Before starting the long journey to Zambezi, I had a small flutter of fear cross my mind about how completely unprepared I felt. Thirteen days later I know that no matter what I did to prepare, I still would have felt this way, but I’ve learned there really is nothing that will prepare you for the people you meet, the emotions you feel, and the things you learn. For me this journey has been a long process in the making, a process that has taken almost two years.
When we finally landed in Zambezi, the last bush plane to touch the sandy runway, I was overwhelmed with emotion, but the only words running through my head were that I had finally made it. All of my fears about being unprepared disappeared right then and there. I was told landing in Zambezi could be quite emotional. Crowds of shouting children run to you to hold your hand and grab onto you, and the beautiful school choir begins to sing. As I looked around I could feel my throat get tight, and my eyes start to water; I was on the verge of a full crying breakdown. Tears of joy are just as normal as tears of sadness for me, but for some reason, I wouldn’t let myself have this emotional release. I continued to smile at the children and the beautiful voices that must have rang all the way across the river. I was so happy, but I wouldn’t let myself commit fully to the emotion.
Nearly two weeks in, I still haven’t let myself cry. In many ways this past year I have grown, but I have also taken several steps backward. In some ways, I am more honest, stronger, and vulnerable, but I also fear letting myself feel emotions to the fullest, both happiness and sadness. This emotional block is something I hope to work on and move past.
In the business and leadership classes, we are teaching the concept of authentic leadership and how important it is to be authentic in everything you do. However, a small part of me wonders if I’m truly being my authentic self with the people of Zambezi.
I’ve discovered that Zambezi is a place of religion and faith. Everyday before breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before every class, we say a prayer. I’ve drawn the sign of the cross along my body and said amen, and I’ve even been to mass twice now. (The longest at 2 ½ hours, so far). Growing up, my family never did such things. I never went to church on Sundays and never considered myself religious or really even spiritual. I’ve questioned whether I am being respectful or inauthentic when I draw the cross or fold my hands in my lap and bow my head down.
The first time I began to try and understand what faith and spirituality meant to me was when my mom was sick, and I felt like I needed something to hold me steady. When I told people she was sick, many of my friends in the Gonzaga community shared they would pray for her. Looking back, I realize that what kept me (glued) together were the people who told me they would pray and the support within these prayers.
Faith is one of the most challenging concepts to understand–abstract and beautiful. It is a mystery to me, and talking about why people have faith and spirituality always leads to some of my favorite discussions.
Zambezi has refreshed and renewed the beliefs and values I do hold and has reminded me of the power people can have. I believe in people. I believe in the goodness that others do for each other every day. I’m thankful for the days we have created here together, and the way that somehow, and in someway, I was meant to be here today. I know that I was happy, singing and dancing even in the two-and-a- half hour mass in Dipalata because I could hear the raw power and emotion behind the words I did not understand. The people packed into the pews and the open spaces believed in something. Every Sunday people came together and praised God. I’m refreshed by seeing people stand up together and sing with loud voices and full hearts. I may not understand whom they are singing to, or the power behind their belief, but I am captivated.
This spring I studied in Florence, Italy, and visited countless cities and countries. Each place I visited projected a different energy and a different feeling. Some felt more welcoming than others, but no place compares to the complexity of emotion I have felt in Zambezi. I have experienced the energy from standing in the church and on the tarmac, listening to people sing with their whole being. Zambezi has a different light like any other place, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have stood in it, even if for a short time. Zambezi has shown me the power of community and that it takes time to ask questions and time to know someone. It will probably take me time to share that maybe God isn’t a part of my life, but community is, and someday soon I will learn to sing that loudly.
I stood in the church in Dipalata on Sunday morning directly behind the chorus. the men dressed in their fine, white button downs that quickly became pockets of heat, trapping sweat from all of the dancing and singing we did. One man from the chorus stood in the same row with Val, Morgan and I. His bright yellow pants matched his demeanor, and you couldn’t help but watch him sing in his deep voice the church songs the choir had prepared. I stood when he stood, and attempted to dance the same moves he danced. While I couldn’t sing the songs or even get the footwork quite right, I couldn’t help but smile. To see such a hospitable, kind group of people welcome us into their church and be with them was a blessing and a moment I will never forget.
I still have yet to tell anyone who lives in Zambezi I am not religious, and maybe that day will come soon. I needed to write these things out. I don’t know how to name the fear that has held me back for so long, and the fear that has kept me from crying, and maybe the fear of feeling too deeply. The people in Zambezi are not afraid to share if you ask them. The people in church are not afraid to sing fully and loudly. Ask the right questions, and you will end up hearing the most interesting stories.
I like asking the questions, but I never know how to answer them myself. Sometimes I think the questions are even more important than the answers. I don’t feel incomplete or like I am missing any part of me because I am not spiritual. Maybe someday, I will find that faith, and my heart and mind will grow even bigger. For now, I am happy to hear the singing on church Sundays and be thankful for everything we say we are in our blessings. So I’m giving myself patience and grace.
Peace be with you, and Kisu Mwane (blessings)
how do all of these P.S.S.? or P.P.S.S work??
P.S. 1. My Portland family I am sending you so much love and big hugs, I can’t wait to see you. Mom and Dad, Grace has turned to be out a perfect easy to pronounce name here in Zambezi and I have met many other wonderful people named Grace, so thanks.
P.S. 2.. To my Gonzaga and my GIF fam, I love and miss you and think of you all often.
P.S.3.. Zam fam of 2016. The relationships you’ve created here are clear as day, and I can even picture you all walking outside the convent and roaming around the market. I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with you in this new way.