My Friend, Geoffrey (Jo-free)

Colleen meets our chameleon friend after lunch. (Photo Credit Bridget Shoenberger)


Each day in Zambezi has fallen into some sort of routine. We wake up for breakfast, read the last blog post and comments, run around to prepare for our first class, teach, eat lunch, teach, eat dinner, reflect, and sleep. For those who have been to Zambezi, the word “routine” is to be taken very lightly. Lunch is often pushed back due to Jeff’s internal clock being set to “Zambia Time,” and some of our students have decided that class starts at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. My sleep is also typically interrupted by the confusion of my roommates yelling at each other in their sleep. (Thanks to Grace K., Bridget and the anti-malaria drug Malarone). As you may see, our “routine” is often shifted around and includes gaps of time that each of us is responsible for filling.

As many Zags would agree, one of my favorite ways to fill these gaps of time is by taking a trip to the market. These daily trips accompanied by the children who grab hands lovingly and locals yelling “chindeles” without missing a beat are something I look forward to every day. I often see our students from the business and leadership class posted at their shops or wandering the sandy roads in an effort to kill time before their next class at the convent. I try to stop and chat or invite them to walk with me, but having a meaningful conversation can be difficult while navigating the language barrier and many distractions of the market.

One day, I caught myself in those distractions. I was with four other Zags when we ran into one of our students, Geoffrey. I invited him to walk with us to George’s shop, our favorite place to buy snacks. (Yes, mom, I found snacks.) I was distracted by the important question, “Which soda should I buy?” when I managed to disregard Geoffrey’s patient presence as he stood a few feet behind me without money to splurge on a cold soda. To those of us from the United States, spending 7 kwatcha (70 cents) on a soda is something we can all afford here daily. But to Geoffrey and many other Zambians, spending 7 kwatcha on a soda just wouldn’t make sense.

The second we left the shop I blushed with embarrassment for my failure to offer to buy Geoffrey a soda especially considering that just a few minutes prior Garrett and I were overwhelming Geoffrey with questions about his life. We discovered that he and his family have little to no means of income. They are completely self-sustained by their family farm. Geoffrey has a wife and three children under the age of 10. They moved to Zambezi over three years ago in hopes to find more opportunities for work. In those three years neither Geoffrey nor his wife, Barbara, have had a job. When asked what he thought about the business and leadership class, Geoffrey’s face lit up as he explained how excited he was to be learning so much and working toward getting a certificate. He continued to explain how he plans on using what we teach him to find a good job or start his own business after completing our class.

We began to walk back through the distractions of the market and back to the convent. Along the way we stopped in a bakery where there was another selection of sodas. I turned to Geoffrey, who again was patiently waiting to the side. I asked if he would like a soda, and he responded, “Yes, but this would be better. I could bring it home to my wife.” I followed the gaze behind his small gold-rimmed glasses to a loaf of bread. 8 kwatcha. I handed him the bread after paying for it, and he thanked me repeatedly.

I learned that Geoffrey walks almost an hour each way to come to our class every day. He acted as if it was no big deal since it meant learning from us. Hearing this makes me question my credibility and ability to teach people twice my age when I don’t yet have my college degree. It makes me think a lot about our students’ tireless devotion to learning, a devotion I cannot say I have felt most of my life. Education has just been a part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember, and I find myself complaining about it far too often. The excitement and passion for learning that the children and adults of all ages possess here is inspiring. A college education that likely leads to an abundance of job opportunities is something most of our students here dream about.

As we continued to walk with Geoffrey, all of these thoughts and more flooded my mind. I could stand in George’s shop and buy a soda without thinking twice. I owe that to the opportunities I have encountered because of a free education and being born in the United States. Buying that soda, let alone a loaf of bread, isn’t a luxury that Geoffrey has, yet he never once asked me or any of my peers for a single thing.

Kisu Mwane.


P.S: Mom- I’m taking good care of your camera and think of you anytime I snap a good pic. Sending you a big hug!! Dad- I trust you’re taking good care of the animals and will give Theo and Calvin a hug for me. Zz- Enjoy your last few days in Florence! Safe travels for wherever you are off to next, which hopefully involves going home? See ya at the airport? Val- I found John and Keith, and they both say hello! I’m still on the lookout for Bridget and baby Shelly. Thanks for the biggest hug in the whole world; Dev and I are sending one right back atcha. The rest of my friends and fam- I miss and love you all!! Can’t wait to exchange stories from the past month.

P.P.S: Happy Birthday Mama Kris!! The big 3-0. Wahoo!! We celebrated her birthday with some delicious nshima dumplings made by Jeff and cake! We will be sure to give her lots of hugs from friends and family at home.




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15 Responses to My Friend, Geoffrey (Jo-free)

  1. Conrado says:

    Okay Colleen, that got me crying a tear or two
    And left me feeling very grateful
    Thanks for sharing and taking the time to thoughtfully consider how much we take for granted.
    Best to all, Conrad

    p.s. – more hugs to all of you and real big one to Devon.
    p.s.s. – Ping is doing fine. Howie is still weird. Love you lots, Dev

  2. Peggy O’Heron says:

    Colleen!!! I love seeing your bright face!! What a wonderful story. I felt as if I were there. I’m struck by the part where you offered Geoffrey a soda, which would certainly have been a treat – and he graciously asked for something he could share with his family. It seems like there is a lot of love there, everywhere. And that the people really love you, your fellow Zags and that just by being there, being you, you give the love right back to them. That is plenty. It is enough.
    Love to you Colleen, and to the rest of you too.
    (Thanks for dropping ‘dev’s’ name in your post. Just don’t tell her that yet again, I have tears of joy.)

  3. Sandy says:

    Dear Zambezi Bulldogs-

    So exciting to see the picture of the chameleon. I have been curious about the wildlife in Africa. Have you seen any wild dogs? If so, are they fast? I picture them as being super able to chase down squirrels. How about ostriches? I bet if one of them came into our back yard, I could scare it into being a bird in flight. I can’t wait for you to go on safari!

    Remain loyal dogs.

    Love from Sandy, Katelyn’s dog
    (A dog who can blog).

    PS: Woo, woo, woo (Libby from next door says hi.)

  4. Susan Watters says:

    HI Colleen!
    It was the highlight of my day, to receive the text from Peggy saying your post was up!
    We have been anxiously awaiting your post. I am reading it thru tears of joy, it is wonderful to see your lovely face next to the “small” green chameleon.

    Your descriptions are so clear that I can picture you walking with Geoffery and the little Zambians to the market. It is so true how we take so much of our daily gifts for granted. Know that we think of you and all the Zags daily, and are praying for all of you and your new friends.
    Keep soaking up all the new experiences, and buying Geoffery and his family bread, if that is an ok thing to do!
    Miss you much, and I look forward to hearing all the details of this amazing experience.

    Much love and big hugs

    Kisu Mwane
    P.S. Please don’t bring home the big green chameleon.

  5. Val says:


    I just drove a gruesome 8 and a half hours to Bend and oh boy was this the best thing to come home to! It makes me so incredibly happy to imagine you in Zambezi and taking it in so graciously. Never knew you were such a writer!! You are recognizing one of the biggest dilemmas that many of us had–that was the grappling feeling of incompetence when it came to teaching such eager and inspirational students. Just remember that your presence is so loved and abundant and that you have so much to offer in this exchange. I loved reading about your expierence with Geoffrey; he seems like such a wonderful person. I know it’s hard to hear these harsh realities and compare it to your own life but I think something that Zambezi requires you to do is to sit in the discomfort at times. It seems that you were able to take away a lot from that. Clean I am so proud of you and miss you, your crazy hair, monstrous laugh, unpredictable stomach, and big big heart and so much more but I am so glad that Zambezi gets to have you. Keep on having the time of your life! ( LOVED your chameleon friend, he looks like fun!!) love ya lots and lots buddy.

    Infinite Kisu Mwanes,
    Val (Sally)

  6. Brooklyn Popp says:

    Oh boy Collin Alice!!
    What beautiful words! I never knew you were such a talented writer, and it is so cool that this life changing experience is one of the times you get to share that talent with all of your fans back at home. It is sad that education in our culture in the U.S. is painted to be a burden in the mindset of the common student, but don’t let that discourage you! I hope the excitement Geoffrey and other students bring to school will inspire you to recognize how special you are in their education. I also hope that you might reflect on the leaders you found significant in your own education. How did those teachers shed light on your experience? You are so talented, beyond blogging. I know your talents, your energy, and light will leave a mark on your students, whether you know it or not!
    I came to your blog with the intentions of writing a comment to make you shed a tear, but your post brought tears to my eyes and left me speechless! I am so proud of you for opening your eyes, mind and heart to the people and culture of Zambezi, and I am excited to learn from you and the stories you bring home.
    I have thought about you and Devon and all the other zags with you during your time there and have been imagining all you might be doing, but the one thing I can’t stop picturing is how your hair looks every morning. I’m so jealous of all those Zags and Zambezi folks who get to see Collin Alice in the morning without a trace of heat product. But of course, imagining what your Krazy hair must look like always makes me laugh.

    I luh you, I luh you, I luh you,

  7. Kathy Schindele says:

    So many of you question why you are there teaching these wonderful people. Never doubt that what you are doing and teaching is making a difference in their lives. Anything done with Love will Always have an impact on their lives weather it’s what you taught them or just showing them your kind and loving hearts. You are influencing their lives as much as they are impacting yours.

    You are Amazing people who have so much love, kindness and knowledge to share.

    Love and prayers,
    Morgan’s mama

  8. Liana Mills says:

    I love this story because it highlights parts of you that are so true to who you are – you are generous, intentional and real. I’m so excited to hear more about this adventure & to learn from you when you get back home! I pray for you and Devon every day. I love you so incredibly much and can not wait to hug you!!

    P.S. I’ve been learning from you for around a year now. You are a natural leader with a knack for teaching – you are just as much a gift to everyone there as they are to you.

  9. Cheryl Jamieson says:

    Colleen, I enjoyed your blog this morning. It took me right along side you on that road. I remember teaching VBS in Haiti and some of the parents asking me for a crayon, which is something we take for granted in the USA when we buy our back to school supplies. You are becoming a great teacher and making a difference in their lives, as they in yours. May God continue to guide you and the Gonzaga team on this journey.

  10. Lili says:


    Although I do not know you I want to let you know that your words transported me from Chicago, Illinois directly next to you as you walked to the market with children running around you simply delighted to be in your presence. I had a smile on my face the entire duration of reading your blog, thank you for that. And thank you for the reminder about how our “routines” can still be broken up for us to fill it the way we would like to. Since graduating from Gonzaga two years ago I have avoided falling into any routine because I feared that I would become complacent to the world around me, but now Im beginning to understand that I can still have a “routine” of waking up, going to work, coming home and going to bed but that time still allows me to engage with those I love and want to learn from in the middle of going about my day. No day is the same if we choose to reach out and learn from a friend, experience, or feeling. You can still find adventure in the mundane.

    Thank you for your wonderful words and enjoy that beautiful time you have left in Zambezi, it goes by way too fast.

    JEFF crazy to think that its been 4 years since I was in Zambezi with you but I couldn’t be more proud or excited for the lives you have transformed and impacted by being such an incredible advocate to the program and its students (this is a run on sentence if I’ve ever seen one, I’m sorry). Missing you loads and wishing I could be cooking up a storm with you in that rickety kitchen again. If you could, please let Mrs. Melody know that I miss her desperately and that I’m sending her a letter! Give her a big hug for me, please.

    Kisu Mwane,

    Lili Ramos
    Zambezi Alum ’14

  11. Jackie says:

    To one of the most inspiring, insightful and intelligent teachers I know –

    Colleen you are just too cool. Thank you for sharing. I miss you and your Disney Princess eyes but they are evidently witnessing and experiencing incredible things. Haha, I just LOLed thinking about this being read aloud to the group.

    I love you, I miss you. Thank you for being such a natural leader in my life, your students must be in awe of you. I know I am 🙂

    – Jax. Not Jacqueline.

    P.S. Dev wya? Can’t wait to read about all you are doing too!! Love you both big time.

  12. Katherine Daly says:

    Hi Colleen!
    We’ve sure been thinking of you and all of your crew. The blog is a wonderful way of keeping the world informed of your Zambezi happenings. Your entry was so heartfelt…we truly appreciated your feelings because you captured the essence of the moment with such ease.
    Geoffrey sounds like a gem. I imagine your class is full of the likes of Geoffrey. All thirsting for the knowledge that you and your colleagues are imparting. It must be very strange to take on the teacher’s role when you are half the age of your pupil. It’s a great gift that you’re offering, and an equally transformative gift you’re receiving through the open kindness and gratefulness of all around you. What an amazing adventure.
    Bridget’s photo of you and the chameleon is priceless! My favorite green! And yes, what a treat to see your shining face! Can’t wait to see you in the flesh!
    Heaps of love,
    Kath and Ron

  13. zz watters says:


    Hey sis thank for the shoutout! We will both be home soon!

    This blog post blew me away. I had to step outside to finish reading it because I started crying in the middle of a caffe! I am so incredibly proud of you and everything you are doing to help others. And thank you for telling this beautiful story!! So well written- what a pro!! It is so awesome to get a peak into your daily life in a place that is so different than from what we are accustomed to. It’s not easy, its not comfortable, and its hard to grapple with so many profound and emotional experiences. Especially as you start to reflect back on your own life. But have faith in your abilities! You are talented, strong, smart, silly and there is so much you can do to help others- you already have!!

    Keep your heart open and your smiles wide!! And as you soak up every moment of pain and joy- always be your crazy weird self. I love you so so much and I can’t wait for you to get back, learn from you, and hear your stories.

    Me, pops, mama, theo, and cal; we’ll all be there for ya! Miss you so much!!

    Love, Z

    P.S. Geoffrey sounds really great.. wish I could meet him!!

  14. Shelley Watters says:

    Hi Colleen,

    Your remarkable ability to tell an engaging, heartfelt, insightful story leaves us wanting more! We are looking so forward to seeing you and hearing about all your adventures.

    Thanks to you and the rest of the Zags in Zambezi for leaving your comfort zones, immersing yourselves in African life and sharing your experiences with us. We are learning so much from you!

    With much love,

    Shelley and Steve

  15. Robert & Phyllis Watters says:

    Hi Colleen,

    Grandma and I send our love and well wishes for a continuing learning experience for both you as well as your Zambian students and fellow Zags. Having read your blog, we can say “well done, Colleen.” Your concern for Geoffrey and his family was a high point and touched us in a very warm way.

    We love you,

    GP & GM

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