Michelle Walker In Zambia – Day 9

In June of 2017, Michelle Walker, Content Developer for DentalXChange, attended Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference in Lusaka, Zambia to represent the EHG Fund and see how the program’s influence has shaped the school system and to learn what more we can do to help the Zambian people. Michelle wrote a daily log of her trip to help us experience her adventures. Here is Day 8:

Our Last Day

It’s the last day in Zambia for Teresa and I, and we are not quite sure what we’ll be doing this day. Beauty moved the 3rd day of teacher training to Monday, so that we might be able to visit another school that Teresa was interested in seeing, or even go to a zoo or wild animal park, since I wanted to see some of the animals Zambia is so famous for.

In the end, we decided not to go to the zoo because my voice was still MIA, and it was shaping up to be another cool, breezy day, which probably wouldn’t be good for my throat. Instead, we planned to visit Blessed Vale one last time, go to Beauty’s home for supper, shop for some trinkets and souvenirs, and then meet up with a friend of Teresa’s who took the FCL training, and ended up staying in Zambia (although no longer teaching).

Around 11:00am, all of us (except Peter) climb into our car, headed for Blessed Vale. There, all of the kids and teachers have a surprise for us. They sing us a good-bye song, and several groups of children recite poems they created as part of their service projects. Then, Beauty calls Teresa and I up onto the “stage” where she presents me with two beautiful rugs that the Blessed Vale teachers had spent months creating for DentalXChange. The rugs are not large, but they were clearly lovingly made. These were not really rugs, but works of art and the physical manifestations of gratitude. I promised to deliver the rugs safely! Teresa and I also received additional gifts made by Beauty, the kids, or the teachers. It was a very humbling moment. I waved goodbye to the children, knowing I would never see any of them again, and hoped their lives would be good, fulfilling, and full of joy. As we were getting into our car, I felt a sensation somewhat like homesickness, and wondered how I could simultaneously miss two very different places (one of which I had not yet left).

We only stayed at Blessed Vale for about 30 minutes, a very brief visit, before going to several shopping centers (the Levy Mall, Manda Hill, and then the shops on Cairo Road, where we once again ate at Hungry Lion). By mid-afternoon it was time to head towards Beauty’s house, for supper. Her home is only a mile and a half from our rental home, and I felt that we had spent the majority of the day driving all over Lusaka.

Beauty lives in an older suburban subdivision surrounded by much larger, newer, and wealthier homes (complete with grass out front, and gardeners watering and tending to the gardens). When we arrive at Beauty’s house, we see her daughters for the first time in a few days, as well as the girl we met on Monday at Blessed Vale, the one who just completed her first year at a Lusaka public high school.

As we enter the house, it has Beauty’s design stamp all over it, and I recognize the decorative curtains as being the same style we have in our rental home (I had a feeling Beauty was responsible for the furniture and decorations there)—bright colors, big flowing armfuls of fabric…We step inside a large square room, probably 25 by 25 feet, which serves as Beauty’s living and dining rooms. The walls are very tall, at least 10 feet, and there is a single light bulb hanging from the exposed wooden rafters above, and no ceiling, so I can see the holes in the corrugated roof above. The room contains two sofas and two arms chairs, and a 6-person dining table under the windows, near the front door. In the corner next to the dining table are three stacks of rainbow-colored child’s size plastic chairs, each stack is about 6 feet tall. Finally, there is a large TV in the corner, which is playing a DVD of a gospel concert—the music reminds me of a Disney musical, but with references to Jesus.

Beauty disappears through an arched doorway that leads to all of the other rooms in the house. I follow Beauty through the arch, and to the right, into the cramped and darkened kitchen, asking whether she has a tissue I can use (Teresa and I both got colds and plowed through all of the tissues we brought for the trip). In the kitchen are at least 8 people, all but two of who are kids, preparing the meal we are going to eat. Beauty hands me a wad of toilet paper, and I head back into the living room with it, and sit in the armchair adjacent to Teresa.

After about 5 minutes of chatting and watching TV, I see a little girl who looks to be about 3 years old, come through the archway into the living room. She is not shy at all and comes over to stand directly in front of Teresa, tapping her little hand with palm open, on Teresa’s left knee. She says very quietly, “Water.” Although not phrased as a question, it is clear that she is asking Teresa if she can have a sip of water from the bottle that sits on the floor between our two chairs. However, the bottle is not Teresa’s, but mine (Davidson had handed it to me about 10 minutes before, and it was still mostly full). I hand the little girl the bottle, and as she puts her entire mouth over the opening, I can see all of the teeth in her mouth. I tell her, “Be careful, don’t drink too much.” After taking two large open-mouth gulps, she tries to hand the bottle back to me. I tell her “No—it’s your water now; I gave it to you. Take it to the kitchen and see if any of the other children want to share it.” She stares at me for about 25 seconds, and then tries to hand the bottle back again. I repeat what I told her, and she turns and runs back through the archway, I assume into the kitchen.

After about 10 minutes, the little girls comes back into the room, sans water bottle, and again goes directly to Teresa. She does the same open palmed pat three times on Teresa’s left knee, and this time says, “Banana.” Teresa frowns and says, “I’m sorry, I do not have a banana.” The little girl the takes two shuffle steps over to me and gently lays her hand on my knee, stating “Banana.” I also tell her that I am sorry, I also do not have any food. She stares for about 10 seconds then turns around and runs through the archway. Across from me, Porsche lifts her eyebrows in question, and I just shrug my shoulders and smile.

A few minutes later, Beauty announces that dinner is going to be served, and each of us, including our driver, grab a seat at the small table. Mabel and Beauty bring out several dishes (including shima, a baked chicken, corn on the cob, vegetable stew, beef stew, potato salad, a cabbage salad, and another dish that I cannot identify) and pack the table so full there is almost no room for our plates. Mabel brings us a pitcher of water and bowl, so we can rinse our hands, even though all of us eat with utensils.

We eat for about an hour, with Beauty sitting next to the table, sharing stories about her neighborhood and how Lusaka has changed in the last 5 and 10 years. As we finish, the little girl who had asked for the water comes to stand next to Beauty. Teresa points to the plastic chairs stacked near the table, and asks Beauty if she teaches a class in her home. Beauty says that she does, and that the little girl, whose name is Esperanza, was her first student. Beauty tells us how she squeezes 80 small children in her living room every Saturday morning, and how Esperanza came to attend, and now spend most of her time at Beauty’s home. The story was very sad, and we were all amazed and inspired by Esperanza’s courage happy attitude, despite going through more hardship than any 3-year old should have to.

After telling the story, I took out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures of Esperanza, who was not at all shy when the camera was turned on her. I asked if she wanted to see herself, and she nodded. I handed her the phone, and showed her how to scroll between the photos. Within a few minutes she was looking through all 3,000 photos on my phone, scrolling past the pics like she hadn’t just been introduced to this technology 3 minutes ago. She kept returning to the pictures of herself, smiling up at me. I couldn’t help but smile back at her, seeing her joy at seeing herself in picture form for the first time.

After about 20 minutes, it was time for us to leave Beauty’s home, and head back to our rental house so that we could pack our bags in the car. In two hours we were going to meet up with Teresa’s old student, at a newly built shopping center near the airport, called the Garden City Mall, where the student had recently opened a coffee shop.

We made it back home, and took about an hour packing up the last of our belongings. My suitcase was already over-stuffed when I arrived in Lusaka, so in order to fit all of the items that Beauty and the Blessed Vale teachers made, I needed an additional suitcase. Luckily, Teresa had an empty suitcase which had previously been full of gifts that she brought for the teachers. Miraculously, all of the stuff managed to fit in the two suitcases and my backpack!

Our group (me, Teresa, Peter, Baffour, Porsche, Davidson, Bridget, Baby Teresa, Mabel, and Beauty) had grown so large that we needed to hire two cars, especially because of the four suitcases, and when the cars finally arrived, it really hit me that I was leaving. I found Lusaka to be a beautiful city filled with loving and kind people. The teachers, parents, and students I met personified sacrifice and dedication, in every way. I did not want to leave.

Bruno, our neighbor’s dog, ran around the cars, excitedly sniffing at all the people and luggage. I petted him for the last time, and climbed into the front passenger seat next to the driver who had been with us since 11am (it was now 6:00 pm). As the gate opened, Bruno ran out and down the street to the grass in front of a neighbor’s yard. We pulled out onto the street and Davidson closed the gate, from the other car, with a remote control. I lamented to Mabel that I hoped Bruno’s owners would open the door for him, before it got too dark. Then we started our journey towards the airport and the Garden City Mall, as I left some piece of my heart in that little house.

Garden City is built like a maze, and we wander around for 20 minutes, trying to find the coffee shop that Teresa’s student owned. After splitting up the group, some of us eventually walk down the last path we hadn’t yet covered, and there is her coffee shop, Brew Me Coffee, sandwiched between Bombay Restaurant, and Bushman Wings.

Although it is nearly 8:30pm, we decide to go to Bushman Wings, a very Western-style restaurant, for a late night dinner. I order the burger and fries meal off the kids menu, because I already know the portion sizes will be more than I am prepared to eat, and tell the driver that I will cut mine in half so he can take the leftovers home to his family. He orders the same meal I do, and we chat the entire time we are at the restaurant, which is about an hour and a half. I ask him about his life in Lusaka, Zambia, and Africa in general, and he asks me questions about the US. He used to work for Zambia’s department of education, and met his wife (a high school teacher) while doing some consulting work after he retired. Mostly his days are spent reading and watching world news, doing some consulting work, and hiring out his car as a driver. I tell him how much I appreciate the fact that he has committed himself to a 13 or 14-hour work day, on my last day in his country. He says he would like to visit several places in the world, but none more so than America; he finds this country incredibly contradictory, for which I agreed with him.

Because our flight leaves Lusaka at 1:05am, we want to be at the airport by 10:30pm. It has been a long day, and we’re all exhausted. We park in the airport short-term parking lot, and everyone helps us take our bags inside. When we enter the doors we see that the security gate (and the Ethiopian Airlines ticket counter behind it) are not yet open, and won’t open until around 11:00pm. We all stand around chatting in the main hall of the airport, for what seems like a few brief seconds, before the airport workers open the security line, and tell us that we should now begin the check-in process for our flight.

I think all of us want to say our goodbyes quickly, so that we will not feel too sad. I look at Beauty’s face, and she looks so forlorn, and it makes me even sadder. We promise to email one another, and then Teresa and I push our bags to the scanning machine, and then on to the check-in counter.

After over 20 hours of flying and a 15-hour layover, we arrive in Los Angeles. Teresa and I say our goodbyes, and prepare to meet up again in 5 weeks for teacher training, and I head back to my decidedly First World life behind the Orange Curtain, trying desperately to find a way to hold onto all of the lessons I learned during my week in Africa.

Thank you to Michelle Walker for her time and efforts for the EHG Fund and the Full-Circle Learning Center. To learn more about her trip and how it affected her, please read her interview here.


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