I saw this photo on my phone, the day after I took it. It is a precious picture of a precious girl and it has taken me a good week to be able to look at it again and write about this treasure.
The hard part about going to Zambia and meeting all the children, is leaving all the children. The little girl looking at me in this photo is Mary.
I remember that pink shirt and her purple dress from that day, when I took this photo. I remember she had started out barefoot walking over to the school, and she got called back to the main hall to put some shoes on.
I remember being impressed by how she out-maneuvered some bigger kids in getting beside me so she could hold my hand.
I remember after we kneeled down in the rocks to pray, she knew me well enough after a week of sitting and laying in the grass, to give me a hand up.
In this photo, we were having a Blessing of the School ceremony, with local pastors and village VIPS present. We all held hands and thanked God for the blessing of the school and asked for His guidance and wisdom in the coming days and years for running the school and leading many many children to a better life through a good education.
After the ceremony, we headed back to the main hall for a cookie party. Mary caught up with me and held my hand as we walked.
“Jenny, you are not going to be here tomorrow?” she asked me.
“No, we’ve got to go back to America,” I said, squeezing her little hand.
“Yes,” she said.
Mary had this quirky thing she would do whenever we talked; she would always situate herself in front of me, so she was right in front of my face whenever we were talking. When she was plaiting my hair, when she had something to say, she’d bend down and over and be RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE as we talked. Then she’d go back to plaiting.
At his point in our walk back to the main hall, Mary skipped a little ahead, still holding my hand and does the looking-right-at-me while she’s talking thing.
“I will pray for God to bless you and your family,” she said walking backwards. “And I’ll thank him for letting you come here.”
I stopped walking, smiled and hugged her close.
I pulled my sunglasses down to cover my eyes. No crying allowed.
“Same.” I managed to say.
Now that we’re back, people ask me what was it like, in Zambia.
The country itself is beautiful, especially now at the tail-end of the rainy season. Everything is lush and green. It has many features that resemble rural North Carolina – minus all the agriculture. While some farms and cattle ranches dot the landscape, there aren’t as many as in NC.
In Lusaka, the capital city, you see a mixture of panhandlers and professionals. People are shopping in stores, working in stores. The hotel we stayed in was like an American hotel, bustling with people meeting for business, celebrating a wedding, traveling.
But once you leave the city, the crippling poverty present for most Zambians is obvious. So many of Zambia’s citizens seem to be left out of the advent of modern conveniences seen in the capital city and eek out whatever life they can, living in huts without electricity or water, sending their children to sub-par schools and having to walk miles to get to closest hospital. The sides of the roads are typically dotted with people walking, as most have no transportation. Kids walk miles to get to school. It was not unusual to see kids that looked like they were in kindergarten, walking along the edge of the highway, in their school uniform.
I remember the first time I saw some small kids walking along the road, in the grass that was taller than they were. One had a baby wrapped in a scarf, riding piggy-back on his back. They couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old. They were alone, with no adult in sight. I was shocked. But this is common in Zambia — sometimes the older children take care of the younger children, even if the oldest child is five. The name of the game for many in Zambia is survival, and everybody has a job to do.
Even with all that poverty, Zambians are quick to smile and reach out to shake your hand. Zambians are warm and friendly, have a strong faith in God and have a flair for what we would call, “southern hospitality.”
It was humbling to meet and see people that had so little, but were so faithful and sure of God’s gifts and blessings in their lives.
I learned so much from them all, and am beyond grateful that God led the way for me to come to Zambia and see the beautiful love story of Agape Village.
I’ll be posting more blog posts in the coming weeks, as I unpack all of my thoughts and treasures from Zambia.