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

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Celebrations

  1. Alyssa Helgesen says:

    I love reading the blog posts everyday! Sounds like you all are having a great time. Tanj I am so glad to see the name has lived on and I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures when you get home! <3 miss you!

  2. Jonathan Barsky says:

    Blaine, What a wonderful and thoughtful post!!
    “We all need to feel like we’re a part of something…” Geez isn’t that true! And as you point out, some Americans aren’t very discriminating to fill that need. Perhaps Zambians feel part of a single community that provides a sense of belonging and meaning in their lives.. and helps them work together to quickly get a car out of the mud! Enjoy each other and the Zambian community for the few remaining days you have!

    Hugs and kisses to my daughter Sarah!

  3. Joleen Larsen says:

    You’re a gifted writer! I wanted to keep reading more! The photo of those “not obligated to stop, but most of them did” is a powerful one. Such lessons for us in America. How much more good we could do or be of more service to others if we could work together unabashed. Communal chaos…I love it.
    Joleen Larsen
    The Giving Tree..one my favorites. To give the best of yourself asking for nothing but ones joy in return. The Zambezi people seem to be a living testimony of Silverstein’s tree. To give freely for the joy of others.

  4. Ellie McElligott says:

    Wow wow WOW!! My heart is absolutely full reading about all of your experiences in Zambia so far! You are all incredibly insightful and compassionate human beings, I am so happy to hear that you’re absorbing so much with and from the lovely Zambezi community!
    I’m seeing lots of talk about “stepping out of comfort zones” – believe me friends, I was right there with ya! Each day, each interaction, each situation is a new opportunity to listen and learn something new – it may be something you learn about the culture or people or more often than not, something you learn about your truest self. How cool is it to be totally unplugged and fully present with each other in this space?! The coolest!
    Something I really took with me from my experiences in Zambezi was to find – and choose – joy in every day. The little moments where we can slow down and truly appreciate what’s right in front of us are simply the best. Zambians are seriously pros at this!

    A few things:
    1. Highly recommend filling those journals with memories, jokes, little momentos, etc. I still treasure my little makeshift scrapbook of my time in Zambia.
    2. Blaine – if you can, find a ball and play some volleyball with kiddos in the courtyard they will LOVE it!
    3. Oh HEY health team! I am so impressed and proud of you guys for delivering vaccines and blood tests! That’s absolutely incredible!! Coming from a relatively new Peds nurse and former health team member 🙂
    4. Seriously so impressed by all of your story telling skills and the insights you’ve shared thus far – way to go zags!

    Oh also hey Dugan! Hey Josh! Hey Emily (shoutout AMOM!)! If y’all see ChiChi Mwewa around, give him my love! I am so excited to keep up with the rest of your time there!

    With SO MUCH LOVE,

    Ellie McElligott
    Gonzaga ‘21
    Zambezi ‘19

  5. Newson Family says:

    Thanks for the wonderful reflection. I loved reading about the coming of age ceremony. The image of most of you participating in the dance brings joy to my heart. It sounds like an amazing experience. Also, the act of so many strangers helping get the car out of the mud is a great reminder of the power of human kindness.

    My continuous prayer for everyone to stay safe.

  6. Relyea Strawn Family says:

    Hi Blaine!

    Wonderful to read of your musings, adventures, and experiences while immersed in an ongoing celebration of humanity! Thanks for including the photos along with your detailed and personalized descriptions–they add much and make me excited to [hopefully] hear/see more.

    Are you noticing the “celebration culture” among women as well?

    We wish you continued good health, meaningful connections, and transformative relationships!

  7. Jason Atkins says:

    Hi Blaine,
    I enjoyed the story of the stuck car and the good Samaritans helping, especially their jubilation on succeeding. And agree … stupid tree. Enjoy your remaining time, and take lots of pictures. We are back on Innisfree.
    Love, Dad

  8. Steve Nelson says:

    Hello Blaine,

    Enjoyed reading your blog post, nice job of framing your thoughts into visual concepts the reader can see. We look forward to seeing some of those newly learned dance moves next month .

    Great Job…..AVO

  9. Heather Atkins says:

    “Stupid tree” sealed the deal that it was you.
    So happy to read your post, and so looking forward to seeing you again.
    We will gladly accompany you through any reverse culture shock you might experience when we are all together again.
    Love you!

  10. Mackenzie Atkins says:

    Hi kuya! Your description of communal joy permeating daily interactions is simultaneously so unique and so reminiscent of home in the Philippines. Thank you for these stories, I am so happy for you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.

  11. Grandpa Atkins says:

    Blaine, 55 years ago I was in Africa just to climb mountains. Your “community” comments cause me to reflect on an hour spent in a Masai “village” in Tanzania. I had not appreciated it (till you mention community) the degree to which Cohesive Community produced the very survival of those folks. From cattle, brush, and cow-pies (and community) they built brush corrals and low bent-brush frame homes sealed and roofed with cow-pie plaster. One stooped through an S-shape entry into dark quarters that flies did not enter. The remnant fire smoke escaped through cracks in the plaster. With those resources they fed themselves, and celebrated.

    • Grandpa says:

      P.S. Someone needs to write “The Giving Planet”, but then, perhaps that story ends with the planet getting rid of the problem.

  12. Grandma Atkins says:

    Blaine, so loved your blog It took me back to El Nido, CA. where I was born and raised.
    All the farm families joined forces: during harvest, in times of trouble, to celebrate: births, baptisms, graduations, weddings, new homes. My parents were in a terrible accident when I was four years old. The other farm families stepped in to take care of the cattle, the crops, the children, ( that would be me and my older brother), until Mom and Dad were back on their feet! Living in such a community of kind and caring people paints a beautiful picture of the world for a child.

  13. Bryce Kreiser says:

    Blaine Atkins, my friend. My heart is warmed thinking of you and reading your words. I am glad you are where you are. I love you and I miss you and I wish you the best for your time that remains, and the coming time of re-adjustment. Blessings / kisu mwane to you my brother.

    Bryce Kreiser

Comments are closed.