A single paved highway spans the 500 Kilometer distance from Solwezi, a town filled with hustle and bustle after a boom in the copper mining industry, to Zambezi, the town our Zags have called home for the past few weeks. After a quick trip to meet the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese, pick up some new travelers, and visit the local ShopRite, our motley crew is ready to go home. The drive is filled with road trip essentials like any other- fast food, the sweet sounds of John Mayer, and good company to pass the time. As I peer out the window, my eyes meet the steady flow of trees that cover the land on both sides of the road. Homes with thatched roofs, market places, and schools flicker into view and disappear from sight as our car makes its way home. Chindende, chindende. Slowly, slowly I think to myself as I adjust my legs and settle in to the leather seats of the Land Cruiser. This journey will be long, but bit-by-bit, we will make our way.
I first heard this Luvale phrase last year in Zambezi when I was talking with Precious and Maxine, two young women who I had nicknamed “The Lemon Ladies” because of the enormous lemon tree in their backyard, which they plucked fruits from daily, and sold on the road along the market. I had invited them to a party and they were running late saying, “Chindende, Chindende. We will make our way soon.” It was yet another reminder of what people describe as “Zambia Time” and what we have discussed on this trip regarding the African Concept of Time. In the Western World, time is love, time is money, and time is power. In Africa, time is the past and time is the present. There is no future time. Time is defined by events and not by certain hours in the day. The party won’t start at 15:30. The party will start when the party starts. Get it?
At lunch today we hosted Francis, a Zambian social worker and founder of a newly launched NGO, and we learned about all the efforts that him and his team are putting in to their work to support vulnerable children throughout Zambia. Before he left, I asked Francis about how he finds time to relax and recharge in the midst of getting his organization up and running. I was surprised and curious when he shared that he doesn’t really find free time to do those things. He compared my own American culture where people have a mutual understanding to abide by strict timelines in order to create space for personal leisure time to the African workplace where work happens when it needs to happen. Time is present, not future. Francis acknowledged the difficulties in balancing his work with his personal well being and also emphasized the importance of completing tasks when they need to get done. No deadlines or timelines. Just completing the task at hand because it needs to be completed.(However, he did mention that after a long day of work, sharing a slice of pizza with friends and family usually fills him with energy).
I look up from my book and see Father Dominic staring out the back window. “Chindende Chindende,” I say, and he smiles in reply, “Chindende, chindende. Slowly slowly. Chizunda ambachile mbambi yenyi.” A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I ponder this quietly for a while. Steps can’t be skipped, but all it takes is one at a time to make our way along. We will be home soon, but for now I will enjoy the rest of this car ride. Time is present, not future.
There is something to be said for the giddiness and excitement that comes when one returns home after a long journey. A sea of questions can plague our minds in anticipation of what is to come. Who or what will be waiting for me when I return? What new things am I bringing back to share with others? How will my home be different? How will I be different? I was overcome with these thoughts and was filled with eager anticipation upon our group’s arrival in Zambezi a few weeks ago. I struggled to embrace the beauty of being present in the journey through Dubai and Lusaka because my mind had already returned to yellow walls, sandy paths, nshima, and the many Zambians I had met the past summer. I wanted our group to finally get where we were trying to go, so I could get home to Zambezi. So we could get home. I was so focused on the destination that I lost track of the significance of each point in the journey.
Last semester as a part of my Sociology of Education class, I volunteered with the Walking School Bus program at two of Spokane’s public elementary schools. Three days a week, several Zags and I would pick up a group of students at their homes or a designated pick-up area and walk them to school. On our walks we played imaginary games, talked in funny accents, and I learned more about MineCraft than I bargained for. My relationship with students on the route was based upon our journey together on cold, rainy mornings. I didn’t look forward to dropping students off at school because it meant we had reached our destination and would have to part ways. With each step I thought to myself, “Chindende, chindende. Slowly, Slowly we can make our way.” Taking things slowly could be a good thing.
Zambezi is a home away from home, which makes it a place to journey to and from, and a journey within itself. Now that I am here again, I savor the days and want the moments to pass by slowly, slowly. These days are full and if I don’t stop to remind myself to slow down and enjoy, I miss wonderful opportunities. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. As a group, we have taken quite a few of them so far, but we still have many more to go. Each footprint left behind, which traces our path in the sand, will serve as a reminder for the rest of our time to come. “Chindende, chindende. We can make our way.”
Elly Zykan (Class of 2018)
P.S. Thank you to all of those who follow along with our posts each day. Like our moments in Zambezi, we take in each word you have to say slowly and with intent. Much love.