Finally Awake

A brief computer lesson brought out a crowd last weekend in Dipalata.

A brief computer lesson brought out a crowd last weekend in Dipalata.

Despite being well into our Zambian adventure, it wasn’t until today that I finally realized I was in Africa. In true Zambian fashion, my arrival was just slightly later than I anticipated. The past week and a half has been difficult because I’ve felt like I have been on autopilot. In trying to embrace Zambezi, I neglected to let myself into the community. Afraid to impose, I simply let myself observe my environment and not explore it.

In the common room of the Convent is a list of commitments we all agreed upon on in our first night in Zambezi. Number 6 reads, “Reducing “otherness” by practicing curiosity and openmindness toward the people of Zambezi,” and I believe somewhere along the way, my deep sense of curiosity went dormant. I have not fueled myself to know more and learn more about a community that so willingly and lovingly welcomed me. I believed I would not be able to make a lasting impact here, especially when only a handful of my students were able to say my name after the first week.

In class today, I was lost in conversation with one of my students, Kaumba. At first our conversation was more of a question and answer session, but after a few moments it was finally my turn to be prompted with a question. He asked me about the United States, specifically the application process for Gonzaga and other universities. The question was simple, “How do you apply to university?” But it instigated a real conversation that was filled with the rhythm of curiosity and passion. As he shared his wish to pursue journalism and I described my desire for a career in public health, I felt like I mattered.

Day after day the computer team teaches around 75 students various computer skills. We spend most of our time funneling people in and out the doorway trying to stay on time and get everyone substantial computer time. Our work is tedious and difficult and often I feel like I haven’t taught anything to anyone. During my conversation with Kaumba, however, I was more than a teacher. I was his peer. Together we surpassed “otherness” and built community through our mutual eagerness and curiosity to know more about our different cultures.

There is so much more to Zambia than the “CHINDELEHOWAREYOU” voices we hear every day and the market filled with colorful chitenge. It is filled with things to be curious about and people who are filled with a curiosity to know the world beyond Zambezi.

As I process and unravel my thoughts about my experience here, I have come to understand that as humans we share the mutual need to know and be known. We are curious by nature and we thrive on the knowledge and insight we share through the conversations that go beyond “How are you?” It took me longer than I expected, but I think I have finally reawakened the curiosity hidden inside of me.

So as I describe my current vulnerability in this post, I am also challenging myself to further awaken and explore my temporary home.

This morning I heard the one noise that gives me the most intense anxiety, the sound of my students entering the classroom as their soles sandwich the sand with concrete. Tomorrow there will be no anxiety, but instead an appreciation for the amount of curiosity that lives within each and every one of the men and women who have dedicated their time to understanding technology. Tomorrow we will be in solidarity as we deepen our willingness to see beyond what we know.

Kisu Mwane,

Venezia Hyland, Class of 2017

 

P.S. Today as I was helping wash some dishes I thought I saw a goat on the loose in the courtyard of the Convent. Turns out the Health Team was given a goat on their trip today. We are now housing three goats at the Convent. Slaughtering and mourning will be on Saturday afternoon. Between now and then we will be adventuring around Chitokoloki Mission Hospital and, considering our record, may bring home another goat. No blog on Friday, but we’ll work double-time to catch up after that.

P.P.S Mommy, Daddy, and Soleil I hope all is well and New York is treating you well.

Mom – HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Sending all the love to you on your soon to be special day.

Daniel – Happy Graduation bud! I’m so proud of all the work you have done and can’t wait to see you.

To the rest of the family – thank you for your prayers and I can’t wait to show you all the pictures that I’ve taken

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Small Steps Hand in Hand

CollinsWe have been in Zambezi for twelve days, with only seven remaining. With the passing of this week, we have gotten to the point where we have less time remaining than we have already spent here. Some of our projects have been completed, and many of them are starting to come to a close. With the little time we have left in Zambezi, I find myself wrestling with the idea of whether these people need us to solve problems in their community, or if we are doing them the most service just by showing up.

This community, region, and country as a whole have problems that are much too large for any Westerners to swoop in and solve, especially a small group of students and professors from Spokane. I have spoken to a number of local people who have expressed some of the greatest problems they see in Zambia. Some of these problems include: Lack of government funding for sanitation programs and infrastructure, an inadequate education system, and the unavailability of capital investment for local entrepreneurs. Each of these problems has its own unique challenges at both the small and large scale.

Samson from Seeds of Hope, the Zambian NGO the engineering team worked with on their water filter project, explained to us that the Zambian government allocates a grossly disproportionate amount of funds to healthcare as opposed to sanitation. Many of the health problems in Zambia are the result of waterborne illness, so instead of stopping the problem at its source, government programs are essentially allowing people to get sick and then treating them for their preventable diseases. While it is necessary to help people who are currently sick, allowing the cycle of preventable disease to continue is not a sustainable model for the future.

Education is another key problem in Zambia. Some of the students who attend our engineering classes at the convent are recent graduates of secondary school, and are looking towards higher education. I have spoken with several of them, and the consensus is resoundingly the same. Zambia’s universities do not have the capacity or resources to educate all of the qualified students who desire a degree. There is a huge surplus of intelligent, hard-working people who do not have the formal qualifications to attain gainful employment.

While people in developed nations like the US have opportunities for entrepreneurship and private enterprise, Zambians lack the socioeconomic structure to support innovators who lack formal education. At the large scale, Zambia’s booming copper industry is predominately owned and operated by Chinese companies. Many of the country’s economic problems could be significantly mitigated if there were a way for Zambians to run their own mining operations, providing jobs to thousands and bolstering the economy as a whole. At the small scale, there is not a reliable banking system to provide small business loans or even microloans to people who have good ideas, but cannot come up with capital on their own. Alube, a friend of the program Jeff and the engineering team recently visited, is a highly skilled electrician, but is unemployed and lacks the money to start his own home wiring company. At every level of the Zambian economy, there just isn’t enough money to go around.

The problems I have identified seem very overwhelming, especially in light of all the privileges we take for granted in the US. Although I felt like I knew what I was getting into when I came to Zambia, I can’t escape feeling a sense of desperation for these people in this great nation, especially after hearing their personal stories and sometimes cries for help. I realize what we are doing here makes a small impact in light of the vast problems facing the country as a whole, but what I have come to realize and accept is that we are not capable of or responsible for solving these problems. Yes, we come here with the intention of service and improving the community, but it isn’t our job to figure out how to turn Zambia into a prosperous nation. That’s a job for the Zambian people. We are merely here to walk with them to understand their suffering, and offer them a few tools to improve their own situation as they see fit.

Throughout most of this trip, I’ve been struggling to decide if what we are doing here is the most efficient or productive way to improve the situation for the people here in Zambezi (can you tell I’m an engineer?). Over the last few days, I realized I’ve been asking the wrong question. The question should be “are we helping this community?” and the answer is undoubtedly “yes.” As Mother Teresa famously said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Although I’ve dedicated the last four years of my life and probably my entire career to worrying about numbers, I find solace in the notion of knowing that we are doing positive work here, even if it is only making a small impact in the grand scheme of Zambia’s struggles.

After dragging you all through the mud by discussing everything that’s wrong with Zambia and how we can’t fix it, I would like to end this post by painting a picture of what this program has done for the community of Zambezi and how the local people feel about it.

This morning, the Gonzaga team met at the front of the education director’s office. With over a hundred school children and adults from the community, we marched to Chilena basic school for the grand opening of the library, which was funded through Gonzaga’s Zambia Gold program and is one of the largest in the entire province. After three miles of singing, dancing, chanting, and running, we arrived at Chilena to see a crowd of hundreds more awaiting our arrival. Dignitaries from various government departments were seated in plush chairs underneath shade tents. Children stood in the sun for hours while choirs sang, costumed boys and girls danced traditional dances, and people in freshly pressed suits gave heartwarming speeches. After resounding sentiments of gratitude to Gonzaga from the entire community, we were gifted an assortment of local fruits and a goat, which I have come to understand is one of the highest forms of respect in Zambia. After the ribbon was officially cut, we were allowed to tour the library. What stood out to me was not the vast assortment of books and learning materials, but the children peering through every window, eagerly awaiting to dive into the new wealth of knowledge in their community and to educate themselves for a brighter future.

Collin Price, Class of 2015

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Getting on the “Roof”

Joel's blogAfter spending part of last summer in Zambia, I knew that I wanted to come back because being here gives me a better understanding of who I am and where I have come from.

Today in class, I taught adaptive leadership, and specifically the idea of “getting on the balcony.” As I was discussing this, many of the students looked confused, so my fellow teachers and I asked if they understood the concept of balcony? Many of the students stared blankly back at me, so we decided that getting on the roof was a better understood expression. As I reflected more on this class and the ideas that I taught, I realized that many of the things that we are doing here in Zambezi require us to get on the “roof,” and observe our experiences from a broader perspective. By getting on the “roof,” it gives us students a chance to not only analyze the Zambian culture, but also American culture. Furthermore, being in Zambia gives Zambians the chance to analyze not only our American culture, but also their own Zambian culture. We are able to analyze and critique both cultures, which leads to a greater understanding of ourselves and the people we are our spending time with.

In our leadership in business classes there is a final business proposal, where students find a need within their community and propose a solution to this. For example, many of them have proposed Internet cafés, and this is a really great idea if we look at it from our western perspective where the Internet is one of the most important tools for communication. But when we take a “roof” perspective and reflect on this, we can see how our American culture values communication in a different way than Zambian culture values communication. Internet cafés would drastically change the communication here in Zambia. Currently, people in Zambezi are very good at communicating face to face; in the U.S., even at Gonzaga, I have had many professors who say that one of the biggest problems we are facing is that we have lost our face-to-face communication skills.

We can see this in our Zambian leadership classes. For example, when we taught servant leadership we did the “floating stick” activity, where you have to work as a team to lower a broomstick to the ground. Those of you who have done this activity know that it is surprisingly difficult and requires very clear and concise communication. When the students in our class did this, they communicated well with one another and lowered the stick with ease. I have been parts of groups that took as long as 15 minutes to lower the stick. America’s lack of communication is something that we rarely notice, but being in Zambia gives us another perspective, where we can more accurately analyze our culture.

By interacting with Zambians, we are also able to give them a more accurate perception of our culture. I think of reflection last night, when we did an activity where we said, “My roots are” and listed, smells, sounds, sights, ancestors, foods, and phrases that define who we are. Father Dominic and Mama Kawatu, our cultural guides here in Zambia, and Robinson, one of Josh’s friends from Zambezi, were also in the room when we did this activity. They participated and we learned a few things about what they value as a culture, and also gave them insight into our culture. Some of the common themes that we identified within many of our responses were that we enjoy the smell of fresh cut grass and that many of our parents have told us life isn’t fair. These two things say a lot about our American culture.

I think that Zambians often forget that parts of American culture are not easy, and I have had multiple experiences where I felt Zambians glorify Americans and their culture. These experiences allow me to get on the balcony and analyze why Zambians believe that America is in some way better. My conversation with Julius is a good example of this. Julius told me of his perspective of both what it means to be American and what it means to be a Zambian. Julius said they need “more people” in Zambia because more people equals more infrastructure, and more infrastructure is “good.” Is more infrastructure really good? Our experience in the US might suggest otherwise: we seem to be building even when we don’t have resources and not using well the things that we already have.

Later, Julius also said that Zambians need to become more civilized, which made me question if America is really “civil?” What is civil anyways and why is Zambia in his mind, not civil? In particular, I think of the justice system in the United States and the great injustices that are present within this system. In Zambezi, the prisoners are allowed to go out of the jail during the day and work, interact, and communicate with the community. This seems pretty civil to me because prisoners continue to have opportunities to provide for their families, unlike the prisoners in the United States.

While these examples only scratch the surface, getting on the roof helps us develop a more complex understanding of both Zambian and American culture, and a love for the positives of both.

Joel Hanson, Class of 2017

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Seeing Myself Again for the First Time

Shelby

Before coming to Zambezi I knew I was going to have an experience unlike anything before. Without a true understanding of what this trip was going to entail, I was honestly surprised to feel like such an outsider in a place so many former Zags called home. I knew by coming to Africa I was going to be surrounded by people with a different color of skin than my own, but I did not realize how much the color of my skin would affect the way I was treated. Maybe that was because I had never been a situation where I was visibly different than everyone else, or maybe that is just the culture of Zambia. Either way, for the first time I am learning what it feels like to be a minority.

When we arrived in Zambezi, for the first time since leaving Seattle, I felt like I was in Africa. Being welcomed with singing and dancing by hundreds of children and adults put me on emotional overload. Kids grabbed at my hands as tears streamed down my face, their big brown eyes staring into mine. At first I felt so grateful for all these people and the gift they had already given me, but as time began to pass in our seemingly short stay in Zambezi I began to see this experience in a different light. I began to be challenged by Zambians views of us as superior, wealthy, and more knowledgeable then them.

Walking to the market is rarely a quiet journey or one that you take alone, I usually have a bag on my back and water bottle in hand. We are often accompanied by a group of a dozen or so kids at our wrists or following closely behind our backs. With each turn in the sandy road to the market, we here yells of, “Chindele (White Person) how are you?” and me trying to answer in as much lunda as I can muster up. Once I finally arrive to the market every single eyes turns towards me. People come out from their shops to shake my hand, kids ask to hold my bags, and cars slow down to greet me as they pass. I already feel famous in a town where I know no one.

This concept of fame came about in a different way a few days later. If you know me, you know how much I love babies, so you envision my excitement when I saw a little boy about 15 months old sitting outside the convent gate with a group of much older kids. I went over to him, bent down and said “hi.” He immediately started crying and you can imagine my disappointment. This boy had likely never seen a white person in his life and was clearly scared out of his mind at this “foreign creature.” As upset as I was that I did not get to hold this adorable baby I was also surprisingly comforted. I felt like for the first time since arriving in Zambezi I was not put on a pedestal because of the color of my skin, in fact, it was quiet the opposite.

Over the last almost three weeks I have discovered that Zambia is filled with people who have a passion for learning. They want to know everything they can and they allow us to teach them. Three days a week the health group teaches a first aid and basic health class. Our students vary in age, gender, and occupation. A few of our students are home health caregivers in Zambezi (basically nurses). They come to our class each day, arriving almost on time, and expect to learn from us. I am in no way qualified to teach them or any of the other people in our class. In fact, I am learning more from them then they could ever learn from me. Do they trust that I can teach them because I am a white American attending a University, or would they give the same respect to a Zambian who was 100 times more qualified than I am? This is a question that I expect has come across all of our minds at some point, “why me?” I don’t know if any amount of time in Zambezi could provide me with an answer to this question and I believe it is something I will continue to be challenged by, even when I return home.

I continued to question this concept of race during our visit to Falconer Home, an orphanage about an hour’s drive from Zambezi. I was immediately taken by 3-year-old Boaz, who ran around in short red overalls chasing the chickens and pigs, and had me and the other students cracking up. At one point I couldn’t help but scoop him up. I held him at my side as he proceeded to touch my pale white skin in fascination. Peter managed to snap a picture of this beautiful interaction and as I later looked at the photo I was overcome with emotion. In this picture I did not first see that he was black and I was white. What I saw was the incredible curiosity in his eyes and the sheer happiness of my smile. We may be from opposite sides of the world, speak different languages, and have different colors of skin, but in this moment I was able to recognize that we are both humans, in the same place at the same time, and no cultural, economical, or physical differences could change that.

Throughout my time in Zambezi I have been challenged to think more about skin color and how it can influence the way people are treated. In my experience the color of my skin has allowed me to be put on a pedestal, where many others around the world are not so lucky. I have discovered that I cannot help if I am known by the color of my skin, but it is my responsibility to make sure that is not the only thing I am remembered for.

I will never fully be able to understand the challenges people of color face within Gonzaga and American society today, but I hope I am able to use my experience in Zambezi to promote conversations and learning opportunities around the concept of race.

Go Zags,

Shelby Wells, Class of 2017

 

P.S. There have been no rat or snake sightings yet, but I did get to kill a chicken, more to come on that story later.

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Educating For the Future

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The pursuit of happiness is a lifetime pursuit, but the pursuit of a free mind is a day’s achievement.”

            We had just arrived in Lusaka, Zambia, and—although thousands of miles away from America—stepping on the University of Zambia’s campus was oddly familiar. After being warmly welcomed, we listened and participated in a brief education talk. They told us the history of the University of Zambia, and some general facts. Quickly we plunged into the problems in Zambia’s education system, many of which America also faces. These problems included, but are not limited to, having many qualified students but only able to accept a select few, declining budgets but increasing enrollments, teachers who are not qualified teaching all levels, universities not having enough resources and facilities to house and correctly educate students, and Africa as a whole not contributing to the developing world. However, one thing our hosts stressed was their belief that higher education is central for social and economic importance and development, and their sense that a strong educational system improves a nation’s overall quality of life. With this mindset they have a strategic plan to evolve and improve.

In Zambezi, I have the opportunity to teach at Chilena primary school. As I walk into class my first day, I am greeted with students standing in unison, saying “Good-Morn-ing-Ma-dam.” In the four corners of the classroom there are groups of desks with students crammed next to each other, and I know immediately they are arranged according to literacy level. I take a quick look around as I settle myself in the back of the classroom; I realize there are three handwritten posters for science lessons, a chalkboard that only takes chalk in select areas, a few windows, and four dirty walls (bugs and all). Ready to observe the teacher and test the atmosphere of the class I will be teaching, I sit down and the teacher begins the lesson.

I have always loved school, and being a teacher is a goal I have. Besides interacting with children, I know I haven’t even dipped my toes into the vast and complex pool of education. But one thing is clear as I observed this lesson, and now during my time actually teaching: these children deserve a chance. By “chance” I mean individual attention; somebody who will meet them where they are and help them gain knowledge and grow into educated adults. I say this because, as I witnessed this first lesson, I watched the teacher teach to the highest students in the class, while ignoring the lower students. This appears to be the norm for most classes. Anyone could glance around this school and realize it would take a very, very special and select student to thrive here, to be admitted to a quality secondary school, and then to gain acceptance into a university. Indeed, there are many who are swept aside in pursuit of this one very special student, and this is where emotionally and mentally I am tested.

In many conversations I have asked people, “If there is one problem you could fix in Zambia, what would you fix?” and most people respond: education. Here, they realize education is the solution to many other problems: nutrition, disease, poverty, quality of life, etc. However, if people, and more importantly students, value education wouldn’t it be better to give all students the best education, and stop banking on the select few to go all the way? Wouldn’t it be better to teach logical thinking skills and challenge students to apply what they learn in their community instead of teaching and testing memorization? How can we continue to challenge the more advanced students but provide enrichment and support for those less advanced? These are questions I ask in Zambezi, but these are also questions I will ask in America. When I stand in front of my future classes, I will remember the blank and uncomprehending stares of the many students I had in Zambezi, and ask myself: how can I best serve these students?

Joanna O’Neil, Class of 2017

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Conflicting Cultures

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Culture is a complicated word to unravel when you think about the depth and variety of societies in this world. In the past week, I have familiarized myself with the Zambezi culture but during one of our leadership class discussions, a piece of this culture began to reveal itself, getting more than just the tip of the iceberg, and I’ve been trying to digest the unsettling parts of this society ever since.

On Friday, I was privileged to lead a discussion about women in business and leadership roles to a group of about 25 men and 4 women. Our purpose for the discussion was to leave our students with a more open mind about the capabilities that women possess and for us to have a better understanding of typical gender roles in a Zambezi family. The conversation started with us asking about a woman’s role in Zambezi. We received answers that were similar and for the most part expected: A woman’s role is to care for her children and to cook food for the family. When we asked what a man’s role was, we received answers like, “The husband is the “President of the house” as well as “A man’s job is to provide for his family.”

Our class asked us how marriage works in America. I explained that, though my experience doesn’t represent America as a whole, both my parents work full time and house chores are split relatively equally. They asked me, almost in unison, “Who is the head of household!?” When I answered, I could sense the utter amazement and confusion when I said, “I don’t think either of them is the ‘head of household’; they make decisions for our family together. While this answer seemed so normal to me and would probably be a pretty common answer among American families, the Zambezi students were wide-eyed and puzzled. To try and continue to decipher who the head of household was, they then asked me, “Well, who pays the dowry?” and I quickly responded, “What’s a dowry?” While they explained, my uncultured brain was becoming confused once again. Apparently, a dowry is a gift, usually money, that a man gives his future wife’s father if he wants to marry her.

Many men in the class agreed that women were equal to men. They explained that a woman could do anything a man could do, but I haven’t been able to understand why, if they believe what they are telling us, they also believe that a man must be the “head of household” or that there even needs to be a “head of household.” I was under the assumption that in Zambezi, financial provision equated to decision-making authority. With that assumption in mind, I presumed that men are always the head of household here because they are the ones who make more money, but later one of our students completely challenged my thoughts by telling us that his wife makes more money than he does. This is the same man who told us a man’s role is to be the “president” of the house.

The conversation became more intriguing and at the same time more unnerving when I posed the question, “Why do you believe there are more men in this class than women?” This subject led to a discussion on women being less educated. One man explained that a father might stop paying their daughter’s school fees because she will get pregnant anyway and it will just be a waste of money. To this statement I asked, “but is that a common situation?” To which they replied, in agreement, “yes.”

We also learned that in order to keep class sizes an equal number of boys and girls, girls have lower standards to pass than boys do in school. Girls, in general, also test lower in Zambezi than boys. After asking many questions, we figured out a few possible reasons why. While girls are in school, they are still responsible to help their mothers with duties around the house. The boys have more time to study as well as more encouragement from their parents because one day they will need to provide for their own families.

You can imagine their faces when we explained that there are more women enrolled in Gonzaga than men.

The more I process this class the more I am able to understand how much of a culture shock this conversation was for all of us in the room. I’m still processing this class but what I have come to understand and accept is that there are many different cultures in the world and there is no “right” way of doing things. This conversation has led me to think more about our culture in the United States, and it is far from perfect. There are certain things we do as a culture that would be hard to explain as well. Why do we take a man’s last name in marriage? There are many causes as to why this is but it’s something we don’t question as a society. Many western cultures—even my own—have strong traditions of gender inequity. Back in the day, women weren’t allowed to own property, so assets were passed down through the last name of the man. In patriarchal cultures ruling power was passed down through the male line. In our day and age, a woman can own her own property or be the Queen of a country but most still take a man’s last name in marriage. I don’t think it’s wrong to question someone else’s culture but I think we need to question our own in the process.

Nothing I do here, no amount of time spent in Zambezi or any other part of the world could erase the American experiences I’ve had or the values I possess. I am proud of who I am and where I come from but this also makes it impossible for me to accept other cultures without being critical. My hope is that in my remaining time here, the people in Zambezi will continue to help sculpt my views of the world by sharing their culture and values with me.

Kisu Muane,

Bree Fealy, Class of 2017

P.S. To all my friends and family, I miss you all and I can’t wait to share my experiences with all of you!

 

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It is who we are.

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The past few days have consisted of a great deal of observing and listening. I am scuffling to take in the experience that I am presented and scuffling to put these images into a meaning that can be shared with our group and my friends and family at home.

On Wednesday, the Health Care team (Hannah, Kenzie, Shelby, Nick, and myself) was accompanied by Jeff on a tour of the local Zambezi District Hospital. It was an experience I had been eager for since long before we arrived in Zambia. The Head Nurse, Mrs. Moplanda, led us on a discomforting tour through the wards of the hospital, taking us to visit the bedsides of sick men, women, and children, where they were accompanied by their worried and grieving families.

We passed a strange mixture of young mothers, children giggling at our attempts to greet them in Luvale, alongside the sadness and worry of other patients fighting to become well again. During an awkward silence, Nick asked Mrs. Moplanda what happens when all of the beds are full or when supplies and resources are low. Do they ever turn patients away? Mrs. Moplanda answered quickly and sternly with one word: “Never.” Never ever would they turn someone away to die. Never ever would they deprive someone of the basic human right to be cared for, to be looked after, to be loved.

Her profound one-word answer has been sitting with me for a couple of days now. It sat with me while we visited the Falconer Orphanage on Thursday, where the Health team had planned to teach a lesson about clean water while the Engineering team installed two more BioSand Water Filters in the orphanage. I saw the love and joy of 118 children, ages ranging from infancy to late teens, and the few adult men and women that care for them so deeply and tenderly. Many of these adults were former orphans who felt an obligation later in life to return to the place that cared and loved for them so well as children.

And again, I thought of Mrs. Moplanda’s concisely eloquent answer this morning as the Health team went back to the Zambezi District Hospital to shadow and observe different areas of the facility. Logan and I found ourselves learning and observing the work of the Clinical Officer, David, as he examined patients, listening to their symptoms, prescribing them medication, and directing them on to the next steps of their screening process. Toward the end, we had the opportunity to talk with David about his schooling, his experiences as a clinician, and his reasons for being where he is today. Throughout his answers, there was one statement that stood out to me and that I couldn’t help but jot down: “Wanting to save lives is something that is in you.” When he said “you,” he wasn’t talking about me or Logan or himself only. He was talking about everyone. The people in our small communities. The people in our global communities. I can see that we, as human beings, have an innate desire to make a difference, to improve someone’s life, to make this world a better place.

And here I am now, thinking back on that one word spoken by Mrs. Moplanda on Wednesday afternoon and trying to formulate how the simplicity of her answer has demonstrated to me one of the beautiful aspects of human nature that has been presented to me in my short time here in Zambezi: the human capacity to love. The human capacity to love will overcome the limited number of hospital beds or inadequate amount of supplies and federal funds. It is this human capacity that gives us those moments that “restore our faith in humanity” when we are able to see it.

As Lindsey so perfectly explicated in her earlier post, we are all “mutually indebted” between the members of our own community, no matter how big or small. We are tied to one another by the power of such human connection. We are connected by our experiences, our strengths and weaknesses, and our triumphs and failures. These things we share allow us to see one another and to feel obliged to act and care for our community. It is who we are. It is how we demonstrate our capacity to love. We are not perfect, and we are not all perceived as good, but I have faith that we as humans are blessed with this obligation to care for one another.

We can all think about the warmth we feel when feeling noticed, cared for, or loved. When a doctor listens to our symptoms, when a community embraces you when you have nothing else, or even when a friend is able to give you a perfectly-timed hug when you are having a merciless day. We want to be cared for, and we want to care back. We are not completely selfish, as some might argue; we are indebted to care for one another. This is how we love, and this is how we fulfill our purposes as human beings.

Blessings,

Peter Sherman, Class of 2017

P.S. Mom, Dad, and Katie – Love and miss you three! Hope the CO sun is treating you well. Give the pups a squeeze for me.

P.P.S. For those of you following along at home, there will be no blog tomorrow (Saturday 5/23) as the group will be spending the weekend in Dipalata. Stay tuned!

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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

FullSizeRender

“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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