As we sit around the breakfast table each morning and hear the previous day’s blogger read her or his post and all of its comments, I am often brought to tears. My fellow Zags’ descriptions of the astounding beauty of Zambezi and its people is more filling than any homemade banana bread (shout out Joel and Lindsey), and the interconnectedness of the Gonzaga-in-Zambezi community, its alums, and its fervent supporters assures me of my place here. I, too, am so grateful for children who cling to my arms and leave traces of dirt, for sweet bush bananas, for handstands and rooibos tea and sunburns that reflect back the color of my love for this bright place. It’s hard for me to concentrate on anything but goodness for too long as I sit in the hot Zambian sun, writing this post and pretending I know how to eat sugarcane. But I think that, to some extent, we are all guilty of glorifying Zambezi—all 22 of us and each of you reading this blog from around the world. It is human nature to idealize any place that is a home. Zambezi is beautiful both by itself and because we love it, because our lives change here, but the love and transformation we feel can blind us to the ways that Zambezi falls short of our hopes.
There are so many good and pure things about Zambezi, and I do not mean to diminish the beauty that my classmates have so gracefully communicated. However, if we do not recognize problems in the Zambezi community, we inadvertently show that we do not respect Zambians enough to believe that they are capable of enacting positive change. By seeing or saying nothing, we define Zambezi as a lost cause, something that is beyond fixing, and we establish ourselves as people who will love a place for a time, think about it often, and detach ourselves from the parts that do not align with our idea of a picture-perfect African experience. Here, I have come to know the glaring reality of my privilege. When I see the trash on the sandy roads or feel uncomfortable when someone yells “chindele” at me in the market, I have the comfort of knowing that I can return to a safe place 10,000 miles away.
At dinner the other night, we hosted a Catholic priest whom many of us have gotten to know through our classes. After the craziness of two dozen hungry people scraping forks against plates and after one individual was lucky enough to find a flattened chameleon under her plate (a trick we’ve been playing on one another), Father Chomba asked us a question more surprising than any dead lizard: what is the most disappointing thing about Zambia? There are many easy answers, several of which someone could guess without having ever traveled here: the treatment of people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS, unclean water, subpar healthcare, etc. I am beginning to see that, for many chindeles, it is easier to list off the problems Africa faces than to name its countries and know their differences. While these issues make Zambezi seem worlds apart from my life in Spokane, it is the everyday problems that families and communities face that make me feel as though I haven’t traveled very far at all.
Right before the end of the spring semester, I was invited to the going away party for a 5th grader I saw each Wednesday at an after-school program. His mother was asked to leave a recovery program just months before her graduation because she had started to use drugs again. Because of one choice a parent made, the whole trajectory of this boy’s life might change. He is sweet and considerate and has often told me about the “lil bit of Jesus” in his heart, but I worry that this harsh world will chip away at his strong character. In Zambezi, I have met children who want only to be talked to, listened to, held and cared for deeply. It seems that children around the world are the innocent victims of adults’ shortcomings. It is not something unique to Zambezi or Spokane.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to stay overnight with a woman from our host church who lives in a rural community on the outskirts of Zambezi. Racheal opened up her home to me and Lindsey, graciously shared a meal with us, and showed us the beautiful shape of her life—its depth, its soft spot, its firm reliance on God. After dinner, we sat out under the brightest stars I have ever seen, and I talked with her nephew about his interest in studying history. When I asked him for a story about Zambian history, he told me about the destruction of peaceful tribal culture by European disease and colonization. In return, I told him of my trip to the Blackfeet reservation this spring and the similarities between the stories of our two continents. Lindsey and I cozied up in our shared bed and journaled, and I remember being at a loss for words because I was so overwhelmed with experiences and conversations. Not much of what I wrote down that night makes sense, but there is one phrase that I’ve repeated many times since that night, and I think it perfectly describes what I have learned here in Zambezi so far: none of us is very different at all.
As a global community, we struggle—hard—against one another, against government, addiction, and infidelity, but that does not mean that we never triumph and reach a place of virtue and peace. As a global community, we strive for justice and the greater good, but that does not mean we do not, at times, meet failure and sink deeply into its blinding darkness. In the moments where I find myself thinking of Zambezi as either all good or all bad, I must remind myself to wrestle with the tensions, to ask questions, to practice self awareness, to let little hands braid my tangled hair into a hundred twists.
Katie Polacheck, Class of 2017
PS- Happy graduation to my baby sister. I’m so proud of you, Bear, and I’m sorry I can’t be there to support you on your day. It’s like first communion all over again! Happy early 20th to Zackery, too. Hope London is treating you well! Miss and love you both.
“Someway, baby, it’s part of me, apart from me…and all at once I knew I was not magnificent…cause [you] could see for miles, miles, miles…” – you know (not Voldemort). I didn’t really know what else to say Katie baby, you blew me away, to ashes and simtherines of silence (per usual). On a scale of 1 to 5 of how happy I am today, I’m pretty orange. Hope there are some acorns in your pockets, it’s something you know? Love.
Like most things I read this slowly. Because I want to know your experience in Zambezi, and because I miss you. Keep growing and come home soon. Love you.
I am so very, very proud of who you are becoming. A part of me would love to share the experiences that you, so beautifully, have put to words. Come home soon and bring me some African acorns.
Katie! It is really nice to hear from you. Your words show the reality of Zambezi, Spokane, and ultimately this world. Keep asking the though questions and sit in the uncomfortable- that is often how deep love is formed.
HIIIII everyone! I have been thinking and praying for you all throughout this adventure.
PSherm, Joel, Katie, and Han: I hope Zambia Gold and its purpose is coming a little more clear to you all. Your passion prior to this adventure was evident. Keep spreading the love you all have made so clear and know that when you get back, I want to hear your stories, struggles, and realities (or to just be with you).
Venezia: HIII 🙂 you have a beautiful gift for reaching out to strangers like they are your best friend. “friendship real and deep is the foundation of giving that empowers” so keep building that foundation. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Reilly: Your post was rad! I commented late (like more than a day haha) but thanks for bringing me back to Zambezi. Also, if you don’t have a job when you get back consider being a storyteller.
Linds, Logan, and Kenz: so many repping the 775 in Zambia! My love for all of you is soooo great! I’m in Reno now so have been thinking of you three so much lately. Linds, I’m going to waldens tomorrow, is your brother still working there? If so I’ll say hi for you!
Dr. Joshua!!!! Spokane misses you. Give mama a HUGE hug for me and Wendy too! Oh and drink a mosi and eat some chocolate for me too 🙂 can’t wait to grab a drink when you get back!
Jeff! I am excited for your second trip and to see what, if anything alters for you second time back.
I love you all. Let this time tattoo your heart.
Kisu Kisu Mwane,
It is so great to hear from you. Your words are a reality of Zambezi, Spokane, and ultimately this world. Keep asking the tough questions and sit uncomfortably in the unknown- that is often how deep love in developed.
HIIIIII EVERYONE!! I have been thinking about and praying for all you homies for your entire journey!
Katie, Joel, PSherm: You all have such a clear passion for ZG and I challenge you while you’re there to see how ZG can improve. I cannot wait to hear all your stories, struggles, and realities (or just be with you) when you get back.
Venezia: Hiiiii! You have an unbelievable gift of making random strangers great friends. “Friendship real and deep is the foundation of giving that empowers” keep building that foundation!
Reilly: Your post was RAD! I posted (just a day or two late.. whoops) on yours but thank you for bringing be back to Zambezi with your words. Also, if you don’t have a job, or even if you do when you come back, I’ve decided you should become a storyteller.
Han: Hi! I miss you. Keep challenging yourself and those around you!
Kenz, Logan, and Linds: so many homies repping the 775 in Zambezi. I’m in Reno right now for a couple days and can’t stop thinking of you all. Linds, does your brother still work at Waldens? If so, I’m going tomorrow and will tell him hello for you!
Dr. Joshua! Spokane misses you, but I know Zambezi is loving you! Give mama a HUGE hug for me and Wendy too! While you’re at it, please drink a Mosi for me 🙂 can’t wait to hear about your journey.
Jeff! I am so intrigued by the sensory exercises. I can’t wait to hear how year two is different in any way from year one.
TO EVERYONE: You all are beautiful. Remember that. Allow this journey to tattoo your heart.
Kisu Kisu Mwane,
I’m sitting on my back porch, reading, and sipping a blue moon thinking of the many evenings I have spent watching the red sunset over the Zambezi as children crawled all over me (has anyone made contact with a little “McRabi” yet? Josh will know who I am talking about, maybe someone can finally figure out how to spell his name for me…). It’s easy for even alumni of the program to idealize Zambezi, so I am very greatful for your honest reflection. Sounds like you are all filky diving deep into this experience, even the negatives that many want to shy away from. Addressing the negatives in an honest, inclusive and constructive way is vital to accompaniment. Without it, we are dehumanizing our friends in a way. There is good, and bad wherever we go, even in beautiful Zambia. Your honest, and the groups honesty in addressing it all will only deepen each of your experiences.
Princess Reilly, your post the other day really took me back to the day in and day out. Thanks for sharing, brother.
Also, that chameleon game sounds so fun!! Someone get Bree for me.
Josh-make sure someone is getting a TON of pics of the library/dedication on the 27th! I’ll be in Spokane in June and I’m going to want to see them.
Enjoy breakfast (oatmeal…? Just guessing here. If it is mix it with peanut butter, honey, banana and apple-so stinking good), and your lessons today.
You are all in my thoughts and prayers each and every day.
Much love stateside
Reading this felt almost like you were right next to me unfolding our lives under the cloud that is your bed. I think one of the many things you have taught me in being my friend is also that, “none of us is very different at all.” What a powerful thing to never be alone in the hurt and the joy of life. I love you. I miss you so very much, so thank you for using your beautiful, honest words to share with us back home. What a writer you truly are my friend. (Jeff don’t let her disregard that statement). I am so incredibly proud of you and of what you are allowing this experience to be. Holding tightly onto our key, words shared and listening to July lots(it’s on repeat right now). Come home, i’ve got a million hugs waiting for you and can’t wait to listen.
I love you lots Kate.
Thank you for sharing your insight into this life transforming adventure. Give my Nezie Bear a hug and a kiss and tell her she is truly missed. XOXO-Mrs. Hyland
You are brilliant. I’m so happy to read your words. Miss you! Love to you all (especially Nez, Peter and Bree)!
Dear Katie, Wow! Sorry I am late on this…you are amazing! I know I am not the only one who thinks this. I miss you so much, and you will be missed this weekend especially! Love you babe! I hope you are capturing moments on the camera too. Can’t wait to hear all of your stories. Mom
Katie, this is wonderful. I loved every word and cannot wait to hear more about your experiences soon… the positives and the negatives. I am so proud to call you my friend. Keep doing great things!
(Shoutout to P-Sherm, Nez, Riley, and Breeski as well)
Katie! Thank you for your post! I could not have put it more perfecfly than to describe it as a tension between the two extremes. Keep up you questioning and I wish you the best on you journey of self-awareness challenging the assumptions we have believed all out lives.
This is amazing Katie! You and the rest of the crobaes are truly missed, much love and see you soon!!
Being one of the zambezi residents benefiting to this programe, i would love to say thank you for sharing knowledge with us here in zambezi..
may God bless you all .
I finally got around to reading these posts, and what an inspiration you are! Your willingness to listen and love is truly a gift. I miss you all and cannot wait for you to return so cuddles can be had (and of course hearing all about your experience).
Love love love you,
Even though I’m late to this comment party, I figure an appreciation of your beautiful words and even more beautiful soul is eternally on time. I think what I loved most about this post was that I could just picture you writing it, Katie. I pictured you thinking about the essential parts of Zambezi and what it made it a home for you, and I can tell how much you love it, because you believe in its people and their ability to make their home better. Thank you for the reminder of the underlying connectedness that we share, a connection that transcends language and a difference of experience. I love you oh so much Katie P., and I simply cannot wait scoop you up in a big ‘ole koala hug (where you’re the koala, duh). Sending all my love to you Zags from the Spo!