There is no photo anchoring this post. I’ve chosen to take a different sensory approach to my addition to this chorus of reflections on our time in Zambia.
I’ve returned to Zambezi over half-a-dozen times, and I still remember that first trip a decade ago. As support staff that first trip, I experienced all of the tensions and joys of landing in a new community on the other side of the globe.
I recall the cognitive and emotional dissonances of feeling simultaneously at ease and unmoored, and the struggle both to want to prepare for and record every detail while also remaining free to simply live in the moments.
In time, my experiences here have changed. The tensions tug at me in new ways; the people whose radical welcome was an almost inexplicable miracle are now in many ways family to me. And, the customs that seemed so, well, foreign to me are now hard-wired into my way of being here. A three-step handshake, a pull-in hug with attention to both cheeks, one obligatory question to check in on the family of someone I haven’t seen in a year: all things I learned as markers of how Zambians express their care and warmth.
As these once new customs became familiar, I returned each year wanting to deepen my friendships, broaden my understanding of the communities in this country, and expand the ways I might share why Zambia has come to mean so much to me. And, as I’ve become more comfortable, I’ve also been able to slow down and see, and listen to, more of what’s around me.
This year, I wanted to set myself the goal of capturing some of the sounds of Zambia. Some of this will come in interviews we conduct with leaders in this community and some in the videos of obviously significant events that our students will share when they return home. Others, however, are more mundane.
The constant “beep” of taxis trying to hail a potential fare. The trumpet of a juvenile elephant in Chobe. A karaoke cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” as I walk past a night club in Livingstone. The Fajr Adhan broadcast at first light this morning from the nearby mosque after I sent students to board the first flights to Zambezi. The more-audible-than-she-expected “eeeeellpp” Clare let escape her throat as we awaited our pilots this afternoon.
These sounds are both the backdrop to, and the voice of, our experience here in Zambia. So, if you want to know what life can sound like in this little pocket of our planet, here are a few glimpses.
A pair of birds in call and response while in Lusaka. Our students singing on the bus to Livingstone. Life inside Livingstone National Museum on Africa Day. A few small sounds from the Safari. Everyday business at the jumpsite on Victoria Falls Bridge. A member of the Fawlty Towers team raking leaves that fell overnight. A woman in the Livingstone Public Market teaching us how she operates a knitting machine. Our pilot, Lukas, walking through his pre-check and engine start for our flight to Zambezi.
Amid all the sounds that have formed the backdrop of our first week here, there is one I’ve been waiting for most. The Chilen’a school choir, directed by our longtime friend Jessy Mukumbi, welcoming our arrival at the Zambezi airstrip. I’ve often tried to explain to friends and family what it’s like to be welcomed by a full choir, but words aren’t made for such a task. So, just as the time has come for us to settle in to our life here in Zambezi, I share with you the song “Time Has Come,” which welcomed our students here to their new home in Zambezi.
I can’t wait to see how this group of women grows, learns, and builds new relationships in this town. Parents and loved ones, your students are digging deeply into this rich experience and caring for one another in profound ways. Past Zags in Zambezi, they are carrying your legacy of accompaniment with curiosity and joy. To all who follow along, we are excited to make this pivot to the true purpose of our journey. The time has come to be here in community with the people of Zambezi.
Jeff Dodd, Gonzaga University English Department