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Reflections On a Return To Life In the Good Ol’ USA
From Zambia to Winthrop

When I returned from working in Zambia, it was so easy at first.

photoLeft to Right: Mabine, Gift and Charles, the guys in the metal shop.

I loved that when you turn on the water it always comes out of the faucet. The roadsides are clean and the vehicles don’t throw off huge black clouds of exhaust at every stop light and sign. If you do have an interaction with the police, you don’t have to be afraid of what type screwy outcome you will be facing. And you certainly don’t even have to THINK of bribing him or her. I like that I don’t have to look through burglar bars to see the beautiful mountains outside my living room window. I like showers better than buckets of water. I love that I can walk down a pitch black street, in the middle of the night, and not even think about getting robbed. I DO NOT MISS all of our cockroach friends that we left behind in Zambia.

And imagine diving in to a river and not even thinking about crocodiles.

I do appreciate that there is basically only one language and I can eavesdrop whenever I feel like it (there are over 30 dialects in Zambia alone!). It seems that almost every moment of the day and every activity I am engaged in is just easier here at home. It has been so nice to return to all the familiar faces of the community.

photoGrace - Alumni of the Year 2011

So….why have I been so unsettled?

I taught three guys some basic ornamental ironwork skills. We were able to get a pretty fair amount of business and were able to double their income (which is still not enough to live on). They worked hard and NEVER complained. I pushed them and they always responded by doing better and better work. With regard to doing quality work, I raised the bar way higher than they could have imagined. They grew from just being able to do the work to being very proud of the work they were doing. They beamed when visitors came to the shop and asked if THEY were the ones that made these products. We ended up believing in each other. They trusted my guidance and I trusted their desire to learn and grow.

And then, I taught Grace to run our metalworking business. She was one of the alumni that I just had a hunch would be a good worker. She was a GREAT worker who turned in to a very good friend and, finally, as close as I will ever get to having a daughter. She is in her early twenties and lost both of her parents many years ago. She was living with her aunt, who was abusing her as a housecleaner, cook and dishwasher. We moved her to the Pestalozzi Village where she could start living her own life. I taught her to do the bookkeeping, order materials, figure out how to repair everything that broke, work with clients, track orders, schedule production and on and on. EVERYONE doubted if she could run this business when I left.

Even SHE questioned if this was just too much.

I knew she could do it – and she did. Last May, she was awarded “Alumni of the Year”. Of course, I am very proud of her.

photoAuntie Edah

And then there was Auntie Edah. She is the Matron Housemother of all the village children (around 120). I just happened to possess the shoulder she needed to cry on when things got too difficult for her. We were very dear friends during my time there. We shared many long talks together.

I think the combination of coming home to my business (with no business on the books), the breakup of a very nice relationship and this huge “tug” at my heart from the other side of the world has created more turmoil than I have even been aware of – really, until now.

This valley is home for me . . . it’s where I want to live. And I appreciate those that live here, even more than when I left. But what good fortune I have had to expand human relations/connections to a tiny little dot of an area in Africa. It makes me realize that there are millions of these tiny dots all over the world and ,in a way, this experience has made me long to be able to connect with all of them.

Today, a friend suggested that my “physical” being and sense of place is experiencing the comfort of the Methow Valley. But, perhaps emotionally there is a disconnect from something very meaningful. I believe that is the source of the turmoil.

It makes me smile to realize that the source of my confusion is really something so pleasant.

PLEASANT CONFUSION – am I making that up?

Backstory: I feel so fortunate to be able to come home to the Methow Valley after doing two years of volunteer work in Zambia. Many of you followed my blog posts while I was away and I am honored that people took such interest in the work that I was doing. A quick recap…I contacted an organization called VSO regarding international volunteer work. After that email, I did an online application, then a telephone interview and finally an assessment day in Vancouver, Canada. After all of this, I was selected to be a volunteer for their organization and participated in two four-day training sessions in Ottawa.

photoZambian creativity shown in hair braiding.


Eventually, I accepted an assignment in Lusaka, Zambia. I was working at a center (Pestalozzi World) for underprivileged children from rural areas, all over the country. They are children who show academic prowess, but who would otherwise not have a chance for education because of any number of family/societal circumstances. Many have lost both of their parents and lived a pretty hard life with extended family. If given a choice, the families will pay to educate their boys and will send the girls out in to the fields (after they have cleaned the house, cooked breakfast and done the dishes….and before they cook dinner, collect firewood and do the dinner dishes) This is why we had about three girls to every one boy at our center.

I was working with some of the alumni to create some small business opportunities and to create an entrepreneurial focus that they could take back to their villages. The difficulty is that the young women were returning to their villages, getting pregnant and stepping right back in to a life of impoverishment and field labor. The few successes, many frustrations and rich life events are highlighted in my blog posts.


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