Finding Comfort in the Midst of Discomfort


Hello sweet family, friends, and all those reading!

            We are just over three weeks into our time in Zambia, many of us finally in a rhythm but still experiencing new surprises each day. We enjoy meals together, walk to the market for a donut and a Fanta in the afternoons, and view the most beautiful sunsets each evening. It is truly lovely here.

            In the weeks leading up to leaving for Zambia, I could not contain my excitement. Zambezi was brought up at least once a day, I was constantly checking my packing list, ordering essentials like deet wipes and a sleep sack from Amazon, I was in preparation mode. Since I did some extensive research (thank you Josh, Devon Smith, and the internet) before creating a PowerPoint to convince my parents to allow me to go to Zambia, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in Zambia. I mean, at least I thought I did. Per usual, I think I was so focused on the logistics of the ordeal, that I didn’t really think about the fact that I would be in a very different environment soon and I may experience some discomfort.

            Only about a week into being in Zambezi, did I start to feel comfortable in the environment I was in. Before that, each day was very different, though incredibly full of bonding time with my fellow zags over unforgettable experiences like seeing elephants in their natural habitat and jumping off bridges together. I had to get used to a new sense of the word “routine.” Though our days in Zambezi began and ended relatively the same each day and night – breakfast and blog in the morning, reflection and the daily reassurance from my roommates Leila and Sammi that there are no spiders in my bed at night – there was no way to predict anything in between. At first, the natural planner and routine lover in me was a bit overwhelmed, but after realizing that with every day, new small surprises would come, I made the conscious decision to switch my mindset to “going with the flow” and accepting each new day as it was.

            On the first flight over, 14 hours to Dubai, I experienced some expected nausea and motion sickness and Dramamine quickly became my new best friend. A source of comfort in the midst of discomfort. I used it on every single flight, several long car rides so far, and even though it made me quite loopy on the drive back from Mpidi the other day, it helped ease the uneasiness I felt in being bumped around in the back of a borrowed land cruiser. The long bumpy land cruiser rides have been a constant in the lives of the health team. In this, we have been able to see several different ways of life within just a couple hours of Zambezi.

            Just yesterday, we had the chance to visit several different HIV+ patients at their homes, all of which were about a 20-30 minute drive away from our convent. Because people here are educated about HIV pretty much their whole lives, we did not come with the intent to give these people lessons about HIV and AIDS. We visited them in order to simply be with them and offer some support in the midst of their discomfort. Winifrieda, my homestay mother and a HIV outreach coordinator, wanted each of us to offer words of encouragement to each patient. We didn’t actually know that we would be doing this type of outreach until about 10 minutes before leaving, but per the new “go with the flow” mindset, I was ready. Sitting with the first patient, a young girl who had lost her mother to HIV, but was already taking medication for her condition, I think all of the health team was pretty saddened to the point of discomfort. When we found out that this eleven year old girl had dreams of becoming a nurse one day, the reality of her situation became apparent to us – though something like hoping to become a nurse is attainable for each of us on the health team, attaining this goal may not be as simple for her. So, as we began to offer her support in our words, we got over the awkwardness of encouraging someone we had only just met and spoke of the bravery and strength we saw in her and the way that her story inspired us in the short time we had with her. As she was sitting there, next to her grandmother on a reed mat in front of their thatch home, the smile on her face and the graciousness of her grandmother showed that our words were a source of comfort in that moment.  

            Throughout the past couple weeks, we have also had the chance to visit various hospitals in the area. In touring these hospitals – the local Zambezi District Hospital, a missionary maternity clinic, and a high-functioning missionary hospital in Chitokiloki, we couldn’t help but feel a bit of discomfort. Though the supplies of each hospital varied greatly, one thing we found common between each was the willingness of doctors and nurses to share details of patients’ conditions. Coming from the U.S., we are used to strict patient privacy rules in hopes of respecting each individual’s wishes with their personal information. We are so used to an individualistic approach to providing care and protecting patients, that the sharing was uncomfortable for some of us. After reflecting on these experiences, we realized that our very individualistic culture is different from the Zambezi culture centered around sharing, and this acted somewhat as a source of comfort. However, what we couldn’t and can’t quite find comfort in was the way some nurses were describing patients’ conditions right in front of them, without regard to the patient themselves. So far at Gonzaga, we have been taught to place upmost value in the dignity of each person we interact with as future nurses – this is not to say that the nurses here don’t value the dignity of their patients, it was just challenging to see that in the situation.

            Finding comfort in the midst of discomfort can be challenging at times, but as my mom has encouraged me to do since I was very young, pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones allows for growth and new perspectives. As many of us have found ourselves pushed outside our comfort zones in Zambezi, some small sources of comfort remain, including the warm smiles Mama Kitendi and Mama Violet always welcome us with, the close community we Zags have created with each other through laughter, riddles, and deep talks, watching the sun go down with a sky full of color, knowing our loved ones are seeing the same sun, and sharing ice creams at Eukaria’s stand. We experience these comforts consistently, yet we still wrestle with discomforts like those found in the hospital or the fear of spiders in our beds. And that’s good, it’s why we’re here! Throughout this all, we are learning to become comfortable being uncomfortable.


Thanks for reading 🙂

Kisu Mwane,

Ellie McElligott

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17 Responses to Finding Comfort in the Midst of Discomfort

  1. Emily Pinder says:

    So glad to hear about your incredible experiences Ellie!! I can’t express how much we all miss you here, but sending lots of prayers your way! Love you lots and can’t wait to hear more!

  2. Patty Helgesen says:

    Ellie! So great to finally read your blog! It sounds like you all are having such a fascinating experience! Each one of you will forever be changed from your various experiences! You did a great job describing the challenges compared to our own culture regarding healthcare. Hugs to you and please give a huge hug to Annika for us!! We think of you all every day and eagerly await the blog post!

  3. Taylor Dawley says:

    It’s really incredible to hear about the relationships that you are all building with Zambians and with fellow Gonzaga students.

    Leila – it’s good to hear you’re getting a lot of practice dealing with large spiders because I’ve been completely on my own with all the spiders here and am in desperate need of your help! I had a long conversation with my dad today about what you’re doing in Zambia and he wanted to express to you how glad he is that you’re having this incredible experience. I just wanted to reach out to you to let you know I’ve been thinking about you every day and I can’t wait to hear all about your adventures when you come home. Ive saved my final package for this next week (the half sun, half shade one) and my list of things to tell you is getting really long. Keep being the awesome, relational, intentional and loving person that I know you always are.
    All my love

  4. Stein Helgesen says:

    Hi Ellie. I look forward to reading all of your blogs every evening before I go to bed. I can’t imagine the experiences that all of you are encountering each day. Thank you all for sharing your experiences so we can image what your living. Say hi to Annika from her Dad….we’re getting ready for Alyssa’s grad party tomorrow.

  5. Grace McElligott says:

    HEY SIS!! That’s so funny you found a spider in your bed… there will probably be another one tonight tbh Guess what!!? I will be staying in Cura Personalis next year WOOP WOOP!! Anyways I’m so glad you’re going with the flow and letting lose! Welcome to my world hahaha! But seriously you sound like you are having such an amazing time and it is so inspiring! So glad to have such a cool sister like you! Can’t wait for you to come home because I miss you so much!!!

  6. Maureen Hayes says:

    What a beautiful post, Ellie! I loved hearing about your days and what the Healthcare team is encountering. What an amazing experience. What a gift to have this unique perspective in your future careers.

    Thank you to all of you for sharing so much with us. It allows us, in some small measure, to contemplate the valuable lessons and insightful reflections along with you albeit through the prism of our every day lives rather than the purity (and complexity) of Zambezi. Feeling free, trying to not take a person or an encounter merely at face value, pushing ourselves to embrace our discomfort, stepping in and out amidst grocery shopping, paying bills, running errands etc… We are paying attention. We are faithfully reading the blog and we’re trying to walk this journey with you as much as we can because we miss you, because we love you, because we’re proud of you, because we’re thrilled that you’re having this life-changing experience and that you know it.

    Thank you for the gift of these reflections.

    Megan, we miss you and hope you too are having an amazing experience. Grandma and Poppy send their love. They read the blog every day but haven’t been able to post a reply. We look forward to hearing more of your stories.

    Lots of hugs to the whole ZagZamFam.

  7. Regina Pacor says:

    I have been remiss in commenting on everyone’s amazing blog entries, but I love just sitting with them and letting the images fill my head. Each one of you is a gifted writer and storyteller…we, back in the Motherland, are very blessed to walk with you so beautifully through your words. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    It’s interesting how the titles you choose so aptly capture the sentiment and feeling of your articles. They can be strung together to paint a vivid picture…”Feel free to sit in complexity and find comfort in the midst of discomfort. This is munone and every road has a story. As it becomes real (to me), it is friendship that empowers and kindness matters. The world conspires to create…here we are and here we go!”

    Your lives intertwine to create an exquisite tapestry. How cool is that??!!!

    Just watched a climbing film called “Reel Rock.” This episode profiled Mike Libecki, a rather crazy, free-spirit who likes to make up sayings, then quote himself. Several resonated with me in regards to the incredible adventure you are on at this point in life. For what it’s worth:

    “Death and/or old age is coming…..we must live sweet. The time is now. Why ration passion? Dream big…..and climb those dreams. After all, it is not only life, but the quality of this life.” – Mike Libecki

    Carpe diem!

    And please, a big hug to Isaac from his fam…We love him so much and feel a close connection beneath the same stars <3

  8. So nice to read your blog today Ellie & feel like I’m walking in your journey with you as you describe the different situations you encounter. It’s amazing to read all your stories & get your different perspectives on your experiences.
    But everything is so real yet relative. Keep on blogging & remember don’t stress the little things cause an once of stress never fixed anything. Miss you very much & can’t wait to hear of all your stories & those Irish connections. Ten more days before we see you so be safe & embrace.
    Love You. Daddio.

  9. Dana McElligott says:

    Ellie- Your post made my day! Actually ALL of the posts make my day(s)! I literally wake up and check for updates each morning, with my freshly brewed cup. And as impatiently as I’ve awaited your post, I have felt so included in your journey thanks to your fellow ZagZams!

    I’m impressed that you’re “going with the flow” as I know how disciplined and structured you can be:-) But I also know your undeniable ability to care and love others and open yourself to experiences completely. It absolutely warms my heart to imagine you growing through the “discomfort”. You are an unbelievable gift to this world my dear daughter! Your empathetic soul and caring nature have always guided you and your quiet confidence and ability to lead through your actions inspires me!

    Thanks for your details! I can hear your blood curdling scream after the spider sleepover attempt, I can feel your fear as you stepped off that platform, I can sense your joy when you laid eyes on those greeting children and I can feel your genuine care and interest in those you are meeting. Embrace it all! This adventure will stay with you forever.

    We miss you terribly and can hardly wait to hug you and hear every last detail! Stay safe, stay away from the hippos and know how very LOVED and VALUED you are! I am so proud of you and wish for more “discomfort” these next few days…just not the motion sickness kind!

    A warm embrace~ Mom

  10. Danielle Ruhnke says:

    Oh Ellie !!!! How all of us in the Ruhnke household miss you !!! When grace called tonight to tell me how you had posted i quickly got on with a glass of wine (not much has changed ) and read your post . With each word you wrote I heard Your voice . I am sitting hear telling your uncle what an incredible young women you are and have become . I could never in a million years even begin to do what you are doing. And not only doing it but doing it with grace . We are so proud and humbled by everything that you are doing. I can Still remember when you and i were in the car and you told me about this program and wanted to help me understand how amazing this program
    Was and how I had to help you convince your mom . My sissy who I knew No way, just as I felt , Could we send you to Africa. But you came with your power point presentation and determination and convinced us all this was a good idea. The impact that your having on each and every person you are meeting will forever be impactful to all of us when you come home . We will listen to more of your story and experience of your time spent over in Zambia and only learn from you . And with this only become better human beings because of you . We love you be safe and be well and we cannot wait to give you the biggest hug ever in less then two weeks we love you !!!!!!

    Auntie D

  11. Dana McElligott says:

    Ellie- I forgot to tell you that G has an interview Monday morning at Blue! Positive thoughts PLEASE! I might have to find a new morning spot until she’s trained, but that’s ok 🙂

  12. Abby Freimuth says:

    ELLIE!!! It’s so good to hear about your experiences so far-especially gettin comfy with the uncomfy (except for the spiders… I’m afraid of those spiders and I’m not even there!) I miss you all so much but have loved hearing your stories on the blogs (Megan you better not come back a married woman). Can’t wait to hear more about all of your hilarious/hard/heartbreaking/breathtaking/meaningful moments! Love you all so much!

  13. ZagFam in Auburn WA says:

    Hi Ellie!
    This is Leila’s mom. Thank you for including a mention of her name in your post. We realize this experience is way beyond the scope of “The Amazing Race,” but I tune in to your blog daily to hear of your challenges, triumphs and global wonders (physical and intellectual). Seeing Leila’s name pop up (spider-checker, I’ll take that) was like getting to see a glimmer of her on an episode.

    To the McElligott’s: Whoa… whaaa??? A powerpoint presentation?! I am impressed by that daughter of yours. To all you ZagZams who “forgot” that powerpoint prior to your family’s approval? I guess you’ll have to backfill with a presentation entitled, “All the Amazing Reasons Why I Went to Zambezi” (as if your superb blog posts aren’t enough).

    As you head into your final week of classes, I would imagine there will be conflicting moments coming your way: the anxiety of waning time with the beauty of this place and its people, as you all have so eloquently shared, competing with bouts of being ready to be home.

    You are all incredible humans to have embarked on this leadership-accompaniment experience. Your courage, open hearts and minds, your reflections comfort me in knowing that the world and the future is blessed by individuals like you. I hope your personal goals for Zambezi are being fully realized and then some.

    to Leila: It’s been a steady occupation of mine to wonder what it is you are doing at any given time, how you might be sharing your heart with fellow Zags and the Zams, how your allergies are holding up, how you’re sleeping, what marvels you, what you look like as you write your reflections. I picture you in every photo that pops up on this blog. (Taylor and I thought maybe you were on detention for awhile as we didn’t see you in any photos!) You always amaze me. I am one proud mamma! Love you tons! Single-digit get-ups! NINE – NEUF -KYU – IWA – 9!!!!!!!!!

  14. Michael Gritzmacher says:

    Ellie! Love your post and so glad to hear what an incredible and life changing experience you are having! Also your mom sent me the video of you JUMPING OFF A CLIFF WHO ARE YOU!? Cannot believe you did that – also so proud of you and jealous! Can’t wait to hear all about your time there when you get back! Keep changing the world! Love you – Michael

  15. Cassi Gritzmacher says:

    Ellie girl! It’s been so fun to follow along on your journey – what an incredible experience for you all! Finding ways to find comfort in discomfort is what it’s all about – proud of you for rolling with the ups and downs, and very happy you have some Dramamine to make it a bit more bearable . Continue to embrace this incredible ride! Big hugs! Cassi

  16. Beth Gritzmacher says:

    I was so excited when I opened the blog and saw your long-awaited post. I couldn’t wait to read it. It’s been such a joy to follow along with you and all of your fellow Zags on the amazing journey you are all on. You did a beautiful job sharing some of your experiences with us and I love that you’ve learned to embrace the mindset of “going with the flow”. Life is about balance, and I promise you, this mindset will serve you well. As Uncle Doug and I were watching the sunset last night, we were thinking of you and were comforted by knowing that even though you are so far away, we are still connected by the same universe and “never that far apart”. I’m so proud of you and can’t wait to hear your stories firsthand when you return. PS don’t listen to your sister. 😉 When you get home, you’ll have to teach the fam a thing or two about how to “make friends” with spiders. Lots of love & hugs, Aunt Beth

  17. Devon Smith says:


    My oh my how I’ve been waiting for you to post! “Finding comfort in the midst of discomfort” what a wonderful title and something that you are appropriately forced to try to do each day in Zambezi. Something that I found so wonderful (and challenging) about those short 4 weeks in Zambia was the fact that the moment I began to feel as though our group was settling in, getting comfortable and forming a rhythm, something would change, we would have some conversation, or our eyes would be opened to something new that threw us right back to the place of not knowing and feeling uncomfortable. You totally hit the nail on the head by sharing these experiences and looking at them through a lens of growth, rather than set back and that’s what it’s all about!

    I am so so happy for you and proud of you for giving it your all. I can just imagine that your grace, kindness and compassion are shining at an all time high right now. I can’t wait to hear about all your adventures and all the relationships you’re forming.

    Also – Winifrieda and John – THE definition of a power couple if I’ve ever seen one. So happy you are getting to know them.

    I can’t wait to hear about your encounters with the spiders.. I’m sure that’s been entertaining for all those who’ve gotten to witness your reaction.

    Zags – Enjoy your last week (or so) in Zambezi! Hold on to those memories and soak in the sunsets. Oh, also ask Father Yona to do a sing along/rap battle with you – he’s very good at it!

    I can’t wait to continue to hear more stories when you all return.

    Kisu Mwane,

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