When people ask me what I love most in life, I answer “relationships” confidently and without hesitation. Whether the relationships I have are with my family, friends, or even my professors, I get more joy out of the connections I have with people than from anything else in the world.
Given my relational nature, I figured that the Gonzaga in Zambezi program was the perfect fit for me. I was told by my friends back at Gonzaga that during the trip I would have the opportunity to build relationships that were ‘life changing’. I then learned that one of the themes of the trip is accompaniment, the idea that we are to walk alongside the people of Zambezi in order to learn from them and their culture. Rather than showing up to build wells, a church, or give cash handouts, we were to immerse ourselves in their culture and pursue relationships with the Zambians. That sounded pretty cool to me. I also figured that the fellow Zags who would sign up for this knowingly difficult, but incredibly rewarding ‘study abroad’ trip would likely have similar values to mine, especially in terms of relationships. Yeah, spending time with some solid Zags sounded pretty cool too. With that, and a desire to grow my world view, I decided this opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up.
Even for someone like me who says they love adventure, traveling, and challenging myself, this was crazy. Traveling halfway across the world? To experience a culture I knew absolutely nothing about? To a place with not even a single Starbucks? Yeah, I think you have to be a little crazy to embark on this epic adventure. Regardless of the iced coffees and mochas I would be missing out on, I was excited to trade the mountains and trees in Washington for the sand and bush in Africa. On May 15th, with thoughts of the relationships I would develop with both Zags and Zambians filling my head, I was off.
It is now June 3nd. In college I always feel like the days go by slow and the weeks go by fast. Here in Zambia I have experienced the same thing. Like any typical school day back in Spokane, our days here are full. After teaching classes, walking to the market, reading, reflecting, interacting with the community, and trying to figure out my impact here, I feel like I’ve been running around for 3 whole days, not just 16 hours. But just as the weeks fly by in Spokane, the past two weeks have flown by here too. Over this time, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve traveled to rural communities deep in the bush to teach basic health, I’ve crossed the Zambezi river at sunset in a dugout canoe, and I’ve taken over 450 pictures and recorded 210 gigabytes of video. However, more significant than all of that has been how my preconceived ideas of what relationships look like have been challenged and redefined.
Before coming to Zambia I thought relationships with friends and family were the strongest and most genuine if they were constantly attended to and worked on. This concept of time was always an issue for me. How much time is the other person putting into the relationship we have? I had a ‘if you’re not adding to it, you’re subtracting from it’ mentality that was both unfair to others and unhealthy for myself.
Just because I haven’t heard from a friend from high school for a few months doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested in still being friends. I can clearly recognize there are many factors as to why a friend may not be texting back, or why a friendship seems to be slipping, but I usually dismissed them. “They just aren’t invested in the relationship we have as much as I am” are words I have said to my mom and dad. Followed with a “so I’m going to stop putting in as much effort” I would put the issue behind me, despite words of caution from my parents. You would think someone who claims they are ‘relational’ and ‘loves people’ would be able to recognize that this was wrong. I should have been appreciating my relationships for what they were. After all, every relationship is different. The mindset I had was hurting me and others and I was failing to recognize and appreciate one of the beautiful parts of relationships.
Being. Regardless if the relationship is big or small, whether it is exercised every day or not, or if it lasts for days or years, it doesn’t matter. Because, in relationships, people are choosing to be with each other. And there’s beauty in that.
In Zambia, people understand this far better than I do. The Zambians may be the kindest people I have ever met. They are truly interested in what my name is, where I am from, how I am doing, if I am learning Luvale or Lunda, what I’m doing in Zambia, and countless other things. Their hospitality is unmatched. They have invited me into their homes when they see me walking down the street. They have hosted me for big meals of chicken, nshima, pumpkin, groundnuts, and kasava leaves. Heck, they’ve greeted me with songs and dancing that have lasted for an entire hour (a rather awkward situation for someone like me who can’t sing or dance). After 16 days here, I’m realizing that this goes beyond Zambians just being kind, hospitable, respectful, or any of that. In a way, I think most Zambians are truly interested in being with people. Whether that will last for 3 minutes or 30 years, they simply don’t mind. Unlike me, they don’t let time, depth, or anything else define the relationships they pursue. They recognize that above all, the most important part of being in a relationship with someone is the act of being itself.
There have been numerous moments throughout our trip that have helped me realize the role ‘being’ plays in relationships. However, the most impactful moment took place on our journey to Dipalata. After the Land Cruiser refused to start up, Joe and I stayed with the vehicle while the other members of the group continued on. The Cruiser was sitting outside the small village of Kalola. All the commotion had caused a small crowd of children to come out of their homes. Soon, 15 children were staring at Joe and I who were sitting in the back of the truck. After failing to communicate with them with our limited knowledge of Luvale, a boy approached Joe’s window. “Tangerines.” He said to us. Joe and I were surprised he knew English. Noting our expressions, he elaborated in the little English he knew. “I bring tangerines.” he said before running off. 10 minutes later the boy appeared again. On his back, a red gym sack filled with nearly 30 of greenest tangerines I’ve ever seen. Joe and I were overwhelmed with his generosity. Thanking him in Luvale (upon which he told us his village spoke primarily Lunda) he stood there for a moment. “May I come in?” he asked timidly. Joe and I nodded and exclaimed “Yes! Yes! Come sit with us!” and cleared room for him in the Cruiser. He told us his name was Chidata and shared what he could about himself and his village despite knowing little English. The language barrier and his shy personality limited our conversation, but nevertheless, Chidata sat with us and smiled approvingly as we ripped into the delicious tangerines. We sat in silence for the next 45 minutes, but in the silence I learned a lot from Chidata. He knew just as well as Joe and I did that we would never see each other again, but he didn’t care. He was content with simply being with us in that moment. He wanted to be in relationship with us, even if it was only for 45 minutes, and his actions spoke to this loud and clear in a language we could all understand.
While I was getting hung up on how my relationships were lopsided, or in comparing two incomparable friendships, I was failing to see appreciate being. Now, with a better understanding of what it means to be with someone, I hope I can learn to appreciate the relationships I have with friends and family for what they are. Like the Zambians, I want to care less about what my relationships look like. The relationships I have with my family, who I talk to nearly every single day, look different from my relationships with old high school friends, which look different from relationships with my friends at Gonzaga, and that’s okay. I am realizing that the simple act of another person choosing to be with me is enough.
Just as Chidata chose to be with Joe and I, I hope to choose to be with the people who I share friendships with. I’m enjoying implementing this new focus on being in the relationships I have with the people in Zambezi and I am excited to continue it back home.
Sorry for the lack of pictures. They wouldn’t upload and I was too tired to keep trying 🙂