My successor is already preparing to come to Mfuba Village – without even knowing it.
As I write this, he or she is packing bags, saying goodbyes, and going through all the excitement and anxiety I was feeling two years ago.
Next week, this person – along with the rest of the LIFE 2015 intake – will board a plane bound for Lusaka. This person won’t know until late March that Mfuba will be his or her new home, but the stars are aligning nonetheless.
If I could write a letter to this person, here’s what I’d say:
Mwaseni kuli Mfuba! (Welcome to Mfuba!)
You have no idea how lucky you are. An infinite number of random coincidences (or fate, depending on your persuasion) have brought you here, to arguably the best Zambian village you could ever hope to live in.
Others will tell you that I’m just biased – that all PCVs come to love their villages, regardless. But that’s not entirely true.
Some PCVs struggle with unmotivated communities, a lack of good counterparts, theft, kids who don’t respect them, or neighbors who are just plain mean to one another.
I’ve been blessed with the opposite. And now you are, too.
Don’t get me wrong: Mfuba and its residents have their flaws, which you’ll discover soon enough. As an American, you’ll find all the same frustrations you’d find anywhere else in Zambia.
But don’t worry about all that just yet.
First, embrace the excitement and enthusiasm that this wonderful community will soon shower upon you, as they did upon me and my own predecessor. Try to speak Bemba even if language isn’t your forte, play with the kids even if you don’t like kids, and dance even if you feel shy.
They’ll love you for it.
Mfuba is the home of many patient Bemba teachers, children who are ridiculously respectful and helpful (most of the time), and adults who will embrace you as one of their own.
Welcome to your new house. I’ve tried to fix it up as best I could, and it’s a pretty cozy place if I do say so myself. Try to embrace all your visitors and not hide inside with all the windows closed too often, but do it when you really need to.
Welcome to your very own field. I hope I’ve left the soil in better shape than I found it in. I also hope you’re a better farmer than I was. But if you’re not, don’t worry: you can’t really “fail” at farming here, as long as you keep trying and keep greeting everyone who walks by while you’re working.
In fact, this is true of anything you do here.
Welcome to the Mutale family. Or the Kasonde family, or any other family you choose to adopt. There isn’t a family I’ve met here who wouldn’t be overjoyed to share ubwali with you on a regular basis.
I hope you come to like ubwali. It can be the thing that binds you to your new neighbors and lifts you up when you’re feeling down.
I also hope you get to know the kids. They are some of the kindest, funniest people I know, and they will love you forever if you give them just a little of your time.
Welcome to life as a third-generation PCV. You’ll often be compared to me, and to the first-gen PCV, Steve.
Don’t listen to any of it.
It doesn’t matter what Steve or I did or did not give, did or did not do. It doesn’t matter if your habits or your food preferences or your tree-planting skills or your Bemba vocab is better or worse than ours was. As long as you come with good intentions and are willing to laugh at yourself, they’ll love you.
Work hard, because your neighbors will expect it of you. But don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t work yourself into the ground.
Remember what they tell you all through training: “Relationships first, work second.” Because it’s true.
Maybe most importantly of all, don’t listen too much to me.
Partly because I often didn’t follow my own advice. I sometimes snapped at people for no good reason, chased kids out of my yard, threw myself into too many projects, worried too much, isolated myself, forgot to step back and laugh at myself. In spite of how amazing Mfuba is, I created problems in my own head and had plenty of bad days anyway.
But mainly because, who cares what I think? I’m on my way out.
Mfuba is your home now.
I ask only that you try your best, every day, to be a good person, and to remember that this village is full of good people, too.
Lead with your heart, and you will find yourself welcomed in every way.