Integrating into my area required a huge deal of patience, understanding, respect and most importantly, humor. It was an everyday, every minute activity. For the first few weeks… ok, months… ok, it never really ended… I got pointed at, laughed at, talked about and questioned (You’re 23, single and don’t have kids? Will you marry me and have my kids? Do you have rice in America? What does your hair feel like? How do you dance in America? What church do you go to? Will you give me your money, shirt, food, camera?) I watched many kids run from me screaming in terror while their mothers would catch them, force them back to me and laugh hysterically. It wasn’t that funny… really…. I had to fight the idea that I was rich and had tons of money to hand out. I had to show people that I could learn to fetch water, wash clothes by hand, eat the local food and speak the local language. I did it, loved it and believe it was worth every second. As time went by and people saw how I was handling the village life, it got easier and easier. I made sure not to spend too much time at home alone. When my neighbors shelled groundnuts, I helped. When I was invited to church, I went. When there was a football game, I was there cheering the village on. And of course, when the women sat around gossiping, I listened (Did you know that so and so’s husband has 2 other wives and she has 3 other kids with a guy from this other village and their one son is the boyfriend to this girl whose family owns 80 cows and whose dad goes to the Methodist church in town? And that girl isn’t even a good cook and never goes to the fields. They should break up and he should date that girl from that other village whose mom teaches at the school and owns that land over there with all the cotton...). Making myself visible proved to be the most valuable way to spend my time.
Paparazzi There’s a celebrity aspect to being the first white person living in an area of over 4000 people. Everything I did was watched, remembered, and shared with the rest of the village (before I even knew anyone knew). Andrea went to the bathroom 8 times last night (not unusual), Andrea cooked rice this morning, Andrea is wearing a new skirt, Andrea fetched water today, Andrea goes to the Catholic church with so and so, Andrea doesn’t eat pork but likes beans, Andrea likes to heat her water before she bathes, Andrea rode her bike all the way into the bush and so on and so on... If I gained a few pounds it was noticed and I was congratulated. Yes, I said congratulated. I was often told how fat and brown (tan) I was. My response? A big smile followed by a “Thank you, Zambian food is sooo good and the sun is so bright!” None of those things seem too crazy or exciting to me, but it was news there. And so be it.. I guess I do lead an exciting life!

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.