Thank you

20 June 2013

“I am only one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.” — Helen Keller

I’ve been reminded of this quote a lot lately, especially after all your words of encouragement. My friend Craig sent it in an e-mail a while back, but it had floated to the back of my mind. I’ll try not to let that happen again. :+)

I wasn’t looking for a pep talk or kind words when I wrote my last post. Writing here just helps me process things, and it’s nice to share and feel connected to friends and family back home, knowing you’re reading along.

But kindness and inspiration were exactly what I got via comments and e-mails from many of you.

So thank you. Thanks for sharing the journey with me in some small way, just by reading.

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Zambian potluck

17 June 2013

I had dinner with some neighbors tonight. I even convinced them to eat raw cabbage (think cole slaw without the mayo) with their ubwali and ifisashi (amazingly delicious combo of groundnuts and almost anything else – easily my favorite Zambian food when it involves veggies or sweet potatoes; not so much when it involves dried fish).

The kids raved about my “American” dish – Stephen (aka Bwalya) especially. (See why I love him?) The adults’ reactions ranged from generous tolerance (Agatha defended me with, “It’s good to learn about new foods.”) to distasteful disbelief (“She didn’t COOK it?!” Agatha’s younger sister, Lister, whispered, not realizing I understood what she was saying until I called her out on it.) When Lister finally tasted it, she screwed up her face, and I cracked up.

To be honest, they got short-changed a little. The night before, I’d eaten with the family of another sister, Mary, and brought curried lentils and rice, which was pretty delicious if I do say so myself.

I don’t plan to do this every night, but it’s MUCH nicer to share a bowl of ubwali than it is to try to make it on my own. For the record, concerned Zambian readers, naishibe ifyo ukunaya ubwali (I DO know how to cook ubwali), but it’s virtually impossible to make it in small batches! And it’s such a communal food that it’s kind of strange and lonely to eat it by myself, anyway.

It also helped that tonight I got to teach Boyd and Bwalya the words for “moon,” “stars,” and “dark.” (“Dork,” they repeatedly mispronounced, sending me into uncontrollable laughter yet again.) I told them, “now you know what it’s like for me to try to pronounce Bemba!”

These are the moments I live for. Moments of understanding and recognition that make cultural differences melt away. Moments that remind me that, ultimately, becoming friends may very well be the most worthwhile thing that my neighbors and I do over the next two years.

So I very much hope that this potluck with friends continues from time to time. Sitting around the fire with everyone these past two nights, huddled together against the cold (it DOES get a little chilly here this time of year – maybe even down in the 40s by morning), it’s hard not to feel how connected we all are when it comes right down to it.

I’m not as great as everyone thinks I am

16 June 2013

I’ve been volunteering at the clinic one morning a week, mainly to meet more women, children, and people who aren’t so well off, and to learn about their lives and problems. (Health care is free, but extremely basic – no stethoscopes, no running water, and they run out of medications fairly often. Also, you’ve gotta walk 10 kilometers from Mfuba – and much further from some villages – to get it.)

This past week, I met a woman there with a 5-day-old baby who insisted I give the baby her English name. (It’s common for people to have a Bemba and an English name; it’s also common to wait a week before naming the baby.) I was a little shocked to say the least, especially as I’d never met this woman before.

After some thought, discarding various friends’ names, mainly for reasons of unpronounceability in Zambia, I settled on Lucia. Never mind that that’s more Spanish than English. It’s my Bamaayo’s name – my Bamaayo who patiently took care of me for two months, sheltering me from the reality of Zambian village life, I now realize. (Man do I miss her!)

Me and my Bamaayo, Ba Lucia.

Me and my Bamaayo, Ba Lucia.

Anyway, I told the mother it was the name of a very strong woman. She seemed pleased and said the baby had been strong in the womb. I think she was saying she’d kicked a lot. Maybe the name will work out.

As usual, that’s a long story to demonstrate a simple but crazy point: most people here think I’m the greatest things since sliced (white) bread. Sure, there are those who eye me skeptically, maybe wondering how the rich, pampered white girl is really going to make it here, especially when she can’t even properly sweep her yard or harvest millet. But overwhelmingly, people are ecstatically happy that I’m here.

I’ve been told, several times, “They’ll listen to you.”

“Because you’re white/from America,” is the reason I’m given when I ask why.

This drives me absolutely nuts some days. “But I’m not even from here!” I tell them. “YOU know more about what needs changing here than I do.”  What I really want to scream is, “I’m nothing special!! I’m not even a farmer! I’m just a random American who wanted to play make-believe by living in a thatch-roof hut in an African village!”

Of course, I don’t say any of that. Why? Because I am terrified of my own incompetence. Terrified that I’ll be found out, discovered to be a fake volunteer with selfish motives. I am terribly afraid of failing. Of failing these wonderful people who check up on me and bring me food and patiently teach me Bemba every day.

I’m terrified of failing Ba Allan, who’s done so much to try to be a better farmer so he can get his nine kids through school, and who clearly expects a lot from me. I’m terrified of failing Ba Dorothy, who patiently explains to me why people here have so many children: because even IF you can get them all to adulthood, they may still die of AIDS, and then who will care for you in your old age?

I am especially terrified of failing Bwalya, the 13-year-old orphan who looks 10 but refuses to let me fetch my own water and tells me at least twice a week that I have a good heart.

Bwalya fetching water.

Bwalya fetching water.

So I do my best, meeting and visiting as many people and groups as I can and trying to find out what would be most helpful to do here. I run around; set up meetings; read endless books about better gardening techniques and how to raise chickens; and have no free time. Then I get exhausted and freaked out over my lack of alone time, so I spend a Sunday at home, doing very little that is productive and trying to avoid people. (Or, alternately, I go for a long bike ride where I find a few hills and a rocky stream to soak my feet in and discover I’m suddenly the happiest girl on earth. :+)

Then I feel guilty for not working – especially during this three-month “community entry” thing where I have to keep telling people: “Ah, but I can’t really start working ’til August …” So I go back out and harvest with the Bamaayos and plan a gardening workshop that I’m not really supposed to be doing yet and teach Bwalya English and try to find something in all my books that will improve the soil in Ba Allan’s fields.

And the cycle starts again.

Partly I know this is my nature: to get all stressed out, take a while to realize it, take a few deep breaths, and repeat. But everything here is so amplified! The joys of hanging out with cool people and learning so many new things, the frustrations of the language barrier and sweeping up mouse poop every morning. Even these little things can be raised to ridiculous levels of importance in this context.

But I always end up back at the real issue: so much is needed here that I know so little about. Truly. If I knew more, I could easily spend a lifetime teaching about soil erosion, better nutrition, agroforestry, beekeeping, English, or any of the 5 million things my neighbors want to know about

But I’m only here for two years, and I’m really nothing special. I know that’s partly a lie, because I have two college degrees and a lot of experience that my neighbors here will never have. Here I AM special.

But it’s not how I feel. I just feel like a girl who sits in her hut at night, playing guitar and sipping hot chocolate and dreaming of her life back in Amelika and feeling guilty about all her possessions and privileges, none of which she is currently sharing.

I am just me. No savior, no magician. Here, though, I’m a beacon of hope. And it is so, so hard to try to live up to that.