Building bridges one brick at a time

Zambezi fire brigade No. 1 leaps into action.

Musana mwane to everyone following along at home! 

After a rough couple days and some intense bouts of homesickness, it seems our group has reached a turning point. With one week remaining, there will soon be no more musical greetings, no more chatting with Ben while we browse for chitenge in his shop, no more cooking with Mama Katendi and Mama Violet, no more laughing under the gazebo with our health and business students, no more intense games of ultimate frisbee with the ZamCity kids…. You get the idea. We are going to miss it here very much. The clock is ticking and we are soaking up every minute. 

My day began as usual with a sweaty workout while some hit the road for a run and others took advantage of sleep. Clouds like cotton candy were sprinkled throughout the sky, and I said hello to the sun as it peeked over the horizon. A beautiful sunrise, it was. 

I carried my feelings of gratitude and contentment with me to breakfast, where we enjoyed a lovely meal prepared by Hattie, Clare, and Bella. Not much later, I strapped up my chacos, Sierra tied her shoes, Clare put her crocs in sport mode, and the health team—minus Grace S., who was Mama’s assistant today—was off to the hospital. Eucharia greeted us with a shining smile, and looked fashionable as ever. 

My time at the hospital thus far has been an extraordinary learning experience; the nurses and doctors are eager to share their knowledge with us, and I’ve been able to get an in-depth look at healthcare in Zambezi. However, and I say this for the sake of being totally candid, our time at the hospital is often accompanied by immense discomfort. Our role as observers feels intrusive as patients get examined before us, sometimes screaming in pain. During these moments, uneasiness lingers and prods. It asks, what are you doing here? 

I can’t help but spiral into a pit of stress-inducing thoughts. What am I doing here? Who am I, a measly little third year Psychology major, to invade a patient’s privacy like this? What is the point of me being in this hospital setting, where I am useless? Where I can’t even hold the hand of a crying child? Perhaps the cultural difference of privacy not being a priority here is at play, but nonetheless I struggle with these feelings.

I don’t have all the answers, but I keep returning to the purpose of learning; gaining a comprehensive understanding of how a community functions means taking a good look at its healthcare system. It also means getting to know the people who live in said community. Through my hours at the hospital and our conversations with brilliant healthcare workers (plus conversations with other members of the Zambezi community), I have been able to do just that. And so, by embracing my role as learner, I may add even just one brick to the bridge that stretches between different countries and cultures—between Zambia and the United States. To be clear, one month is not nearly enough time to truly know all the ins and outs of a specific society. I can tell you, though, that I have acquired many stories, and I hope to use these stories to paint an accurate picture of Zambia once I am back home.

Some of these stories are personal experiences, and some will be tales shared with me by Zambians. For example, in our cultural lesson today, Mama Katendi and Mama Josephine talked to us about the history of Lunda and Luvale initiation rites for women. They explained that—back when they were young—girls who hit puberty would be taken away and taught how to serve their husbands. This process involved “marking.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant until Mama Katendi revealed to us the scars on her back, forged by a razor blade during her own initiation. It was common for girls to be subject to this. Arranged marriage came next. 

Thanks to women like Katendi and Josephine, initiation rites like this are no longer practiced with the regularity they once were. Although certain traditions, such as teaching your children about respect, and other less harmful initiation practices, are upheld, the shackles of longstanding gender roles are gradually being broken. Mama Katendi said that she would never put her daughters through what she had to endure, and both her and Mama Josephine emphasized the importance of education being a priority for women. As a woman myself who knows all to well the battles we fight all over the world, their passion is encouraging. I continue to be in awe of them and all the other role models here in Zambezi. 

Following that conversation was lunch, which included quinoa salad! (A fan favorite). We gobbled it down embarrassingly fast, and everyone subsequently dispersed to attend to their daily duties. For the health team, that meant class time. Today’s topic was pregnancy and childcare, and as always, some fruitful discussion was sparked (you can always count on Julius to make things interesting. If you know, you know). I’ve grown to really look forward to these classes, and we have become very fond of our attendees. They never fail to ask thoughtful questions, share insight, or have a laugh. 

The day got even sweeter while spending some time with Kendall and Bella in our cozy room. We talked and giggled until it was time to leave for ZamCity, and then hopped in the truck bed with the others for yet another bumpy ride. On the agenda today: soccer (football, actually). All was well until we were greeted by the ashes of a nearby bush fire (oh no!). The ashes floated down upon us like black snow, and I jokingly stuck my tongue out while Lauren sang “feel the rain on your skin!” Being the bush lovers that we are, we rushed to help put the fire out with buckets of sand and some giant tree branches. 

Add putting out a fire without water to the list of things I’ve learned here! 

Our match resumed shortly. I was alright (I sucked), but Hattie, Lauren, and Kylie shined as they got to unleash the inner soccer player in each of them. Lauren even scored a goal so impressive that I couldn’t help but high-five her, despite being on the opposing team. 

It was a blast and a half. The ZamCity kids are talented and competitive and a whole lot of fun. Seeing their love for sport blossom under Debby’s (the founder of ZamCity) passion makes the athlete in me leap for joy. 

When it was time to depart, Hattie, Bella, Clare, Grace S. and I decided to run home. I don’t know what came over me, because I am by no means a runner, but it was surprisingly peaceful. I enjoyed the beat of our feet pounding the pavement as the sun set and the sky faded into a gentle orange above us. 

I’ll wrap up this blog post by giving you all an update on everyone, as others have done in the past: Kendall is continuing to make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts, Clare remains a stable and comforting presence, Kylie is impressing us all with her insightful comments during reflection, my roomies, Bella and Megan, are sweet and supportive as ever, Lauren has perfected her impressionist/accent skills, Sierra is revealing more and more of her sassy side, Grace’s kindness lights up our days, Dee is being her lovely and caring self, Hattie is kicking our butts on runs, Maddie is showing us all what a remarkable teacher she is going to be, Kris is spreading love everywhere she goes, and Jeff is cracking us up with his sarcastic remarks. 

To all our family and friends back home, we miss you and are eager to reunite, but we also can’t wait for the week ahead. Zambezi is a pretty special place. 

With so much love, 
Grace Ehler, ‘24

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4 Responses to Building bridges one brick at a time

  1. KC Larios says:

    Hey Ya’ll! This is KC, Clare’s aunt — and Clare’s Mom Sherry just pointed out to me that little button after each post that says Leave A Comment — well….dang – wish I would have seen that earlier (why I eyes ya)! So – WOW, I have enjoyed SO much reading each and every post you have made. First off, you all are such great writers – you all really bring your experiences to life and the family has been savoring each one and anxiously awaiting the next – truly! What an amazing experience you all are having to say the least. I’m sure the homesickness is REAL, but you are on the tail end now and will be back to the states in no time…so, just continue to avoid the creatures (except from afar), play the games, spread the joy, give the lessons, traverse the roads, learn from the people, sing the songs, appreciate the beauty, take care of each other and enjoy the journey. You are MISSED and we all can’t wait to hear the stories over dinner (and cocktails of course)! Safe Travels and we Love you SO SO much Clare-er-er! Aunt KC & Uncle RJ

  2. Karen Martinsen says:

    Hi, Everyone!

    This comment/request is for Jeff and Kris.

    As I read the blog post each day, I often find myself wondering how this trip’s experience compares to previous years. This year, coincidentally, it’s an all-girl group. I would love to know how it is similar to and also different from previous years.

    Maybe you could tell us your thoughts and experiences in this regard in a future blog post before the trip concludes?

    Many thanks to Jeff and Kris for taking our amazing young women on this trip of a lifetime!

    Karen (Sierra’s Mom)

  3. Jynn Ehler says:

    Thank you so much for this forthright blog. I know you are all experiencing a different way of life close up and real. Remember to be the change you want to see in this world. I am sure Gonzaga is proud of all of you representing this program in Zambezi.
    Go Zags!

    We miss you so much. We are excited to see you in a few weeks and look forward to hearing about everything you learned.


  4. Jody Smith says:

    Hi Grace!

    I am here from Jynn’s Facebook post! That video of you bungee jumping made my heart full. I love your love for adventure and actually enjoying things like bungee jumping and skydiving. I tried commenting on your June 1st post but I was a few week too late! I can’t wait to hear every single story you have to tell. As I read your posts I looked like a little boy watching Cars 2 (I’m babysitting a lot recently) I cannot help but have the biggest smile. Your words have a way of painting the most perfect picture it feel like I am there with you. Have the best last week of your life. I miss you so much and I am so proud of you for embarking on this adventure.
    With love always – Jody

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