The longer I wait to share a blog post, the harder it becomes to feel satisfied with anything that I write. So, naturally, I keep doing what I do best and procrastinate. But, I realize that I’ve lived in my host community for over 2 months now, and I have yet to truly share anything about life since our YAV in-country orientation ended. So, perhaps it’s time for me to just sit down and hash out a speedy, brief overview of life in Zambia, and then I might be able to focus on (and complete) more thoughtful/insightful/heartfelt blog posts in the coming weeks. My apologies to anyone back home who has waited with baited breath (for over a month!) for this post—be warned that it’s not Wordsworth!
On September 28, 2016, Olivia, Kim, John, and I packed up our bags, closed the doors to Justo Mwale’s TOF Guest House for the last time (until our October check-in), and headed out into the real Zambia. Of course, Justo Mwale Theological College is definitely a part of the real Zambia, but we’d had a month of living and learning primarily with other Americans, so our cross-cultural interactions before that date were few. The four of us were heading out to live in four of Lusaka’s compounds, each about 15-45 minutes away from each other by bus—Olivia to Kanyama (which means “little meat” or “little animal”—which I find funny), Kim to Chaisa/Mandevu, John to Matero, and me to Chilenje. On that day, each of us were welcomed into a family, a congregation, a community, and a culture very different from our own. I believe that by that time we thought we were ready for whatever lay ahead, but I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for all the extreme joys and extreme struggles of full cultural immersion. But, it was time so, at 3:30 p.m. I pushed myself out of the comfort zone of Sherri’s car and was greeted by the sound of singing and clapping, as a number of the Chilenje CCAP congregation gathered my suitcases and ushered me in to my new home. A representative from each of the CCAP’s three guilds—Men’s, Women’s, and Youth—all prayed over my coming and entry into the community. Looking back on it now, I see it as the most wonderful introduction to the tight-knit community of faith I would grow to be a part of and love.
Since our move-in date had been pushed back from Saturday to the following Wednesday, that left me with only half a week to acclimate myself to life in Chilenje (and life with the Chilenje family) before beginning to work at the Chilenje CCAP Preschool. After an hour or so of observation on Friday, I jumped into to teaching full swing on my first Monday. Though the enrollment of my class is around 18 to 19 two- to seven-year-olds, on average only about 12-13 would come. Chilenje does not have a classroom block like most other community schools, so we hold our classes in the sanctuary. I live in the manse, which is about 35 steps from the church building. This makes getting to school quite easy and is a blessing when I forget things (at least twice a day) and have to go back to the house to get them. It is a little confining, though, when the three primary aspects of my life are focused on one rectangular plot of land (church, work, and home), giving me little reason (or excuse) to get out and move around. I work with 2 other co-teachers—Teacher Solomon and Teacher Esnart—and I am very grateful for their guidance and assistance. (Most 2-7 year olds have a hard time giving their full attention to a woman who barely speaks their language, and understandably so.) Though this term I have been in charge of teaching most of the subjects (Social Studies, Environmental Science, and Math), we are working towards making the teaching-load more even among us. Next week, the other teachers and I will be attending a week-long workshop intended to help train CCAP Early Childhood teachers in creating a more child-centered (and less teacher-centered) classroom environment. I’m looking forward to this workshop and am excited about the changes that we have already made and will continue to make as we learn more about this type of teaching.
On my move-in day, I gained not only a new family, congregation, and community, but also a new surname. I am now Susannah Chilenje (sorry Mom and Dad!) and I am the “firstborn” of 5 Chilenje kids. After me, there’s 13-year-old Joshua, then 11-year-old Memory, followed by 8-year-old Esther, and bringing up the rear with endless giggles and dancing is 3-year-old Joseph Jr. I also consider 20-year-old Mirriam to be my host sister, though, technically, she’s my host first cousin once removed, since she is my host father’s cousin. My host father is Reverend Joseph Chilenje, whom I call Abusa (meaning Reverend), and my host mother is Miriam Chilenje, whom I call Amai Busa (meaning Wife of the Reverend). I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate each member of this family, and how grateful I am for the welcome and support they continue to give me now, over 2 months later. The greatest gift they’ve given me as I go through this adjustment is to treat me like a true member of the family. That means that I have responsibilities like the rest of the family, but it also means that I don’t feel as much like a long-term guest and outsider. (Some of my responsibilities include sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, and wiping the floors of the bathroom, dining room and my bedroom every morning, washing dishes when it’s my turn in the rotation, helping cook when I’m needed, helping in the garden, and leading the family in a nightly song and prayer when it’s my turn.) I don’t want to sugarcoat things and make it sound like living fully immersed in a very different culture is easy and goes on without any hiccups, but the Chilenje family has gone above and beyond to make my time here flow as smoothly as possible. I think I knew the Chilenje family was going to be a good fit for me when, on the 2nd or 3rd night there, we spent over half an hour figuring out the harmonies in “Kum-ba-ya” and singing it over and over again—that’s my kind of evening activity (seriously, no sarcasm here).
This post has barely skimmed the surface of life here in Chilenje, but it will have to do for now. Nshima and my favorite relish (veg mixed with groundnuts) are waiting for me on the table. Everyone is out of school so we’ll all eat together, and after we finish, it’s my turn to wash the dishes. Tiza onana!