As of today, I have 16 days left in Zambia. My remaining time will be spent completing a few more projects and saying goodbye to the friends I have made
The experience has been everything that I expected. It has been difficult and challenging. Oftentimes, I felt isolated and lonely.Conversely, it has also been everything I did not expect. I made a lot of new friends that I would not have been able to meet elsewhere. I learned new things, most especially about what I can do without. I look at my end-of-placement review document and, on paper at least, it seems I have done a lot in the past five and a half months. At the same time, I feel like I have not done much at all.
In the bus this morning on the way to the big city for a final workshop, I realized that It may take some time before I could process my entire experience and understand how exactly it has changed me. Maybe someday, after having made another one of my strange life choices, that is when I will suddenly realize – ah, this is what I learned in Africa, this is how Africa has transformed me.
For now, I have my curios and my experiences to remind me of the time I have spent here. When I am alone, I take out and admire the African souvenirs . I imagine how I would put them up back home or how to explain their provenance to my friends. But, a thing is a thing. I quickly get bored with this activity.
I spend more time running through my memories. I hold each one in my consciousness, considering their value against the bright light of hindsight Which ones are most precious to me? Which ones do I want to take home with me?
I could remember:
- the wretchedness of a diarrhea attack in a place with limited toilet facilities (dear God, the wretchedness).
- the 2 kilometer walk to get to the nearest hospital and the stench of sweat and sickness while waiting in line for my malaria test results (negative, but I was scared)
- the appetizing mixture of mud and manure on which I could just not avoid stepping during rainy days
- the frustrations from a work environment with limited resources and a different ethic
- the feeling of helpless anger and the lost of my sense of complacent security after having my things stolen
- the homesickness that was never more acute as during the cold nights when I would be shivering under a thick blanket, listening to the sound of scurrying rats in the ceiling, wishing I were home – warm, clean, stomach full - instead.
I could remember grievances, inconveniences, hardships, annoyances, irritants.
I could. But I don’t think I would want to. Even now, the details of these memories are starting to get fuzzy. How many times did I get diarrhea? Was it in November or December that I had malaria-like symptoms? What exactly were the things that were stolen from me?
I brush these memories aside. I survived. That is what matters. I have suffered thru shit, theft, stomach problems and homesickness before. They are not unique to my African experience.
Fortunately, there are many more memories from which to choose. These are the ones that will always seem like they only happened an hour ago. No matter what the future holds for me, these are the ones that will make me want to come back to this time and place.
I will remember
- the many nights when I drifted off to sleep listening to the sound of distant drums, imagining people dancing around a bonfire, wondering what it was they might be celebrating.
- that hot day, sitting under the shade of a tree when a hungry boy fell asleep in my arms - his rhythmic breathing against my chest, his little fingers clutched tightly around mine
- that first day in Church when, after being introduced as a new member of the parish, a grandfatherly man came up to me, held my hands and said “You are home. We are your family here”
- that late afternoon when, on the way home from work, I chanced upon a group of women standing at the back of a slowly moving truck. They were softly singing . The words were foreign but the melody was so evocative of sadness and longing. I was struck still in the middle of the street, suddenly remembering everything that I too have lost and miss as I watched them disappear into the dusk
- the thrill of riding in a car moving carefully along a deserted road late at night, careful not to hit any elephant that may cross our way, thinking to myself, “Only in Africa”
- the awe inspired by the gentle gaze of a fawn or the perfect beauty of a zebra ambling casually in front of me.
- the joy in the faces of the children who would run up to greet me every single day that I have been in Kalomo. “Muzungu, muzungu”, they would shout, racing against each other in their ragged clothes, to be the first to touch me.
- the simple, inspired meals cooked in small, cramped kitchens and shared happily with friends, all the more special because the occasions were so rare.
- telling a group of Zambians that my hero is the ordinary Filipino in times of crisis; saying how proud I am of my countrymen who, regardless of the odds and the difficulties, still manage to laugh and to share; realizing as I was speaking how much it meant to me to be able to say this.
I will remember faces and names and smiles, each special, each distinct and separate from the other. I will remember every life story that was shared with me,.
I will remember magnificent, MAGNIFICENT, sunsets, and thundering waterfalls.
I will remember a rare rainbow seen in the faint glow of the moonlight; colorful trees that seemed to reach up to the sky; verdant landscapes dotted with settlements of mud-huts;
I will remember. Perhaps, while remembering, I might even hear the sound of distant drums again.
I have come full circle. This is Africa. This is my Africa.