Friendship that empowers

The past five days in Zambezi have been filled with the most incredible individuals and the warmest of welcomes. There is no way that I could have expected or prepared for the experiences that were about to follow stepping off the bush planes in Zambezi. I am learning very quickly that the people here in Zambezi are very good at making people feel comfortable and at home, even though many of us are three long plane rides away from the place we call home. They do this through large displays of how excited they are to have us here or by simply sharing and explaining small pieces of their personal stories, cultures and traditions with us.

As the bush plane started the descent into Zambezi I was filled with nerves about what was waiting for me and my fellow Zags but also excitement for the new culture and experiences that I was about to encounter. But as soon as we got close to the dusty airstrip in Zambezi my nerves quickly went away as I saw the large groups of children and adults of the Zambezi community waiting for us. As soon as we stepped off the plane tons of tiny little hands reached for mine and put the biggest smile on my face. After repeating my name to each child that came up to me we were brought over to watch the Chilena School Choir sing and dance for us. Needless to say, after this my peers and I were on a high and ecstatic to finally be in Zambezi.

The next day we all left for our homestays and Regan and I got the opportunity to stay at the home of Mama Violet (one of the women that cooks for us in the convent) and her husband Steven. Before leaving for our homestay Josh told Regan and I that staying at Mama Violet’s would be a “true bush experience”. Regan and I immediately agreed and said that we would love to stay with her and were up for a challenge. Part of this even included carrying a mat on my head the whole 30-minute walk to her house, which received a lot of funny looks when we walked through the market. We arrived to see a small home with tin over the windows. There was no electricity or running water and a bathroom that was a basic hole in the ground with a 5-foot-tall thatch fence around it. As soon as Regan and arrived, we were a bit uncomfortable as we were instructed to sit down on a mat and then were immediately surrounded by at least 25 kids staring at us with curious eyes. Both of us tried talking and interacting with them but quickly realized that they did not speak any English. Once we asked them to teach us a song they immediately got super excited. They jumped up and started to sing and dance with us to “Chitomato” and “Do as I Do” (both involve LOTS of poses), which are songs that they all sing and dance to regularly. Regan and I soon realized that our dancing skills were no match for theirs but the laughs that it brought to their face were so worth it. We were both so excited to be welcomed into their culture and have them show us some of their traditions that our discomfort was quickly replaced by a love for this place and these people.  

Later that night we met Mama Violet’s husband, Steven. Right after meeting Regan and I he immediately followed with, “This is your home! Feel at home!” I cannot even begin to tally how many times he told us this throughout our homestay in order to ensure that we knew how welcome we were in their home. What truly displayed Steven’s love for the Gonzaga in Zambezi program was when he brought out his envelope with pictures of all the past Gonzaga students that have stayed in their home the past 10 years. This made us feel even more comfortable and relaxed in a place that was so foreign and new to us. Steven and Violet shared with us their family’s traditions such as telling stories by the fire after dinner every night. Even with such a large language barrier and difference in culture they made us feel secure and right at home.

The next morning, we awoke early to the sound of roosters crowing, pigs snorting and goats eating. We ate a tasty breakfast of ground nuts and sweet potatoes, took tons of pictures of us and their family, and then went to church with Mama Violet and Steven. Gonzaga has a long-standing relationship with the Catholic Church here and that was quite apparent during the service. The people of Zambezi welcomed us into their church with open arms, many songs and many dances. During mass each Gonzaga student was brought up to the stage to share their name with the community and then we were all invited to a barbeque dinner at the priest’s house to welcome us into their community.

We expected the dinner at the priest’s house to be low key but we soon became aware that it was more like a huge party. Father Yona invited the Zambezi youth (community members ages 15-25) so that we would be able to interact with others in the community our own age. They brought huge speakers and microphones so that they could sing and dance with us. We each got to share a piece of our culture when they shared with us a popular dance in Zambia that involved A LOT of dancing with your hips and we in turn taught them the Cupid Shuffle and the Electric Slide. This sharing of traditions was such a fun way to allow us to meet even more friendly faces from the Zambezi community. The night continued with lip sync battles and dancing to Post Malone as well as One Direction with a Catholic Church Youth group. I can honestly say this was something that I never expected to do in Zambezi, or even at home. To quote Ethan, “That was the sauciest youth group I have ever seen.” Megan wanted me to add that she even got pulled up on stage and was serenaded to and even received a “proposal!”

When classes began on Monday my team and I wanted to repay the favor and ensure that we made our students feel just as comfortable in our class as they had all made us feel in their community. Gonzaga’s longstanding relationship with the Zambezi community has provided all of us the opportunity to be welcomed into this community and learn and grow from the people here. I am in awe of the way that individuals here are able to make a large group like us feel so welcomed and so loved in such a short amount of time. Many people in Zambezi live their lives focusing on their relationships and interactions with others. They provide kindness and a friendly face to almost everyone that they encounter. This is something I have learned and admire about the people here even in just a short amount of time. I truly aspire to take these lessons and apply them to my own life at home. I am beyond excited for what the next three weeks have in store for me and my other Zags here in Zambezi!

Lots of Love,

Annika Helgesen ’21

P.S. To my friends and family: I miss you all so much and cannot wait to share all of my stories and experiences here with everyone! Love you all!

Katie – Ellie and I love your comments, they make our day J We love and miss you!

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25 Responses to Friendship that empowers

  1. Maureen Hayes says:

    Annika – what a beautifully written post! Thank you for describing so vividly the various interactions you’re experiencing. I pray that you continue to feel God’s hand in shaping this experience for you.

    Megan – we look forward to meeting and hearing more about your “betrothed”.

  2. Dana McElligott says:

    Annika- Not only beautiful and bright, but a great dancer too?? The image of you dancing with excited children brings a smile to my face- hope you’ll share your new moves when you get home! LOVED your post! Be safe and give Ellie a hug!

  3. David and Laura Kane says:

    We are so enjoying the blog!! Each entry is unique and gives insight into the experience through different eyes! Immerse yourselves Zags!
    Love and prayers,

  4. Kelsey says:

    Megan you better not come back with a ring missy!!!! Love you and miss you bunches. Hope you’re having so much fun!

  5. Kelley Morley says:

    Annika this is so amazing! Hopefully now when you come back in the Fall you’ll be able to dance lol

  6. Teresa says:

    Annika I love hearing about your experience so far!! It sounds so full of love and laughter and i’m sure it has already been so life-changing in just the short time you’ve been there. Embrace everything that comes and bring lots of stories home to share!!! I love and miss you and Ellie can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks!!

  7. Carolyn Wolcott says:

    Annika, What a terrific blog. Such an exiting and wonderful experience, something you will never forget. How great to see and experience the life styles so different from your owe. I miss you, and can’t wait to hear all about your adventures. Love Grandma.

  8. Patty Helgesen says:

    Annika, I loved your description of your experiences so far in Zambezi! I was able to picture it! I am envisioning you with your dance moves LOL! How fun that you Zags could share some of your music and dances with them! I am sure they enjoyed learning from you as much as you enjoyed learning their song and dance! You will all be forever impacted by these experiences and relationships! Enjoy!

    Love you and miss you!!!

  9. Gabby And Grace says:

    Hanselmanthey here! Nicely written annika! We love hearing about you trying to dance— always makes for a good story. Megan we better be getting an invite to that wedding. We’ll throw the rehearsal brunch. We love and miss you all, can’t wait to hear about it!

  10. Peggy says:

    Thank you for sharing Annika, what an amazing experience. Enjoy every second. Peggy Hillock

  11. Courtney Hogan says:

    Annika this is amazing! Can’t wait to hear about the rest of your time!

  12. Regina Pacor says:

    Regina, Isaac’s mom, here…

    Cannot tell you how much I look forward to your postings! Every one gives a different angle and flavor of what Zambezi is like. You are all doing a fantastic job of bringing your experience to life back here in the states. I’ve been brought to tears more than once. Your posting in particular, Annika, is a lesson for all of us in true hospitality…clearly, not something Americans do nearly as well as Zambians! Hard to imagine Americans in even the smallest of towns lining an airport runway…

    It’s making me take a look beyond my comfort zone to see how I can create a home of unbridled love and such generous welcome.

    Thank you all for sharing so beautifully. Can’t wait till tomorrow’s post : )

  13. Kari Alexander says:

    Annika! A truly inspiring, well written blog post. I felt like I was right there experiencing it too. Thanks for sharing! I’m so happy you got this experience!

  14. Heather Kreiser says:

    Oh my gosh! I just realized we could leave comments… This is crazy!! Please give our love and hugs to Bryce… We look forward to every post waiting to hear from him, but love hearing from each of the students. Praying for you all to have a mind-blowing and soul-enriching experience!! Hugs to Bryce from his biggest fans at home!!

  15. Jamie Allott says:

    Annika, I’m so glad your Mom has shared your post with all of us. What an amazing adventure you are on! Your writing brought us right there! So well done. I can just imagine your welcoming smile and approachability for the children. How lucky they are to meet you and you them. Enjoy every minute. I’ll be looking for more posts. Take care.
    Jamie Allott

  16. Sophie Marks says:

    Annika! Glad to see your post! You better have been droppin it like it was hot on the dance floor!

    Megan! I’ll ive got to say is get it gurl! Proud of you babe 🙂

    Miss you both! Much love to you all!

  17. Katie Maxfield says:

    Megan Hayes I miss you! So cool to hear about your experience Annika! I hope it continues to be fun and fruitful. I’ll be praying for you all!

  18. Stein Helgesen says:

    Hi Annika. It made me so happy to feel your excitement and joy as you embrace this new experience in Zambezi. I can’t wait to hear more stories and learn from all of your experiences. Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. Love Dad!

  19. Alyssa Helgesen says:

    Annika!!!!! Miss you so much and I can’t wait to here all the deets when you get back! You are such a great role model and it makes me so happy to see how much fun you’re having!!! You might have to teach me some dance moves when you get back cause I started making tiktoks and that would make them go viral!!!! New tiktok star in the family ;))) love you so much and can’t wait to see you when you get home!! #gozags

  20. Will Hackel says:

    I am currently writing this to you as I sit here in the SFO airport waiting for my flight to New Orleans, Louisiana. While the last 24 hours have been incredibly emotional and nerve-racking I wanted to let you know that I finally found the proper space to read the letter you ended up giving me. In short, I can’t thank you enough for every. single. word. While you may not have known what to say or explain when giving me the letter, I didn’t expect it to be the thing I need most at this point in time. Your kindness and love continue to inspire me and I am incredibly grateful for your friendship. I hope you, and all other zags in Zambezi, are continuing to find ways to spread and share the love. I hope that all of you are continuing to find ways and little moments to return the kindness and appreciation that the people of Zambei are giving you… you never know when someone will need it. Thinking, praying, and loving on all of you a bit extra today. I cannot wait to hear more and more with each and every post.

  21. Ginger Monroe says:

    love this Annika!!! I’m so glad you are having such a fun time and can not wait to hear more when you get back! Miss you lots— keep learning & being a ray of sunshine!!

  22. Gary says:

    Annika, I am so excited that you are getting to experience the “heart of Africa”!
    We can’t wait to talk with you about this experience when you get back home!

  23. Debbie Gill says:

    Hi Annika! Love the blog and your description of your experiences of the family, culture and kids is wonderful. I’m so happy you got to share your dance moves with everyone…haha! What a fantastic trip! Can’t wait to see you when you get home. Love you! Auntie Debbie!

  24. Janet Salazar says:

    Regan’s Grandma here…I Loved your well written post about your home stay. These blogs are so wonderful to read each day! You are all painting a picture with your words! I can feel the excitement, the love, the fun and the new experiences that you are all going through! Thank you.

  25. Paul queen says:

    So great you should become a tour guyed see you soon

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