The sound of the water pounding the concrete reminds me of those rainy nights that used to help me fall asleep. I stand outside the convent shower and brace myself for the sting of regret that I anticipate feeling after stepping in. Three, two, one: the water is cold, not like the wind of a Gonzaga winter, but like the pools of mountain run-off hidden deep within the hills of the Columbia River Gorge. Step in, step out. Rinsing the shampoo from my hair is a difficult task, but it’s in the moments under the fresh chill of the faucet that my mind clears and I feel most alive. Step in, step out. I reach across the down pouring stream and switch the faucet off. I’m ready for another day in Zambia.
I remember my time in Livingstone like a Malarone driven dream; the details have already begun to fade, but the way it made me feel remains vividly in my mind and heart. Many people come to Livingstone from the small villages of other Zambian provinces in hopes of making a better life. Simultaneously, Livingstone is largely marked by its colonial history. In short, it’s far and away the tourist capital of Zambia. I recall a moment during our Livingstone adventure when I set off from the comfortability of Fawlty Towers in direction of the trinket market – a long path of shops run by eager owners essentially selling the same “one-of-a-kind” items in each one. My intent for shopping was for Zambia Gold – a fair trade business partnership between Gonzaga and Zambezi in which Gonzaga sells Zambian honey and goods in the U.S. to fund community projects back in Zambezi; I was specifically in search for some wooden serving spoons that always sell well back home. My nature is to be practical and efficient, so I wanted to quickly scan the shops for what I was in search of. Therefore, it was unexpected to be dragged by the hand and forced into personal conversation by each of the first nine shops against my pleas of “no thank you” and “I need to go”. Each shop I would exit after an unwillingness to exchange my life savings for a good I didn’t want, and each time the shop owner would leave me with a look as if I had just kicked their dog in the stomach.
This moment introduced to me that Zambia is a series of cold showers – both literally and analogically. Step in: my frustration was mounting. I didn’t have the time to stop and engage with each shop owner. It was my mission to find the best products at the best deals in effort to make the best profit margins for Zambezi. As a rural village in the Western Province, Zambezi doesn’t have access to many of the amenities that exist in Livingstone. My negotiations turned hard and I failed to recognize that the shop owners were anything more than obstacles keeping me from getting the prices and goods that I needed. Step out: many of these shop owners found their way to Livingstone from villages just like Zambezi, and they moved to Livingstone for better employment opportunity to provide for them and their families. Moreover, the trinket market was merely a product of the colonial influence that shaped Livingstone. So long as tourism continues to control the city, of course these shop owners should take advantage of the main structure of power which exists. It was in the trinket market when I first found myself seriously wrestling with the tensions of truth that are Zambia.
It’s a new day – I reach to turn the faucet on: I’m in Zambezi and teaching Leadership and Business classes at the convent to community members ranging in age from too-young-to-vote to old enough to have served several terms in government. The members of our class are interested, respectful, and engaging, and I enjoy teaching them immensely; however, the classroom in which we teach holds a distracting echo that sometimes makes it difficult to understand one another, especially given the linguistic diversity amongst our students and teaching staff. These echoes prove especially frustrating when they’re accompanied by noises and distractions from outside the classroom. When we initially stepped off the plane into Zambezi, hundreds of children welcomed us by grabbing our hands and escorted us towards the convent home that would be our stay for the entirety of our trip. The hospitality of these children was greatly appreciated, but as hours turned to days and days turned to weeks, we’ve noticed that these children never seem to leave the open entry to the brick wall surrounding our oasis. And, when our “oasis” doubles as an echoing classroom during the morning and afternoon hours, the dozens of chatty little children that like to stick their heads through our windows (our only source of ventilation and air flow) in the middle of our classes make concentrating in an already echoing room even more difficult.
The metaphorical cold shower splashes against the tensions of thought in my mind. Step in, and I’m extremely annoyed by the disobedient children remorselessly disrupting our Leadership and Business Class. Why aren’t these children in school? Do they ever eat lunch? How are they still interested in me and our class after several instances in which I’ve verbally expressed my frustration to them? They come up to the window of the class and demand that I let them borrow the basketball we brought with us. I can’t believe the direct nature in which they make these demands, especially after the several basketball games we’ve already played together. All I want is for these children to go away and let our class learn in peace. Step out, and I see that these children wouldn’t even be in the position of anxiously waiting by our door for hours every day if we didn’t make the privileged decision to travel to Zambia. It’s us who, simply by being in Zambezi, are inherently a disruption to the lives of these children. The mere fact that we desired to be here is exciting to the children – our decision to travel half-way across the world expresses in some way that we desire to be with them, too. The potential that we might be available at some point to spend some quality time leads them to cancel all of the other agenda items that are planned for their days. The basketball symbolizes the privilege and power that we hold – the children play basketball when we say they can, and only then; we play basketball whenever we want. There’s no denying the annoying timing of these kids hovering around our classrooms and our only quiet place, but we must acknowledge the responsibility that each and every one of us has played in making the decision to come to Zambezi and enter into their community – into their home.
The Good Father Baraza likes to tell a story on the importance of the full perspective; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie likes to refer to it as The Danger of a Single Story. The story can be represented like this: there’s a young man who dreams of being a pilot. He goes to the store and purchases a pilot’s manual to teach him all he needs to know about flying. After reading it through, he takes the necessary assessments needed to be passed to receive his license and goes out on his first flight. The take-off is smooth, and shortly he finds himself up in the air, flying. He enjoys his flight until he notices that the fuel light has come on and it’s time to land the plane to refuel; however, there’s a snag – he has only read the book on how to fly the plane, but never did the young man read the book on what it takes to land it. The importance of this story is understanding the importance of reading both books about the intercultural experience that has been our time in Zambia. Stepping into the cold shower is understanding book one, and stepping out offers the perspective of book two. Even then, two books may not be enough to truly understand Zambezi – we’re only here a month, after all. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “stereotypes are not bad because they’re wrong, they’re bad because they’re incomplete.” To understand people is to understand the full story – that people inherently exist in intricate complexity, and that culture is only complete when we recognize the tensions that work together to make it whole.
I turn the faucet on once more. This time, I’m falling asleep in the bed of my homestay’s neighbor after a wonderful dinner. This is the only available bed between the two double-roomed houses, and the neighbor, Mr. HH, has graciously given it to Spencer and I in exchange for a good night’s sleep outside. The bed frame itself is sized for a double mattress, but the mattress is only slightly larger than a twin size. Regardless, I slept that night as if I were in my own bed. Upon waking up early the next morning, approximately 6:30am, I stepped out of the bed and wandered outside to find Mr. HH already up and about. He expressed his good morning to me and we took a seat next to one another. We began discussing how we might be able to stay in communication after I would return back home, so I jotted down my contact information for him. In the middle of our conversation, he turned to me and said, “Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve prepared a bath for you and I’d like to insist that you take the chance to bathe.” The cold showers of Zambezi were one thing, but this was the deep bush. We had walked well over an hour outside of town to arrive the night before. There was no electricity or running water, and the only toilet was a hole in the ground out back – where could they possibly put a bath that I hadn’t yet seen? I negotiated with reluctance towards his offer, but Mr. HH prevailed triumphant – his kindness and hospitality convinced me to at least give this “bath” an honest look. I followed HH around to the curtained outhouse with the hole-in-the-ground toilet. He parted the curtain for me as I entered the outhouse and left me on my own to figure out however it was I was supposed to bathe myself. I looked down at the ground and noticed two small buckets: one bucket was small and empty, and the other was filled with water. Step in, and I thought to myself – how’d I get here? How’d I find myself in such a position where I’m about to bathe myself in an outhouse in the western bush of rural Zambia? I reached down and touched the water, and then it all made sense – my spirit transformed as my fingers embraced the touch of hot water. Step out, and my host family, despite living under the most basic living conditions I’ve ever found myself in, are able to offer me something nobody else in Zambezi can: a warm shower. I pick up the small bucket, fill it with the hot water, and dump it over my head. I do this several times before finally setting the bucket down and reaching for the towel behind my shoulder. There’s a symbolic turn of the faucet and I think to myself – I’m thankful for yet another day to be warmed by Zambia’s welcoming embrace.