The past two weeks here have been wonderfully challenging. The community members I have met are full of strength, wisdom and immense determination. Our Gonzaga team is bright, compassionate and relational. I am in awe of this place for many reasons, including the breathtaking sunsets, the constant chatter and hum of laughter and my love/hate relationship with the dusty, bumpy roads. Another reason is the self-exploration this place has afforded me. I have examined not just the things that make me a good student, friend and daughter, but also things that cause me to fall short in all of those aspects of life. It has been difficult to face these attributes and shortcomings head on but it has also been surprisingly healing. It has helped me work on embracing who I am entirely.
For many people, including myself, a motivation to come here was to get out of their personal comfort zone. Until this trip, I thought that the only place growth could occur was outside of one’s own comfort zone. As an introvert I thought the best way I could expand and get out of my comfort zone was to try and be an extrovert in a stimulating setting like the Zambezi market. However, this caused me to begin to lose my genuine self because I’d compare myself to the incredible abilities of my fellow Zags. For a while I didn’t understand why I would get so anxious walking through the market, talking to my students outside of class or dancing and singing with all the children. I’d second-guess myself every time I tried greeting a shopkeeper or market goer and tell myself “You didn’t pronounce that right” or “You should’ve said something else”. I found myself trying to pretend that I knew all the answers with students outside of the classroom when all they wanted to do was talk. When children didn’t remember or know my name I thought it was because they didn’t like me or I wasn’t fun enough, when actually “Moira” is just extremely hard for them to pronounce.
I am in awe of how great my fellow Zags are at establishing and forming genuine new friendships and at their ability to get out of their comfort zone, which is different for each and every one of us, in a way that leads to new found confidence and growth. I have been trying to emulate them because of my admiration for them.
However, it has become clear that this isn’t the path to true growth for me. I start to lose my genuine self if I try hard to be an extrovert. Spending too much time outside of my comfort zone in this way resulted in me comparing myself to others even more because I was trying to change my true personality.
The past two Thursdays Hayley, Molly and I traveled to give talks about menstruation and pass out kits that help girls stay in school while they are menstruating. “I am here to talk with you all about something that is uncomfortable and awkward, but it is part of what unites all women and makes us courageous and beautiful: menstruation.” This is how I have started the talks I have given to young girls and women at Malola and Kalendyola. The feeling of these talks is all too familiar. The girls slowly hunched over, sank in their seats, and darted their eyes down once they knew what this talk was going to be about. I remember starting middle school and sinking and hiding in my desk while my teacher talked to us about periods. I remember trying to make myself look as small as possible and avoiding any eye contact because eye contact would mean I’d have to say something about this weird thing called a period. I was scared and uncomfortable, just like most of the girls we have talked to.
I sat in a classroom in Malola and outside of a hut in Kalendyola, both filled with young girls. Throughout the talks I reassured these girls and women that their period is not something to be ashamed of and that it is important not to let it stop us from going to and continuing school. It is hard knowing that something that makes us women is what keeps so many girls here and in other places from getting the best education they can and being who they are entirely. Normally during our Health classes, I am self-conscious about what I am saying. I question everything that comes out of my mouth. I look at the incredible teaching ability of the other members of my team and believe I cannot live up to them. I am so scared of failing my students. But during these particular talks I am completely calm; my palms aren’t sweaty, which is a huge feat for me, my voice is steady and my head is clear. I feel connected to these girls because I can remember feeling extremely uncomfortable and scared at their age. It is in these moments that I don’t feel like an American teaching Zambians; I feel like a woman talking and experiencing the awkwardness of becoming a woman with young girls. I can see myself in their shoes.
These two menstruation talks are the only times I have had nothing on my mind besides being with these girls and being a woman. Nothing else mattered in these moments, and I found myself never worrying about what I was saying. I wasn’t second guessing myself because I felt like there was no power dynamic, like there was no teacher/student or American/Zambian relationships. It was just a woman talking to young girls. A woman who had been in their shoes and knew how they were feeling; a woman talking with young girls about something that all women struggle with, something that connects us all and makes us beautiful. All I cared about was making sure these girls knew they had nothing to be ashamed about and that it was okay to be scared. We were all embracing womanhood together. This was clear when, after both talks, the girls sang and danced. I was moved to tears as I witnessed these girls, who minutes ago were sinking in their chairs, confidently singing, dancing and smiling together.
Recognizing the calmness I felt in these two talks made me realize that the growth I have experienced here has actually occurred within my comfort zone, in a group of women talking about what connects us all. In this comfort zone, I was able to recognize my strengths and be more comfortable and confident in who I am. This growth in comfort, ability and confidence is exactly what I am trying to attain.
As I am preparing to walk through my last week here in Zambezi, I am coming up with active steps I can take to fully embrace myself and also the Zambezi community. First, I need to work on accepting exactly who I am before I can fully embrace and be a part of the community here. I need to accept my self-discoveries and use them in a way that furthers rather than hinders my experiences. Although I am not sure if I will ever be seen as anything but a “chindele” to many in this community, I can work on showing my true self to the people here with whom I have relationships in order to form bonds that are beyond teacher and student. In order for true accompaniment to occur during this final week, I need to work on being present and being confident in the human being I am, confident in the fact that the people of this community would like me and enjoy talking to me even if I wasn’t here to teach classes. It is important for me to stretch myself in ways that do not lead to a loss of who I am. I need to stop thinking of myself as an American and this community as Zambians; I need to think of everyone here, the Gonzaga and Zambezi communities as well as myself, as humans who crave relationships and love.
Class of 2018