Today marks the halfway point of our time here in Zambezi. It’s hard to believe it has already been three weeks since our departure from Seattle. This experience has already been so enriching thus far and I can’t wait to see what the next week and a half has in store.
When I reflect on the last three weeks, the first word that comes to mind is grateful. When in a place where everything is new and unfamiliar, it can be easy to move from one experience to the next without taking sufficient time to process. But as time has passed, and it has sunk in more and more that we have actually been living in Zambia for the past three weeks, all I can feel is gratitude. Gratitude for the things we’ve seen. Gratitude for the people we’ve met. Gratitude for the new culture we’ve had to the chance to learn from and appreciate.
We saw herds of elephants making their journeys to drink, swim, and frolic playfully in the river (I swear I saw one smile). A pride of lions gorged themselves with their fresh catch. Our insanely smart guides taught us how to see the constellations in a night sky that is unfamiliar to us. And a baboon swiftly stole a banana from Caroline’s pocket.
We got to gaze upon the powerful Victoria Falls; shouting for joy as the mist drenched us, making us feel like kids again. And soon after, we found ourselves diving into and zipping over the powerful Zambezi River, which connects all the way to the place we could only imagine at the time but have so quickly come to love: Zambezi.
The health team and I were entrusted with the responsibility of giving vaccines to precious, innocent newborn babies just days after they were born, as well as administering vital blood testing to keep pregnant mothers and their children safe.
We got to spend a night with local families in Zambezi to get a glimpse into their daily rhythms of life. Brendan, Paal, and I were challenged to an intense game of monkey in the middle, fed delicious Zambian food, and invited to join a dance circle that lasted well over an hour, fueled by the music we could create with our hands and our voices. It was an honor to be so generously welcomed into their home and hear stories about their family, finding connection with experiences we have had with our families growing up.
Finally, (along with Sarah and Cliff) I got to teach karate to 400 energetic and excited kids for the Sports for live event, organized by the sports crew.
All these experiences have been incredibly meaningful. And although I’ve found so much value in every single day, there have been days that I’ve found myself completely exhausted- mentally, physically, and emotionally. And to be completely honest, there are moments when the option of crawling back into my comfort zone seems more enticing than the invitation to be vulnerable. It takes less strength to be complacent, to shy away when a new relationship presents itself, and to give in when the going gets tough.
But when I find myself slipping into that place, I remind myself of the extraordinary people we’ve met on this journey.
I remind myself of Eucharia (a nurse in Zambezi who leads the health team in the district hospital). I remember how she kept fighting after losing her parents when she was only 12 years old. How she prioritized her education above all else, pursuing her nursing career in order to achieve financial independence before considering marriage, especially when that was not the norm. The multi-day shifts in the hospital that she pushed through because she knew lives depended on it. And more recently, I remind myself of how she still came to greet us at the hospital when her son had fallen mysteriously ill just the night before. She greeted us with the biggest, warmest smile on her face despite dealing with the fear of having her son in a hospital bed, on oxygen to help him breathe. I can’t even begin to imagine the fear a parent must feel in that situation. But when I asked her if she thought he was going to be okay. She said, “Yes, he is going to be okay, he has to be okay, there is no other option.” Something about her response hit me and I’ll never forget the confidence with which she said it. In a moment of immense uncertainty, she was strong. Strong because she had to be. Thankfully, David recovered fully and is back at home 🙂
I remind myself of Michael (a student we spent time with him in Lusaka and Livingstone). I think of the courage it took for him to leave his home in pursuit of education. The pain of seeing his family only a few times per year. And the work ethic it takes to continue succeeding in school with the weight of being a first-generation college student on his shoulders.
I remind myself of Terry (a Zambezi community member who helped translate when we met Michael’s family). I imagine the pushback and rejection he must face in his efforts to bring more equality into the Catholic Church in Zambia. But nevertheless, he remains strong because he believes in his heart that it is worth fighting for.
I imagine there have been, and still are times when these people feel the temptation to give up in the face of exhaustion. But they choose to lean into the discomfort. They choose to continue on when it’s no longer easy. To get back up when they face setbacks. And they do all this because what they are working towards is incredibly important; not only to them, but to those around them as well. And thus, it is worth fighting for.
So now when I inevitably find myself losing the strength to continue, I think of Eucharia’s strength. I think of Michael’s strength. I think of Terry’s strength. I think of the strength of all the incredible people we have met in Zambezi thus far. And in doing so, my own strength is again renewed.
With that being said, I want to take a moment to once again thank our family and friends who have been supporting us through our journey. Even from thousands of miles away, we can feel your love and encouragement through your thoughtful comments.
Finally, I encourage everyone reading back home to consider the people in your life who inspire strength in you and let them be sources of rejuvenation in times of need.
Much love and tunasakwilila mwane,
Tyler Thomas ’23