Unlike quite a few members of our team, this is my second time back on this beautiful continent. Three years ago I went to the rural town of Nyerii, Kenya, with a non-profit from my hometown, Reno. Our purpose for this trip was to help set up a tutoring system and distribute shoes and water filters to poor children and families in Kenya. There were some incredibly meaningful parts, but in many ways it felt like we came as rich Americans to help the poor and needy Kenyans who would be plagued by diseases from dirty water, unable to attend school because they didn’t have shoes, and in need of love from our group because they didn’t get it otherwise.
The water filters probably helped a few of the individuals who could actually understand our demonstrations, and if the children had school fees and no shoes, now they could probably attend school. Although we had good intentions, we were still the “saviors” that came in and left believing we did so much to help those in need. Looking back, I feel like much of the trip was flawed in what we did and how we did. Regardless, this trip still had an incredible impact on me and influenced the type of work I hope to do with the rest of my life.
I wanted to come to Zambezi because I expected this trip to once again bring me to a culture and people that I love, but this time we wouldn’t come as “saviors” ignorant to the strengths of the people we are there to help. This time we would come as equals, loving and serving one other as “mutually indebted” friends who believe in a shared humanity.
The very first moment we arrived here, it already seemed different. Getting off the plane yesterday we were greeted with excited smiles and a big welcome sign from our Zambian friends who waited in the hot sun for hours for our arrival. It reminded me of how my grandma picks me up from the airport when I visit her in LA—eagerly waiting, with an excited smile, and a sign welcoming me in her home. It felt like we were family or long-time friends even though it was my first time here.
When we come, we teach classes and bring expertise valued by the local community. But we also receive help from a dear friend, Mama Kwatu. She helps us shop, prepare, and cook meals for us with our limited supplies and knowledge of Zambian cuisine, while also sharing conversations about her life with whichever student is lucky enough to help her make meals that day. Authentic relationships are built not based on free handouts from strangers but on the idea that we are “mutually indebted” to one another and delighted in getting to know one another more deeply.
Although classes don’t start until Monday, I hope and imagine I will form a deep friendship with some adults in our class. Just the letters that past Zambezi students send back to dear Zambian friends shows me that these relationships are built on vulnerability and love for each other. Although I haven’t made such relationships yet, I know that if I give a small gift when I leave it will be because I am showing love and appreciation for a friend rather than giving something to someone with less than me.
It is challenging for me to recognize and admit that the trip to Kenya that impacted me so much had some important flaws, but it also encourages me to seek and prioritize accompaniment, reciprocity, and “mutual indebtedness” with both my new Zambian friends and with whomever I end up working in the future, as I am considering Peace Corps after graduation and even possibly a vocation promoting rights for marginalized women (hopefully in a country like Kenya or Zambia).
I am so thankful for this experience and for our faculty who are committed to challenging the view many people have when they come to developing countries. Although it is impossible to practice accompaniment and reciprocity perfectly, I can now see how to strive for it in the next two and a half weeks and long after I leave Zambia.
To all my family and friends, I love and miss you! Can’t wait to come home and share all my stories from Zambezi with you. Thanks for the love, support, and prayers!
Lindsey Hand, Class of 2017