We have spent the past three days standing in awe of one of the seven wonders of the world, riding in an open vehicle through the animal filled fields on an African safari, and drinking high tea at a resort over the Zambezi river that costs $1000 per night. For many this is the Zambia and the Africa they know, and I have realized I am so grateful that this has been part of my experience. But I am equally grateful that it has been only a small part.
I think it’s easy to come tour a place and say you love it, but I wonder if you can truly love something that you do not really know. If we look at some of the deepest relationships that exemplify love in our lives, we might look at the love between two sisters (shout-out to my two wonderful sisters), the love between a married couple, or the love between God and His children. Love like this isn’t one dimensional, simple, and ignorant. Love like this is raw, messy, nakedly exposed, and beautiful. Love like this means seeing a person in their glory and their flaws and still choosing to love every part of them anyway.
I am glad that I am more than a surface lover of Zambezi. I have started to transcend the line between romanticizing a people with the shallow love of a visitor to choosing to love a people after seeing all of their mess. This trip has been harder than I imagined coming in, but the challenges have allowed me to truly love Zambezi and call it a home.
My heart filled with simple, profound joy as I sat next to a fire with my “mom,” Rachael, and my “sister,” Diris, on the night of our homestay in a bush village with no running water or electricity. Katie and I sat under the stars with them talking for three hours about everything—Rachael’s divorce and her leaning on God to support her when everything in her life was stripped away, the vocations we hope to have in the future, what fills our hearts with joy and impassions us, the little things that define us and make us who we are. These strangers became family and allowed me to experience a life so simple and focused on loving each other deeply and truly.
My eyes filled with tears dripping down my overheated face after seeing the shock and pain in a classmate’s eyes after a dehumanizing encounter at a cultural festival we attended. I shook, infuriated that both the Zambians in the cultural performance and students on our trip were treated in disrepectful and violating ways where men had power over helpless women. The tears were for both the Luvale tradition that was being corrupted by these dancers who failed to respect and treat all people as equals, and also for the traditions I am fully aware that we have in the United States that also fail to respect and dignify all people as equals.
My skin filled with goose-bumps as I stood listening to the story of one of the strongest woman I have ever met reveal to me that she has been left by her husband with seven children and no support. Despite this, she works multiple jobs to make enough money to support her children through school because she values education so much. I had the honor to work with her in our business and leadership class on a project of her choice, and she chose to propose a knitting school to support other women who couldn’t afford to send their kids to school. Even though successful students of such a school might cut into her own market for hand-knit products, she talked about the women in her community as “my women” and deeply believed that her own liberation (and her children’s) was not enough. She would not be pleased until every woman was able to have meaningful work and support their children through school.
My throat filled with unspoken anger and disappointment as our leadership and business class spent a day discussing the roles of women in Zambia. We heard about how women are “just stupider” than men, how giving up a seat on a bus shows they are respected and equal but giving up a store to a female child rather than a male child would be unheard of, and how Jesus was a male and the twelve disciples were all male, so obviously no woman should be a leader or have power. I hated seeing how the Bible was used as a tool of oppression rather than a tool of liberation, and how deeply ingrained traditions about gender roles still exist and confine women to inferior roles.
My mind fills with memories of laughter, dancing, peace, and beauty as I recount all the morning runs that let me see the long rays of sunlight bring light to a darkened town; as I remember sitting around the fire singing tunalewane lalelo musangia kalunga in one voice: Zambians and Americans united together; as I relive the opening of the Chilenga library and see the pride and excitement plastered on the faces of those receiving books for the first time in their lives.
I have seen the beauty of other-centered living, the depth of relationships, and the simplicity of valuing the non-monetary aspects of life that really matter. And I have also seen the messiness of politics and power plays from those leading a town, the hopelessness of those with no option, and the inability to treat every individual in a society with dignity and respect.
To truly love a place, we need to fully see it and know it—not just its pretty waterfalls or the sunset behind a pride of lion. Although parts of Zambezi challenged me and frustrated me to no end, I would choose that any day because I cherish being able to say I know and love Zambezi as a home.
Lindsey Hand, Class of 2017