Humans of Zambezi: Jessy Mukumbi

Jessy Mukumbi

“Death can happen at any time.”

Mukumbi Jescar (known as Jessie) lost her mom when she was an infant, her grandparents a few years later. Her father died last year. Over the years, she has lost many friends and relatives, including a 24-year-old niece, a teacher and mother to a year-old son, who died in April from yellow fever.

Like many people in Zambezi, Zambia, Jessie knows death as a constant. To her, this reality means she must protect the five children ages 7 to 19 she is raising alone in case she can’t see them all grow to adulthood. She bought them each plots of land as an inheritance “so that they have something” if she dies. She lives in a home on land owned by her oldest brother, Damien.

When she speaks of her brother, she smiles. After her grandparents died, Damien, a doctor, raised his younger siblings. He paid their school fees and encouraged them to further their educations.

These days, Jessie works as a teacher in Chilenga Basic School where she is loving but firm with her many pupils. On some days, she has as many as 48 students in her year-seven classroom. As she walks among the students, they sit up straighter, stop their chattering, pay closer attention to the Gonzaga students teaching them about storytelling.

For several years, Jessie has trained her students in traditional dance, and they have traveled to cities such as Livingstone to compete in a contest sponsored by the National Association of Arts and Music in Zambia. In 2014, they won second place. The competition takes place again later this year, and Jessie will be there with a new troupe. The dancing “reminds me of the old, old, old past, what my great grannies used to do,” she says. “I don’t want to forget about my culture.”

Just like her brother before her, Jessie’s hopes for her students and her own children are that they get their educations so they can live independently. “I can support my children,” she says. “I want them to be like that.

“They have to believe in themselves.”



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How to Crap Swim

The last message I received from my family was nearly a month ago now. It was an unfortunate autocorrect in which my mother attempted to type the inspirational phrase “Carpe Diem” (Sieze the day) only to write “Crap Swim”. The message was sent in our family group chat and so naturally, I received a “Sieze the crap swim” message from every member of the Kane family. Gotta love parent texting.

Since that day, I’ve made it my goal to crap swim the hell out of my time here. I’ve seen our group dive headfirst into a crap swim, seizing every opportunity, jumping into any dance circle, talking to literally any stranger, attending any celebration. Hell, with these people I’ve now attended or participated nearly every life event one can have here in Zambia, from a baby shower, to a birthday, to a baptism, to a circumcision party, to a wedding, to digging a grave, to even attending an exorcism. We even joke that there is a running check-list of life events that I need to attend here in Zambia (fingers crossed for a Bar-Mitzvah).

In fact that check-list mentality is how I’ve always treated carpe diem (or crap swim). At Gonzaga I make around 5 to-do lists per day. A day well seized revolves around how many memorable or productive things I’ve done that day. The “to-do” culture was the product of a stressful major, and drastic over involvement. At Gonzaga I’d venture to say I’m one of the fastest walkers on campus. Legend has it that Ethan Kane made the trip from C/M to 4th floor of Tilford in 7 minutes and grabbed a muffin from the cog on his way. I don’t waste much time getting places, I just want to be there with efficiency, because of a fear of wasting time. Often I would think that wasted time means an un-seized day.  I recall one day in Spokane when I was walking to the library during a beautiful snowfall. Due to my busyness I found it impossible to enjoy the true immaculate beauty of the snow drifting to the ground. I remember the deep frustration of that moment. I’m sure many of us know the curse of being too busy to notice the wonderful world.I ran into the same problems in Zambezi as I did in Gonzaga almost immediately. In an attempt to make as many friendships as I could and experience everything, I had became too busy to slow down and truly feel anything at all.

The funny thing about Zambezi is that the ground literally forces me to slow down and notice the world. Every street runs entirely with thick fine sand that pulls my feet deeper and deeper into the earth, forcing me to walk slower to a pace that ordinarily I would find unbearable. In this context though, I’ve started to love how slow the sand makes me walk. Zambezi physically won’t let me rush. It pushes my feet to sink into the sand and experience the gentle therapeutic feeling of sand running over my toes. It forces me to listen intently to the calls of children yelling “Chindele!”, and truly see the faces of the people around me.

Joshua escorting me home from school on one of those sandy roads.

So these last few days in Zambezi I’ve been trying to always walk in the deep sand, in fact the deepest ruts of sand I can find, because if I don’t, I know I’ll rush and I’ll completely miss the simple gift of sand on my toes, just like I had always missed the beauty of snow in the Spokane winter.

I feel that my idea of Carpe Diem (or crap swimming) can actually oppose my ability to truly feel a moment. Don’t get me wrong, the motivation to seize opportunities is a beautiful mindset, and has led me to so many adventures. Doing a lot of things is great, but as long as the pressure to do a lot of things doesn’t push you out of the moment you are in. Is doing everything worth anything if you don’t feel it.  You may sieze the day, but never forget to surrender to this moment.

Two nights ago was Father Baraza’s birthday, and as I shared a Zambian beer with the birthday boy, he went off on a well rehearsed speech about how Africans view time (A very common topic of conversation with Fa-Bara, as he is lovingly called). He spoke of the absence of future in the common African view of time saying “The only thing that exists now, is now.” and when asked for the secret of a long life revealed “Just be.” (shout out to Grant for his blog figuring it out early).

I cherish the times like this in Zambezi that like the sand, have forced me to surrender to now, erasing all thoughts of the future or past. Like, surrendering to the grief as I hear the tragic story of the smiliest kid you could ever meet. Surrendering to the complicated beauty, holiness, and sadness that the Falconer orphanage holds. Surrendering to awkwardness as a very enthusiastic and sweaty man challenged me to a close-proximity hip gyration dance contest.

Instead of seizing this last day in Zambezi I want to surrender to it. Instead of looking for profoundness, I want to let the profoundness of the mere existence of the world find me. I like the idea of surrendering instead of seizing because I want to give myself to this day, not attempt to “take it”. I want to let it take over every fabric of my being and guide me wherever it may. I want to surrender to today with joy as my students as perform stories they’ve written with confidence and pride. I want to surrender to my frustration and sadness as I say goodbye to Zambian friends who I’ve learned to love, just in time to leave them. I want to surrender to the beauty of the Zambezi river one last time.

However, this presence is a hard thing to do when there is so much to worry about: saying goodbye to our friends, buying our family gifts, packing up our stuff, wondering if I brought toilet paper with me or if I’m going to get pinched by the infamous butt pincher chair. This last day it would be easy to take on the carpe diem mindset that I need to see everyone and wrap up everything the way I want it before I leave. But that’s not realistic. How does one say goodbye to the friends and children and students and mentors that you’ve just begun to truly love? Especially when you know that in all likelihood you may never see them again. A clean goodbye is going to be difficult. Today I will attempt to show the people that have welcomed and loved me with all their hearts, all the appreciation I possibly can and I know that for me it may never feel like enough. How can one possibly have a goodbye to this place and these people in a way that does feel like enough? So I go into today knowing that I can’t do enough for everyone today, but perhaps I can just feel one thing well. It would do a disservice to this place, these people, and myself to not feel today with all my being. I give all of myself to you today Zambezi.

Kisu Mwane,

Ethan Kane



p.s.    I have been rocking a sty in my right eye for the past 6 days. There are pretty much no mirrors in Zambezi, although I can only assume that I partially resemble a distant relative of Sloth from Goonies. Don’t expect many photogenic pics (hence the picture of me walking away).

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Love the Ordinary Moments

“Love the Ordinary Moments” This quote is pasted in bold letters across the front of my journal. When I made my journal at our retreat this spring I cut and pasted this quote without really giving it a second glance or thought. I liked it so, therefore, it was put on my journal. I did not realize the truth of this quote until just a few days again when I was reflecting on the time I have spent here in Zambezi.


We have now been in Zambezi for almost three weeks. At times it seems as if I have been here forever and at other times I feel like it is my first day here. Trying to remember and recount the moments I have had here so far seems almost impossible. There is so much to tell about, yet only so much I can write. I have tried my best to compile the most memorable and impactful moments I have had here in Zambezi. So here they are. I am sure I have missed many and will make sure to have my fellow Zags remind me of them, but the ones that I remember are as follows:


-Grace grabbing my hand as we took off in the bush plane because she knew I was nervous


-Crying when I stepped off the plane and heard the Chilena choir singing


-Singing “Twaya Monta” with Mamma Josephine… 50 times in a row


-Father Baraza talking in proverbs which sometimes make sense and other times left us looking at one another saying “what?”


-Anna screaming after every bump we go over in the car (which is about every 5 seconds)


-The health team’s trip to Kalendola which at one point consisted of 18 people, 2 live goats, one dead goat in a cooler, 10 pumpkins/squash and 10 woven baskets all on top of or in our what is suppose to be a 10-12 person land cruiser


-Looking down at a child and smiling at them and receiving a shy smile or giggle back


-Singing “No One”, “Sunday Candy” and “Brown Eyed Girl” in the back of the land cruiser while sliding, bumping and smacking into each other as we drove over the bumpy bush roads and the pure joy that is felt with the wind blowing in our faces as we drove the road


-Distributing Days For Girls menstruation kits to girls who would have had to miss a week of school each month because of their period and empowering them to become beautiful and powerful women


-Trying to greet Zambians in Luvale and receiving giggles in return because I for sure pronounced it in an American accent or said the wrong thing


-Looking around the reflection circle seeing the Chaco tanned dirty feet that all have a story to tell about how their feet got so dirty that day. Many from walking to and from the market for a cold coke or chocolate bar, one from helping the Mammas at the market so they can help cook our meals, a few maybe from walking up and down the hall in our sandy convent, the health team’s from walking to the church hall a few yards away or traveling to a nearby village or the teachers from the long walk back to the convent


-Making PB and J’s while listening and dancing to the song “Peanut butter Jelly”


-Saying something weird to Caroline knowing that I will get a head shake and a “oh McKenzie” in return


-Sitting in the silence and grief with Mamma Katendi after she learned her sister had passed away and being okay with sitting in the sadness with one another


-Mamma Violets sweet and soft “ohhhhkay” after anything we say to her


-Elly saying something weird, dancing or yelling like a Zambian woman knowing we would both laugh about it


-Chiwala (the old man who walks 30 minutes and takes a boat across the river to attend our health class almost everyday) asking questions that make us laugh and shake our head such as “Can I breath under water?”


-Getting the land cruisers stuck in the sand (again) and not having a doubt in our mind that we won’t make it out but rather getting out to have an impromptu dance party


-Listening to my little friends Patrick and Emmanuel tell me about their family and not know what to say when they ask “What are you going to give me when you leave me?”


-Knowing that my fellow Zags who sleep within the yellow walls of this convent with me will always have a special place in my heart and mine in theirs. Also the fact that at least 6 of them have walked in on me in the computer room writing this blog just to ask how it was going and to tell me they cannot wait for me to read it


I realized that most the memorable moments and impactful parts of my time in Zambezi have had a common theme. They have for the majority been ordinary moments or simple gestures from another person. I think many times we are caught up in the idea that in order for something to be memorable or impactful it has to be a grand event or action. I have come to the realization that loving and embracing the ordinary moments is the best way to experience your life to the fullest. The parts of the trip I will look back on and smile, cry or laugh about are the little moments with another person that allows me to connect to them.The ordinary moments are what fills our lives. Without them there would be holes in our stories and lives.

More recently I have come to the fact that we are not guaranteed tomorrow or the next day or the next.  Like Father Baraza has taught us there is not future in Africa. The Africans only recognize the past and the present because you are not able to predict the future. This concept is something I need to practice more in my own life. Being in the present with others and enjoying the ordinary moments. If we do not love and embrace every moment we have here on Earth (ordinary or extravagant) we are not fully living the best we can. So, this is why I have chosen to love the ordinary moments here in Zambezi along with the grand, exciting and somewhere in between moments too. I hope to have many more ordinary moments here. I also hope all of you reading this learn to embrace the everyday and commonplace moments with the people you love.

Kisu Mwane,


McKenzie Gallagher ‘20


P.S. Mom, Dad, grandparents, and anyone else whom it may concern I am healthy, safe and loving my new temporary home here in Zambezi. To all of you as well as my people in Spokane, Montana or wherever else you are in the world (you all know who you are) I miss you so much and cannot wait to be back in your arms and hear your voices.


Also I am pleased to announce that the Zags beat Chilena in the soccer game today. 3-2!! All thanks to Miss Morgan Green who was named MVP with two goals to her name!


It was also FaBra’s (Father Baraza) birthday today. We celebrated with pizza, cake and the tradition of throwing water on the birthday boy’s head.

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Courage, dear heart

I am here. I am here in Zambezi. Many of you know that the journey to write those very words began for me in November of 2015, when I first applied and was accepted to study abroad in Zambezi for the summer of 2016. After some health complications, I said goodbye to last years group just two weeks before they departed on the journey we had spent the whole semester prepping for. The loss of Zambezi left me grieving and broken but it also asked me to find within myself the courage to do the work necessary to not only make it here but to make it here as the person I am today. A year and a half from the start of this journey, with the help of so many, I am here.

May 20th, 2017

It is my second night in Zambezi. I am walking from the convent, which houses us for our time here, to the house I will be spending the night at. “Balanced” on my head is a mat made of tied up sticks, which unbeknownst to me at the time, will be my bed for the evening. The first 30 minutes of the walk is fun, we walk through the market as everyone laughs and cheers for the chindeles pathetically using their hands to stabilize the large mats. Grace, my homestay buddy, and I laugh with them and at the situation we have found ourselves in just 24 hours into our time here. For the next 30 minutes, we walk deeper into the bush. With every step, I become increasingly aware that I have zero idea of what lies ahead of me tonight, all I know is there is a direct correlation between the kilometers walked and the amount of times “what the hell am I doing” goes through my head. Yet, the raspy voice of mama Violet is there to coax me out of my own mind, checking in to make sure the mat is not too heavy and cheerfully introducing us chindeles to her many friends along the route. It took a bit of time to calm my anxious heart but once I did, I could not have asked for a better family to begin my Zambezi experience with. The night brought with it so much comfort once we found a common language in dancing with the many children who gathered from the surrounding villages, killed the cockroach on the ground in our room, and shared in conversation with Mama Violet and Steven around the fire under the most beautiful, untouched by light starry sky.

And just like that, not even 24 hours in, Zambezi is already teaching me so much.

Do not look forward- It will only cause you unnecessary anxiety. Walk the unknown path with the kind of hope that does not equate to optimism but holds strongly to the idea that whatever finds you along the way or at the end has meaning. When the vehicle breaks down for the 100th time, use it as a playground, don’t sit counting down the minutes until you return home. Our days here are full and looking forward will only make it seem as though we will be stepping back on the tiny bush planes the second we stepped off.

Look forward- On the mornings when the anxiety attack happens the second you wake up and the days where you just don’t feel like you can be here anymore. There is a starry sky ahead, there is comfort from a world away in the comments read aloud every morning, and there is a cold Cadbury chocolate bar with biscuit waiting at George’s. You got this. Just don’t stay in the future for too long. You don’t want to miss what is going on around you.

May 28th, 2017

We have just returned from our weekend adventure in Dipalata (refer to Joe’s blog for a more detailed post about it). I walk into our backyard to find Grant sitting at the cement block, which has become the go to gathering spot for our group. Today, I walked out here hoping to put my headphones on and journal away my confusion, questions, and anger. But Grant looks up, offers me some tangerine, and says, “let’s talk. How are you?” “I don’t know Grant. How are you?” “I don’t know either.” “Why don’t you know?” and we began a conversation that would change everything about this trip for me. As our friends began to slowly join, we began to realize that we were not alone in the questions our hearts were holding. The courage to be honest, to be vulnerable, and to not have the answers opened up spaces in our hearts for the joy and laughter, too. From telling ourselves that we are a burden on this community, to asking “what the hell are we doing here”, and questioning if every relationship with Zambians is built upon the color of our skin and the country we come from, we slowly began to see our time in this community as more than our questions. Some of the questions are real but I am learning to not spend so much time seeking the answers. Instead, I am showing up to love the people around me in all the questions and messy circumstances of our togetherness. I know we will never stop seeking the answers but for now, I love that we have found small ways to allow ourselves to just be here.

Do not look back- there are lessons in those days you are not quite ready for. They are not yours to understand yet. Write long and hard about what hurts, write the questions, tell others you are struggling too, sit in those questions together. But do not get so caught up that you miss out on embracing the joy and beauty, too.

Look back- hold in gratitude the people who got you here, the place you left behind, and the journey that began far before stepping off the bush plane just 3 weeks ago. Acknowledge the answers that have come, rest in the peace of being right where you are suppose to be, let your heart fill with gratitude for those who came alongside you. Always look back to make sure the second car in the caravan is still there. We are a family and nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

Look around you, look at who is alongside you, look at what is going on within you-do not be afraid.

Do not take shortcuts-you will break down in two different areas of the African bush. or maybe do. They have made all the difference in the coming together of our group.

June 3rd, 2017

Tonight we read a piece by Fr. Greg Boyle that took me back to my spring break trip earlier this year. While I was in East LA, I was welcomed into Ana’s home to share a meal and sleep for the night. All that she had, she offered to us wholly. And I immediately think to Zambezi and how Mama Violet and Steven welcomed Grace and I into their home for a meal and to sleep. And then again immediately to the many families who have welcomed me into their homes and families during the holidays. I don’t want to create barriers in my heart and life between Zambezi and the US. Both places have so much love to give and also so many ways they fail in extending that love to every one. It would be a disservice to not question the treatment of women, to not question the lack of access to education, and the lack of food that are very present in both of these countries I love. They have both taught me so much and deserve to be seen in all the light and darkness they hold.

Do not look up-there are way too many spiders on the ceilings. And you do not want to miss what is going on around you. No place is perfect. And we have so much to learn from one another. So I will hold both, without looking up to one so much that I do the injustice of not loving it enough to want it to be better.

Look up-there are vast blue skies and the stars blanket the sky in a breathtaking way. Remember how small you are.

June 5th, 2017

As I walk along the road with Ezra and Damien today, I’m asked a multitude of questions: “when do you leave?” “will you miss me?” “are we friends?” “will you remember me?” I pause after each question, trying to measure what I want to say against the weight of knowing I will never see these boys again, trying to sit with the truth that I am leaving them. On the wall in our living space is the poem “With that Moon Language” by Hafiz, it is a daily reminder that we humans have a longing to connect, to be loved, and to know that love exists. The pain that is left in the wake of love is so much better than the pain of not believing you are loved. So I reply, “We leave Friday, of course I will miss you. I will think of this place everyday. You are my friend. I love you.”

It is with the same courage that got me here, that I will say goodbye to this place and these people. The courage to acknowledge how much it has mattered, and how much they matter. The courage to sit with the questions it has left me. The courage to let it change me. The courage to embrace the joy and love that make it hurt so much more to say goodbye to. And the courage to say loudly, and with my whole being…

“I love you. And I will miss you, too.”

Kisu Mwane
Taylor(or Telah as it is pronounced here) Ridenour
Class of 2018

P.S. To all the people (there are so many of you and what a freaking tremendous gift that is), who came alongside me this past year—thank you, thank you, thank you. I cannot wait to squeeze you.

P.S.S. ZamFam 2016-there is a photo in my journal that I took on our retreat together last year. It is on a walk and I am many steps behind you. I think of how symbolic the photo has become as I walk on the dirt paths of Zambezi, know you have all walked them before. I feel you here, each one of you. Know how loved you are by this community. I love you so much, too.

P.S.S.S. Anyone who has ever had a homestay with Mama Violet and Steven, they still have the journal with all your names and addresses in it. They are so proud of it and so full of love for each of you. It also made me feel so connected to this place and this long line of zags in Zambezi.

P.S.S.S.S. During our language lesson today with Mama Josephine, she asked us to share one of our songs with her. Our group quickly broke out into our fight song and G-O-N-Z-A-G-A. At the end of the latter, Mama asked “so what is the meaning of this song?” and we broke out laughing. And then Amazing Grace began being sung, all of us together, and if this moment doesn’t embody our group, I don’t know what does. A balance between silliness and seriousness, between light and dark, between business and stillness. I love this group so much.

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The Thorny Grace of It

An open letter to the future Maddie LeBrun:

It all started in a bookstore. Do you remember? You were with that beautiful creature you get to call a sister and she was dragging you through the Elliot Bay Book Company to the Christianity section. Confused at first, she threw a book in your hands and told you to open to the page of her favorite story. You held in your hands “The Thorny Grace of It” and you couldn’t help but smirk. Such a Cate-esque book. You opened the book and saw two pages of words and didn’t know what to expect. Do you remember as she watched you read it? Watched as slowly but surely your eyes read the simple yet relatable words that good ol’ B. Doyle uses to depict the thorny grace of life.

The thorny grace of it. These words hit you pretty hard back then, but you didn’t really understand them yet, did you? The poetry of the words was beautiful, of course, but what did you know? You were just starting college on your own. You were feigning control and adulthood and pretending you had it all figured out. Would that girl in the bookstore have guessed that she, some 4 odd years later would be in the same place?

You’ve always been the type of person to keep busy, haven’t you? Business yields productivity and ultimately that was the best avoidance of failure. You spent 4 years of college as if you were running to some finish line. Your strides getting bigger with each passing semester, you’d run through weeks and months as if life were a deadline and you were running late. People would ask “LeBrun, where the hell have you been?” and you’d laugh and come up with some excuse and lace back up those racing shoes.

All of a sudden you found yourself in your first semester of senior year, shaking your head as if you’d been dropped there, huffing and puffing but knowing to survive you had to keep chugging. Just a few more months and life could start, right? Hunker down, get your work done and you’d be free to be who you wanted.

Then, one day, you tripped.

Do you remember that day? It was your first day in the hospital wasn’t it, your first day of clinicals of second semester nursing school. Your scrubs were starched and you’d met your nurse. It was your first ten minutes. You remember thinking how you could’ve gotten so unlucky. Remember the yelling. The Code Blue. The silence that followed. You were a brand new student nurse and you’d lost your first patient. You’d found your first thorn.

Remember how you found out about Grandpa the next week? It was so sudden. One week here, one week gone. It was as though the weight of all the elements of your life were crashing into each other with everything they had. Think of that weight. The weight that told you you never wanted to step foot in a hospital again but knew you had no choice. The thorns kept coming.

Suddenly things felt pretty numb, didn’t they? You had your reasons for keeping busy, sure. But were they real? You became someone you’d never seen before. You had bouts of irritation where you didn’t even know the person acting in your place. You filled every second of your day and couldn’t stand when people questioned you. You were doing what you had to do, how could they not understand?

But did you even understand? Heck no you didn’t. You had the thorns but where was the grace? Suddenly Brian Doyle’s story felt even more unfamiliar. You’d kept his words in your mind ever since that day in the bookstore, but the simple truth that the mundanity of our lives is just a culmination of activities, all contributing to this inclusive, “thorny grace” seemed so foreign, so out of reach. You told yourself to keep looking for that grace as if it were the next item you had to scratch off your To-Do list. It’s funny how I think even then we knew it didn’t work like that.

And then you were approached with an idea. It came upon you without warning and you took it in stride to see where it would take you. You wanted to go to Zambia. Remember how you asked Roses and Greggy in that Cantina on Cap Hill? Remember how strangely excited you became so many months in advance? Your acceptance letter came soon after your application, and the waiting game began.

Just as it always does, mundanity took over once again. Your life was in hyperdrive, hell, you didn’t even have time to participate in any pre-Zambia activities, yet the prospect of it gave you an unfamiliar sense of… something. Something you just couldn’t put your finger on.

Time flew as always until the month of May practically smacked you in the face. Amidst the packing, the moving, the graduating, you knew this trip to Zambia was right around the corner. You were nervous and excited and hardly ready to go, but as life would have it, May 15th crept upon you without warning.
Remember how strange it was that that book, that Thorny Grace of It reappeared? You were packing up your mountains of books and its red cover slipped to the floor by your bed. Not having seen in for a couple years, the title struck you as it always had, but you had a 25 pound weight limit to work with, so to a box it went and to a plane you went.

You arrived in Zambezi four days after you left the comfort of 324 E. Nora in Spokane, Washington. You remember descending from the bush plane and hundreds of tiny hands took hold of you. They sang to you and they smiled at you and that sense, that one you had before, it was in full force.

You were here. You’d made it and you had no idea what that meant. All you knew was that time seemed to move slower here. Remember the morning you sat at this computer writing this letter? Remember how you couldn’t believe how only three weeks had passed? You felt like you’d been here for years, didn’t you? How strange it seemed that even for the girl that couldn’t slow down to save her life, it was as though those racing shoes had been put on a shelf, completely disregarded.

But then, just as it always does, life hits you. And it hit you pretty hard. You had questions. You were confused and frustrated and wanted to kick yourself. Who were you to step into these lives and act as though you knew something? You thought to Dipalata and your stomach turned. You thought of the beautiful welcoming children watching you as you went to eat. You saw their swollen bellies. You knew what that meant. Suddenly you were confronted with the reality that the thorns lived here too. You reclused as you always do. Ready to accept the timewarp the next few weeks could hold, it was like you grabbed those old racing shoes and were going to get going.

Or at least that’s what you thought.

Remember that day? That second to last Monday with Mama Nancy and the women? You spent your morning washing the clothes and your afternoon sewing the menstruation kits. You heard Mama speak of strength and you watched 6 beautiful women weave compassion into the material they sewed with. You learned that it wasn’t up to you. There was no question of “what is Maddie LeBrun doing to make a difference?”, there was only this sense that just presence was enough. Washing with Nancy and sitting with the women was enough. We were teaching and learning and they were doing the same. Suddenly, you sat by candlelight at that reflection and you took a breath and you smiled because time was slow and you felt it. You felt grace.

This feeling was familiar, yet you could never quite put your finger on it before. This feeling, this grace, even amongst the craziness of hyperspeed you’d been living in for the past four years, was familiar.

This was the feeling you’d felt it back at the start of third semester, the day you held in your hands your patient’s new baby and you handed her to her mother for the first time.

You’d felt it those days in February as the snow fell and you sat on the porch and you’d smile and knew there was nowhere you’d rather be.

You’d even felt it at Grandpa’s funeral, as you looked at your siblings and your parents and your family, singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and knowing he was home.

You’d felt it. And you realized it. Life wasn’t a race, hiding from the thorns that met you along the way. Life wasn’t about seeking only beautiful moments and feeling the grace and pretending like those thorns didn’t exist. Life WAS the thorns, the grace we feel through the pain and the questions. And once we realize this, we find we can finally catch up to life, and leave us wondering why were we ever running from it in the first place.

Now you’re not naïve. You know that questions are universal and that you’ll be faced with life’s pricks until the day you die, but I’m writing you now for a different objective. To remember. Remember these words and these realizations and this life, because they aren’t meant to be forgotten.

Remember that day in the hospital with Robert who wouldn’t wake up. Remember this thorn because it brought you reality.

Remember the phone call about Grandpa. Remember the tears and the pain and the sorrow. Remember this thorn because it gave you family.

Remember the children’s hands that grab you every day in Zambezi, the reality of their situations and their hungry stomachs. Remember this thorn because it drives your passion.

But also take time to remember the grace.

Remember the look in Megan’s eyes as she saw her baby for the first time. Remember as she squeezed your hand and gave you that pack of M&M’s you still keep in your desk. Remember this grace because it promised the hope of a future.

Remember the moments in which we hold grace and we don’t even realize it. The moments where the snow falls or music plays or beautiful voices sing “Welcome Gonzaga” at full volume. Remember this grace because it keeps you present.

Our days in Zambia are few. We come and we get to experience and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and moving. We get to see a beautiful couple who has dedicated their lives to the service of this community and have found normalcy in the foreign; a dream you too hold. We get to teach lessons and get to know our pupils and see as they learn and grow with us. We get to sit among 22 other Zags (and two Mamas) and eat together every meal, every day.

You know better than anyone that it is nearly impossible to sum up three weeks in a simple letter, but these feelings, these reflections and realizations, these are what’s important and what will stick with you. Soon you will forget the taste of the Mama’s rice or how many bananas you can buy for 10 kwacha. The route to George’s will become foggy and the lessons you taught in class will be fading memories rather than yesterday’s achievements. You won’t have your slumber interrupted by the 5am bus or the friendly backyard rooster. But it’s the feelings, the relationships, the grace and the thorns of every interaction you’ve had for the past 20 days that will live on.

At the risk of sounding corny or dramatic, remember to take the time to thank this life for the ups and downs. Thank it for death and for laughs and for hundreds of sticky hands all reaching for yours. We’re not meant to shy away from pain or act as though it doesn’t exist. We’re meant to embrace it. Because at the end of the day it’s this thorny grace of it that makes life worth living after all.

Much love and kisu mwane,
A younger and pretending-to-be-wiser Maddie LeBrun

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Just Be

When people ask me what I love most in life, I answer “relationships” confidently and without hesitation. Whether the relationships I have are with my family, friends, or even my professors, I get more joy out of the connections I have with people than from anything else in the world.

Given my relational nature, I figured that the Gonzaga in Zambezi program was the perfect fit for me. I was told by my friends back at Gonzaga that during the trip I would have the opportunity to build relationships that were ‘life changing’. I then learned that one of the themes of the trip is accompaniment, the idea that we are to walk alongside the people of Zambezi in order to learn from them and their culture. Rather than showing up to build wells, a church, or give cash handouts, we were to immerse ourselves in their culture and pursue relationships with the Zambians. That sounded pretty cool to me. I also figured that the fellow Zags who would sign up for this knowingly difficult, but incredibly rewarding ‘study abroad’ trip would likely have similar values to mine, especially in terms of relationships. Yeah, spending time with some solid Zags sounded pretty cool too. With that, and a desire to grow my world view, I decided this opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up.

Even for someone like me who says they love adventure, traveling, and challenging myself, this was crazy. Traveling halfway across the world? To experience a culture I knew absolutely nothing about? To a place with not even a single Starbucks? Yeah, I think you have to be a little crazy to embark on this epic adventure. Regardless of the iced coffees and mochas I would be missing out on, I was excited to trade the mountains and trees in Washington for the sand and bush in Africa. On May 15th, with thoughts of the relationships I would develop with both Zags and Zambians filling my head, I was off.

It is now June 3nd. In college I always feel like the days go by slow and the weeks go by fast. Here in Zambia I have experienced the same thing. Like any typical school day back in Spokane, our days here are full. After teaching classes, walking to the market, reading, reflecting, interacting with the community, and trying to figure out my impact here, I feel like I’ve been running around for 3 whole days, not just 16 hours. But just as the weeks fly by in Spokane, the past two weeks have flown by here too. Over this time, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve traveled to rural communities deep in the bush to teach basic health, I’ve crossed the Zambezi river at sunset in a dugout canoe, and I’ve taken over 450 pictures and recorded 210 gigabytes of video. However, more significant than all of that has been how my preconceived ideas of what relationships look like have been challenged and redefined.

Before coming to Zambia I thought relationships with friends and family were the strongest and most genuine if they were constantly attended to and worked on. This concept of time was always an issue for me. How much time is the other person putting into the relationship we have? I had a ‘if you’re not adding to it, you’re subtracting from it’ mentality that was both unfair to others and unhealthy for myself.

Just because I haven’t heard from a friend from high school for a few months doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested in still being friends. I can clearly recognize there are many factors as to why a friend may not be texting back, or why a friendship seems to be slipping, but I usually dismissed them. “They just aren’t invested in the relationship we have as much as I am” are words I have said to my mom and dad. Followed with a “so I’m going to stop putting in as much effort” I would put the issue behind me, despite words of caution from my parents. You would think someone who claims they are ‘relational’ and ‘loves people’ would be able to recognize that this was wrong. I should have been appreciating my relationships for what they were. After all, every relationship is different. The mindset I had was hurting me and others and I was failing to recognize and appreciate one of the beautiful parts of relationships.

Being. Regardless if the relationship is big or small, whether it is exercised every day or not, or if it lasts for days or years, it doesn’t matter. Because, in relationships, people are choosing to be with each other. And there’s beauty in that.

In Zambia, people understand this far better than I do. The Zambians may be the kindest people I have ever met. They are truly interested in what my name is, where I am from, how I am doing, if I am learning Luvale or Lunda, what I’m doing in Zambia, and countless other things. Their hospitality is unmatched. They have invited me into their homes when they see me walking down the street. They have hosted me for big meals of chicken, nshima, pumpkin, groundnuts, and kasava leaves. Heck, they’ve greeted me with songs and dancing that have lasted for an entire hour (a rather awkward situation for someone like me who can’t sing or dance). After 16 days here, I’m realizing that this goes beyond Zambians just being kind, hospitable, respectful, or any of that. In a way, I think most Zambians are truly interested in being with people. Whether that will last for 3 minutes or 30 years, they simply don’t mind. Unlike me, they don’t let time, depth, or anything else define the relationships they pursue. They recognize that above all, the most important part of being in a relationship with someone is the act of being itself.

There have been numerous moments throughout our trip that have helped me realize the role ‘being’ plays in relationships. However, the most impactful moment took place on our journey to Dipalata. After the Land Cruiser refused to start up, Joe and I stayed with the vehicle while the other members of the group continued on. The Cruiser was sitting outside the small village of Kalola. All the commotion had caused a small crowd of children to come out of their homes. Soon, 15 children were staring at Joe and I who were sitting in the back of the truck. After failing to communicate with them with our limited knowledge of Luvale, a boy approached Joe’s window. “Tangerines.” He said to us. Joe and I were surprised he knew English. Noting our expressions, he elaborated in the little English he knew. “I bring tangerines.” he said before running off. 10 minutes later the boy appeared again. On his back, a red gym sack filled with nearly 30 of greenest tangerines I’ve ever seen. Joe and I were overwhelmed with his generosity. Thanking him in Luvale (upon which he told us his village spoke primarily Lunda) he stood there for a moment. “May I come in?” he asked timidly. Joe and I nodded and exclaimed “Yes! Yes! Come sit with us!” and cleared room for him in the Cruiser. He told us his name was Chidata and shared what he could about himself and his village despite knowing little English. The language barrier and his shy personality limited our conversation, but nevertheless, Chidata sat with us and smiled approvingly as we ripped into the delicious tangerines. We sat in silence for the next 45 minutes, but in the silence I learned a lot from Chidata. He knew just as well as Joe and I did that we would never see each other again, but he didn’t care. He was content with simply being with us in that moment. He wanted to be in relationship with us, even if it was only for 45 minutes, and his actions spoke to this loud and clear in a language we could all understand.

While I was getting hung up on how my relationships were lopsided, or in comparing two incomparable friendships, I was failing to see appreciate being. Now, with a better understanding of what it means to be with someone, I hope I can learn to appreciate the relationships I have with friends and family for what they are. Like the Zambians, I want to care less about what my relationships look like. The relationships I have with my family, who I talk to nearly every single day, look different from my relationships with old high school friends, which look different from relationships with my friends at Gonzaga, and that’s okay. I am realizing that the simple act of another person choosing to be with me is enough.

Just as Chidata chose to be with Joe and I, I hope to choose to be with the people who I share friendships with. I’m enjoying implementing this new focus on being in the relationships I have with the people in Zambezi and I am excited to continue it back home.

Kisu Mwane,

Grant Thomas

Sorry for the lack of pictures. They wouldn’t upload and I was too tired to keep trying 🙂






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The Waiting Room

As a kid I can remember being terrified of hospitals. Though it was not that often, I can recall the uneasy feeling I would get whenever going to the hospital for a friend or family member. When I think about these trips the thing that I disliked the most was having to sit in the waiting room. Though my overall fear of hospitals has subsided since starting my clinical experiences through Gonzaga, I think that the waiting room will always be a place that will make me feel uneasy, due to the nature of a hospital waiting room. Making people sit in the discomfort of their situation. Whether it is the discomfort of physical or emotional pain, fear of the unknown, or the frustration of unanswered questions, the waiting room forces you to sit there and be uncomfortable.

We are just about to enter into our third week of being in Zambezi and after giving it some thought; I think that I am stuck in the waiting room. And how I got here did not take much effort. One night I simply asked myself, “What is my role here in Zambezi” and bam, I checked in, was told the doctor would be right with me and to please take a seat.

Before coming to Zambia I felt like this question had a clear-cut answer. Our goal was accompaniment—to work alongside the Zambezi community, making deep and real friendships through the process. This turned out to be a lot more complicated than I thought it was going to be. We often talk about how the days are long, but the weeks are short here and it is crazy to think that we only have a week left here in Zambezi. I started to feel like I was running out of time and this question that lingered was still yet to be fully answered. And from this one question even more complicated questions started to pop up. I wondered if, with this short of time, would I actually be able to accomplish the practice of accompaniment? Is our short time here doing more harm than good when children skip school to stand outside the convent gates, hoping that the chindeles will come out to play? Are we taking more than we are giving when the health team travels to rural communities outside of Zambezi and teach for an hour and in return receive food and gifts that are valuable resources for the village? How do we decide which girls will receive one of the limited period kits that we have to help them stay in school from those who will not? And now that I have experienced what I have experienced, what am I going to do when I get back home?

Sitting in unanswered questions for the passed couple of days lead me to become frustrated. Sitting in the discomfort of being celebrated wherever we go, receiving gifts and hospitality that felt undeserved, and feeling like a burden in the passed couple of days lead me to become frustrated. This experience has brought me back to a hospital waiting room where all I wanted was answers so that I could stop feeling uncomfortable. For a while this frustration made me think that it would have been best to never ask or think about these questions because the answers would never come. But one night as our group was talking about what questions we are asking and what was making us uncomfortable Morgan Green brought up a concept that I was not able to see because of my frustration. She said, “What if the whole point is to sit in the discomfort”. I had never considered that sitting in the discomfort would ever be the solution to my problem. But the more I thought about it the idea started to make feel a sense of release. I think that I had placed this pressure on myself to have everything figured out, to work hard to find the answers to these questions and to find a way to be comfortable with the things that were bringing me discomfort. But maybe I am coming to think that maybe part of this experience might be about learning it sit in the discomfort that comes with asking the hard questions.

The challenging part of learning to sit in the discomfort, except for the obvious, is finding peace while waiting. We have a book of prayers and blessings in the convent and I came upon this blessing the other day.

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still calm your heart”.

I am coming to see that many of the questions I have many not be answered by the time that I leave Zambezi and in fact might be ones that I am still sorting through weeks, months, or years from now. So I guess you could say that I am going to be in the waiting room for the long haul, sitting in the discomfort. But I am trying to be ok with that and focusing on what can bring me peace while I’m there. I find peace in that my fellow Zam Fam is here with me and all are in the waiting room to some capacity. Reflecting with them helps me to move closer to resolutions while also challenging me to ask even more questions. I find peace in the sewing classes the health team has, empowering women to make period kits of their own. I find peace in my friend Hendrix who has a passion to help his community to become a prosperous place to live. I find peace in the Sunday Mass choir who worship in both song and dance. I find peace in the walk our group takes every evening to watch the sunset over the river with what feels like a hundred Zambezi children.

And as my time here in Zambia starts to come to an end I know that the discomfort is far from over. I know that I will continue to ask questions and be put into situations that make me uncomfortable, but I am starting to be ok with that. I am trying to give myself some grace in this experience and search for where I can find peace instead of searching for immediate answers. I will let the doctor get back to me when the time is right. In the mean time I’ll learn to appreciate the process and continue to look for how Zambezi can calm, but also fill my heart.

Kisu Mwane

Caroline May (Class of 2018)

PS – Momma May and Dad thank you so much for everything. I love and miss you very much. Kim and Cait I wish that we guys could be here with me and I can’t wait to see you two in a couple of weeks. Love you always.

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Chindende, Chindende

A single paved highway spans the 500 Kilometer distance from Solwezi, a town filled with hustle and bustle after a boom in the copper mining industry, to Zambezi, the town our Zags have called home for the past few weeks. After a quick trip to meet the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese, pick up some new travelers, and visit the local ShopRite, our motley crew is ready to go home. The drive is filled with road trip essentials like any other- fast food, the sweet sounds of John Mayer, and good company to pass the time. As I peer out the window, my eyes meet the steady flow of trees that cover the land on both sides of the road. Homes with thatched roofs, market places, and schools flicker into view and disappear from sight as our car makes its way home. Chindende, chindende. Slowly, slowly I think to myself as I adjust my legs and settle in to the leather seats of the Land Cruiser. This journey will be long, but bit-by-bit, we will make our way.

I first heard this Luvale phrase last year in Zambezi when I was talking with Precious and Maxine, two young women who I had nicknamed “The Lemon Ladies” because of the enormous lemon tree in their backyard, which they plucked fruits from daily, and sold on the road along the market. I had invited them to a party and they were running late saying, “Chindende, Chindende. We will make our way soon.” It was yet another reminder of what people describe as “Zambia Time” and what we have discussed on this trip regarding the African Concept of Time. In the Western World, time is love, time is money, and time is power. In Africa, time is the past and time is the present. There is no future time. Time is defined by events and not by certain hours in the day. The party won’t start at 15:30. The party will start when the party starts. Get it?

At lunch today we hosted Francis, a Zambian social worker and founder of a newly launched NGO, and we learned about all the efforts that him and his team are putting in to their work to support vulnerable children throughout Zambia. Before he left, I asked Francis about how he finds time to relax and recharge in the midst of getting his organization up and running. I was surprised and curious when he shared that he doesn’t really find free time to do those things. He compared my own American culture where people have a mutual understanding to abide by strict timelines in order to create space for personal leisure time to the African workplace where work happens when it needs to happen. Time is present, not future. Francis acknowledged the difficulties in balancing his work with his personal well being and also emphasized the importance of completing tasks when they need to get done. No deadlines or timelines. Just completing the task at hand because it needs to be completed.(However, he did mention that after a long day of work, sharing a slice of pizza with friends and family usually fills him with energy).

Little by little. Bit by bit. Whatever it takes to carry this haystack across town.

I look up from my book and see Father Dominic staring out the back window. “Chindende Chindende,” I say, and he smiles in reply, “Chindende, chindende. Slowly slowly. Chizunda ambachile mbambi yenyi.” A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I ponder this quietly for a while. Steps can’t be skipped, but all it takes is one at a time to make our way along. We will be home soon, but for now I will enjoy the rest of this car ride. Time is present, not future.

The journey back from Solwezi.

There is something to be said for the giddiness and excitement that comes when one returns home after a long journey. A sea of questions can plague our minds in anticipation of what is to come. Who or what will be waiting for me when I return? What new things am I bringing back to share with others? How will my home be different? How will I be different? I was overcome with these thoughts and was filled with eager anticipation upon our group’s arrival in Zambezi a few weeks ago. I struggled to embrace the beauty of being present in the journey through Dubai and Lusaka because my mind had already returned to yellow walls, sandy paths, nshima, and the many Zambians I had met the past summer. I wanted our group to finally get where we were trying to go, so I could get home to Zambezi. So we could get home. I was so focused on the destination that I lost track of the significance of each point in the journey.

Last semester as a part of my Sociology of Education class, I volunteered with the Walking School Bus program at two of Spokane’s public elementary schools. Three days a week, several Zags and I would pick up a group of students at their homes or a designated pick-up area and walk them to school. On our walks we played imaginary games, talked in funny accents, and I learned more about MineCraft than I bargained for. My relationship with students on the route was based upon our journey together on cold, rainy mornings. I didn’t look forward to dropping students off at school because it meant we had reached our destination and would have to part ways. With each step I thought to myself, “Chindende, chindende. Slowly, Slowly we can make our way.” Taking things slowly could be a good thing.

Zambezi is a home away from home, which makes it a place to journey to and from, and a journey within itself. Now that I am here again, I savor the days and want the moments to pass by slowly, slowly. These days are full and if I don’t stop to remind myself to slow down and enjoy, I miss wonderful opportunities. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. As a group, we have taken quite a few of them so far, but we still have many more to go. Each footprint left behind, which traces our path in the sand, will serve as a reminder for the rest of our time to come. “Chindende, chindende. We can make our way.”

Kisu Mwane,

Elly Zykan (Class of 2018)

P.S. Thank you to all of those who follow along with our posts each day. Like our moments in Zambezi, we take in each word you have to say slowly and with intent. Much love.

Embracing each moment, including a sunset at the river.

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Light and Dark

“You HAVE to have both the light and the dark.” Says Lydia as she and I lay back watching our group partake in a late night activity.

Out of the many great conversations I have had with both my fellow Zags and members of the Zambezi community, this was one that resonated more than others. After trips like these, I have always wrestled with the question that will always get asked, the question being, “Well, how was it? What was it like?” Lydia and I talked about this and rested on the idea that no matter what you say, whether it be a lot or a little, detailed or broad, insightful or concrete, you HAVE to speak about both the light and the dark. One does not, and should not, exist without the other. Questioning the idea of light and dark and also being out in the unique situations that Zambezi provides has forced me to look inward into my own character and where the light and the dark play roles in my own life.

Say I had a mirror. And by looking into this mirror, it would show me my reflection. But not the reflection of my outside, but of my inside. The reflection of my inner self. If I looked now, what I would see would be practically unrecognizable compared to what I would have seen years ago. The inner me of the past would be small. He would be holding his hands in front of his chest and staring back with tearful eyes that said, “Please, don’t hurt me.” I used to be tormented by my own head. My days were full of worry. I worried about my mistakes, my flaws, and my awkwardness, and I feared what other people might think of me. My self esteem was practically nonexistent and I could only describe myself with one word: Inconsequential. I once thought that this was my light, but it took time to realize that it was my dark. Battling my own head with its bouts of depression and its intrusive thoughts of OCD tore me down to my core, a point where I eventually couldn’t take it anymore. You only change when you’re wise enough to know you want to or when you’ve been hurt enough that you have to. My circumstances finally decided for me that it was time to change, whether I wanted to or not.

Looking into the mirror now, I now see the reflection of that change. The inner me I see now, is tall. He stares down at me with eyes that don’t judge, but show empowerment and confidence. He stands like a soldier. After I changed my reflection, my life took on a new light. I felt confident and strong. I finally felt like I had some self worth, and a lot of it. Adversity still came, but I could handle it. Many people didn’t like this change. People had been too used to who I was to accept who I became. I lost a few friends in the process and my priorities changed, but on the path to self worth it was a price I had to pay. This, was my light.

Here in Zambia, there is a cultural practice called Makishi. On the surface, it is a large celebration filled with the dancing of several masked characters, each one representing some specific character. The celebration is often associated with the rights of passage that young boys and girls of Zambia take. Rights of passage are incredibly important in the Zambian culture and our wonderful Fr. Baraza spoke to us as a group regarding these traditions. He explained to us that rights of passage are universal experiences that all people face, and not only sometimes, but all the time. We are always walking a right of passage. We learned of the three sections of a right of passage: Separation, Testing, and Reintegration. While separation and reintegration and incredibly quick moments, the middle period of testing makes up the vast majority of any right of passage. I couldn’t help but feel that Zambezi was pushing the levels of testing in my passage. For Zambians, the most common right of passage is where the boy or the girl transitions into adulthood. The tradition used to have the kids sent away for months at a time, away from their homes, away from their friends, and away from their families. They’d live in a camp where they would symbolically die as children and return as adults. There were times where the boy or the girl would actually die during this long journey. Fr. explained to us that the testing period of any right of passage is one of near-death. At any point of testing in any right of passage, one could die.

During one of the many intimate conversations on this trip, I sat with Sooyoun and Jimmy and I was asked a question about my ideals of strength and empowerment. I was asked, “Do you think that that strength you talk about may be a defense mechanism? A way of not getting hurt?” The answer came to me before I could even react. Yes. Of course it was. What I once saw as strength, suddenly became weakness. I could see how my reflection had been changing over time. To look into that mirror again is to see the reality of the change I made. The man who stood tall is now on his knees. Panting, budding with sweat, and grinning wildly, he waits to be struck again by life, so he can prove his strength by getting up again. He thinks that this is strength. Being hit again and again and still getting up. It is admirable, but he won’t last forever. He will eventually break and may never be able to get up again. What was once my light became my dark once again.

Going to Zambia was easy for me. I prided myself on my ability to adapt to new situations and settings with ease. I prided my self on my resilience to adversity and my ability to continually persevere. But it is a strength and ability that I have developed for the sole  reason of keeping myself from being hurt again. Strength became synonymous with resisting discomfort and retaliating against pain. The man is beginning to look like the small boy who is only trying his hardest to not be hurt again. But despite the pain of the truth, that is the only way the boy will grow. I have voiced to the group my thoughts on the meaning of the Zambia trip. There are many different possibilities, all equally valid and all equally plausible. To me, the meaning of this trip is to hurt us, to confuse us, and to make us uncomfortable, either with the world or with ourselves. It took some time, but I finally felt some pain on this trip and that is where we grow. As I said before, sometimes the only way to change is by getting hurt so bad that we have to. While the two images I saw of myself are now both a part of my dark, they were both my light at one point. For me to find a light that will last, it’ll take more than retaliating against my adversity. It’ll take the strongest act of all, which is to let go of my barriers and my walls. To let the small boy in the big man’s body face the world head on.

The first time I changed, it was the end of a right of passage. The change was good and necessary, but I hadn’t noticed myself stepping directly into another right of passage. But I can feel my reintegration coming soon. Maybe Zambia will be the place where I allow myself to get hurt again. Just like the end of any Zambian right of passage, I will have to dance with the Makishi. And if that means dancing the night away with Death itself, I will gladly take its hand and see what it has to teach me.

Kisu Mwane,

– Chase Hoyt



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Humans of Zambezi: Chiwala Katakana

Chiwala Katamuna


“We are here to love each other.”

Chiwala Katamuna is infinitely polite. When asked a question—any question—he responds with a “Yes, please,” before offering his measured, thoughtful response. For every question asked, he has two of his own, and he is intensely curious about the United States.

How do you marry? What do you do with your children? How do you build houses? What do you grow? And, most importantly, he wonders, would he find in the states pills to ease the ache in his sore hip, adding that he fell on slippery ground two weeks ago, and the pain is consuming.

At 83, Chiwala’s small, thin, stooped frame belies the energy he radiates in conversation. In his long life, he has traveled about his country, going to school, working in the mines, and, most devotedly, helping his beloved Zambia.

Chiwala’s father died when he was 4 or 5, he can’t quite recall, and his mom grew cassava root and groundnuts to support her three children. Chiwala herded cattle and “hooked” fish. His small village had no school, so at 20, he left for Chitokoloki where he learned English and later took classes on agriculture before being trained as a veterinary assistant. Like many jobs at the time, Chiwala says, the pay was poor, and he was unhappy.

In search of better wages, Chiwala headed for the copper mines where “life was very cheap” due to government stores. He began as a miner where he worked to know everything, he says. “Mine workers must be clever, especially when drilling. There is danger under the ground.” His fluency in English and his dedicated work ethic drew the attention of his Californian boss, and Chiwala became a supervisor.

After three years in the mines, Chiwala was appointed as a justice to the local court in Mize, a small village across the river from Zambezi, where he heard civil complaints. Most of the cases he decided involved financial or domestic disputes. For example, according to custom, if a wife dies, the husband must pay her family with cash or a cow. “She was working for the husband,” Chiwala says, and similar to a wife getting a pension from her husband’s employer should he die, the wife’s family is entitled to compensation.

Around this time, Chiwala’s interest in politics intensified. In the early 1960s, Chiwala was a freedom fighter for Zambian independence from Great Britain; he traveled throughout the area to convince villagers that Zambia’s time for self-rule had come. Later, he was elected to the town council in Zambezi, visiting villages in the surrounding Balavale District to hear their concerns. Some needed a borehole for water; others needed a school.

Even today, his interest in politics remains strong. He serves as district chairman for the liberal United National Development Party, which late last year lost a highly contested, razor-thin election to the Patriotic Front Party. Chiwala is no fan of the current president.

On this warm May day, Chiwala wears a shirt decorated with a giant eagle and the colors of the Zambian flag—red, green, black, and orange. “The eagle is a symbol of freedom, that we can fly and decide for ourselves what we want,” he says. “Even now, I am a freedom fighter.”

Chiwala and his wife have been married for 57 years and raised nine children. Aside from getting their educations, he says, he wanted his children to know that loving relationships should be life’s focus.

“We are here to share ideas. We are here to love each other,” he says. “Love is most important in life.

“You can’t have anything without love.”



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