Goodbye. Such a simple phrase, though it carries an abundance of weight and unknowing. How do you say goodbye to people that have stolen a piece of your heart whom you know you will likely never see again? How do you let yourself feel that sorrow without letting the weight of it crush your spirit?
There is no right or easy way to do so I am afraid. This moment in time simply approaches when you realize that the time you have spent with one another is coming to a close and you must say those dreaded words: goodbye. The only comfort I find in saying goodbye here in Zambezi is knowing I have done my best to express to each individual how much their presence in my life these last three weeks has meant to me.
Today, I along with the majority of the other Gonzaga students on this trip concluded our final day in class. While the majority of the other classes have students who are older and may have social media such as Facebook or email to stay in touch with their teachers, the ED team has no way of staying in touch with our students who are 6thand 7thgraders. Likely these students who have had such an impact on our hearts, we will never hear from again.
Throughout the last three weeks here, each team has worked tirelessly to prepare for each day of class and complete the curriculum we had prepared. Something that the ED team and I chose to focus on was the concepts of empowerment and expression. What is empowerment and expression? Empowerment: feeling and knowing you are strong and capable. Expression: showing your feelings, happy, sad or mad. Each day Caitlyn and I would begin the day reciting this with our students. While at first they were apprehensive and shy, they soon caught on to our enthusiasm.
Each morning we would walk in to our room and be greeted with “Welcome Madame” and they would continue standing until they were given permission to sit. Each day was truly an adventure at Chileña that none of us will ever forget. We quickly learned to expect the unexpected. From showing up to discover classes had been cancelled for the day to finding a dying chicken in the back of the class room or having a bat fly out of the rafters, every day was filled with lots of belly laughs and contagious smiles.
Every student brought a ray of sunshine to the dim classroom as well as a hunger for learning. Their desire to succeed shown through in their hard work and high aspirations. Mukenda and Omega want to be doctors. Hastings wants to be a pilot. Comfort wants to be a teacher. Royda wants to be a nurse. Jenni wants to be a soldier. I want them to fight for their dreams. I want them to soar.
But deep down inside of me, there is a voice that whispers, “Some of them won’t.” This voice haunts me day and night and I struggle to come to terms with it. I want the world for these children who have given me one of the greatest gifts any person could receive: unrequited love. The thought of them not being able to achieve their dreams closes in on my heart and crushes it, leaving me only with a dull ache.
This is what I have struggled with the most during my time in Zambezi: empathy. All my life I have been encouraged to empathize with others. Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us, it is a choice we make. While this has been something I pride myself in doing it has become a burden here. It weighs on my heart in everything I do and I have worked tirelessly to shut it out during my time here out of fear. Fear of hurting so badly that the rest of the world is unbearable. There has only been one day here where I have failed to keep the sorrow I feel deep down at bay and I became so overwhelmed that it came as silent tears streaming down my face.
While there is so many things here and in the world that make my heart hurt, here in Zambia there are also so many things that inspire me and give me hope. I see a fire in the people here. I see a hunger and desire for more. I see their kindness to others. I see their openness to form new relationships and connections. I see their laughter and joy. I see their culture and I love them.
I see these things in Mamma Josephine whom divorced her husband because he wouldn’t let her pursue politics. I see these things in Mamma Love who was a teenage mother but worked her ass off, founded SEPA and then found herself at a conference speaking to world leaders. I see these things in Father Yona who works tirelessly to cultivate a better community for the Catholic Church. I see these things in Gladwell, the headmaster of Chileña Primary School, who wants what is best for his students. I see these things in Debby and Eucharia who support the youth through Zam City, and the kindness they radiate from their souls.
Every single one of these people have inspired me and have left such a profound impact on who I am and will continue to be. Thus, returning to the issue of how do we say goodbye to that? It will be no such easy task. These last few days in Zambezi will be filled with many tear-filled eyes and watery smiles as we prepare to leave the place we have called home for the last three weeks.
Although I will be leaving a piece of my heart here in Zambezi something that eases my conscience is knowing that I will carry with me the memories I have made with the people here for the rest of my life. I will forever remember the bumpy car rides, walks to the market to pick up ice cream, long talks with my classmates or Zambians, the sweet dreams conspiracy (whom we now know was the health team), the spiders, the cold showers, the friendships. I will remember the people who have inspired me and kindled my spirit. I will remember the joy upon each child’s face when being read a book. I will remember the goodbyes.
I leave here knowing all the lives that have touched mine and the lives I have hoped to touch myself. I hope to have kindled the fiery souls of each student through empowerment, expression, and the wonderful Dr. Seuss. In our final days at Chileña we read to our students Oh the Places You’ll Go.This is a truly powerful and poetic book that fit right into the theme of our class. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” I hope that you all can take this with you as a reminder to follow your dreams and realize you are in control of your life, just as I hope the students of Chileña have taken the same thing with them.
To my friends and family: as much as I am sad to leave this place that has filled me with such joy, I cannot wait to hear from and see all of you in just a few short days. I have thought of you all every single day and you have truly walked this journey alongside me.