Zambia Always Wins
I had already written an article for this month. It explained the conditions the teachers and pupils face in the Zambian education system and those who give me hope for Zambia’s future. Well, dear readers, you will get a chance to read that article just not this month…and not necessarily that exact same article. This is due to the fact that when I reached above my bus seat early last week to check on my backpack, I felt a bag; a hard cover rolling suitcase, where my canvas backpack should have been. A frantic search through the bus, a loud proclamation detailing my missing bag, and a tearful half hour later it finally sunk in: my backpack and everything in it was gone. Since then I’ve filed a police report and tried to console myself with the idealistic story that the person who stole my bag was able to pay for their children’s school fees with the money my laptop, phone, solar battery and other items brought them. Many volunteers have faced theft during their service and immediately following the event it is hard to cope with losing some of the few items from home we have over here. Over time though, as you trade theft stories with other volunteers, things start to seem less traumatic. While theft and a lot of other experiences we have here can happen anywhere under the right conditions, volunteers often conclude hard luck stories with, “Zambia Always Wins.”
From a mouse chewing a hole through your shoe, to getting a flat bike tire two miles from home with rain clouds rolling in, to waiting for hours on the side of the road for a good hitch and being forced to finally take the extremely crowded, smelly minibus because it’s getting dark, volunteers explain all this away with a simple “Zambia Wins Again,” or one of the other versions of the same theory. And since most volunteers were raised in the era of acronyms we usually just shorten it to “ZWA.” Mainly these sayings are a way to make light of a tough situation. Life gets really hard over here and while the internet has made it exceptionally easy to keep in close contact with loved ones and share stories of our service, it can also be a constant reminder of what we’re missing. That delicious meal our friend just posted on Instagram renders the hours spent gathering charcoal, stoking a fire, and cooking rice and beans for the fourth time this week a bit unsatisfying. Reading about anyone drinking anything cold can make someone go a little insane during hot season when access to ice or cold beverages is a rare occurrence. “Oh well,” volunteers sigh, “ZWA. That’s just how life rolls over here.”
Incidentally, “zwa” in Chitonga (the language spoken by the Tonga people who inhabit Southern Province where I stay) is a rude way to say “go away.” It’s what a woman says to a drunk man that won’t stop declaring his love and harassing her or what all Zambians shout at stray animals wandering over to nibble on the family’s garden. And I’m sure a similar thought has passed through the minds of friends and family who have listened to a Peace Corps volunteer vent about what they had to go through that day. Volunteers too have entertained the idea of ending their service early and going back to the comforts of home, like air conditioning and Starbucks holiday drinks. Yet, a lot of us stay and while I can’t speak for all volunteers I know it’s because the commitment I have made to my community and the relationships I’ve cultivated are more important than the ability to get take-out at 2 a.m. In-between all those moments that test my patience, strength and sanity are the times that my host brothers and sisters get out my face paint and draw all over each other’s faces or the time my host brother, Joseph, and I just sat and talked by the dam. These times make me smile and really appreciate the life and love I have in Zambia. Peace Corps administration loves to trot out the overused cliché of service being a rollercoaster of emotions, but they really hit the nail on the head… in other words, sometimes a cliché says it best. I definitely miss many people and things from my life in America, but I wouldn’t ever act upon that fleeting desire to go home. Selfishly, I don’t want to feel like I “quit” Peace Corps, but also because I have already learned so much about people, culture, and myself, I wouldn’t want to miss out on what the next 10 months will teach me, even if the lesson isn’t learned easily. So as Peace Corps Volunteers say over here, Zambia Wins Again.