“Who can answer this question?”
Steven’s hand shoots towards the tin roof like a chindele jumping from a cockroach scurrying across the convent’s dusty floor. He sits there, waiting for the verdict of the benevolent ruler of the classroom, Madame Mululu.
“Alright my friend.”
Steven stands up on his orange-tipped cleats and practically floats across the broken concrete floor to the decrepit blackboard at the front of the room. His oversized white button-up tails behind him. He stares at the board, reading again:
A teacher wants to share 3 1/5 bars of chocolate equally among 8 children. How much chocolate does each child get?
His fingers grip the ghostly chalk, preparing to lead 44 other eager Zambian children through the board and to the promised answer.
3 1/5 / 8
The problem stares at him, daring him to make a move to try and answer it. Taunting him with the hope of praise, but the equal opportunity for failure and embarrassment. He is not fazed. Steven expertly rehearses the method he just learned.
16/5 / 8/1
“Turns into” he states
16/5 * 1/8
Staring across the room, Steven sees the nods of approval from Madame Mululu and his fellow learners.
16*1 = 16
5*8 = 40
He scribbles the numbers on the board as the class shouts them along with him. At this point, Steven is leading the class. He is in charge of teaching the other students how this problem is supposed to be solved. He seems to be foaming at the mouth with this chance to be the center of attention, to lead the others through this seemingly impossible task.
“What goes into both 16 and 40?” asks Madame Mululu. The class buzzes with little voices whispering to each other, trying to figure out the correct number. Someone squeaks in the back right corner of the room.
And they are off, trying to decide the correct numbers through their division.
“8 goes into 16 two times. And 40…5 times”
16/40 = 2/5
“So the correct answer is?” asks Madame Mululu. Steven turns to the board, starting to write the answer at the bottom.
“At the top my friend.”
Steven tries to write the answer next to the question.
“No, the other board!” laughs Madame Mululu. Steven turns to the other side of the board and begins writing, standing on the tips of his cleats.
Each student gets 2/5 chocolate bar.
“Is he correct?” Madame Mululu looks at the rest of the classroom.
“Yes” reverberates off the stained, crumbling yellow and blue walls.
“Okay, we will clap for him and he will walk back to his seat, not slow” Madame Mululu relays to Steven and the class, even though all they little hands have already began to clap. They know what is about to happen. Steven knows what is about to happen. His face gives away the joy that he feels. His smile is so wide, every tooth is visible in his mouth, shining and putting his joy on display for all of us to see.
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap
A rhythm develops with each slap of hands together. It reverberates throughout the walls, off the dust-covered glass, and back into Steven, back into us all. Steven starts to shimmy and shake, pose and slide down the aisle to his seat. He turns around like he is on a catwalk and throws both hands out to his side, and slides, completely disregarding the no slow walking rule. No one cares. We all crack up, letting the joy of this moment roll throughout us, moving our hearts and our minds. In this moment, we are all right. We are all one with Steven. The shared love and joy is felt by all, even this chindele sitting in the back of the room.
This chandelle though, still has no idea what he is doing in this place. I wake up each and every morning thinking that this great understanding has come to me in my sleep. Like the tooth fairy coming to take my back left molar, but instead of leaving me with a quarter and some insight, I wake to find my molar still sitting under the pillow, buried underneath the sheets and pillow case, waiting for her to come. I put the education team as number one on my list of preferences during the application process for two reason: 1) I have no understanding or idea of what the other teams were and knew for a fact that I would only be asking more questions than adding to the information given, and 2) I believed that I could come to this place and help the students at Chilena primary school learn to write and speak English. I have been speaking English my entire life and even though I have zero formal teaching experience, I believed that my experience as a native English speaker would allow me to bring something to these students. I believed that I could help them better understand English and, in turn, build their literacy rates and help them better themselves. Now, staring back at this process of thinking after spending some time in the school and around the Zambians, I realize how shortsighted I was.
These kids don’t need me.
They have amazing teachers who care for them deeply and who are fluent English speakers themselves. My presence has only distracted them. I am a large white male walking across the courtyard of the school, and into a classroom and each and every student’s eyes are on me, not their teachers or their lessons. How am I helping? How am I adding to anything that they are learning? Their teachers are giving us three weeks out of their planned curriculum to allow us to try and help them in a subject where they are already well versed in. This entire line of thinking seems completely ungrateful for the sacrifices that many have made for me to allow for this amazing opportunity to get to see and work alongside some amazingly intelligent and warm individuals, yet I keep finding myself asking the same question. Why am I here? What will I bring to these people?
Yes, I see my placement within the Chilena school as a distraction to their everyday life. Yes, I still question how I will be able to give them a new insight and experience regarding English. Yes, I still question if my work here will bring forth anything. However, I am beginning to see again how even though I have these questions, the people and society here in Zambezi will allow me to work through these questions and walk alongside me to find possible solutions, while bringing about new and challenging questions that I will carry beyond these borders. Just like Steven working through his math equation, I am working through my own equation of my placement in Zambia and how I can be of service to these people. However, my experience in Zambezi has shown me that these people will love and accept me no matter the doubts, questions or strayed emotions I have. They all know on some level that they are teaching me even more than I could ever teach them, and they are doing it through love and acceptance being shared and given to a multitude of individuals coming from numerous backgrounds, all combining together into this amazing little place in southern Africa. It is the most innate and human thing that we do in this life, to love and accept others for whoever they are, wherever they come from, and wherever they are going. As I move forward with my short time here in Zambezi, I know that by walking alongside these people, they will help me through time discover who I am and why I am here. We all have the capacity for giving and sharing our lives and there is always room to walk alongside someone during their journey, which helps both parties grow and learn from each other. I am still learning and still growing, and with the love and acceptance of the Zambian people, will continue to do so long after my time here has ended.
Class of 2016