America: The land of the free.
This is what my Zambian friend tells me anyway. As I stand in the stationary isle of a supermarket in Lusaka, I can’t help but feel uneasy when our Zambian friend, Dominic, tells us that he thinks the U.S. is the best country because of the freedom that people have. I look around at the six other faces in this circle that we have created in the middle of the isle, and I wonder if my peers feel the same uneasiness that I am feeling. Discomfort because I love my country, but there are also things that I deeply disagree with. Discomfort because I feel guilty for having these feeling about my own country, especially since I’m from a town that holds the flag high and celebrates American pride with a rodeo each year. Discomfort because even though I have these feelings, I typically choose not to acknowledge them. Discomfort because I am fortunate and live a privileged life in Spokane.
What are the odds that after Kelen and I had this conversation, we were the first two students to post on the blog? It must be meant to be. When I first heard that I would be the second student to write on the blog, my stomach dropped. Right away my mind went to thinking how in the heck am I supposed to write about everything we are experiencing right now, when I haven’t even had time to take a deep breath and let it sink in? Today is our fifth day on this journey, and I have not yet reached 6 p.m. without feeling absolutely wiped out. I don’t think it is because we are physically doing a lot (except we quickly found out that walking on the sandy roads is not as easy as Mama Katendi makes it look, as she is constantly having to stop to wait for us to catch up) but rather each day feels more like a mental and emotional roller coaster.
While on our two-hour flight from Lusaka to Zambezi yesterday, I felt a sense of freedom that I have never felt before. My limbs felt light, and I had this corny smile that I couldn’t wipe off my face. I felt so blissfully happy, but right away I noticed that I was trying to prepare myself for this feeling to wear away, because I thought it was too good to be true. This isn’t me. I have never been carefree or have had a simple life. Even as a child I was high maintenance and a burden to others. I still vividly remember those specific nights crying to my mom at the age of five, asking her if I will really just be gone once I die, or when I used to be so scared to sleep over at a friend’s houses because I wet the bed at an ungodly age. Not only can I still vividly relive each of those moments, but it is still something that I frequently hear from others. Worrier. High maintenance. The baby. Spoiled. I hear these words, and I don’t feel like they define who I am, but at some point I have internalized them because if others think it is true than they must be right. This has been a problem for me most of my life. I don’t trust myself and I am always trying to be someone different. Someone better. Those of you who didn’t know me as a kid are probably shocked to hear this. Most people now would describe me as confident, kind, and maybe a little wild. I have learned to be a master of hiding my emotions and only showing those that I think others approve of. I am constantly pushing myself to try new things and be adventurous because part of me thinks I am incapable and still doesn’t trust myself.
Yesterday Kelen, Elly, and I climbed to the top of a water tower while waiting for our bush plane to come pick us up. I first watched Kelen gracefully grab the slanted piece of metal and hoist her body up while quickly maneuvering to the ladder, which started about 8 feet up from the ground. I knew I wanted to try. I followed Kelen steps, almost to the ladder, but not nearly close enough to let go and try and reach up. I had somehow gotten my body in a position that did not feel natural, and I could not convince myself that I could make it up without falling and breaking something. I looked to my friends with panic on my face, half expecting them to tell me to give up and come down, but rather they encouraged me, trying to help talk me through different ways to reach the ladder. I paused, took a deep breath, told myself I could do it, and I went. The next thing I knew, I had reached the top. My stomach was fluttery, and I was out of breath from the excitement, but I did it. I reached the top, and I felt like enough.
As I am sitting on my bed under my mosquito net, listening to the rooster’s crow and children sing, I still am in disbelief that this is my life. Why me? How did I get this opportunity to be here in Zambezi to hear people’s stories and do life with them? When little Grace grabbed my hand yesterday and told me that she loved me and asked if I would be her friend, why did she pick me? Sometimes I wonder if I am still that anxious little girl trapped in her own body and mind–afraid of the world and incapable of achieving my dreams. But then I remember that I am just me, and that is good enough. Yes, there are times when I get anxious. Yes, there are times when I don’t feel like I am enough. Yes, there are times when I get upset… But there are so many other times when I feel just right. I am doing this life, and I am doing it big because I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to smile and share a moment with someone.