Christmas in Zambia was different. We opened presents under a fake tree. But it was homy. The Christmas lights reminded us all of the Christmases back home. We had candy, candy canes, Christmas movies and games. That was enough. Who needs snow when you have the most important people in your life around you?
It was a time where I truly relaxed. In some ways it was painful – making myself slow down. I read books, hung out with family, and got to know the landscape and people of Garneton Zambia.
After about a month we said goodbye to a missionary family who was living nearby. Probably the biggest thing that happened is that we moved. As soon as the family left we moved in and began getting ready for the start of the Zambian school year. My younger siblings were reluctant to be heading back to school but probably also curious about what it would be like.
As my 16 year old brother and 14 year old sister began getting ready for school I realized that by the time our family’s 3 year commitment to stay in Africa was over, they’d both pretty much be done with high school!
I also started planning for a road trip. This trip was something I had been wanting to go on for about a year. Now it was finally about to happen. As soon as I returned to the US I would begin a two week journey across the southern states, touring cities and getting to know the layout of the country. I was ecstatic.
Over the next set of weeks from January 2018 to early march I didn’t honestly do a lot. I helped out with tutoring high schoolers at the orphan school in Garneton once a week. That was pretty much it.
Then our good friends the Leonards came to visit. Of the four of them only the Husband and the son came (the Wife and daughter stayed at home). Mr. Leonard had always been an elder growing up. He watched over me as I grew up and helped give me Christian wisdom as I learned more about the world. He was also a good friend to my father and our whole family.
Mr. Leonard’s son, Dean was my age — 18. Dean had always been a good friend to me and my younger brother. Each of us had slightly different interests but as kids we had all been into playing online and strategy games. Of course in Zambia we didn’t really have the chance to play all together but it was fun talking about the games we had played as kids.
For a week Mr. Leonard was with us. Then he left, leaving his son Dean with my family for a few months. At this point I had a couple week before my time to come home. I began preparing for the trip home and planned what I wanted to accomplished as soon as I got home.
A couple weeks after that I left. The days leading up to the day, March 25th I began writing notes to my whole family. I took pieces of colorful paper and wrote a letter to each one. I made each note personal and remembered to include stories.
The day came. I woke up and went to the kitchen. It was a strange day. I realized that this was it. This was my last day in Zambia for a while. I finished packing the last things and we headed for the door, giving kisses and hugs. It was a sad time but we all knew that we’d keep in touch.
I snuck the pile of notes behind a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter. As I got in the car with my parents I can remember my 6 year old brother, standing there on the African ground, looking up at the car. Why did I have to leave? There was so many options and adventures in the US waiting to happen yet there was so much here.
Part of me wanted to stay there and play a card game of monopoly deal with that little guy. I wanted to run around the house with toy swords, fighting like a “bad guy” and a “good guy” are supposed to in imaginary games.
At the airport I said goodbye to my Mom and 16 year old brother. I knew I’d see them when they returned to the US for a quick visit in May. But my Dad was the hardest person to say goodbye to. There was a possibility I wouldn’t see him for many months or possibly years.
As I waved through to them for the last time inside the first checkpoint I realized I was alone. I finally was getting what I had thought I wanted all along: full-blown independence. How did it feel? For the moment it felt… lonely.