For weeks leading up to my trip, people had been buttering me up. “It’s so cool here right now, Byron. Everyone is in jeans and a sweater. You’d love it!” I approached with cautious optimism, not allowing myself to fully buy into the hype. This is Africa, after all. It’s never “cool”. It’s just varying degrees of sweaty. As I stepped out of the plane onto the tarmac at Ndola International Airport, I could feel the weight of the heat immediately cling to my skin, bringing it to its usual state of midday stickiness. I knew it was too good to be true. I almost expected it. Despite the unwelcome and uncomfortable heat, a sense of nostalgia filled me. I’m back, Zambia! The excitement of being back, however, soon gave way to the stark reality that this would be my last time in Zambia for a long time… Perhaps even my last time, period.
As has become customary for my role over the past couple years, I was going to Zambia mainly to support our team in hosting one of our major partners that comes for monitoring and evaluation visits twice per year. There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing for these visits and in determining the way forward for our partnership. Helping to manage the projects we undertake with this partner has become one of the most prominent parts of my role and I was grateful to have the opportunity to meet with them one more time. But, as with everything else that I have a hand in here, my main focus was in ensuring I was passing off things to other members of our team well, which is not always easy. There’s a part of me that wants to be super involved right up until the second we leave. At the same time, I know how crucial it is for me to let things go and build into others. Living in that tension is something I will be wrestling through for the next 5 weeks.
As for the rest of my time in Zambia, it was a time focused on being with people and building into relationships. It’s funny because, when Diane and I were first sent to Zambia, we were given the mandate to build relationship. That’s it. We struggled mightily with this, not because we didn’t have a desire to build relationships, but because we felt like there was so much more we could and should be doing in addition to the relationship building. But now that I was facing the end of my time in Zambia, with people that have become like family to me, it’s really all I wanted to do (especially when it came to my two favourite girls pictured below...).
|Tawonga & Shalom|
|Levy, Prag & Shalom|
|Tawonga with her family drawing of Diane (left), Me (right) and Baby (top)!|
With that desire at the forefront of my mind, I scheduled a full day in Kitwe on my first weekend in Zambia with my fellow international volunteers, Ashley and Mel. It ended up being the highlight of my trip and, perhaps, one of the most memorable days over the last 2.5 years.
The day started with going to Blessing’s church in the community of Mulenga, one of the communities that Diane and I visited regularly during our 6 months in Kitwe. If you recall from our early blog posts, Blessings was one of the key members of the Kitwe Service Centre when we were there and has since transitioned to a leader within our Zambia Regional Support Team. A pastor by trade, he’s very “unpastor-like” in the African context. While he exudes wisdom, he’s also one of the most humble and servant-hearted people we know. He has also since become a father to a cheeky little boy named Shekinah who was the object of much cheek-pinching and face rubbing (softest face ever!) during my time in Zambia.
|Blessings, Prudence & Shekinah|
|Look at that soft, cheeky little face!|
The next stop was Towela’s house. Towela, the Service Centre Coordinator in Kitwe, became like our mother during our time in Zambia and the bond Diane and I grew with her is something we hold very dear to our hearts. We spent 2 hours in her home that Sunday, visiting with her and her family, reminiscing about the ‘good ol’ days’ of us being in Kitwe and all the grief I used to cause her. We also shared in the excitement of her becoming a grandmother to a little (and hopefully fat!) Asian baby.
|Towela & Henry|
The last stop was Clement’s house, where we spent another 1.5 hours and were fed some very delicious rice by Clement’s wife. Clement is like a brother to me. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we started in Hands at the same time and, in a sense, ‘grew up’ through Hands together. When we first met him, he was a shy, reserved guy from the very rural village of Zimba. In fact, he was so quiet that we weren’t even sure he knew how to speak English. Before long, he was teaching me Bemba, I was helping him out with English (which he already knew pretty well), and we were using our newfound skills to find ways to make each other laugh (usually by attempting to make fun of each other).
|Clement & Family|
Last September, Clement and his wife welcomed their second child into the world, a baby boy they named … wait for it … Byron! What an honour! Poor little guy, though. Zambians really struggle with the name and he’ll soon find himself constantly correcting everyone. “No, not Bylot (seriously, I’ve been called that many times) … BY – RON!” After waiting 6 long months, I finally had the opportunity to meet my namesake and the little guy did not disappoint! Funny enough, baby Byron is a hot, sweaty mess that already has an insatiable appetite. We are kindred spirits, after all!
|Instant cuddles from Baby Byron!|
|Two Byrons are better than one!|
To see the leaders that each of Blessings, Towela and Clement have become today fills Diane and I with a tremendous amount of pride, not because we felt we had anything to do with it, but because we got to be a part of it. We love each of them so much and each holds a very special place in our hearts. It was these 3 that gave Diane and I our Bemba names, a responsibility they did not take lightly. It wasn’t until the very end of our 6 months in Kitwe, and after much deliberation, that it was revealed that Diane would be named Bukata, which means glory, and that I would be named Temwani, which means love. These names may potentially carry on more significance in the near future…
When it came time to say goodbye on my last day in Zambia, it wasn’t pretty. Hands at Work has a tradition that, when someone leaves, we take time out of either our Monday or Friday morning meeting to give that person a proper farewell. That farewell involves everybody being given the chance to speak a word of encouragement and offer his/her parting words. I’ve witnessed many farewells in my time here and I always knew I would dread the day when it came to my turn. Not only is it incredibly emotional but it’s also very strange and awkward to hear people speak about you and shower you with love and praise in front of many others.
I thought I was going to keep it together. After all, I’m a man. I don’t cry. I work out. And, who knows, maybe we’ll be back in Zambia sooner than later and I’ll see everyone again … Those words of reassurance rung hollow once people started speaking. I could see tears from others beginning to flow and, soon, the dreaded lump developed in my throat. Just look down, Byron. Don’t look ‘em in the eye! In reality, it was all in vain. There was no defense mechanism that could have prevented the tears from streaming down my face the instant that Towela opened her mouth. “You truly are my son. And Diane is truly my daughter.” Zing! Right in the heartstrings!
After several people shared, I was given the opportunity to have the final word. Already struggling with emotion, I tried to compose myself so that I could offer my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for everyone sitting in that room. I managed about two words before I was forced to take a very, very long pause. This is going to go one of two ways, I thought to myself. Either I mutter out a quick, “Thank you” and leave with my dignity still somewhat in tact or I pour out my heart like a blubbering mess and deal with the consequences later. Of course, I chose the latter.
As I looked around the room of people I was saying goodbye to, I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder. Here I was, this regular, random, Chinese-Canadian guy, immersed in a room with 3 other international volunteers and about 20 local Zambians, each of us there because we followed God’s call to care for the most vulnerable. In that moment, I couldn’t help but think of how wonderful it all was –how it was such a beautiful snapshot of the type of community God envisioned for His people – and how I was so blessed to be a part of it.
I will miss you dearly, Zambia.