When things don’t go accordingly to plan

Who knew that I’d come to Zambia to enhance my BeReal Game?

Hello to everyone keeping up with the GIZ blog and the thirteen of us students!

We have collectively agreed that today counts as our first “real” day in Zambia. Yesterday, we were a pitiful sight with our rumpled clothing and greasy hair, and many of us were so exhausted we could barely form a coherent sentence. After about 10 hours of sleep—which was unfortunately disturbed by some enthusiastic roosters and dogs around 2 am—there was a tangible shift in our energy when we met for breakfast at 9 am. As we munched on eggs and toast (kindly home-made by the hostel staff), we reviewed Kendall’s charming blog post from last night (thank you to everyone who left a comment—we thoroughly enjoyed them!) and discussed our plans for the day. I appreciated that this was a screens-free meal as I got to know everyone better. For example, I had no idea Kylie is obsessed with Dance Moms or that about half of the group has an odd connection to a random celebrity! We also explored the plans for the rest of the week. Of particular interest was the range of adventures available at Victoria Falls—I’m sorry mom, but I’ve committed to going bungee jumping! Does it make you feel better that I’m doing it with Clare?

My favorite moment of the day occurred in the two hours of free time between breakfast and leaving the hostel. In true introvert fashion, I was so excited to grab a book and find a cozy chair where I could enjoy some peace and quiet by myself. As I made my way to my dorm with Bella, we stumbled upon Grace E. and Maddie on the balcony just outside the door. They kindly informed us that the lock to our dorm had broken and there was no indication when it would be fixed. One look at the gaping hole and splintered wood where a lock once stood, and Bella and I decided we were out of luck! Grace and Maddie invited us to join them on the couch, and in the two hours I chatted with them, I learned so much about everyone’s personal lives, our shared Gonzaga experience, and how to properly use BeReal 😊. This experience highlights the idea that some of the best memories are made when you decide to slow down and roll with the punches—and when you are in such great company!

Today also marks what I’m told is a recurring theme here in Zambia: having expectations for how the day will go, and them being entirely abandoned soon after said plans begin. Zambians work on their time, not ours. Around noon we set off for the day! On the agenda: explore the local mall for an hour, have a group lunch, head to the University of Zambia around 3 pm for a tour from two Zambian students at the university, have dinner, and head back to the hostel for our nightly debrief.

Lunch was a slight train wreck, but we left with full tummies and a bright spirit. The restaurant we ate at is situated across from the University of Zambia where they were hosting graduation. As students left graduation, they ended up at our restaurant. Our large group, along with a handful of groups even larger than ours, overwhelmed the staff and not everyone received the food they ordered. We all decided to share the food we did receive along with some delightful conversation to keep everyone in good spirits. Though this experience could be negative, I think it demonstrates the resiliency of this amazing group of women who want to be here and are willing to let go of American standards to enjoy this trip. I can’t wait to see in what other situations this spirit endures!  

First stop on our tour was a visit to a student
residence hall at the University of Zambia.
Drying laundry in open air is a necessity.

Our next stop of the day—the one we were all waiting for—was the University of Zambia! Last night during our debrief, we all explored our expectations of what it would be like and what questions we had. What resources would these students have? How many women attend the University? How many students get the opportunity to attend higher education? What are these students’ dreams? We were given a tour by three students at the University of Zambia. Micheal is studying civil and environmental engineering, and he was so eager to answer our questions! Harmony is studying public health, and I really appreciated her perspective (given that I’m a nursing major) and her warm attitude! Saint is an accounting and computer science major who was very knowledgeable about campus! We were excited to learn the percentage of women attending UZ is substantial, though it varies depending on the year and major, and that more people now have the opportunity to attend university since K-12 education recently became free nationwide and more students are graduating. I also learned that while a degree opens doors here in Zambia, it is much harder to find a professional job than in the United States. This has led me to reflect on my privilege as a nursing major who is guaranteed a job post-graduation.  

I do feel the need to write about an event that occurred today during the tour. It was confusing and uncomfortable, though none of us feel too negatively about it. It highlights this idea that we have become the outsiders, and that we are quite obviously different from the locals in our appearance and culture. As a group of mostly white women in particular I think we drew attention on the college campus that we wouldn’t have if male students accompanied us. Micheal and Harmony gave us the chance to visit the dorms which are divided into male and female. As we walked through the female section, the women pointed and whispered and a few waved. As soon as the men got sight of us, however, they all flooded their balconies and began shouting in various Zambian languages, pointing, waving, and recording us. During our debrief, we described feeling like celebrities as we passed through the dorms. Kendall shared an interesting thought that regardless of the fact that we’re trying to blend in and make ourselves small to avoid unwanted attention, we are noticeably different and we can’t escape that.

The kitchenette in Micheal’s dorm: Both familiar to and distinct from dorm kitchens everywhere.

Overall, we all discussed how lovely the UZ tour was and how our day was both chaotic and exactly what we were expecting in signing up for this trip. We are happy and safe, and looking forward to our adventure at Victoria Falls tomorrow! Waking up at 6 am for an 8-hour bus ride to Livingstone before we do that, however, not so much!  

Sierra Martinsen, 2024

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10 Responses to When things don’t go accordingly to plan

  1. Andie Rosenwald says:


    Thank you for the update! Unfortunately (or maybe not), Zambezi is also woken up by roosters and sometimes even an early church choir practice!

    You will also soon get used to the concept of “Zambia time.” Things happen when they happen, and I hope you will appreciate it as a more person oriented way of living. Take your time with your interactions, both with Zambians and each other. I still cherish the time I spent lingering a little longer.

    Wishing you all a safe, smooth bus ride to Livingston. Enjoy Victoria Falls!!

    Kisu mwane,
    Andie Rosenwald
    ZamFam ‘22

  2. Karen Martinsen says:


    Wow! That sounds like an amazing day filled with great conversation and making new friends. I love the detail and the pictures that you included. I also love seeing your smiling face!

    The University of Zambia looks interesting. I’m so glad you got to see it!

    While I’m not so sure about bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, I’m sure it will be a very memorable experience for you! And I really admire your sense of adventure. Have someone take pictures.

    And don’t forget the wristbands and Dramamine for the bus ride tomorrow!


  3. Craig says:

    Beautifully written Sierra! It feels like we are right there with you. Sounds like a great adventure and sounds like a great group of Zag sisters. Here is a great paradox for you. How can one person jump off a bridge 111 meters high (yes, I looked it up) with a well-worn cord around her ankles with absolutely no trepidation and still be terrified by a spider that you probably need a microscope to see?

    Enjoy the trip to the falls and the whole Zambian adventure.



  4. Don Bilbrey says:

    I appreciate the very informative description of your trip so far. You are well aware by now this is a different world from what you are used to. Take full advantage of this learning adventure. Be careful and be safe.



  5. Dugan Watts says:

    Letting go of expectations is something you slowly learn to lean into while in Zambia. I came to appreciate and embrace what we call “Zambian Time” for its ability to create meaningful moments outside the busyness of the world.

    Your words have brought so many warm memories back to mind, even waking up in the middle of the night to a chorus of roosters.

    The weeks to come only bring more memories and more challenges, embrace them both.

    Kisu mwane,
    Dugan Charles Early Watts
    Zagfam ‘22

    P.s. Jeff, I have been getting my head buzzed ever since our haircut in Zambezi, but they never look quite as good as that first one. Much love

  6. Sherry C says:

    Oh you Zags have SO MUCH FUN. What an experience – can’t wait to see more about your adventures and experiences. Lean into each other and to our sweet Clare. Miss her SO much. Love, (Clare’s) Mom

  7. Audrey Buller says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection, Sierra. “Zambian time” is something I grew to love during my time in Zambezi. It often allows for meaningful and authentic encounters with people and it sounds like you are beginning to experience this for yourself. Enjoy the rest of your time in Lusaka and soak up (literally) the wonder at Victoria Falls!

    Jeff—Good luck on the bus ride. I’m sending you all the good vibes for a motion-sickness free ride (unlikely but one can hope)

    Maddie—I miss you tons! Keep enjoying the orange soda 🙂

    Kisu Mwane,
    Audrey Buller

  8. Virginia Ehler says:

    Thank you for the update and the photos to give us an idea of what you all are experiencing.
    Don’t you just love ‘animal alarm clocks?’ The problem is that they seem to go off earlier than expected.
    I am commenting after the fact, so I wanted to say I hope your Bungee Jumping experience was exhilarating. Never inform a mother you’re going bungee jumping in a blog- lol
    Victoria Falls is beautiful.
    Glad you enjoyed your time in Lusaka!
    Go Zags,


    • Virginia Ehler says:

      BTW – Great Title! and it was awesome that you all made the best of it, going with the flow.

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