"What are we doing?" Reflecting on words of wisdom from our Zambian Partners

It was afternoon traffic in Lusaka. The evening sun beat down on our bus. The windows on the bus were cracked ever so slightly. We would have had them cracked even more, but the sales women and men who lined the street were insistent that this watch, belt, or cell phone charger were what we needed. We were a captive audience. They knew that. Hence, the windows were only partially open.

At this point in the trip, we were a ragged bunch. Tired and exhausted, caked in sweat and dirt, we were sprawled across the bus, inhabiting our own space to try to get some needed rest. But a discussion began that drew a few of us in like moths to a flame. It was a topic that our hearts were aching to discuss. “What are we doing?”

Steeped in a culture of American individualism, where personal happiness is our highest pursuit, this question echoed in the chambers of each our hearts, simultaneously creating both beauty and chaos. The conversation swung from dreams and visions to communal gatherings, from politics and culture to families and careers, from individual pursuits to community endeavors.

Zambeezi - Pastor Barry receiving care from a clinic he helped to build - ethical, fair trade soap and lip balmPastor Barry receiving care from a clinic in Mibila, he helped to create.

As we searched and prodded one another with thoughts and questions, Pastor Barry interjected, “Tembo.” Then a course laugh followed by a cough. He was tired and weak himself from fighting an illness on our trip. But, as he spoke, we all stopped. We listened. His eyes flickered with a glint of wisdom. He is a sage, but not simply of his own doing. Shaped by the struggles, challenges, and trials of life a deep well of wisdom has been formed. We were ready and eager to listen.

Tembo in Swahili means Elephant, he began to tell us. Prior to the dwindling of elephant populations due to over hunting and human encroachment, they were a primary source of meat and other resources for many tribes. When a member of the community would successfully hunt an elephant, they would call in the entire community to help them dress and prepare the the animal for preservation and consumption. Now, if our hunting hero was to inform her compatriots that this elephant is hers and hers alone, how many of them would remain to help her. She would be left alone and the task would be impossible to accomplish. Where does our radical individualism leave us? Alone.

"We could be the hunter or the hunter’s friend,
the shop keeper or the customer,
what ties us all together is our shared value as individuals."

Does this proverb deny our individual value. No, in fact it does the opposite. We reaffirm our intrinsic worth when we affirm the value of another. Founded on family, friendship, geographic region, national identity or simply our shared humanity, a community is a community. We could be the hunter or the hunter’s friend, the shop keeper or the customer, what ties us all together is our shared value as individuals. The “Tembo” represents the opportunity we have to love one another, honoring this intrinsic worth and pursuing their thriving as our own. 

Zambeezi - the markets of Kitwe, Zambia - ethical, fair trade soap and lip balmThe market in Kitwe, Zambia.

Marking the beginning and end of each year creates a perfect opportunity to reflect. With the clock ticking past midnight on New Years Eve, you could say that just one second had transpired and you would be right. But with that single passing second, we can remind ourselves what lies behind and also what lies ahead. It can be hopeful and simultaneously painful, but either way, it is always important.

As we head into 2021, I would like to challenge you to ask “What is our Tembo?,” “What are we doing?” For us here at Zambeezi, there are a myriad of potential answers. We are crafting and creating organic, fair trade body care that renews your skin. We are expanding our exposure and experience as a brand to reach new customers, grow our sales and thus more broadly impact and support our partners in Zambia. We are creating viable economic opportunities in the Zambian market to maintain the incredible habitat our partners live and work in. We are seeking to create further educational, social and healthcare opportunities for the communities we work alongside. 

I could go on. Though each of these is part of our mission, each answer fulfills our deeper calling. None of these are our “Tembo.” As the new Managing Director of Kuwaha Naturals, Barry Illunga Jr., put its: “Our Impact. Your Impact.” To distill it even further:

Us. You. We. Thriving.

We want to cultivate a culture, an environment, a community where you are seen and valued for your intrinsic worth. You, whether in the office next to me, harvesting a field of lavender, applying a delightful layer of Lemongrass lip balm or digging into a hive of lush honey and beeswax, you have been crafted and created with immense worth. It is this worth that compels us. We want people to thrive, but we say people, not in some ambiguous esoteric fashion, but in reference to you reading this.

Together, people thriving.

Our impact. Your impact. From the subsistence farmer to the end user, we all are part of this Tembo. This is what we are doing.

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