It’s hard to write about life when you’re, you know, living it. This is true for several reasons: 1) If you’re living it well, it takes time, time that makes writing about it pail in comparison to the reality of it; 2) If you’re living well, words never ever ever form sentences on a page and sounds on the tongue and conversations on a plane accurately enough to mirror the life. And 3) If you’re living, really breathing in experiences of places and people, you’re living in little nows of time and space that will never occur again in the exact same way, not even in your memory. So the writing down of that life, a sequential mess of chance and destiny is always a representation in your mind of how it occurred.
There’s always the details of the lost shoe, the color of a girl’s eyes, the smell of cooking cabbage that you misremember and therefore writing about it tricks your shallow mind into believing that’s how it happened. We see what we want to see. Reality, I’ve realized, is not a window; reality is a mirror and we are perpetually staring at the world through ourselves, filtering this life through our mind’s own idea of how we think it should be.
And that’s the biggest mistake we can make: to assume life should behave like we imagine. And when it doesn’t, we scream, cry and party in self-pity and eventually recall the events however we chose to, even if they are just unreliable reflections of what we want to be true. That’s why sometimes writing about my life is hard. I don’t trust my own mirrored perception of events, struggling to decipher the “real” and the “perceived” realities that exist simultaneously in my head.
When I look back on my time in Africa, albeit not very closely, I want to write about the time spent helping people, giving school supplies to kids, helping the medical team prepare for its mission to heal hurting villages. I want to write about the amazing friends I’ve made at Namwianga mission and so many Americans that were a part of the team. I can’t though because a part of me, the part that sees through the mirror, knows it can’t be put into meaningful words with complete accuracy. Very few things can I say with absolute certainty about this trip and such is the Zambian way, I suppose. I can say with complete confidence the events that follow are as true and clear accounts of our work as anyone, with knowledge of her own biases, can give.
1. There are many roads to Mulamfu. And if you’re riding on coasters to Mulamfu with a mission team and one coaster disappears, safely assume the driver of the missing coaster has decided to choose one of those many roads on which to detour.
2. Never underestimate the usefulness of duct tape, toilet paper and bottles of water. Everything else is expendable and/or can be replaced with the aforementioned items.
3. Communication with walkie talkies is a must if one wants to be equal parts informed and slightly confused about a task.
4. If you want something done right and right away, do it yourself, then you’ll find others will join in to help without you even having to ask.
5. Even if someone says you can drink the well water, don’t. Just don’t.
6. When throwing up after drinking said well water, sip a coke between each urping episode to speed the rehydration process.
7. When you ask a Zambian how far the village is and he responds “just near,” assume he either doesn’t know or can’t actually quantify the distance because, naturally, there are many roads to a village.
8. It doesn’t matter your shoe size, bench press max, or whether you wear pants or a chitenge, everyone can put up/take down a king canopy tent with a team.
9. When singing Tonga songs, it’s remarkably easier than with English songs. Mumbling nonsensical syllables in a smooth soprano counts half the time.
10. It may take us all day and night to get to a village, but the mission will always be there. Doctors, dentists, nurses, teachers, pharmacists, students, stay-at-home moms, preachers, mechanical engineers, human resource specialists, accountants, full-time missionaries and even the unemployed, paying their own money, giving their own time in exchange for someone else’s health and/or happiness.
And although we all have our faults, some bigger than others, we all sacrifice so that the people will know. They will know that we do what we do not for ourselves or the feeling doing the work gives us, which is really good. But we do this so they can see a person giving them medicine and can hear about a healer that can cure the sickness we cannot. We do this so they can see the Father through us. That and that alone is the end game, the only road that matters, the reason for it all.
I’m not entirely sure how much of that was the real and how much the perceived, but I’d very humbly like to think it was as close as it gets to the real thing. Everything, I can’t trust myself to tell. So when people ask about my trip. I want to tell them all the things I lived. But I know the closest representation of it in my mind isn’t a fraction of the love and tears and laughs as I actually experienced. So I suppose that’s why it’s just easier to say, “It was awesome. It was great.” Because it was. Sometimes though, you’ve just got to live it yourself to understand why that’s really the only answer you can give.