One Year in Zambia (things I never expected)

One year has come and gone. One whole year in Africa.

March 4th, 2015 marked the day I first set foot on Zambian soil. I was exhausted beyond words. I’d hardly slept in four or more days. The last week was a complete blur in my memory. I have faint memories of different moments, but everything just runs together.

I remember landing at Ndola airport and it feeling like a dream that I’d soon wake up from. I’d never set foot outside of the U.S.A. before and now I was MOVING to Zambia! It didn’t seem real! Everything was hectic as we tried to collect our bags and assess how many and which ones were missing AND sign paperwork…or whatever it is my parents were trying to do while I was falling asleep standing.

When we finally were able to leave the airport, we were met outside by a handful of new friends who kindly helped us load our bags and take us to our new home.

Mom and I rode with a missionary family who has three daughters my age and who have since become some of our very best friends. The girls pointed out different things along the way and all I remember about the ride was thinking, “Wow…there are a LOT of billboards around here!” haha…


We arrived at our new home. Our friends stayed a short time to visit, but I honestly remember none of that. I just remember them leaving and then immediately crashing on a bed at 5pm and not waking up until 6am the next day.

That’s my “this time last year” flashback…but now, what was our first year in Zambia like?? Well, it’s impossible to put it all in one blog post…or even to put it all in one book. Haha!

I’ll say this though: There have been lots of things about life here I didn’t expect!

-I never expected electricity to go out so often.
-I never expected all the annoying speed bumps, police checkpoints, parking fees, and crazy bus drivers.
-I never expected so much of my hair would fall out! (Like, how do I even have so much on my head still?)
-I never expected to miss tacos, enchiladas, Dr. Pepper, chocolate chips (an unlimited supply), and *real* cheese.
-I never expected the grocery stores to be so unpredictable. For example, the stores may go days and days without something as basic as butter in stock.
-I never expected my vocabulary to change so much whether it be using Bemba terms or saying things such as “trousers” “that side” “sorry sorry sorry sorry” or learning terms like “SIM card” “talk-time” and “ZESCO”.
-I never expected to find so many lizards, spiders, ants, cockroaches, and even tarantulas in our house!
-I never expected to love icitenge material so much
-I never expected the music to minister to my heart so much!! (talk about “the feels”! It’s most definitely my favorite thing! <3)
-I never expected to lose water frequently or for our hot water to be the color of copper.
-I never expected to fall asleep most nights to the sound of distant music. Sometimes it’s that of a noisy bar…but other times it’s the beautiful sound of a distant African drum with harmonious Zambian voices. =)
-I never expected it would take so long to learn the language.
-I never expected to miss the rain so much during the dry season.
-I never expected to find plugging a device into an outlet so challenging and frustrating. It’s a process: find an adaptor, plug the adaptor into the outlet, plug device charger into adaptor, and flip the switch to turn on the outlet. (this is 10X harder in the dark…and 10X more stressful when something flashes “10% battery remaining” and I have no idea where an adaptor is)
-I never expected to cook on charcoal so often and do this in the dark or by candlelight.
-I never expected to learn how to operate a breaker box, switch water on and off to toilets and sinks, balance what things to turn on and off when a generator is running, or how to manually flush a toilet when there’s no running water.
-I never expected to say “goodbye” so much. We’ve said “goodbyes” so often it’s crazy! It never hurts less, but at the same time, I’ve had to “get used” to it on some level. =P

I never expected to cry so much. I never expected to fall in love. I never expected to change…

I lived in the U.S. all my life. I lived in West Plains, Missouri for 14 years. How could 1 year away change my heart so much?? Don’t get me wrong! I don’t love West Plains any less. WP will ALWAYS hold a large piece of my heart…and who knows? Maybe I’ll end up living there again in the future…but what I’m saying is that my heart fell in love with a new place. With Zambia. With Ndola. With Wiphan. With the children and their priceless smiles. With the people and their friendliness and wonderful sense of humor.

I never expected to cry so much…
I never expected it to become so REAL to me when I saw a room full of widows for the first time. I never expected my heart to be so overwhelmed by the poverty. I never expected to feel the urge to adopt 10 kids on the spot and do whatever it takes to take care of them. I never expected to see a boy beaten by his friend or hear a woman screaming because her husband was beating her. I never expected to visit the home of a potential wizard and see the impoverished state she and her grandson are living in and want so badly to carry the boy away with me…I never expected so many things to make me so emotional (on top of my already emotional self).

I never expected to change. This one is impossible to explain fully because there are so many aspects to this…
I thought I would move here, love the life we are living here, develop new friendships, new memories, and new experiences…but I expected I’d remain the same person I was before moving.
Boy was I ever wrong!
I can never look at life the same way again… My priorities in life have changed. I can never go through life, no matter where I live, without my heart coming back to Zambia, to the little boy with no mommy, to the abused wife, to the little children I’ve grown so fond of, to Wiphan, to the reckless teens without a father, to the pregnant girl who has no one to help her, or to all the children dying from simple illnesses …I can never go through life with the same carefree attitude I used to.
Every time I eat a meal, I think of different friends and acquaintances and wonder if they’re eating too…
Every time it’s raining at night I wonder how many children are out there alone and frightened.
I’m not the same as I was before I moved here. My personality and the things that make me “me” haven’t changed, but my mindset sure has.


Something else I never expected was for my faith to be challenged so much, for God to reveal so much sin in my life, yet at the same time to grow and feel stronger in Christ than ever before!
Here’s part of a response I recently sent to a friend’s question:
“Since moving to Zambia I would definitely say I’ve faced more challenges. Many of my friends here are Christians, but don’t always hold the same standards I do. I’m also exposed to a lot more non-believers than I was in the U.S. and therefore have to seek God’s help in not falling into negative peer pressure (something I rarely faced in the U.S.). I’ve had to learn to live without consistent electricity, without family close by, without my church family, my good friends, and so many other things! I’ve had to see people who are starving, children who live in such horrible conditions I can hardly bear it, and people who are being misused and ill-treated so much I want to puke!
All these things tend to bring out the negatives in me and really bring a lot of sin in my life to the surface…these things also tend to put my faith to the test and challenge me! However, this has ultimately been a good thing. I’ve grown so much spiritually during this time and I would say my faith is now stronger than ever!!”

God has used this last year in Zambia to grow me more than ever. I never expected to grow in some of the ways I have, but I’m glad I did!

If I were to summarize my first year in Zambia I would summarize it like this: An indescribable adventure full of unexpected learning experiences and meaningful life lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Someone shared this article with me last year and I ran across it again recently. It didn’t really make sense to me before I moved to Zambia, but now I can honestly say that I can relate to nearly every point the article makes (point 3 REALLY hits home!):

If there’s anything you would like to ask about feel free! Thanks for reading.