This is impressively overdue. I like to think I hesitate to write these things because of a fear of exploiting or misrepresenting someone else’s vulnerability, but I’m probably just scared of exposing my own. Or I’m just lazy. I’ll postulate the 2nd explanation and proceed with an attempt to be publicly vulnerable. With some further ado to express sincere apologies to Robyn, our ever-patient internship coordinator, here goes:
I had a conveniently timed breakdown on July 30th, the actual deadline for this blog post. It was conveniently timed because I had not written anything in my journal for a month’s time on either side of that date, and now I have material for this post. The entry is titled “Sunday, dreaded Sunday” and it begins with:
“haven’t written anything in a month, and the scattered state of my mind sure reflects that. had to straight up stop what I was(n’t) doing and sit. many vibes going around, but they’re all centered around that lonely ache, as (for once, as I had wished it) there is no one around except for a relentless cycling of farm animals (just had to stop to fend off a herd of cows from eating the laundry). some of the vibes:
- that scattered mindset, jumping from task to task, leaving none of them completed
- bored, but unable to fill the time (everyone is at church)
- lots to do, but not feeling especially attracted to any of it
- lonely af, wondering if I’m going to be able to do a whole rain season of this
- thoughts drifting to the life I left behind, and scared of an eventual “into the wild” realization”
For those who need context, I manage a small Canadian NGO’s rural water supply programs in southern Zambia. Syn-breakdown, I was living in a subsistence farming community called Muzya. More specifically, I was pacing back and forth on the porch pictured below while fending of tides of chickens, goats, cows, and the occasional pig. Typically, a constant stream of Zambians join the flow of visitors, sometimes for program-related issues, but mostly just to say hi and chat. During those non-Sundays, I tend to wish for a single moment alone to be productive, but now that my human visitors are occupied with Church, I’m both unproductive and lonely. Cue breakdown.
I have been staying in Zambia for 4-8 months/year for six years now, so one (me) might expect me to have this all sussed out by now. However, those months are stuffed with phone calls, deadlines, and meetings. A moment alone, even on a Sunday, is rare and obviously something I am still struggling to occupy mindfully, unable to get ahead with work or do something non-work related, or nothing at all. In my journal entry, I go on to say how frustrated I am with the frustration, how I’m feeling “mizungu as [frig]” as I futilely try to maintain a chicken-free porch, and how the chickens serve as a good metaphor for my larger inability to go with the flow and my constant attempts to wrestle time into something specific.
Adding to the anxiety is the fact that, at least situationally, this dreaded Sunday will resemble the average day over the coming months. I have just committed to stay for another three years, starting with my first ever rain season, four months where Zambians will be as pre-occupied with their fields as they are today with Church. Even when they are around, language barriers impede the frequency of genuine interactions. My entry starts to host questions like: Am I prescribed to four months of frustration and loneliness? Should I have pursued some seasonal work back home to get the social interaction I need, broaden my experience, and actually get paid? And then the cyclic set of deeper questions regarding self-care and sustainable productivity, hubrus and one’s potential impact, development and neo-colonialism, etc and etc.
But the writing eventually starts to force a slower pace of thought, and the anxiety dilutes with each scribbled page. I remind myself of the opportunity for personal growth during the coming rain season, that I am currently someone who can’t be alone with themselves on a rainy porch for a day, but damn do I want to be, and what an chance to learn to be. I try to capture the loneliness so I can place more value on unsolicited weekday visitors and my upcoming month back in Canada. I discuss time management and make progress identifying when it is time to practice self-care and when it is time to simply put in your hours. I eventually decide to put in my hours now on a task simple enough for my scattered brain so I can recharge with some un-distracted connection when the Zambians I live with return from Church.
While writing, I also remember that, only a few hours ago, I was pacing up and down the porch thinking about how grateful I am, how much I love what I do, and how much I love who I do it for. I also remember that I accidentally poured twice as much coffee into the French press but brewed it anyways, which might just explain how convicted passion was followed immediately by anxious break down, a coffee withdrawal after a coffee high. The quarter life crisis was at least partially contributed to by a mishandled beverage. Still, it helped surface valid fears I had not yet faced, and I am grateful for that. Maybe I’ll do Peyote for the next blog post (jk Robyn).
Overall, the writing and realizations allowed me to take myself less seriously and convert dread for moving to Zambia to excitement, which has stuck to this day. I am excited to get better with the language and have more genuine conversations with Zambians; I am excited to witness such an important season in Zambian culture, economy, and ecology; I am excited to transition to tea; I am excited to sit on a rainy porch with nothing to do; and I am excited to face and process the doubts and loneliness that will inevitably come with that.
So thank you journal (and the person who gave it to me).