This was Josh’s response when I inquired about the massive spider in the corner of my shower on our first day in Zambezi. While I was certainly hoping for an enthusiastic offer to kill it for me, I was not surprised by Josh’s challenge. Zambezi is not a place to live in comfort – fears must be shut down or embraced; kill the spider or name it. Inspired by the goal to grow and push myself, and certainly influenced by fear of knocking the giant spider onto my face in attempt to kill it, I chose to name it. This has not been a comfortable or particularly enjoyable experience, but I have found myself becoming consistently less scared of my new friend. With something as simple as naming my shower spider, I have found myself steadily overcoming my fear of bugs. In many contexts, stepping into discomfort has given me countless chances to grow and adapt as an individual throughout the last week.
On Sunday morning, Joci and I walked for about a mile with our homestay sister, Grace, to go to mass at the Catholic church. We dropped our backpacks at the convent and asked Grace and her friends, Joy and Memory, to save us a few seats. We found them seated right behind the choir, who were wearing bright red matching polos. Grace motioned to the row in front of her and her friends, and Joci and I settled in. Excited for another vibrant expression of faith, we anxiously awaited the beginning of mass. Before we knew it, the choir and all the people around us stood up for the opening song. Trying to blend in as much as we could considering our obvious visible differences, Joci and I hesitantly stood up as well. As the songs began, the dancing did too. Soon enough, we were frantically trying to keep up with the impressive choral choreography. Not nearly as musically inclined as anyone around us, we tried our best to stay on beat as we pumped our arms, clapped, stomped, side stepped, turned, and jumped. We were encased in surround-sound joyful music, as apparently the red polos were a mere suggestion for the choral uniform. It took us a minute to realize, but Joci and I had been sat right in the middle of the choir. Once I realized what happened, my immediate response was to quietly slide out of the row and find a seat somewhere else where I could be an observer and not a performer. Josh’s advice came to mind again. “You can either kill it or name it.” I decided in this moment to embrace the awkwardness and the out of place feelings instead of running away from the discomfort. The dances only got more intricate, but I only got more comfortable. By the end of the service, Joci and I were proudly humming along, staying on beat with our steps, and we even figured out the timing of the climactic jump-clap in the middle of the final song! The service, which was lovely, ended with a Father David giving a shoutout to Josh and “the new members of the St. Cecelia Youth Choir.” I was beaming after being awarded my new title, as I felt incredibly welcomed and appreciated in response to taking a risk. My step into discomfort was rewarded with celebration, laughter, and significant strengthening of my sense of community.
Such initial fear or awkwardness has also taken shape in our class. The students in our business and leadership class are activists, church leaders, teachers, parents, politicians, and businesspeople. Their views on leadership are nuanced and thoughtful, which is beautiful to see and learn from. At the same time, I don’t often feel qualified to instruct such incredible, experienced people. There have been many times when I felt like I should remove myself from our class and just listen instead of trying to teach anything. Even so, our course needs direction, and I have worked hard to embrace my role as a facilitator and sharer of knowledge. We push our students to consider new perspectives, which is perhaps the most challenging, yet rewarding, part of this course so far. We recently introduced the concept of servant leadership in class. Our students met it with surprising backlash, even declaring that “you cannot lead if you do not have power.” I felt very uncomfortable in this class, not knowing what to say or how to direct the conversation. I did a clumsy job stumbling through an alternate explanation and argument and left class feeling frazzled and embarrassed. Today, my discomfort was rewarded once again. Boyd, one of our most devoted students, pulled me aside after class. He told me about how he used to think that democratic leadership was ideal, but now he wants to lean into servant leadership in his church community. He has found a new concern with the people he leads and said that our comments inspired him to think of others first. My heart swelled; I felt so proud of our students and our work as facilitators. Despite my discomfort leading a course where I do not necessarily feel like an expert, Boyd’s comments were affirming and showed us that our work does indeed make a different here in Zambezi. We have exchanged so much knowledge with our students, much of which would not have happened by living in comfort.
Finally, we have been tasked with interviewing a community member for our Writing Traveler class. I found myself with a few free hours this afternoon, so I walked over to Mary and James’ home. They are both tailors and I have met them twice before today, but only in accompaniment with Jeff, who considers them good friends. I had never been one to approach others for friendship, and I rarely like to go anywhere by myself. Today, though, I decided to push myself into discomfort once again. I went on my first solo walk in Zambezi, which was an empowering experience of freedom, independence, and confidence in my knowledge of the area. I successfully navigated to their home and walked up to their door to ask for Mary. She came outside, enthusiastically greeted me with a handshake and hugs, and grabbed me a chair to sit and chat. Mary embodies humility, hard work, and love and her story is inspiring and heartwarming. But even more memorable is her spectacular laugh. Mary’s giggles light up the room and fill everyone around her with joy. I could not stop smiling the entire time I was with her. Not only did our conversation solidify our friendship, as she invited me to call her Auntie Mary and to come back any time, but it also provided me with one of the most authentic, profound moments of joy that I have had in Zambia so far. This simple moment of laughing with a new friend stemmed from the bravery to embrace discomfort. Had I shied away from walking somewhere on my own or approaching someone that I wasn’t sure would remember me, I would not have gotten to appreciate Mary’s inspiring story, her infectious laugh, or our new friendship.
Embracing the discomfort is incredibly challenging for me, but it has paid off in indescribable ways here in Zambezi. Fears are overcome, connections are deeper, learning is more meaningful, and smiles are bigger when we take the challenging route through adversity.
Finally, I would like to send our love to everyone at home who is reading along with our blog and keeping us in your thoughts. We can feel your support from here and are loving reading your comments and keeping you updated. We hope you are all well.
Andie Rosenwald, Class of 2024
P.S. Shoutout to Abigail McWhirter Martin (Johnston). We had a wonderful birthday celebration for her today (it may have included some baby powder).