It takes a village to raise a muzungu

I met some of the most amazing people during my time in Zambia. Despite the difficulties I may have faced when I first arrived, it was really the people I surrounded myself with that made my experience what it was. Zambians are known for their hospitality and I was lucky enough to be a recipient of this. Every place I visited, I had people coming to greet me and wanting to show me the real Zambia. They offered me food to eat, places to sleep, treats from their gardens, and most notably, lasting friendships. But, not only did I gain friends, I gained a family: a grandmother, a mom, a dad, 8 siblings, and eventually 3 nieces. Rachel, my best friend, was the oldest of the girl siblings. She taught me everything I learned about living in a village. After watching my pathetic attempts at washing clothes, starting a fire, cooking local food and carrying water on my head, she (thankfully) intervened and (patiently) taught me the tricks of the trade. When I first arrived in the village Rachel was 8 months pregnant (still fetching water, cooking, sweeping, and washing clothes). She gave birth in May of 2006. I remember that night like it was yesterday. Racheal become a mom and I became an aunt. Theresa was the cutest baby in all of Zambia. No joke. She was born white as white can be, so I always accused Rachel of having white boyfriend. She would hit me on the arm and tell me to be quiet. That’s how Rachel and I were- always giving each other a hard time, while teaching each other the ways of being a 23 year old in our own cultures. Theresa was not always a healthy baby. She fell sick quite often when she was little. “Malaria, malaria, malaria” they would tell me. I made sure she had a mosquito net, but if it was used is another question. Rachel would take her to the area health clinic and to the “village doctor” whenever she would get a fever or stop eating. Pills from one place, local plant roots and herbs from the other. She grew up a lot slower than the other kids, but she still was a smart little girl (she knew who to go to when she wanted a candy!). The day I left Zambia, Theresa cried all day long, only being soothed by a cold coca-cola from the market. Theresa passed away in November 2007 at the local mission hospital from a rare form of throat cancer . She had apparently been sick for while, but there was no one at the clinic to diagnose her and no one to take her to the hospital. All I could do was send money over for the funeral and wish I could have been there to get her to the hospital faster. Even so, there wouldn’t have been much they could’ve done for her. I sponsored Rachel to go to the local boarding school and she recently graduated from high school. I was able to visit her at school several times before I left Zambia. We would hang out with the other girls in the dorm room (about 20 bunk beds with two girls to a mattress) while they showed me pictures in magazines, told me about boys they were “dating” and cooked me the little food they had with them. In the last letter I got from Rachel she told me she now wears “trousers”, something only the educated, town girls do. It made me laugh. I look forward to seeing her in a few weeks when I go back to visit. Wrapping it all up Living in Zambia was a roller coaster ride of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Good, bad, frustrating and rewarding. I came up against many challenges over the years (getting people to come to meetings WITHOUT bribing them with drinks and food, listening to termites eat my house, repeatedly fixing my leaky roof in the rainy season, getting rid of my tapeworm (?!)), but I survived them and became stronger because of them. I made plenty of mistakes and I learned from all of them (note to self: make sure the grass of my bathing shelter is thick enough, or the neighbors WILL be able to see me naked). Looking back, I know the stress I experienced was always temporary…although not easy to remember in the moment when I ate something that didn’t agree with me and had to start a 2 hour bike ride home through the bush while watching a storm fast approaching with a flat tire on my bike! It kept life exciting. In return, I was rewarded with lifelong friends, cherished memories, and unique experiences. I know that my experiences in Liberia will be very different than my time in Zambia but there are many things I learned in Zambia that I will take with me to Liberia. Simply put, I will expect the unexpected, keep an open mind and pack my sense of humor.

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