Every day it feels like the days get shorter, but the laughs get longer. Time here feels different. Part of it might be because I never realized there was a clock in the convent until it fell on Josh’s head last night during reflection (he’s okay), but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s even more than the fact that we are unplugged from our technology, disconnected from the world but becoming more deeply connected to each other and the community every day. Where I used to be so focused on the hour of the day or willing the 50 minutes of a class period to pass by quicker, now the day is broken up only in three parts: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Interactions aren’t planned, relationships form without notice, emotions arise suddenly. Sometimes, it can be hard to feel like we are forming genuine connection when it is so obvious that we are so foreign to this community.
Nevertheless, it happens in the ways we least expect. It happens when a man named Eddie who is taking our computer class stays afterwards to find us and gives us a poster to hang on our walls of a keyboard he meticulously drew out. It happens when we laugh with the Mamas about our new Chitenge suits and dresses that in Mama Katendi’s words make us look like “true Zambian girls” and it happened today visiting Micheal’s parents. Riding in the back of a truck with a chicken accompanying us as a gift, we made our way to Chingolala. We were greeted along the way, many smiles and waves making us feel welcome and seen. Once there, we were greeted by many members of Micheal’s family, and a group of kids which never stopped growing as more and more children became curious to see us and see what we were doing there. Despite relying heavily on our translator Terry (who speaks a total of 7 languages), we could feel the warmth and love radiating from the words of Michael’s mother and father as they welcomed us to their home. I was filled with even more respect towards Micheal and inspired by his family. I began to understand why he so frequently mentions how important family is to him.
The feelings and emotions surrounding every activity and interaction are complex and often contradicting, changing moment to moment, day by day. Each day is different than the previous and filled with multitudes of emotions, all varying in depth and their own challenges and baggage. Throughout this trip I’ve felt plagued by guilt. I’m guilty about the life I get to live, guilty about the assumptions I make about others, guilty about feeling happy, guilty about feeling sad, guilty about not being the best writer, guilty about not being the perfect friend, guilty about not washing my plate, guilty about feeling guilty. I can’t help but think, even when I’m deep in a belly laugh, that there is someone’s pain nearby—even within me sometimes. I feel a deep-rooted sense of turmoil. I’m constantly reminded of the tension between such strong emotions of joy and sorrow. These contradictions are constantly and rapidly flipping through my mind. This experience has given me time to think and to reflect, yet I never seem to be able to settle on any conclusions because in every moment, my thoughts, wants, and feelings are changing. I can be on top of the world here, but my eyes can sting from the tears I am holding back. I can be dried out and exhausted but filled with energy from a hug of a friend or the stimulation of a new conversation. Some days are so jam packed there is barely time to breathe, and others pass by giving us time to read, to meditate, and get to know each other even more deeply. Every meal feels like a celebration; a gathering to appreciate the meals in front of us, the lives we are given, the opportunities we have. We celebrate each other through the ups and the downs. Every meal, we are becoming a family, understanding each other and ourselves more deeply.
I think I speak for all of us when I say we could never say enough thanks to those reading from home who have supported us through this journey, or to those we’ve met in Zambia who are continuing to let us into their homes and lives.
I’m not sure how I am going to bring back the things I have learned from being in Zambezi to “real life” which right now feels fantastical and distant. I am not even sure I could put into words the “lessons” I have learned. But if it gives any consolation, I know in my heart that we are living fully, loving deeply, laughing until our stomachs are sore and a snort slips out of Eva’s nose. Above all, if at times I feel like I could be the only one struggling with these contradictions, I know that no one truly needs to be alone in this or any journey.
Joci Anderson, Gonzaga Class of ‘23