The Very Beginning Pt. 2

This is Part 2 of our blog series "The Very Beginning" written by Amy about her experience during our Zambia program launch in July 2012. If you haven't read Part 1, you'll want to start HERE.

We hop in the van and are on our way, all luggage miraculously in tow. While we don’t know what day or time it is, we do know we’re not in Kansas (or North Carolina) anymore. Cars flying by at unreal speeds and maneuvers. Check-points, at which the kids say police are checking for monkeys under the car, which will take me months to realize isn’t true, because there aren’t monkeys in the city, whoops. The smell of burning trash and grass in dry season.  The dusty air. The streets filled with pedestrians walking to work, home from work, to the bus station, everywhere. The roadside stands of tomatoes and lollipops and laundry soap. We’re here. Lusaka. Home.

We pull up at the American family’s house in a quiet residential area within walking distance to a brand new grocery store (jackpot). Two giant dogs greet us, which we quickly learn serve a greater purpose than just a pet. “Make sure they smell you first.” … Or what? We quickly learn that we’ve gotta make friends with these pups since we’ll be coming and going on our own.

Their 2-story house (a rarity in Zambia) sits at the end of a road, behind a concrete wall and iron gate (a commonality for homes). The grass is green and lush, trees towering high, and it feels like a retreat.

This gracious family has agreed to host us strangers for 2 weeks, sight unseen, because they’re best friends with a couple who I Skyped with who are living in rural Zambia. The missionary/expat connections seem to work like this here. Loyal, tight, extremely helpful, and in this thing together.

Mark and I are led to the guest room with a bathroom attached, and within minutes it feels like we’re part of the family. And while we want to hang out and settle in, we’ve got work to do.

But first, naps. Jet lag recovery. And by day 2, we’re ready to get going.

We suit up with our backpacks, notebooks, a couple of Clif bars, and hit the road. We walk up the long road to the main road, and we’re greeted by other children walking to school, adults walking to where they need to be. Ok, we can do this.

A 30-minute walk leads us to the Ng’ombe Compound, a densely populated urban area. Around 120,000 people in 2 square miles. The scenery changes from paved roads to dirt roads, from greenery to dusty brown landscape only briefly visible between concrete block houses packed tightly together. There are children everywhere, running, playing, adventuring, many without parents in sight. And while there’s a new fancy grocery store just down the road, Ng’ombe seems to have it all at the main market that we walk through. Stalls crafted with wood scraps and cardboard adorned with the brightest red tomatoes, green peppers, leafy greens, bright yellow bananas, brilliant oranges, all perfectly arranged in towers and stacks for customers to peruse.

It’s noisy, with mini buses zooming by, packed to capacity, which is twice the number of people you’d normally fit into a little van like these. Music blaring from bars lining the main dirt road, from hardware shops and barber shops.

Mark and I say few words to each other. We’re just soaking it up. It’s not my first time here, but it’s still a lot to take in. And yet somewhere in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and new sights, it has this strange feeling of home.

Elina, a woman in her mid-forties, a good foot shorter than my super tall brother, emerges from her home. A huge smile, a wave, and a giant hug for each of us. We’re home, and she’s family.

I had been in contact with Elina since 2010. She just happened to be the only Zambian woman I met who lived in Ng’ombe and had an email address, so we were in contact by default (or by fate). Her heart was to see the women in her community empowered, and she was already taking orphans into her home, treating them as her own children. It was apparent from the beginning of our friendship that this woman is really, really special. She fights oppression, she advocates on behalf of the vulnerable, even being vulnerable and oppressed at times of her own life. Her story is hers to tell, but it’s an amazing one as I’d learn over the coming days, weeks, years.

Elina brings us into her home and all of the kids are there, all 6 of them, and even 4 or so others who are staying there temporarily or permanently. Shyness quickly fades with tickles and giggles, the universal language of friendship for kiddos. We’re ready to dig into our Clif bar stash when Elina’s daughter appears with bright plates filled with traditional Zambian foods.

We are still navigating this new friendship and we want to do everything to gain trust and be respectful, so we dig in. Nshima, beans, and a leafy green called rape. I’m still jetlagged and not as jazzed about trying new foods, so I pick at mine and quickly dump it on Mark’s plate during the few seconds we’re in the room alone. Just like the annoying little sister that I am. Mark, now stuck with pounds of food, cleans his plate with the same discipline as the guys on the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.

Pretending to eat all of my food. Sorry, Mark!

Pretending to eat all of my food. Sorry, Mark!

Don’t get me wrong - the food was amazing. Just incredibly filling when you’re still jet lagged and used to only eating rolls with butter for the last two days straight on airplanes and at odd hours of the night that feel like daytime.

We wrap up the day, Mark eager to get home with the nshima-induced food coma and my jet lag screaming out for a nap, and make plans to get the ball rolling tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be paperwork day. How difficult can that be?

Part 3 will be posted next Wednesday 6/28 so stay tuned!

**This month we had 3 HOPE Club Campaigners + Members cancel their sponsorship for personal reasons of their own, which left a bit of a gap in our income! Would YOU consider signing up for the HOPE Club to keep our program running smoothly? We rely heavily on our HOPE Club family to fund our Zambia operations, and can't do what we do without your partnership. You can sign up HERE.