♪ We hope to meet, rejoice again, hope to rejoice again ♪
Arriving in Zambezi to the familiar voice of Jescar Mukumbi leading the Chileña choir through their welcome program brought me back to the last song Jessi had sung to the group of 2017 Zags in Zambezi:
♪ Time has come to say goodbye, time has come to say goodbye, we hope to meet, rejoice again, hope to rejoice again ♪
Last June, I left Zambezi at peace with the idea that this was a time in my life that had come to a close. It was a time filled with confusion and frustration coupled with laughter and admiration, but a time that was through. My story would continue on somewhere else. I knew upon departure that I would hold close those moments spent bustling around in the back of the Land Cruisers in search of another learning opportunity. I would hold close partaking in three-hour-long masses with music and dancing that reminded me of the joy found in community worship. I would hold close cheering on the grade 7 students during their play performances with tear filled eyes. These moments amongst countless others have been constant reminders throughout the year of the power of engagement when I find myself falling into a mindless day of going through the motions of work and school. I had learned and loved with Zambezi but the script would not continue beyond our goodbyes at the airport. And yet I am learning that the script continues to be written. There is no conclusion.
I came back to Zambezi as the student teaching assistant. During my second visit I realized that the more I learn about Zambezi, the more I discover I have barely scratched the surface of understanding. I’ve found myself questioning more deeply my initial perceptions of the lives of individuals I have met, the community, and the parts of the culture I have interacted with. I’m challenging a lot more as opposed to taking things at face value. Lifestyles and cultural norms I thought I had figured out became much more complex than I made them out to be. I thought I had summarized the way the Zambian education system functions because of my short time spent teaching at Chileña last summer. The more formal, British-style education system made me think there wasn’t much student engagement, but I was misguided by my educational lens. This summer, I have come to learn through conversations with headmasters, deputy heads, and teachers from different primary and secondary schools these assumptions about teaching strategies and exercises I had generalized for all classrooms in Zambia were incorrect. There is no summary; there is no conclusion.
I have accepted the fact that the purpose of me being here is not to discover any sense of purpose but rather be present and listen to the different perspectives I have the chance to learn from. The trap that I find myself falling into is the frustration of not finding the answers to all my questions, and without them, I choose to summarize stories and experiences. This allows me to formulate my own explanations. It is naïve to think that I can summarize the lives of individuals and community structures with the limited experience I have as well as the personal biases that I carry with me into every interaction.
I can think of several individuals who have given me glimpses into their journeys thus far, but I could in no way provide a summary that holds the depth that these individuals are due. Last year I was introduced to a couple, James and Mary, who have been dressing Zags in the finest chitenge outfits for years. I spent many afternoons on their porch, making small talk and enjoying the calm pace at which it seemed they lived their day-to-day lives. My summary of James and Mary was that they were a nice family that provided me with an escape from the bustle of the market or the chaos of the classroom. There is no neat conclusion about who James and Mary are. I had the chance to reunite with these two, and yes, once again sit on their porch and chat. But this time I realized their lives are more complex than I had summarized them to be. James and Mary support many children and grandchildren, working tirelessly everyday to do so. (It can be easy to be fooled by their calm demeanor). They remind me of my hardworking parents, who began and continue to run a family business together. Tak and Carol can be found at the Grand Shanghai cooking and serving Chinese food just about everyday, in the same way James and Mary can be found sitting on their porch cutting and sewing Chitenge everyday. My parents have instilled a work ethic in me that I see James and Mary instill in their family. Work hard to earn what you want in life but make space for peace and laughter with your family along the way. This is and will continue to be more complex than my summary of a couple that sits on their porch and sews.
With my limited knowledge, I cannot give Zambezi or individuals I have met along this journey a summary. What I know I can do is share pieces of stories that continue to be written whether I am a part of them or not. I love to share these pieces because they are now a part of my story, but I want the world to know they are in no way summaries, there is no conclusion. I may not be back to Zambezi in the future but I refuse to make summaries. The stories continue.
Thanks Zambezi, thanks James and Mary, and thanks Mom and Dad,