First Impressions: The Color Purple
Disclaimer: I promise I didn’t originally intend to continue with the musical theme (see my first blog post), but it just happened to work out that way!
I must confess this is my first experience being away from home. Although I have always enjoyed traveling, the majority of my trips have always been one to two weeks at most and typically with family. Even when I went to college I wasn’t far from home – in fact it was just a 30-minute drive away. So traveling to a far away place, for an extended period of time, all alone, is very new to me.
Prior to leaving I didn’t really have too much time to process. Initially, I was too busy packing, researching, and saying my goodbyes. Then, while on the plane, I was distracted by books, TV, and airline food (which actually wasn’t too bad!).
However, I had a layover in Ethiopia where the WiFi wasn’t working and I finally had some time to think, or should I say panic. There I was, sitting in a foreign airport, and things really started to sink. Like the fact that I wouldn’t see the people I loved, the people I had just said goodbye to, for the next six+ months. Or that I was going to a place where I did not know the language or culture (research can only get someone so far). And then as I shuffled through my papers I realized I would soon be facing customs! What if there was something wrong with my paperwork? What if they didn’t allow me into the country!?
Luckily my layover wasn’t too long, otherwise who knows what other possible catastrophes I would have imagined. Despite all of this I was able to sleep on the next leg of my journey. When we finally arrived I was pleased to find that Lusaka’s international airport was smaller than I expected, and not at all overwhelming as I imagined. I was also pleasantly surprised by the ease at which I was able to get through customs. Finally, after collecting my many bags, I was greeted by the friendly face of George Petros, one of CMMB’s amazingly kind team members!
As we drove down the paved highway with the red-brown dirt paths on either side, passing pedestrians walking long distances, a large tree with bright purple flowers caught my attention.
“Oh, you’re lucky” said George when I commented on its beauty. “Those trees only bloom once a year for a brief time.”
All I could think about was the musical “The Color Purple” (I know that this musical was originally a book by Alice Walker and there was a film adaptation with Oprah Winfrey, but I only know it as a musical.) From what I recall, the title was inspired by the thought that in nature the color purple is rare, so that when one is lucky enough to see it, they should regard it as a special gift from God, something to be appreciated, even in the darkest of times.
As soon as I saw that tree my worries and doubts disappeared. I had made it to Zambia. I was headed towards a new adventure with new people who, based on George’s warm welcome, promised to be wonderful as well. I knew God was with me! All it took was a spotting of the color purple in nature to remind me of the love and goodness present in the world that can outweigh anxiety and worries.
I went on to learn that the tree is called the “Jacaranda.” It is native to South America and made its way to Zambia because of its beauty and ability to thrive in warm climates. The tree has provided me with a way into conversations with locals and CMMB team members. For instance, a fellow volunteer, Kirollos, shared his own personal story of the Jacaranda tree in Australia, where he earned his masters in Public Health. He explained that there was a shared belief between fellow students that if you hadn’t studied for your exams prior to the blooming of the tree, it would not bode well for you!
The tree has since accompanied me on various adventures around the city of Lusaka: passing a street full of them on my way to the Office of the Professions to obtain my license, looking at them as I sat squished against a window of a crowded bus when using the local transport system (imagine four-bench seats in a mini-van with four people on each seat – sardines come to mind!), while exploring Lusaka’s many markets and malls, or visiting the homemade stalls built beneath the Jacaranda’s shady branches where locals sell local produce, airtime (aka phone time), and my personal favorite “fritas” (a round ball of fried dough, served fresh out of the fryer!)
This same tree greeted me each day as I arrived and left the CMMB office in Lusaka, the place I started my adventure and learning about the Zambian people who give this office and this country an amazing and inspiring spirit.
As the Jacaranda loses all its purple flowers I am both sad and happy. I will miss their brightness and warmth, but really I am so grateful for their superb timing. This tree gave me hope and comfort at an anxious time and reminded me of the beauty present everywhere.
I still have much to learn and grow accustomed too, but one thing is for sure. I hope to continue to look for the color purple in every situation and every person I meet and hopefully exude its feeling of hope and love as well.