Several days ago, I woke up to the sound of my 3rd alarm and a rooster crowing from somewhere on the campus of Justo Mwale University. It was my third full day in Zambia and my body clock was not yet adjusted to Zambian time, 6 hours ahead of EDT. The morning air was cool and I pulled on a sweatshirt to head into the kitchen. The bedroom door creaked closed behind me, and as it did, one of my fellow YAVs, Kim, yelled from somewhere in the small guest house, “Susannah! Don’t move that bowl on the floor!” Slightly worried that some sort of massive spider (or perhaps a small snake?) was under there, I gave the bowl a wide berth and headed toward Kim’s voice for an explanation. “Susannah,” she said, “I saw a gigantic cockroach in the living room this morning. So I put a bowl over it.” I began imagining the most enormous cockroach possible that would still be able to fit under the rather small cereal bowl on the floor. “It was around the length of my pointer finger.” Ah, so it was about the size of an average SC cockroach (or Palmetto bug, as I’ve learned to call them over the years)! I could handle this! I wasn’t quite convinced of my coordination to be able to both pick up the bowl and smack the cockroach in one motion, so Kim took bowl duty and I readied my Chaco for the kill. It was a successful team effort. (Thanks, Kim.) I sat down to breakfast feeling relieved, and, surprisingly, closer to home. Yet another welcome to Zambia, I thought. Seven thousand nine hundred fifty-three miles away, and still coexisting with the same bugs. (To my biology friends, I’m sure it was not exactly the same type of cockroach, but it sure looked pretty darn close.) What a huge, tiny, complex, simple, diverse, and interconnected world we live in.
My cockroach welcome reminded me, amidst drastic culture shock, that some of my year in Zambia will echo my life at home. The differences are obvious and everywhere, but the essence of life here in Zambia is quite the same as life back home in South Carolina. I realize that this is an extremely simplistic way to begin looking at my year in Zambia, but now, after a week of intense (dis)orientation at Stony Point Conference Center in NY and 2 weeks of life in Zambia (including time in both urban and rural settings), it seems appropriate to begin by easing in with a reminder that family joys and struggles, community growth and deprivation, and individual hopes and fears and dreams and frustrations are universal experiences. That people may have different ways of addressing a problem, but though methods are unfamiliar or even uncomfortable, they are not necessarily wrong. That people face the minute problem of dealing with unwanted critters in their homes no matter where they live or what walk of life they come from. The basics of life are not as different among cultures as we might choose to believe. We are not as separated from one another as we might like to think.
If only we could realize how much there is to learn from one another when we recognize our similarities and then walk together to explore our differences…
Much of the rest of my blog will explore cultural and environmental differences that I have already and will continue to experience during my YAV year, but for now, let’s meditate on the fact that we all have cockroaches in our lives, and we all deal with them in some way or another. If that’s not a good way to feel connected to the human race, I don’t know what is. Go ahead and embrace the roaches.
(ATTN: YAV Kim is in no way afraid of small critters such as cockroaches. Simply seeing one early in the morning and coming from the strange land of Virginia where, apparently, cockroaches are abnormally small, her first instinct was simply to cover it with a bowl. To be honest, it was a rather genius idea.)