Having been home a few weeks, I have had time to slowly begin reflecting and processing my three months away in Zambia. I can only talk for myself as my experience and circumstances are entirely unique to me.
I guess I should begin by explaining that the fact I ended up going to Zambia at all was a surprise.
A few weeks prior to departing for Zambia, I lost my grandmother quite suddenly and unexpectedly. She was a monumental figure in my life for I saw myself as having three parents with my grandmother in some form of job share with my actual mum. When she died, my world was rocked and I felt myself go into some auto pilot state – I was grieving!
I was in a weird predicament as on the one hand; I had this amazing experience in Zambia to look forward to while on the other, I was grieving from the loss of my grandmother. Having laid my grandmother to rest on the 18th January, exactly a week later I would be at Heathrow airport, meeting my UK counterpart Natasha for the first time and flying off to Zambia to begin our unique adventure as Team Leaders for the following three months.
My honest assessment of my time in Africa is that I was perhaps operating at about 60% of my full potential. As I settled into my new role, I continued to frequently think about my grandmother as I went about my duties as a TL. Roughly six weeks into my time in Zambia, I learned that my other grandmother was gravely ill and didn’t have long left to live. A few days later I learned that she too had passed away. I toyed with the idea of flying home, although I was powerless to change the outcome. I immediately phoned the UK and offered my condolences to my grandfather as that was all I could really do from so far away.
I had just lost two Grandmas in the space of 9.5 weeks and at this point I felt tested! Not only was I helping to manage 38 volunteers in a unique situation and I had to afford them all the attention and effort that they required, I found my thoughts thinking of home and the people there. In spite of all this, I was determined to finish the programme.
For me the turning point or light bulb moment came during our MPR (Mid Phase Review) trip to Livingstone. It was a much needed break from the programme for both Volunteers and Team Leaders alike. It was great to get away from the chaos of Lusaka and to see everyone relaxed and enjoying themselves in new surroundings. It was also a great bonus to visit Victoria Falls and to experience its natural splendour.
Following the MPR trip, I returned to Lusaka with a new found energy and enthusiasm. It was a point where I just resigned myself to effecting what I could control and that happened to be the here and now and my placement in Zambia. Prior to this trip I felt as if I was coasting along in my role as Team Leader and perhaps only making an effort to interact with the volunteers I had direct responsibility for in both their business & host home placements. However, I began to go out of my way and to interact with others in the group. I found that I began to enjoy being in Zambia a lot more and had more of an awareness of my role. I began to make more of an effort with the other Team leaders and I was keen to schedule trips to the cinema, nice cafes and restaurants in an effort to squeeze the most out of my time left in Zambia.
I’m sure that this new ‘me` was picked up by the volunteers.
I’m grateful that my fellow Team Leaders were as great as they were. I certainly found that I struck gold there. It was a great mix of personalities and we all were able to support one another and share a laugh and a joke.
Following the end of the cycle and having returned home, I feel that I have some kind of reverse culture shock. I’m always anticipating the prospect of having no power for 8 hours a day, enduring a cramped, sweaty mini bus ride with me wedged against the window by a local lady holding a sack of raw fish and I’m always trying to work out the local and higher Muzungu (White Person) price on items however, I’m home now and there is no Muzungu price. Finally, I’m always keeping an eye out for a bottle of Mosi when I’m at a bar but of course, I never see one.
Having come home, I have had to begin the process of getting back to work and updating my training which will allow me to once again work in Healthcare with vulnerable people. It’s also weird being back home as there’s now key people missing in my life. Since I was in Zambia, my sister who I’m very close too and her family have moved to Dubai and of course both my gran’s have passed on. It will be an adjustment for sure knowing that the dynamics of my family before and after my placement have changed quite fundamentally.
I’m also beginning to find that not many people are prepared or perhaps even interested in talking at length about my experiences in Zambia. Maybe people are too caught up on the hamster wheel of their own lives or perhaps I’m not conveying my experiences in an interesting way whereby they can begin to comprehend my three months volunteering in Zambia. I do touch on it but inevitably the topic of conversation will be steered by others to something more mainstream and benign. I do feel that the only people that I can openly share these experiences with are my fellow Team Leaders and the volunteers to whom, I’m sure this blog will make perfect sense.
As I sit and type this I want it to be known that I am grateful to Challenges Worldwide and ICS for giving me the opportunity to volunteer in Zambia on their behalf. I feel that I made some great friends through my participation on the programme and that the experience will definitely stand me in good stead for the future. I will always look back on my time in Zambia and the people I came into contact there with fond memories. I hope that those who read this get some value and understanding of my time in Zambia and aren’t dissuaded from applying for the role of Team Leader through Challenges Worldwide and ICS.