Smoke and Hot Milk

The following post was written two weeks ago. Due to poor internet connection and availability I am just posting it now. I have another post that is finished and I will post it in about a week. 

While I don’t believe that our past experiences define us, I do think the past can alter how we see a situation. Like all people, I have a history with both positive and negative experiences. Growing up on a mountain has made my nose sensitive to the smell of smoke. As a kid and a teenager, I had to evacuate my house due to forest fires several times. In 2007, the smell of smoke and the effects of fires became a reality when my house burned in a forest fire. It has been about nine years since that incident, but the aftermath is still present. I have a mild phobia of fire and my nose is hyper sensitive to the smell of smoke. What does any of this have to do with living in Zambia? In Zambia, there are fires burning all the time. They are used for burning trash, clearing weeds, and other various purposes. I have been here for over a month and I am still having a hard time fighting what my nose tells me is the smell of danger, the smell of loss, and the smell of pain. I know that my past does have merit in this response, but I also know that I am in a safe situation. I think, for this year to truly be an effective one, I need to learn how to move past the past without forgetting it.

On Wednesday, I moved in with my host family. The Soko family has been extremely welcoming to me. I was given a room to call my own and enjoyed a delicious lunch with the rest of the family. In the afternoon, we went to a grocery store to buy the ingredients for dinner. I made macaroni and cheese. Cooking becomes interesting when you have to plan your meals around planned power outages. After we lost power, we transferred all of the food to a charcoal burner. Luckily, by that time, the mac and chees was finished but we still had chicken and potatoes to finish. All in all, I think the dinner turned out just fine.

The next day, I had to return to immigration to continue the quest for a long-term visa, but alas, the quest is still in progress. I will return to immigration at some point next week. Due to this side adventure, I had to wait a day to visit my new school. On Friday, I finally saw my school in action and was given information about what I will be doing. I will be teaching English, Math, and RIE (a religion class) to grades two, three, and four. I will also be teaching social studies to fourth grade. My fellow teachers were extremely helpful in getting me settled in and making sure I have the proper curriculum. The curriculum was different than what I have experienced previously. The approach starts with a little bit of instruction followed by copying down questions that I have written down on the chalkboard. I then go around and check every students’ answers. I’m going to see how to work both with the curriculum and with what works best for the students.

Besides meeting my coworkers, I also had the opportunity to meet the students. The kids have introductory phrase that they say every time they greet someone. They stand and say, “Good morning sir. How are you?” I then respond to their question and ask them how they are doing. Their response is, “Fine, thank you.” Then I let them know that they can be seated. I’m not sure if I will be able to change this morning greeting to something more informal yet or if we can come up with a more informal name for them to greet me yet. They have been told to call me either teacher John, teacher Johan, Sir John, or Sir Johan. Whether we come up with a new name or not, it was great to see that the children were very respectful and kind. The whole visit was very encouraging for me because I no longer feel like I’m going into this situation blind.

Back at the house, we prepared another meal without electricity. I made some mashed potatoes and fish. I found out that on Sunday I’m going to learn how to make nshima! Nshima is made from maize and is formed into balls. You then shape it in your hand and use it to pick up the other food that is on you plate. The next day, I was able to sleep in for the first time this week and it was as great as it sounds. Then at breakfast, I discovered another cultural difference, hot milk. I said that I was going to have some cereal for breakfast and some milk was heated up on the stove top for me. I’ve never had hot milk in my cereal and I explained that I normally have cold milk with it. This was one of many instances where both sides were able to observe similarities and differences between our two cultures. A similar moment happened when my host mother discovered that I don’t drink tea with sugar or milk. She then tried it my way but said that she preferred it best with sugar and milk.

I am extremely excited to experience more hot milk experiences. In those instances, we are able to learn together through our similarities and differences; we are essentially all the same. Even if we all have different history, what we have in common are the same needs, emotions, and desires. This year, I plan on soaking up all of these exchanges so I can learn the difference between the smell of smoke and smell of hot milk; only then can I truly stop the past from interfering with my decisions. I will finally be able to see things for how they are instead of my jaded ideals of how they should be.




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