Category Archives: Zambia 2013

A collection of posts from 6 months in Zambia.

ZMH Staff Video

This is a video I made of the staff at ZMH and some community members. It was made to help show the staff the impact that they have and help ignite a passion to love and serve like Christ. It is the first of several videos I made from the trip.

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Adjusting can be tough. They say that the culture shock you experience when coming home from being away is worse than the culture shock you experience living abroad. I would agree.

If you know me, you know that I like to be outside in the woods. One of my biggest and most unexpected reverse culture shocks has been how loud and claustrophobic I have found the woods to be. Giant trees pushing 70 feet tall grow so close together here that their mighty branches embrace to block out the sky. The cascade of the wind flowing through leaves is a noisy living breath of the wood. Looming mountains accented by vibrant green against moist dark earth has been a strange sight to get used to again.

It’s hard when the most relaxing place you know is suddenly an assault to your senses. But, it does get better with time.

My plan for easing myself back into the good ol’ US of A was hiding out in the Adirondacks. With the help of some great friends I feel now, a week into this new season, a lot more at peace with being back in the USA. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

It’s really hard to experience life and death in Africa at a mission hospital and come back and continue “normal” life in suburban America. You can’t.

“Normal” has gone out the window. Along with a few other things.

It’s been a struggle to sit here in my nice air-conditioned house and think about the hospital. How can I just sit here with all my stuff and not be doing something to impact the world. Honestly, it’s easier to try to not think about Zimba, to push out the memories of what I saw. To let the distractions take over and not think so much about the rest of the world.

But, “I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it. I heard what I heard and I can’t go back. I know what I know and I can’t deny it, something on the road cut me to the soul” (check out this song)

When you have an experience that changes you, that changes what you know about life and how you interpret the world you can’t go back to the person you were before.

There’s a tricky line between realism and pessimism when it comes to missions work. As Christians, we know that in the end all things will be made right, but until we get to that final victory, we all experience joy mixed with sorrow and suffering in big and small ways every day. We fight hard and work hard for change that may never come or results that we may never see.

There’s also a tricky line between realism and pessimism when it comes to medical work. You can help as many people as you can and see amazing recoveries from terrible illnesses, but in the end, the simple fact is that we all will die.

Put them together and medical missions can be a very weighty thing. Coming face to face with the extremes of joy and sorrow every day is a lot to ask of someone.

But, you know what I learned from the Doctors in Zimba? They carry this ministry, this weighty thing, and yeah, sometimes it is heartbreaking. Sometimes it does bring you to your knees. But, the difference between realism and pessimism is hope. Hope that despite what may discourage us, this fight is worth it.

And despite the cost, the Doctors still choose to carry it anyways. Because they don’t carry it alone. The heart of Jesus inside them gives them the strength to love people enough to not give up.

Their witness to Love in such a heartbreaking situation has changed me. Just as it changes everyone who sees their sacrifice and passion. Their example of Christ’s love has made me realize that I cannot walk away from what I have seen.

I shared some of my deepest spiritual wrestlings with a close friend a few nights ago. She really helped me put into words what I’ve been feeling.

My experience in Zimba shattered my heart. Yes, “normal” has gone out the window but it’s more than that. Just as God grew some new things inside of me, he also put some things to death.

My safety net of naivety to the harsh reality of life and suffering is gone. Many of my assumptions about missions took a hard fall. But most of all my ability to be comfortable with the world as it is was taken away.

And I pray it never comes back.

The question now is how to live where I am with integrity to these convictions and not lose sight of the passion and hope to seek real change.

I guess that’s something I’ll have to figure out along the way.

I’m starting with simple steps and praying about what this means for the long term. There’s a book that’s a great help when trying to take these steps, it’s called True Religion by Palmer Chinchen. It’s a book worth buying, reading, putting into action and passing it on to a friend. You should check it out.

The Stowaway Gecko

This little guy scared the crap out of me today when I was unpacking my suitcase. I don’t know how it is possible that he survived being smushed in my suitcase for the past few days, but he did. I caught him after a while and will consult my brother D, the veterinarian on what to do next.

Learning to say goodbye

I realized a few days ago that I had never actually learned how to say “goodbye” in Tonga. I’ve learned about fifteen ways to say hello, to greet the family, ask about the kids, the chickens, the crops and the cows. Greetings for different times of day, the awesome Zambian style secret handshake greeting, different ways to show respect with posture when you say hello… but never how to say goodbye.

What we normally say to people when parting ways is “Kwiinde Kabotu” which literally means “walk well.” I always thought that was pretty cool. Wherever it is that you’re walking, whatever it is that you are walking through, walk well. Man, there’s something deep there if you think about it.

Friday afternoon I was sitting talking with one of my closest friends here. As we were talking she said “Meg, it can be so easy to say hello, but so hard to say goodbye. I really don’t have the words to say goodbye to you.” So, in keeping with some older African traditions, she sang a song for me.

We had sung together often on random days at the hospital, sharing tunes and trading bars. But, I had never heard her sing in earnest before. There in that echoy empty room her voice carried rich in the blended melody of heart and soul. She had us both in tears in about thirty seconds.

Her words of encouragement to me and her challenge to stay faithful to my calling still echo mingled with her song in my memory. Her friendship is one I will cherish always, until that glad day when we see each other again.

Throughout these past few days I’ve wandered around the hospital finding friends and thanking them for their kindness and grace with me. I’m not sure if I have ever been so blessed as I have been with their words of thanks, encouragement and love. All I can do is thank God for the amazing experience and amazing friends I have made in Zimba.

Saying goodbye has never been something that I’ve been good at. But one of my dear friends here helped me with the Tonga style way to say what I wanted to say…
“Mushale kabotu. Tu yo bonana, Leza achinda. Ndilayinki pele moyo wangu ulashalla mu Zimba.” Stay well. I will see you again, if God allows. I must go, but my heart will stay in Zimba.

Even now, as I fly miles above Africa on this dark cloudless night, I feel that my heart has remained in Zimba.

When you’ve lived in another culture for an extended amount of time there are lots of important processing things that you need to do when you leave. Not just preparing and saying goodbyes, but also dealing with what they call “reentry stress” and “reverse culture shock.”

As I sit on the airplane I have already had to restrain myself from punching out several fellow Americans.

I know I’ll be fumbling through reentry for the next several weeks if not months.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself when transitioning back to your home culture is to be aware that you are going to react strongly to lots things that you used to call normal. Sometimes those things that you react to will sneak up on you. It’s okay to cry when you need to, but try not to actually deck anyone, as hard as that might be.

After I got back from spending two months in Ecuador in 2011, I spent almost two hours wandering around Wegmans in a daze. All I had gone in for was apples, some peanut butter and some crackers. There were probably at least 5,000 different types of crackers, and I just couldn’t handle it. I’m pretty sure I stood in that aisle staring blankly at the crackers for at least a half hour.

I know that coming back to New York will require lots of adjusting after having been gone for half a year. I’m expecting it, and dreading it, but ready for it.

For right now though, I’ll try to get some sleep on this flight and pretend that I’ll be waking up warm under my covers in Zimba, hearing Gertrude in the kitchen. I’ll put on my slippers, grab my Bible, coffee and guitar and go sing the sun up into the sky as a new day begins.

When I get home tomorrow I know that I will be excited and ready to see family and friends, but honestly, for right now leaving Zimba is pretty awful. Regardless of how well prepared you are, goodbyes are never easy.

MCH Outreach

Yesterday Julie, Robin and I went out the MCH (Maternal Child Health) Outreach to a community about 45 minutes away from the hospital. We went with several of the MCH staff. The lady in this picture with me is Mrs. Chiba, one of my most favorite people at the hospital. She has an incredible passion for helping people, teaching and has a fantastic personality. She is always making people laugh!