Reconsidering Expectations

May 18, 2018, 09:45 hours

The bush plane we are in slowly begins to descend as we approach the Zambezi airstrip. I look over the metal roofs, tall green mango trees, and the golden brown sand that coats the Zambezi streets. We fly over the single paved road in Zambezi and I turn around to Sanna in shock. Our eyes lock with a look of “what were we thinking?” Our bush plane makes a sharp turn toward the gravel airstrip and my eyes begin to fill with tears. I look down and see children from all sides running as fast as they can to the single airport building. A pit drops in my stomach and I feel goose bumps form over my skin. I turn back to Sanna, a single tear running down my face. The corners of my mouth stretch as far as they can, showing the most uncontrollable smile I’ve experienced. Our plane smoothly lands, and I feel overwhelming waves of shock, excitement, love and joy. A few minutes later, our plane is parked and we are exiting through the small cubby doors. The sole of my Chaco sandal hits the hot rusty red gravel road and I look up to see a swarm of children running my way. I turn my head and notice the Chilenga school choir singing, “We welcome you” in a soulful and loving melody.  I would soon learn this to be a common sound in Zambezi. That moment was filled with emotions of overwhelming love, joy, excitement, homesickness and fear of the unknown.

 

Before embarking on this journey, I inevitably conceived expectations and predictions about what I would experience while in Zambezi. From the moment I stepped out of the bush plane, my experiences failed to meet those expectations, and at other times exceeded those expectations.

Before arriving in Zambezi, I had many conversations with friends who had previously gone on the trip. From their stories, I expected I would meet many friendly and wise adults that I would form authentic and long-lasting relationships with. I imagined that I would stay in touch with them over the occasional email and frequent Facebook message. A week into being in Zambezi, I realized that my expectations of forming authentic and vulnerable life-long friendships with adults in just three short weeks might have been too ambitious. I spent most of my days at Chilenga teaching 6thand 7thgraders. I began to feel down on myself as I watched my fellow Zags making friends and finding their “person” in Zambezi. I questioned my ability to make friends and sometimes wondered whether I was more surface level than I thought. I struggled with the language barrier and finding appropriate questions to ask. I was confused because of the hospitality I experienced and how I didn’t see that transferring over into my relationships. As the weeks went on, I continued struggling with this. I was creating meaningful relationships, but they weren’t as epic and deep as I anticipated. I had to re-evaluate my situation and find meaning in the relationships I had created. I had to remind myself that I am enough, my hard work was enough, and most of all, my reflections on these experiences and the lessons I was learning were enough. I was reminded that, similar to at home, it takes me awhile to form deep relationships. I am good at socializing with new people, but it takes me awhile to call people “close friends”.  Contrasting that, I also learned, that it is possible to connect on an authentic level with someone within three short weeks. I learned that people are inherently interested and curious. I learned that merely saying “hello” could lead to an hour-long conversation in the market. I learned that no matter how hard I try, I don’t control the narrative and I can’t force relationships, but I can choose to engage and do my best to know people on an authentic and meaningful level.

From talking to the same friends that had been to Zambezi, I expected the people to be very kind and caring. However, those expectations were far exceeded. From the moment my Chaco hit the road Zambezi, I felt a form of love and compassion I had never experienced. At home, it is typical for people to be polite in public and for us to express love toward those we are close to. However, in Zambezi, I felt an inexplicable form of love from the people I interacted with. The mamas worked endlessly all day to put food on our plates and to wash our clothes, but not once did I feel anything but love from them. The tailors welcomed us into their shops with warm smiles and curious conversations. The parish at Our Lady of Fatima Church hosted us in their homes, put on events for us, and honored our work and presence in the community. The teachers at Chilenga spoke with us warmly and enthusiastically as we shared stories of our families and learned from the differences in education at home and in Zambezi. Our students admired us and worked so hard to adapt to our teaching style as we adapted to their learning style. They greeted us each day with a smile, a hug, and a unified “Hello Madam, how are you today?” The people I passed on my daily walk to the market would first stare, and then greet me with a welcoming “Musana mwane” or “hello.” The Zambezi community had no reason to approach us with such love and grace, but they showed me that you don’t need a reason to love someone. As cheesy as this may sound, the Zambezi community showed me that that loving isn’t an action, it’s a lifestyle.

 

June 8, 2018, 06:04 hours

Ten of us haul our bags into the back of the white Land Cruiser. We have grown accustomed to the tight quarters and bumpy roads of Zambezi. What was uncomfortable and squished three weeks ago now seems like a daily routine. We are oddly quiet on our short drive from the convent to the Zambezi airstrip. The journeys we have gone on in the Cruiser often involve loud signing and boisterous laughs. This morning, our journey was silent. We were greeted at the airstrip by a group of people that three weeks ago were complete strangers, but this morning their faces seemed more like family than anything else. Three preteen boys approach us as we unload our oversized backpacks stuffed with new chitenge and woven grass baskets. I approach them, unsure of what to say, because I know that for the first time in my life, when I say “goodbye,” I really mean “goodbye,” not just “see you later.” A simple Zambian handshake and hug with cheek taps on both sides is enough to communicate my gratitude and love for these people. “Jackson,” I say, “thank you so much for being a great friend and for showing me around the market on my first day. I will always remember singing Justin Bieber songs with you.” He looks at me and giggles as if he knows exactly what I am talking about. “Yes,” he says, “I will remember.” I break our eye contact to the sight of Mama Katendi frantically carrying two bags and a winter coat as she paces down the long gravel road toward us. “Hello Mama,” I greet her with a big hug. “Ah,” she sighs, “I can’t believe you have to leave.” Mama walks away to greet the rest of the group and I lock eyes with Grace K. Our teary-eyed contact and warm embrace nonverbally communicate our mutual despair that our time here was quickly coming to an end. As we boarded the bush plane I was filled with love, joy, sadness, and tears because of my amazement at the impact the Zambezi community has had on me during the last three weeks.

Kisu Mwane,

Devon Smith

 

p.s. Mom, Dad, Christian and Lorena, I miss you loads and can’t wait to see you in just 6 short days! Please tell Howie I say hi and that I miss him dearly. Also, if you could stock up on vegetables that would be much appreciated.

p.p.s. Our group safely arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, today. We are excited for the adventures of the next five days and look forward to sharing many stories when we return home.

 

 

 

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14 Responses to Reconsidering Expectations

  1. Christian says:

    Love you Devon

  2. Taylor says:

    Zags,

    ENJOY Livingstone and all these next few days hold. Eat those yummy crepes, get soaked by the falls, keep your distance from the Zebras at high tea, and dress oh so warmly for that safari! Experiencing this part of Zambia is important, too.

    Following along has been such a gift,
    Taylor Ridenour
    Zambezi 2017

    Dodd–I think I just moved into your neighborhood (broad definition). Excited to find out if my memory is correct. (aka you’re not getting rid of me any time soon)

    Hannah–A had a brief encounter with a woman today who shared your mannerisms to a t. It filled me with warmth in the midst of a crazy day. Thinking of you and cannot wait to hear about this experience.

    Kris–i’m sitting at Vessel right now and looking forward to hearing about your new memories on those grey couches soon.

    Anna and Morgan S–I just love you both so much.

  3. Valerie Fetzer says:

    Oh Devon,

    Your post encapsulates my favorite parts about you- your authenticity, heart warming vulnerability and your ability to dig deeper and deeper into your reflections. It’s hard to try to live up to these grand expectations of making deep, meaningful relationships in just three weeks, however knowing you I have no ounce of doubt that you made a imprint on many hearts in Zambezi. Something that is so evidently true is that you are the utter opposite of surface level, you are most definitely enough and you live out a lifestyle filled with love. Even during the first few weeks where I was getting to you know I was able to pick that up right away, as I’m sure your Zambian friends were able to as well. I am, along with many others, so proud of you for venturing out and experiencing the wonders of Zambezi. Although it’s hard to leave with an uncertain sense of when you’ll see each other again and a heavy feeling of ‘goodbye’, the intact memories of Zambezi have ran through my mind every day as I’m sure it will for you too.

    Love you lots (see you later),
    Val

    P.S. give Kris and Anna big BIG hugs from me!!!

  4. Ann Monroe says:

    Devon,
    I feel like I’m about to break out in tears because it feels really good to “hear” your voice in this blog post. I feel like Ive been waiting forever for you to post haha. But anyways, I have always admired you. Reading this blog truly shows how much you allow yourself to be fully immersed in what you experience and learn. There is nothing surface level about who you are. I’m happy that you saw that your kindness has brought you to have great conversations with strangers in the market place, or wherever else in life. I’m so happy that you got to experience this incredible form of love, and I can’t wait for you to teach me more about that lifestyle. You are an incredible friend and I brag about you all the time. I can’t wait to hear from you!
    ALSO the school trips for Florence are released, and the locations to choose from are Rome, Trentino, Krakow, Venice, Budapest, and Sicily (but we will be at Oktoberfest that weekend), I’ve been talking with Jackie and will soon reach out to your mom to get you signed up. But if you see this post, please respond if you can in any way if you have any opinions about the school trips. I am signing up for 1. Trentino 2. Krakow 3. Venice.

    I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. Be safe pls. And send my love to Sanna, Alyssa, Colleen and Grace!

  5. Kelen Ahearn says:

    Hey Devon,
    Yeah girl yeah, I feel the whole relationship thing like none other. I often thought of if I was doing the whole Zambezi thing wrong by not spending more time with one specific person – my person – in Zambezi. It is so evident in these words above that you brought Zambezi to be yours, and not something that is continuous of anyone else’s experience. That is so important. Those goodbyes you expressed and other authentic interactions are ones that you will hold close forever. Those interactions are your people and your Zambezi home. Can’t wait to share stories with you soon lady, I am so proud of you!!

    Hey Alyssa,
    You’re a powerhouse. Imagining you taking those breaths on the sand is something so natural to me. I’m looking forward to hearing how you integrated yourself into our shared Zambezi home soon. Thank you for sharing yourself.

    Hey team,
    Chimene mwane! Aha you’ve done it! I hope the goodbyes brought you the emotions they were to. Zambezi from the air as you leave is so beautiful, right? Welcome to Fawlty Towers, still one of the coolest hostels I’ve ever been in. You’re on vacation now, enjoy it! Enjoy the breakfast, the showers, the fire, the city, and the activities. Thinking of you all a whole frickin lot as you transition into being in Livingston, and then soon transition into Lusaka, Dubai, and the states.

    Hey Bridget,
    Ethan and I peed off Victoria Falls with Val and Jimmy and it was the greatest feeling ever. Join the club okay? (everyone, join the club, its one hundred percent inclusive) Can’t wait to squeeze you soon!!

    Anna and Kris and Jeff, thinking of you all as you cultivate thoughts and experiences in your mind of what you experience was the second, fifth, seventeenth time in Zambezi.

    Okay, I think that’s all for now. Have fun!!!
    Kelen

  6. Conrado says:

    Great to hear from you, sweetie. I felt like I was there by your side. Thanks for sharing your love with those folks and being the wonderful spirit I know you to be. Thanks to all your peeps who helped create this journey to be what is has become. Enjoy all the “fun” things you will do over the next several days, especially that bus trip.
    Howie and Marvin await. Christian starts at Camp Korey on the 14th so he won’t be here when you get back. I think your mom and I will be around. (just kidding 🙂 )
    Love – Dada

  7. Lydia says:

    Devon,

    I remember the feeling of leaving, time flew by. Enjoy Livingstone! It is different from Zambezi, but it is still a part of Zambia- those layers of your experience just keep on adding up!

    I finally had the chance to read the blog today and was inspired by the insights you have all had on this trip. Keep on asking those questions and having conversations- they are gonna stick with you for a while, trust me.

    Garrett. I am so jealous of the insight you have at such an early stage of your collegiate career. Stay curious and keep on asking that same question “what can I do?” It may seem like an impossible question, and it is, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop trying to answer it. The impossible questions keep life interesting.

    Olivia, being the forever minority in just about every situation is something that I resonate with on so many levels with you. In some places, it makes life just that much harder, in other places it gives you the leg up, and I have yet to find a place where it does not matter. That tension is one that is difficult to resolve and I hope that you have had the ability to have meaningful reflection around that.

    Ms. Annaaaaaa. Hi. I am alive. Sorry for the excess snapchats you will get upon your reunion with wifi. I have a lot of stories for you and I cannot wait to hear your stories. I hope you found joy on this experience just as you do everywhere else. I know you did what you were called to do on this trip and even though you were uncertain about your role at first, I know that you were a great addition to this years group. You are a shining light and I am so glad to have been blessed with your friendship. I love you so so much. So much that I had a non-malaria pill dream where we went on one of our adventures and I woke up really sad because it means that my bank account is gonna take another hit this summer so I can visit you and eat at the Grand Shanghai and go to antique shops that we cannot afford but still buy stuff at anyway. Also, I have your jacket that you left at my house that I should probably personally deliver at some point so it does not get lost.

    Enjoy Livingstone Zags, you have the opportunity to see a world wonder- something many people do not have the ability to do.

    Best,

    Lydia

  8. Peggy O’Heron says:

    Oh Devon – your love, value of being authentic and your willingness to look deeply ooze from every line of your post. I am endlessly proud of you.
    To all ZambazieZags – I have been on a journey of my own these past three weeks. I am so grateful for every word of every post. Not only have your writings given me a lot to reflect on, they’ve given me a bridge to my sweet Devon. Thank you.
    Have a great few days and safe travels.
    XoxoPeggy

  9. Susan Watters says:

    Hi Devon!
    Been anxiously waiting to hear your voice and to read about your experiences. You did not disappoint! Such a rich experience at so many levels. We look so forward to hearing all the details.

    Hope all the ZamZags are doing well, give Colleen some love for me! Enjoy your time in Livingston and on the Safari!

    Enjoy it all!
    xoxox
    Susan

  10. Kathy Schindele says:

    Devon and the ZamZags,

    Devon- I feel your struggle, I don’t do chitchat well either. I’m glad you were able to find and enjoy some meaningful relationships while there.

    Morgan- Hey kid, how are you holding up? I know getting on that plane had to be one of the hardest things you have done. I know you will keep in touch with the people you will miss the most. Knowing you, you will probably find your way back there some day

    Zags- Enjoy the next few days, you deserve the vacation time. Think about what you have learned while in Zambezi and how you can apply it to your lives back home. I will repeat my quote from yesterday, just in case you forgot it. Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy it happened!

    Love & prayers,
    Mama Schin

  11. Jackie says:

    Devon!

    So happy to hear your voice again! I’ve been telling all my friends about how cool you are and everything you’ve been doing. So PROUD of you and all you are capable of. Looking forward to exploring other parts of this world with you soon!!

    Which, BTW, how do you feel about Rome? I think Rome would be a good top 3 choice. I know you can’t really contact me in any form so let’s try telepathic communication. If we don’t manage that successfully just send me an owl. I’ll be waiting.

    Love you deeply and infinitely,
    Jackie

    P.S. Sending my love to you and the rest of the crew. Hi Colleen.

  12. Ellie McElligott says:

    DEVON!!! I’m so happy reading this and hope you are having an amazing time! I’ve been looking forward to reading your post! Thank you for sharing your authentic thoughts and experiences, I feel like I’m right there with you! Much love and safe travels!
    Ellie

  13. Lorena S. says:

    Devon,
    It’s really wonderful to read about how impactful this trip has been for you. Your authentic writing conveys a humbled and exhilarated experience. Thank you for your openness and vulnerability in sharing some of your experiences. I can’t wait to hear more at the dinner table on Thursday! Love you lots. Travel safe.
    Love,
    Lorena

  14. Sara Skornik says:

    Hi Grace,

    Your blog was so so beautifully written (I’m so sorry we replied late) When I studied abroad I felt a lot of the things you’re feeling! I hope you enjoy your last days with all you have! – Sara

    PFR misses your bubbly energy and laughter! We hope you are enjoying Zambia and can’t wait to get you back!

    Ps. Gabrielle and I can’t wait to have you as our roommate this summer <3

    Pss. Come home safely <3

    Psss. You might lose your job as the "birthday post" person on PFC 2018! because Riri and Katie Conway love it too much #stalkers

    Pssss. The construction is real here. Would recommend you enter at the back entrance of Crosby through CPD.

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