Leaving Home


When someone passes away in Zambia, it is tradition for a group of women to gather and mourn together. This mourning is hallowed and haunting: it takes the form of loud, sharp cries sung together in one voice. I stumbled upon one of these gatherings when I walked past a church on the way to a tailor last week. Voices ripe with grief swelled to fill an empty church room. I was told the mourning can go on for days. As we leave Zambezi after nearly a month, I can feel my heart mourning the loss.

While we cleaned out our rooms and prepared a last breakfast, I was able to hold it together. I didn’t even cry when I squeezed mama Katendi for the last time. But as she walked out of the courtyard with a box of her belongings on her head, I felt a bit like I was moving out of a childhood home, like a part of me that has been cultivated here would always remain. The weight of these goodbyes found itself lodged in my already full backpack. Katendi’s wave happened to be a breaking point.

As we move on to the next part of our trip, I am mourning Zambezi. This summer and last, I have grown and learned from her, wandering her sandy paths and meeting people who have shaped many of my beliefs. More than anything, though, I am mourning the person I am in Zambia. Josephine, Katendi, Rachel, and many others have modeled for me the woman I am working to become—one whose love extends beyond familial and cultural boundaries, one whose strength is paired with softness, one whose fierce protection of the vulnerable is fueled by a tenderness toward the pain of others. I’m afraid that I will leave these goals for myself behind in Zambezi.DSC_1264

There’s an Aaron Ausland article called “Staying for Tea” that any good Zag has read at least 6 times before her senior year. Ausland outlines the principles of accompaniment that this Gonzaga-in-Zambezi program purports and holds so dearly. A phrase from this article that comes to mind in the midst of all these goodbyes is “it doesn’t depend on us.” Many of the previous bloggers have so eloquently communicated the ways that we feel we are learning much more than we could ever teach; we are gathering more than we could ever give away. Ausland intends this statement to be understood in the context of community development: he would say that the success and happiness and wellbeing of Zambezi doesn’t depend on us.

During my time in Zambezi this summer, I’ve begun to associate this idea with the examples of motherhood that I see both here and in the states. The love that mothers have for their children doesn’t depend on the behavior of the children. Mama Katendi lives with six of her seven children, as one of them moved away last year to live with his dad, a man who has hurt Katendi deeply. He has since cut all ties with his mother. When this son showed up at the convent to ask her for money, Katendi sent him away. She told me that she wouldn’t give him money but that all she wanted was for him to stay and talk. Katendi’s love for her son extends far beyond the limits of her own hurt.

My relationship with Zambezi has begun to feel like a relationship with a mother. The town as a whole and its individual people have loved and nurtured me even when I don’t deserve it. Zambezi doesn’t depend on us, but I think part of me will always depend on her. This relationship isn’t equal or reciprocal, but what kind of love is? My own mom doesn’t ever let me end a phone call with “I love you more,” as nothing could ever compare to the love I know she has for me. Zambezi will continue to nurture me into the kind of woman I want to be, a woman modeled by both my mama and my Zambian mamas. I am hopeful that I can carry the examples of these women with me.

While Katendi has greatly shaped my beliefs about empowerment, community development, cross-cultural interactions, strength, and family, I am one two-hundredth of Gonzaga-in-Zambezi to her. And primarily, Gonzaga-in-Zambezi means to her that she can continue to support her children as a single mother. In this way, Katendi can teach us all a lesson in humility. It has never depended on us.

DSC_1601As we trudge down the airstrip to meet the planes waiting to take us to Livingstone, I drag my feet reluctantly. Minutes ago, I had hugged Katendi goodbye. I had felt hot tears welling in my eyes in front of my fellow zags for what feels like the thousandth time. I had walked through our funny yellow home, its dusty shelves now empty of our collected belongings, taping up a note for the 2017 Zam Fam in the well-loved closet. Leaving Zambezi seems big–colossal, monumental, even. And it is for me. I have learned and grown here for two summers now, and I will not easily forget the sandy path from the convent to Jasper’s shop where I went nearly every day for a ginger beer. But the last lesson Zambezi offered me was one that reminded me how inconsequential I am here. Very appropriately, it came in the form of a little boy named Wisdom. As I took my last steps on Zambezi dirt for at least the foreseeable future, he stuck a sweaty hand in mine and asked, “what’s your name?”DSC_1561

I leave Zambezi with puffy eyes and a heavy heart, but I also leave her with a promise to return. It’s a verbal commitment: I’ve told a quiet and thoughtful 12 year old named Junior that I will come back and see him when he isn’t so junior anymore. Maybe I’ll be back in five years, or maybe it’ll be fifty. I can definitely picture myself as a globetrotting grandma like the one who has inspired me. Abbey, one of our faculty members and another graceful woman I admire, has observed that Zambezi measures time in decades while we are used to measuring it in mere hours and minutes. Mama Josephine confirmed this foreign sense of time when someone asked about the progress of a drive back to the convent:

“Will we be home soon?”

“Yes, but it is very far.

Zambezi, I’m so grateful to hold you as one of my homes. It’s very far, but I’ll return to you soon. I hope we can pick up where we left off.


Kisu mwane,


Katie Polacheck

Class of 2017

Zam Fam 2015 & 2016





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9 Responses to Leaving Home

  1. Hannah Van Dinter says:

    Katie, you so beautifully articulated how important this place, this experience, and these people are and will continue to be. It is such a healthy reminder to hear “it doesn’t depend on us.” Our ability to continue to grow DOES depend on us not forgetting the ways we have been changed and the people who have helped us in this- and you so graciously acknowledge this in your post. I am selfishly glad to hear you are all in Livingstone because it means you are that much closer to coming home so I can hear your stories! Love, Hannah

  2. Beth Finger says:

    Katie P,

    I started to well up when I just read the TITLE of your blog first thing this morning. My heart aches at knowing how you all must have felt leaving home this week! And your having now left a 2nd time… THAT MUCH HARDER!

    Here is what little I knew about you prior to May 10th, Katie P: you are from WI, where my husband is from = GOOD people; your mama and Elly’s mama have the same name = GOOD people; you are a woman = GOOD people; you are Zambia Gold = GOOD people; you are a wonderful friend to Elly = GOOD people.

    Here is what I have learned about you through your writings – you are REALLY GOOD PEOPLE, Katie P! Your first blog entry was such an amazing display of perspective about how we as American women feel about how we look to everyone else VS how your Zambian Mamas feel about who you are becoming as a woman growing into her own.

    And now you have provided your readers with this perspective on the Mamas we meet throughout our lives and how they affect who we thought we were and who we are and who we eventually become. Being a woman is such an amazing GIFT from God. And watching you become a Proverbs 31 woman through your trips to Zambia is a gift to all who know you, especially God. I pray that you continue to reflect and write about those reflections for all the world to read. You have a gift of sharing the heart of a Godly woman with others.

    Colorado Mama Beth gives a shout out to Wisconsin Mama Beth on raising such an amazing woman… And I also want my sweet Math major to count how many times I used JJ’s favorite word in this post. Good thing she is busy working and not following the blog all that closely.

    And finally, I agree with Hannah that I am selfishly happy you are all one step closer to being home…

    Love you all,

    Elly’s Mom

  3. Venezia says:

    No words can really explain the feelings I have right now reading this. You are an incredible human being, Katie and I look forward to seeing and reading about the woman you become. You are powerful with you words. I can’t wait to hear about it when you come back in whatever capacity that may be.

    Elly – I loved your blog and read it again this morning on the train. You are also such a wonderful human and I aspire to have heart as humble and kind as yours. Much love to you Ellychoochie.

    I hope you all are enjoying your time in Livingstone. Embrace the differences and explore the parts that may surprise you, because the learning and curiosity isn’t over yet.


  4. Beth Polacheck says:

    Wow! What a treat, another post! We just got in the car to head home from the cottage and I notice your post! Claire is driving and she said “read it out loud”. Anyone want to guess how far I got? Not very. Words cannot express my gratitude and pride! So grateful to God to have been given the privilege to have given birth to this wonderful human! Katie I am so proud! Can’t wait to smother you with hugs next Friday! Safe travels to all!

  5. Lindsey Hand says:

    Wow, those photos take me back to the place and the people who touched me in such a profound way too. Sweet Mama Katendi, it makes me so happy to see her in all her glory. Katie, you already are so much of that woman you hope to embody. Wherever you are–at Gonzaga in a year full of challenges or in Zambezi humbly leading 18 students–you are a person of integrity who is deeply committed to justice and lives of dignity for all people. You love so well and even in your challenging year, you made the time to show up for me when no one else would come and when I wouldn’t let anyone else in. Thank you for that. I’m excited to see how you continue to grow into the brave, strong, lovely woman you ALREADY are.

    Love always,

  6. Uncle Greg says:

    Katie, Another great blog! Thank you for sharing this journey with us. And the pictures have also been beautiful. You’ve provided a vivid visual of this interesting and unique country and its people. Safe travels!

  7. Lee Polacheck says:

    Katie, so very very very proud of you. ❤️

  8. Pat & Christina Kenkel says:

    Thank you again to all of you for allowing us to accompany you on your journey through your beautifully written reflections. Unless you’ve ever been on the “home side” of a loved one being so far away, you may not fully understand how helpful it was to those of us on this side of the world (especially this mama) to have a this special connection each day.

    Tyler: Your photos are amazing. You definitely have a gift and your ability create the analogy in your blog post was great!

    Dakota: Thank you for sharing your faith questions so honestly. I am confident this experience in Zambia will play an important part in your story. Love the kite pic!

    Elly: How fun to hear more about the Zambia Gold Honey project! Tell Katie K we hope it is not too late to put in a request!

    Katie P: Your words brought tears to my eyes as I imagined each of you struggling to bring this chapter in your individual stories to a close. Thank you for sharing yours with us.

    Katie-girl: Counting the days. Keep your heart open to the continued blessings God has in store for you. See you soon, soul sister… 🙂

    Blessings and safe travels,
    Christina (mama kenks)

  9. Patrick Kenkel says:

    Ditto (what mama Kenks says).

    So proud my daughter is a Zag in Zambia. Can’t wait to see you Katie.

    Papa Kenks

    Ok – Cubs update for y’all:
    Cubs are up 3 – 0 against the Phillies, middle of the fourth.
    Cubs are 39 – 16, 9-1/2 ahead of the Pirates, 10 games ahead of the Cards.
    They are smoking hot. However, Jake Arrieta lost his first game of the year last night, after winning 20 straight over two years.
    Go Cubbies.

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