How Africa Changed Me

November 29th, 2015 Posted by Immersion Trips

It’s cliché to say, “My time in Africa changed my life,” but it did. Lest I lose sight of the combined effect, I’ll identify some of my more minor transformations:

My fingernails grew long in Africa! I attribute this to several factors that in America cause me to nibble them in nervousness. I saw a clock just once during my entire stay in Zambia. With my planner back at home and no schedule, deadlines or appointments, there was no reason to fret.

I looked fabulous in Africa! Actually, the only mirror I saw in Zambia larger than a credit card was in the airport on the way home. Without reminders of what was visibly wrong with me, I considered how I felt more than how I looked. Not worrying about my appearance made me less shy in getting to know people. I was home for six days before I looked for my lipstick.

Olivia & I set up, photo by Heidi Dornbusch
Olivia & I set up, photo by Heidi Dornbusch

My social standing soared in Africa! Just Kidding. As a business owner who relies on sales via the Internet, social media is a part of life. Introverted, I relish the superficial, “hands off” connections I make online. The reprieve from technology in Zambia made me remember who I was before social media. I had more time for reflection and devotion, and instead of clicking “like,” I was able to “plug in” to actual conversations with real people. Relationships matter more-yes, even Facebook friends matter more after my time in Zambia.

 Giraffe class w/ Highland Creative Arts Students- photo by Gill Zulu
Giraffe class w/ Highland Creative Arts Students- photo by Gill Zulu

I gave up control in Africa! As a painting instructor, I’m particular about set-up and clean up, washing and carefully reshaping over 100 paintbrushes after classes. But teaching acrylics outdoors in 105-degree Zambia taught me to loosen up my rigid expectations. We made do without tables or paper towels, and out of necessity, our group members devised water cups from soda bottles, smartly affixing them to easels with yarn. I let go of needing to clean sun-baked paint off the handles of brushes, as appearances didn’t matter. Teaching was about connecting and expressing ourselves through paint more than it was about our materials, set-up or clean up.

I lightened my load of “stuff” in Africa! Actually, I was burdened with a huge bag every time we left the base- it stretched to my knees with everything I might need and many things I never would. I was always misplacing items because they were lost in the giant bag. I HAD A DREAM that I emptied my backpack at the airport and it was filled with identical water bottles, most only partially filled. The Point: I was weighed down with stuff that: 1.) I couldn’t take with me; 2.) I didn’t need more than one of; 3.) would be furnished when the need arose. Africa makes me rethink the relevance of all the “stuff” in my life.

You must be thinking that life is simpler in Africa. NOT SO. The people of Zambia endure much, and I’m not talking about load shedding or lack of hot water, or even running water. More often than not, peoples’ stories leave you heartsick. Because of AIDS, almost half of the population in Zambia is younger than age 14 and many are orphans. And yet these Zambians have a faith and fortitude, a desire for change and a commitment for others that inspires me and shames my petty concerns…paintbrushes?

Photo by Emily Eggebratten
Photo by Emily Eggebratten

Life in Zambia is not simpler, but it’s prioritized more towards faith and relationships than to schedules, appearances, and things. Our friends at Elijah Mission International Zambia (EMIZ) & Poetice International empower people in their communities to learn a skill, earn a living, support their families, and inspire others to do the same. They confront injustice. Here, in the “Land of the Free,” I’m advised against writing about my faith as it could turn off art collectors, but in Zambia, the government welcomes churches into schools to teach kids about faith-based abstinence in the face of the AIDS pandemic. This is life and death, and Life.

I left a piece of my heart, and brought back some of that beautiful Zambian spirit. I appreciate my blessings more and will more readily identify and respond to need. My goal is to remember all the little ways that Africa changed me, and to remain changed in a world so different.

Shebo, Edward, Alina, Bill, Steady & me at the conclusion of the mural project in the new arts academy's music room.
Shebo, Edward, Alina, Bill, Steady & me at the conclusion of the mural project in the new arts academy’s music room.
SonjaCaywood_author-150x150 ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sonja Caywood is an artist living in Dayton, Wyoming.

This story has been re-posted from an outside website. See Sonja’s original post here.