Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You can’t see the light, only what it touches

I left my village one month ago and have now returned to the continental plate of my birth.

But first I’d like to share with you the video my brother made after visiting me. He did an amazing job on it and I’m very grateful that he took the time to visit, take videos and then put them together. The song you’ll hear is one that was wildly popular during the world cup and at the end of the video my brother, Jonathan, is dancing to the song as my brother, Tanner, was recording. Here is the video.

The last month was crazy in Zambia. About one week after posting that last blog, we were informed that we would be sent home 3 weeks early due to the uncertainty of the Zambian Presidential elections (which were actually held today). So I was quite busy wrapping things up. Running around to my different farmers and groups, I realized how much potential the future holds for the area. There is still much to be learned and much to be taught. I wish the next volunteer, Alyssa, all the best. I’m jealous she gets to spend 2 years with that wonderful family and community…but mostly the family.

Saying goodbye to my village was hard and saying goodbye to my family was even harder. I am so blessed to have been placed in such a caring and hardworking environment. Zambians sometimes get a bad rap for being “lazy” and it can definitely be applied in some cases. But from what I’ve seen, if they truly want something, they work so hard for it. Especially when it comes to their loved ones. My father once rode his bicycle 4 hours one way into Malawi to get a special herb when his daughter was sick. Say what you want about traditional healers and their medicine, I was touched by the dedication he had in helping his daughter heal. What’s even more humbling is that I know he would have done the same for me. It is this kind of honest love I will miss.

But there are things in Zambia I’m quite happy to be away from. In previous blogs I mentioned the bittersweetness, the love-hate relationship I had with Zambia. Well, it didn’t get any better toward the end as I said goodbyes and inched closer to Lusaka and its airport. There are wonderful pieces of Zambia that I missed before I even stepped on the plane. There are other things from which I’m thankful to be an ocean away.

The goodbyes were especially difficult because there were so many in so many different places, it was like I was saying goodbye for 3 or 4 weeks solid; the village, friends and counterparts in Lundazi, friends and volunteers in Chipata, more friends and staff and my entire intake in Lusaka. There are some incredible people I got to know along the way. The volunteer culture was a very difficult one to say goodbye to. Sure, we’ll still have the chance to meet up in America, but it will be different. Regardless, I wish them all well, those still in Zambia and those who have moved on. Thanks for being there to share all the good times and the bad, the joys and the heartaches and all the ridiculousness in between.

The future of Zambia is a bright one as many global entities are beginning to focus on it with renewed interest in the natural resources it has buried in its soil. Copper has always been their main export, but lately there has been an increase in discoveries of gold, uranium and semi-precious stones. As I left, I even heard they are sending out gas and oil search parties. All well and good it can seem. Especially if you think of how rich the country might become and how much it could benefit the people. But I’m not so sure. I worry for the people and their rich cultural identities. Already in place is a quite corrupt political system – top to bottom. Of course it’s not bad as some other African countries, but it’s still pretty frustrating. From my modest observations, most, if not all, of the mining companies already come from other countries (China, South Africa, Australia, etc.). Of course, there is a tax on the copper, but a lot of it goes unaccounted for into a select few pockets. I’m by no means an expert and I’m not trying to make a stand or pick any fights. I’d love to see Zambia off the “third world” list. I even noticed a change in two years as well and talking with my Agogo, she can remember when people wore animal skins. In her lifetime, there are now cell phones in villages. That took white cultures hundreds of years to achieve. But I urge that as you develop Zambia, remember who you are as a culture. You have many rich cultural heritages. You are a peaceful people and you know it, everyone knows it. However, I have felt a certain tension growing stronger over my two years there. Though you have been swept aside in the past due to the lack of infrastructure, as you build those roads and bring in more investments and developers, remember your brothers and sisters living in the bush. Remember where you came from and develop in a uniquely Zambian way. Stand together as your first president taught you, “One Zambia, One Nation.” You have so many endearing qualities that make you strong as a people and as a country. No wonder Peace Corps Zambia has the highest rate in the world of volunteers choosing to extend for an extra year.

Zambia, my teacher and home for two years, thanks for the good times and the bad. Thanks for beating me down and providing for the lowest moments of my life. You never failed to put me in difficult situations. It forced me outside of myself. It forced the growth of what I hope is interior strength. Thank you for the hard lessons. Thank you for your beautiful landscape and beautiful people. Thank you for the absurd moments and the humorous grammatical and/or spelling mistakes on 70% of your signs/slogans. Thank you for the situations and occurrences that forced me to question myself, my expectations and my culture. I never would’ve made it without the love and support of my Zam-fam. In this I count my family in the village and my volunteer friends. I can’t wait to embrace you again. Family and friends in America, I appreciate all the love and confidence you gave me through your support.

When I look back at my work, I am mostly content with what I accomplished in 2 years: farmers met, ponds dug, fish stocked, management techniques taught, harvests completed, HIV/AIDS information given, games played, church benches built, women’s groups formed, buyer-to-farmer connections made, computer and cell phone lessons given, explanation after explanation of American culture delivered, faculty for patience increased, questions asked, knowledge gained, friendships made, countless marriage requests denied, catcalls ignored, awesome hitches appreciated, cultural techniques learned and somewhat mastered (shelling maize and groundnuts, pounding peanut butter, carrying water on head, etc), frustration of development work realized, countless hours of alone time endured, Zambian bush survived, love lost, love found, love given and received beyond preconceived capacity.

It might not look like much on paper, but Zambia taught me to value what is beyond the words (and that any paper is only just toilet paper in the end). Words are the guides that point to what is beyond the paper and ink. Peace Corps was the vessel to guide me beyond myself. And beyond myself I found a community and that community taught me what hard work and perseverance through frustration can bring. The long days that turned to fast weeks of being alone became my guide to discovering what’s within myself. And within myself I found serenity and a respect for humanity and the inseparable dance it has with the world.

This will be my last blog post, for I’m no longer in the Fetus of Africa. I’m now an infant in North America. Readjusting has been relatively easy so far. I feel I’m in the honeymoon stage of it since everything is still shiny and exciting. There are definite lapses though. One of Marcey’s friends explained to me the other day as I ate my first hotdog that one of the difficulties of the readjustment phase is the inability to predict the outcome of an action/situation. I’ve found this to be true thus far. I had a brief internal breakdown the other day as I tried to decide whether or not to cross a patch of grass in front of a big government building. In Zambia, it would’ve been weirder for me to walk around it. But I was so uncertain of what would happen if I did walk on it that I did a double take and then walked around it…only to watch someone else cut across it ten steps later. I feel like I stand too close to people in lines, pick my nose too much in public, and look like an idiot stutter-stepping off escalators. Even though I love the lack of people staring at me, I’m still way too self-conscious. I’ve noticed people go to a lot of uncomfortable trouble contorting themselves so as to not touch bodies or belongings on public transport.

But I’m enjoying the freedom of dress and the ability to ride a comfortably smooth road bike around on good paved roads/sidewalks. Oh sidewalks! What a nice concept. I’ve tripped several times on their evenness. America can be such a wonderland. Pizza and Dr. Pepper is still about the greatest food combo I’ve come across.

Yet, this still feels like a vacation from Zambia, though the realization that I don’t have a return ticket is slowly sinking in. Bear with me these next few months up until possibly the end of my life. Zambia certainly did not refrain from sinking its claws in, deeply. With a few minor scars, a couple extra years, and a freshly (though probably not completely) healed bone, I return with a whole spectrum of memories, lasting friendships, a Zambian family, and a better understanding of my small part in the interconnectedness of many into a whole.

If Zambia taught me anything, it was to just take situations as they come. Whether the journey is far or the stay is near, the ups and downs will always be there, along with the usual curve ball.

And if life has taught me anything thus far, it is that truth is the greatest and most difficult quest of all.

And in closing, I’ll leave you with something the Beatles have taught me:

“And to see you’re really only very small

And life flows on within you and without you”

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