Just as the planes circled the Zambezi sky twenty days ago, once again a series of six seater planes buzzed overhead. These planes are some of the only ones that circle the Zambezi sky the whole year, highlighting to the community both Gonzaga’s arrival and departure. After our short twenty days here the runway is no longer filled with strangers but friends. They are not here to greet us, or to see what we might bring, but to say final goodbyes and a thank you. The success of our trip on this community can be directly correlated to the number and type of people out on that airstrip. This is not measured by what we have physically created, but by the relationships we have built. The runway was not only dominated by children, but also numerous business and community leaders. They came when they saw and heard the planes, not because of a handout that they had received, but because of the relationships and the educational opportunities which they had experienced during our time together.
Hello family and Gonzaga-in-Zambezi followers,
We have all arrived safely in Livingstone and have turned the page on our Zambezi chapter of this Zambian novel. After three incredible growth-filled weeks with the Zambezi community, it was difficult to say goodbye to friendships, new and old. We have worked hard each day to provide health lessons, leadership courses, computer classes, and a school literacy program with our partners. During our final week in Zambezi, I heard from many Zambians, in the church and throughout the community, about how much they appreciated the opportunity to learn with our Gonzaga students. As Sandu, a man who biked three hours from his home to attend leadership lessons, said to our students at the completion of their course, “we give special thanks to you: we believe knowledge is the weapon to success in life”.
Parents, you should be very proud of your son or daughter in this program. They have been a thoughtful group, entering into the struggles this program offers with grace and intentionality. They have asked each other the difficult questions, danced until it hurts, laughed with deep joy, and supported each other through tears. The relationships they have formed will be remembered in Zambezi, and they live like a family, a Zam Fam. I could not ask for any more.
When spending time in Zambezi, I often think of Mother Teresa’s words, “we can do no great things –only small things, with great love.” While students have wrestled with questions about their impact on the Zambezi community, I take comfort in the “small things done with great love” that Gonzaga has worked alongside with the Zambezi community over the past seven years. As you probably figured out by now, we did not eradicate poverty in the Zambezi district, or feed each hungry family we encountered. Besides a school library we are building in partnership with the Chilena Basic School and a house the church rents out, Gonzaga has not left “tangible” buildings (great things) in this community. However, I am proud of the work that was accomplished this year by your Gonzaga student, and you would be hard pressed to find a Zambian who has encountered this group who would not greet you, then offer a kind example of their relationship with Gonzaga.
I have been thinking a lot about the access to information and education that those of us in the U.S. have been privileged to experience. If we have a question about the world, many of us can reach into our pockets, pull out our smart phones and search for the answer. If we are feeling really clever (or lazy) we can even ask Siri to search for us: “Siri, what is the capital of Nebraska?” If we want to develop a new skill or seek new knowledge, we can enroll in a university course, research at a local library, or seek professional development. However, for many Zambians, particularly those in the Zambezi district, the opportunity to learn is unattainable because of the lack of educational opportunities. Many intelligent, motivated Zambians are hungry for the opportunity to learn, and have come to look forward to the courses that Gonzaga students provide. Often, these three-week courses have been the spark to start new businesses (Henrix’s brick company, Chansa’s shop, Julius’ citrus farm, Mary’s tailoring) or community development (Julius’ community school, Mama Love’s NGO). We empower these inspiring Zambians to take the next step to make their community better, to stand on their own two feet. These small things, done with great love can make a difference. Sure, it’s an imperfect relationship at times, but it is a relationship. As Aaron Ausland reminds us, “friendship, real and deep, in the foundation of giving that empowers.”
I wanted to conclude by introducing you to a couple of our close friends in Zambezi, relationships that inspire the Gonzaga community. John Mwewa is the retired headmaster of Chilena Basic School. If you buy some Zambia Gold honey, you are supporting Chilena’s education and the library they are constructing. John was instrumental in forming this partnership with Gonzaga University. John and his wife, Winfrieda, have hosted Gonzaga students in homestays and as a member of the Catholic Church council, John is one of the first people to welcome our students. While John has participated in the leadership and sustainability course in past years, I was inspired to see this 60-something man enroll for the advanced computer lessons course this year. John shared with me that he felt a little awkward about being about 35 years older than many students. However, he said that he was curious about computers and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn. Our computer teachers (Shaun, Conner & Nate) said he was a fantastic and joyful student, and I loved when he showed up to our “graduation” from the course wearing his academic gown.
You have surely heard about the hardest working Zambian woman I know, Mama Kawatu. As our cultural guide, cook and Lunda instructor, I would challenge anyone to walk in the shoes of Mama for a day and not be inspired and humbled. She becomes our “African mama” for the program providing nourishment, love, and wisdom to twenty students and faculty while caring for her own seven children, running a knitting business, and serving on church committees. Through her work with Gonzaga, Mama Kawatu has assisted her husband in building a home, (with new metal roof coming this week), a knitting room, and provided running water to her home. She remembers and asks about students from the past seven years of our program, and considers herself a Zag. Mama Kawatu has provided a tangible example for us all about what it means to be a servant leader.
So, tomorrow will bring Victoria Falls and exploring Livingstone. On Friday, we start off for Botswana and our safari. I’m not sure we will have time to blog, but we will check in before leaving for Lusaka.
My sincere thanks to all parents and families for supporting your children’s dreams and curiosities about the world. I read an interesting quote today that I believe speaks to the power of our travel experience and the growth each of us are experiencing and will be processing in the weeks and months ahead.
“for if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you can’t quite speak the language, and you don’t know where you are going, and you’re pulled ever deeper into the inviting darkness, every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you’re left puzzling over who you are and whom you’ve fallen in love with….All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited into the midst of terror and wonder.” – Pico Iyer
“Dr. Joshua” Armstrong, Gonzaga University
Comprehensive Leadership Program (CLP)
I feel honored to have a chance to write on this blog and tell you how blessed I have been to have met all your loved ones. They are all amazing, young individuals that I have been proud to work alongside with. I had only met the students on Skype once before this trip and after these few weeks together I can say I have 17 new wonderful friends. I have learned so much from my Zam Fam and have truly enjoyed growing with this family. Not only have I grown individually as a nurse here, I have watched my health care team grow and I am extremely excited to see where they go in the world of medicine and see where each and everyone of my new family members go individually. All your posts on the blog have been inspiring and yes every parent out there should be extremely proud of their son or daughter, because I know I am!
Last Sunday Father Noel ended mass with a few thought provoking words. He discussed how both the community and Gonzaga have experienced both positives and negatives from our trip here in Zambezi. In life we take both the positives and the negative experiences to help us grow. For me, the negative experiences in life have helped me grow as a person more often then the positive ones. This same concept has applied to this trip and particularly one of first conversations I experienced in Zambezi. This conversation was with a women from the HIV/ AIDS support group. We had been talking about how cute this little african boy was and she just came out and said “she had an infant die last week.” I was shocked, taken off guard and unsure how to respond. It was at this time it hit me… I AM IN AFRICA. As I started to give my condolences and express my sympathy the conversation shifted. In a matter of seconds she had changed the subject. This comment of hers has been unsettling and I have found it hard to comprehend and process. As a nurse back home the topic of death is something we skirt around. As I sat and compared my culture to theirs, it had me thinking about experiences I had in the hospital with patients dying. How my first death on the cardiac floor was hard to handle, but as I continued to have exposure and experience I started to become better at letting go and grieving in a healthy manner. This continual exposure to death is what I feel has happened in Africa. The topic of death is something that happens everyday. It is the unfortunate image I pictured when I thought of Africa and the sad reality of the hardships here; however, there is always a positive and the unexpected of all the sad talk is the way people handle the situation. People here are able to grieve, but try to focus more on the good. They live in the moment and do not obsess about the future. They still smile and dance and truly know the importance of the here and now. This is what makes a great servant leader. Someone who listens and is present. It is what we are all striving to do each and everyday here in Zambezi and throughout our lives. As much as I can bring to Africa and teach to the community and to those on my healthcare team, I truly feel we have grown and learned as much from the individuals here as they have learned from us. “At the end of the day, you can either focus on what’s tearing you apart, or what’s holding you together.”
As we leave our new home in Zambezi after being emotional and physically tested I hope we all remember Father Noel’s words “you have left us at a better level” and take this to heart knowing we have made a difference. We have all struggled with the questions of what are we leaving? Did we really make a difference? Did we make a change? I feel we will continually ask these questions as we embark on our next journey, but I feel we can leave knowing we did leave them in a better place. I can see it in the health care workers, the children and different community members we have met and taught. The huge turn out in our women’s cooking class (Above photo). The individuals who are so proud of their new computers skills. The community members who have been empowered by the leadership team to go make a change in their own community. The children who are proud to read and share their stories they learned to write with the literacy group and the relationships and long lasting friendships we have all made. What we have left will only continue to grow. We have all had our hearts torn, but what is holding us together is our friendships and memories. We have left our footprints in the Zambezi sand and had our hearts tattooed with the stories and faces of our new family here in Zambezi. I know each and everyone of us will continue to grow from this experience as we relive Zambezi in the pictures we bring home, the stories we tell our family and friends, the times we reflect on our own, the songs that bring back the memories and faces of our Zag/Coug Zam Fam.
We are off to Livingstone tomorrow and the thought of leaving Zambezi and my new family and friends here is bitter sweet. It is always hard saying goodbye and leaving a place the has truly touched your heart. I know we are all excited for another adventure in Africa, but as we board the bush planes tomorrow we will be glad to have one another and for the extra time together to cry, laugh, and reflect on our time here and start to transition our way back home.
P.S. I love you Mom, Dad and Ben. Give Sophie a big kiss for me! Miss you all very much. It will be nice to FaceTime again.
P.P.S. Marji and Brown Family Nate says hello and he loves you all!
Hello loyal fans of the blog! It doesn’t ease my nerves to know so many enthusiastic fans are reading my words with high expectations set by my fellow Chindeles. But as I sit among my Zam fam watching the Lion King on a rare night of having power, it seems like the perfect setting to reflect over my time in Zambezi. Watching this movie reminds me of home which leads me to think about the inevitable question upon my return “How was Zambia?” It will be difficult to do the experience justice because each day I feel growth and so many different emotions. Trying to capture the experience in a quick conversation would be impossible.
Life in Zambia is different in good ways and in bad. I came on this trip excited to experience the joy radiating from people’s faces as they talk about the children singing songs, the long walks, the sand, the oochi (honey), or the busy market. Although I have experienced this joy I also have struggled during my days here. After the first couple of days I had a difficult time adjusting. As someone who prides herself on adaptability, this shook me. I found the cold showers shocking, the market overwhelming, the children sweet but sometimes suffocating, the conversations awkward, everyone staring at me unnerving, and losing my grip on time disorienting. I understood that pushing myself out of my comfort zone was what made the experience beautiful but I never thought it would actually make me SO UNCOMFORTABLE.
On one of the first walks down the dusty path to watch the sunset, a boy stepped on the flipflop of a girl who was holding my hand and it snapped. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but the next day she showed up outside the convent with just a sock replacing her lost shoe. It was something that barely caught my eye but sticks with me. I think about this little girl each time a rock gets into my shoe, which happens often. Since that day I have noticed so many children who don’t have shoes at all and walk barefoot through the tough grass, rocks, and thorns.
One of the major shocks of the trip came with our visit alongside the Home Based Care workers. We traveled to visit six patients deep into the bush. A particular patient’s story broke my heart. She was HIV positive and had no husband to support her family. Her daughter, who came home to take care of her for a short while, was divorced by her husband for leaving him. The patient had a stroke and her whole left side was paralyzed. The family barely had enough nshima for one meal a day, even though the HIV medicine needs two meals a day to be effective. She was bone thin from hunger and her body was being ravaged by HIV. Yet, this family still met us with kindness and offered us their seats. I felt so helpless that I couldn’t breathe. All I was bringing her was broken Luvale and a smile and in that moment it wasn’t enough, she needed so much more. I barely moved out of sight before I broke down into tears of deep sorrow. It was then that I discovered Africa isn’t the magical land I had read about in books as a kid and there is more to this Zambezi journey than I had imagined.
We continued to travel to other patients and support groups and heard more and more of the problems that afflict Africa. Problems that I realized are much bigger than me. I started to lose hope. What could I really do for these people? Why was I here? What could I give? Doubt and sadness crept into my heart. I wanted to go home and shut out this place and not think about the problems and the despair. The harsh realities of the world were starting to change the way I saw the world for the negative.
As time went on, the struggle with adjustment lessened. The life in Zambezi that I have become accustomed to is so different than that of back home. I only know what time it is based off mealtimes, sunsets, and those darn chickens every morning. The dirt underneath my fingernails and toes, the simple choice of what to wear in the morning (chitange and shirt, repeat), shaking hands and greeting everyone I meet, the fact that we thought a mouse lived in our room and were oddly okay with it, the mob of children who run to greet us as we return home, the prisoners who walk around the market in their jumpsuits have all become routine aspects of our time here.
Father Noel, the priest of the parish that hosts us, said something in church yesterday that resonated with many of my Chindeles. He was giving us a farewell speech and as he sent us of, he said that Zambezi has shown us the good and the bad of the community, and that as life dictates, there are good and bad parts to everything. Experiencing the awkward, frustrating, heartbreaking, and confusing aspects of this community allowed me to understand and become a member of this it. Now that I had seen the most difficult aspects of people’s lives, I have been able to grow and use all the hardships and relationships to discover the immense goodness in this community.
This last week especially, I have time and time again been shown the immense beauty of the land and people. I see this beauty walking back from a support group in Mize, where I watched Mama Catherine as she held my hand when we crossed the river in rickety canoes and as she greeted and walked with everyone she met all the while making sure we were safe from motorbikes, oxen, or wrong turns. I see it when I sing outside with the kids who meet my enthusiasm until we are screaming and jumping around. I see it reflected in the growth of my Zam fam and how we respond to each other’s needs naturally, as if we had known each other since childhood. I see it in the music that shakes my soul and hips at church. I see it in Zambians who eat only one meal a day but still offer up food and time for their poorer neighbors. I see the beauty dancing with the Makishi in a circle of 300 Zambians. I soak in the beauty celebrating our soccer victory and chanting “we are GU” with so many kids I couldn’t see the outside of the circle. I see beauty in handshakes, sunsets, laughter, pats on the back, morning runs, star gazing on the airstrip, Jason and Lucy’s singing, holding babies, and watching myself become forever connected to my extended Zambezi family.
As Father Noel said, life is full of good and bad. Sometimes the bad in the world can shake you to your core and question the beauty. But life is fullest when you overcome the bad together and grow from it as fellow human beings. I started to feel connected to this community once I had seen both sides of their lives here, the despair and the beauty. This journey has not gone the way I would have expected it to and has by no means been easy. However, without these tough times I wouldn’t have been able to experience the radiating joy reflected on those who have taken this journey before me. So when you ask me “How was Zambia?” expect a lonnnnng answer.
Megan Newman, Class of 2015
PS I never get homesick but I have been so much on this trip. You all mean the world to me and I can’t wait for hugs at the airport and to visit 1005 Sinto.
PPS Dad, Mr. Jerry Jeremy Goat has left this life and will not be returning to the States. Mysteriously there was no body to bury.
Our time in Zambezi is too quickly coming to an end and I face the fact that only two full days here remain, a great deal of thoughts seep through my mind. While attempting to live in the past and present as the people do here, I have noticed that recently it has become a great challenge. I find my mind wandering to the future, to goodbyes, and to the adventures that are to come. I have begun to recognize that the lists of “finals” have started to settle in here in Zambezi- our final mass at Our Lady Fatima, our final mound of nshima, our final leadership class, our final hug from our homestay parents, and our final lock of hands from a little friend. However, this list of lasts also hold so many firsts; so many unforgettable relationships, so many memories, so many lessons, and so much love that has gripped my heart, similar to how the kids here grip our hands. I take confidence knowing that each of us will never let go or be forgotten.
As I look back on the firsts, I ponder the journey we have so recently embarked and can not help but think of a vivid image of a Zambezi road. This road is dirt, often thick with sand, quite uneven, the occasional deep pothole, and full of people with intense desires to get to know each other and live loving lives. Everyday, each of us travel these roads in one way or another- strolling to the market with one another, interlocking hands with a child as we walk to the sunset, or driving to Chinyingi or Chilenga to teach and to be taught. Each travel holds a multitude of adventures and stories. I quickly realized these roads are quite similar to our time here in Zambia. They are different from the ones we have at home, at least at first glace, just as the cultures here are different from those in the United States. But when it comes down to it, there are so many similarities, each holding a very comparable yet unique purpose.
On the Zambezi roads there are thick sand pits and uneven surfaces that while running in the morning or even walking to the market can be seen to some as a slight inconvenience. To us, they are all part of our fantastic adventure and fail to slow us down. Similarly, daily we each encounter small challenges. Lately for me, I have been pondering the questions that have arisen that do not appear to have simple answers. Why don’t they use manure as fertilizer? How can we help as they wish? Are they learning as much from this experience as we are? While this was quite challenging to accept at first and still pulls at my strings, I have come to learn that these are the questions that make me grow. There is not always an easy solution but the challenges have been accepted, and I know all of us will continue to search for some sort of answer. These questions have definitely made our minds wander, our journals full, and our conversations deep, allowing us to discover more about ourselves.
The potholes are the larger struggles we face. Each of us have been confronted with diverse challenges. Recently, I have been struggling with serious culture shock. I would have assumed that this would have struck me when we arrived here in Zambezi about three weeks ago as opposed to just a couple days before our departure. This culture shock has left me with an immense feeling of confusion. I have felt the most mentally and physically uncomfortable in my life in the past couple days which leads to a longing for the most comfortable place and people I know- home with my friends and family. With only a couple days left, I do not want to get lost in this feeling of confusion. This would be quite difficult on my own, but I know I have my Zam Fam here to support and walk along side me. Because we have each other, I know that overcoming obstacles is only a bump in the road and finding the beauty in each individual, continuing to form those loving, meaningful relationships, and truly being present is what will prevail.
And finally, on every road you travel in Zambezi, you will encounter loving, lively people. These people have taught me the importance of taking time to get to know individual’s stories, to love with all I have, and to be intentional with every action. The people are the most important aspect of the Zambian roads. Sure there are obstacles, potholes and sandpits, but the Zambian people are those that help you through it, they tell the stories I will remember for years to come, they love with an open heart, and they have built such great relationships with us that I consider them family. It is the relationships, the people, and the love that last lifetimes.
These Zambian roads now make up a very important part of the path of our lives, full of learning experiences and loving friendships. While our time here is Zambezi is coming to a close, the roads are far from ending- they will be incorporated into our daily routine back in the United States. It is all part of our life journey.
To all those following our adventure, we love and miss you very much. I know I speak for everyone when I say that the routine of reading the blog posts every morning at breakfast has become a wonderful part of our journey and something we all look forward to. Thinking about you all!
Kisu Kisu Mwane
Hayley Medeiros, Class of 2015
P.S. Family and Friends! I love you guys so much. I miss you like crazy and hope everything is going well at home, and for Taran in Chimfunshi. I am thinking and praying about all of you all
A huge hello to all of our beloved friends and family back at home! It has seriously been so heartwarming and encouraging to read all of your comments over breakfast each morning. Over the past seventeen days, I have been anxiously awaiting my turn to post a blog for you all. In that time, I have seen, heard, and felt so much that it becomes difficult to truly articulate how incredible this experience has been. However, I can say with great ease that not only has it touched my heart, it has changed it for the better. As our time in Zambezi quickly comes to a close, I am struck by how prevalent the concept of time has been on my thoughts and actions since arriving. Similar to my anticipation over writing this blog, I have often found myself waiting for “big, planned events” throughout our stay. With so many awesome experiences to look forward to, it isn’t easy to refrain from counting down the days until that next exciting adventure.
As the first weekend here approached, I nervously prepared myself for the homestay visits. My anxiety over my first day of teaching at Chilenga weighed heavily on my mind for the better part of several days leading up to it. The privilege of getting to be Mama Kawatu’s assistant for a day, an experience we each take turns doing, left me eagerly hoping for the future. And of course, despite our reluctance to leave Zambezi, the trip to Livingstone has us all extremely excited.
With these few examples in mind, the realization of how constantly I have been waiting leaves me frustrated as I recall some insight Father Baraza provided during our prep class back at Gonzaga. In his attempt to prepare us for Africa’s foreign concept of time, he eloquently explained that unlike in America where we rely so heavily on the future, here there is really only past and present. This mindset dictates a genuine appreciation for the little moments that occur in between the big, planned events. I have now witnessed this lifestyle firsthand, and have been powerfully inspired to adopt the same mentality.
Although it is natural to be excited or nervous for the future, it is important not to let this distract you from the now. I have grown to stay mindful of the present and open my eyes and my heart to each passing moment, for each one too quickly becomes a part of the past. Looking back on my time in Zambezi, I realize these unplanned, “in between” moments have actually been those that I appreciate the most. These moments include my daily walks home from Chilenga with Michael, Lauren, and Lucy, talking with each other as we listen to the pitter-patter of children’s feet chasing after us in the sand repeatedly screaming “Chindeli! How are you?!” It is taking a break from preparing for tomorrow’s school day to step outside and stare in awe at the stars, which Megan describe as being “out of this world!” It is the humbling moment when 9th grader Caleb walks three miles home with me just to have a Polaroid “snap” taken of the two of us. It is stopping to see Mama Catherine (see photo above) who, despite her busy schedule, always willingly takes time to happily greet and walk with me for a while. It is the sunsets, the bumpy Landrover rides, the taste of the bananas, and the warmth of complete strangers. These moments, along with so many more, are the ones that keep me grounded in the present, and that I appreciate the most.
This afternoon, our group was honored to host many of the Zambian community that we have each been so inspired by over for lunch. As we spent our morning preparing an authentically American meal of fajitas for our guests, I was warmed by the realization that these relationships we have built were not founded on big anticipated events, but rather a result of small moments that accumulated over the past seventeen days. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of as my fellow Chindeli and I ate with, talked with, laughed with, and even danced with these people who will forever have a mark on our hearts.
With only three full days remaining here in Zambezi, I am determined to let the past and present guide my actions as my adventure continues to unfold. I am so blessed by the experiences I have so far been exposed to, and will continue to soak in every last moment, making lifelong memories with my beloved Zam-fam along the way.
Thinking of you all & gwaku nzanga (I love you!)
Katie McCann, Class of 2015
P.S. So much love to my family and friends at home, I miss you all so much! Mommy, you have earned the title of MVP blog commenter, and Christian you are always in my thoughts! Hi to Ambs, Morg-kung-fu and Kirst as well, thanks for your regular postings J X’s and O’s!
Hello Mom, Dad, Stephen, Tayla and all parents, family members and friends who have continually supported us on this amazing journey! I just want to start out by saying happy late birthday to my father, the infamous Monte Marti. I am so sorry I was not there to celebrate with you but I am sure that you did it in all the right ways. I want you to know that on my slow and interesting trek to Solwezi, I was thinking about how much I love you and how happy I truly am to have such a positive and loving person in my life. Just thinking about you really does make me smile.
Today marks the 16th day of our stay here in Zambezi. It also marks a day of rest and preparation for a very busy weekend ahead. Tonight we are going to a tribal coming of age ceremony involving music and some wild dancing by the Makishi (tribal dancers). On Saturday, we are having a special lunch. We are cooking for forty as each of us invites a member of the Zambezi community with whom we have built personal relationships as we’ve accompanied each other through these past weeks. It is our way of thanking them for all they have given us. I am excited to gather with my peers, who I have so greatly bonded with over these past few weeks, and to see those they have bonded with outside of the Gonzaga group.
This morning, we woke up to no electricity. For one who is teaching computer courses, losing electricity has become one of the most frustrating realities about life here. When the power is out, assuming that all computers are charged, we only have 7 working computers as opposed to the 9 we normally have. Additionally, we lose our projector greatly limiting our teaching methods. In one class alone, we have thirty plus students thus forcing us to put five students per computer. This presents us with great challenges for the majority of our students have never touched or even seen a computer and a good portion of them do not even have power in their own homes. Personally, this lack of electricity presents me with great frustration (not only in personal life but in classes as well).
Many of the struggles and frustrations that I have encountered during my time here in Zambezi have been causes by events and situations that are out of my control i.e. illness in Dipalata, ride to Solwezi and these constant power outages. In the past, I have had the opportunity to participate in service trips not only nationally but internationally as well. These trips helped me feel mentally prepared for the challenges I knew I would face. On these trips, I would build houses and other tangible things. This enabled me to easily see the progress and work that I was doing for the people I was trying to help. I always left patting myself on the back and feeling satisfied. I could easily capture what I was doing on camera and would return home and show people the work that I had done. Being present here in Zambia has presented my peers and I with a very different and harsher reality. The work that our group is doing here is not tangible in the same way as a house or a church. We spread education, build knowledge and try to empower the community to stand on their own two feet. This cannot be physically measured; it is not visible and most definitely cannot be captured by a camera. Our group constantly struggles questions the reality of what we are doing here and if it really making a difference and really changing this area for the better. Josh presented this question to our dinner guest Francis, a social worker who played a key role in the adoption of Josh’s daughter, Grace. He responded that our empathy, willingness to share knowledge and our mere presence of just being here matters. We are in fact making a difference. It was settling to know that though we may not be building houses, churches, schools or anything as physical, we are in fact making an impact on this community. Though I may not have photos of tangible work that I have done on this trip I will remember the struggles, relationships and the amazing people I have encountered here in Zambia.
This makes me feel excited and empowered. I feel as if I am gaining more out of this experience by sharing knowledge and education than I have in my previous experiences. I am building deep and meaningful relationships with amazing people who are giving me so much more than I am giving them. I have come accustomed to the idea that material and physical things are not always necessary to help those in need. What is needed most is simply knowledge and empowerment. When a community is able to asses its own needs and implement its own projects, the outcome can have a greater impact on those being affected than if the help had come from other sources. This internal empowerment rallies the community and creates a better sense of independence and pride. Whether it is through the leadership, education, health or computer group, our hope is for those we teach to use the knowledge we have shared to better themselves, one another and the community long after our group leaves Zambezi.
Shaun Marti, Class of 2015
Today we are so blessed. We started with an amazing breakfast topped with cinnamon toast and “frog in a hole” (fried egg in a slice of bread…. not to “jump“ to conclusions). We also celebrate the 20 years of life our Brother Conner has blessed and keeps on blessing the world with. The Zam Fam here can agree he’s an incredible boy—now MAN—and we love him very much. He left his teenage years in America and will be returning a full adult; hopefully gaining his right of passage by what will be his first sacrifice of a goat… (Sorry Mr. Newman, Megan won’t be bringing back Jerry—at least not in his natural, alive, or undigested meat form). Aside from Conner’s birthday, May 30th also marks Day 15 of our stay here, with only six more days in Zambezi. Our bucket lists start to build as we try to soak every last moment we have with our new family and home found here in Zambezi and within our Gonzaga group. This morning a song lingered in the heads of our Zam Fam, a song taught to us by Zambezi children on our first day. It is slowly gaining so much more meaning as each day passes:
“I want to linger, uh huh.
a little longer, uh huh.
I want to linger with you.”
At the same time however, this bittersweet reality of leaving in a week means we are closer to warm showers, the beach (for those who live near the ocean), and the comfort of being surrounded by loved ones. Although I don’t think anyone is counting down the days until we are back on American soil, we sure have been thinking a lot about how nice it would be to have a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or to not worry about catching the Chindele Bug that has been going around. Thankfully, today marks the first day in a week in which everyone is healthy and doing well! We’ve been taking precautionary measure to eliminate the bug for good i.e. lots of bleach!!!!!!!!!!!
This yearning for what’s comfortable may have started during our Dipolata visit. I think I speak for the whole group when I say that at that point we had reached a period of major culture shock, past the honeymoon stage of new and exotic excitement. We have been feeling frustrated with our inability to enact or see immediate and sustainable solutions to local issues. We have been struggling to find energy and motivation to dance, sing, and say, “fine how are you” with the kids during our free time. We have also been struggling to ignore every single pair of eyes staring at us as we walk through the community, usually coupled with references of us being “Chindele!”. As I’ve learned in my Culture Psychology class with Professor Vinai, this is the period where a person new to a culture can develop major homesickness and potentially return to where they originated.
The culture shock really hit me on the drive back to Zambezi, and since then I’ve been in a slump struggling to ease my unrested heart. You see, not only was I frustrated with being out of OUR comfort zones, I was also frustrated that I was even feeling frustrated. I felt as though I needed to be present in the here and now. Yes, a warm shower would be nice after a Hanalei beach swim and shaved ice pit stop, however, while there, it would trouble me that those people who touched my heart just a few weeks ago, were still living their less than glamorous way of life. It is overwhelming and exhausting to feel that strength of guilt and unrest.
I try to overshadow those feelings with story book readings with John, time invested in the inspiring works of Mama Love and Sandu, or trying to create lifelong memories with my Zam Fam. Though the more I try to suppress the unrest, the stronger it hinders me from fully experiencing Zambia. It’s a frustrating thing to have, especially when we all come with the desire for this experience to be all positive and beyond incredible. I don’t think we anticipated any overbearing feelings of homesickness or the struggle not knowing the answer to the community’s problems.
I guess what I am trying to say is that behind the inspiring stories, the valuable lessons learned, and the smiles we exchange, there lies struggle and hardships that we tackle internally here in Zambia and, well, in all our lives back home. It’s these difficulties that we are so afraid of admitting, in fear that others may not understand and will overshadow the good this experience has to offer.
Western mindset influences us to push that which unsettles our heart to the back of the mind and then attempt to extract any positive lesson we can think of to reconcile the unease. We concentrate so much on the positives, that we become fearful to acknowledge our own weaknesses. Most times we don’t even know how to deal with it. The word “vulnerability” comes to mind, along with the stigma America puts on it. Vulnerability has become synonymous with weakness. But, as Brenne Brown says, out of vulnerability comes true strength. It takes real courage to acknowledge and sit with the hard stuff.
A brother of mine told me that it’s okay to have these troubling thoughts, essentially encouraging me to sit with it. I think the beauty in the brokenness comes when you find others to pick up your pieces for you, maybe not to fix it, but to just be those supportive hands that scoop you up when you feel so fragile.
I may have a hard time knowing I won’t hear words from a family member as blog comments are read every morning or the fact that I haven’t been home since January. But it is something beautiful to know that here I can find comfort in the faces of my brothers and sisters who reassure that the work of the leadership course is motivating them to build Zambezi up. I find it in the hand of John, a little boy who plays outside the convent and has stuck to my side literally since the first second I stepped foot on Zambezi soil. I hear it in the comments from friends I hold close to my heart (Mahalo Nui Loa Hikaru and Brady for your love). Most importantly I find it in the brother sleeping in the same room as me, or the brothers across the hall, and the sisters we share a bathroom with and the sisters across on the other end of the convent pillow talking. These people have become a part of my family, a part in the museum of my heart.
The strength in vulnerability comes from the courage to acknowledge the hard stuff, to sit with it, and to not allow it to hinder any other precious aspect of your life. The beauty comes when in that fragile state, there will be someone willing to receive you if you ask for it. No matter how broken a community or individual can feel, there is always someone pushing behind, leading in front, or right there sitting beside you, who is willing to just hold you in your brokenness and reassure you that it is okay not to be okay.
We have less than a week here, and I hope we can put our words into action:
“I want to linger, uh huh.
a little longer, uh huh.
I want to linger with you.”
Kisu Kisu Mwane,
Class of ’14
Hikaru- I’m happy to tell you Teo fulfilled your birthday wishes for me… every single one of them.
Bread- I cannot wait to go to Zola’s with you!
Thank you both for filling my life with smiles and love. Returning it to you now in forms of sweet lullabies.. haha. I love you both!
Wow. What an incredible opportunity this trip has been so far. I’m sure my peers have grown tired of my constant asking “do you guys know where we are?!” as I continue to come to terms with this African experience. We’ve traveled around the world to meet and walk with entirely new people in a completely different culture. We have all had the opportunity of a lifetime thus far, and are even beginning to call Zambezi “home.” I can easily say many of us have struggled, grown, and maybe even changed in this incredible process. To top it all off, our group has grown incredibly close throughout this experience. It’s hard not to call all these amazing, inspirational, funny and awesome people my family.
Tuesday morning, a few of us (Hayley M, Delaney, Shaun, Garret and I) set off to accompany Josh as he dropped Susan and Erik off at the airport in Solwezi. (Don’t worry parents Mateo, Brittany and Raymond Reyes were holding down the fort in Zambezi.) We woke up early, and with the rising sun, began our 500km trek east across Zambia. We didn’t realize we were beginning one of the longest and most challenging journeys we had yet faced in Zambia. 25 minutes in, we ran into our first problem. The inner tube of the left rear tire popped, as Josh calmly and smoothly steered to the side of the road. Garret and I (mainly Garret) were able to change the tire within 20 minutes, and with laughter about our bad luck, we were off again. Three hours later, a spiking temperature gage and the sound of steam shooting from the radiator alerted us to our next problem. We pulled over, let it cool, and compiled our water from our Naglenes to fill up the drained radiator. We were off again. For about 15 minutes. The next time we pulled over (thanks to the help of a stranger and some deductive reasoning) we realized the problem. The belt that spins the fan to cool the radiator and charge the battery was gone. We were stranded next to one of the smallest villages I had seen yet (the beautiful Kamakuku), 2 hours outside of Solwezi, in the middle of nowhere. Josh was able to call ahead to friends we were planning to meet, asking for help. The said they would come, and the wait was on. It was hot, uncomfortable, and bug-filled. Things began to get a bit hopeless. Some of us began rationing our remaining cliff bars and water, in case of an overnight stay in the bush. It was decided that we would eat Garret first. However whenever I would stare at the dead Land Cruiser with dwindling hope, a positive remark from the group reminded me to enjoy the experience. After all, this is Africa. Thankfully, three and a half hours later, Father Sidney arrived. Sidney arrived with a fan belt, and his uncle, a mechanic, on the Bishop of Solweizi’s orders. We eventually got the car running, and it drove like new as we finished the journey with the setting sun. We dropped our bags, and hit the town looking for some good food. I don’t want to rub in the amenities of the trip to my friends who stayed back in Zambezi, but it involved pizza, and maybe even a hot shower.
I was told recently that there was “no hope for Africa”. I have to disagree. I have seen an immense amount of hope in my time here. I’ve seen it in my fellow “Chindeles” (white or western people) who came here to love, and see how they can help sustain and empower people. I’ve seen it in people like Sandu, who travels miles just to learn, grow, and positively impact his community through the leadership course. I’ve seen hope in clean mission hospitals, and in villages like Dipolata who have a mindset of sustainability. I’ve seen it in computer classes full of people eager to learn skills that can empower them and their community, and in our teachers who walk miles (past a library rising, thanks to Gonzaga) to teach young Zambians. In the health group who has crisscrossed the area educating community health workers, students and medical staff. I’ve seen it in the little warm hands that shoot from every direction when we leave the convent, and in the warm smiles and kindness that surround us in the Zambezi community. There is a lot to be hopeful for, but turning the hope we all have into a reality is going to be the struggle. Actually, it’s going to be a lot like our journey to Solwezi. Tires are going to be popped, fan belts blown, and we can feel a bit stranded and without hope. But, just as in our journey, that hope of arriving at reality will eventually come. With a positive mindset, friends willing to help, kind strangers, the realization and appreciation of the experience and journey, good old hope and maybe even a new fan belt, one day, we’ll all arrive. And who knows what awaits when we do.
Much love to my mom, dad and brother Chad, as well as all of our friends and family following this blog from home. Your warm and encouraging posts are something we all look forward to. Susan and Erik, fly safe. We already miss you.
Conner House, Class of 2015
As our group comes to its halfway point, we find ourselves crafting deep relationships among not only the community here, but each other as well. Touching, heart-wrenching, beautiful relationships that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. These relationships bring not only the “honeymoon happiness” that we all have come to know so well, but also the empathetic pains that bring some tragedies to life for us.
Many of us struggle with the idea of what we have to offer the Zambian people. No “quick-fix” answers exist in most situations here, so how do we repair the brokenness? How can we touch the heart of Zambia? My far too short, over-simplified answer is love. As cliché as this answer may sound, hundreds of Zambian children peering into our eyes asking for us to spread some pure agápe love serves as a humbling reminder that no other answer gives complete justice to the situation. Asking for us to get at eye-level with them, even if just for an instant, to share one beautiful moment with eyes and hands locked showing that we care. Although hungry and thirsty, most Zambian people here understand our purpose: to serve and love in order to create self-sustaining, passionate change. We bring unmatched excitement to each project with our presence alone. The quote “your presence is the present” has never felt more real. With our students so amped on our work with them, it is our duty to make sure that our student’s needs are met, so that the passion that flows out of them is completely harnessed and translates into a full satisfaction of what they want—a true sign of a servant leader.
Today I had a revelation in a children’s storybook that Katie and I read to our class. “Something Beautiful” speaks of a little girl who struggles with finding something beautiful in her life. Her teacher defines beauty as “something that when you have it, your heart is happy.” All of her friends find beauty in the little things in life like their jump-roping, sharing meals, and dancing. As the girl continues her search for her something beautiful, her mother tells her with certainty that her something beautiful is the little girl herself. Reading this book to my class instilled a wonderful reminder of the amazing opportunity each of us has to be someone’s something beautiful. I love using the quote “there is only one happiness in this world: to love and be loved” in this society because to fill a heart with happiness is such a beautiful thing. We all have the capability of loving, and, that being said, we all have the ability to go and make someone’s heart happy. So I challenge everyone reading this to do one thing: be someone’s something beautiful. Love on someone and make sure to accept the love back.
To all those reading back home, you all have been something beautiful to each one of us. Our journey comes with great joy, but also great struggles. I feel that as long as we continue striving to be servant leaders and unconditional lovers, happiness will undoubtedly follow. Keep on loving, keep on being beautiful.
Anyway, loveyouallgottago. Kisu Kisu Mwane,