By Nathan Wild ‘18
Among many of the tales and experiences told by seniors on Monday’s assembly (January 29th), Emanuel Parker '18 experienced a uniquely frightful project, facing the regular endeavors of being in a foreign land without a familiar face, piled on by unforeseen complications to test his dedication and willingness to serve.
Parker had been working on his trip since the summer and took months to plan his self-funded trip. He chose his own site outside of those suggested by SLUH after being referred to a website called Workaway by his mother. Workaway specializes in volunteer work in 170 countries.
“I realized I wanted a culture shock, so I decided Africa would be a great place to go. I stumbled across the service site in Zambia,” said Parker. “After looking through all the pictures and the excellent reviews of others who had worked there, I had decided that was what I wanted my service experience to be.”
While many of his friends were ringing in the new year, Parker arrived in Lusaka, Zambia on the morning of Jan. 1. He then took a bus ride across the country to Livingstone.
“It was a huge cultural shock. There were complete slums with little kids running around in the streets, which I’d never witnessed before. Without a proper sanitation system, there was trash everywhere and often people burning their trash. In the really rural areas I saw straw and mud huts which I thought I would never see. Everything was just really sad to see,” said Parker.
Parker dedicated his time at the Melota Community School, a small, concrete building with a meager tin roof located outside of Livingstone, a popular city for tourism in Zambia. His service revolved around teaching pre-algebra and geometry class.
“I was given an exam that showed me what they needed to learn by the end of my time there. Every day I planned out my own lessons and used my experience of math classes in the U.S.—having warm-ups to start the class, do some examples, and working on your own. It could be challenging, but also a very rewarding experience to see the kids learning.”
The classroom lacked a number of what may be considered essentials in the United States. Parker used chalk on a wall that was spray painted with a black coating rather than a blackboard. The kids sat two to a desk, without a textbook. They each had a notebook and would do their math in pen.
“I was nervous on my first day thinking that a new, young teacher from another country would be a recipe in the U.S. to get taken advantage of, but the kids were incredibly polite and respectful,” said Parker.
During his free time outside of the classroom, Parker went to Livingstone for internet access so he could communicate his experiences to his family. The lack of internet at his site initially seemed to be a curse, but Parker eventually grew to enjoy the time away from his phone.
“There is something great about not having internet. It’s like being on an isolated retreat from your life and from the internet,” said Parker. “I believe in God and I had spent a lot of free time meditating and praying. It was a very spiritual experience since there was a lot of time to just live in the present moment. It was like a service retreat.”
Parker had a volunteer family at his home who would stay with him during the daytime, but leave him at night to go to their own home.
“Mercy cooked me food which was nice because I got to try southern African cuisine. In the mornings, we didn’t eat, but had tea. Lunch was usually super simple like bread or potatoes to get you through the day. Dinner every night was nshima, which is like a loaf of cornmeal that fills you up, with fish or a small amount of chicken. I had minnows that we ate whole, eyes and all.”
Although most of the food seemed like a typical carb or starch, Parker had his share of unpleasant meals.
“There was a dish I cannot pronounce that was essentially mashed pumpkin leaves in vinegar,” said Parker. “However, I was told by my mother, who lived in Zimbabwe for a long time, that it is important I eat every bit of the meal. It wasn’t usually a big deal.”
Along with adapting to the culinary challenges of the culture, he also faced the lack of indoor plumbing and a constant source of freshwater, having to boil his own.
“It was a challenge because the water in the house didn’t always work. The water only worked if the local stream’s current was strong enough,” said Parker. “There were more than a couple of nights that I would go to bed thirsty. I would go days without showering or sometimes the shower would stop while I had shampoo in my hair, which was the worst.”
Parker slept in a room without air conditioning in the summer heat, draped in a mosquito net while cockroaches and lizards crawled on the floor and spiders dangled from the rafters.
“I couldn’t have gone to bed without the mosquito net. I was terrified of all the insects. It was crazy hot and the insects only made it worse.”
“I had to learn to adapt. In a situation like that you have to learn to mature up,” said Parker. “There are a lot of times when I wanted to break down and lose it, but I couldn’t halfway around the world away from your home in a third world country. You have to adapt, whether you like it or not.”
Among all of the struggles he faced, he attributes the first day of the soccer program to be his greatest. Initially, Parker was to teach math and help with the soccer program, until facing a service-changing injury. Although the term “breaking ankles” is often used in many sports to define when someone gets outskilled in a one-on-one encounter, Parker actually had his ankles broken on his first day in the soccer program.
“I don’t remember exactly how I fell. I just remember hearing two pop, crack, and snap like sounds. One of those sounds was my ankle dislocating. The other sound was my fibula fracturing. The kids were really good at soccer and there was a lot of loose dirt. I got crossed up basically and a kid broke my ankle… literally,” said Parker.
Parker went straight to the hospital in a taxi cab. Unfortunately, he was not seen by a doctor for five hours and spent that time on a wooden bench bearing the pain without painkillers.
“The place was in horrible condition with dirty floors, bugs everywhere, no phone, no air conditioning, and no water fountains,” said Parker. “It was an extremely tough time for me.”
When he finished up his x-rays and a basic check up with a nurse, Parker was seen by two other doctors. One of them seemed to be an assistant in training to the main doctor. The head doctor told his assistant to administer cortisone to Parker as he left the room. However, the medicine was incorrectly administered.
“The guy looked super nervous as he rolled up my sleeve. I remember thinking I didn’t want to tell him what to do, but I was pretty sure you put cortisone at the site of the pain,” said Parker. “Before I could muster up what to say to him, he just sticks the needle in my arm.”
Parker was told then that he could not be administered any more cortisone. He was given a washcloth to bite on while his ankle was relocated.
“The worst part was that it took them a long time how to put my ankle back in. I was sitting there just holding myself trying not to squirm because it was so painful.”
Parker went home later that night in a cast.
“The second night was the hardest night with my broken ankle and lack of luggage after the airline lost it. I didn’t even have a way of talking to my family about what had happened. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life,” said Parker.
After facing all the challenges thrown at him, Parker remained determined to stay and finish out his time in Zambia.
“Even with the injury, it was still a great experience, said Parker. “The kids were fantastic and extremely respectful when I was on my crutches.”
After returning to the United States, Parker has been appreciative of every minor facet of his life, from running water to the modern care his ankle given.
“I would say I have an incredible new appreciation for the life I have and the conditions I am in. There are so many little things I often take for granted. There wasn’t even a mirror in the house and I never realized how much I appreciate just having a mirror to look at myself in,” said Parker. “It’s hard to articulate but there’s just so much appreciation for the smallest of things and the slightest bits of comfort.”
“I got out of it an appreciation for my own education. I don’t think I ever really understood what it meant,” said Parker. “It was a very humbling experience to teach that taught me the difficulties of teaching and also how blessed I am.”
Parker also now feels a new wave of patriotism for the United States for its major global presence.
“I never really appreciated what it means to live in the United States. People in Zambia look to the U.S. like no other country. I remember reading a newspaper in the city that had two things: United States politics and Zambian politics. I talked with a local on how much they pay attention to the United States and how what happens in the United States can effect so much else. I had no idea how much the United States means to the rest of the world.”
With the importance of politics, Parker was also shocked by how corruption is constantly scrutinized in the United States, yet continues without proper political action in countries like Zambia.
“We have a system of checks and balances that Zambia lacks. The government is so corrupt yet nobody can do anything about it. There are politicians that prohibit the country from developing because they pocket so much money even in the midst of a cholera outbreak. We are always seeking to be the ideal culture when there are so many places that are left so far behind and are just trying to struggle for basic civil freedom.”
Although Parker highly recommends the trip to those who seek service outside of the United States, he asks that others learn in two key areas where he failed.
“If anyone goes on the trip, they should know to get an international phone plan which would’ve came in handy so many times and to fly straight to Livingstone. My bus broke down halfway across the country on the way back. I hitchhiked, in Africa, the rest of the way to the airport in the back of a pickup truck, which I never thought I’d be able to say. I’m only now getting to the point where I can laugh at that as it was genuinely scary being in that situation with a lack of communication.”
After breaking his ankle, surviving without internet, and adapting to the culture as a whole, Parker still remains optimistic about his project site.
“A lot of this trip was winging it and trying to get out of scary situations. I’m not sorry for anything that happened,” said Parker. “The leg and the lost luggage made things a really bigger challenge, but that’s what senior service is about. Those things make for great stories and the time outside of the cast allowed me to do what I had planned. It didn’t detract from the experience in any way. It just made it more challenging and more memorable.”