The good, the not-so-great and the downright awful: lessons learned from ten months working in my home country

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Image: Pinterest.com

Happy New Year lovely readers! 2018 is finally here and I’m feeling motivated, hopeful and excited about the new challenges and opportunities that await me. Overall, 2017 was a decent one for me despite it not ending on the happiest of notes. The past year was my year of learning and one of my biggest learning experiences, came from a return to my country of origin – Zambia – for ten months as a working adult. I’ve been permanently resident in South Africa for over a decade now and early last year I got an offer to do a consultancy in Zambia which I cautiously accepted. When I was initially offered the job I was thrilled to have an exciting work opportunity in women’s rights come my way but I wasn’t exactly elated about the prospect of being in Zambia for close to a year, if I’m honest. The last ten months have been quite the fascinating experience filled with its fair share of ups and downs. I can’t say I had an amazing time in Zed but I will say that it wasn’t as bad as I expected and it was definitely something I needed.

 

The good….

In retrospect, I look at my time in Zambia as something of a defining moment in my life. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a complicated relationship with my home country, to say the least. I reckon it’s no coincidence that I turned 25 in Zambia, a place that is so distant from yet so close to my identity. But I needed the experience of living there without my immediate family to understand more about myself and who I am. Like many third culture kids (TCKs), I vacillate between having a firm grasp on the cultural mash-up that is my identity and suffering through the occasional identity crisis. However, being back in Zambia for such a long period of time as an adult and experiencing the reverse culture shock that came with it helped me come to even better terms with my identity.

A particularly interesting aspect of my stay in Zambia was that I was experiencing the country without my parents for the first time. Aside from a visit my brother and I made to Lusaka in 2014, all our trips back to Zambia have been taken in the company of dear old mum and dad. The consultancy gig gave me a chance to explore many new places and spaces across Lusaka, spend some time with my extended family and immerse myself in my ancestral culture without the ‘buffer’ of my nuclear family. Nevertheless, I still haven’t quite gotten used to constantly being around my extended family. One of the major consequences of growing up outside my native Zambia is being really close with my immediate family and not knowing my extended family very well. I’m not as close with my relatives as my parents would perhaps like me to be. Not knowing them well is probably the reason why I still tend to see many of them as friendly strangers rather than family and why I usually feel like a visitor around them. Moreover, my sporadic attempts at assimilation – including perusing phrasebooks and dictionaries of some of the local languages and occasionally mixing a few Bemba words and phrases in my speech, in a way proved futile. I don’t really feel it helped bring me any closer to them. Nonetheless, it’s been great getting to know more of my relatives and thus becoming better connected to my family and culture.

Business-wise I feel I’ve evolved after my time in Zambia. Through various networking  events and marketing opportunities, I learnt many worthwhile lessons about the fashion jewellery business, took steps that helped move my business to a new plane and developed a wealth of new ideas as to how I can further grow my small-scale business in the future. I also feel I’ve grown creatively. As a self-taught jewellery-maker I am constantly experimenting and often learn by doing. I’ve come up with a variety of new styles and designs for my jewellery and explored the use of new techniques and media.  I also got to know many brilliant entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators who are doing incredible work in Zambia and abroad. They have further inspired me and shown me an enthralling side of Lusaka I never knew existed.

The main purpose for my stay in Lusaka was, of course, work. After I completed my master’s in human rights, I was determined to get involved in more feminist activism in both my professional and personal life. The consultancy gave me an in to working on women’s rights issues and, importantly, also gave me a chance to meet like-minded individuals with whom I will be collaborating on projects aimed at the advancement of women’s rights in the near future.

the not so great…

Despite my having an active social life and being surrounded by many kind and caring people, I went through intermittent periods of loneliness during my time in Zambia. I also went through the occasional bouts of anxiousness and depression that I sometimes struggle with. I don’t usually get homesick but, ironically, I was just that in a place that is meant to be home. I initially struggled to meet people with whom I really click, my extended family and local friends don’t always understand me and I often found it difficult to adapt to life in Zambia generally. Added to that, early on in my stay, a long-term friendship which developed into a romantic relationship completely fell apart shortly before my return home to South Africa. Focusing on the positive rather than the negative that came out of this experience, I learnt a lot about the importance of self-respect and self-love and will do things a little differently going forward. Moreover, in spite of everything, I did eventually form friendships, got acquainted with some truly remarkable people and shared many wonderful moments with them. I also found that my depressive episodes were fewer and farther between which I believe is down to my coming into my own, having the support of my immediate family and better managing my mental health in general.

and the downright awful…

I attended my very first funeral. Not long before I started work I lost a granny on my mother’s side of whom I was quite fond. Thereafter, more loss followed with the deaths of other relatives with whom I had hopes of getting to know and forging a stronger bond. Over the years, while my parents would sometimes return home to attend funerals of relatives, my brother and I only ever attended one or two memorials. At the news of a relative’s death, especially ones who I knew slightly better, I sometimes felt awkward or even guilty for feeling sad, weirdly enough. I found it strange that I felt such intense grief for people I barely knew. But I came to understand my feelings as my mourning the loss itself as well as mourning the loss of an opportunity to have a closer relationship with that relative. I have never really experienced death in the way I had last year. It was all very new to me but I soldiered on through it. And while I may still often feel like a visitor around my extended family, out of all the loss I was able to get closer to certain family members.

 

As I mentioned, 2017 was my year of learning and I like to think of my experience in Zambia as providing me with a myriad of valuable lessons that touched on many different aspects of my life. Considering the fact that I sometimes feel like a complete stranger in my ‘home’ country, the prospect of living there for so long gave me a lot of anxiety. But I’m very glad that I took up the consultancy as living and working in Lusaka has certainly changed my perspective on life in Zambia and been phenomenal for my personal and professional growth. Significantly, it was instrumental in the further development of my sense of identity.

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3 thoughts on “The good, the not-so-great and the downright awful: lessons learned from ten months working in my home country

  1. Pingback: I am a feminist, I am a Women Deliver Young Leader – The Diaspora Baby

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