“You can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself” – Desmond Tutu
As we are starting up our second week of classes here in Zambezi, we have been discussing the transition from being women and men ‘for’ others, to being men and women ‘with’ others. We have been making connections, sharing emotions, and learning joys and hardships that give us the ability to be one ‘with’ Zambezi.
Freshman year, I lived on the Women for Others floor of Coughlin Hall. I feel conflicted because of the name, and which is really more valuable in a relationship. During reflection the other night, Caitlyn, Spencer, Sammi and I discussed how we think the first step to becoming real to other people is being one ‘for’ others, but eventually, through intentional conversation and walking alongside someone, you can begin to walk ‘with’ them.
The first week of our Health Ed class was hard. It was hard to truly connect with the class. We had new people coming every day and our lecture style format made it difficult to truly engage in meaningful conversations with our students. It made me feel like us teaching was being ‘for’ the students, but what I wanted was to be ‘with’ them on a common level.
We had our first class of our second week today. We are now in dialogue. We are learning from one another. We are laughing with each other. We feel connected. We even found ourselves engaging in conversation about conspiracy theories. Preston describes one of our students as he “blasted out the legumes”, bringing actual beans to class to help us teach nutrition. By learning from one another and engaging in conversation, we are able to be ‘with’ others rather than ‘for’ others. They were becoming real to us, and we were becoming real to them.
We have found the most valuable lessons and connections in the unexpected. In class, our students consistently ask unexpected questions about a wide range of topics. Today, we got asked if you can cross breed fish. Does that relate to Health Ed? Nope. But, it is a conversation starter. The unexpected is valuable, and I am starting to love it. The unexpected friends we’ve been making and the unexpected memories.
As most of go through each day, we still question our why. Why did we choose to apply to go to Zambia? What is it that we are looking for while on this trip? Through reflection each night, our group has the opportunity to consider these questions and engage in conversation with each other. Recently, Father Baraza has introduced us to the concept of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is an African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. It considers the success of the group above that of the individual. I’ve seen this philosophy in play several times within my last 10 days in Zambezi. This sense of togetherness and feeling truly human through other people is shown all throughout this community – children taking care of their younger siblings, Zambians welcoming Zags with open arms, us balling up with some Zambian basketball players, and so much more.
Before dinner today, some of us walked down to the Zambezi river in hopes of seeing the beautiful Zambian sunset. For those of you at home, the Zambian sunsets are like nothing you have ever seen. Words can’t even describe them. When walking to the river, we saw one of our students, Milan, who crosses the river by boat each day to come to our class. Following Milan, the 7 of us hopped in the boats and made our way across the river. As we approached the far side of the river on our ‘sunset cruise’, I felt at home. With our bare feet on the weirdly squeaky sandy beach, us West Coast kids were thriving. From Preston racing the kids on the beach, to us attempting to play hacky sack, I could feel the togetherness that Ubuntu resembles. A person is a person through other persons, and we have discovered just that.
In the book I’m reading right now, “Everybody, Always”, Bob Goff emphasized that to become love, we need to be constantly seeking out the people different from us. I see Ubuntu and being someone ‘with’ others as seeking out those we may not instantly be friends with, but understanding their thoughts and their ways of life, because we are all similar in so many ways.
My goal for everyone both here in Zambezi and for you all at home is to find your Ubuntu moments. Where do you see yourself engaging in ‘with’ others activities rather than ‘for’ others activities? Where do you feel a sense of togetherness?
P.S. To our families and friends at home: we have made friends with not only people, but spiders and flies too. We’re a bit gentler to the spiders though, we even give them names. Wendy hangs out by the bathroom light, and Glenn, still not discovered by me, hangs out by the toilet. The flies on the other hand, we don’t appreciate their presence. Janeen is on offense and strategizing attack with a bottle of poison, and Annika just drank a fly. Now I know this may be a stretch, but I see some Ubuntu happening right here, right now.