I’ve spent the last five days trying to start this blog post. Every time, I would get stuck after the first sentence and then erase it. Why was the first sentence so important to me? In the end, the exact words used to start off my tale in the village doesn’t truly matter but, for some reason, I knew it needed to be just right. I realized it was because I was trying to tell about my time accurately, respectfully, and without judgement. I think doing it without judgement is the most important part but also the most challenging thing to do. Throughout my four days in the village, I struggled and, at times, failed to keep my own biases separated from the experience. I know that I’m in no place to judge anyone, especially a culture that I’m just beginning to experience. As I continue to write these blogs, I ask that you also take in what I post with an open and judgement free mind.
We arrived to the village of Chimwangombe on Tuesday morning. We were greeted at a prayer house and were introduced to some of the congregation as YAVs. They then told us that for the next four days YAV no longer meant Young Adult Volunteers but instead it meant Young African Villagers. The reasoning behind this was that, during our stay there, we were supposed to live the life of a villager. We then drove to where the Sakala family lived.
When we arrived, I quickly discovered that I was going to have a different experience than the other YAVs because of my gender. We were invited inside the main house and I was offered the largest stool there and, throughout our time there, if I ever sat on something else people would give the big stool. My fellow YAVs were to sit on a mat during our stay. On that first day, we were given our first of three live chickens and we were expected to kill it. Well, the other YAVs were expected to kill it because women kill the chickens. For the rest of the day, I sat with the rest of the men while the other YAVs did the daily chores with the women. Their responsibilities included cooking meals, collecting fire wood, sweeping, doing repairs on the house, and many more. It was hard for me to watch them work that hard while I had to sit there. I’m a helper by nature and I was put in to a situation where I couldn’t help. I knew that I could speed things up or make some of the task easier on someone else. That entire aspect of the village experience was extremely challenging for me.
The next day, we walked to get water. Now when I say that I mean that all the women carried water while I just walked with them. The trek was somewhere between three to five kilometers and the water source was a pond. We were told that each day the women and children would get water twice a day in order to get their daily supply of water. When we got back, I finally got to do some work: cutting down trees. I was excited to finally do some work and I have some experience with cutting down trees back home. The main difference however is I’m used to having a chainsaw and we used axes. My accuracy was way off but we cut down a few trees in about fifteen minutes. Then we stopped. I thought that it was going to take hours but that was not the plan. For the most part, that was the only work that I was allowed to do all week.
During our time, I had a chance to listen to both the men and the women of the village. The men told me details about how they used the natural resources around them in order to be self-sustaining. From the women, through the help of our cultural interpreter Mabuchi, we learned the facts of being a woman in the village. We heard about many things, including accounts of forced marriages due to pregnancy, girls that had to quit school because their husbands didn’t want them to attract the attention of other men, and that, if a woman refuses to work, she may either be chased from the village or she won’t eat. The significance of either happening is her children won’t eat either. It is the selfless love that these women have for their children that keeps them there and going strong. The more we learned about these women, the more respect and admiration I had for them.
We also got an opportunity to visit a community school, which was exciting because I will be working at a community school this year. The children had to walk many kilometers to make their way to the school. If you add the distance that they have to walk, several of them without shoes, with the fact that they aren’t feed at school and this trek becomes an impressive feat. We did a few activities with them, including math, singing, dancing, net ball, and football (soccer for my American readers). The excitement and energy level was reassuring to witness. Was the school perfect? No, but what school is. For many of the kids, school was a chance to truly do something that they enjoyed doing. I really needed the school experience on several levels. I’m not a teacher. Yet, that is what I will be doing this year and that has been mildly stressful. What if I do more harm to the students’ education than I help? At the school I had no major issues while helping with the math assignment. I also felt comfortable leading songs with my ukulele. The entire school experience renewed confidence in myself that I can do this.
As I look at my time in the village a few things come to mind. First, the fact that I’m going to be pushed by experiences that’ll contradict my point of view. Second, it’s not my place to state my point of view on how things should be. Third, even through the hardships I’ll have this year, life will find a way to surprise me with moments of peace and joy.