On Monday, May 5th we celebrated our “missioning” of the Zags in Zambia programs. Lucy Baldwin, a Zambezi alumni from 2014, wrote the following reflection which we would like to share.
A year later, people still ask me how Africa was. This is the worst possible question. Because, how can you convey so much in one sentiment, in one response? It is the strangest thing in the world to describe because it is, all at once, something so incredible different and exciting and hard and wonderful, something you could describe for hours and hours and never get even close to how it felt, what it meant, how it was.
And yet, Zambia sometimes is like an emotion that I know everyone feels, or at least one that everyone longs to feel, when they are the most themselves. It is the dream that you wake up from, and then close your eyes, trying to get back into. It is the song that you have memorized, that you can’t stop singing. It is the book that says the words that perfectly describe you, that perfectly capture the world on its precious pages.
Do you remember that dream?
The one where you feel warm? Where there is light and heat and, although you cannot see all the faces clearly, you know that you are safe, warmed in the nest of the blankets, a peace spreading through you. And when you wake up and you see the cascade of white mosquito netting, encircling you, protecting you. Light is streaming and a rooster is calling and you wake up, still warm? It is early and you are in Africa and the sounds are soft and crashing and everything is strange and yet you feel like this is the way that you were supposed to wake up, since the day you born.
Each day felt like a pilgrimage, as you wrap yourself in a cloth and you eat a lot of bananas and you spend a lot of time walking. And everything, for a long time, feels very strange, and frightening. But, soon, slowly everything starts to feel exactly how it’s supposed to feel.
It’s like that dream where you are running, but now you can keep up. It’s like that dream where you are lost, but now you are lost in paradise. It’s like that dream when you have to cross a winding river, but now, finally, you can do it without drowning. It’s that dream where you jump off of a cliff, and you feel your stomach drop, and the wind whip you raw, but instead of plummeting you let out a whoop as loud and free as you have always wanted to feel.
Do you remember that song?
It’s the one that starts slow. The one that speeds up. It’s meant to be played the while you are running on the dirt roads, while you are washing dishes, while you are teaching, and while you are standing still, ringing your hands, with no idea of what to do or what to say or how to love. It’s the song that goes:
Tsamina mina, eh eh
Waka waka, eh eh
More and more, it’s the song that goes:
A men nu h’a que tu mwa tia gna gna’ he yaya ah
And thank goodness that it’s the some that goes,
Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
Sometimes it’s even the song that goes:
Hakuna Matata, What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata, Ain’t no passing craze
But sometimes it’s the song that goes:
Do not let my fickle flesh go to waste, As it keeps my heart and soul in its place, And I will love with urgency but not with haste
It is the universality of our humanness. Its chorus is the sound of children still screaming, mothers still cooking, and fathers still working. And the sound of I, a person who had never been able to see any of this before, forced onto blissful eye level all of it, becoming a member among them, a person to sing in harmony, a person to even bust out a solo, and to clap my hands when they bust out their solos.
This is the coming home song. Sometimes it is quiet, fearful and made more real when it is your voice against thirty other voices, looking to you for direction. And when you must walk, and drink, and live, and get sick, and laugh, and cry, among other humans, you are forced to leave behind your pride, and live dressed in vulnerability.
Sometimes it is loud, as your deep hurt and your deep love bleed and blend into the mix and the sway of the ever-present river of sound.
Do you remember that book?
The one that you have read so many time you have it memorized. It’s an adventure, it’s a fantasy, its everything that you could ever imagine to be wonderful and wise and worth saying. It’s the memory of so many days of feeling like I couldn’t hold Africa close enough. I never knew what I would see.
Its sometimes simple, two or three words on a page. Large thoughts have little space to breathe. When I washed a dish, all I could do was wash that dish. Whether I danced or sang or cried, it was without thought, and without preamble—it was just a pure expression of a feeling within me. In this way, I was transparent, my feelings out there for all to see.
Sometimes it is a novel, an epic, a rambling poem leaving you with still more to say. It’s you, as you walked under that blue sky, a dome covering all the life within, and you, finally, a perfect part of it. You are Africa. You strain, pushing your feet forward, digging into the sand, holding hands on each side, tip your head back, and are truly still for a few moments, a pure communication coming from your soul to your brain to the sky, shouting and shouting, not with your voice, but with the perfect words of your hands and your skin and your soul, saying—“I feel safe, I feel loved, I feel heavy, I feel burdened, I think I am becoming who I am supposed to be, I think I love this place, I want to be like this always, I want to hold hands like these always, I want to see skies like these always, I am beautiful, I am lost, I am human.”
Keep remembering. Do not forget.
Sometimes, I have taken the path of fear and ease, and not gone to that place of honesty, refusing to know myself, or to know others. I have my worries, my shame, my need to be important, to be enough.
But sometimes I have chosen to sing. To wake up with the roosters. To walk with the children. To speak and act and breath in deep the bright blue sky of Zambia, heart of my heart, the echo of who my very self would be if I could be laid out as clean and plan as a red dirt road.
And then one day, you will wake up, and it, those words, that feeling, will have become the song that goes:
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you.
You will be walking there soon. Do not be afraid. You will have your own dreams there, ones that I will only be able to imagine. You will sing your own songs there, and they will be more beautiful than anything I have ever heard. And you will write the words to your own story, let go of your own fear, your own shame, and experience your own tumbling moments beneath the sky.
And someday, all too soon, we will get coffee. And I will ask you how Africa was. And you will laugh and stutter and try to put it to words. And you will not be able too. But what you say will remind me of a dream that I had once. And that will allow us to keep singing.
Lucy Balwin, Zambezi, 2013
Lucy Baldwin’s reflection: AMAZING
I loved the missioning cermony. Safe travels, all!
blessed travels to all look forward to some post on the adventure love you conner
I have shamefully avoided this blog since I went to Zambia in 2012, because I knew it would be hard to see others experience what I long to keep experiencing. This is everything I’ve ever felt for Zambia. Reading this brought so many tears and so many moments of “YES” to my mind. Thank you for putting it into words so perfectly, you don’t know what you do.
I wish you the HAPPIEST OF BIRTHDAYS! I tried for 15 minutes to come up with something that wasn’t hacky, but I couldn’t. So I’ll just say that you’re an amazing person, a #1 friend, and that I miss you bunches.
PS: Jose Fernandez is out for the remainder of the season. Elbow surgery.
warm welcome Zags in Zambezi. am glad i saw you all at the Airport.