Hello again to all my bloggers. I’ve missed you! Grace S. and I just went for a delicious morning run. Taking advantage of the cool air and cloudy skies, we followed the same route that Jeff showed us yesterday. (Maybe I should keep that part a secret because we didn’t know if we could go that way alone) (sorry Jeff). I would like to take this moment to acknowledge the elephant in the room, or should I say the CREATURES in the ROOMS! In the past two days I have counted three cockroaches, one frog, one lizard, and more mosquitos than countable traverse the ground and walls of Grace S.’s and my room. I think there may have been a public service announcement made to all wildlife that Noah’s Ark was soon arriving in our room.
“They always come in twos” (Grace Sikes). How prophetic and slightly terrifying.
After a quick breakfast at the convent we packed up to head to Dipalata. Kris suggested we make some peanut butter and jelly sammies for the trip (genius status). While making these sandwiches, I felt just like Goldie Hawn in Overboard (post memory loss) when she is making school lunch for her newfound children (they are not actually her kids, if you haven’t seen the movie). I just wish I had that silly banjo tune playing in the background of my sack lunch making moment. We set off in two cars, one commandeered by Jeff and the other by Father John. The ride was “forty minutes long.” Two hours and a bumpy, swervy ride in the sand later, we were at the church. Father John may have had a secret aspiration to be a Nascar driver that was uncovered on our racecar drive (in a Land Cruiser).
Upon arrival, there was a crowd of children that followed us down the road. Apparently, the community was not expecting us until evening, and so our morning arrival was quite the surprise. The hospitality is off the charts, and quickly members of the Dipalata community were rushing around us to prepare our space and gather people for the small classes we planned on teaching on health and leadership. We scarfed down the pb and js and immediately went to play with the children as the adults scrambled to accommodate us. The thought of this does make me a little uncomfortable, as we showed up way earlier than expected and threw off their day. Despite this surprise, community members were coming up to us and hugging us, celebrating our arrival anyways. Kris, Megan, and Hattie began demonstrating how to chase bubbles, and the children immediately joined, crowded around these ladies and the two small bottles of bubble soap we brought. I tried to read a book to a few kids but they immediately ran away from me. I don’t have the same charm as some of the other girls yet. However, beautiful Maddie expertly began giving a music lesson to the kids using small Easter eggs filled with sand that sounded like maracas. Our future music teacher is already a star. Jeff began pelting small children with a ball, he called it a game, I called it unleashing his anger that the kids were jumping on the truck while he was driving. To my surprise, the children seemed to enjoy this game[editorial insertion by Jeff: “It’s actually a game! Similar to dodgeball. And I am the champion.”]. I still have oh-so-much to learn about Zambia.
Lunch was prepared for us while we played with the children. A game of “duck, duck, goose” was attempted and I would say the kids had fun, even if I couldn’t quite call what they were doing “duck, duck, goose.” Some kids had a woven string circle that they were doing a magic trick with, where they stuck their hand into the circle and then with some fancy twist of their arm, pulled down and were free of the string. I watched a few times and a boy handed it off to me. My time to shine! Just kidding. Rather than a round of applause I got a cacophony of laughter as I became messily intertwined with the string. Eventually I got it, but not without the kids physically leading my hand through the trick.
After a plentiful lunch of nshima, chicken, oranges, potatoes, avocado, and bananas, Jeff announced that we needed to prepare for our group presentations that the health and business leadership teams had planned. Turns out he was giving us a much needed break from the children after a long morning. We were all grateful for this short dose of rest, and relaxed on the floor of our sleeping quarters. Our classes went fairly smoothly, with Mama Katendi and Mama Josephine translating for both teams. Unfortunately, some of the topics discussed were a little controversial in reaction. You know that anxiety we’ve all had before a presentation, that lingering irrational fear that everyone will laugh at you? The sexual health and STI portion of our lesson was this fear incarnate. The women were hiding their faces from the men and laughing, the men were staring at the women, all while we were awkwardly trying to explain what certain symptoms might mean. While I felt embarrassed and frustrated at the adults not taking this seriously, I also had to take a moment to see it from their side. These topics are not commonly discussed in rural areas, and they probably felt just as awkward as us. However, Mama Katendi later said they were interested but embarrassed to discuss such topics in front of the opposite sex. Other topics gained more positive traction, such as nutrition, the Heimlich maneuver, heat stroke, and wound care.
As the sun began to set, we set up our beds in a small building next to the church. Sleepover parYAY! I was lucky enough to lay my sleep sack between Kris and Kylie. We then congregated for a yummy dinner by headlamp light.
After dinner the local Dipalata choir joined us for a bonfire. This felt like the first time we’ve done something with the community around us, not just in it. Clustered together, we sang songs that Mama Josephine taught us in preparation for Dipalata. When our “Choir Mistress” Kendall led us in Twaya Mwanta we realized that our pronunciation needed some work after the crowd started laughing. Mama Josephine twirled around the campfire, pulling up members of the choir to dance. I could feel the beat of the drum thumping in my chest, and the hum of the guitar pulsing in my fingertips. We all tucked into bed around 10pm and fell right asleep after a full day.
We woke up to the Mamas boisterously chatting and taking calls at 7:30am. Phone calls wait for no Mama. Breakfast consisted of yams, fruit, and potatoes. I’m beginning to notice a theme. It was smashing. The church bell rang soon after and we packed into the Saint Clera Catholic Church in Dipalata. A lovely older woman named Anastasia came and sat next to me for the beginning of mass. When the choir sang she loved to do a yowl that went sort sort of like “LELLELELELEHELELELE” to show her support for the singers. Kylie liked it so much she joined too, right in my left ear! Love you Kylie. Anastasia also translated for me when a man announced some instruction before mass. She said he was telling parents to “get their kids to shut up.” Mass went on for a Zambian thirty minutes, so three hours. It was beautiful though, and the singing never fails to make me believe in magic. We packed up and had our last lunch in Dipalata. The community was very welcoming and I’m thankful for the experience.
After driving an hour to Chinyingi we arrived at the legendary bridge across the Zambezi River, the one that headlines most advertisements for this program. Father John instructed us to keep our eyes forward and to not look down. It was a little spooky but felt secure. Once we crossed, he showed us the missionary hospital and his home. Chinyingi was very beautiful and extremely quiet. Ghost town vibes. Father John told us that the bridge was built in 1974 by a priest. Not an engineer. He was careful to add that the bridge was built on “prayer and meditation” before we crossed back over it. Let’s just say I was calling upon my own prayers and meditation on the way back after realizing that the bridge may not be as sturdy as we presumed.
Exploring Dipalata and Chinyingi led me to reconsider my expectations on what “rural” looks like here in Zambia. When we first embarked on our plane ride from Livingstone to Zambezi I think I was subconsciously expecting a significant decline in resources, education, healthcare, and connection to the outer world. I was dead wrong. The majority of people I see in Zambezi have cell phones and there is reliable service, most of the technology that we have readily available to us in America is also available here. Speakers, AirPods, tvs, phones, etc. Children and adults alike are fluent in multiple languages, mainly Luvale, Lunda, and English. Healthcare is freely available to the public and routine vaccines are commonplace to anyone that can make their way to hospitals. Zambezians are often more knowledgeable about American politics than I am. And even more so on Zambian politics. Zambezi is really only rural by location. On our way to Dipalata and Chinyingi we were told these places would be the most remote experiences of the trip. Father John’s house had a huge living room where two children lounged around watching a tv show they like to follow. The real eye opener in Dipalata was the difference in language priority. It seemed Lunda was the number one language taught to children and this made it slightly difficult to converse with the community. That being said, I wasn’t dismayed that a lot of people didn’t speak English. I was able to use my charade skills to talk back and forth with the kids, and they taught me a lot of phrases in Lunda. I respect that the original languages are still so alive within these communities, and English hasn’t dominated. We are lucky to be able to easily communicate with Zambezians, but this is an accommodation for English people and I often hear more Luvale or Lunda than anything in conversations that don’t involve Americans.
We drove back from Chinyingi and finally we were home. This trip felt like the longest one yet. Hattie, Grace S., and I immediately threw on the running shoes and pounded out a quick mile before it got too dark. Then Grace S and I played electrician while we switched out our broken lightbulb. Our room is so lit now!! I’m going to end my very long-winded blog post here. I love and miss my family and friends!!
Clare Cibula, ’24