“This is not the story of Africa”


On my first day in Zambezi, when I stepped off the tiny bush plane with three other students, we were greeted by a joyously singing mass of children. One of these children I was blessed to meet just a few minutes after landing is a 12 year old girl named Glory. Glory is the eldest of four children and has the sweetest voice when she speaks. I was eager to learn everything about her that I could. Unsure where to start, I asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She very quickly responded, “a doctor”. I asked why and she explained, “ I want to do my best in school and become a doctor so that my little brothers and sisters will do their best, and so they know they can do anything.” I was surprised and impressed with the love, drive, and passion this girl had at only age 12. She later wrote me a letter with a vocabulary list of Luvale words in English so that I could learn. She also asked me in her writing if I slept well, suggesting I pray in the night like her so that I can keep the bad things away. Once again, her compassion and beautiful faith overwhelmed my heart. I was so excited that she was my first friend in Africa and I’ve only begun to know this little girl. But this is not the story of Africa. This is Glory’s story.

Nevertheless, Glory’s story is just one of the few I’ve began to open and read. Others include that of Mama Josephine, Father Dom, Mwamba, Jessy the tailor, and that of my home-stay family. What struck me about my home-stay and its comparison to other students’ home-stays is the extreme diversity of experiences we had. Some students slept on a bamboo mat on the floor of a mud hut, others shared a bed with members of the family, while Dakota, Katie K. and I piled into a full size bed. Our family had running water, a television, a toilet in the house, and a few electronic toys. Others, let’s just say, had a more limited selection of amenities. When our Gonzaga group got back together the next night for reflection, we talked about how some home-stays were more of a “traditional African” household and others were described as “more American”. This seemed strange to me. Lots of other homes in other countries have televisions and we don’t call them American, and there are mud huts in other continents but we don’t call them African. I left for bed that night still surprised by how radically different each home-stay was, despite each home being within a 5 mile radius of each other, and I was confused by our interpretations of these differences.

The following night, we watched a TED Talk by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie titled, “The Danger of a Single Story”. Slowly it started to make sense. I’d developed a single story for Africa. I called our home-stay “more American” because a television and smart phones did not fit into the box I’d built for this continent. Neither the story of Africa nor Zambia can be defined by one home-stay, or by one month of studying abroad. They are defined by a mass compilation of the stories of James the tailor, George the shopkeeper, a schoolgirl named Barbara, and millions of others I have not yet met. These are the individual stories of people of Zambezi, not the story of Africa.

What is our Gonzaga in Zambezi story? Once again, this is a difficult and probably impossible question. Despite living in the same convent, eating the same meals, and often meeting some of the same people, we are all having very different experiences. Some of us enjoy chasing sunrises during early morning runs, while some of us prefer remaining happily in our beds until the roosters so graciously wake us up. Some of us spend our afternoons shopping for chitenge and snacks, while others play Chi Tomato with the children. Some of us dance in church (Jeff Dodd), while others attempt to fake putting money in the church collection box when they forget to bring some, causing us all to stifle our laughter as we walk back to our pew. (I’ll allow this student to remain anonymous). Some of us are the convent’s brave critter removers, while others are fierce and adaptive kitchen chefs alongside Mama Kitendi throughout our battle with an unreliable stove and water source. Some of us journal under the night’s stars, while others prefer reflecting on events with empathetic and listening ears. We will all come home with different stories, none more or less important than others, and none of them individually define our group experience or story. Rather, together we make up our story.

Now what is my story? We are only on day six in Zambezi so I apologize for not having a very complete answer. But so far I have loved playing with all the children and conversing with students in our leadership class about life in Zambezi and the challenges that come with gender roles and business. I cherished my afternoon today listening to the church choir practice outside while sitting under a tree with Glory. She spent an hour teaching me new words in Luvale and I repaid the favor by teaching her how to sing “My Only Sunshine,” one of my favorite childhood songs. So far I’ve been struggling with trying to manage and embrace awkward encounters that are a result of my already awkward personality combined with the misinterpretations and challenges that often come with cross-cultural interactions. The sight of so many children hanging out on the streets all day because their family can’t afford to send them to school makes my heart ache with a longing for them to receive an education that I take for granted. I wonder and worry whether Glory will ever make it to medical school like she dreams of. I am trying to understand what us Americans can learn from our new friends in Zambezi and the importance they place on family, community, and the most loving form of hospitality. I am still feeling like a strange object to stare at in the market, like something that disrupts normal conversation and results in whispers of “chindele”. I wonder when I can become real to them and when they will become completely real to me. I am constantly finding new ways to spill water in the pantry and loving every beautiful laugh and tear of this trip thus far. Like I said, this is not very complete and it is pretty messy, but I guess that’s life, and I guess that’s the beauty of my story.

I keep finding myself feeling overwhelmed by all the stories I hear everyday. I feel the need to write them all down so that, when I come home, I can answer the questions about “How was Africa?” and “How was Zambia with all your friends?” in a complete and organized way. But my experience here is not the story of Africa and it is not the story of our entire group’s experience. It is just one tiny little part I’m sure will keep expanding throughout these next couple of weeks and beyond. I’m reminded of Adichie’s words when she explains that the danger of a single story is not that it is untrue, but it is incomplete. Those that know me well know that I do not like not knowing the answers. I can get very frustrated when I don’t understand. But I am able to remind myself that I don’t need to have a neat, compact, single answer or story about my time in Zambia or Africa in general because that would discount or discredit the stories of so many others. I don’t know what all this means. I don’t understand how to find answers to all my questions, nor do I know if I am even asking the right questions. I’m not sure what God has planned for me these next few weeks. But in the mean time, I will do my best to listen to the experiences, hopes, dreams, and fears of people like Glory, so that slowly, story by story, I can develop my own story in all its complexity, challenges, whimsy and love. But I think that that is the beauty of stories. All of our stories are the compilation of other stories, and through that we cannot only tell our own story, but work together to become one and tell the story of us.

Kisu Mwane, my friends. Sending you all my love.

Katie Barger

Class of 2018



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22 Responses to “This is not the story of Africa”

  1. Kim Wilcox says:

    Katie, what a beautiful reflection. So early into your journey and already so much insight. Thank you for candidly sharing! love, Hayley’s mom

  2. Venezia says:

    Katie you captured your thoughts so well in this reflection. I remember feeling so worried about how I would be able to explain my experience to others and I think you did a beautiful job of breaking it all down. Glory is lucky to have made a friend in you!

    Davis – I’m assuming you’re part of the early morning running crew! Isn’t the sunrise beautiful? Hope Zambezi is treating you well (I have no doubt that it is)

    Zac – Wow. From being my freshmen retreat leader to really just becoming a friend and now a fellow zambae. I am blessed by how much our paths seem to cross and excited for the journey you have worked so hard to go on. Keep up all the great work

    Moira – I also have a feeling the children are obsessed with you too! I really can’t stop smiling when I picture all of you guys dancing with the kids and I bet your compassion and kindness makes them happier than you know. Can’t wait to hear all about this experience (over ultimate bagel of course. Also because we never went before school ended. My bad. But bagels + Zambia sound like a great time to me)

    Dodd – I saw your twin today. It was really exciting for about 7 seconds until I realized it couldn’t be you because you are in Zambia (obviously) Anyway, I have to thank you for simply being present in my time in Zambia. In order for me to deconstruct my time in London, I write and I can’t seem to stop. Thank you for allowing me to believe in my self and my words. I know you’re encouraging the group now to do what they each to best in their own way. Thank you sir swag master Dodd oh yeah.

    Much love to you all!

  3. Mary Barger says:

    My dear Katie Bug, I am happy you are doing well. Let these experiences shape the person are and will become. Keep journaling your stories, we can make a book of it when you return. Please tell me you have become a “critter remover”!

    I read Grayson and Paige your entry. Grayson says “Love you so much. Miss you so much when you are gone!” He wants me to send you our “one call away” video but I told him I can’t. Paige hopes you are having a good time in Zambia!

    Keep living and loving life! Love you!

  4. Beth Polacheck says:

    Katie B, what a beautiful reflection and so thoughtful. Your story is one of the many. Thank you for opening my eyes! Peace to all! Katie P’s mom.

  5. Peter Sherman says:

    KB! This was such an incredible reflection. One of the most challenging aspects of this experience is trying to make sense of all that is happening before you, and it is 1209482x harder to try to communicate these experiences to everyone back home. Keep journaling, keep reflecting, and continue to be open with each other about how you are processing your experiences.
    Hayley, so glad to hear you have survived the plague! Now you can literally survive anything. For those of you who have also caught the plague (and for those of you who will soon), I wish I could send you all a 7-Up and some extra pairs of underwear. Stay safe and stay healthy, Zam Fam!!

    <3 Pete

  6. Claire Handy says:

    Katie thanks for sharing your story! A perfect snapshot of your trip.
    Ebby we love you and miss you! I got a Stitch Fix today and missed you even more. Can’t wait to hear all about your experience. Your mom car is on its way back to SD. Nothing new to report yet! We are all praying for your team.
    Love Mom Handy

  7. Joshua says:

    Hello friends. Thank you for your beautiful insights – each word brings me back to deep lessons, continued questions, and true friendships.

    While it feels right to be home this year (and I’m loving the time with family & friends) I find myself thinking about you throughout the day. I imagine each of you walking the sandy paths, watching the sunsets, washing the dishes, pumping water, killing chickens,wondering what that sound is coming from the convent ceiling, dancing on that pole in the middle of the room, awkwardly making new friends, inspiring each other with quotes on the wall, and making meaning from your time together in reflections. I know the days are full and you may feel like you’ve been living at the convent for 6 weeks (not 6 nights), but I encourage to you keep moving toward the unfamiliar as Zambezi becomes “home”.

    I love the questions you continue to struggle with and will not provide you any “easy answers” as I don’t believe they exist. I will ask you to see your participation in this community of Zags in Zambezi in light of the long view. For ten crazy years, Gonzaga students have been learning alongside Zambezi friends: encouraging each other, challenging and supporting our way toward new growth in Zambezi and in the lives of so many of us. Try not to get stuck on the “what impact am I making” question as that again puts “us” in the center of the story and it should really be about the reciprocal relationships that you are each striving for. Ok, that started to get into an accompaniment lecture, and for that I apologize.

    Blessings for the journey, my friends. Hugs and too-long handshakes for each of my Zambezi friends. They have truly made me a better person.

    Dr. Joshua

    • Joe says:

      Josh, the work that the Zambezi program continues to do in the lives of Gonzaga students is inspiring. I know I continue to be challenged by the lessons that impacted me during my time there even 7 summers later I am still “unpacking” the experience.

      To Katie your wisdom in what you shared opens the window for others who are following along to peer in. Thank you for sharing

      Journey far,
      Zambezi alum ’09
      GU alum ’10

  8. Joanna says:

    That was such a beautiful and insightful reflection. It reminds me of how unsure I felt about sharing my story upon returning back to the States. I love how you said our stories are molded by others. I truly believe this, as a single person, moment, or event can totally impact one’s life. That’s one thing I love about the Gonzaga-in-Zambezi program, it allows us to be in community, build relationships, be challenged, and immerse ourselves into others’ stories so that they become a part of ours. Sharing the stories of our Zambian friends and our stories combined allow for others to truly understand how many people generalize for the entire continent of Africa.

    Looking forward to more amazing blogs!
    Much love,

  9. Pat & Christina Kenkel says:

    If I post this 3 or 4 times, I apologize. When I was your age, computers were programmed using punch cards – now I’m blogging

    All Y’all’s blogs are great and an awesome way to share your thoughts and feelings during this life-changing experience. If you’re getting graded on these “assignments,” many ‘A’s are coming. Keep em coming (the blogs) – parents love to read what you share and see the maturation of the group as your time in Zambia continues.

    Tell my little Katie K. hello for me (the Cubs are 27-10 Katie) love, Dad

    Y’all have ‘A frican’ great time in Zambezi.

  10. Lowell Handy says:

    What a terrific reflection Katie. I think your African story will not end when you leave Africa. Rather, it will continue and will change you in ways you can’t see yet long after you’re home. I think this is true for all of you. Again, relish in every moment. Thinking of you all very much (especially my Ebby).

    Love you all. – Emily’s Dad

  11. Caroline May says:

    Hey KB,

    I was so excited to see that the post today was from you! Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart with all of us and what you are already taking away from this rad expereince. Without a doubt agree with you on how people help mold our stories and I’m so excited to hear more about the people that played a role in yours. Thanks for helping mold my story this year with your love, compassion, and need for snuggling. I know that you are doing the same by helping mold the stories of people in this community that you are living in. Can’t wait to hear more about how your story turns out as you know, TBIYTC.

    Love you always,
    Your future (and without a doubt your favorite) housemate, CMAY

  12. Kathy Barger says:

    Katie, What a beautiful story of your adventures so far. Do keep up with your journaling as there will be many more experiences and stories and you won’t want to forget any of them. They will all help you become the person God wants you to be. The time will fly. Soon you’ll be home missing Glory and your other Zambezi friends. So treasure each moment each and every day. I’m keeping you and all the Zags in prayer.
    Looking forward to reading more of your blogs–they’re all amazing.
    Kathy, Katie B’s aunt

  13. You are my sunshine says:

    *sorry- promise this is my last long post. I apologize. It just had to happen.

    “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interest of others…” Philippians 2

    You are not going to be happy with me Katie, but I have to take advantage of the one opportunity that I have. I had to wait for you to travel all the way to Zambia to actually give you a complement without you quickly turning it around on me. So…A. you are an incredible writer and that post was beautiful. Please don’t deny it. B. You should know something. Really know it. I do this weird thing when I can’t see God in the immediate situations and circumstances in my life. I start to look around to see if I can find His light in someone else. Like your song- I look for some sunshine. My sunshine comes when I can see God in other people and the work that they are doing. That little light in others gives me joy, hope, and endurance to continue. Guess what. You were one of my sunshine’s that I looked to this year. Because Katie…You have a laugh that is so contagious I can never help, but smile. I can see your positivity spark and cause other people to be encouraged. I know that you are pretty brilliant and you are always using that great mind of yours to learn about the word, the people in it, and finding new ways to help others in any way you can. As we learned in spirituality of Paul, you embody the humility aspect of the hymen above and display Christ cruciform. You are my sunshine. I saw your light this year. I am sure your zam. fam and the people there can see it just as brightly as I could. It makes me so excited to see that you might have found a few of your own “sunshine’s” in your team and among the Zambian people. As I learned a lot from you, you will learn a lot from them. That’s a beautiful thing. Keep learning, growing, experiencing, loving, shining and changing.

    Your Paul friend
    PS. I have been praying for the things that you asked me to pray for.
    PSS. Eating chocolate when typing this… just for you.
    PSSS. I tried your brother’s trick the other day. It was unsuccessful. My little sister has to drink this disgusting juice for her stomach. She called me in solidarity to drink it with her. Being the annoying older sister I am, I first promised that I would do anything with and alongside of her just…not the juice. Then I tried the – hey “you’re a strong independent women you can do it yourself.” She frowned at me, looked at my dad, and ordered him to make me some. Haha thought this would make you laugh to.

  14. Megan O'Malley says:

    Lovely, lively Katie:

    Thank you for sharing little moments of your time in Zambezi thus far. Your beautiful words are the closest thing to being there and getting to see the Zambian morning sky and Jeff’s rad church dance moves for myself.

    I find strength in your ability to step back and recognize each unique story despite your immediate connection with Glory. I’d imagine it would take courage to hold the two in balance.

    I hope and pray that your relationship with Glory will continue to be life-giving during your time in Zambezi. I’m in the middle of a memoir right now where the author writes about God as the movement between people. How sacred and human and heavy that you have found a piece of the divine to confide in during this time.

    I’m looking forward to more stories (especially interested in prank stories, convent be warned).

    Stay messy,

    Megan (like Morgan, a wannabe zambae with too much chitenge)

  15. Morgan Green says:

    Wow Katie Barger- Thank you for sharing such well articulated thoughts from your experience thus far. Your words made me feel for a moment as though I was right there beside you in Zambezi. Also, hearing about the notes that you have left around the convent is not surprising at all. Keep loving big. I look forward to hearing about how your friendship with Glory develops over the next few weeks!

    Hayley- So good to hear that you conquered the flu and so neat to see that you have already been able to see how that suffering has enriched your perspective. Praying for anyone else who has fallen to any sickness!

    Moira- I can so clearly envision you engaging with students and other community members with your gentle, welcoming smile that makes everyone feel like they belong. I’m excited to see your name pop up as the author of a post!

    Elly- The picture of you sleeping seemed all too familiar. Hope you are enjoying many sleepy ha ha’s and finding precious nap time.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Morgan (The original wannabe zambae, but I guess I can share that title with Megan)

  16. Eric Barger says:

    Sounds like your own story is becoming a richer and more complex piece of literature. What an amazing post. I’m so proud of you, kiddo. The pictures have been great as well. I can’t wait to hear how the story continues…

    I love you and think about you all the time ~ Dad.

  17. Hannah Van Dinter says:

    “…and through that we cannot only tell our own story, but work together to become one and tell the story of us.” What a line. You amaze me with your words Katie. Thanks for this beautiful reflection and reminder. I wish I could be there to see you in Zambia, Katie! Much love, Hannah

  18. Blair Zykan says:


    Very much enjoyed reading your reflections this morning. Thoughtful, beautifully descriptive. Makes me look forward to all the stories I know I’ll hear from Elly when she returns from this amazing experience.

    Enjoy the time – and please go give Elly a great big hug for me!

    Elly’s Dad

  19. Annette Holgado says:

    I was so excited to see that this reflection was written by you! As I read it I could hear your reflective, knowing voice in my head that I so admire. More than anything, your experiences will help shape your heart and I can’t wait to see what more kindness and knowledge you bring back and share with the people back here at home. There are many things I won’t understand or even fathom, but the love and happiness that is shared, I know I will see in you. Miss you lots and I hope your day is exceptionally beautiful!
    Hugs, Annette

  20. Kelsey says:

    Wow Katie- I was blown away by your amazing imagery and thoughtfulness in your writing. I felt like I was there. I have been reading the blog and I am so amazed (and okay, jealous) of all of your amazing experiences. Keep on doing what you all are doing.

    A fellow Zag,

  21. What’s up, just wanted to say, I loved this post. It was practical. Keep on posting!

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