This is the final post in our 6 part series "The Very Beginning." If you haven't been following along, you'll want to start HERE for the whole story!
The women in our CiH class told me that I couldn’t live among them in the compound because people would know that I was there and I would not be safe. And if I wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t be able to help them and teach them.
I took that same truth to the situation of the gunshots that one night. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest easy and be restored in that house if I stayed there. And I needed to be my best self if I wanted the best for the ladies.
So today I'm meeting with a USC-Aiken professor’s son who heard about me from some generous press that USC (University of South Carolina, of course) did for Clothed in Hope. He has a room for rent at his home in a prominent neighborhood in Lusaka. Maybe I’ll just go for dinner to feel it out and see if it’s even an option. Living with two guys wasn’t in my plan for Zamlife, but at this point I can’t eliminate any options.
Since I don’t have a car, they pick me up at the cottage. Both of these guys are also new graduates, all of us the same age. The professor’s son is from the south and somehow that brings a bit of familiarity to the weird situation. I made no-bake cookies to bring them a taste of home. I know how hard it is to be somewhere so different.
We pull up to their house and it’s amazing. Super safe with 24/7 on-call security, an automated gate from remote only. Beautiful grounds, a pool, a garden. Like an oasis. We sit down to dinner, a soup and some chicken tenders that had been prepared by their housekeeper who they are able to provide employment to with their social enterprise start-up funds.
Even though they’re talking about global economics and other really smart things that fly over my head 100x, it feels familiar and safe and welcoming. I feel like I have a pretty good judge of character, and these guys feel more like family than creeps.
But how will I explain to my parents that I’m moving in with two guys, soon to be three after their friend joins them? Mom and Dad don’t know what happened the other night. And I feel that this meeting is a divine one, that there’s purpose in the timing of me meeting them and this room being available for a very affordable price.
I sleep on it and think it through for a few days. The cottage seems lonelier than ever and I realize that I just need to be around people. That roommates would be good. Sure, male roommates aren’t ideal when it comes to finding BFFs, but I’m pretty much out of options. If anything, living with men would bring an added layer of security that I don’t get when living by myself as a woman in Zambia, unfortunately.
I call my parents and have to spill it all. They don’t say much but I know they’re shocked, scared even. And we all decide that moving in with them is the best option. They’re coming to visit in a couple of months and will see it for themselves. So I spend the evening packing up my things and move across town into the vacant room in the guys’ house.
There are a billion stories that can come from this unique living arrangement, but just imagine the show New Girl. But Zam style. With a few goat legs on the kitchen counter, a tortoise in the house, a black mamba once on the outdoor chair cushion, and plenty of other crazy tales.
But here, I’m safe. And these guys have been incredibly helpful with finding a car for me to get safely around town, saving tons of time driving instead of riding. They have introduced me to people I should know, given me tons of advice, and provided the friendship and community that I really need these first few months. The biggest gift of this arrangement besides my safe place to stay has been the housekeeper/chef/new BFF, Faith. She teaches me how to cook with local ingredients and shares in much-needed laughs at the end of difficult days.
I’ve only been in Zambia for one month and already so much has changed. The program has taken off with our meetings a few times a week. We’re registered as a Zambian charity. We have a local bank account (thanks to the guys’ connections), a vehicle, sewing machines, and we just started making fabric bracelets to sell in America.
What we’ve done in one month could’ve taken a year to accomplish. It hasn’t come easy, and there are plenty of days that I wonder what on earth I’m doing. But this job is so full of joy, of adventure, and I can see glimpses of how this really will be able to change a woman’s life. What these women desire is empowerment and education, so that’s what we’ll do.
I know we have a long road ahead of us to develop this start-up into a formalized program, but I’m here. And we’re still learning to trust each other. I want them to see that they’re worth the hardships of adjusting to life in Zambia. That I am excited to be here because it means being here with them, learning about their lives, their struggles, their joys, and being part of those stories.
We now have nine women in this first group, still meeting in Elina’s house. If even one of these women is impacted through this program, I’ll consider all of this worth it and a huge success. Only time will tell where this will go, how it will change, and what other adventures lie ahead for my life in Zambia.
I lived in Zambia for over two years after this phase, in half a dozen other places with other people, with my husband (lots happened in that timeframe). I lived my formative early twenties halfway across the world in a culture so different, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I moved over to Zambia expecting to stay for years, decades, but after just three years I had worked myself out of a job.
What we thought would happen in 5+ years, raising up local leaders to fully run the program, happened in around 2.5. Elina, the first contact turned student, is now our Zambia In-Country Director, managing nine other staff members who were students or relatives of students. We went from five people in one living room to over 170 in three (soon to be 4!!!) locations, all because the women in our first class took the tools given to them and ran with them. They ignited their communities with HOPE, and showed what can happen when you dream big, work hard, and choose a new path for yourself and your family. We’re not perfect, and we’re not even close to having it all figured out.
But one of my greatest life joys and accomplishments is this group of 10 people who are now investing directly and intentionally in their own communities to see huge waves of change surge through places marked by oppression and abuse and poverty. THEY are the change-makers because of YOU. YOU set us on this course, keep us on this course, and what’s happening in Zambia through CiH is just so incredibly special.
If you do anything this fall, COME TO THE GALA FOR HOPE! One is in Raleigh and one in Columbia, so there’s double the chance to get there to meet Elina for yourself. To hear this story from her perspective, and to meet the most inspiring woman I have ever come across. I promise you won’t regret it.
Here we are, five years after that exciting, crazy launch of Clothed in Hope in Lusaka, Zambia, and we are just getting started, friends. Thank YOU for making it happen, for being our world-changers, our movers and shakers, our family. You are the very best. Let’s keep this going and keep HOPE spreading through Zambia and around the world.
If you're not in NC or SC and therefore can't make it to the Gala for Hope and still want to be a part of facilitating life-change for vulnerable women in Zambia, join the Hope Club! HC folks are our foundation, our family of supporters who keep the program running, thriving and growing. We'd love for you to join us. You can sign up HERE.