The moment my overly American sneakered foot hits the broken tarmac of the Zambian road, my challenge begins.
Aggressive motorcar hooting marks the start of a reality-show-style intensive course—the objective is to unearth beauty.
The winner uncovers a glimpse of beauty amid the pandemonium of poverty, the chaos of violence, the cries of the hurting and forgotten, the rasps of ill lungs, the silent survivors of misplaced anger and the testimony bearers of inefficient economic and political policies.
In the early morning light, there is no silence.
The swishing of homemade brooms sweeping steadily on dirt lawns leaves lazy arcs that are actually brushstrokes of pride—showcasing the householders’ attempt to beautify her small ramshackled front yard.
Naked legs stand uncertainly in buckets of cold water, young voices crying in protest as they are soaped and scrubbed, bathed and dunked by efficient hands of older sisters, aunties, grandmas—all surrogate moms to the orphan.
Harried, static-laced voices of preached ‘redemption’ and ‘devil-ousting healing’ screech through television speakers turned way too loud and stations turned way too often to Nigerian ‘Christian pastors’ in homes of those families lucky enough to afford electricity.
Base-pumping, heart throbbing, mind-numbing, violence-enticing propaganda disguised as rap lyrics filter through the morning air, smashing any semblance of serenity.
The only silence is the silent voice of suffering.
It is in the downcast eyes of the young girl who wakes before dawn, leaving the warmth of her bed shared with younger siblings and cousins, to begin scrubbing pots outside by the water tap.
It is stuck in the throat of the 18-year-old orphan who sought refuge in the home of her uncle only to find herself trapped in four walls filled with domination and sexual assault.
It is in the distressed eyes of the thin-lipped grandfather who sits. And sits. And sits. In front of the dank, mud-bricked shack he and his daughter’s family call a home. He has nowhere to go, nothing to do, no way to provide sustenance for what little family he has left in his old age.
But still there is beauty hiding.
Still, God is present.
The movement of love, the movement of compassion, of ahimsa, of fervent hope for a community where the worth of all persons is present and loved.
That energy can be felt.
It lives in the collaboration of school board meetings. It lives in the commitment of teachers who walk two hours in order to arrive at school on time, ready to teach crowded classrooms or eager minds.
It lives in the strong arms of moms who volunteer to stand outside in heat of the sun and the wood burning stove, stirring porridge for school lunches.
It lives in the third-grade hand outstretched, friend to friend, an invitation to play.
It lives in the hugs, the laughs, the handshakes, the double-cheek kisses, the prayers shared among community members, myself included.
It lives in little moments of beauty uncovered in unassuming, unpromising and certainly uncomfortable places that will restore light to my soul.
These are the moments I return to as I walk.
These are the moments I return to as I breathe.
These are the moments that will forever be my backdrop of movement on my yoga mat.
These, the moments of life, are redeemed by beauty.
“I did not have to ask my heart what it wanted,
Because of all the desires I have ever known just one did I cling to
For it was the essence of all desire:
To hold beauty in my soul’s arms.”
St. John of the Cross
Lisa Ash is a yoga instructor and Community of Christ minister from Kansas City, Missouri. She currently works as an educational consultant for HealthEd Connect, a non-profit organization committed to empowering women and children through evidence-based health, education and advocacy programs. She serves as a Teacher Mentor Program Specialist for community school educators in Zambia. When she’s not adventuring around sub-Saharan Africa, she’s at home in Kansas City teaching yoga to babies, kiddos, mommies, grandmas and everyone in between. You can contact her at: [email protected]
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Assistant Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Bryonie Wise