Preparation for this trip was incredibly exciting.
I am a nursing major and was assigned to the health team, so my spring semester was filled with anticipation for sharing my newly acquired health knowledge from the anatomy classes I took with the people of Zambezi. Like Lexi blogged about yesterday, I had great expectations of sharing the knowledge I worked hard to learn all year. Keeping the values of servant leadership in mind, our team planned to have our first lesson mostly spent with students giving us topics that they would like to learn about. When we got to class, there were questions about topics that I felt confident about, including blood pressure and sexually transmitted diseases, but there was one that I had no clue about. A student asked about Bilharzia, and what we later found out with research was that it is an incredibly prevalent water-borne illness that is also called schisto. When you swim in any fresh water, you put yourself at risk of having microscopic worms burrow into your body and grow in your bloodstream. You can carry these worms for a long time without having any symptoms, but if they are in there for long enough they can lead to kidney failure, and other potentially fatal responses.
I said above that we researched this illness, but really our “research” was a simple Google search where we read one website and a Wikipedia page about it. With that minimal “preparation,” we showed up to class and taught a lesson on water borne illnesses, including bilharzia. Even though in the previous class we said we knew nothing about it, we showed up to the next class as “experts.” In the moment, teaching them about bilharzia and everything else made me feel really good. I was “teaching” people the information that they needed to hear to potentially keep them safe from waterborne illnesses. I was almost blissful that I finally had found my purpose here.
After the hustle and bustle of the busy class day was over, I was able to reflect on my day in the classroom. The bliss faded away and I realized that I felt gross. My expectation of sharing knowledge that I felt I earned was shattered, and instead part of my lesson was based on one thing that our group was able to Google search. We did not “earn” this knowledge, we used the privilege we were born into and bought this information with our computer and WiFi that we brought with us to Zambezi. The information that we got on bilharzia was basic, and the way we found it was something that is done all of the time in the States. I can’t count the times that I have been at dinner where someone asks a question that no one knows the answer to and Siri saved the day. This leaves me with a series of questions: If all of the students in our class were able to access the information that most Americans have at their fingertips all of the time, would the world would be a much different place? Would Zambians be living at levels or rates of poverty? Would inequities between the Global North and Global South be erased or lessened? Can any of these questions even be answered?
Yesterday, I found myselfundeserving of the information that I have available to me at all times, and I feel guilty sharing this with my students as an expert. I thought class was going to give me purpose, but half of the content we are teaching is attained through the wealth that we brought with us from the States, and the other half is from the systemic privilege that I have from being born in the States and through attending university. My purpose here is even less clear when I think about the fact that there are many people in Zambezi who are highly educated and would be able to teach a more informative lesson in the native Luvale. I am struggling to fully understand why I am here, and why the money that I spent to be here is not instead being used to buy WiFi and a computer for the passionate and attentive student that asked about bilharzia, as well as all of the other students in our class.
Don’t get me wrong, I am loving Zambezi. I have never felt so much love from complete strangers on a day-to-day basis. But, I have also learned so much about the privileges I have because I was born a white, middle-class woman from the United States. I will continue to search for a clue about what my purpose is here and ask the tough questions.
Tunasakwilila mwane (Thank you!),
PS: Mom and Dad, thank you so much for supporting me on this big adventure. I am making the most of every moment, and smiling like always. Mags, good luck with the last month of SW. Even though it seems like it’s dragging, you will look back at this and miss SOME of the moments. Keep on working hard and treating yourself! You are the best and I am so proud of you! I miss and love home so much!
PPS: Still haven’t found butt-pincher chair but we are all very scared for its eminent reappearance.
PPPS: From Alyssa: To my dear Shells! Thank you for being born because of it I get to be here on this earth to experience Zambia for all that it is. Happy Birthday! I bought you gifts don’t you worry! I am sunburnt oops sorry I never learn. Love you momma!