Today, Friday, June 3, 2022, marks exactly one week since arriving in the vibrant community of Zambezi. As each day passes, we have begun to understand our roles in this beautiful place. Most mornings, I head out for an early run with a large group, Paal, or sometimes just by myself, and, if I’m lucky, I catch the sunrise. Along with the breathtaking view of a fiery red sun breaking through the horizon and shedding light on the trees and plains along the Zambezi River, waking up early to explore the sandy streets of this community offers an opportunity to see an aspect of life here largely unseen, yet equally important to be shared.
After lacing up my shoes this morning, I quietly slipped out the convent doors to be welcomed by the noise of roosters both near and far. The sun hadn’t quite risen, but the light from its upward movement caused a grey-like illuminating effect on the sky, enough to see well enough in front of me and the perfect time to start running. Already, adults and children had begun biking or ox-carting goods towards the direction of the Zambezi market, and kids outfitted in plaid uniforms were walking in couplets towards the Zambezi Basic School. Returning from my run, three kids on their way to school waved hello and began running with me. Catherine, Robby, and Tina, fully suited in formal attire, found it perfect for running a mile or so with some random guy like myself before their day of school. They were on their way to the Basic School, where I happen to work at teaching physical education with Debby Kensoma. While they weren’t students I was familiar with, they expressed their excitement for their upcoming day. Parting ways, I couldn’t help but think that the people of Zambezi—just like some of you reading—get up early to provide for their families or livelihoods by working towards a goal or future with hopes of being in a better place than the day before.
As more time is spent here in Zambezi, unique opportunities to shed light on the lives and ways of living here seemingly emerge from nowhere, whether or not you’re ready. In my free time here, inspired by the casual nagging of my little sister (Hello, Mary, I hope you’re doing well), I carried along and read the book, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins. In this novel, I found a particularly significant line: “That every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” This quote fits this trip as we have begun to explore that mystery of people who lead lives far different from our own in Eastern Washington. Additionally, I believe this quote highlights the focus of our purpose, accompaniment, walking alongside the Zambezi people with hopes to understand their way of life, or simply, their mystery.
Yesterday, after expressing interest in the trading methodology, I wandered to the river with Josh, seeking to understand the lives of the boatsman on the Zambezi. I met Gilbert, an angler who has been working for thirteen years catching Kapenta—a tiny type of fish, commonly seen dried—to provide for his family of three children. Every morning, he boats his wife across the river with the Kapenta caught from the day before to sell at the market and then proceeds to set his nets along the Zambezi River to later collect in the evening and repeat the process the next day. I also had the opportunity to meet Stewart, a man who provides a ferry service to cross the river from seemingly all times of day, primarily to deliver individuals looking to buy or sell items or goods at the Zambezi market. Crossing the river upwards of twenty times per day—no easy task—on a carved and chipped boat of Mukwa wood, Stewart practices a tradition of the Luvale Tribe, wherein the old teach the young the ways of crossing the Zambezi River through traditional practices.
Being an outsider, it could have been easy to see both Stewart, Gilbert, and all those trekking towards a day of work or study as mere conduits to a small-town economy and not offer much thought to their individuality or their livelihood. While their work may differ from ours, they too have experiences worth exploring and learning from that can contribute to our understanding of the Zambezi life and culture. While my insights are but a fraction of the group perspective, I believe we are all continually unfolding the mysteries and profound secrets of many individuals in this community. Tomorrow we depart the convent for our Home-stay, in which we spend a night with an unknown member of the Zambezi community. This blog will not be updated until Sunday afternoon (PST). If you’re reading this and a loved one you know is on this trip, leave them a note of encouragement as we continue on our journey.
Brendan McKeegan ’24