what seemed like an eternity, the final eight of us hopped on a couple of teeny-tiny planes at around one o’clock. The others had been there getting sunburnt and running to the market for four hours already. I, of course, slept through the entire plane ride, thus missing much of the beautiful African scenery below. I woke up to Nick reaching back to poke me and point to the view below: it was Zambezi. I was so surprised at what I saw, not only because I was slightly disoriented from waking up, but because it was nothing like I’d imagined! Landing in Lusaka, I wasn’t surprised at all – I saw the typical tall African grass with majestic trees dotting the landscape. But here, the sparse village I had pictured was more like a very small town located along the great Zambezi River. Some homes are spread far and wide, but there was a central location for most of this large area.

As we approached the runway, my heart began beating faster and I saw children running to fences and adults pausing their work to stare at this rare occurrence. I felt this weird knot in my throat as we pulled up to the unloading area with anxious children’s faces and my fellow Zags waving at us. I was so happy and excited that I was beginning to cry; hence, the weird knot in my throat. I don’t cry when I’m happy. Ever. Today I did because 150 smiling faces were eagerly waiting to allow us into their community to grow and learn together, and this was the moment I had been waiting for, only 100 times better than I could have ever imagined. The warmth, joy, and kindness of people are unbelievable if you take the time to notice it.

Before the pilot had even gotten out of his seat, kids were pressing their faces up to the windows and vigorously waving at us. It was so surreal as this was much better than the welcoming scene I’d imagined. I couldn’t wait to get out and greet these children, but I pulled myself together before the pilot opened my door and I hopped out of my seat in the back. My friends had already joined the large group of people waiting to meet us and there were only a few children remaining. One, named Junior, clung to me. My newfound friend was talkative, asking me all kinds of questions and introducing me to his friends over the sound of some amazing, traditional singing and dancing that awaited our arrival.

LaurenArrival

I thought I was making a real connection with this kind eleven-year-old boy after only a few minutes, but then he asked what kind of remembrance I was going to give him. We had been prepared for this type of question, but it still stung a little and left me puzzled. I replied that I was unsure, which he was fine with, but then demanded that I not touch any other kids. This was nearly impossible because random kids would come up to you without saying anything and grab on to any open space on your arm. The Zags and their posse of new friends made the short walk to the convent Junior still clinging to me and expressing fascination at the differences in our hands.

After a short stop at the convent to drop our bags, we ventured off to watch the beautiful sunset by the river. As we left our gate, the kids swarmed us again! Junior sought me out right away. We had a great conversation and he was really patient when trying to teach me some Luvale. He tenderly wiped my hand off after realizing that there was dirt on it and asked me to take a picture of us when we arrived. “You can print this out and have Joshua bring it back for me next year as a remembrance,” he said. It was really reassuring after his earlier comment, but I still find myself confused. Nonetheless, before our evening was through, Junior told me that tomorrow he is going to get a new chicken and name it “Lauren,” at 15 hours tomorrow, I’m going to teach him to read, and that I have to meet him for sunset again tomorrow. We will be doing our homestays tomorrow, so that will be highly unlikely, but it was still a very sweet gesture. Once again, he reminded me of the picture, hugged me, and we departed.

A special shout out to Cecilia Vollert, who had a young boy (whose name I can’t remember) ask about her and to my dear friend Lauren Bledsoe, who had a young fan named Elizabeth. She informed me that she had a friend from 2013 named Lauren and her eyes lit up when she realized I knew you. I hope to make an impact like that on someone, as I know multiple people already have on me. Also, shout out to Ryan Olson and Alyssa Severson, since they asked me to, and my friends and family back home (Mom, Dad, Wayne, Jack, etc.). I miss and love you all and thank you for your support on this incredible journey.

So tonight, I head to bed with an overwhelming happiness, a concern about whether or not a real relationship will be formed with any of these wonderful Zambians, and extremely dirty feet from sand and red dirt.

Lauren Benedict (2015)

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Ready to take flight

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Hello Zags in Zambia followers,

While we will begin the reflections in earnest when we arrive in Zambezi tomorrow, we wanted you to know about our time in Lusaka. We began our day at the University of Zambia, meeting with a number of university dignitaries including the Dean of the School of Education and his faculty. In proper Zambian fashion, the gathering was both formal and relational. It provided us with a history of higher education in Zambia and the strategic plan for the future of the University of Zambia. We were grateful for the time spent together. We also toured a residence hall and spoke with a few university students.

After a schawarma lunch with camp missionary Kelly Huckaby at a new Zambian mall, our Zags went to hear about the long and fascinating history of the Jesuits in Zambia. Fr. McGloin joined the Jesuits while a student at Gonzaga. He’s been working in Zambia since 1969. He was able to share the long view of the order’s history, while also providing a more in-depth and personal recounting of the last 45 years of the 51 years since Zambia became an independent nation.

We also had a wonderful visit with staff at the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection. As you might guess from the photo, our hosts Mwiinga and Tendei were lively and fun. They brought humor and joy to their work on behalf of the millions of Zambians living in poverty.

Josh was able to confirm that the books for the library at Chilena Basic School are on the way to Zambezi and should be there by Monday. This will be cause for an immense celebration, and we are overjoyed to be present for the culmination of many years’ partnership through Zambia Gold.

So, we are on our way at dawn. We’ve tried to assure that our internet connection will be reliable. But this is Zambia, so be patient. We will be eager to share our first experiences in Zambezi as soon as we can.

Josh Armstrong, Jennifer Akins, and Jeff Dodd

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Hello Zambia

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After 36 hours of travel, touching three continents, we have arrived safely in Lusaka, Zambia. For most, this journey began last November when applying to participate in Gonzaga-in-Zambezi, and after a semester of learning, reading and preparing, we couldn’t be more excited to touch down on African soil. Here are a few notes from our journey so far.

After an uneventful 14 hour flight from Seattle to Dubai (complete with hot towels and first-run films), we arrived to Dubai on Tuesday evening. Emirates Air lodges travelers with overnight layovers, so we hopped on a minibus with a few other passengers. We drove into the city and we pulled up to a large sparkling and extravagant building. We remained in our seats waiting to be delivered to our hotel, as the people in the front of the bus got out and went into the building we were parked in front of. A man in a khaki vest and pressed white shirt motioned us to get out; this was our hotel. We felt a surge of excitement run through us as we thought of our last guaranteed hot showers and finally getting to lie horizontal to sleep.

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Despite the long flight that had taken us over the North Pole into the Middle East, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to explore this remarkable and somewhat overwhelming city. We dropped off our stuff and headed out to tour the city of Dubai.

As we drove, the four-lane roadway was filled with sports cars (Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis all zipped by) and lined with giant billboards. The bus driver then pointed out the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. It didn’t look over 800 meters tall until we got closer and through the fog we could see the surrounding skyscrapers lining the horizon. It was impressive to say the least. It’s blinking lights created a tall pointy tower stacked like adult legos into the sky. We saw more of the city, including the Palms man made islands and Atlantis Resort, the Dubai mall, and then headed back to our beautiful hotel. The city’s uninhibited wealth and outrageous infrastructure gave us pause as we pondered our final destination. With exhausted eyes we headed to our hotel and rested up for another day of travel, this time finally on our way to Lusaka, Zambia.

We know that Lusaka, and Zambezi on Friday, won’t look or feel much like Dubai, and we’re excited get our first glimpse of the community that has been a home to so many Zags before us.

Allie Reiling & Josh Armstrong

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The Practice of Accompaniment

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This article was recently published in the Gonzaga Magazine, Spring 2015 by Dr. Josh Armstrong – http://blogs.gonzaga.edu/tobecontinued/2015/04/13/30/

I saw it first in the eyes of a handful of Zambian leaders when working alongside Gonzaga engineering students to build a more effective and sustainable cooking stove. After three lessons on heat generation from our students, our Zambian partners were ready to get their hands dirty. Using bricks and other locally sourced materials, we developed a stove together. Then something really interesting occurred. One day while we were out gathering new materials, the Zambian leaders made another, improved stove. When we stepped aside, they used their new knowledge and took ownership of the project.

With each additional iteration, the stove — and our global relationship — improved.

The practice of accompaniment

Many of us want to make a difference in our communities, and in our personal and professional lives. We want to be leaders, bringing change to a world that seems increasingly hungry for transformation. However, one doesn’t need to look far to see examples of those with good intentions, at home and abroad, who get in the way of true change. Often as not, the source of failure is overemphasizing tangible results while underemphasizing process.

Since 2007, I have led a specialized study abroad course in which Gonzaga students practice development work in Zambezi, a rural village in southern Africa. My experience last year watching students partner with Zambians to improve their stoves was another lesson in accompaniment, and I believe it has implications for the ways that we lead and serve around the world and in our local communities.

Jesuits believe that accompaniment is the act of being with and doing with, rather than doing for: walking together along the same path with a community that identifies objectives, creates a plan, and manages these activities in its own leadership or development process. In this way, accompaniment is not about giving service to the people, as a traditional charity would, but about serving alongside them in a relationship of mutual reciprocity. Great leaders remember that the process of communicating with their people is as important as the end result, and they make space for the process by taking time to invest in the people and discover their assumptions and expectations. This core commitment allows the best leaders to practice more effectively two key elements of accompaniment — exploring values and giving back the work — that can unlock its power and facilitate real change in the world.

It begins with understanding values

Near the end of our stove project, Sandu, who is one of our trusted friends, told me, “We believe knowledge is the weapon to success in life.” This core value has allowed the Zambezi community to shape the dialogue on change toward a focus on education. After careful listening, the Gonzaga program has come alongside a primary rural school in the Zambezi district to build a community library. Opening this year, it is the first library of its kind in this region of Zambia. While we are financial partners in this endeavor, we have not spent our time physically working on the construction of the library, believing the Zambian people to be experts in this regard. Rather we have dedicated our time listening and posing questions that seek to understand the values and goals that will integrate this library into the fabric of the community. Sustainable change that allows a community to “stand on its own two feet” must be rooted in the core values of the community.

Giving the work back

We often gain credibility and leadership by demonstrating our capacity to take other people’s problems off their shoulders and give them back solutions. While this can be an important skill, the leader practicing accompaniment mobilizes the work of others rather than simply pointing the way. The leader reflects on ways to take the work off her shoulders and place it into the various factions within the organization to work on the problem together. This way of proceeding models accompaniment by “operating at eye-level with the community.” Gonzaga-in-Zambezi students who embody the notion of eye-to-eye better serve our Zambian partners because they alleviate some of the inherent power dynamics between the more “privileged” students and the local people “in need.” In the same way, leaders must forge partnerships built on mutual respect and trust and seek opportunities to give back the work.

My colleague Aaron Ausland encourages those practicing accompaniment “to generate opportunities to receive in the places where you serve, to become mutually indebted and to develop real relationships with the community.”

In June, Gonzaga student Paxton Richardson reflected on an experience in Zambezi: “James, a respected community member, understood the stove well enough that he took over the second half of our lesson. Here I was, learning from the people I thought I would be serving and teaching. There was no division between them and us. That line was shattered the minute we received their warm, joyous welcoming.” In Zambezi, to Paxton’s surprise and satisfaction, she stumbled upon friendship, new understanding of community development, and the opportunity to practice accompaniment.

I hope that Zags everywhere will find opportunities to practice accompaniment in their own local and global communities.

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I look forward to practicing and teaching Gonzaga students accompaniment during our time in Zambezi this month.  Please follow along (and comment) in this blog as our lessons unfold. Dr. Josh Armstrong, May 3, 2015

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