I have now been in Zambia for about a week and a half, and I feel like a ground nut (peanut). I have lived my life protected from what’s around me, and now my shell is starting to break away, and I couldn’t be more confused, exhausted, frustrated, and excited.
My first 6 days in Zambia were exhilarating. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what I was doing here, while trying to take in as much of the information about the people and the culture that was being thrown my way that I could. I learned a lot those first 6 days, but none of the information could have truly prepared me for my year in Zambia like our short stay in Chimwangombe village.
Chimwangombe village is a small village about a 2 hour drive outside of Lusaka. Once I was outside of Lusaka’s city limits and I saw the rolling hills and the mountains, I was in awe of the beauty of this land. There’s also something special about an African sunrise/sunset, I just couldn’t help but stop for a minute and watch the sun either rise or disappear from the sky. The Sakala family was gracious enough to invite myself and the 3 other YAVs into their little community and show us their traditional way of life.
We went into the village being told we would be part of the family, not guests. Women were expected to do as the village women did and men, likewise. We were welcomed as YAVs, but soon that went from meaning Young Adult Volunteers to Young African Villagers. As a woman, I helped with the cooking, the sweeping, the water gathering, and the ground nut cracking. We carried firewood on our heads, we plucked chickens, served the men, and pounded nuts and corn. The men cut down a tree and talked.
That was the first crack in my little nut shell. For the first time, I was expected to be subservient to the men in the village, just because they were men. I knew that in other cultures the men were held in higher regards than women, I had seen this happen in many of my travels, but never had I been fully expected to take part in it. For anyone who really knows me, you know that I am a pretty independent person, I’m not always one to ask permission or take requests that I do not agree with, but I did it and I learned a lot.
The next crack came when talking to the married women in the villages. These women are strong. These women are beautiful. They are hardworking, and though many of them have not had a long formal education, they are intelligent. However, many times, these women do not have the opportunity or the voice to say when they want or do not want do something, including entering into marriage. I am so thankful for the fact that I can make my own decision and that my family will always support me. I am privileged in this way, and talking to the women who weren’t was hard. I see those women as stronger than I am. They work hard every day at things that I never will have to. I admire them.
Then we went to the community school, and I found yet another crack in my shell. When I think of a school in the United States, I see SMARTBoards and computers, but in Zambia, some students don’t even have a desk to sit at. However, they were so grateful for the opportunity to learn. These children were getting an education. It didn’t matter what the school environment physically looked like, they were learning, and they were having an opportunity that many did not get.
There were many more cracks that appeared during my time at the village, but that isn’t a bad thing. It is different than how I grew up, which is helping me to see the world in a different light. I get the opportunity to learn all of the amazing, heartbreaking, stimulating, and captivating things that make Zambia the beautiful country that I have already started to love. I know there are going to be things that confuse me. I know there are going to be things that I don’t understand, but I am here to learn from those things and to gain the most that I can from the wonderful people that I am surrounding myself with this year.
I am looking forward to seeing how future cracks expand my mind and help me grow.