Guys, something amazing happened. The YAVs spent their first retreat (and Thanksgiving) in South Luangwa, which is a beautiful national park in Zambia. When we arrived at our lodge, John (another YAV) and I were walking toward reception when we heard “don’t move.” We froze (as you do when someone says that phrase). Then comes this family of four elephants from the riverbank that was 10 feet away from us. With staff and lodgers watching, these magnificent creatures walked by John and I without even noticing our presence. We were so close we could see their eyelashes. This was the beginning of our first YAV retreat and it has only gotten more amazing/thrilling/special.
I needed this retreat for multiple reasons. I am noticing that culture has layers and, as I uncover more and more layers, I am also noticing what I’m doing wrong and how I’m being insensitive or insulting. I am constantly avoiding potholes that come from being a person in a culture different from my own, and it’s emotionally exhausting to constantly monitor myself to make sure I am being vigilant and respectful toward my environment. I am drained from being “on” all the time. This retreat is an opportunity to just reflect and process everything that has happened since moving in with my host family two months ago. I am incredibly thankful for my time with my fellow YAVs as well as a space to discuss some serious and difficult problems/topics. But I don’t want this blog post to focus on those problems. Instead, I want to focus on what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving. There are many things that are difficult about being in Zambia. But there are some obvious blessings that make my life better, and I’d love to share them with you.
- We did three days of safari/animal watching in South Luangwa and being in nature has reminded me of Zambia’s beauty. We saw some incredible animals, which made me feel truly blessed to be in this gorgeous country.
- I have a few “cultural mentors,” people who correct me when I do something insulting or let me know when I’m being insensitive. These people are a blessing not only because they save me from social suicide but also because I trust them enough to ask questions. Asking questions in order to try to understand a culture different from yours is incredibly important. And these people help answer those questions.
- My praise team is full of welcoming youth who I am slowly starting to get to know on a more personal level. This makes me happy because I hope to get to the point when I spend time with them outside of church, not just at choir rehearsal. These relationships are, in some way, the light at the end of the tunnel. They will hopefully blossom into deeper friendships and make me feel like I belong to the community.
- As I have said multiple times, my host family is one of my favorite parts of being in Zambia. They help, teach, and guide me when I struggle. They are compassionate and understanding when I talk with them about cultural issues. And there are days when I don’t want to spend time with them or they don’t have enough energy to deal with me. But I know that they care for me and that is a blessing.
- When I think of Zambia, I think of community. Zambian society is more collectivistic than American society, and I really appreciate it. Because if you enter a community, and communicate that you are committed to the community, you yourself are supported by the same love and consideration and selflessness that everyone else is given. The thing that I am most grateful for this thanksgiving is having support systems like the CCAP synod office, my host family, my church, my fellow YAV, and my family back home. I have people encouraging me along the way, making the challenges I have to face just a little lighter.