Periods Are Awkward.

The past two weeks here have been wonderfully challenging. The community members I have met are full of strength, wisdom and immense determination. Our Gonzaga team is bright, compassionate and relational. I am in awe of this place for many reasons, including the breathtaking sunsets, the constant chatter and hum of laughter and my love/hate relationship with the dusty, bumpy roads. Another reason is the self-exploration this place has afforded me. I have examined not just the things that make me a good student, friend and daughter, but also things that cause me to fall short in all of those aspects of life. It has been difficult to face these attributes and shortcomings head on but it has also been surprisingly healing. It has helped me work on embracing who I am entirely.

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Picture taken on our way home from Chitokoloki, one of the many beautiful sunsets seen on our adventure here so far. (pc: Tyler Hamke)

For many people, including myself, a motivation to come here was to get out of their personal comfort zone. Until this trip, I thought that the only place growth could occur was outside of one’s own comfort zone. As an introvert I thought the best way I could expand and get out of my comfort zone was to try and be an extrovert in a stimulating setting like the Zambezi market. However, this caused me to begin to lose my genuine self because I’d compare myself to the incredible abilities of my fellow Zags. For a while I didn’t understand why I would get so anxious walking through the market, talking to my students outside of class or dancing and singing with all the children. I’d second-guess myself every time I tried greeting a shopkeeper or market goer and tell myself “You didn’t pronounce that right” or “You should’ve said something else”. I found myself trying to pretend that I knew all the answers with students outside of the classroom when all they wanted to do was talk. When children didn’t remember or know my name I thought it was because they didn’t like me or I wasn’t fun enough, when actually “Moira” is just extremely hard for them to pronounce.

I am in awe of how great my fellow Zags are at establishing and forming genuine new friendships and at their ability to get out of their comfort zone, which is different for each and every one of us, in a way that leads to new found confidence and growth. I have been trying to emulate them because of my admiration for them.

However, it has become clear that this isn’t the path to true growth for me. I start to lose my genuine self if I try hard to be an extrovert. Spending too much time outside of my comfort zone in this way resulted in me comparing myself to others even more because I was trying to change my true personality.

The past two Thursdays Hayley, Molly and I traveled to give talks about menstruation and pass out kits that help girls stay in school while they are menstruating. “I am here to talk with you all about something that is uncomfortable and awkward, but it is part of what unites all women and makes us courageous and beautiful: menstruation.” This is how I have started the talks I have given to young girls and women at Malola and Kalendyola. The feeling of these talks is all too familiar. The girls slowly hunched over, sank in their seats, and darted their eyes down once they knew what this talk was going to be about. I remember starting middle school and sinking and hiding in my desk while my teacher talked to us about periods. I remember trying to make myself look as small as possible and avoiding any eye contact because eye contact would mean I’d have to say something about this weird thing called a period. I was scared and uncomfortable, just like most of the girls we have talked to.

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Mama Love translating part of our menstruation talk at Malola. The pinks bags contain the menstruation kits.

I sat in a classroom in Malola and outside of a hut in Kalendyola, both filled with young girls. Throughout the talks I reassured these girls and women that their period is not something to be ashamed of and that it is important not to let it stop us from going to and continuing school. It is hard knowing that something that makes us women is what keeps so many girls here and in other places from getting the best education they can and being who they are entirely. Normally during our Health classes, I am self-conscious about what I am saying. I question everything that comes out of my mouth. I look at the incredible teaching ability of the other members of my team and believe I cannot live up to them. I am so scared of failing my students. But during these particular talks I am completely calm; my palms aren’t sweaty, which is a huge feat for me, my voice is steady and my head is clear. I feel connected to these girls because I can remember feeling extremely uncomfortable and scared at their age. It is in these moments that I don’t feel like an American teaching Zambians; I feel like a woman talking and experiencing the awkwardness of becoming a woman with young girls. I can see myself in their shoes.

These two menstruation talks are the only times I have had nothing on my mind besides being with these girls and being a woman. Nothing else mattered in these moments, and I found myself never worrying about what I was saying. I wasn’t second guessing myself because I felt like there was no power dynamic, like there was no teacher/student or American/Zambian relationships. It was just a woman talking to young girls. A woman who had been in their shoes and knew how they were feeling; a woman talking with young girls about something that all women struggle with, something that connects us all and makes us beautiful. All I cared about was making sure these girls knew they had nothing to be ashamed about and that it was okay to be scared. We were all embracing womanhood together. This was clear when, after both talks, the girls sang and danced. I was moved to tears as I witnessed these girls, who minutes ago were sinking in their chairs, confidently singing, dancing and smiling together.

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Sitting and talking with the women and girls of Kalendola. Mama Josephine translated for me.

Recognizing the calmness I felt in these two talks made me realize that the growth I have experienced here has actually occurred within my comfort zone, in a group of women talking about what connects us all. In this comfort zone, I was able to recognize my strengths and be more comfortable and confident in who I am. This growth in comfort, ability and confidence is exactly what I am trying to attain.

As I am preparing to walk through my last week here in Zambezi, I am coming up with active steps I can take to fully embrace myself and also the Zambezi community. First, I need to work on accepting exactly who I am before I can fully embrace and be a part of the community here. I need to accept my self-discoveries and use them in a way that furthers rather than hinders my experiences. Although I am not sure if I will ever be seen as anything but a “chindele” to many in this community, I can work on showing my true self to the people here with whom I have relationships in order to form bonds that are beyond teacher and student. In order for true accompaniment to occur during this final week, I need to work on being present and being confident in the human being I am, confident in the fact that the people of this community would like me and enjoy talking to me even if I wasn’t here to teach classes. It is important for me to stretch myself in ways that do not lead to a loss of who I am. I need to stop thinking of myself as an American and this community as Zambians; I need to think of everyone here, the Gonzaga and Zambezi communities as well as myself, as humans who crave relationships and love.

Kisu Mwane,

Moira Andrews

Class of 2018

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Relentless Honking

Every morning around 6am, I receive an unintended wakeup call in our cozy, yellow room. No, this wakeup call is not the rooster that crows every 30 seconds; Rather, it is the relentless honking that I hear on the distant, sandy roads of Zambezi. For the first few days here, I found myself asking the famous question that I verbalize at least 20 times each day about life here in Zambezi: “What does that mean?” Like most things in this exquisitely thought-provoking place, it didn’t make sense. It was after much speculation that I found out that the noise I was hearing was the bus system. As buses arrive at their stops, they honk like there is no tomorrow. They do this to warn people who need a ride that they are there. This way, they can account for the people who may be running late, or who don’t own a clock to tell the time. They announce their presence in a way that allows them to be noticed. In a sense, the way the buses announce their presence somewhat reminds me of the profound announcement of our presence in every place we go here.

“Chindele! Chindele!” shout the little kids sprinting out of their home after Emily, Katie, and me as we trudge our sandals through the thick sand to the market. This phrase roughly translates as “white person,” and it is not an unfamiliar sound to our ears. It is nearly impossible to walk anywhere without being made aware of our differences in this community. It makes the idea of accompaniment very difficult when your presence is a profound contrast to the lifestyle and atmosphere that exists here. The moment I stepped off the bush plane onto the airstrip in Zambezi for the first time, numerous little hands immediately swamped me- touching my blue veins and stroking my fingernails. Faces of confusion and awe accompanied these hands. I remember being at my homestay with five of the most curious young girls who yanked my hair into tight braids and asked, “Chindele! Where did you get this blonde wig?” It has been moments like these that have allowed me to recognize that my presence here is unusual and that my position in this place allows my head to be constantly packed with questions like the relentless sounds of the buses.

Perhaps the most prominent observation I have made since coming here is that you sometimes have to make a fool out of yourself in order to create genuine meaning of situations and mutual understanding with others. After this trip, we will be receiving the title of “Professional Fools” because we have successfully made ourselves look like confused tourists who are walking around without a map in almost every location we enter for the first time. Although this has proven to be very humorous in many situations as we struggle with the language and trying to follow the talented dance moves of Zambians, the concept of being a confused tourist has been one of my hardest struggles.

During this trip our Health team has been thoroughly exposed to health practice in a country with few resources. Today, our ZamFam had the opportunity to spend the day in Chitokoloki to teach lessons and get a tour of the hospital. The hospital here is the best hospital in the region because of its resources and healthcare providers. As our Health team received our own tour, the doctor walked us into many wards, without the same privacy considerations we have come to value so much in the States. It was interesting to see how the concept of privacy for patients contrasted with our expectations for healthcare. During the tour, I became overwhelmed when I realized how easy it is for me to gain access to a doctor or healthcare whenever it is needed, whereas here in Zambia, individuals go through great sacrifice to encounter aid. Although it was tough to encounter some of the patients and the healthcare differences in relation to what I am used to back home, it was a great learning experience to figure out how to accept the differences in healthcare practice and acknowledge the way this nation uses its resources in creative ways to care for those in need. This opportunity left me with more questions than answers, and helped me to recognize that although some things are not easy to witness, it is important to acknowledge the differences between our cultures and find value in the way healthcare is provided in other parts of the world.

Although I am battling with the tough question of my role here and the struggle to see such simple fixes to complex problems, I have also found great passion for the Zambian people. One aspect that I have fallen in love with here is how it is hard to find a Zambian who is stressed out by the concept of time. We Gonzaga students come from a place where we are constantly burdened by time constraints and stressed by the lack of time we have to complete every commitment we have each day. However, here in Zambezi, my eyes have been opened to the concept of patience and slowing things down. It is in the three and half hour long church services, the students that arrive 45 minutes late to Health class, and the slow and graceful way women walk down the tarmac road in the blistering sun with baskets on their heads that I realized the beauty of slowing down. Zambians have this incredible way of contemplating questions we ask for longer than expected, for speaking in slow and soothing demeanors, and for looking everyone they meet in the eye. Time is not a constraint that keeps them from having genuine and intentional reactions with the individuals around them. I noticed this when I was sharing a Coke with my friend Mumba the tailor, who failed to lose eye contact as he spoke to me about the challenges of education in Zambezi, the rewarding struggle of providing for a family of 10, working in the market, and sharing his love for Jesus as a pastor. I noticed this in the Head Nurse at the Zambezi hospital, James, as he calmly injected 100 babies with vaccines, while simultaneously teaching our Health team about healthcare in a developing nation and helping to ignite a passion for medicine within us. I noticed this in Mama Violet’s warm embrace as she tended to me after a clumsy and hard fall at a metal playground. The list goes on and on, but the point I am trying to make is that as Americans, we come from a place where we constantly think the world expects so much of us. Personally, coming here was a big adjustment for me because I often struggle with overextending my time to ensure that I am constantly doing my best not to fail. However, my time in Zambia has helped me to realize the importance of stopping, looking up, and observing the way God made the world and how it has so many raw and important lessons to teach me.

This intentionality is reinforced by the interactions that we have with this community on a daily basis. It is illuminated by the eagerness Zambians have to learn. On my third day here, a friendly man stopped me on the road and said, “Hello! Last year, I took First Aid in the Health class, and I was wondering if this year you were offering a Second Aid class?” At first this seemed silly, but as time went on I recognized that it was just the first exposure to the contagious enthusiasm Zambians place towards learning. My time here has taught me that the power of education is stronger than any other force you can bestow on others. Every morning at 9am when I look into the eyes of the individuals in my Health class as I teach about water safety, pregnancy, and high blood pressure, I see a sparkle that I have never witnessed before. These people want to learn anything that they can get their hands on so they can actively start making their community and their world a better place.

Through making a fool of myself here in Zambia, I have come to realize that humanity is universal. Although on the outside, we may appear different, and our cultural practices may contrast, at our core we are all longing for the same thing: To be loved. The other day, my friend Sylvester/Paul (he won’t tell us which is his actual name) stopped me in the market to say, “Zambia may not have a lot of material goods, but the people make it so rich!” I don’t think there is a better quote to sum up this place. Amidst all of the confusion and battling with questions as to why things are the way they are here, I can be sure of this: the people here illuminate a welcoming and compassionate beauty that I have never before witnessed. One of my favorite quotes by Karl Barth states, “Each fellow-man is a whole world and the request which he makes of me is not merely that I should know this or that about him, but the man himself, and therefore this whole world.” Zambia has taught me to not undermine any human because each individual has infinite worth and represents an entire world to be discovered. However, sometimes that discovery isn’t easy, and you must loudly pronounce your presence like a loud and foolish horn in order to vulnerably step into their beautiful world.

Tunasakwilila mwane (thank you) Zambia, for showing me how to open my mind and heart to the beauty of slowing down and recognizing the inherent worth in the eyes and hearts around me.

Sincerely,

Molly Bosch

Ps- Hello Bosch fam! Don’t worry; contrary to the last 320 days of this year, I have been surprisingly healthy! Missing you all, sending hugs and love your way!

Pps- Hannah, Chiwala is still alive and thriving. He wants me to tell you that he is so proud of your accomplishments, and that he misses you immensely. He also wants me to tell you that he wants my family to adopt him even though your family already adopted him, so we can make one big family. (We’ll talk about logistics when I return?) Love you, and I thank you everyday for encouraging me to come to this place.

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When You Go

“What will you leave me when you go?”

When I wake up every morning at the convent, there are a few things that I can always count on experiencing. I will have a moment of anxiety as I try to sit up and get caught in my mosquito net, I will hear the hushed laughter of students in the main room who have woken up before me, and I will silently curse the rooster reaching a piercingly high decibel right outside my window. The only other certainty is the children who roam outside of our gate, waiting to get their daily first glimpse at us, the chindeles.

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The children of Zambezi have brought me frustration, laughter, and pride, but they have more importantly been a constant catalyst for self-reflection. From the moment that my bush plane landed on the dusty airstrip and we were greeted with song and dance, our group has transfixed the children. They will call our names, hold our hands, and write us letters, which are nothing short of heart-warming. However, to my dismay they often ask us for gifts. Or, let me rephrase that. They tell us to leave them gifts.

“When you go, you will leave me a water bottle.”

“When you go, you will gift me a touch phone.”

As I awkwardly stutter through some form of an apology for not being able to do so, I can’t help but notice a fraction of light fade from their smiles. How can we expect the children to understand our idea of accompaniment? To live and learn with a community, our group has determined that giving these gifts as handouts have overall negative consequences. For me, a nineteen-year-old male who is constantly aware and self-conscious about the way people view me, telling somebody no is hard. Maybe some of the adults in the community understand this, and maybe they don’t. But for the children, the lack of an immediate payoff in the form of a gift is not good enough.

Our time in Zambezi is flying by at a breakneck pace, and I am constantly trying to challenge myself to reflect on my experience and make goals for the upcoming days. During the quiet time between dinner and reflection, I often find myself scribbling away in my journal about the many interactions I had throughout the day. It was through an exchange with one of the children hanging around the convent named Deborah that those words sparked a thought. Maybe the children are on to something. What will I leave here when I go? And maybe more importantly, what will I take with me?

Chief Seattle of the Duwamish Native American tribe was once quoted as saying, “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” This is a quote that I used to subscribe to. It helped me remember to take a step back and listen. For those who have known me for a long time, they will agree I have always tended to be the quiet observer in group conversations, not leaving a trace of my opinion and being present only enough to collect and process the thoughts of the group. Looking at this quote now, it almost seems silly in the context of this trip due to the passive nature of the quote. We are not passive members of this community. Every day we engage with the public both through our time spent in our individual teams as well as in our free time down at the market.

When I think about what I want to leave, I hope that it will be more than footprints. Being a part of the health team, we teach multiple lessons per week to different communities within Zambia. Just yesterday, we traveled to Kalendola and thanks to the translating efforts of Mama Love and Mama Josephine I was able to give a lengthy talk about first aid techniques to the people in the community. Of the questions that followed my lesson, one in particular stood out. An elderly man told me about a tradition in their community in which fresh cow dung is rubbed into open wounds in order to heal them faster, and he asked if I could validate this tradition. Along with this question, there have been many others that have sparked an emotional response within me. Why was I given the privilege to think the answers to these questions are basic? What may seem like common knowledge to someone who has grown up in a developed country is sometimes a foreign idea to these small villages. I pray that when I journey back to Spokane, that I leave an intellectual presence behind. If I fail to do so before getting on the plane, then what does that mean for the success of the health team? What does that say about my ability to make an impact?

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I also want to leave behind the blind confidence I have in my own experiences being the whole truth. One of the most impactful lessons that I have learned during my time here in Zambia is the idea that a single story is incomplete and dangerous. A single story is never able to capture the beautiful complexity of any community. Much of my experience up to this point in my life was spent learning and memorizing facts that I am then able to regurgitate on an exam. I found myself trying to learn about the Zambezi community in this same way of memorization, and for the first few days I was frustrated with my lack of ability to grasp and understand the world around me. Leaving this mentality behind means understanding that my opinion and my view of a particular experience does not have to be shared by others. Yes, the life that I have lived so far is a truth. But it is my truth, and not necessarily the truth of others.

When I inevitably leave this community I have come to love, I will be taking the lessons I have learned from the people of this community with me. I have been taught to be humble and honest with the people around me. If I ask a fellow college student how they are doing, their answer will almost always be “Great!” or some other form of the word. In contrast, Zambians will tell you exactly how they are feeling. They are honest with their emotions, and this allows them to be transparent to their friends. Living in a convent with 17 other beautiful people can often be overwhelming for an introvert like myself, so I have spent many hours with my journal, recharging in solitude. Remembering to care for my whole self and spend time reflecting is something that I would like to continue. It doesn’t take a crazy day chasing and catching chickens with Mama Love (true story) to have something to reflect on.

The thought of leaving Zambezi turns my stomach in knots. When I go, I will leave behind more than my footprint, and I will give action to the memories that I take with me.

Kisu mwane, my friends,

Justin O’Farrell

Class of 2018

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Pass the Caterpillars

Early last week, our Gonzaga crew sat down together for lunch and quickly realized we were in for a treat. As lunch was set before us on our large table, a hefty bowl of caterpillars was placed towards the center. As most of us had not yet had the pleasure of eating caterpillars before then, many cautiously began placing a small, safe amount on their plate. Looks of concern and intrigue were passed around the table as people tentatively began to try the caterpillars. Everyone tried at least one, and though they may not have been especially tasty to all, everyone embraced the new and slightly uncomfortable experience with poise and curiosity. Besides caterpillars, Zambezi has served us some especially hefty platefuls of new and uncomfortable experiences. Working through these experiences, I have learned about the power of saying yes while embracing invitations and all else that comes my way.

Saying yes and being open to new experiences is something I find myself struggling with back home and at school. It requires one to leave comfort and control, and embrace the potential challenges, difficulties, and discomforts a new experience may bring. Zambezi seems to throw new and uncomfortable experiences our way everyday, and through this I have seen the great value that can come from saying yes. One experience of exceptional discomfort in particular occurred last week, when Mercer and I were invited by Mary, the 6o-something year-old tailor both of us visit, to join her as her guests at a community member’s wedding reception.

Neither Andrew nor myself thought much of the invitation when it was initially extended to us. However, we both decided to attend the reception out of respect to Mary. Upon our arrival at the small, stone church hall where the reception was being held, Mary took our hands and guided us all the way up to the front of the seating area. She showed us where the last two empty seats were, which she had been saving for us, in the second row. The seats happened to be directly behind the bride and groom, whom neither of us had previously met. We soon found out Mary was in fact the matron of the reception, and we were the reception’s honored guests.

As soon as we sat down, the reception began. Mercer and I were sticking out like sore thumbs, and many eyes were on us as we uncomfortably settled into our seats. There were close to fifty people at the reception, and everyone was seated in plastic lawn chairs on the dirt floor of the dimly lit church hall. Most people were not dressed up, aside from the bride and groom. As the event proceeded, we realized we would have to stay for the entire reception, though our plan was to leave early and meet our group for dinner. The reception continued, with much singing, dancing, and laughing. Some words and prayers were shared. Later, gifts were presented to the couple being honored. As Mary stood in front of the entire group to present her gift first, she asked us, “Are you ready to bring your gifts up?” Neither Mercer nor myself came prepared with gifts, so we exchanged a disparaging look of defeat as we had to tell Mary and announce to everyone else we did not in fact come prepared with gifts for the bride and groom. Coincidentally, we learned it was also the bride’s birthday, making the situation all that more hard to sit through.

Soon after gifts were presented, food was served. As the honored guests at the reception, we were served first with Mary, before the bride and groom, on the front stage in front of the entire crowd. We receive our fried chicken and bottled Cokes in small Styrofoam containers, and returned to our seats to start eating as many people watched us intently. Mercer and I could not believe how out of place we were in that moment, and how awkward we felt being thrown into the reception so unprepared and unknowledgeable. We left the reception after awkwardly thanking and congratulating the bride and groom. We laughed at ourselves on our walk back to the convent at how we could not believe the experience we just had.

Though this experience caused a lot of laughter and amounts to quite a humorous story to look back on, I walked away learning a lot. Through saying yes to Mary’s invitation and embracing its entirety, I received a small glimpse into this special community. I had the chance to meet many new people, witness some cultural and communal customs, and form a new, special friendship with Mary.

I have always struggled with feeling accepted and invited by other people. I deem myself to be a burden on others, as I feel unworthy of full acceptance and invitation. Zambezi has taught me otherwise in how I have been warmly welcomed, noticed, invited, and accepted into this community, sometimes even as an “honored guest”. I find it profound how Zambezi has been teaching me to say yes to new invitations, while the community here has been saying yes to us during our entire stay. We have been graciously and humbly invited to live as a part of the Zambezi community, and Zambezi has embraced us fully. As part of this communal reciprocity, Mercer and I invited Mary to join us as our honored guest at our group’s accompaniment dinner, being held on our last night here in Zambezi.

Saying yes and embracing daily challenges and events is something I believe points us towards fully engaging in and experiencing life. I believe God invites us to say yes to His invitation to live a life of adventure every morning we wake up, and it’s up to us to accept and embrace His invitation to see what is in store for us. Zambezi has taught me this, and the learning I have done here parallels some ways in which God views us; as worthy, noticed, accepted, embraced, honored, and worthy of Him saying yes to us. I will be forever grateful for our time here in Zambezi, as it has taught me lessons I will carry with me for years to come. When you are served up a bowl full of caterpillars, make sure you ask for them to be passed your way.

Kisu Mwane,

 

Sam Merritt

Class of 2018
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Knowledge is Power

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On the first day of classes, the business team and I eagerly walked into our Women in Leadership class to find not one student in attendance. With high hopes, yet slightly dimmer than the first, we anxiously awaited for our students to trickle in on the second day where we were hit with another goose egg.

Uncertain as to why we standing in front of yet another empty classroom, we called in the powerhouse duo—Mama Josephine and Mama Love. These two women have taken great strides by way of politics and business to eliminate gender roles in Zambia. Mama Josephine, severe as she may seem, is the epitome of grace and strength in this Zambezi community. Determined to fill our classroom with bright, driven women, she marched into the market that same day to sway the small business owners our direction, all while our eternally dirty feet followed closely behind to witness her in action. The next day we had five women in attendance, and four more the day after.

We found that if we pushed our class back an hour later, the women who worked in the market would be able to leave there stands to attend our class. While they each have a fair understanding of the English language, I often wonder how much of the material they absorb given language barriers, cultural differences and varying levels of education. Yesterday, while I was teaching the marketing section of the course (my own concentration in school) I found myself wondering that exact thing. I find marketing to be a dynamic and integral part of business, so it was something I was anxious to teach our group. After our class concluded, I was left with a pit in my stomach, wondering if they were able to grasp anything out of what I had just spewed out.

Like every other day, as I was wrapping up the class, I asked the women if they had any questions or comments before they were dismissed. After a period of silence, I put my hands on my chair, preparing to get up and collect nametags when Jesse, a woman who owns her own tailor shop in the market, spoke up. She told us that she and the other women have discussed how much they appreciate this class. She told us that they will leave this class as changed women and that they can already see changes in their own businesses. It was then that Mama Love tilted her head, looked at me, and said, “Knowledge is power.”

With a lump in my throat and hot tears welling in my eyes, I became overwhelmed with contentment and humility—emotions I believe are surely only evoked when others leave lasting impressions on us. These women and their drive to break the shackles of tradition and expectations have inspired me every single day since.

Though they have expressed to us how much they have been learning in class, I don’t think they realize how much they have taught us in return. Because of these women not only will I never take for granted the education and liberties I’m receiving at home but also the education and knowledge I’m receiving here as I become a more active and informed global citizen.

I would like to take this time to thank and acknowledge previous Zam Fams for encouraging the installment of this class. Thank you for shining a much-needed light into the dark corners of women’s involvement in society. It’s been a privilege to create a space for these women to think independently and participate freely while simultaneously raising them to their unwavering potential.

 

Kisu Mwane always,

Meg Rapp

Class of 2017

P.S. Mom and Dad, I can’t thank you enough for continually going above and beyond to invest in my education. Your unconditional love and support has meant the world.

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The Voices of Zambezi

IMG_4648As I sit here on the green couch of the convent, the electric lights buzz while the rising sun sends its rays through the windows to deliver a welcome for the day. I listen to the chorus of roosters crowing, the generator whirring in town, and the honking of cars on the paved road a minute’s walk away from the convent. These are a few of the many vibrant and distinct sounds of a morning in Zambezi. Although they provide comfort and routine to my morning, my favorite sounds begin as our crew starts to wake up and their voices fill the convent with life. Throughout the day, the sound of the convent will fluctuate from the hushed conversations of Mama Violet and Mama Katendi in the kitchen to the loud voices of our computing students as they rush through the door to sit at the most functional computers. After class, I will walk through the market to listen to the murmurs of women, men, and children exchange common Luvale phrases: Musana mwane and Tunasakwilila mwane. (It’s a mouthful to say, and I am usually laughed at when trying). These beautiful sounds have multiplied as I have learned to engage in the many opportunities for conversations throughout this journey.

Coming into the trip, I was anxious about being comfortable with how my voice would be incorporated into both the Zag and Zambezi community. In previous experiences, my inability to speak up in larger groups or in opportunities to learn the stories of others has clouded my ability to seize every moment to get to know someone better.

Josh Armstrong said to our group before departing that he and others have high expectations! Yet going into the first week of classes, I learned how this is a place to struggle with and work on my longing to share my voice with others. I have been given an opportunity to be in Zambezi, Zambia, a place so full of rich stories and sincere people ready to interact with our Zag group. It is a daily, conscious choice to hear the voices that weave their way through the sand-covered streets of Zambezi and fill the smoky air in the market, and all it takes is my willingness to share a bit of my voice in return. The relationships that have come from this choice have filled my past week here with incredible joy.

IMG_4578One such friendship is with Joseph, a 19-year-old man in my morning computer class. After edging into the classroom on the first day, he eased into a seat in the back corner and gingerly opened the computer. He kept his head down and stared only at the bright screen in front of him. As I sat down next to him in the creaking wooden chairs to walk him through font changes and italicizing, he muttered an inaudible question to me. Through intense listening, after asking him to repeat the question, I understood his question of what we were going to learn about computers. His face changed from timid to flowing with curiosity as I talked through how to help him make this class his own. After releasing his hesitancy to speak up, Joseph now enters the classroom each day with bright eyes and his computer booklet securely grasped in his hands. Within the past week, he has progressively gained a voice in the class by eagerly interacting with his classmates and the teachers. Joseph and I have not only talked about how to make a cover page and choose fun fonts, but also his life here in regards to politics, religion, education, and family life. Understanding Joseph and where he is coming from has allowed me to connect my experiences here in Zambezi with his. This awareness has given me an increased level of comfort in this town.

When I think back to walking into the convent for the first time, I imagine I looked much like Joseph staring at the blank computer screen that he had never interacted with before. I was looking at the blank walls of a place we would call home for the next few weeks, yet I had no idea how I would make meaning out of this unfilled space. I had so many questions, yet I did not know how to give words to the fluctuating emotions I was feeling. Entirely out of my comfort zone and thousands of miles away from the people who know what I am thinking without an exchange of words, I quickly learned that allowing my emotions to build internally would not provide my voice an outlet in this community. Without her even knowing, my co-teacher and new friend Dakota was one person in the Zag crew who helped me work towards a shift in the way I expressed my thoughts. Her incredible ability with words (as those who have read her blog know), grace for responding to the concerns of the computer students, and eloquent words regarding the challenging questions we face here have inspired me daily to not settle for isolating my thoughts from the entire group and the Zambezi community.

As I sat under the star covered sky on the steps of the Royal Kutachika for Dakota’s birthday celebration earlier this evening, I found myself reaching out to more and more Zags to break down my excited yet confused emotions of the trip. Like Joseph and many others I have met throughout this journey, my voice can contribute to the many voices of Zambezi if I allow myself to open up to the incredible people around me. This is a place I can find comfort in finding my voice.

Kisu mwane,

Sophie Anton
Class of 2018

 

P.S.

-Mom, Dad, Tessa, and Nory: Hello family! Sending love from Zambezi and hoping all is well in Spokane. I miss you all and love you guys. I can’t wait to be home sharing my stories with you all soon! Enjoy the next few weeks with Tessa and give her an amazing sendoff to camp for me <3

-Anthony: I keep thinking about how you would love so many of the people I have met here! I wish you could experience this place, but I guess you will have to settle for hearing my long, drawn out version when I get back J Take care of yourself at camp! Love you and miss you!

-Taylor: I continuously imagine how you are going to embrace this place with your entire heart. I can’t wait to exchange stories after you go on this journey! Dakota and I miss you in the classroom and the whole Zag crew sends their love. Hope all is well in Spokane my dear friend!

 

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Send Us A Doctor

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*Disclaimer: We are healthy. We don’t need a doctor. Read on to find out more.

In the two weeks since we’ve left the States, I feel like we’ve settled in to our home here. Classes are underway, we still have managed to avoid the Zambian bug for the most part (though it might be finally making an appearance), and the communal learning has finally commenced.

And yet, I still feel uneasy every time the health team heads out into Zambezi, outlying communities, or starts our 9 am class in the church hall.

For the last four months, the health team has worked to create a curriculum that not only covered basic topics that were important to general health and safety, but also addressed relevant needs in the community here. First aid, water safety, pregnancy questions and germs are pretty universal topics, but we also wanted to save a lot of time for conversations with classes about the information they wanted to learn. Instead of preaching what we believed was most applicable, we wanted to serve as a resource and be a tool for them to learn with to become community health ambassadors.

In our first week of classes, we traveled to a rural village school for a talk on the importance of education and puberty, visited both the Zambezi Hospital and a rural health clinic and arranged for visits to learn practices at both, and conducted classes in Zambezi and Dipalata on a variety of topics. We were excited to finally begin in Zambia, and couldn’t believe it was time to get started.

Except, like most plans in Zambia, things changed.

The students at the school we visited spoke little English, and much of the lessons were conducted through a translator. While this made the information more accessible to students, I couldn’t help but feel it increased the distance between us and the people we were trying to connect with.

Planned visits to the hospital and clinic on Friday both ended in less than ideal ways, as the doctor at the clinic was absent (fetching more vaccines for children) and the head nurse we had been in contact with at the hospital was out sick.

Our classes have been full of lively conversation, with each class focusing on a topic of our choosing and one topic of the community’s choosing. Often, these classes are discussion based, with myth-busting and fact-finding taking the majority of our time together. But for as much as our students have learned, I can’t help but feel like we are still unintentionally put on a pedestal here.

Because we are students from America – the land of opportunity and endless knowledge – it’s believed that we have answers for everything. Our community classes are built with the intent of spending half of the time in discussion about their chosen topics after we have had a chance to consult a few health manuals, but they still appear to take our suggestions as law. The problem of the white savior complex has been common in conversations with previous Zambezi students and staff, but experiencing it firsthand is a much different situation.

I’m fresh out of Gonzaga and have already gone through the medical school application gamut once, and I feel like now I’m living the scenario questions that they give you when you apply. To quote the secondary application for the University of Virginia School of Medicine (from where I am still awaiting a letter telling me that I was rejected, considering class starts next month): “How would you best approach bringing medical knowledge to a community that doesn’t necessarily share your beliefs or traditions?”

In our recent weekend trip, we stopped off in Chinyingi, a nearby community to see a suspension bridge and mission hospital. Upon reaching the hospital, we learned that only one patient was currently at the hospital for treatment, and the hospital was undergoing renovations to update it and make it as functional as possible. However, the hospital employed just one nurse, and no doctors.

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We met the priest for the Chinyingi parish, Father Matthew, and his eyes lit up when Jeff explained that one of the teams we brought was a health education team. “Send us a doctor,” he said. “Send us a doctor, send us nurses. Come stay here. We will host you and support you while you’re here, we just need you to send us a doctor.”

Again – just because we are from America, the land where anything is possible and endless opportunity keeps the doors open.

The health team really struggled with not approaching our classes our excursions with a “white savior” complex – we’re not medical professionals, we don’t know all of this information by heart, we just used resources available to us and tried to find information that we thought would be useful to the people of Zambezi, but we also wanted to make sure that our classes were tailored to the things that community members wanted to learn.

I have another couple of years to work out the answer to that initial question on paper, but for the next two weeks that’s the situation we’re living: We’re trying to avoid preaching health practices, framing information in the context of our location without coming off as the pompous kids who think they’re making a difference.

Working together with Moira, Molly, Hayley and Justin is inspiring because they keep our group focused. Their drive for grounding information and practice in a realistic way for the people of Zambezi has made conversations much more approachable with our students, and using resources available here has proved to be a struggle that gives rare and great triumphs.

Yes, we are different because of the color of our skin, and our location of origin, and the opportunities that are readily available. But these coincidences that landed me in America and Gonzaga could have just as easily dropped me in the middle of Zambezi, seeking out knowledge at every turn. While we have access to information at the literal tap of our fingers, working with the community here has given me a new appreciation for not only the varying sources of knowledge, but the drive of Zambians to continually acquire knowledge. Everyone I’ve met here so far has seemed content with what they know, which inspires me to keep asking questions.

I’m 22. I don’t know everything, which is probably something that is odd to hear (or read) a 22-year-old say (or type). But after experiencing the white savior complex, and struggling to rationalize it as the availability of resources, I can’t help but be inspired to keep striving to learn from everyone and everything around me.

How do you approach bringing medical knowledge to a community that doesn’t necessarily share your beliefs or traditions? You don’t. You can’t. All you can do is come in with an understanding of your beliefs, and work to share them with those who have differing beliefs. Learning doesn’t occur when beliefs change, but when they are shared. And that is what I’m doing here.

Kisu mwane,

Matthew Clark

Class of 2016

PS: Mom, happy birthday in advance, since I won’t be able to say it next week. As your present, here is a picture of me, smiling, and doing fun things. Thanks in so many ways for every opportunity you’ve given me, I love you to the moon.

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PS #2: Mama Phillips, Davis says he loves, you, happy anniversary, and happy birthday (the triple whammy)!

PS #3: Trevor, Rosie, Kelly, Andy, Carlee and the rest of the Sinto Squad: miss you guys every day and can’t wait to hear about all of your post grad adventures. Counting the endless days until I get to see you all again.

 

 

 

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Body and Spirit

Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things.

But God,
doesn’t she wear
the world well?

-Warsan Shire, “Ugly”
from teaching my mother how to give birth

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I returned to Zambezi a slightly different person than who I was when I left last June. Not only had this place shaped me in ways that would continue to unfold after I’d left, but also I had seen and experienced new things during my time away that challenged my understanding of who I am. This was a tough year, the toughest of each of my 21 so far. I’ve heard they keep getting tougher. I came to Zambezi with a heart weary from working to carve out a place for myself in this world. I carried with me the burden of never feeling like enough in my schoolwork, my jobs, and my relationships. I touched down in Zambezi with skin itching with dislike for myself, with a desire to escape my body and the year I had shown it.

There are no mirrors in the convent, so I thought it would be easy to distance myself from what I look like in favor of who I believe myself to be. But since arriving in Zambezi, I’ve heard multiple people who remember me from last year exclaim, “Kate! You are getting big!” Although I know that this is a compliment in Zambezi, that didn’t keep it from stinging a bit. I come from a culture that tells me to think about my body constantly—what goes into it, what it looks like to myself and others, what it can and cannot be squeezed into—but never to openly comment on someone else’s. These Zambians I have come to know and love were drawing attention to what I was trying desperately to forget. They noticed the weight I carried with me, the remnants of a year heaped with new burdens.

Mama Josephine has carried her share of weight, too. In a country with an average life expectancy of 57 years, she walks the sandy streets of Zambezi with 72 strapped to her back. She has given birth to nine children, she works for an organization focused on empowering women in community development, and she was the only one from her province invited to Kenneth Kaunda’s (the first Zambian president) inauguration party. Her work in all three areas—politics, motherhood, and community organizing—requires her to take up space and have voice.

Josephine taps her bare feet on the convent floor as she leads us in a clumsy American rendition of “twaya mwanta.” The song is one of my favorites. It invokes the holy spirit to come to the singers, to dwell in our bodies: tuna dyoumbe mou mujimba. Josephine’s mujimba weaves through the narrow aisles of the market as three Zag women follow her. She speaks individually to vendors (almost all of whom are women), encouraging them to attend the “women in leadership” class that our team is offering this year, lecturing them on the importance of voice and self-reliance. Josephine moves the spirit with her tough and weathered hands. She fills a once-lifeless classroom with nine eager students, who collectively have more children and more business experience than most people’s extended families. They chatter in Luvale passionately and forget to translate for the four American teachers, but we don’t mind. This space is for them. Their chitenge-clad bodies and their oochi-smooth voices swell to fill the needs of the world around them.

The women in leadership class in the midst of saying, "We are women! We are strong!" Courtesy of photographer and motivational speaker Molly Bosch. Important note: Sam said it, too. I think he said it the loudest.

The women in leadership class in the midst of saying, “We are women! We are strong!” Courtesy of photographer and motivational speaker Molly Bosch. Important note: Sam said it, too. I think he said it the loudest.

Josephine moves her hand between my thigh and hers when she tells stories. This one is about her daughter and the ways that she worries too much about how she looks. Josephine prefers to focus on what she can do: “I have got a body and I have got a lot more to do with it.” The way she says it is meaningful. I have a body. It is mine, but it is not me. Zambezi is one of the most beautiful places to have a body. Here, I can feed it with Zambian-American dishes made with love by our mamas and with biscuits and ginger beer bought in the market. I can clothe it with something that was crafted specifically for my shape, stitched with my measurements in mind. I can use it to share myself through tears of joy and connection while hearing the blog and its comments, through body language essential to conversing with a language barrier, through playing with a 9-month-old baby boy while his mother takes the computer class. Having a body in Zambezi is about moving it to the rhythm of this lovely little town, about filling it with the love that’s all around me.
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When Mama Josephine hugged me tightly for the first time in a year and commented on my weight, what she meant was that I am growing into myself. I am joining her in the ranks of women who have faced this harsh world with tough skin and soft bellies, with bright eyes and strong backs for carrying whatever is required of us, with hearts overflowing with the beauty this life has to offer.

Now, as our lovely Father Dom says, “I am going to take my whole self to bed.”

Kisu Mwane,

Katie Polacheck
Class of 2017

PS:

– Mom, Dad, and Bear: Hope you’re enjoying some thunderstorms in that humid Wisconsin summer. As I’m writing this on the front stoop of the convent, I’m imagining being on the back deck with you, reading library books on a summer night. Can’t wait to see you soon! Love you all. Give hugs to Aug the Dog.

– Zack, I picked the Warsan Shire poem for you. Love and miss you much. Happy 21st! Enjoy a drink and a beet salad at Geno’s for me. I’ll be here eating cabbage.

– 2015 Zam Fam, I have surprising news. Nobody got sick in Dipalata! We all enjoyed nshima, bananas, and oochi in relative gastrointestinal peace. We did get a goat, though. His name is St. Ignatius (GOat Forth and Set the World on Fire). I miss you all and think of you daily. I can feel your presence in this funny yellow home we share with generations of Zags. You are all so very central to my Zambezi experience; thank you for making this the journey it has been. Zambezi misses you just as much as I do.

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Home Away From Home

As I walk up to the distorted metal gate, fine sand in my shoes, and the irregular cobblestone-like porch I step up to the creaky wooden door and open it. I walk in, there are the grey floors with the contrasting black stove in the opposite left corner, walk-in pantry to the left, double-sink and refrigerator to the right, and a quaint set of double doors entering to an large, open worn-down yellow room. To the right is a wing of rooms filled with beds covered by mosquito nets and to the left, a storage closet, a few more rooms and two classrooms that echoed with the chatter of students during the first week of classes. Welcome to the convent, welcome to our home.

For the past week, we have settled and made our mark on what is our home for the next two weeks. The custard yellow surroundings speaks volumes of the incredible people inhabiting the walls of this place from novel quotes, morning inspirations, affirmation posters, and a personal goals wall. In particular, honoring not only each other, but also the community that has so graciously embraced us as we arrived, our community agreement epitomizes the ambitions we collectively strive towards in our time in Zambezi: honesty, authenticity, intentionality, meaningful and wise use of time, respect for the human person, and of course, fun.

IMG_4706Its kind of ironic that after ten days being away from the States, countless conversations, and witnessing simplicity of such a happy place, I struggle to fully accept where I am at. I give credit to the relationships that transcend my current place in time to those who walked the rugged sandy roads, irregularly power surging halls of the convent, and the undertone of love pulsing from handshakes and greetings surmounting to ten years of cross-cultural interactions.

I spoke with Simako, a young twelve-year-old boy who told me he wanted to be a teacher. He attends school in the morning and the afternoons are spent singing, dancing, and learning how to read with some of the remarkable people I have the pleasure of knowing on this journey. Witnessing the struggle and success of Simako throughout his day has been one of the most impacting experiences I have had yet in Zambezi. I look back at the time I have spent at Gonzaga and am reminded how fortunate I am to have received the education I have thus far. As I sat listening to the aspirations Simako shared with me, I am dismayed in the moments over the past four years of recoiling from something academically associated because it wasn’t motivating. Simako speaks of his goal to learn enough to pass that knowledge to those after him. It is a gift to have a newly found appreciation and motivation for the education I received. What makes my friendship with Simako as meaningful as his longing to learn is throughout the restlessness, distance and struggle God gives me a gift in the form friendship: “Do you know Cecilia?” Simako asked me. Immediately, I flashback to my friendship back in Spokane with a fellow Zag and Zambezi Alum. The subtle reminder of the people that I am continuously surrounded by in Zambezi can create a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar place.

 

IMG_4712At dinner tonight in the living room of our convent lit by the unequally distributed power lighting and yellow walls hugging our family, we set the multiple, oddly shaped and configured wooden desk tables for what is to be a meal full of more stories and laughter. Upon the conclusion of dinner, we recognize an esteemed individual who has made an impact on our time here in Zambezi. Father Dominic, received affirmation regarding his selfless heart, compassionate spirit, and his ability to attack each day with a vigor that inspires us to do the same. Father Dominic quelled some of the initial nerves I had regarding my time in Zambezi by uniting our family in the first moments in Africa, becoming my first familiar face here. I hold this quote dear to my time in this remarkable place: “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. With Father Dom’s departure quickly approaching, I am challenged again to make the most of the deep connections Zambezi has to offer for the short time that I am here.

At the conclusion of dinner Father Dom makes his round of goodbyes, journaling commences, and the dishes are being done to familiar American tunes, another peaceful reminder of how close home can be.

Each night we conclude with a guided reflection that triggers dialogue to further analyze the tension in our vastly different experiences in Zambia. Tonight, we revisited our community agreement and deconstructed where we as a family are thriving and where we could use some growth. Themes ranged this evening as we hit points of tension and resolution regarding our first week together as a group. Emotions ran high when recognizing the beauty in struggle and overcoming cultural and domestic adversities that challenged each of our perspectives on actions and words. Elly spoke of the language of love and just as different tongues can unite through love, our family experienced love as the universal language of hope and desire for our best selves.

I am writing this blog from the irregular cobblestone-like porch of our home when I look out and see the moonlit courtyard in front of me. It brings me great ease that Zambezi has provided a safe place to call home because, after all, when we look up and admire the moon in the evening, hear a familiar name, make a mutual transcontinental friendship, or listen to American music in the kitchen, it makes our loved ones seem that much closer in a place we’ve all learned to call home.

PS: We will be traveling to a rural village outside of Zambezi this weekend. We will be returning Sunday evening and will resume blog posts then. Have a great weekend!

 

Kisu Mwane and Go Zags,

 

Zachary Chelini, Class of 2016

 

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Sala Chi Tomato

It’s nearly impossible to go through a day in Zambia without at some point being drawn into a dance circle. Usually it’s at least fifteen children eagerly clapping and pulling their favorite chindeles into the middle to perform a goofy and rhythm-lacking dance move. As the kids laugh at the moves we come up with they sing “sala chi tomato, chi tomato, sala chi tomato, chi tomato.” The song was originally created to teach the younger children about growing tomatoes, with “chi tomato” meaning “big tomato.” Each day these dance circles bring us closer to the Zambezi community and a step closer to understanding who the big tomatoes of this world are.

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Over the last week in Zambezi I have seen as many powerful women as I have seen stars in the sky. In our rural village lacking city lights, that is a lot of women. Our own convent home would fall apart without the presence of our two Zambian mamas, Mama Katendi and Mama Violet. Dressed in their bright chitengi and with soft-spoken but commanding voices they guide us through life in their town as they cook for us each day. Tonight I was tasked by Mama Katendi with cooking the apple crisp for our dessert. As I began to combine ingredients, Mama Violet watched me with skepticism. In front of her stood the girl who dropped four eggs at her homestay five days ago, flooded the pantry two days ago, and was currently spilling two cups of flour all over the floor. The woman looking at me had managed to walk two full buckets of water (one on her head and one in her hand) back to the convent while our group struggled to load ours into the car to drive them home. Yet both of my Zambian Mamas supported me in my desperate endeavors not only to cook but to reach their level of empowerment. With each of my endless cooking questions, the Mamas reminded me that I already had the knowledge I needed as they gently pushed me back toward the cookbook. These women did not leave me to fend for myself but instead encouraged me with the same kind of quiet and wise love I know so well from my own mother at home. Later, as she announced dinner was ready, Mama Katendi smiled warmly at me and assured me that yes, my apple crisp looked beautiful. She saw my anxieties and she calmed them with a simple smile.

Zambian women posses a strength beyond what I could have imagined. These women are the cooks, the innovators, the counselors, the shop workers, and the mothers of this village. Walking through the market I see countless women running their own stalls and shops. My host sister, Karen, works ten hour days at a grocery store followed by a twenty minute walk home to cook dinner in an outdoor stove for her family. She dreams of going to university and studying Psychology some day. Mama Love and Mama Josephine are Zambian women who work together as community organizers fighting for increased women’s rights and education. Mama Josephine guides us as we stumble through our Luvale language lessons while Mama Love never misses an opportunity to speak abundantly about her passions. Every single day these two do something that changes the life of a woman in Zambia for the better. Vera, one of the girls in mine and Katie Kenks’ grade 7 English class is quiet and speaks little English. But her gentle demeanor gives way to a thriving desire to learn and a perseverance to read the sentences we give her, even when she seems to have no idea. Each time Vera reads I am blown away by her ability. These are women who live with no running water and often no electricity. They work with fire-lit stoves and grow a great deal of their own food. Zambian women have dreams, they have goals, and they have some of the most intimidating and powerful personalities you will ever meet.

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Before I came on this journey I thought I was coming to empower women. I thought I was walking into a world of strict gender roles that confined women to the home under the masterful hand of their husbands. I was prepared to respectfully disagree with the role of women in their culture. I was prepared to thank God every day for my own women’s rights at home. I imagined I would meet many men with strong voices and an abundance of opinions, while I was served food by women and occasionally passed them carrying babies in the street. I believed I would need to tell these women how valued they are and remind them of their abilities. I was right in some ways, but in many ways I was very wrong. Yes, this is a society with pretty strict gender roles. Yes, I am often served food by women and I pass multitudes of women carrying babies wrapped in chitengi on their backs every day. Yes, I thank God every day for my rights at home. However, no, these women are not confined to their home. No, I have not found myself abhorred by the role of women in this community. No woman demands respect quite like a Zambian woman. At first glance it may seem like the men are the big tomatoes of this community. At second glance it may seem like those of us with a skin color that gives us automatic respect and authority in this community should be the big tomatoes. But spend five minutes with a Zambian woman and you will no longer question who is the big tomato here. Instead of me empowering these women, every day here I have been empowered by their voices. They push me outside of my comfort zone and prove that this is where I can truly thrive. Each day that I sing “Sala chi tomato, chi tomato” I am reminded of the beautiful big tomatoes that I interact with every day, and each time I feel united in our power as women.

Love and kisu mwane,

Emily Handy

Class of 2017

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