I’m back, and utterly exhausted. Nothing is more tired than my mind, though. I got in the car to drive home, had Taylor Swift’s new CD in the CD player, and I could feel my mind take a big sigh of relief as it effortlessly comprehended the words it was hearing.
This week was wonderfully hard. It taught me so much, revealed many things about myself I’d like to work on, and produced a lot of growth in me, my language, and my relationship with God.
I arrived after church on Sunday, and we got right to work. I learned how to scrub the outside of a pot using the grit from the dirt on the ground, but the pot was quickly whisked away from me because my hands are “too soft”. Then I started cutting the pumpkin leaves, which were quickly whisked away from me because I was “too slow”. Then I went to draw some water from the bore hole, which was quickly whisked away from me because it was “too heavy”.
Are you sensing a theme? This was exactly how I envisioned things starting, but not at all how I wanted them to be. I am very much aware of my own weakness in relation to their strength, but I didn’t want to be treated like an outsider. I wanted my hands to get tougher from scrubbing pots with dirt, my cutting skills to get sharpened (pun intended), and my neck to hurt from the weight of carrying water on my head.
I sought to enter into my new friends’ world as much as I could, but the truth of the matter is I’m white, privileged, and treated as such. In reality, there will always be a barrier dividing me from them. I’m only there temporarily, to catch the tiniest glimpse of their real life and hope to glean as much language from them as possible. But then I’ll go back home to a place where I use a scrub brush and soap to wash my dishes, to a place where I can use a cutting board and chop as fast as possible without fear of slicing my hands up (which I did, by the way), and to a place where I simply turn the knob to get the clean water.
The whole week was completely humbling. I’m sure they often wondered to themselves, “How does this girl even survive usually?” There were so many times I was tempted to shout, “Hey you guys! I’m actually quite good at some things in life! I’m not always a complete moron! I do manage to cook for myself every day of the week, somehow! I know how to boil water, I just have never made a fire all by myself before! I can manage a group of rowdy teenagers effortlessly. I can keep the names and ages and medical histories of 80 babies in my head simultaneously. This might be my first time telling the difference between a weed and an apparently valuable, edible relish, but I really am quite capable and smart.” Thankfully in those moments of frustration and humility, the Holy Spirit calmed me and reminded me of just how valuable it would be to stay in that place of humility, of dependence, of utter reliance on my new community.
Most days I woke up at 6, and I started the day by “making fire”. I used a brazier to cook so I wouldn’t take up their fire that they were cooking on. I made oats after my fire was ready, and then it was time to head to the fields. They have many maize fields, and because this is rainy season, there is endless plowing, weeding, and fertilizing to do.
If I wasn’t already convinced of my own inadequacies, using a hoe to weed the maize confirmed it. I’m a fairly strong girl (or at least I like to think so). I did Insanity and all, but I didn’t ever try doing Insanity in the blazing hot sun. I also didn’t do it while yielding a wooden hoe (jamba, in case you were wondering) with splinters all over it. I don’t remember ever in my life feeling so physically drained. The only relief was to stand up so my back was straight up for a second, but as soon as I did that, they started trying to make me go home. “Ba Mutinta, you are tired. Let us go back home.” “No, no, I’m fine really! I was just stretching!” I’d hoe a bit more, and try to pop up when everyone else’s heads were down, but they would always catch me. They tried all sorts of strategies to try and make me go back home, from telling me it was about to rain and I’d get soaked to telling me that my baby was crying (I brought Leah with me—a story for another day). I finally told them I would go back in when they were going back in and that I would be fine. Yes, I am weak, but I will manage.
It was a fine line to walk between seeming ungrateful for their kindness and not letting them give me an easy way out. I didn’t walk it well I’m sure, but I tried. I put my foot down when I thought it necessary, and I allowed their graces at other appropriate times. If they’d had it their way, I would have plowed for roughly 5 minutes before going home to rest. That just wouldn’t do for me because then I would have missed out on all those learning opportunities that I so badly wanted.
After about four hours of weeding the fields, it was time to go back and cook nsima (what?! Time to cook again?!?!¬). Nsima is Zambia’s staple food, made out of ground up maize akin to corn meal. I have grown to really like nsima, but had never eaten it for every meal until this week. We would go out into the pasture and pick our relish (the side eaten with nsima). Sometimes we picked pumpkin leaves (cipusi), sometimes wild mushrooms (boyo), sometimes wild okra (deleele), and sometimes bonko (a type of leaf). There was something very satisfying about going out to pick my own dinner right before cooking it.
I think my favorite thing I did in our afternoon assignments was milk cows. I mean, wow. That was unbelievably exhausting and exhilarating. I know if I had to do it all the time it would lose its appeal, but it was so fun! First, we had to get all the cattle into the corral (I’m assuming by now you understand what I mean when I say “we”, because I kind of stood there helplessly as the cows ran around me). Then they started mooing like crazy, calling for their babies. It was awesome and unbelievably loud when the babies cried back. Then, Vincent would release one of the calves from where they were being held about 100 yards away. The calf would sprint in, find its mother immediately among 84 cows, and start nursing a bit. Just when the calf was getting going, “we” had to beat it with a stick to get it away while tying the cow’s back legs together so it wouldn’t get away during milking. I would start milking while Timmy would keep whipping the calf to keep it away from the udder. At first I was really slow at this whole process, but it got better. After milking that one dry, we would release its hind legs and call for the next calf. The mother and calf we’d just milked would go on their way and resume feeding just as the next calf came in and found its mother. Totally amazing, and did I mention exhausting?? My favorite part was being down beneath the cow when it started going to bathroom. The guys laughed so hard at my reactions every time!
Other times we took the cattle out to graze or herded the pigs back into their sty. The pigs made me laugh out loud all the time. They wanted to get in my shower stall! Seeing a real life pig sty made me understand the story of the prodigal son in a new way. In fact, during the hours and hours of working in the fields, I came up with enough spiritual applications to write a short devotional book! Don’t worry, I won’t…
Also in the afternoon we would go visiting nearby neighbors. I have a different definition of the word “nearby” than my friends do, but I managed. My legs were always so sore from hoeing and we would be walking fairly long distances, and I had Leah strapped on my back. Then, the rains would hit, adding to all the excitement. I would come home from our adventures drained, yet my friends seemed as fresh as when they woke up.
After returning home, it was time to start heating up water for bathing. I would bathe Leah first, and she LOVED it.
This is probably my favorite picture of the whole week (I think I took 10 total pictures, so I didn’t have many to choose from!). Leah will be going back to her own village soon, so I was thrilled for the way she started adapting to life there. It took her a few days, but by the end of the week she no longer screamed every time a chicken or dog ran up to her, and she actually embraced the dogs (as I inwardly cringed).
After bathing, it was time to cook AGAIN- nsima and a different relish than we had at lunch. We cooked, ate, and then just talked and sang. Most of the time, I was busy scribbling down new words they were teaching me in my Tonga notebook.
Another day done, it was time to go to bed. I put Leah down, and then I worked on my daily homework assignment of journaling in Tonga about my day and all I’d done. Most nights, I fell asleep to the thundering rain on an iron sheet roof.
The last few days, I noticed a change. They helped me less and less and treated me more and more like an equal. I carried my water, and they didn’t step in and try to take it from me (although they still laughed heartily). I needed a plate cleaned and they handed me the basin to wash it in without offering to wash it themselves. The last days of hoeing, they stopped trying to make me go in and would actually compliment me on my work as we moved together down the rows of maize. It was a nice change, but it also made me realize how ingrained in me this need for independence is. It was good to remember that it’s okay for people to help you, to lean on each other, to need someone else.
When it came time for Leah and I to leave, it was bittersweet. I’ll be going back again after a few months more of lessons, so it’s not goodbye for long. But it was still strange to drive away from the new friends I’d made, heading back to such a different world. However, I was so excited to see the babies and aunties again that I drove a little too fast down that muddy, potholed road to Namwianga.
I went straight to the Haven, and the aunties and I squealed and hugged each other tightly. We talked all about my time in the village, they clucked over the blisters all over my hands and my sun burnt arms and neck (sorry mom!), and they beamed as I spoke a little more fluently in their own language. Their response today was most definitely worth the week, and then some.
I learned a lot. Just like none of you would consider me a complete moron for not knowing how to cook over an open fire all on my own or milk a cow without instruction, neither are they for not knowing how to work a microwave or drive a car. Six-year-old Eufester may not know how to read like some American six-year-olds, but she can prepare a full meal over an open fire that she’s built herself, something I wasn’t even capable of doing without help. We’re all just people who know what we grew up doing, understanding what’s most relevant in our circumstances. I came to deeper appreciate the beautiful aspects of community that make up life in most Zambian villages.
I was relieved to walk into my house again, take a shower and scrub my feet, and turn on the faucet to get a drink of cool water. But it wasn’t that big of a deal when the power went out almost immediately upon my arrival and I was left in the dark again. A little perspective is a good thing.