The Beauty in Being Wrong

Please enjoy this picture of Kalie that has nothing to do with this post, but it is amusing, nonetheless.

Goodnight for us, and good morning to you. I hope all of you reading are doing well, and that you are enjoying the blog as much as we are enjoying your responses. There have definitely never been tears at our breakfast table…

I’ve been struggling with how to write this – or rather, what to write about. There is simply so much happening in the community around us. And unless you’re here, seeing it for yourself, it is difficult to fully comprehend the beauty and complexity of what Zambezi is.

This is exactly the conversation I had with Abbey when sharing my difficulty with the blog. She made a point that in Zambezi, we are experiencing much more than a snapshot glance or romanticized version of reality, as we did perhaps in Lusaka and Livingstone. With that comes amazing moments, connections, and sites that are truly unlike any we have experienced before. But it also comes with an inability to describe the community well enough to do it justice. Hence, my dilemma.

Another influential conversation that has been on my mind is one I had with Jeff while we were in Dipalata. The discussion wasn’t long, but conversations with Jeff are almost always reflective and meaningful. He asked me a simple question: “What goals do you have for our last week?”

After contemplating for a few seconds, I recognized a feeling that I haven’t done enough to immerse myself here, and ultimately said that I would really love to meet new people and to hopefully foster relationships with them. We made a plan allowing me to do so, but I felt a little discouraged with it being the last week. And if I’m honest, a little guilty that I just now realized how crucial it is to act on things rather than pushing them until tomorrow, especially when three days remain.

However, the next day I was very pleasantly surprised. I shared with Mama Katendi my desire to meet more people. She agreed to help without hesitation, and she introduced me to her friend, Katherine. I met Katherine later that day, and she immediately made me feel like family. Funny enough, my middle name is also Kathryn, her and my mom are the same age, and I was born the same year as her eldest daughter. Once we calculated all these factors, she jumped up and exclaimed, “I am your aunt!”

Before this meeting, on my way to meet Katherine, I ran into a young boy who I have befriended. His name is Junior. He’s the same age as my youngest brother and quite reminds me of him, so a natural connection has formed throughout my time in Zambezi. Junior walked with me to meet Katherine and waited outside for an hour so that he could walk me back.

This first day in which I had been actively searching for deep relationships proved to be incredibly successful – not only in the sense that I had started said connections, but also that it truly highlighted some of the most beautiful Zambian characteristics that I can begin to articulate. Such as Mama Katendi’s willingness and quickness to help someone, even when it took time from what she was doing. Or Katherine’s ability to make me feel loved by someone I had just met. And sweet Junior’s consideration for me without a hesitation of thought.

As I’m sure it’s become a theme throughout the beautiful blogs before, the hospitality of the Zambians we have met is unmatched. And even with the way we’ve described this characteristic, it still cannot fully encapsulate the totality of it. How do you describe something that cannot be defined? Hospitality at home means something entirely different than here – in America it refers to setting aside time exclusively for one person, but in Zambezi it means “doing life together in a way that meets the other where they are” – Blaine Atkins.

My discouragement coming into this week truly underestimated both the powerful love of Zambian people and my own ability to connect. I was scared that I had missed my chance to make as many valuable and irreplaceable relationships as possible. But Mama Katendi proved me wrong. Katherine proved me wrong. And Junior, you guessed it, proved me wrong. I can’t wait to see how Zambezi continues to prove me wrong in my time remaining here.

Kisu Mwane,
Eva Palmer ‘23

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“Let it be”

What does it mean to just be?

This past week’s rest stop on the way to Dipalata

I look back to the moment I raised my hand at that breakfast in Lusaka. Now here I am three weeks later, sitting in the living room of the convent, looking at the array of pictures and posters covering the once blank walls, smelling the aroma of the mama’s (and Jazmine’s) cooking wafting into the living room, and listening to the laughter and chatter of my classmates in the background. A place that once seemed so foreign has quickly become our home.

Writing that first blog post of our journey both feels like yesterday and like it was an eternity ago at the same time. I remember the anticipation I felt, ready to leap into the unknown while fear of not knowing what that was. As we are just getting into our last week in Zambezi, that fear has turned into so much joy, joined by sadness. I can’t stop wondering how I am going to leave a place that has given me so much.

In our time here, we’ve talked a lot about the act of being present. In a community that is so different than the culture that we grew up in and are accustomed to, it’s easy to let the guilt and discomfort we feel pull us away from truly appreciating the raw beauty of this new environment. I’ve found being present increasingly difficult approaching this last week here, with a constant feeling of dread, deep in my gut.

This dread has slowly crept into my days here. I find myself sitting in computer class or my classroom at the basic school and I can’t help but let my sadness overcome my thoughts. All I want is to hold onto this week and never let go, yet all I’m doing is thinking about the inevitable departure on Saturday. When do we let go of everything preoccupying our thoughts and just be, and what does that even mean?

We come from a culture of doing. Success is measured by the job you have, the number of activities you do, your intelligence, etc.  We are trained to spend our days filled with back-to-back programs, normalizing a lifestyle that allots little free time. It leaves no time to learn how to just live.

In reflecting on this, I’m realizing that I’ve let so many moments of real-life pass by me because I was so caught up on events of the future or even the past. These last two weeks in Zambezi have taught me so much, but the number one thing I want to bring back to my life in the U.S is starting to just be present and live, as embodied by so many of the Zambians we’ve encountered on this journey.

New and old friends

I want to be like Philip, eyes glistening in awe as he sees all the font options on a computer. Like Eddie, dancing in joy as he solves a problem he was stuck on. I want to be like Marry, Jessie, Ben and Jasper, the pure smiles on their faces as we enter their shops in the market. Be like the people of Dipalata, with music and faith carrying them through all the difficulties of life. I want to be like 12-year-old Rosa who wants to be a pharmacist because she “just wants to help people”.

I will forever cherish the moments sitting outside the convent in the morning before the day starts or the walks in the market, smiling at all the familiar faces; moments where I felt truly human. While these are moments that will always be in my heart, they aren’t glued to Zambezi. I still have a lot to learn about the simple act of living that I look forward to continuing to explore when I’m back home.

The act of living in the moment and taking in all the little precious moments in life you can seems simple, however in retrospect being able to take in these moments as they come is one of the hardest things I’ve encountered on this trip. Whether it’s the various illnesses or the unavoidable homesickness, I’ve found myself so preoccupied by outside factors that I forget to just look around me. Sometimes in these situations, all you need is to just be.

What does just being even mean when I go back to the fast paced, individualistic culture that is the U.S? I don’t know, but if there’s anything that this trip has taught me that I will treasure coming into my last week here is to just take a moment, take a deep breath, look around and just be.

Do I even need a caption for this?

Ufuku mwane as I’m writing this here in Zambezi, and a chimene mwane to all reading in the United States.

Sarah Barsky ‘24

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Celebrations

Mwyanga mwane friends and family and people who fall in to both categories! We are back to blogging after spending last night in Dipalata, a rural village an hour and a half from Zambezi. In Dipalata we taught some short classes and attended a three hour church service, but mostly spent time hanging out with people who lived there through Mama Josephine, Katendi, and Violet as translators, broken English, or just gestures and laughter as well as shared activities like singing or playing soccer together. I read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to a group of kids, and vastly summarized the last few pages so I could put the book away and go cry. Stupid tree. Mom and Dad, some of the things you did when I was little slowly start to make more sense as I get older.

vroom vroom

As you may have guessed from the above photo, one of our cars got stuck in the mud on a hill on the way to Dipalata. What you may not have guessed, is that we don’t know any of the people in this photo. Our car got stuck in front of maybe 20-30 people walking up the hill that we were driving up. Pretty soon everyone had gathered around the car and we had gotten out to help lighten the load. Very few of them spoke any English, we don’t speak Lunda or Luvale, and Father John (who speaks all three languages and was driving) couldn’t hear anyone very well from inside the car. Thus, there were no introductions and instead instant beautiful chaos of suggestions and gestures and a lot of Lunda all focused exclusively on solving the problem.

What struck me particularly was how communal the chaos was. None of the people passing by were obligated to stop, yet all of them did and most were genuinely invested in helping solve the problem. Each person who called out a suggestion appeared to have seriously considered the situation first, and quickly accepted if their solution was dismissed by the rest of the group. In this way the group quickly moved through several potential solutions, trying the promising ones, seemingly without hurting anyone’s feelings and all the while getting closer to solving the problem. Eventually, the group of young men in the photo jumped in and tried pushing the car first uphill, then downhill, and when that worked, they erupted in to whooping cheers and ran up the hill through all the onlookers and around the bend, cheering all the way. It could have been a scene out of a movie. A few minutes later, we drove past them walking in to a village bar up the street.

This whole interaction was fascinating to me because despite all my frustrations with American culture, I’ve always considered problem solving to be a strong suit: what’s said is exactly what’s meant, people have the social freedom to say most things, and among other things, this moves towards the best solution quicker than most high context cultures. So seeing another way of approaching problem solving that was very effective, and also included so much joy throughout the whole process was really neat. The communal investment made the result seem all the more worth celebrating as the young men did.

Four of the five Makishi we saw

Prior to Dipalata, we attended a performance of Makishi dancers. Historically, the Makishi would be involved in the coming of age ceremony for men and women in the Luvale tribe. Each Makishi had a specific purpose during the several months-long training of the young people (trainer, guardian, etc). At the ceremony, each would dance a specific dance. The coming of age ceremonies are rarer today, but there is so much Luvale culture contained in them through the dancing, incredible drumming, community gathering, and the values for men and women that the ceremony represents. Because of this, they will still hold sorts of “performances” with Makishi like the one we attended to keep all that alive. The performance was specifically for us (and we were all regularly pulled onstage to dance with them!), but the back of the room was full of Zambians who’d heard about the event, and even more kids were pressed up against the windows the entire time. The buzz of the Zambians prior to the event, and then shrieks and general noise of excitement as the Makishi came out made it clear how important this was to each individual in the room.

For the next hour or two, these masked, anonymous, speechless, highly decorated figures commanded the attention, pride, and respect of the room. Everybody participated, most by dancing (however poorly) onstage, and the rest with their voices. Each Makishi seemed powerful and purposeful in a way that felt really special. Watching them and how they energized the room reminded me of playing a sport where your team is just unstoppable: shouting SO loudly in celebration together and working in perfect harmony, crushing every point. Feeling entirely unbeatable. I’m not sure I can think of a place in our culture outside of sports that I can point to a community coming together in a similar way that doesn’t feel harmful. Maybe it’s good that we’re trying to cultivate a society in which we seek to understand others and not presume ourselves to be the best. But maybe in doing it the way we are, we’re missing out on an important emotional experience of being human. After all, the ceremony we attended was pure celebration that wasn’t exclusory in any way. I wonder if the lack of this celebration culture feeds polarization in America. I think we all need to feel like we’re a part of something wonderful, and lacking that, we find ourselves associating with people who tell us we are unstoppable and can do no wrong if we’re part of a certain political party, fanbase, etc. Definitely something I will be thinking about as we get back to normal life. I miss playing volleyball.

Kisu Mwane (I still don’t know what that means, but most blog posts end with it),

Blaine Atkins, class of 2022

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What Will You Do with Your One Precious Life?

Caroline on the Zambezi

About one week ago, a crew of us loaded up and drove to Chingolala a nearby village to visit the home of Michael Sapilinya. Micheal is one of Jeff’s longstanding friends which we have spent quality time with, in Lusaka and Livingstone. As we pulled into the driveway of Micheal’s home we were greeted by the dancing and loving embrace of Lidia, Micheal’s mom, and a big grin and handshake from his father Edward. I was overtaken by emotions as I could clearly see how Micheal’s explanation of his life story was unfolding in front of my eyes as I met his parents. I felt that I got a glimpse into Micheal’s childhood as I asked his mom questions about his youth, values, and what motivated him at such a young age to pursue university.

While it was such a joy to talk with his parents, I could not help but notice a young boy in a light blue shirt who was sitting on their porch. He sat on a wooden stool watching us as the sunlight touched his skin. As I watched him gaze in curiosity, I could not help but question what he would do with his one precious life. Will he take after Micheal’s example and pursue university? Or will he do something totally new? Will he stay in Zambezi? What will his one precious life look life?

I am challenged by this question as I have noticed that life in Zambezi is about the present. About now. And about living for today. Each day is not a given, so how are we going to live for today, and make it count?

I have wrestled with this question because I think the answer is not definitive. There is no answer but choosing to wake up everyday and do something positive with what we have. I have met a few individuals who have taught and showed me what this looks like.

I want to keep loving and welcoming others into my home like Eucharia. Eucharia has a beautiful way of bringing others into her fold. She treats us all like children of his own. When I had the chance to visit her home for the very first time, I noticed how the whole soccer team and some, were running in and out of her home as if it were their own. Eucharia kept saying “Feel most welcome. My home is yours”. When I have a home of my own one day, I hope to do just the same.

I want to keep finding the joy in my passions like Kelly. Kelly was a young man we met at Sports for Life. He was the DJ that was setting up for the event who is an experienced music producer. He shared that both of his parents had passed very recently. He is the second born and is now responsible for raising his two younger siblings at home. I asked him what brings him the most joy. He immediately lit up and said his music. He learned how to produce music from his father and therefore the passion in producing is very special to Kelly. He described that he has no idea where he would be without music. Music is what fills him up and brings him close to his parents. I was inspired by him sharing so openly and honestly with me about some of the hardest things, but also some of the things that bring him the most life. Kelly is a strong human being who is making a living with his music as he provides for his two younger siblings. I hope to live like him as I follow my passions that bring me the same joy and bring me close to family.

I want to keep trying at everything I do like little Sombo. Sombo is the daughter of Eucharia and Debby (the two legends here in Zambezi). I have helped coach soccer to her throughout the past few weeks. She is seven years old and is working on juggling. Each day she comes to show me with that big smile of hers and the soccer ball that is too big for her, but she tries anyway. Sombo keeps practicing one juggle at time. One day she will reach her goal of ten soccer juggles. I too, hope to keep trying, practicing, and not give up just as she does.

I want to connect deeply like all of my Gonzaga friends. As someone who is an observant leader and learner, I am so impressed by this team. I am impressed by every single person’s willingness to surrender to the process and honestly just jump in. It has been so beautiful and cool to see the relationships within the group form but mainly the one’s each person has established here in the community. I want to keep connecting and diving deep like I have seen you all do throughout out time here.

Ultimately, with my one precious life, I hope to wake up, love, and let others in like Eucharia, pursue my passions and find joy like Kelly, keep trying at everything I do like Sombo, and connect deeply like all my new Gonzaga friends. I think this question can be a big question, but if broken down and focused on how one will live out their only and precious life daily, it makes it all the easier. What will you do with your one precious life?

Caroline Larsen ’23

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You Reap What You Sow

Before arriving in Zambezi, I had many ideas and expectations as to what it would look and feel like. One of those expectations, for instance, was that there would not be any spiders. This is mostly due to the fact that back in February when we met as a group, some of us shared that we have a fear of spiders (myself included), to which Jeff responded, “There are no spiders in Zambia.” Though it may have been foolish on my part, I believed him. This was also long before I knew Jeff was an incurable user of sarcasm, and that he loves to keep us guessing. Having been in Zambezi for almost two weeks now, I’ve come to realize that many of my expectations were misplaced, and that there are most certainly spiders in Zambia, and they can be rather large. Thanks, Jeff. 

One expectation I had for myself was that I would really struggle to find comfort in a place that is so different from any sort of familiarity that I am used to. I did not think I’d be able to walk down the roads of Zambezi without feeling wildly out of place with an underlying sense of discomfort. I thought I’d take any chance I could to stay in the convent, and to remain in a bubble of comfort because I’ve never been one to push myself to embrace the unknown. However, I was looking down at my rather dirty feet this morning and realized that I have quite the Chaco tan line going. It made me realize that I have spent much time walking from the convent to the market and spend my days in the blazing sun of Zambia forming relationships with this loving community. What I’ve found after two weeks of interacting and engaging with the people of Zambezi is that I feel more welcomed and accepted than I ever could have predicted. Each time I walk to the market, I find myself meeting someone new and checking in with the people I’ve come to think of as my friends. I see Jasper in the market, and I’m greeted with, “You are most welcome” as I purchase my daily coke. I am welcomed into Ben’s chitenge stand with a warm smile and a handshake as he says, “I am happy now that I’ve seen you.” After wrapping up the business and leadership class, students like Brano ask me if he can take me around and spend some more time just to get to know me and hear about my life and share his own. By putting in dedicated and intentional time to form meaningful relationships with the members of Zambezi, I’ve reaped the rewards of comfort and familiarity in a place in which I thought I’d be struggling to feel welcomed. The people of Zambezi have cast aside any doubt I had in myself and my ability to engage and form meaningful relationships with people who live lives that are distinctly different from the life I lead back in the states. Though we come from different places with different cultures, it does not diminish the fact that we are all human, looking to connect and bond with one another. 

Said Chaco tan

Another expectation of mine was that I would dread teaching. I am one of the four lovely ‘professors’ for the business and leadership class, joined by the wonderful likes of Nicole, Andie, and Katie. I have never been good at speaking in front of crowds, big or small, and to do it in the unfamiliar setting of Zambezi frightened me. Again, I was doubting my own capabilities, and have been pleasantly surprised and affirmed by the community of Zambezi. What I’ve found is that each morning, I look forward to the class ahead that is filled with some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I am passionate about the topic of leadership and have a sense of fulfillment when I can lead a class of passionate adults without any notes or reference points to go off of. It shows that I have some sense of mastery over the topic and can help others discover their own authentic ways of leading, just as I found my own way at Gonzaga. Each day, I show up to class looking to lean in and put in all the effort I can into making the experience as fruitful for our students as it has been for me. The more I put into my time in Zambezi, the more I’ve gotten out. It’s true: you reap what you sow, and I can only see myself engaging more and more as our time dwindles down here. 

Professor Dugan

Although Zambia has taught me to let go of my expectations, I have one expectation that I know will be true: I will miss this place, and I will miss the wonderful people of Zambezi that have lovingly welcomed me into their lives. 

Much love, 

Graduate Dugan Charles Early Watts

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The Strength to Continue

Today marks the halfway point of our time here in Zambezi. It’s hard to believe it has already been three weeks since our departure from Seattle. This experience has already been so enriching thus far and I can’t wait to see what the next week and a half has in store.

When I reflect on the last three weeks, the first word that comes to mind is grateful. When in a place where everything is new and unfamiliar, it can be easy to move from one experience to the next without taking sufficient time to process. But as time has passed, and it has sunk in more and more that we have actually been living in Zambia for the past three weeks, all I can feel is gratitude. Gratitude for the things we’ve seen. Gratitude for the people we’ve met. Gratitude for the new culture we’ve had to the chance to learn from and appreciate.

We saw herds of elephants making their journeys to drink, swim, and frolic playfully in the river (I swear I saw one smile). A pride of lions gorged themselves with their fresh catch. Our insanely smart guides taught us how to see the constellations in a night sky that is unfamiliar to us. And a baboon swiftly stole a banana from Caroline’s pocket.

We got to gaze upon the powerful Victoria Falls; shouting for joy as the mist drenched us, making us feel like kids again. And soon after, we found ourselves diving into and zipping over the powerful Zambezi River, which connects all the way to the place we could only imagine at the time but have so quickly come to love: Zambezi.

The health team and I were entrusted with the responsibility of giving vaccines to precious, innocent newborn babies just days after they were born, as well as administering vital blood testing to keep pregnant mothers and their children safe.

We got to spend a night with local families in Zambezi to get a glimpse into their daily rhythms of life. Brendan, Paal, and I were challenged to an intense game of monkey in the middle, fed delicious Zambian food, and invited to join a dance circle that lasted well over an hour, fueled by the music we could create with our hands and our voices. It was an honor to be so generously welcomed into their home and hear stories about their family, finding connection with experiences we have had with our families growing up.

Finally, (along with Sarah and Cliff) I got to teach karate to 400 energetic and excited kids for the Sports for live event, organized by the sports crew.

Ava and I taking a leap of faith off the Victoria Falls Bridge

All these experiences have been incredibly meaningful. And although I’ve found so much value in every single day, there have been days that I’ve found myself completely exhausted- mentally, physically, and emotionally. And to be completely honest, there are moments when the option of crawling back into my comfort zone seems more enticing than the invitation to be vulnerable. It takes less strength to be complacent, to shy away when a new relationship presents itself, and to give in when the going gets tough.

But when I find myself slipping into that place, I remind myself of the extraordinary people we’ve met on this journey.

I remind myself of Eucharia (a nurse in Zambezi who leads the health team in the district hospital). I remember how she kept fighting after losing her parents when she was only 12 years old. How she prioritized her education above all else, pursuing her nursing career in order to achieve financial independence before considering marriage, especially when that was not the norm. The multi-day shifts in the hospital that she pushed through because she knew lives depended on it. And more recently, I remind myself of how she still came to greet us at the hospital when her son had fallen mysteriously ill just the night before. She greeted us with the biggest, warmest smile on her face despite dealing with the fear of having her son in a hospital bed, on oxygen to help him breathe. I can’t even begin to imagine the fear a parent must feel in that situation. But when I asked her if she thought he was going to be okay. She said, “Yes, he is going to be okay, he has to be okay, there is no other option.” Something about her response hit me and I’ll never forget the confidence with which she said it. In a moment of immense uncertainty, she was strong. Strong because she had to be. Thankfully, David recovered fully and is back at home 🙂

I remind myself of Michael (a student we spent time with him in Lusaka and Livingstone). I think of the courage it took for him to leave his home in pursuit of education. The pain of seeing his family only a few times per year. And the work ethic it takes to continue succeeding in school with the weight of being a first-generation college student on his shoulders.

I remind myself of Terry (a Zambezi community member who helped translate when we met Michael’s family). I imagine the pushback and rejection he must face in his efforts to bring more equality into the Catholic Church in Zambia. But nevertheless, he remains strong because he believes in his heart that it is worth fighting for.

Audrey, Eva, Blaine, Joci, Michael, and I enjoying our morning tea in Livingstone.

I imagine there have been, and still are times when these people feel the temptation to give up in the face of exhaustion. But they choose to lean into the discomfort. They choose to continue on when it’s no longer easy. To get back up when they face setbacks. And they do all this because what they are working towards is incredibly important; not only to them, but to those around them as well. And thus, it is worth fighting for.

So now when I inevitably find myself losing the strength to continue, I think of Eucharia’s strength. I think of Michael’s strength. I think of Terry’s strength. I think of the strength of all the incredible people we have met in Zambezi thus far. And in doing so, my own strength is again renewed.

With that being said, I want to take a moment to once again thank our family and friends who have been supporting us through our journey. Even from thousands of miles away, we can feel your love and encouragement through your thoughtful comments.

Finally, I encourage everyone reading back home to consider the people in your life who inspire strength in you and let them be sources of rejuvenation in times of need.

Much love and tunasakwilila mwane,

Tyler Thomas ’23

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“It’s because we work with our hands”

Brendan McKeegan and I teaching a 7th grade geography class at
Zambezi Day School.

I’ve struggled to understand what it means to be an American. We are “the land of the free,” the country with the most opportunities. People desire to come to America to live out “the American dream.” At times I get it, but other times, I really don’t. We were informed, days after arriving in Zambezi, that there was a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in a fourth-grade classroom where 19 children and two adults were shot and killed. Who would want to live in a country where there have been more mass shootings and lives lost than days this year? I’ve struggled with what it means to be an American.

After arriving at the Chilenga Primary School this morning, I was quickly placed in an 8th grade classroom. I had no lesson plan and no books to work from. I had to teach on the fly. I tried to explain the importance of forming opinions, and how “there are no wrong answers”— something that is hard for most students to grapple with since they are taught that there is only one right answer. I soon recognized that the curriculum in the US is built on critical thinking and applying concepts to life scenarios. While my education is something that I am grateful for, I struggled with understanding why teachers didn’t tell me or my parents that I was reading at a grade 2 level when in the fifth grade. I struggled with reading my whole life, and due to our education system, they were required to just move me on to the next grade or put me in the “special class” without guiding me or helping me grow. I’ve struggled with what it means to be an American.

Once the period was over, I found Dr. Catherine Zeisner interviewing teachers at the Chilenga school. She and I share a common interest for young children’s emotional learning. It is her goal to discover how Zambia supports their learners’ wellbeing— something I feel the US is lacking.  Dr. Zeisner asked the teachers of Chilenga school questions on the matters I’ve been struggling to find the answers to as an American.

“Are people here depressed?”

“No.” A Chilenga science teacher replied.

“Do people, or students, commit suicide?”

“No.” the teacher says.

“Why?” asks Catherine.

“It’s because we work with our hands. When we take a seed to plant it in the ground, we care for that seed because it is our livelihood” says the teacher. “We are taught at a young age that if we want to get out of here, we must get an education…. We grow together as a community, and we raise each other as a community and our church communities provide our children spiritual health.”

As an American, we struggle with the disconnection between the Earth, education, church, and the power of community. The people of Zambezi embody these things. They take the seeds that they have, care for them, and grow fruits and vegetables to eat or sell for profit. At last Friday’s tree planting to celebrate World Environment Day at Chilenga School, with Mama Love and the Save the Environment and People Agency (SEPA), you could see the determination that these people have to save the environment that surrounds them. As Mama Love stated, “If we don’t act now, we will all die.” This is one example of why I question to be an American. While we have so many resources to save the planet, we lack the willingness to act on it. Additionally, the teacher mentioned how our education system in the US is a “culture of coddling”. Unlike in America, where most children’s hands and held through their experiences, children in Zambezi are told that education is their only opportunity to get out of poverty. They are encouraged by their community and the church to strive and do well in order to make something of themselves. There is a well-known social philosophy in southern Africa called “Ubuntu— I am because we are, and we are because I am. This is what we need to learn and embody as Americans.

As we only have 10 more days here in Zambezi, I encourage the students on this trip and our readers to learn from the leaders and the community that we have created here. How and what can we do better once we return home to be better Americans? To work with our hands to be better people, but also do more for the environment, our education, our religion, our communities, and very importantly, our children.

Benson, one of the Chilenga teachers, reminded us that it will take many of us to act in a way that will create change: “One finger can’t pick the lice; it always takes two”

Much love,

Ava Prunier Herman, Gonzaga Class of ‘23

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“You can either kill it or name it”

Me, Joy, Grace, and Joci after our choral debut

This was Josh’s response when I inquired about the massive spider in the corner of my shower on our first day in Zambezi. While I was certainly hoping for an enthusiastic offer to kill it for me, I was not surprised by Josh’s challenge. Zambezi is not a place to live in comfort – fears must be shut down or embraced; kill the spider or name it. Inspired by the goal to grow and push myself, and certainly influenced by fear of knocking the giant spider onto my face in attempt to kill it, I chose to name it. This has not been a comfortable or particularly enjoyable experience, but I have found myself becoming consistently less scared of my new friend. With something as simple as naming my shower spider, I have found myself steadily overcoming my fear of bugs. In many contexts, stepping into discomfort has given me countless chances to grow and adapt as an individual throughout the last week.

On Sunday morning, Joci and I walked for about a mile with our homestay sister, Grace, to go to mass at the Catholic church. We dropped our backpacks at the convent and asked Grace and her friends, Joy and Memory, to save us a few seats. We found them seated right behind the choir, who were wearing bright red matching polos. Grace motioned to the row in front of her and her friends, and Joci and I settled in. Excited for another vibrant expression of faith, we anxiously awaited the beginning of mass. Before we knew it, the choir and all the people around us stood up for the opening song. Trying to blend in as much as we could considering our obvious visible differences, Joci and I hesitantly stood up as well. As the songs began, the dancing did too. Soon enough, we were frantically trying to keep up with the impressive choral choreography. Not nearly as musically inclined as anyone around us, we tried our best to stay on beat as we pumped our arms, clapped, stomped, side stepped, turned, and jumped. We were encased in surround-sound joyful music, as apparently the red polos were a mere suggestion for the choral uniform. It took us a minute to realize, but Joci and I had been sat right in the middle of the choir. Once I realized what happened, my immediate response was to quietly slide out of the row and find a seat somewhere else where I could be an observer and not a performer. Josh’s advice came to mind again. “You can either kill it or name it.” I decided in this moment to embrace the awkwardness and the out of place feelings instead of running away from the discomfort. The dances only got more intricate, but I only got more comfortable. By the end of the service, Joci and I were proudly humming along, staying on beat with our steps, and we even figured out the timing of the climactic jump-clap in the middle of the final song! The service, which was lovely, ended with a Father David giving a shoutout to Josh and “the new members of the St. Cecelia Youth Choir.” I was beaming after being awarded my new title, as I felt incredibly welcomed and appreciated in response to taking a risk. My step into discomfort was rewarded with celebration, laughter, and significant strengthening of my sense of community.

Such initial fear or awkwardness has also taken shape in our class. The students in our business and leadership class are activists, church leaders, teachers, parents, politicians, and businesspeople. Their views on leadership are nuanced and thoughtful, which is beautiful to see and learn from. At the same time, I don’t often feel qualified to instruct such incredible, experienced people. There have been many times when I felt like I should remove myself from our class and just listen instead of trying to teach anything. Even so, our course needs direction, and I have worked hard to embrace my role as a facilitator and sharer of knowledge. We push our students to consider new perspectives, which is perhaps the most challenging, yet rewarding, part of this course so far. We recently introduced the concept of servant leadership in class. Our students met it with surprising backlash, even declaring that “you cannot lead if you do not have power.” I felt very uncomfortable in this class, not knowing what to say or how to direct the conversation. I did a clumsy job stumbling through an alternate explanation and argument and left class feeling frazzled and embarrassed. Today, my discomfort was rewarded once again. Boyd, one of our most devoted students, pulled me aside after class. He told me about how he used to think that democratic leadership was ideal, but now he wants to lean into servant leadership in his church community. He has found a new concern with the people he leads and said that our comments inspired him to think of others first. My heart swelled; I felt so proud of our students and our work as facilitators. Despite my discomfort leading a course where I do not necessarily feel like an expert, Boyd’s comments were affirming and showed us that our work does indeed make a different here in Zambezi. We have exchanged so much knowledge with our students, much of which would not have happened by living in comfort.

Mary, my new Auntie, and her husband James

Finally, we have been tasked with interviewing a community member for our Writing Traveler class. I found myself with a few free hours this afternoon, so I walked over to Mary and James’ home. They are both tailors and I have met them twice before today, but only in accompaniment with Jeff, who considers them good friends. I had never been one to approach others for friendship, and I rarely like to go anywhere by myself. Today, though, I decided to push myself into discomfort once again. I went on my first solo walk in Zambezi, which was an empowering experience of freedom, independence, and confidence in my knowledge of the area. I successfully navigated to their home and walked up to their door to ask for Mary. She came outside, enthusiastically greeted me with a handshake and hugs, and grabbed me a chair to sit and chat. Mary embodies humility, hard work, and love and her story is inspiring and heartwarming. But even more memorable is her spectacular laugh. Mary’s giggles light up the room and fill everyone around her with joy. I could not stop smiling the entire time I was with her. Not only did our conversation solidify our friendship, as she invited me to call her Auntie Mary and to come back any time, but it also provided me with one of the most authentic, profound moments of joy that I have had in Zambia so far. This simple moment of laughing with a new friend stemmed from the bravery to embrace discomfort. Had I shied away from walking somewhere on my own or approaching someone that I wasn’t sure would remember me, I would not have gotten to appreciate Mary’s inspiring story, her infectious laugh, or our new friendship.

Embracing the discomfort is incredibly challenging for me, but it has paid off in indescribable ways here in Zambezi. Fears are overcome, connections are deeper, learning is more meaningful, and smiles are bigger when we take the challenging route through adversity.  

Finally, I would like to send our love to everyone at home who is reading along with our blog and keeping us in your thoughts. We can feel your support from here and are loving reading your comments and keeping you updated. We hope you are all well.

Kisu mwane,
Andie Rosenwald, Class of 2024

P.S. Shoutout to Abigail McWhirter Martin (Johnston). We had a wonderful birthday celebration for her today (it may have included some baby powder).

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Expanding my territory

Dance celebration after Sports for Life.

The past 48 hours have been hectic, exciting, unique, and humbling. On Saturday morning, we all helped coach Sports for Life. The goal of this event is to teach children that engaging in physical activity together is not only good for their mental and physical health, but it can help strengthen the community. There were 13 stations where children from Zambezi and the surrounding villages had 7 minutes to learn and play different sports. I was tasked to be the timekeeper, which meant telling everyone to switch stations when the 7 minutes were up. Seems like an easy enough job, right? Well, it turns out that when 450 children are told to switch stations, but there has been no clear communication on which way they are rotating, it can cause quite the confusion. Sometimes the simplest tasks can be the trickiest. Despite this, the event ended successfully and to celebrate: a big dance party. You could see the joy on the children’s faces as they sang along and danced better than all of us.

After brunch and napping, the anticipation and anxiety about our homestays with local community members had set in. Many of us were scared to leave the convent, our newly made home, even if it was just for one night. What would the house and sleeping situation be like? Would we like the food? Would we have fun? The unknown felt terrifying. After stocking my overnight bag with extra blankets and food, I was as ready as I ever would be.

Blaine, Audrey, and I anxiously volunteered to go together and stay with a man named Kelly Saviye and his family. As soon as we met him our worries started to fade away. After a quick 1-minute drive (no I am not exaggerating), we arrived at his lovely and beautiful home where we met his wife Janet, his sister-in-law Audrey, and some of his children: Kokomo (23), Luwi (18), Benny (8). They all made me feel completely welcome. Mama Janet showed us how to make nshima from cassava flour, which we ate for dinner along with chicken and greens. After Kelly showed us around his property and taught some history about Zambezi, we went into the sitting room and happily chatted for hours. Our conversation ranged from politics to the different customs of Zambia and how that compares to the United States to sharing stories about our families. We even exchanged photos (my mother’s name is also Janet so Mama Janet loved the picture of my family and wanted to give a photo of herself to her “namesake”). I was completely surprised when around 8:30pm we were presented with tea and an abundance of food such as bread, rice, tomato soup, sweet potatoes, ground nuts, and hard-boiled eggs. We all eagerly enjoyed the delicious food and tea as we engaged in even more conversation that resulted in laughs and sharing of stories. As I crawled into bed with Audrey, we reflected on how we appreciated how vulnerable and gracious Kelly, Mama Janet, Luwi, Kokomo, Benny, and Audrey were to us. Through our conversation, I could tell that we all had a genuine desire to learn from one another, which resulted in authentic friendships and interpersonal development.

Kelly Saviye and his family with three Zags.

Waking up this morning, just like at home with my family, we got ready to go to church, but this time Zambian style! We had a delicious breakfast which included tea and samp, a traditional stew made of maize and ground nuts. Kelly is a pastor, and we were going to his Pentecostal church in a farther, more remote village. He started this church a few months ago so that people did not have to travel as far to get to church. When we walked in the door, we were greeted with smiling faces that were happy to have us here. We were proudly presented to the congregation of maybe 30 people, who took their time to sing us a traditional welcome song in Lunda (a local tribal language) and shake each of our hands. I felt truly valued and appreciated. Kelly diligently talked in English during his sermon, and Janet translated it in Lunda for the congregation. I am eternally grateful that I was able to hear and understand Kelly’s sermon in English, as it served as a reminder as to what I am doing here in Zambezi.

The sermon was about expanding your territory. Not expanding your physical property but expanding your connections and spiritual field. As Kelly asked us to think of a problem in our own “territory,” I focused on how I have been feeling the past couple days. We are about halfway through our time in Zambia, and although each day is filled with new and exciting experiences that I treasure, I have been finding myself longing for familiarity and home. I believe that home is a feeling of connection with others rather than a physical place. Kelly’s words gave me the courage to shift my focus outwards to present my true authentic self to Zambians, and my peers, as I pursue accompaniment. Although part of home is thousands of miles away, I can also create small feelings of home right here by striving to connect, engage, and listen in the best way that I can.

At the end of our stay, Kelly and his family gifted us a chicken and extra samp to bring back to the convent. This kind gesture of hospitality and care helped me realized that I too could help offer a sense of home to others in a variety of ways. Whether that be talking with one of my students after teaching health class while we clean up, asking the vendor when I get chocolate how they are doing and what the life of working in the market is like, or by just listening to one of my peers as we go for a walk. I have realized that finding a sense of home here isn’t the same as when I am at school in Washington or when I am with my family in Colorado, but there are many ways that I’m starting to see myself settling in and expanding my territory by looking at the people around me.

Kisu mwane,
Mackenzie Flesch, Class of ‘23

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Discovering that Profound Secret

Sunset in Zambezi, captured by: Emily Bundy

Today, Friday, June 3, 2022, marks exactly one week since arriving in the vibrant community of Zambezi. As each day passes, we have begun to understand our roles in this beautiful place. Most mornings, I head out for an early run with a large group, Paal, or sometimes just by myself, and, if I’m lucky, I catch the sunrise. Along with the breathtaking view of a fiery red sun breaking through the horizon and shedding light on the trees and plains along the Zambezi River, waking up early to explore the sandy streets of this community offers an opportunity to see an aspect of life here largely unseen, yet equally important to be shared.

After lacing up my shoes this morning, I quietly slipped out the convent doors to be welcomed by the noise of roosters both near and far. The sun hadn’t quite risen, but the light from its upward movement caused a grey-like illuminating effect on the sky, enough to see well enough in front of me and the perfect time to start running. Already, adults and children had begun biking or ox-carting goods towards the direction of the Zambezi market, and kids outfitted in plaid uniforms were walking in couplets towards the Zambezi Basic School. Returning from my run, three kids on their way to school waved hello and began running with me. Catherine, Robby, and Tina, fully suited in formal attire, found it perfect for running a mile or so with some random guy like myself before their day of school. They were on their way to the Basic School, where I happen to work at teaching physical education with Debby Kensoma. While they weren’t students I was familiar with, they expressed their excitement for their upcoming day. Parting ways, I couldn’t help but think that the people of Zambezi—just like some of you reading—get up early to provide for their families or livelihoods by working towards a goal or future with hopes of being in a better place than the day before.

As more time is spent here in Zambezi, unique opportunities to shed light on the lives and ways of living here seemingly emerge from nowhere, whether or not you’re ready. In my free time here, inspired by the casual nagging of my little sister (Hello, Mary, I hope you’re doing well), I carried along and read the book, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins. In this novel, I found a particularly significant line: “That every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” This quote fits this trip as we have begun to explore that mystery of people who lead lives far different from our own in Eastern Washington. Additionally, I believe this quote highlights the focus of our purpose, accompaniment, walking alongside the Zambezi people with hopes to understand their way of life, or simply, their mystery.

Yesterday, after expressing interest in the trading methodology, I wandered to the river with Josh, seeking to understand the lives of the boatsman on the Zambezi. I met Gilbert, an angler who has been working for thirteen years catching Kapenta—a tiny type of fish, commonly seen dried—to provide for his family of three children. Every morning, he boats his wife across the river with the Kapenta caught from the day before to sell at the market and then proceeds to set his nets along the Zambezi River to later collect in the evening and repeat the process the next day. I also had the opportunity to meet Stewart, a man who provides a ferry service to cross the river from seemingly all times of day, primarily to deliver individuals looking to buy or sell items or goods at the Zambezi market. Crossing the river upwards of twenty times per day—no easy task—on a carved and chipped boat of Mukwa wood, Stewart practices a tradition of the Luvale Tribe, wherein the old teach the young the ways of crossing the Zambezi River through traditional practices.

Being an outsider, it could have been easy to see both Stewart, Gilbert, and all those trekking towards a day of work or study as mere conduits to a small-town economy and not offer much thought to their individuality or their livelihood. While their work may differ from ours, they too have experiences worth exploring and learning from that can contribute to our understanding of the Zambezi life and culture. While my insights are but a fraction of the group perspective, I believe we are all continually unfolding the mysteries and profound secrets of many individuals in this community. Tomorrow we depart the convent for our Home-stay, in which we spend a night with an unknown member of the Zambezi community. This blog will not be updated until Sunday afternoon (PST). If you’re reading this and a loved one you know is on this trip, leave them a note of encouragement as we continue on our journey. 

Ufuku Mwane,

Brendan McKeegan ’24

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