Monday, May 28, 2007

09. Worlds Collide

Sometimes I feel as though I lead multiple lives, transecting different worlds. The contrasts of my life in Canada with my life in Zambia are extreme. My environment, my friends, my food, my work, my thoughts and my surrounding culture and wealth are all over the map. This can be unsettling, really, but over the past few years I have come to understand something.

I am the same person wherever I am because at the deepest level of my ‘self’ and my values, there is continuity. I am ‘me’ regardless of my physical location and surroundings. My complete experience, mainly the people in my life, has cumulatively contributed to who I am, and I am me, whether in Zambia or Canada or anywhere else.

My biggest struggle though is not with myself, it is with others. Often I feel far and disconnected from those who are important to me at home regardless of how much we talk, email, or SMS. Since I’ve been gone people have been married, babies have been born, and family members have died. I have not been around for these glorious and grim happenings, and it hurts. I try to stay up-to-date, and I even share and talk about it here, but my friends here have a difficult time truly understanding the world from which I come.

Similarly my experience in Zambia is also rich with changes and events, with ups and with downs that my friends and family back home can never really understand. They are interested in what I’m doing and we do talk about it, but the reality in which I live is somewhat incomprehensible for someone who has never been.

But 21 days ago this suddenly changed. My two worlds collided.

21 days ago, my twin sister Lindsay and my brother in-law Brett stepped off the plane and the dust of their shoes met and mixed with a new dust, slightly redder and a bit drier. All of their questions leading up to departure, “what should we pack, what will we eat, will we get sick, where will we sleep” were dropped somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

God it was nice to see them! We were soon out of the calm airport and into the swirling capital city of Lusaka. To me Lusaka has become normal. I had long quit starring out windows and moving wide-eyed with curiosity, but seeing Brett and Lindsay, and their reactions to this place, made if seem foreign and exotic all over again. On the dusty busy streets, they exuded a mix of excitement and caution, curiosity and trepidation.

The next three weeks were action packed! “We’re up for anything” was there motto and anything they got. They ate nshima and pigeons, learned how to wear a chitenge and carry a baby, travelled on sketchy buses and boats, met with traditional chiefs and loving mothers.

They lived in a village, saw babies born and named, helped butcher and roast chickens. They got too close to hyenas, elephants and buffalo and got way too close to a lonely lioness. They drank wine at sunset, jogged at dawn, transported blood for the ministry of health, taught English in a school, chlorinated their own water, gazed at the stars, bathed in the river and got attacked by killer ants.

They toured a mission hospital, felt the thunder of Victoria falls, harvested maize, rice and sweet potatoes, killed a snake, learned some losi, enjoyed some mosis and made many friends. They got an in-person glimpse into my work with Engineers Without Borders and got a personal introduction to the life and times of Zambia.

No matter how much you’ve prepared yourself, one’s first face-to-face with extreme poverty is overwhelming and emotional. Some things made Lindsay and Brett laugh and smile, others perplexed and confused them, some frustrated and angered them, some caused fear and others made them deeply sad and others happy. Coming to know the injustices of our world is powerfully sobering and raises a lot of questions. “It’s just not fair and I don’t get it” Lindsay exclaimed emotionally while sitting around the fire.

For three months leading up to their arrival, the people in my village were asking if they were really going to come. They counted airplanes in the night sky figuring which ones were coming from Canada, planned gifts and meals, doubled checked the arrival date and practiced saying their names. When the time came, when they finally arrived, they had an entourage and warm welcome.

I think Brett and Lindsay were blown away by the generosity and reception they received. They were given gifts of chickens and vegetables, invited to eat and sleep in people’s homes. They were never out of place and they were always welcome. Here they needed help and they got it. The people of my village had special guests and they wanted to share their riches and their homes and make them feel as welcome as possible.

For me the best part was my brother and sister from Canada meeting my brothers and sisters in Zambia, my roommate and friend Monde hugging my twin sister Lindsay, and my good pal Bo Richard eating with my brother-in-law and friend Brett. Families’ coming together is always a good thing and this is when I really felt that worlds were colliding.

For Lindsay and Brett it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was an accelerated jump into rural Zambian life and they got a good look at a different world. I was impressed by their ability to adapt and accept, their adventurous attitudes, their humble demeanours, their quick learning, and their genuine interest in the people they met.

Will their lives be changed? I don't really know, but I’ve got a feeling that some of the things they saw, and some of the people they met, will stick with them for a long time.

I have a particular group of friends, people with whom I've shared times together in distant lands or in trying circumstances. It’s a small group, but with them I have an indescribable bond and a deeper shared understanding of life. I think through this visit, even though short, Lindsay, Brett and I now share such a bond.

In the end, this collision of worlds turned out to be more of coalescence of realities. It felt good to see my friends in Zambia laughing and enjoying with my family from Canada. Worlds have not collided, they have connected, and that puts a huge smile on my face.


Anonymous said...

Hey Chad,

This was a pretty cool post. I can definitely relate with worlds colliding when Maureen came and visited me in the Philippines.

For me, it was great to re-fresh my lens of Canada and of the Philippines and also quite timely.

Also, I know how difficult it can be to ensure that both your Zambian life and Canadian life collide in positive ways. I'm glad to hear that Lindsay and Brett had a great trip.

Hopefully, I can be such a host while in Ghana.


Anonymous said...

Chad Hamre,

I came accross your blog by accident. I am blown away by your awareness. It is great to see you are beginning to be "awake"

Namaste to you dear friend!

Erin Hicks

The attainment of clarity is a gradual proccess...

Anonymous said...

I'm zambian living in London, I spent my early childhood in rural zambia, I wasn't aware of this world I live in now, it's so different to the village I grew up in. Iam touched by what you are doing for our people. You are Amazing and may God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chad, I love reading about your work and especially enjoyed hearing about your time together with Brett and write so well..everyone who knows you is so proud of what you are doing...take care and stay far away from lonely lioness'..Cathie Migneault

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Anonymous said...

hello Chad,
I am also on I know your mother when we go to the bowling alley. She gave me your website. The pictures are awesome

ashleyr said...

Hi Chad - I'm an EWB'r from Windsor, a friend of Trevor Freeman. Heading over as an LTOV in the winter. I just wanted to say thanks for sharing what you have been on your blog. I really appreciate and enjoy hearing your thoughts and stories - it's getting my mind working and helps me begin to wrap my head around what awaits. Take care :) Ashley Raeside

Erin said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHAD!!! i hope you have an incredibly special birthday in your home away from home. (which one is which anymore?) i have the basket you gave me hanging on my wall and it reminds me every day to think of dorothy - thank you for that! i hope your time overseas is wrapping up nicely. i know it will be a big shock when you finally have to leave, but you have a whole new world opening up before you - and you better keep writing about it! anyway, have a great birthday and stay in touch. miss you!

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