#Level24

24. One more year until the quarter life crisis ‘officially ensues’. One more year of being considered someone in their early twenties. These uninspiring thoughts then led to me thinking:

What am I actually doing with my life and how am I actually going to do it?

What am I going to be when I “grow up”?

And will I ever figure out how do my taxes on my own?

Flooded with questions and uncertainty during this time after Q2’s majestic internal  and enlightened reflections coupled with the angst that comes with packing, moving, unpacking and (hopefully) nesting into a new place, I approached my 24th birthday with a doubting heart. As someone who has always loved birthdays, I was not sure it I was excited about this one. Not to mention that it was my first birthday away from my family. I was feeling unsure.

But, what I continue to be reminded of in this season of life is that everything happens for a reason. And much to my surprise, despite all the craziness of other people’s schedules and adjusting to their new living situations, my GHC ZamFam really made it clear that they were my family and that Zambia was my new home away from home. 

Rewind exactly 1 week from my birthday. And it was my amazing co-fellow, Lute’s, 24th birthday. The day right after Q2, we had sweet co-fellow lunch at Noodle. Yummy food, pretty pieces of cake, and surprise and sparkly gifts from the US was how we celebrated the first of our co-fellow pair to get on #Level24. And yes Lute’s older than me…by 7 days. 

Before I knew it,  it was my turn. Showing up to work in my newly made Chitenge pants had me walking with a new “I’m 24 today” swag. I opened my phone to texts and phone calls from the Burton crew and photos of the cards that they got for me (my parents love cards and always gives the to us for the holidays! And it was so sweet to receive mine this year via WhatsAp! #burtonblastoff). And I was so excited for work to be done, so that some of ZamFam and I could FINALLY try the best steak house in all of Lusaka, Marlins. And for those of yall that know me, I LOVE steak/meat/protein. Needless to say, I was super pumped and the day was off to a great start. 

Once we showed up to the Lusaka Club House for dinner  (with Lute dressed to impressed and swervin in her friend’s car), we waited for Kalin and Sara to arrive. Then it was time to eat. And NOM the Pepper Steak was EVERYTHING.

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And just when I thought that I was on cloud9, Lute (aka the best co-fellow EVER) surprised me with a HUGE toilet paper roll cake paired with cute little poop cupcakes that said “You’re Old As Poop”. I literally lost my shit, I was so happy.

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The INCREDIBLE cake coupled with the AMAZING steak and the ECCENTRIC light up crown that adorned my head courtesy of Kalin in addition to the PRACTICAL work goodies that Lute also gave me ALL made moving on up to #level24 so special.

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As icing on the cake, Lute and I had a joint ZamFam potluck celebration that also served as Effie, Doris, and my official house warming party at our new pad. It was so much fun to bring the gang back together again over yummy drinks and food (and I even cooked NOODLES!)

All of my prior premonitions about this year and turning 24 were instantly quelled and replaced by sheer gratitude for the people that I get to call my family- both in Zambia and stateside. Seriously. #Level24 was made perfect by all of them. Thank you all so much ❤ 

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The Move

Months of discussion, propelled by termite infestations, extreme power and water outages and the overall health and safety issues that were becoming more apparent and hard to maintain at many of our homes over the course of the first 6 months homes yielded a complete ZamFam move in early 2016. With GHC’s assistance, we all, over the course of a month, transitioned to new homes scattered across the city. For me, this move was pretty bittersweet because while the housing that we had been living in for our first 6 months in Zambia had a host of physical problems that had been compounded over several years that affected the collective livelihood of the group that lived there, the housing complex had been an integral place of community for the 4 years of Zambian based American fellows (as well as many of the Zambian national fellows) who were a part of Global Health Corps. The history of the complex and just the sheer convenience of living next door to other members of our cohort made the place special because it housed many memories and enabled new group memories to be born which meant that the official announcement of our move called for a grand farewell celebration. Kalin headed up a going away Braii or BBQ for friends and family of current and previous GHC fellows based in Zambia, and the turn-out was great. It was a beautiful way to move into a new phase of our Zambian GHC experience.

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Fast forward a month later, we somehow managed to pack up all of our belongings (which for me was a heinous process since I tend to collect massive amounts of random things) and have since moved to various homes in Lusaka that boast improved maintenance and power as well as being a bit more convenient to most of our cohort’s work places.

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For GHC, one of the main focuses for our move was to improve the commute from work to home so that less people were traveling to and from work after the sun was down. And because this was a main part of the move and new housing selection, roommates were swapped and new living arrangements were made. Effie and I are still roomies and have welcomed Doris into our day to day lives as our new third roommate in our spacious and beautiful new home (complete with accent walls and a red kitchen!).

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We all had to adjust and set new expectations for one another to ensure that we live as peacefully and productively as possible in our third official living arrangement since moving to Zambia. While this experience was definitely bittersweet at the beginning and learning how to get to work or grocery shop or just live in our new contexts added a certain level of anxiety for me as I sought to find my new norm, the move has proven to be for the better for all of us and I am thankful for all of the new opportunities that this new housing arrangement has to offers us (like intentionally traveling to visit each other or hosting dinner parties with one another).

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This just goes to show that the only constant in life is change, and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Kuti + Kafue

The past 2 weekends in Zambia have been adventures for sure! Last weekend, we began by hittin up the monthly Dutch market to get some beautiful prints and patterns. Of course this means that we had to flex our negotiating muscle, and luckily, Kenya and I were successful as we walked away with these beautiful Chitenge dresses for a really decent prices! I cannot wait to wear mine as wearing something that wasn’t a fortune is always particularly satisfying.

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After taking quit naps in Kepa, we made moves to the BareFeet Music Festival, which was an incredible 2-weeks of African performances and arts all benefiting poverty initiatives sponsored by incredible organizations such as UNICEF and UNHCR. Last Saturday was the finale of the 2 weeks of festivities, and the festival went out with a bang with headliner FEMI KUTI.

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Being unfamiliar with this amazing artist before last weekend, I was completely blown away by this man’s talent paired with his passionate voice of advocacy for the continent of Africa. With lyrics like:

“Yesterday, Dem tell us sey
Sey today, na we go gain
So we struggle, suffer dey
For this new democratic change
But the truth of the matter be sey
Dem disguise another way
To continue their crooked ways
Oh Yes! Dem bobo!”

It makes you think. Advocacy entwined with incredibly sophisticated rhythmic beats.

Effie, one of my ZamRoomies, is Ghanaian and has grown up loving Kuti’s work so it was incredible to experience this performance with her with the rest of the Zamfam. What an amazing night!

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Fastforward to this past weekend, my ZamRoomies and I went on a day trip excursion to the Kafue River which was about 45 minutes outside of Lusaka. Effie’s co-workers invited us and organized this excursion and we were so thankful to have been invited! Setting up a picnic, we enjoyed a beautiful and scenic view of the nature that Zambia boasts that we don’t usually get to see in the cityscape of Lusaka.

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The best part of the trip was getting a chance to explore via a speedboat in a hippo infested waters! It was such a beautiful adventure and a nice escape to a lush natural haven at the Cheetah Lodge at the Kafue River.

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The last two weekends listening to Kuti and at Kafue were amazing!

Out on the Town  

This past weekend was an eventful one! My usual, casual Friday half day commenced, and afterwards, I went home and immediately to sleep. It was the last day Lute was house-sitting for her cousin and the last day that she would be driving us to work. Not having to worry about dealing with mini bus fee negotiations, sitting extremely close to strangers’ armpits, and praying that we wouldn’t drive towards incoming traffic everyday last week was glorious while it lasted!
After waking up from my cat nap, the roomies and I decided to watch some quality television AKA PITCH PERFECT and PITCH PERFECT 2, courteous of hard drives with massive amounts of space. Over the course of a few hours, people came in and out to watch with us and then, out of no where, Alexis made announcement.

“I have a surprise”. And in walked REENA + MWANSA!

We haven’t seen them since they left 3 weeks ago for Kitwe, which is about 6 hours away from Lusaka. We talk everyday and have been venting to one another about the inevitable adjustment struggles that we are all facing, but seeing them in PERSON was SUCH A SURPRISE!!

Reena stayed with Effie, Kalin and I which enabled long night chats about our lives here and what we envision for ourselves in the future. Saturday was full of events as well as we were celebrating  BRIANS 26th birthday, which was birthday number 4 for ZamFam.

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We began the day by getting picked up by a one of last year’s ZamFam fellows, Robyn, and going to ZamBean-a coffee shop notoriously known for having the best coffee in all of Lusaka. AND IT WAS FABULOUS! I got an incredible iced coffee slushie and a bacon/egg breakfast combo (per usual) that I shared with Reena since she got French toast. MEAT! Nom Nom!
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Of course, we all napped and Kalin put up her hammock following this breakfast feast.

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Next on the agenda was going  to Chengdu, a local Chinese restaurant and casino for dinner! We were really worried about prices, but it turned out to be really affordable and delicious. And to celebrate Brian, we placed a candle in a dumpling!

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Following dinner, we had a Zambian style kick back at our casa before heading out! After sorting out the cab/ride situation, we hit up CHICAGOS first. It was definitely a different scene than it was the first time I went there as it is a restaurant in the mall. Afterwards, we hit the Lounge for some dancing and mingling and then finally headed home to hit the hay. #wehitthatscene
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Sunday, was sad because Reena and Mwansa left and Brian left for Botswana for a work training :(. But it was happy in the sense of productivity. Effie, Kalin and I thought the power was going to go out so we cooked a lot, worked out, showered, and prepared for the week all before 1pm. AND I COOKED THIS INCREDIBLE BAKED AVOCADO + EGG MEAL that Reena taught me! It turns out that the fear of loadshedding makes us really productive, even though power did not go out on Sunday. Lawlz.

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WHAT an eventful weekend going  OUT ON THE TOWN with my ZamFam homies.

Birthday Bashes

I have always been a big fan of birthdays. I used to be the type that would have a full on birthday week with events with different groups of friends for the entire week of my birthday- which means that OF COURSE I was the girl who called dibs on the princess themed birthday party before other kids in my class so that they knew if their birthday was near mine, they would have to pick a different theme.

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As I have grown older, I have learned to really love celebrating other people’s birthdays. Its so much fun to surprise people you love and care about with songs, memorable photos and gifts while showering them with praise for how wonderful they are as a special person in your life. Because lets face it, it’s more fun to be belting out HAPPY BIRTHDAY in an off key, hoarse voice (not harmonizing like some of you acapella people) rather than being on the receiving end—because after 21, being on that sides can almost 100% of the time be very awkward. Like yayyyyy thanks for singing to me while I sit here smiling awkwardly at you…BAH. But of course I still love it because I relish the awkward moments of life.

In the midst of the craziness and haziness of the past 3 weeks, ZamFam has been blessed with 3 birthdays for 3 of my dearest friends thus far.

On July 4th I had the distinct pleasure of not only celebrating the birth of the United States, but also the beautiful existence of the purest light of our ZamFam. Reena, the youngest of the crew, turned 22, and we brought it in with margs and songs at Bucca de Beppo in Time Square. I loved celebrating with this lil nug and miss her so much since she moved off to the Copperbelt district of Zambia today, which is 5 hours away from Lusaka.

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On July 16th, our lovely Kalin hit the quarter century mark on an emotional roller coaster of a day. Still warming up to the reality of load shedding, the day began in a bit of a dark place (literally and figuratively), but came full circle that evening when we had an incredible nshima dinner with the current and past ZamFam GHC fellows. Kalin had been SO excited for nshima and it was SO delicious; I think we were all stuffed and happy following that meal while in the company of so many cool people. Of course we surprised her with a cake, card, and some NAUGHTY GIRL wine (which was loved by all). And in honor of traditional Zambian practice, Kalin had water poured all over her (which is suppose to be reminiscent of being born out of the womb…a really intensely graphic metaphor but we embraced it nonetheless)

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On July 18th, it was Sara’s 25th birthday and was the day that marked our first weekend in Lusaka. Reena, Brian, Sara, Kalin and I decided to adventure out to one of Lusaka’s top 10 places to eat, Deli, for a delicious brunch! After a night of no power, girl talk, nail painting, banana-grams playing, and New Girl watching (via an external hard drive), it was nice to escape the walls of the Belvedere Lodge for the day. And Deli was perfect! Although the power went out, it was a cute, boutiquey looking restaurant that served EGGS AND MEAT AND COFFEE. We were all ecstatic!

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Talk about celebrating the little things in life! We had such a great meal and conversation which transitioned nicely to our first Lusaka braii, or cook out, hosted by the current GHC Zambia fellows. Booze was a-flown and meat was a-cookin (for quite sometime since the power went out again), and everyone seemed to be having such a great time! And it was really fun getting to know some of the current and past fellows even better too! In honor of Zambian tradition and Sara’s birthday, we sang, we showcased a cake and we drenched her in water- and it was beautiful. Many people hit the town following the braii, aka Darty, and had the chance to feel out the Lusaka clubbing scene!

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All in all, ZamFam goes hard for birthdays despite power outages. It has been so fun celebrating my new friends in our new home!

48 Hour Time Warp

Our last hours at Yale were a haze of emotions and events. Closing Dinner Party, crying, scrambling, packing, dancing, re-crying, delirium.

Sunday June 12th was our last day of training. We had our final Still Harbor session and final reflections before spending a 5 hour break repacking or buying our last minute toiletries or electronics. For me specifically, I had to pack one of my 5 bags completely before dinner in order to give it to my incredible co-fellow, Lute, who agreed to check it for me in an effort to creatively problem solve my over-packing struggle. I had to hurry all this packing to be prepared for our last fancy event and dinner.

6pm: We had our group GHC photo in the beautiful (by highly allergenic) Yale grass in the best outfits we could pull together given the crazy day of packing and days of traveling ahead.

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7pm-10pm: We found ourselves at the Omni Hotel in New Haven having a beautiful farewell dinner inclusive of delicious non-dining hall food, an amazing slideshow capturing our days of training, and a highly emotional candle lighting ceremony where we lit each others candles and expressed why we loved or were inspired by each other. I was honored to have been chosen amongst the first group by Barbara Bush who really expressed sincere interest in my work and gratitude for me joining the GHC family. I awkwardly became emotional really quick to the point where I was like hysterical by the time I was going to light Reena’s candle (whose literally been like my twin-aka little, young and brown- sister throughout training and even before we met!)

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11pm-3:30am: As our teary, emotion-felt session faded, we moved into the bar/dancing part of the evening. Presumably, at this point, your bags were supposed to be almost packed and to fight the inevitable jet-lag that lay ahead, you were planning to party all night and night sleep until you got on the plane. I tried to go with this plan as Reena and I went out with everyone, but found ourselves becoming zombies on the dance floor (mainly me. Reena’s like a profesh dancer!). Of course this meant that we needed some New Haven Pizza at 1am to keep us awake. After pizza, I had to subscribe to the delirium, and take a 45 minute cat nap before showering.

4am-6:30am: We loaded the busses in New Haven with our positive energy packets written by our peers and my choo-choo train of luggage. A couple of hours later we woke up from attempted bus sleep to find ourselves at JFK; it was about to get real. My brain was flooded to internal questions:

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How much will my luggage cost?

Will they let me bring this as a carryon?

Is my luggage even close to the right weight?

The anticipation was killing me. But I was trying to strategize.

7am-8am: Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11am; so we had to wait. Sitting in line with all of our luggage was a fun bonding experience as we were in line with GHC Uganda fellows (aka the UCrew). We shuffled our order so that those of us that anticipated that we would be overweight (aka me…always) would go first so that others could potentially help us if needed which was AWESOME. Finally, it was time to check in.

8:30am-11am: 30 minutes of people ahead of me went and finally it was my turn. THANKFULLY, I had the best checker of all time who helped me go through with the minimum costs possible (aka FO FREE). PRAISE! Security was kind of intense, especially since Reena got stopped twice in a “random” search or a “let’s stop the brown girl but we aren’t racist” search, but I digress. All of ZamFam and UCrew were on the same flight and we all made it safely to the terminal. After some last calls home and some good-ol American McDonalds, it was time to board the plane…and DAMN! I had never flown Emirates before and it was seriously majestic. Good food, USB plugs, toothbrushes galore and there were STAIRS ON OUR PLANE! It was the freaking Titanic of the sky and even some of our GHC peers got upgraded to business class and got to fly upstairs!

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12.5 hours later, we found ourselves in Dubai. With a short layover, we were practically sprinting across the biggest airport I have ever seen in what felt like the hottest temperatures ever. The air was hot, the water was hot, EVERYTHING was hot. Yet somehow we sweatily made our way to another, smaller Emirates 7 hour flight to Lusaka. Since the first flight was so entertaining, it was hard to sleep; therefore on the second one, we literally all were paralyzed by fatigue. Only, barely opening our eyes for food, we all slept hard.

Who knows what time it was by now, but we woke up in Lusaka, which obviously called for a group photo. The visa situation was more challenging for some of us then others, but after about an hour we FINALLY MADE IT!
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But where were we going and who was taking us there?

Representatives from our host organization, so for me the Society for Family Health, came and picked us up from the Lusaka airport and brought us to our current transitional housing site. Fighting jet lag, we all went to dinner with Eric which transitioned nicely to a long night’s slumber and first night in Lusaka.

And that’s what I call a 48 hour time warp.

ZamFam

On Monday, I am moving to Zambia for a year.

I go in and out of being extremely excited and totally petrified daily, but what calms my nerves, maintains my sanity and most importantly keeps me laughing is my ZamFam.

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ZamFam (n): a small group of Global Health Corps Fellows, consisting of half Americans and half Zambians, that become a family the day that they meet each other; together they embark on a journey in Zambia while loving and supporting one another through their shared passion for social justice via their collective fight for health equity.

Our ZamFam cohort (which is deeply rooted in and connected to 6 years of ZamFams before us) couldn’t be more different in terms of backgrounds, personalities, and age--but we have bonded in a way that makes me believe that I am right where I am supposed to be. As much as I already miss my family, ZamFam makes everything better and happier. And another fabulous part about us is that out of all of the GHC country groups- Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, United States, and Zambia–we are the smallest with only 18 members. But that hasn’t stopped us from having a larger than life and memorable presence during these first weeks of the fellowship and at training. Always loud and always laughing, Zamfam is known for our strong bond. 

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Additionally, I have the most incredible co-fellow and partner in crime. Lute and I, only 1 week apart in age with creative and communication interests, are a perfect match. We are very similar in terms of personalities (although she is much more audacious than me on a daily basis which keeps life fun) and are excited to creatively contribute to the Society for Family Health as a dynamic duo.

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The uniqueness of our relationship was verified 2 nights ago at the GHC cocktail party at Chelsea Piers in New York City. Lute and I were chosen to give a 2 minute pitch on our grand vision for the future of global health to GHC donors, celebrity friends and strategic partnerships. Using powerful metaphors and articulate speech, we had a connected vibe and message that resonated with the crowd. 

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“It is time that we rebrand global health. It is essential that global health becomes an inviting brand that everyone feels that they need to be a part of in order to transform the world. Our generation will do that. And quite frankly, it’s about damn time.”

Needless to say, that was an incredible experience that was greatly supported by the amazing Zamfam in the audience.

I love my ZamFam and am so blessed to have been joined with these incredible people; I now know that as we enter this new adventure, that we will have each other’s back cuz thats what families do 🙂