Time has come

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

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6 Responses to Time has come

  1. Audrey Buller says:

    A beautiful reflection, Jeff. I loved listening to the sounds you linked here. The sounds of Zambezi are unique and plentiful. My favorite is the choir practicing right outside the convent. I’m so glad you are taking this angle on reflection—it’s beautiful. Enjoy your time in Zambezi and the many people you know who are like family there.

    Kisu mwane,
    Audrey Buller

  2. Blaine Atkins says:

    Jeff! It is wonderful to read your words and listen to your sounds. Your recollection of feeling simultaneously at-ease and unmoored reminds me of a thought I had yesterday: “I miss the odd peace of pre-dawn in unfamiliar places”. Your recordings bring me some of that feeling.

    The safari sounds remind me of OP’s quiet confidence, the museum of Memory’s knowledge and kindness, the reggae in the background of the kitting machine of Ja, and through a combination of those, the man who’s name I forget (was it Joseph?) who followed you around to sell you his “unique carvings”. I wish you had a half hour recording of that conversation. I will be re-reading my sensory memories of Zambezi in my journal when I get home tonight.

    My friend Maybin sent me a video of your plane landing the other day — the propeller noise backgrounded by his excited voice “they are here Blaine!” which made me more emotional than I expected. The now yearly tradition of two worlds coming together in a way that should be so unnatural, yet is carried through by mutual joy, love, and eagerness to receive and be received. Through this, somehow, the most natural kinship you could imagine.

    Sending you all love as you settle in to the peace, chaos, familiarity and foreignness of Zambezi. Tambokenu Mwane!

    Blaine Atkins '22

    p.s. Jeff, what are we doing today?

  3. Joshua says:

    Time has come. Wow. I was somehow transported to the tarmac of that one-time airport with all the feels and tears of landing in Zambezi, Jessy proudly greeting you all in her One Zambia One Nation dress, with the first of many songs that capture my heart and get replayed in my memories and dreams.

    So begins the awkward and beautiful dance of bringing together two old friends, with fresh Zags holding their own expectations, along with those of a Gonzaga community seventeen years strong while Zambians hold their own desires – some transactional, some rooted in accompaniment, most as complex and complicated as we are human.

    Meg Bowles says “honesty and empathy do not flourish in the expectation of perfection.” Let your encounters be messy. Be okay with feeling overwhelmed. Don’t retreat to the comfort of the convent but seek that next self-conscious and fumbling conversation. Give yourself and others all kinds of grace.

    Will someone please find Katendi and Josephine and hug them and hold them just a little longer than feels right – I’m missing these powerful women.


  4. Karen says:

    Look at you, embracing the multiple modalities available with blogging–love the soundtracks you include. The sound I have been reflecting on with students in my part of the world is roller bags on cobblestone–a somewhat different set of connotations there. 🙂

  5. Virginia Ehler says:

    Thank you so much for you different take on sharing this experience with us. I am grateful for the, ‘Sounds of Zambezi!’ ‘Time has come is my favorites’ as it bright incredible joy to my heart. The other sounds made me feel like I was there with you in Africa.

    Thank you so much for this reflection and for being a leader for this group. It is so much appreciated.

    • Virginia says:

      I see a few typos I made from my small phone!

      ‘Time has Come’ is my favorite as it brings incredible joy to my heart!

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