My time in Zambia changed me in a way that is hard to explain. I think it is one of those things you can’t fully understand until you experience it. And I consider myself so blessed to be one of those people who get to experience it. But because not everyone gets the privilege to walk on African soil in this life, I want to share some of what I learned during my experience.
During my time in Zambia, I realized that I have spent a lot of my life living in the past and thinking about what I should have done better, or living in the future, anxiously preparing for what is going to happen. Whether I am in the past or the future doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I am not in the present. There is so much goodness in the present moment that I do not want to miss because I am longing for something to change or wishing for something to be different. Time just goes by too fast. So as I stepped onto the precious Zambian soil, I turned off my phone and set the intention to be present in every moment.
As I was present, I was able to recognize and enjoy the good moments that I never wanted to end. As I sat on the floor of an orphanage and held a sleeping newborn baby, I longed to stay there forever and watch her grow up. As I finished reading a book to a teenage boy who lives on the streets, I immediately grabbed another book excited to keep reading. As a little hand grasped onto my fingers, I would have walked 100 more miles if that meant her hand wouldn’t leave mine. Being present in these moments was sweet and sacred to me.
There were other moments that were harder to be present in. Sitting on the ground next to a man who was sick and dying broke my heart. My ears could barely believe the truth that it had been days since he last ate. It was hard to look into the eyes of a child who was abused and taken advantage of. I wondered how anyone could ever hurt such a beautiful child. It was hard to wave goodbye as we drove away from a group of boys as they walked out onto the streets to find a place to spend the night. My heart ached during these moments so much so that it began to close to avoid the hurt. My mind tried to escape the present moment when the pain felt like too much to bear. I had to intentionally bring myself back to the present moment. I practiced holding the pain that I was feeling and the pain the person I was with was experiencing. Even though it hurt, it was in these moments that my heart grew. The growing pains are uncomfortable but if you will sit in the pain your ability to love will grow.
When it hurts and doesn’t make sense, try to find the good. And during those times when the good moments are hard to see, even those moments where they seem impossible to find, I will remember these experiences. The man who was so sick he couldn’t stand smiled, clapped, and hummed along as we sang him a song about the goodness of God. The little girl who was being abused at night danced and sang for us. She wrapped her little arms around my neck in the sweetest embrace. The street boys laughed and joked as they beat us in a game of soccer. They gave out high fives after every goal. They have touched my heart and have reminded me that no matter how hard the present moment is, there is always joy to be found.
A lot of what I saw and experienced was heartbreaking. I cried many tears during my time in Zambia, but I came back so full of love. I was able to open my heart not just to the Zambians but to myself. That may be the greatest gift of all. As I walked and hugged and talked to and danced with these people, I saw glimpses of myself in them. We aren’t that different after all. And if they are so easy to love, then why aren’t I? I spent so much time sitting with and listening to and loving others. I heard their stories and showed them compassion. As soon as I sat with myself, listened to my own story that I have neglected, and started showing that same compassion to myself, I felt whole and complete, something I haven’t felt in a long time.
It still doesn’t really make sense in my mind. How something so beautiful can come from something so horrific is unfathomable to me, but I’ve seen it happen. I believe it comes from the power of being present.
Since being home I have felt homesick for Zambia and my new friends I left behind there. I wasn’t there for very long. How can I miss it so much? I remember a quote I read while in Zambia: “Peace comes from being aligned with the present moment. Wherever you are, you feel that you are home—because you are home.” I learned to be present in Zambia, so it became my home. I think I got so swept up in my life the second I stepped off of the airplane in Utah that I have already forgotten to be present. While part of my heart misses Zambia, I think another part of it just misses being present. I’m clearly not perfect at it, but this present moment is a new opportunity to be present. And there will be many more moments in the future to kindly remind myself to be present. As I do so, I will bring a piece of Zambia with me wherever I go. I look forward to the day when I return to Zambia, but until then, as long as I am present, wherever I am will feel like home.
Written by Miriam Hyde