Missing Puzzle Pieces


ZamCompassNothing! Absolutely nothing! The constant dirt between my toes and cold showers? Nothing. The ant walking across my hand or the spider, clearly on steroids, above my bed? Nothing. Killing and plucking my first chicken? Nope. Nothing! These otherwise odd experiences have become my new normal. So where is my big Zambia experience hiding?!

Each morning we read the blog post from the night before. While I am moved by their words, I cannot help but feel envious of my peer’s abilities to put words to their powerful experiences. We have been here in Zambia for a week now. Looking back, I fear I have not wrestled with those life-changing questions. There may have been a shock at first, but one week later I find myself comfortable here. I have my routine; I have my safe space.

Maybe the problem lies in the safety of the convent. I have made my Little America here in these concrete walls. If I chose to, I could live in my Little America and be blind to the beauty and the tragedy of Zambezi. I have brought the blessing and the curse of living in a techno-savy America where I can close my eyes and shut out the problems of the world, but the very experiences I am searching for would also continue to elude me. Much like Heisenberg’s observer effect where the thing you are trying to measure is obscured by the very act of measuring, I wonder if the irony lies in the very act of looking for the experience or waiting for the experience to hit me in the face. Yesterday, we read “We See from Where We Stand” by David Diggs. After years of work in Haiti, he sees most American service volunteers as American refugees hungering for meaning in their lives. Am I that refugee?

In living with the Zambian people and immersing myself in their culture, I feel a sense of normalcy. Even though it may have been an awkward transition at first, saying class begins at 15 hours rather than 3 o’clock or that I am a 4th year at University rather than a senior in college or adopting little parts of Lunda or Luvale in my speech have all become a new normal.

Maybe I am forcing my experience to be something it is not. Maybe I do not have all the puzzle pieces to see the full picture. Maybe the culture shock or the revelation of my experience thus far has been simply noticing that their life and their culture is not as foreign as I thought. Imagine that: I have traveled thousands of miles to a foreign country to discover people living out their human existence.

So what about this life-altering experience I have been searching for? Have I taken enough risks? Am I too comfortable to feel it? Is looking for an experience counter-intuitive to having an experience? Why am I so intent on placing meaning to my experience? Each day, more questions seem to spring up where one was answered. As I try to make sense of the experiences I have, I take comfort in knowing that answering these questions will be my life’s work.

Christine Ngan, Class of 2015

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Missing Puzzle Pieces

  1. Amanda Schmitz says:


    I couldn’t help but comment on this one. Girl, I feel you! I’m not sure I even realized how important Zambia was until I got home and was able to look back and see the difference in myself. I had a few “big” moments while there, but really it was a lot of small moments. It was in talking to the Zambians and realizing that they want all the same things we do. Bigger homes, better schools, cell phones, you name it. The change for me was in seeing how similar our worlds are instead of our different. And in feeling the ache in my heart, the homesickness for the convent and the red dirt roads from 3,000 miles away.

    I hope this helps! Don’t force yourself to have a life changing moment, it won’t do anybody any good. It’ll come to you when you least expect it. Have faith, have fun!

    Kisu Mwane,

    Amanda Zambezi 2011

  2. Katie Blackburn says:

    Wow, Christine, this is deep and truthful and really beautiful. Thanks for sharing so honestly with us. Thinking of the whole crew as you guys continue to live your journey in Zambia.
    xoxo- Katie.

  3. Rachelle Strawther says:

    “Each day, more questions seem to spring up where one was answered.” So true, Christine. The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

    I believe that all humans are on some conscious or unconscious level seeking meaning, trying to find our place in the world. Some answers may come to you on this trip, but as you already seem to realize, you may be left with more questions. Your view of life may become hazier, as experience can either clarify or cloud the water. And, as Amanda wrote, it may be some time before you make sense of what the Zambezi experience really means to you.

  4. Aubrey says:

    Hi Group!

    I have read all of your wonderful blogs so far and each one, no matter how different they seem, has taken me back to some very real and beautiful and hilarious moments from my time in Zambezi. But this is your time, you are in Zambia of all places right now! Just think about that for a second… how incredible is that?
    The experience of studying abroad anywhere comes with so many annoying and hindering expectations (based on what people that went before you say, what National Geographic makes it look like, what you’ve seen from pictures, etc.). No matter how hard you try to escape them, the expectations are planted. They are what keep us from truly being present, reveling in the NOW, not the past or future or what you expect to happen or what you want to happen.

    Take a breath. What is supposed to happen will happen, and it will all happen to you, but only the moment you rid yourself of those expectations that are weighing you down. It’s hard to do, but as soon as you decide to start with a fresh, clean page, and JUST BE – well, to get to that point of just being present is amazing in itself.

    As my good man Paul McCartney would sing, “Let It Be.” Look to the people sitting next to you, look all around you and just enjoy where you are, who you’re with, and this moment… because like all moments, it will soon pass. And this moment you are in, right now, is pretty insanely special.

    I don’t know any of you personally but I am so glad to share this place with you now.

    Keeping you all in my thoughts,
    Aubrey Weber (ZamFam 2012)

    PS: Josh, love you and miss you tremendously! Praying that you don’t catch malaria this year and that you are teaching these crazy kids how to truly bust a move 🙂

  5. theo says:

    Christine, what a deeply insightful post, the first thought that came to my mind was a story, I remember Conner telling, when he returned from Zambia for the first time. He told how he was teased by all for saying out loud” Can you guys believe we are in Africa?”. He’s probably saying it this time also. Hang in there, enjoy the “ride”. I”m sure you will figure it all out later. Hope you are all doing well, stay safe.
    I’m sure their was a technical reason why it seemed your update was late, But gotta admit it sure is good to here from you all.
    Conner, Moms working late, Chads at track, I’m getting ready to order a pizza for dinner.
    Frankies pizza, a mount si they call it, pepperoni, sausage, hamburger, x-tra cheese, delivered, online. ooops! SORRY!

    Gotta Go, Love ya Conner! Keeping all of you in our prayers!

  6. Hailey Baker says:

    Hello to all you beautiful and adventuresome people!! To start off I would like to apologize for waiting so long to post!! Right now I am sitting in a cute little bakery in the middle of a tiny Alaskan town called Girdwood where I am spending the summer! This morning I read over all of the blogs so far once I was able to find wifi and was laughing, crying, and reminiscing on Zambia. The story about the meat stick…omg I was literally laughing and bawling at the same time.

    I think that I decided to go to Alaska completely on my own, not knowing anyone or much about this job because I missed the thrill of Zambezi and the crazy experiences and memories. You all are growing so much in so many ways and although it may be hard to sum it all up or have these profound answers (as you mentioned Christine) trust me you all are gaining insights and experiences that will forever change you. I’m sure many of you are feeling things, seeing things and experiencing things that are exhilarating you, frustrating you, and redefining how you see the world. And I’m not talking about monumental save the world, world peace oprah moments I’m talking about the tiny things that will contribute to who you are and how you interact with others and the world. I know this is way fast forwarded as the end of your trip seems so far away, but already start thinking how these awesome Zambia experiences are going to be carried on back here at home.

    I have always considered myself an adventurous and friendly person which is why I decided to come to Alaska all alone but I’ll be completely honest and say that these first few days in a new place have really challenged me! My roommates have not moved in yet and making friends is not quite as instant as college, especially a school like GU. The night before I read your posts I was seriously questioning my decision to come here and was making tearful phone calls back home. I can honestly say that these blogs inspired me to stay strong, continue walking outside my comfort zone and to see this as an opportunity for more growth! I am seriously so thankful I read these blogs!!!!!!

    Anyways enough about me!!!! You guys are in Zambia!!!! I am so excited for you all and all of your adventures to come. Seriously cherish every single moment since time will fly by! I hope you all had amazing home stays and I’m sure the entire community is so happy to welcome you into their homes and lives!

    I don’t know too many of you but I would always see you guys doing you’re readings and having class in tilford so I can picture some of you in my mind! House you’re the man and seriously I am so happy you are able to help this amazing group in their journey while continuing yours as well 🙂 Susan i hope you haven’t had any bee incidents yet and to all you health group peeps I’m sure you have realized that Susan is actually the coolest lady ever. I mean have you seen the knit socks??? Josh I hope you have a great running troop and keep those dance moves going!

    Love you all and thanks for being an inspiration to me as well as helping me cherish Zambezi and all it’s beauty! Kisu kisu mwane!!!! Can’t wait for more blogs and sorry for the novel…I’m sure some of you have already zoned out and are digging into your oatmeal, cereal, or whatever egg masterpiece. Btw isn’t that milk to strange….

  7. melissa reinecke says:

    It has been a treat to read your beautifully written blogs each day! What a great way to learn about yourself and the unique/simple people and culture of Zambezi. I wish you could bottle some of the simple life up and bring it home. Curious Helen how are those bugs treating you? Helen(Owen going to state in the Shot Put.)

  8. Catherine Ngan says:

    Hey Teenster! Mom, dad, and I truly enjoyed reading your post despite the unsettling feelings you conveyed. I will say this, and Aubrey said it well in that you have had certain expectations, whether realized or not, before arriving in Zambezi. I know you have always made it your mission to continually seek greater meaning in your life and in the work that you do. You have done so through engaging more fully in your relationships, pushing yourself emotionally and intellectually, and seeking new experiences by volunteering and traveling. This experience is no different but one that I suggest not overthinking (which we know you like to do). Throw out all previous expectations and immerse yourself in the moment, the present! Embrace the time, work, and interactions you’re having with those around you. Be confident in the fact that you have taken with you the most important tools, those being your desire to use your life experiences and talents to serve those around you, and your hunger to dig deeper. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, for those moments yield the greatest lessons.

    Dad/Mom: It may seem confusing now but as you age, wisdom kicks in and you realize that values change. You’ll find that it takes less to make you happy and something that is relatable among all humans no matter where you are from. Have faith and know you all are there for a reason, and allow yourself to enjoy the most basic gifts of human interaction. God is good!

    Good to “hear” your voice, love and miss you….and HAVE FUN!
    You are all in our thoughts and prayers!

    The Ngan Family

  9. melissa reinecke says:

    Happy 21st Birthday Helen!!!! We will celebrate when you get home.

    Mom, Dad, Brock and Owen

  10. Lauren Bledsoe says:

    Chimene Mwane!
    How are you?! How are you?!
    I hope this comment finds you all in good spirits–some refreshed from the cold shower after a morning run, others just trying to get enough sleep to make it through the day. 🙂 My name is Lauren and I was able to experience Zambezi last year. I have spent my first morning alone in Seattle reading these blogs. I don’t know if it’s being a little overwhelmed in this new place, how beautifully you all write, or just how much I miss being in Zambezi, but I just can stop crying! Really, the guy next to me at the coffee shop keeps looking over–I’m trying to hide it haha
    Hannah/Kylie/Matt– I was so thrilled to read about your experience with Daniel! I, with Jason, also stayed with him and Namakow! Thank you for sharing your experiences because they brought me back to that living room with pink doylies on the couches. I recall similar awkward moments–specifically trying to avoid taking a “bath”–but I’m so happy to hear how open-minded you all were! I can tell already this year’s group is so so special!
    Christine–Gosh it’s amazing how similar I felt while I was there! Where is my “ah-ha” moment? I think the previous comments share perfect advice, just love everyone whole-heartedly and try not to think too much about the meaning or you’ll miss it. It’s amazing how many things seem to make more sense and remind me of the lessons I didn’t even know I was learning back here in the states. This experience will continue to teach you things throughout the rest of your life, don’t feel like you have to learn it all now. 🙂

    Continue keeping your hearts and minds open–The just “say yes” mentality is always important, but don’t forget to care for yourself too. It’s okay to take a moment inside or ask the children to let you walk alone for moment 🙂

    Chilenga Teachers–I hope you all love the “Welcome Madame (Sir)” as much as I did! There may be times to frustration in the classroom, but I pray that singing Boom-Chika-Boom and You are My Sunshine, walking along the dirt path back to Zambezi, and the random insightful phrases the kids will throw out at you, will make it all magical and worth it in the end 🙂

    God bless you all and welcome to this beautiful Zamfam!

    Kisu Mwane,
    Lauren Bledsoe

  11. Titay K. Schommer says:

    Enjoy the moment as each moment is a gift! We miss you and B asks often – “When Tine Tine coming back?”.

  12. Tamryn Aalvik says:


    You always inspire me in CLP class so this post was no surprise! I admire your honesty and transparency very much and just want to say keep up the great work!!!

    Love to talk with you when you are back in Spokane (I’ve heard from Teague that you’ll be working in Spokane this summer doing engineering research… I’ll be working at the YWCA in Spokane so I’ll be around as well).

    Thank you again to everyone doing the blog posts. I love reading them.
    Kissu Mwane,


  13. Kevin O'Brien says:

    Hey guys!!! It has been so cool getting to read all of these posts and hearing about your experiences in a culture that is so incredibly different from our own. Keep up the good work, and I am excited to see all future posts.

    As a side note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Helen Reinecke aka Heleanor Roosevelt aka Hel’s Angels aka Hellen DeGeneres aka Helen the felon. I hope you find some time to celebrate a little today even though I am sure you are incredibly busy! I cannot wait for your return so that we can have a proper celebration and I can buy you a drink at Jack and Dan’s (you can Manchester that!). I hear those Zambezi 21 runs get pretty rowdy so make sure you don’t do anything too crazy. Anyways miss you, love you, and keep doing what you’re doing! I’ll see you in a few weeks!


    PS “Buckin’ Opies”

  14. Saba Mateos says:

    Your post has my heart. Truly. There is nothing more lovely than knowing you are ready to be a part of your experience. But let it come, take your time! Don’t be jealous of another student’s experience because wanting theirs would be taking from your own! Keep asking questions because part of understanding is discernment (don’t those Jesuits talk about that all the time 😉 Yet half the fun of discernment is the journey in which it takes you to get there! Be present, be Tine, and the Zambian experience you are ready to experience will join you! Miss you, love you, thinking of you always!

    But not just Tine! The entire Zamily you have over there! Josh, Hannah, Matt, Mark, Conner, Cecilia, Charlie! I cannnnnot stop thinking and praying for you guys! Some of you have posted already, wonderful job. Your words have actually helped bring those of us here to where you guys are. (Matt! Your words always have me on edge, completely captivated. You illustrate so beautifully, keep it up!) But you guys are missed so much. I cannot wait to read the rest of your posts! & to see you guys when you all get back!

    LAST BUT NOT LEAST! Happy TWENTY FIRST birthday to Helen Reinecke! I don’t even know where to start! Apparently, I just can’t.. 🙂 I hope you’re having/ had a wonderful day. You truly deserve a Big TWO ONE like no other. I hope your experience has been something different, something you can hold on to! Wishing you the best, I say it all better in the letter so I’ll try to keep it shorter! There is more waiting when you return! You’re an amazing best friend and I love you, BAE! In my prayers everyday. <3


    love much,
    Saba Mateos

  15. Ashlee Zink says:

    Your entry was so raw and beautifully put. I can’t even begin to imagine all of the questions that arise when you are placed in an entirely different environment. I think the “meaning” you discussed will come when your heart is ready, and I hope that you will be able to begin answering some of those questions throughout this journey!

    To all: Each and everyone one of you (for those I know and have not had the pleasure to meet) are all in my prayers! I pray blessings of safety and strength over these next few weeks.

    And finally, HELEN REINECKE. HAPPY 21st BIRTHDAY. There has not been a single day since you left where something has not reminded me of you/how much you are missed. I pray for you every morning and hope that this journey has been one full of growth, meaning and love thus far. I hope you know how much love is coming your way today, and I cannot wait to celebrate with you upon your return! Cannot wait to see your smile, summer adventures and even some Bruno. Celebrate yourself today! I’m so excited to hear about the lives you are touching and the bonds you are creating. Love you SO much, Hel. Happy 21st <3
    p.s. Sabs made some extra sudsy bubbles for ya.

    Sending all my love and prayers to Zambia,


  16. Katie Hayes says:


    Wow. You described your emotions and feelings toward this experience so beautifully. I remember experiencing some of the same feelings and thoughts during my Zambia experience. I think asking yourself the hard questions and not always knowing the answers right away is the beauty of the experience. One of my very wise mentors on the trip once said to me, “your experience will mean different things to you at different points in your life.” I always remember this when thinking back and reflecting on my time in Zambia. Some of my deepest thoughts and reflections on the trip didn’t come till after I was home. Thanks for sharing these beautiful thoughts and words with us.

    Thinking of you all as you embark on this Zambia Journey.

    Sending lots of love and good thoughts

    Kisu Mwane,

    Katie Hayes (ZamFam 2012)

  17. Krista says:

    Took me awhile to respond to the blog, but I wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking about you guys as I’ve been on the road the past two weeks. Your blog post I can identify with. There seems to a constant push to assign meaning to things because others are so eloquent in their phrasing, passionate in their responses, and open with their emotions. Meaning comes on its own as do feelings. They aren’t things we can create just from sheer will and determination. Keep doing, experiencing, watching, listening, and opening your heart. Be vulnerable and open and sometime down the road all of those ideas jumbled up in your head will sort themselves out. The beauty I find is sometimes in the ambiguity. Enjoy the journey!
    -Krista (Zambezi 2013)

Comments are closed.