Welcome Home

This is it! Today was the day we all were waiting for. Today, we arrived in Zambezi. After an exhilarating exploration of a few exotic places of the world and 24 hours of plane travel, we were all anxious to arrive in Zambezi. We had prepared for the past six months to come to this place, and it was time to see what it was all about and begin our incredible growth process.

I waited until the afternoon to make the three-hour flight to Zambezi. After what seemed like an eternity, the final eight of us hopped on a couple of teeny-tiny planes at around one o’clock. The others had been there getting sunburnt and running to the market for four hours already. I, of course, slept through the entire plane ride, thus missing much of the beautiful African scenery below. I woke up to Nick reaching back to poke me and point to the view below: it was Zambezi. I was so surprised at what I saw, not only because I was slightly disoriented from waking up, but because it was nothing like I’d imagined! Landing in Lusaka, I wasn’t surprised at all – I saw the typical tall African grass with majestic trees dotting the landscape. But here, the sparse village I had pictured was more like a very small town located along the great Zambezi River. Some homes are spread far and wide, but there was a central location for most of this large area.

As we approached the runway, my heart began beating faster and I saw children running to fences and adults pausing their work to stare at this rare occurrence. I felt this weird knot in my throat as we pulled up to the unloading area with anxious children’s faces and my fellow Zags waving at us. I was so happy and excited that I was beginning to cry; hence, the weird knot in my throat. I don’t cry when I’m happy. Ever. Today I did because 150 smiling faces were eagerly waiting to allow us into their community to grow and learn together, and this was the moment I had been waiting for, only 100 times better than I could have ever imagined. The warmth, joy, and kindness of people are unbelievable if you take the time to notice it.

Before the pilot had even gotten out of his seat, kids were pressing their faces up to the windows and vigorously waving at us. It was so surreal as this was much better than the welcoming scene I’d imagined. I couldn’t wait to get out and greet these children, but I pulled myself together before the pilot opened my door and I hopped out of my seat in the back. My friends had already joined the large group of people waiting to meet us and there were only a few children remaining. One, named Junior, clung to me. My newfound friend was talkative, asking me all kinds of questions and introducing me to his friends over the sound of some amazing, traditional singing and dancing that awaited our arrival.


I thought I was making a real connection with this kind eleven-year-old boy after only a few minutes, but then he asked what kind of remembrance I was going to give him. We had been prepared for this type of question, but it still stung a little and left me puzzled. I replied that I was unsure, which he was fine with, but then demanded that I not touch any other kids. This was nearly impossible because random kids would come up to you without saying anything and grab on to any open space on your arm. The Zags and their posse of new friends made the short walk to the convent Junior still clinging to me and expressing fascination at the differences in our hands.

After a short stop at the convent to drop our bags, we ventured off to watch the beautiful sunset by the river. As we left our gate, the kids swarmed us again! Junior sought me out right away. We had a great conversation and he was really patient when trying to teach me some Luvale. He tenderly wiped my hand off after realizing that there was dirt on it and asked me to take a picture of us when we arrived. “You can print this out and have Joshua bring it back for me next year as a remembrance,” he said. It was really reassuring after his earlier comment, but I still find myself confused. Nonetheless, before our evening was through, Junior told me that tomorrow he is going to get a new chicken and name it “Lauren,” at 15 hours tomorrow, I’m going to teach him to read, and that I have to meet him for sunset again tomorrow. We will be doing our homestays tomorrow, so that will be highly unlikely, but it was still a very sweet gesture. Once again, he reminded me of the picture, hugged me, and we departed.

A special shout out to Cecilia Vollert, who had a young boy (whose name I can’t remember) ask about her and to my dear friend Lauren Bledsoe, who had a young fan named Elizabeth. She informed me that she had a friend from 2013 named Lauren and her eyes lit up when she realized I knew you. I hope to make an impact like that on someone, as I know multiple people already have on me. Also, shout out to Ryan Olson and Alyssa Severson, since they asked me to, and my friends and family back home (Mom, Dad, Wayne, Jack, etc.). I miss and love you all and thank you for your support on this incredible journey.

So tonight, I head to bed with an overwhelming happiness, a concern about whether or not a real relationship will be formed with any of these wonderful Zambians, and extremely dirty feet from sand and red dirt.

Lauren Benedict (2015)

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12 Responses to Welcome Home

  1. Taylor Ridenour says:

    You made it friends!!!! wow, what an incredible welcome.

    “The warmth, joy, and kindness of people are unbelievable if you take the time to notice it.” What a great line and reflection Lauren!

    sending so much love to you my friends.

    ps. I miss and love you(more) Kate.

  2. irene Hyland says:

    Thank you for your gift of expression. I cherished every word..trying to capture your existence during this amazing experience. Thank you for your words and for spearheading the start of this journey! please hug my venezia..and tell her that her mommy loves her and is so proud of her.

  3. Marianne & Jeff Kerstem says:

    All I can say is that beautiful story touched my heart. Blessings and prayers you all.

  4. Lili Ramos says:

    Holy smokes, all the feels were coming out while reading this. I was smiling, laughing, crying and remembering back to landing in Zambezi myself just a year ago!
    Lauren, thank you so much for being able to take me back to that beautiful moment!! You’ll find that the memory of landing in Zambezi and receiving that kind of welcome will never leave you. The newness and beauty of all those smiles and hands and new friends is both AMAZING and OVERWHELMING. You begin to over-think who you’ll make friendships with or who just wants to receive something from you. But my advice to you would be to let the experience unfold itself. It’s difficult to distinguish now the strong relationships that you will be leaving with at the end of this journey. I understand your worry and confusion about whether real and deep relationships can come out of this experience and I urge you to relax and do what you need to do. If you need a break from playing with the children outside those gates, take it! If you want to discern whether a natural relationship will form with Junior, make an effort to be with him personally, hear his story and let him hear yours. The Zambians want to welcome you and they want to know you! You’ll realize that a little ways into the trip. But I highly suggest that you take the time to evaluate and rejuvenate! Journal, journal, journal!
    I hope this can provide some tiny bit of peace during this overwhelming time. Also, about the dirty feet… They’ll remain like that until about a week after returning to the states!

    Many hugs and much love to Allie, Hannah, Peter, Joel, Katie, Venezia and Reilly!

    Kisu Mwane,

  5. Stephanie Leonard says:

    ZAM FAMMMM!! So happy you all made it to beautiful Zambezi, reading this first blog brought me back to the moment where my some of my first friends were awaiting on the landing strip, kids running from every direction and awaiting anxiously while your face braces that full wave of heat. Lauren I felt the same way my first time, so overwhelmed with the feeling of making relationships and the feeling of having to have a “remembrance” for all your friends. It’s these emotions that truly make the experience like lili said, JOURNALLLLLLL!! I still look back on my journal today, and it gives me piece of mind and brings me back to those vulnerable times. Anyways side note.. Dodd how did you do on the plane??? Haha oh I miss that! Also, Lauren, the kid you met named junior, I think he was my friend last year, I connected with him and helped him out with math, there were lots of kidos names junior but if it’s the same one, please please send him my best! I miss them all!!! Ahh so jelly of you all! Hannah banana-miss you my zambian sister! Haha can’t stop thinking about the chicken leg and your home stay visit last year… Oh and hi mama Kawatu, miss you lots, hope all is well! Ohhhh goodness can’t wait to hear stories about the home stays, whoever has getrude… She is the best! give her a squeeze for me. Ok sorry totally off topic and didn’t make this to be about me, just so excited that you all are there safe sound and on this wonderful journey!! Ahh! Sending my love and prayers to you all in Zambezi, take it all in zamily, this is one of those moments you will never forget!

    Lauren you did a wonderful job for the first post, so props!! As you probably are sitting around the table eating your eggs and breakfast before your off to start your day, don’t forget to take it all in:)
    So weird being on the other side of the posts….haha ok well josh, Dodd, Hannah, and ZAM fam enjoy the first days of beautiful Zambezi! So happy you got there safely:)

    Kisu mwane chindeles :))))

  6. Shawna Armstrong says:

    Although we are in Spokane, the phrase “Welcome Home” feels very familiar to the Armstrong clan when it comes to Zambezi. We are missing our Zambezi home and thinking of all of you as you begin to experience the beautiful land and beautiful people of Zambezi! Aiden told me yesterday that he found Zambezi on Google Maps and was able to zoom in on the market and follow the path to the convent, Priest house, and then “Our House”. After reminiscing about our home in Zambezi Aiden begin scheming and making plans for his next trip to visit his home away from home. Owen is the Armstrong that is most in tune with the date of when his dad will return. As we sat down to dinner two days after you all left, Owen sighed and asked, “When is dad coming home?” Thankfully with our full life here, we know you will be back before we know it. In the meantime, enjoy every minute of your time in Zambezi with fresh eyes! Have your students help you experience the Zambezi that you fell in love with on your very first trip. Send our love to all of our friends, especially Jessy and her girls, Mama Kawatu, Simon and Anabel.

  7. Cecilia says:

    Holy. Toledo. So many feels! Landing in Zambezi was one of the most overwhelming and overstimulating experiences of my life. You painted that picture right up again, Lauren! Your time in that place will only continue to be the highest of highs and lowest of lows from here on out. Feel it all, yoooo. Also, KAKDJSKSKSJ ahhh, you, like, made my day/week/month/summer!!…Simako maybe? Or Noel or Michael? My guess is Simako. Regardless, HELLO MY FRIEND and give him a hug for me! Look these kids, your new friends, in their eyes and let them all know how insanely and deeply loved they all are, all the way from Spokane WA and back. I miss those dirty hands and incessant questions and playful smiles and Energizer Bunny spirits. You will grow so annoyed with some of those kids, sheesh, but you will also come to love them so deeply and miss them more than words on this webpage can say. It took me months after my return my Zambezi to realize what kind of impact these kids and that place left on me, so remember…no pressure. You will connect with some kids, and you will not with others. You are there to be. Not save or help or enlighten or walk away with the most fans. Just walk and listen and play and be.

    All of my love to all of you! Kenzie, thinking of you today! I barely know you and already admire you like hellllla. Let’s coffee date when ya get back, my gal.

    Kisu mwane, folks!

  8. The Polachecks says:

    That was beautiful. Thank you so much for making us a part of the experience, from so far away. Can’t wait for the next installment. Love to all, espeically Katie Lou! Miss you!

  9. Eve Knudtsen says:

    I was so happy to read your post, Lauren, aka Package. I was even happier to get your email. What an experience! I laughed at your ability to sleep on that plane, seasoned traveller that you are. Miss you, and … don’t get eaten by a lion, a crocodile, or now, a beetle.

  10. Melanie says:

    I’m so happy for you, Lauren! This was a lovely post. Try to write in a journal every day. Write down the colors, the smells, the sounds and the feels. I have read that Africa is the “homeland” and your soul will be called back time and again once you have experienced the motherland. Love and care, Melanie

  11. Alisha Watson says:


    I am so happy you made it there safely. Sounds like a beautiful first day! I have no doubt in my mind that you are going to make an impact on one (or many) Zambians, because you are one incredible girl. I am SO proud of you and all of your accomplishments. I am extremely excited for you and everything you are going to learn while you are there.
    We love you little sister and I can’t wait to hear more about this experience.
    I am praying for you!!

    Your Oreo Sister

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