It is 9:00 a.m. in Zambezi and I sit outside the convent on a cement surface near the white Land Cruiser that will soon take us to our first official day of teaching English at Chilena Primary School. This cement surface has become my favorite spot here at the convent because I am able to observe all that is happening outside the convent, while also hearing what is happening inside. As I rest on the cement surface, I can feel the warm Zambezi sun peaking through the large tree that creates some shade over the area but also leaves just enough space for the sun to hit my back to slowly air dry my freshly washed hair. There is a slight breeze, and it blows my skirt slightly as I reach to hold it down so my legs are not accidentally fully exposed. I add a few notes to my journal, and as I look up I see three local Zambian women, one carrying a baby on her back, and the other two carrying a plethora of woven baskets they had made. I approach the women as they walk closer toward me with a simple “Hello!” and ask “How many kwacha?” They point to different baskets to show each of their values. I ask the women how many hours it takes to make one of the baskets and she tells me “a full day if I sit to finish it all.” My mouth drops as I try to imagine myself focusing on something like this for a full day. I continue to look around at all the baskets for a few minutes, then I signal to the women that I will spread the word to the rest of the students in the convent.
I walk into the convent, and the pace of my morning immediately changes. I join in on the usual morning jam sesh for a minute while the dish-washing crew for the day takes care of their task to share the news that we have some visitors, and a few of the students wander outside to check out the basket display.
While I am still inside the convent, I hear Kris’s sweet motherly voice yell, “Okay, Ed team! Leaving in 5 minutes!” I grab the student journals, chalk, and eraser from my room and make my way back outside where I find the rest of my Education team waiting outside on my favorite cement surface. Kris comes out minutes later, signaling for us to load the cruiser. We hop in, and once settled in our seats look at each other with faces that display nerves, excitement, and curiosity all at once. Kris comforts us as we continue start the ten minute drive to Chilena Primary School, and we begin to share all the emotions we are feeling.
During our drive to Chilena, locals wave at us as we pass and we wave back, feeling welcomed as usual. As we arrive at Chilena, we receive long stares from the students, some waving and some unsure how to react. We each hop out and begin to walk toward our seventh and eighth grade classrooms as we wave and hug the kids who greet us.
Devon and I step inside our seventh grade classroom, and a group of about sixty students all stand up in unison as they say, “Goooood morning, Madame.” Devon and I smile and reply “Good morning, how are you?” The students reply again, “We are fine, and how are you, Madame?” This is the routine greeting we receive every morning. This form of respect is something I have never received at my age. It includes an element of trust that I do not feel I should receive, as I am just another “chindele” who has only known them for a few days. There are countless traits that the students at Chilena hold which I am so grateful to witness every day. One trait that continues to inspire me is their sincere love for learning. It is a difficult task to teach in English, but I have come to find it is even more challenging to speak and be taught in English. Despite this reality, the students at Chilena pay genuine attention to what Devon and I have to say, even when we feel like we may not be sending a message the right way to get a point across. The amount of attention the students give Devon and I as we stay attentive to our tone, speed, and clarity gives me the opportunity to be conscious of what I say and how I say it. Additionally, each individual student requires me to adjust my approach.
Not only are the students at Chilena hungry to learn, but they are also creative. In my perspective of the American education system, a laptop, white board, and projector seem not only useful, but necessary in order for a student to continue advancing in the education system. The students at Chilena have quickly helped me realize this is the American consumer culture fooling my brain into thinking technology and knowledge are a necessary correlation.
I have already learned so much from the students at Chilenga and it is an absolute joy to be able to learn from them every day. Chilenga offers a warm, welcome, and loving community and it is a blessing to be a part of it. The people of Zambia and the students at Chilenga have helped me to slow down and think before I speak, a skill I hope to bring back home and continue to practice.
P.S. hey fam bam, thank you for the sweet notes, I found them at just the right time and they helped me fall right to sleep! Big hugs and laughs when I get home!