Sweet Dreams Zambezi

Goodbyes: not always easy to accept, never saying exactly what’s desired or wanted. Only attempting to convey the love and appreciation felt along this amazing, yet tumultuous month-long journey. Hopping on bush planes tomorrow, beginning the long, airborne journey home to the United States, I can’t help but feel a lack of closure.

I would be outright lying if I said I have loved the entirety of this trip. Day 4 of computer classes hit hard. Leaving times of welcoming lectures and class expectations, the computer team navigated ways to build connection and teach all of our students. Mind you, with around 25 students per class, 3 classes, and about 10-11 computers depending on the given day and whether those said computers decided to work, this was not an easy task at hand.

Starting computer lessons about Microsoft Word, we gave our students a project about family members. Type about each member of your family in a word document and save that file. Simple enough, right? Not quite, because the lowest number of family members was deemed to be around five and the speed of users was estimated to be around three words per minute. Joel, a member of the first class, similar to me in age, raised his hand to ask about the finger placement on a keyboard. Eager to make conversation with my students, I began to ask him about his life, family and goals. What I did not expect was the conversation of kids and parenting. We chatted about his two children and how being a father has shaped him into the man he is today. The theme of young parenting was present throughout the lessons, even with girls in grade school, coming to lessons in their school uniforms. “You don’t have any kids?” they would ask, “Do you not want any?” It seemed to be common culture for young mothers and fathers to raise children as single parents, the family dynamic of ‘a village raises a child’ in full swing with masses of kids hanging out by the gate, around our classroom and playing around the community.

“Do you have kids? Aren’t you my age?” I would ask in return. This always was followed with giggles and laughter, continuing on with lessons and sharing of stories. But deep down I felt a pit in my stomach of discomfort and uneasiness. How will I be able to fit into this hot-climate culture and a place so unlike my own? With the intention of walking “with” people, how are these relationships supposed to develop when lifestyles completely differ to the point of doubts and insecurities developing?

Later that day, grappling with how I was going to be integrated into this community, growing and learning about myself the way I was anticipating, I remembered a quote from one of my favorite artists addressing the issue of normality.

“Normality is a paved road. It is comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

– Vincent Van Gogh

The sandy pathways of Zambezi represent the journey that we have made to a different climate, culture and routine. A complete opposite of a paved road, Zambezi caused some instability within the first few days. I was slipping, getting stuck in the sand, trying to gain footing and balance, walking in a community that I feel starkly opposite from, not only in my appearance, but also in many of my values and lifestyle.

However, day by day, walks to the market did not seem as daunting. I knew the path, could walk decently through the sand while still holding conversation and even started to say hi to new friends at different shops as well as my students that I ran into. My flowers of kinship in the sandy walkways of Zambezi had started to sprout and I was giddy with excitement to nurture and tend to these newfound relationships.

 But what happens now that these relationships started developing? Digging deeper into my journal writing and my fellow Zags in conversation, I realized my deepest fear on this trip, one that I described, handing my rock to Leila and Regan, which Leila labeled perfectly. The fear of attachment. I love with my whole heart. Some may say this is a strength or a weakness: that is up for debate. But, I love deeply, susceptible to pain and brokenness when that is taken away. But I knew I was leaving. I have always known that I was going to be leaving. And that was the most painful weight on my heart and obstacle in making and forming these relationships. My fear of not making connections soon disappeared with continuous conversation and vulnerability. Language differences became just but a small barrier as I dug deeper into my students and friends. But the nagging countdown of days left in my head stuck as I went through lesson after lesson, market run after market run. I had gotten my footing in the sand, having relationships sprout up with every step, blooming into wonderful stories that I will keep in my heart, but the deadline until goodbyes haunted my thoughts, knowing that they were inevitable.

Our group is not meant to stay here forever. Goodbyes are meant to happen. Our time here is only but a chapter in the book of Gonzaga’s relationship with Zambezi. New chapters will be added with future groups of Zags and faculty, there will be new stories, new relationships, new struggles. Some characters in these new chapters will be returners, but some will be fresh, stepping into the sandy pathways with chances to grow and flourish.

As our time here in Zambezi has come to an end, this does not mean that the 19 of us will stop growing. Am I feeling a sense of closure as I spend my last night in Zambia writing this blog to all of you? No. Far from it. However, even though our feet are not going to be planted in the unpaved roads of Zambezi, walking to the market, school or just playing games with the children, we refuse to cease reflecting and thinking about our time here. As we close our eyes, we dream of this Zambian community, the friendships made, meals shared and memories created. We picture the sandy roads, vibrant sunsets and clear skies full of stars. We don’t say goodbye to Zambezi, we say sweet dreams.


Behind you, all your memories.

Before you, all your dreams.

Around you, all who love you.

Within you, all you need.

The biggest of Kisu Mwanes,

Emma Cheatham

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7 Responses to Sweet Dreams Zambezi

  1. Aaron C says:

    Emma, I am so proud to have you as a daughter and know you were able to share your love with the people of Zambia. I have a feeling you’ll be back there again someday.

    Safe travels to you all as you make your ways back to your homes on the paved roads that will get you there. I am sure the enormity of how much you have all grown will hit you in the way.

  2. Randy & Robyn Moore says:

    Thank you Emma for a wonderful closure, and to every Zag for the incredible posts. Good byes never get easier. But all of us become better for having the opportunity to experience such a transition: from those we know to those we knew.
    Caitlyn, thanks for my Fathers Day Greeting, and for Mom’s Birthday wishes. Please try and enjoy the trip back. Can’t wait to see you on Tuesday night.
    We love you.
    Mom and Dad

  3. Patty Helgesen says:

    Emma, thank you for your post. Wishing you all safe travels! Your families are waiting! Travel safe!

    Annika- Love you! Can’t wait to give you a hug!!

  4. Mia Campbell says:

    Safe travels everyone, we are so excited to see you and hear about this incredible experience in person!!!
    So much love,
    Efin: your typhoid medicine is ready when you are, giving me a run for my money in waiting patiently!!!!1

  5. Jim Goebelbecker says:

    Thanks Emma for sharing and reflecting the closing chapter on Zambezi. Thanks too for sharing the poem. I will definitely use it in future. Safe travels to everyone.

  6. Katie Maxfield says:

    Thank you all for your blogs! I have loved reading them and they give me chills every time. These are incredible stories.
    Megan Hayes! Come home because I can’t wait to see you!

  7. Kate Wiper says:

    It’s been so cool to see bits and pieces of your experience through these posts, and I can’t wait to hear about your time in Zambia the next time we chat! I am so proud of you and of your ability to positively influence all of those around you, you are truly a radiating light to this world!
    Safe travels, and much love,

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