Finding Comfort in the Midst of Discomfort

 

Hello sweet family, friends, and all those reading!

            We are just over three weeks into our time in Zambia, many of us finally in a rhythm but still experiencing new surprises each day. We enjoy meals together, walk to the market for a donut and a Fanta in the afternoons, and view the most beautiful sunsets each evening. It is truly lovely here.

            In the weeks leading up to leaving for Zambia, I could not contain my excitement. Zambezi was brought up at least once a day, I was constantly checking my packing list, ordering essentials like deet wipes and a sleep sack from Amazon, I was in preparation mode. Since I did some extensive research (thank you Josh, Devon Smith, and the internet) before creating a PowerPoint to convince my parents to allow me to go to Zambia, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in Zambia. I mean, at least I thought I did. Per usual, I think I was so focused on the logistics of the ordeal, that I didn’t really think about the fact that I would be in a very different environment soon and I may experience some discomfort.

            Only about a week into being in Zambezi, did I start to feel comfortable in the environment I was in. Before that, each day was very different, though incredibly full of bonding time with my fellow zags over unforgettable experiences like seeing elephants in their natural habitat and jumping off bridges together. I had to get used to a new sense of the word “routine.” Though our days in Zambezi began and ended relatively the same each day and night – breakfast and blog in the morning, reflection and the daily reassurance from my roommates Leila and Sammi that there are no spiders in my bed at night – there was no way to predict anything in between. At first, the natural planner and routine lover in me was a bit overwhelmed, but after realizing that with every day, new small surprises would come, I made the conscious decision to switch my mindset to “going with the flow” and accepting each new day as it was.

            On the first flight over, 14 hours to Dubai, I experienced some expected nausea and motion sickness and Dramamine quickly became my new best friend. A source of comfort in the midst of discomfort. I used it on every single flight, several long car rides so far, and even though it made me quite loopy on the drive back from Mpidi the other day, it helped ease the uneasiness I felt in being bumped around in the back of a borrowed land cruiser. The long bumpy land cruiser rides have been a constant in the lives of the health team. In this, we have been able to see several different ways of life within just a couple hours of Zambezi.

            Just yesterday, we had the chance to visit several different HIV+ patients at their homes, all of which were about a 20-30 minute drive away from our convent. Because people here are educated about HIV pretty much their whole lives, we did not come with the intent to give these people lessons about HIV and AIDS. We visited them in order to simply be with them and offer some support in the midst of their discomfort. Winifrieda, my homestay mother and a HIV outreach coordinator, wanted each of us to offer words of encouragement to each patient. We didn’t actually know that we would be doing this type of outreach until about 10 minutes before leaving, but per the new “go with the flow” mindset, I was ready. Sitting with the first patient, a young girl who had lost her mother to HIV, but was already taking medication for her condition, I think all of the health team was pretty saddened to the point of discomfort. When we found out that this eleven year old girl had dreams of becoming a nurse one day, the reality of her situation became apparent to us – though something like hoping to become a nurse is attainable for each of us on the health team, attaining this goal may not be as simple for her. So, as we began to offer her support in our words, we got over the awkwardness of encouraging someone we had only just met and spoke of the bravery and strength we saw in her and the way that her story inspired us in the short time we had with her. As she was sitting there, next to her grandmother on a reed mat in front of their thatch home, the smile on her face and the graciousness of her grandmother showed that our words were a source of comfort in that moment.  

            Throughout the past couple weeks, we have also had the chance to visit various hospitals in the area. In touring these hospitals – the local Zambezi District Hospital, a missionary maternity clinic, and a high-functioning missionary hospital in Chitokiloki, we couldn’t help but feel a bit of discomfort. Though the supplies of each hospital varied greatly, one thing we found common between each was the willingness of doctors and nurses to share details of patients’ conditions. Coming from the U.S., we are used to strict patient privacy rules in hopes of respecting each individual’s wishes with their personal information. We are so used to an individualistic approach to providing care and protecting patients, that the sharing was uncomfortable for some of us. After reflecting on these experiences, we realized that our very individualistic culture is different from the Zambezi culture centered around sharing, and this acted somewhat as a source of comfort. However, what we couldn’t and can’t quite find comfort in was the way some nurses were describing patients’ conditions right in front of them, without regard to the patient themselves. So far at Gonzaga, we have been taught to place upmost value in the dignity of each person we interact with as future nurses – this is not to say that the nurses here don’t value the dignity of their patients, it was just challenging to see that in the situation.

            Finding comfort in the midst of discomfort can be challenging at times, but as my mom has encouraged me to do since I was very young, pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones allows for growth and new perspectives. As many of us have found ourselves pushed outside our comfort zones in Zambezi, some small sources of comfort remain, including the warm smiles Mama Kitendi and Mama Violet always welcome us with, the close community we Zags have created with each other through laughter, riddles, and deep talks, watching the sun go down with a sky full of color, knowing our loved ones are seeing the same sun, and sharing ice creams at Eukaria’s stand. We experience these comforts consistently, yet we still wrestle with discomforts like those found in the hospital or the fear of spiders in our beds. And that’s good, it’s why we’re here! Throughout this all, we are learning to become comfortable being uncomfortable.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

Kisu Mwane,

Ellie McElligott

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Feel Free

(Unrelated photo that hopefully kinda gets you into a reflective mood)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am reflective: constantly and to a fault. In preparation for this trip, we congregated in Gonzaga’s student chapel during finals week for a commissioning service. During the service, we took part in a reflective activity in which we took a scrap of paper, and wrote a hope for the trip on one side, and a fear on the other. We then collected the papers and redistributed them so that each member of this group would mindfully hold the hopes and fears of another member in their prayers and thoughts, knowing also that their own hopes and fears were being held.

The fear that I noted in that moment was essentially that I would get in the way of myself, that my constant introspection would make it difficult for me to be present during my time here in Zambia. As I consistently face interpersonal and intercultural challenges each day, some new and others increasingly familiar, I have gotten in my own way more than once. Now rest assured, I do not intend for the entirety of this post to be consumed by admittedly over-critical self analysis; probably just 80% of it.

I am honored to have spent a significant amount of time with Josh(ua Paul Armstrong, Ph.D.) since beginning my time at Gonzaga, breaking bread with him on a quasi-weekly basis over the course of the last semester. Due to our relational proximity, he has grown quite aware of the difficulty I have giving grace to myself, and has reminded me several times in the recent weeks to “feel free,” a phrase he has drawn from his time with Zambians. He has even encouraged me to write the phrase on my arm. Whether or not such a suggestion was in jest, I’ve taken to doing so in recent days.

Now, feel free to do what exactly? When I hear the phrase, I feel it suggests an ellipsis (…) rather than a period (.). However, the two words are complete on their own. Feel free: experience freedom- from pressures, excessive guilt, shame. In other words, access grace. For me, that means exploring and pursuing understanding of the grace of God through my guy Jesus. A deep question which I will not pretend to understand, or attempt to discern at this time (maybe later?). Grace is tough, both for myself and others, but it is key to operating free from anxiety, especially in this cultural context.

I know that talk of the differences between “hot- and cold-climate” cultures* has made its way into the blog and I will reference the concept again, as I’ve found an understanding of the dichotomy relevant to my experiences this month. I come from a “cold-climate” culture that values punctuality and planned, organized social interaction. That’s not as much the case here in “hot-climate” Zambezi. With my desire for control and predictability, this new lifestyle of spontaneity does not come easily to me.I am immensely grateful for the people that I work with here, as they have been integral to this season of my journey in understanding and experiencing freedom. While I have attempted to coordinate details of our computers class to an unnecessary degree, they remind me both to generally chill out, and to embrace the flowing nature of life and timing here. They (special shoutouts to Alea Chatman, Emma Cheatham, Sammi Rustia and the GOAT TA Ethan “Mwane Kane” Kane) have also been gracious in embracing an exchange of work time that has allowed me to forgo days of teaching in order to experience different parts of Zambia- namely the rural village of Kalundola (referenced by Daniel Li in his post “Kalundola Bound; Liberations Bound”) and the crowded mine town of Solwezi.

I am joying Zambia very much (@ Georgie’s Bar and Grill en route to Solwezi)

While I’m on the subject of Solwezi, I may as well explain why the dynamic quintet of Josh, (Father Patrick) Baraza, Sammi, Rachel Walls and myself made the six hour drive to get there. Solwezi is a larger town, described perhaps by optimists as bustling and developed, and by others as an example of the difficulties that arise from the enticing promise of jobs offered by an out-of-country mining company which is taking advantage of the rich mineral deposits located in Zambia (copper, gold, cobalt, uranium). There’s plenty to unpack there, especially as there is movement towards development of mines in and around Zambezi, but I’ll leave that discussion up to you and your Zambezi Zag of choice.

The trip to Solwezi took place primarily to strengthen the connection between GU and the Catholic Church in this region via a meeting between Josh, Fr. Baraza and the Bishop of the Diocese of Solwezi. We also had a chance to connect with several of Josh’s friends, whether intentionally (with Fathers Stephen and Sydney, who hosted us overnight, and Robinson, a Solwezi resident from Zambezi who provided valuable insight on the mines over dinner) or through providence (like running into Staff Sergeant Chewe, who had helped with our car troubles returning from Kalundola a week earlier). Perhaps most immediately valuable was our visit to a supermarket, which yielded a wealth of products inaccessible in Zambezi, including coffee, chocolate, cheese, and PLEASE ANY CEREAL OTHER THAN KELLOGG’S CORN FLAKES which holds a truly impressive foothold in the rural Zambian breakfast cereal market. Having returned to the convent’s ambient cacophony, I am thankful for having had the opportunity to experience a change in rhythm.

An assortment of chitenge fabrics at a shop in Solwezi

However, while I appreciate the ability to experience unique parts of life in Zambia, I do feel a weight having sacrificed three days of class. Spending three weeks in Zambezi sounds look a lot of time, until I realize that we are two weeks into our time here. How can I really “feel free,” when there is so much to be done in this short time? I need to help teach computer basics to 60 or so students, complete readings and assignments for the courses we’re working towards in our time here, purchase gifts for my family and friends, explore the market, remember to be active, go to church, get rest, make time to reflect, and carry my weight on the group chore wheel. Oh, and I can’t forget to make some time for those spontaneous experiences! To make matters more complicated, I find increasing joy in the relationships I am developing amongst our Gonzaga group, and so deal with the added temptation to stay within my comfort zone and engage mostly with people in our group, rather than venturing out to pursue relationship with Zambians.

That is, after all, why I am here: to engage in intercultural relationships.

However, I question if three weeks is enough time to develop relationships. Is it worth pursuing others, knowing that I will likely never see most of them again on this Earth? (though my Facebook will be popping as soon as I get back) I struggle with this question, of whether it is worthwhile opening my heart to others for such a brief time. But what then, is enough time to justify opening one’s heart?

Even as I type these questions, I know that part of an answer is to “feel free.” Perhaps I need to just sit down, open my palms and spend time being with Brother Sitali, or Mumba the tailor, or Mama Katendi, or some of the young guys like Emmanuel, Abel or Samuel. Maybe I’ll stay for tea, who knows. Yeah, I’m definitely on to something there! Time to get out there and start being with others… after all we return to the United States in 11 days.

As that realization sets in for me, and our group, I hope that we begin or continue to explore what it really means to “feel free” here in Zambezi, to show grace and receive it for ourselves, to dive into relationship with folks here, even as our imminent departure quietly looms, and to let each day bring what it will.

Thank you to Josh, to Janeen, to Fr. Baraza for encouragement and grace. Thanks to my home team for your support in prayer and finances- B2Z has come to fruition. Thank you to my peers for their passion and creativity and kindness and curiosity and eloquence and accompaniment. Thank you to Father Yona for his hospitality. Thanks to Debby and his aerobics class for reminding me muscles in my legs that I forgot I have. Thanks to God for peace, safety and provision.

Proof I’m alive and well @Mom #JamboTime

As I look forward to a full Saturday with our Gonzaga group, the roller-coaster process of understanding and reflection continues.

TO YOU, THE READER: Thank you and congratulations for making it through this post! Wherever and whoever you are, I hope that you pursue what it means to feel free in your life. Freedom is always an option, and always worthy of pursuit.

Peace,

Bryce Kreiser

* Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier (2000)

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The World Conspires to Create

Early last semester I was in my advisor’s office, making us both feel uncomfortable with the number of tears I was attempting, but failing, to hold back with my sarcastic hand motions and notable “okayyy anyway”. I wept because I felt like I was in a constant free fall. I felt like the path I kept trying to walk on was crumbling beneath me, and there wasn’t anything to do but to fall; to cry. My advisor, with this gentle heart and awkward demeanor, said nothing but allowed the space for me to fall with someone. A couple weeks later I dropped by his office and he had a book for me, The Alchemist. He didn’t say much about it, but when I opened the front cover I stopped falling for just a moment. “Read whenever you’re ready, whenever that time arrives.” Well that time came, folks. My capacity to absorb the world around me without allowing myself to process reached its limit. My cup was full, but leaking.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Alchemist, it’s a story about a boy finding his Personal Legend; his destiny. On a small scale, I’ve been challenged with the task of understanding how to go about loving people here. How do I invest whole-heartedly without accidentally conspiring a mutual feeling of abandonment or futility? The first thing a child said to me when I landed in Zambezi was, “Hello, I’m Lydia. I am going to be so sad when you leave.” On a larger scale, I’ve been forced to recognize moments and experiences that ignite my soul, but haven’t been able to figure out how to act on them. I use the word “ignite” because it begins to encapsulate the feeling of having a roaring fire of purpose within myself I hope to continue uncovering. Although this seems victorious, that fire within me sits next to a mountain of guilt and confusion. Guilt rooted in the fact that there are teenage mothers living in shame and outcast in Spokane, members of the queer community having to hide their authentic identity, domestically abused wives fearful of escaping their husbands, children without access to school supplies or even education, impoverished families without access to healthy food, people with privilege using their power for oppression, and so on. Fighting for resolutions and contributing to the improvement of these ongoing problems is not the reason I came to Zambezi, though. Let’s yet again turn to The Alchemist for this one. It writes, “If I can understand to learn this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.” I came to Zambezi to live in accompaniment with others; to be used a vessel of connection and an instrument of understanding. Every one of us wants to be heard, valued and understood. How can we feel understood if nobody seeks to understand us? I am in Zambezi to lead with curiosity and allow the space for Zambian’s to understand me just as I hope to understand them.  

 “In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.” God has been a busy woman/man with all the omens that have been sent my way. I made a list of all the moments I wanted to share with you, but that list is just too long for one blog post, so here’s just a few.

Omen #1: Debby, a leader within this community who has devoted his life to using soccer as a vessel to teach and advocate for children and young adults. He runs an organization called “ZamCity” which allows boys and girls to play soccer, feel empowered, and grow in their leadership. In my Leadership and Business class, we asked our students who a leader is in their life and why. Japhet, an easily recognized and influential student in Zambezi, named Debby as his leader. He described that Debby allows him to grow into a man of dignity and is constantly thinking of his players before himself. Later I found out that Debby is closing the gender gap between male and female roles in Zambezi when I was told that the only women at soccer games supporting the players, and even playing themselves are those in ZamCity. Knowing all I knew about him, I craved the opportunity to meet him and know him. Before I had the chance to reach out, I am called over one night when everyone is sitting in the convent. I ran past the kitchen and into our front yard. It was Debby. Debby had asked for me specifically because one of our best friends, Kelen (who came to Zambia two years ago), communicated to him that I was worth getting to know.  Feeling lonely and insecure about connecting with Zambian’s, I was sent an omen. I felt held by Kelen. I felt held by Debby. Since then, my connections with Zambian’s have grown more beautifully and stronger-rooted than I foresaw.

Omen #2: The women. The freaking women. My homestay mom, Elizabeth, is 1 of 2 female police officer’s in Zambezi’s team of 30 officers. She has 5 kids of her own, and one nephew she cares for. She is solely responsible for cooking and cleaning and being the main financial supporter of her family. She said it was hard to find a man that was comfortable with having their wife being the bread-winner, but alas, she was dignified enough to know what she was capable of and what she deserved. Another woman is Mama Josephine, or perhaps I’ll call her by the nickname given to her by the President of Zambia, The Iron Sword. She says more with ten words than an average person says with 100. I recently led a Leadership & Business class entitled “Women in Business” to a room full of 24 men and Mama Josephine. As we unpacked gender roles and gender inequality among the business world in Zambia, there was no sign of agreement between the class. Mama Josephine waited patiently to speak as she heard her fellow classmates, some of which were upwards of 30 years younger than her, unpack their views of women in the workplace. She didn’t have to say much to demand respect, as a woman and as a leader within the classroom. She reminds me of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Ginsburg in her ability to respond to ignorance and misunderstanding without using anger, but instead patience. Lastly, Mama Love. Mama Love, the founder of an international organization titled SEPA, spoke to our team about her journey of being an uneducated teenage mother in Lusaka, Zambia to being the guest of honor at a worldwide conference among the most powerful world leaders. She spoke of having self-worth, vision, passion and attitude. I was captivated and overwhelmed with her words. I had no other response to her unmatchable confidence and dignity but to cry. Weep, actually. She forced me to think about my role as a leader. I could say so much more about her, but for now I will leave you with this visual – a fierce black woman in a thick fur coat at the head of the table, effortlessly holding the attention of 30 white people eager to learn from her.

In this moment, my cup is full and my leak is mitigating. The omen’s that have been poured into my life have made me start to fly instead of fall. There are a million more moments, people and places I could talk about. I could speak of the way Father Baraza and Josh have made me feel like a daughter through their constant affirmation and ability to make me feel valued, or the way Ethan has made me belly-laugh more in these last two weeks than I have in the last year, my experience of helping teach a room of 97 young girls about menstruation or conversation’s I’ve had about fear, insecurity, vulnerability and spirituality on my walks to the market or cooking in the kitchen with members of the team. But I won’t. Instead, I will wrap things up and leave you with one thought I’m currently trying to process in the remainder of my time in Zambia.

  There are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States alone. That means that there are a minimum of 1.5 million people in the U.S. that strive to be leaders for others; That strive to create change. How many of those people have made a larger positive impact by being the founder of a nonprofit than they would have had if they joined their resources with an organization that was already established? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it forces me to think about my role as a human who wants to be a person who creates changes instead of hopes for change.

 

Thanks for making it to the end. Hope you’re happy, wherever you may be.

 

P.S. Happy Birthday Father Baraza

P.S.S. Mom, you have been designated as the “team mom” and everyone has expressed how eager they are to meet you. Thank you for loving me the way that you do/have.

 

Kisu Muane,

Chloe Sciammas  

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Cold Showers

The sound of the water pounding the concrete reminds me of those rainy nights that used to help me fall asleep. I stand outside the convent shower and brace myself for the sting of regret that I anticipate feeling after stepping in. Three, two, one: the water is cold, not like the wind of a Gonzaga winter, but like the pools of mountain run-off hidden deep within the hills of the Columbia River Gorge. Step in, step out. Rinsing the shampoo from my hair is a difficult task, but it’s in the moments under the fresh chill of the faucet that my mind clears and I feel most alive. Step in, step out. I reach across the down pouring stream and switch the faucet off. I’m ready for another day in Zambia.

I remember my time in Livingstone like a Malarone driven dream; the details have already begun to fade, but the way it made me feel remains vividly in my mind and heart. Many people come to Livingstone from the small villages of other Zambian provinces in hopes of making a better life. Simultaneously, Livingstone is largely marked by its colonial history. In short, it’s far and away the tourist capital of Zambia. I recall a moment during our Livingstone adventure when I set off from the comfortability of Fawlty Towers in direction of the trinket market – a long path of shops run by eager owners essentially selling the same “one-of-a-kind” items in each one. My intent for shopping was for Zambia Gold – a fair trade business partnership between Gonzaga and Zambezi in which Gonzaga sells Zambian honey and goods in the U.S. to fund community projects back in Zambezi; I was specifically in search for some wooden serving spoons that always sell well back home. My nature is to be practical and efficient, so I wanted to quickly scan the shops for what I was in search of. Therefore, it was unexpected to be dragged by the hand and forced into personal conversation by each of the first nine shops against my pleas of “no thank you” and “I need to go”. Each shop I would exit after an unwillingness to exchange my life savings for a good I didn’t want, and each time the shop owner would leave me with a look as if I had just kicked their dog in the stomach.

This moment introduced to me that Zambia is a series of cold showers – both literally and analogically. Step in: my frustration was mounting. I didn’t have the time to stop and engage with each shop owner. It was my mission to find the best products at the best deals in effort to make the best profit margins for Zambezi. As a rural village in the Western Province, Zambezi doesn’t have access to many of the amenities that exist in Livingstone. My negotiations turned hard and I failed to recognize that the shop owners were anything more than obstacles keeping me from getting the prices and goods that I needed. Step out: many of these shop owners found their way to Livingstone from villages just like Zambezi, and they moved to Livingstone for better employment opportunity to provide for them and their families. Moreover, the trinket market was merely a product of the colonial influence that shaped Livingstone. So long as tourism continues to control the city, of course these shop owners should take advantage of the main structure of power which exists. It was in the trinket market when I first found myself seriously wrestling with the tensions of truth that are Zambia.

It’s a new day – I reach to turn the faucet on: I’m in Zambezi and teaching Leadership and Business classes at the convent to community members ranging in age from too-young-to-vote to old enough to have served several terms in government. The members of our class are interested, respectful, and engaging, and I enjoy teaching them immensely; however, the classroom in which we teach holds a distracting echo that sometimes makes it difficult to understand one another, especially given the linguistic diversity amongst our students and teaching staff. These echoes prove especially frustrating when they’re accompanied by noises and distractions from outside the classroom. When we initially stepped off the plane into Zambezi, hundreds of children welcomed us by grabbing our hands and escorted us towards the convent home that would be our stay for the entirety of our trip. The hospitality of these children was greatly appreciated, but as hours turned to days and days turned to weeks, we’ve noticed that these children never seem to leave the open entry to the brick wall surrounding our oasis. And, when our “oasis” doubles as an echoing classroom during the morning and afternoon hours, the dozens of chatty little children that like to stick their heads through our windows (our only source of ventilation and air flow) in the middle of our classes make concentrating in an already echoing room even more difficult.

The metaphorical cold shower splashes against the tensions of thought in my mind. Step in, and I’m extremely annoyed by the disobedient children remorselessly disrupting our Leadership and Business Class. Why aren’t these children in school? Do they ever eat lunch? How are they still interested in me and our class after several instances in which I’ve verbally expressed my frustration to them? They come up to the window of the class and demand that I let them borrow the basketball we brought with us. I can’t believe the direct nature in which they make these demands, especially after the several basketball games we’ve already played together. All I want is for these children to go away and let our class learn in peace. Step out, and I see that these children wouldn’t even be in the position of anxiously waiting by our door for hours every day if we didn’t make the privileged decision to travel to Zambia. It’s us who, simply by being in Zambezi, are inherently a disruption to the lives of these children. The mere fact that we desired to be here is exciting to the children – our decision to travel half-way across the world expresses in some way that we desire to be with them, too. The potential that we might be available at some point to spend some quality time leads them to cancel all of the other agenda items that are planned for their days. The basketball symbolizes the privilege and power that we hold – the children play basketball when we say they can, and only then; we play basketball whenever we want. There’s no denying the annoying timing of these kids hovering around our classrooms and our only quiet place, but we must acknowledge the responsibility that each and every one of us has played in making the decision to come to Zambezi and enter into their community – into their home.

The Good Father Baraza likes to tell a story on the importance of the full perspective; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie likes to refer to it as The Danger of a Single Story. The story can be represented like this: there’s a young man who dreams of being a pilot. He goes to the store and purchases a pilot’s manual to teach him all he needs to know about flying. After reading it through, he takes the necessary assessments needed to be passed to receive his license and goes out on his first flight. The take-off is smooth, and shortly he finds himself up in the air, flying. He enjoys his flight until he notices that the fuel light has come on and it’s time to land the plane to refuel; however, there’s a snag – he has only read the book on how to fly the plane, but never did the young man read the book on what it takes to land it. The importance of this story is understanding the importance of reading both books about the intercultural experience that has been our time in Zambia. Stepping into the cold shower is understanding book one, and stepping out offers the perspective of book two. Even then, two books may not be enough to truly understand Zambezi – we’re only here a month, after all. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “stereotypes are not bad because they’re wrong, they’re bad because they’re incomplete.” To understand people is to understand the full story – that people inherently exist in intricate complexity, and that culture is only complete when we recognize the tensions that work together to make it whole.

I turn the faucet on once more. This time, I’m falling asleep in the bed of my homestay’s neighbor after a wonderful dinner. This is the only available bed between the two double-roomed houses, and the neighbor, Mr. HH, has graciously given it to Spencer and I in exchange for a good night’s sleep outside. The bed frame itself is sized for a double mattress, but the mattress is only slightly larger than a twin size. Regardless, I slept that night as if I were in my own bed. Upon waking up early the next morning, approximately 6:30am, I stepped out of the bed and wandered outside to find Mr. HH already up and about. He expressed his good morning to me and we took a seat next to one another. We began discussing how we might be able to stay in communication after I would return back home, so I jotted down my contact information for him. In the middle of our conversation, he turned to me and said, “Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve prepared a bath for you and I’d like to insist that you take the chance to bathe.” The cold showers of Zambezi were one thing, but this was the deep bush. We had walked well over an hour outside of town to arrive the night before. There was no electricity or running water, and the only toilet was a hole in the ground out back – where could they possibly put a bath that I hadn’t yet seen? I negotiated with reluctance towards his offer, but Mr. HH prevailed triumphant – his kindness and hospitality convinced me to at least give this “bath” an honest look. I followed HH around to the curtained outhouse with the hole-in-the-ground toilet. He parted the curtain for me as I entered the outhouse and left me on my own to figure out however it was I was supposed to bathe myself. I looked down at the ground and noticed two small buckets: one bucket was small and empty, and the other was filled with water. Step in, and I thought to myself – how’d I get here? How’d I find myself in such a position where I’m about to bathe myself in an outhouse in the western bush of rural Zambia? I reached down and touched the water, and then it all made sense – my spirit transformed as my fingers embraced the touch of hot water. Step out, and my host family, despite living under the most basic living conditions I’ve ever found myself in, are able to offer me something nobody else in Zambezi can: a warm shower. I pick up the small bucket, fill it with the hot water, and dump it over my head. I do this several times before finally setting the bucket down and reaching for the towel behind my shoulder. There’s a symbolic turn of the faucet and I think to myself – I’m thankful for yet another day to be warmed by Zambia’s welcoming embrace.

Many mwane’s,

Maurie

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Sitting in Complexity

            I left the convent walls for my daily walk along the dirt road to the market.  As I followed the tire tracks and Chaco prints on the ground, I realized I was close to the part of the market where I usually have a mental battle about whether I should buy or resist a fried dough ball. To the locals, they’re called scones.

             Before I was forced to make my decision, I was greeted with a casual “Ni Hao” by a passing Zambian.

            This was the first of several Ni Hao greetings. Within the past week and a half, I have also been asked many times where I was from because I didn’t exactly look like the others in my group. In Dipalata, I felt too uncomfortable to walk alone on the path from the clinic to the church hall because of the whispers. I heard the “China girl” and “from China”. The feeling of being singled out as an outcast overwhelmed me to the extent that I waited until Maurie caught up to me on the path so that I had someone to walk alongside.           

            I am writing this blog while sitting in complexity, but also my bed that is surrounded by my trusty mosquito net.  In the United States, racism is unfortunately more common than we would like to think. If I were greeted with a Ni Hao in passing, I would interpret it as overt racism. Here in Zambezi, however, I feel frustrated and confused as to if I would even use the word racist to describe my experiences. I haven’t seen one other Asian during my stay here, and I fear that this is the reason for the assumptions made on my identity. I feel further frustration and confusion because how do I deal with these assumptions if I have not even figured out how I identify myself on a internal level? For a while now, I have struggled between feeling very American and not feeling American at all. When I was asked where I was from, the answer I gave was United States, because that is where I am from. I can be American and not white. When I am back home though, sometimes it feels as if American isn’t a label I can use for myself.                             

            During one of our reflections, we watched a TedTalk video by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called The Danger of a Single Story. Her ideas align with the way I think about assumptions, in that assuming can easily prevent one from understanding others. This is because you are almost blinded to other parts that are integral to a person’s story. The assumption about me being Chinese can block a person from learning about my Thai, Filipino, and American background. Many Zambians have also assumed the extent of our wealth and intention and have asked us to provide them with money.  I would be lying, however, if I said that I never made assumptions before coming here. I never thought that the gender roles would be so distinct and deeply engraved in the culture here in Zambezi. If I held on to this assumption, I may have thought less about the many girls I ‘ve seen caring for their babies while I saw zero men present to help. While reflecting, the best way to prevent assumptions from being a danger is to ask questions and acknowledge that I may not know every detail.

                          

               In the words of Spencer Weiskopf, “Today has been very balanced. There’s been lots of joy and engagement, laughing and excitement, and at the same time there’s been a lot of frustration and some doubt and pain. Overall, relatively balanced.” I want to give a shout out to Spencer for his amazing words as it perfectly describes my entire experience here in Zambezi. Some of the joyous moments I have had have been inside the classroom where I’ve gotten to know the details of many of the computer students. I enjoy listening to how they may have been Miss Zambezi in the past, wake up at 4 or 5 hours to start baking for the best bakery in the market, or being told the schedule for Zam City FC games. One of my favorite moments are spent in the back of the LandCruiser with 4 to 7 other Zags as we blast music, trying to survive every bump and ditch we come across. Luckily, we have our MVP Janeen to count on (today she drove us out of the bush and successfully made it without stalling our not-so-trusty LandCruiser). It may seem as if I mention these moments with you to lighten up the mood of the overall post, but I don’t want to brush off my feelings of frustration and confusion. I appreciate Spencer’s use of the word balance because he acknowledged there may be a complexity behind every experience. As I reflect, I believe it’s okay to remain within this complexity and to be confused on how to go forth. Although very different to others’ experiences here, it is one I felt obliged to share because it is my truth.  

Many thanks for reading,

Sammi Rustia

P.S. Congratulations Lena on graduating from high school, I’m so proud of you! I also want to wish you an early Happy Birthday <3

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Zambezi Sunset Cruise

“You can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself” – Desmond Tutu

As we are starting up our second week of classes here in Zambezi, we have been discussing the transition from being women and men ‘for’ others, to being men and women ‘with’ others. We have been making connections, sharing emotions, and learning joys and hardships that give us the ability to be one ‘with’ Zambezi.

Freshman year, I lived on the Women for Others floor of Coughlin Hall. I feel conflicted because of the name, and which is really more valuable in a relationship. During reflection the other night, Caitlyn, Spencer, Sammi and I discussed how we think the first step to becoming real to other people is being one ‘for’ others, but eventually, through intentional conversation and walking alongside someone, you can begin to walk ‘with’ them.

The first week of our Health Ed class was hard. It was hard to truly connect with the class. We had new people coming every day and our lecture style format made it difficult to truly engage in meaningful conversations with our students. It made me feel like us teaching was being ‘for’ the students, but what I wanted was to be ‘with’ them on a common level.

We had our first class of our second week today. We are now in dialogue. We are learning from one another. We are laughing with each other. We feel connected. We even found ourselves engaging in conversation about conspiracy theories. Preston describes one of our students as he “blasted out the legumes”, bringing actual beans to class to help us teach nutrition. By learning from one another and engaging in conversation, we are able to be ‘with’ others rather than ‘for’ others. They were becoming real to us, and we were becoming real to them.

We have found the most valuable lessons and connections in the unexpected. In class, our students consistently ask unexpected questions about a wide range of topics. Today, we got asked if you can cross breed fish. Does that relate to Health Ed? Nope. But, it is a conversation starter. The unexpected is valuable, and I am starting to love it. The unexpected friends we’ve been making and the unexpected memories.

As most of go through each day, we still question our why. Why did we choose to apply to go to Zambia? What is it that we are looking for while on this trip? Through reflection each night, our group has the opportunity to consider these questions and engage in conversation with each other. Recently, Father Baraza has introduced us to the concept of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is an African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. It considers the success of the group above that of the individual. I’ve seen this philosophy in play several times within my last 10 days in Zambezi. This sense of togetherness and feeling truly human through other people is shown all throughout this community – children taking care of their younger siblings, Zambians welcoming Zags with open arms, us balling up with some Zambian basketball players, and so much more.

Before dinner today, some of us walked down to the Zambezi river in hopes of seeing the beautiful Zambian sunset. For those of you at home, the Zambian sunsets are like nothing you have ever seen. Words can’t even describe them. When walking to the river, we saw one of our students, Milan, who crosses the river by boat each day to come to our class. Following Milan, the 7 of us hopped in the boats and made our way across the river. As we approached the far side of the river on our ‘sunset cruise’, I felt at home. With our bare feet on the weirdly squeaky sandy beach, us West Coast kids were thriving. From Preston racing the kids on the beach, to us attempting to play hacky sack, I could feel the togetherness that Ubuntu resembles. A person is a person through other persons, and we have discovered just that.

In the book I’m reading right now, “Everybody, Always”, Bob Goff emphasized that to become love, we need to be constantly seeking out the people different from us. I see Ubuntu and being someone ‘with’ others as seeking out those we may not instantly be friends with, but understanding their thoughts and their ways of life, because we are all similar in so many ways.

My goal for everyone both here in Zambezi and for you all at home is to find your Ubuntu moments. Where do you see yourself engaging in ‘with’ others activities rather than ‘for’ others activities? Where do you feel a sense of togetherness?

P.S. To our families and friends at home: we have made friends with not only people, but spiders and flies too. We’re a bit gentler to the spiders though, we even give them names. Wendy hangs out by the bathroom light, and Glenn, still not discovered by me, hangs out by the toilet. The flies on the other hand, we don’t appreciate their presence. Janeen is on offense and strategizing attack with a bottle of poison, and Annika just drank a fly. Now I know this may be a stretch, but I see some Ubuntu happening right here, right now.

Kisu Mwane,

Rachel Walls

 

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Munone

Piled on top of each other in the back of Father Yona’s pickup truck, Mama Katendi taught us a new word: Munone. Used in Luvali  to describe the feeling of butterflies in one’s stomach when driving over a bump in the road, we learned very quickly just how much Munone one can get while on a trip to Dipalata. Situated roughly 45 minutes away from Zambezi, Dipalata is a more rural community that Gonzaga started visiting in 2007. I am happy to report that all of our vehicles made it into the town limits without any hitches, and an excited crowd welcomed us in with song 

and celebration. Our group ate a quick PB&J lunch, and then headed to a house belonging to missionaries -the Speichinger’s- that have lived in the area for many decades. Thoughsensing some skepticism of what this missionary experience might be like, our group came away with some amazing insights on how life looks in rural Zambia.

Of most personal interest -and I presume that of many of our pre-med dominant group- was Janelle Speichinger’s experience as a midwife in Dipalata. She explained that as the Zambian government has become more dependent on foreign aid, many stipulations related to this aid have shackled the country intoa technocratic health system that frequently fails to meet the needs of the community and acknowledge the wisdom and experience of more wholistic practitioners in rural communities.

More specifically, in order for Zambia to received funding from the World Health Organization (WHO), government officials must commit to enforcing policy that allows for only certified midwives to birth babies. In a country that is only registering as average of 30-50 new midwives each year, this is clearly an impossible demand, yet one that has struck fear in communities across the country. Though only a microcosm in the history of Zambia, the experience of Janelle reflects much of the larger sentiment that keeps this region of the world shackled in poverty.

On a macro level, larger nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, and China have strong-armed Zambia and other less developed countries into signing predatory investment deals that open up land and people to exploitation. Such arrangements effectively trap entire populations in cycles of poverty and service to the “more developed” Western world and the economic systems that govern it. In Dipalata, you do not have to look far to see the effects that this legacy of oppression has left in its wake: roads strewn with trash, children with bloated bellies and yellowed hands from protein and fat deficiencies, etc.

It is easy to get discouraged amidst the constant reminder of how certain groups in history have contributed to the harsh conditions seen not only in Diapalata, but far beyond in Asia, South America, and even our own home in the USA as well. But what transpired during the our evening in Dipalata gave me new hope.

A hardworking community prepared a feast of chicken, bananas, oranges, rice, beans, cabbage, and nshima followed by a bonfire -complete with guitar, amplifier, and some of the best voices you can imagine. While singing in the circle, a young girl named Patience -maybe 9 or so- took my hand. Now if you have read the previous blog posts, you will know that children holding our hand is no rare occurrence. But there is a difference between a playful hand hold, and a hand hold that communicates interdependence, intimacy, and love. Patience was a hand that lent this interdependence, intimacy, and love.

In this moment I closed my eyes, listened to the beautiful voices around me, felt the warmth of the fire on my skin, and found peace in dancing with something greater; something that transcends skewed trade contracts, global politics, and local turmoil. Whether you call it love, peace, God,Allah, or something else, there is something that can be felt when joining hands in relationship and love with those around you.

We are all grappling with the sights, smells, and sounds that envelop us each day; the inequity of the world is apparent it its most overt forms, and complex beyond imagination. It makes your stomach uncomfortable. But sitting around the campfire in Dipalata is a reminder that maybe the solutions to our surroundings are not as complex as we sometimes make them out to be. Maybe the bumps in the metaphorical road are not as scary as feelings of Munone tell us they are. Maybe it all starts with a hand held and a song sung. In this, I think there are answers.

I am trying to post this ASAP because we have left our fans short handed the last few days, so I am going to cut out soon. BUT I will end by saying that although we are thousands of miles apart, we can still look up at the night sky and see the same Big Dipper that you see -though slightly contorted and not to brag, but likely way brighter and more miraculous; thanks Southern Hemisphere and low light pollution. I find this to be a beautiful reminder that none of us -whether family, friends, or new-found acquaintances in Zambia- are ever that far apart. There is something brilliant in this. So today, or whenever you read this, I challenge you to hold a hand, hug a stranger, or simply tell someone you love them, because Dipalata taught us that it is in tiny actions made with intentionality that we develop a foundation for true unity, changed and joy.

Lots of hugs and love,

Isaac

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Kalundola Bound; Liberations Bound

In the words of Nasir Jones, “I don’t know how to start this [thing],” so I’m just gonna type whatever comes to mind.

First, a preface. To friends, future friends, family, and as a reminder to myself, the purpose of this trip is not aid, vacation, nor cranking out a couple extra credits. As stated in previous posts, accompaniment is why we are here and at the end of the day, the friends we make, trips we take, and amount we grow are products of the process towards that goal. An important quote we continue to ponder, and I encourage readers to dwell on as well, is as follows:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

I know Janeen has already included Dr. Watson’s words in her post but I only repeat them here because of their importance and the implications they have towards intent behind action. Please send prayers, thoughts, and/or posi vibes this way for us to make the right moves supported by the proper intentions.

Anyway, yesterday the health team (Annika, Ellie, Megan, Preston, Rachel Walls, myself, plus honored guest Bryce Kreiser) as well as Mama Kitende, Mama Josephine (Josie Bada$$- I’m starting that, let’s make it stick), Josh, Br. Sitali, and Fr. Baraza, were invited to Kalundola to teach a brief bit on nutrition. We packed into our “trusty” land cruiser, six in the front, six in the back, at 9:15 and embarked on our journey to Kalundola, a village that is as rural as rural gets (don’t bother googling it). After an hour of smooth tarmac and an hour of off-road jumping and jostling through the Zambian bush, we arrived to a celebration of arrival, similar to the one we received upon touching down in Zambezi. After dancing and singing with our gracious hosts, we began a lesson covering macronutrients, micronutrients, hydration, and appropriate portions, which Mama Josephine translated to Lunda. Once our lesson concluded, we learned from some residents of Kalundola about how they treat venomous snake bites! This includes application of a topical ointment made from local plants to heal the bitten area and prevent spread of venom and consumption of some sort of antivenom made from the culprit snake’s blood and local ingredients. Super cool!!

Afterwards, we were treated to a delectable lunch of pumpkin, chicken, fish, rape (rapeseed), and nshima and then hung out with our hosts. English was limited but many polaroid pictures were taken and shared before we made our way down to the Kabompo River. Amidst the picture sharing, there was a gift exchange- we had brought mealie meal (for making nshima) and oil but to the surprise of the health team, we were presented with a live goat, an overflowing sack of maize, and a rooster! Before heading down to the river, we managed to stuff 16 people, pumpkins, maize, a rooster, and goat on board the good old land rover. After a slightly stuffy ride to the Kabompo, we were astonished at the untouched beauty of the crocodile-infested river. Unlike many “wildlife areas” in the states where powerlines can be spotted from afar and the muffled blustering of traffic can be heard from a distance, we were truly away from the pollution of an urban lifestyle (see above).

We began our trip back to the Zambezi convent we call home, with tummies full and spirits high, waving goodbye to the men, women, and children we had just met and created memories with for the past few hours. The bush road felt just as bumpy as the first time, but belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “You Make My Dreams” with occasional embellishment from our new goat (g.o.a.t) friend (we couldn’t decide whether to name him Cassius or Michael) made it a bit more bearable. We reached the paved road after only one wrong turn and were well on our way to Zambezi when the engine started sputtering and we pulled over to give ole reliable a little break. Without missing a beat, Bryce, Sitali, and the health team hopped out and started kicking around Preston’s hacky sack (not in the middle of the road and definitely not next to grassy snake territory). Some passing military members were kind enough to stop and help us jump start ole reliable and continued to trail us in case of another automobile mishap. Good thing. Within thirty minutes spewing and sputtering began again and we had to make another stop and the hacky sack was once again broken out, this time with cookies (compliments to Rachel). The plot thickened when our rooster buddy broke free and took a poop in the back of the land rover. When nature calls, she really calls I guess. At least he was considerate enough to face away from everyone still sitting in the back and drop his gift on the rover’s back bumper. After getting back on the road not-so-old-reliable broke down one last time and we had to call Fr. Yona to come rescue us, 25km or so from home. All 13 of us managed to squish into Yona’s Toyota Hilux and got home only a couple minutes after dinner. I know what you’re thinking but don’t worry, Cassius/MJ, the rooster, pumpkins, and maize were towed back by the military dudes (talk about a godsend, we really are indebted to them)- bag secured.

So that was yesterday, May 30, and under other circumstances I’d do a little reflecting and sign off. However, the health team, Emma Cheatham, Sammi Rustia, Fr. Baraza and I had a very unique and thought-provoking experience today visiting the local hospital here in Zambezi and I feel like not sharing our thoughts and experience would be remiss.

I don’t think any of us had clear expectations of what the Zambezi District Hospital would be like, so after being able to tour the facilities and talk with the nurses, patients, and administrator, we left feeling a whirlwind of different emotions. Without going into excessive detail, we interacted and chatted with incredible nurses who operate under great odds to attempt the provision of proper patient care to the people in the Zambezi district. There are a whopping 2 hospitals in the district, home to 64,963 residents and both are only level 1 hospitals. One part that especially stood out to us were the pregnant women (some of whom are borderline children) and the minimal amount of space and outdated technology in their particular ward (not that it wasn’t a widespread issue through the hospital but this really stood out). We witnessed the care for four premature babies (formerly five) who were being cared for in an incubator meant for one. They were triplets from one mother and one child of a twin pair from another mother. Each baby was separated by cloth and cardboard. Now I don’t include this for the sake of trivial evoking of emotion or making this experience seem profound but because it was surprising to me and made me think deeper about what sort of change needs to happen and whether or not I have the ability and responsibility to create such change. Now obviously, immediate change such as providing better facilities and equipment should be any person’s responsibility should he/she/they have the means but this goes deeper than being able to write a check or build a hospital. As an aspiring doctor, a student of Jesuit institutions, and someone with a goal to simply be better than I am now (and in every future “now”), this made me think about accompaniment. Sustainable change, regardless of where in the world you are, takes time and can’t just be a top down, or even a bottom up sort of deal (and especially not one catalyzed by a Western savior figure). I believe it has to permeate through every bit of society and must occur naturally, with people bought in on the idea. This change can’t be forced but takes a lot of time and can be worked towards with accompaniment, when liberations are bound together. I have only a limited idea of what role I can play in this grandiose scheme of human empowerment and world betterment but I’m certain being a responsible ally and/or partner is part of the equation. Call it generation Z naïveté or whatever, but Dale Carnegie said something pretty relevant and he’s old so… “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who kept on trying when there seemed no hope at all.” Anyway, coming back down to Earth, that hospital trip was really something and I’m sure I’ll continue to digest it for a while. I hate to use the word struggle because what struggle is there really that we personally faced by witnessing a lack of appropriate access to/means of healthcare, but this was definitely a challenging experience for us all and left us with more thoughts on our minds than I can accurately or succinctly articulate.  

Well, I better wrap up because it’s pretty late, I need to shower, and some readers probably already stopped reading. The past 24 hours have been full of incredible experiences and these have only been my thoughts. I heard that while some of us were Kalundola bound, many deep and insightful conversations and moments were held back in Zambezi. As Janeen and Josh mentioned tonight during our reflection, I think we’re all hitting the point of this trip where the initial nervous excitement has died down, people are really hitting personal reflection in stride, and the reality of what we’re doing and why we’re really here is finally setting in. Thanks for sitting through my word vomit and I can’t wait to recount and unpack these experiences with many of you in person!

 

Peace and love,

Daniel Li

Gonzaga Class of 2019

A lil message from Ellie: Grace!!! Congrats on your graduation! I am incredibly proud of you and everything you accomplished in high school! Been thinking about you and the family all day today, sending lots of love your way! Can’t wait to share all my experiences with you 🙂 

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#Zamball

Hello there!

Welcome to yet another daily blog! I write this on a full stomach of delicious pasta and sausage cooked by the lovely Mama Violet. I know that recounting what I have just consumed may seem strange, but I only do so to comfort my father; who I know for a fact is worried that I am not eating enough. To any other worried parents, I assure you that we are eating like kings. Although, I have to admit that tears of joy flowed from my eyes when I found the only shop in the market that sells chocolate.

It is strangely quiet back at the convent today, with our health team, accompanied by Bryce Kreiser, out on an excursion to teach a valuable lesson on nutrition in Kalundola. With them absent, I cannot help but recall all of the amazing memories that we have already formed in our short time together in Zambezi.

The most recent memory that I will cherish was the #Zamball basketball game on May 28th. Our group of Zags had the honor of challenging a group of Zambians who invited us to a game. Not to boast too much, but I think that Gonzaga students should be tenting for our pickup game rather than ordinary Gonzaga basketball games. Why you might ask? The court had “lots of cracks and grass scattered about” to quote Megan Hayes. The crooked hoop, cracked cement and added nature elements provided new thrilling obstacles that I’m sure would provide extra entertainment for any basketball fan.

In addition to this, audiences would be in awe of our team MVP Chloe Sciammas. In the first minute or so of the game, Chloe scored a whopping 6 points. This prompted all of the spectators to yell “Check your watches, it’s Sham time!” I also guarantee that Father Joseph’s Steph Curry status 3 pointers would make any crowd go wild.

My team proceeded to pull ahead, but in true Gonzaga fashion, we blew our 15-point lead in the last few minutes. We lost 34-30, but I still had an absolute blast. The game ended with lots of sweaty hugs, handshakes, and bonding with new friends.

While I love this memory, there is a part of me that is sad looking back on it. Before the game, I was adamant on not playing. I felt that I would drag the team down because of my limited basketball skills. Even though the game was just for fun, I was still criticizing myself and convincing myself that I was not deserving enough to play. I only decided to participate because of Maurie Harbick’s encouragement. He simply would not accept my silly excuses, which I am so thankful for.

For a number of years, I have struggled with self-worth. I constantly tell myself that I am not enough. I tell myself that I am not beautiful enough, not smart enough, and recently, I was convincing myself that I was not mentally strong enough to come on this adventure to Zambezi.

While this is a battle that I am sure I will continue to fight, I am practicing “giving myself grace” as Rachel Hass has advised me to do.

I am becoming aware that I do have a lot of value and worth to bring to the table. I can proudly say that I can capture the attention of 55 Zambian children in my classroom, all of them eager to participate. I am brave, not only for pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but for killing any spider, no matter how big, here at the convent. Lastly, I feel beautiful in my chitenges.

I am working towards not allowing self-doubt to take away from the joy around me. Here in Zambezi, and back at home in the states, there is so much joy to be felt. Joy, in my not so humble opinion, is something that should never be sacrificed.

Peace and love,

Caitlyn Moore – ’21

 

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Surprise

As one of the staff of this trip I am housed across the yard in the Priest’s home.  There are six men and myself that share the large, well-used space. We have private rooms with sinks, toilets, and several spiders that share the space. I was advised to name them, which could lessen my fear. My 7 new friends who are at-least 2-3 inches in diameter are lovingly named Jeff Dodd (shout out to you brother).

I have spent plenty of time with the Jeffs because I caught some kind of virus which caused me to stay in bed for almost 24 hours. I would only wander out to use the bathroom, and see what was playing on the television in the nicely tiled living room.  Yes, there is a color flat screen on that flaunts Indian soap operas, World-wide Wrestling Federation matches, BBC news or football(soccer) most of the days. These programs are enjoyed very often. It became my entertainment to see what was being watched every few hours that I would leave my room.  

I have also learned that these men know how to throw an awesome party. Annika mentioned in our last post the amazing dinner with the church council, youth group and priests we had Sunday.  After leading us in mass and being with their parish they spent the day moving pews, chairs, speakers, dishes, and an entire sound system over to welcome us. The music started pumping at 5:15 pm and it didn’t stop. Okay… it did stop, but it felt like an eternity. I was flat on my back in my room with ear plugs in and could still hear the music pumping. Now that is a party!

I am writing this behind the house.  Father Yona has put in a garden, fish pond and large chicken coop.  He is helping the parish become sustainable.  

I share this because the television, the shows, the music, their pop culture connections, the self-sustaining back yard- they all surprise me. 

They surprise me the same way that after the walking safari Maurie and I experienced in Livingstone, Mukwesa, our guide, asked to get my WhatsApp number to stay connected.  They surprise me the same way the head restaurant manager for the Royal Livingstone hotel is from a rural village outside of the Indian state that our youngest son was adopted from.

I was surprised because their stories are richer and more complicated than what I was expecting.  I have been able to travel to several developing countries. I’ve read the articles, watched the Ted talks and am culturally sensitive.  Until I’m not.

Last night our team watched the TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”.  Chimamanda Adichie so articulately shares, “The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.  They make one story become the only story.” What a surprise when I realized that I had allowed a single narrative to be what I expected from my new Zambian and Indian friends. 

There is poverty here that makes my heart ache.  Every day I find Jasmine waiting outside the convent walls to hold my hand.  It is easy for me to identify her among the dozen children that linger because she has been in the same clothes since day one. There is a look in her face that I’m familiar with. I saw it in my son’s face when we first met him at the orphanage in India. It’s the look of undernourishment.  Part of her skirt is ripped from the inseam down to her knee. Although we are wearing shorts and t-shirts at night, I’ve noticed Zambians are in jackets-it’s winter for them.  I wonder what Jasmine wears at night.

Mama Katendi and Mama Violet make us amazing meals.   We eat chicken and apples over a bed of lettuce with an orange garlic dressing.  Mama Katendi enjoys it during her time with us because at home she can only afford a chicken once every 6 weeks.  She is a single mother with 7 children and no support from her husband who left. It’s not fair.  It’s what it is.

After dropping off the education team to teach their literacy classes at Chilena I head back to town and pick up a woman swaddling a young baby.  As we chat I learn that her name is Avery (like my daughter). I tease her and say that I have a daughter Avery and she could now call me mama.  Her 1 month daughter is Emma grace (my Avery’s middle name is Grace), she is 17 (like my Avery).  She stopped going to school at 14. She said that her family can’t pay for school so she now has Emma.  As I walk Avery into the hospital for Emma’s check up she touches my arm and says “Thank you mama”.  I swallow hard.

If any of you know me, I love to remind/lecture students to embrace a both/and mentality rather than an either or mindset.  What a surprise that I fell into the either/or mentality. (It’s not really that surprising-most of my lectures to students are things I need to work on).

No more single stories. I am striving to integrate both the beauty and the brokenness.  Both The simplicity and complexity of relationships. Both the abundance and the scarcity. Both the realization that people like me have hurt these amazing people and have helped these people.

What surprises me most is that I feel free with this new insight. There is more love in my heart and a lightness in my step. My hugs are longer, my tears are saltier, and like the African sunset, my outlook is brighter.  These relationships are changing me.  There is an unforced rhythm of grace that is moving within me.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

My prayer for ALL of us is that we will continue to be surprised by God.

Grace and Peace,

Janeen Steer, Mission and Ministry

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