Everyday lessons: The power of strangers.
The Nsombo family - my family in Pamodzi, Zambia
I met Andrew in a bar, on a weekend afternoon, after most the regulars were in, under the outdoor shelter and watching soccer, playing pool or sharing a beer with friends at the outdoor tables.
There were hundreds of people packed in here on New Year’s. Today, this guy in an orange shirt comes up and says he’s a friend of my friend, Iggy, who brought me here. He and his friends would like to speak with me for a while and visit. Can I come over?
There’s about 6 guys and a girl just outside; my friend and his brothers are shooting pool. I like that he asked me and let me know that he’s already cleared it with what i like to call “the protection detail.” I go.
They all know my friends, like everyone here in Pamodzi, because it’s a small village where kids run like hell down the dirt roads and paths rolling car tires as fast as they can for fun, and there’s only so many places to show up with friends later in life on a weekend. Like many people here, they are genuinely curious about me — a visitor from NY who has never been to Zambia. How do I find it? Are the people nice? The Zambians really think they are welcoming and nice. Without exception, I find that to be true. I tell them.
We talk about a place my friend can take me that’s FULL of bats — all over, it’s something to see. A place where they are making some sort of plant handicraft I forget. I have to go to Victoria Falls.
We joke, we laugh, and I settle in.
Andrew tells me he knows my friend for a long time. They grew up together. He likes Iggy and his siblings, but he really loves Iggy’s mom. Andrew, I ask some minutes later, what’s the greatest or most important lesson you have learned in life?
He looks at me for a moment, wondering, but just a moment:
“Pay attention to strangers. A stranger can impact your life greater than your own. You don’t know how they will become.”
English is an official language in Zambia, but a second one for most the guys here — it’s predominantly a Bemba area — so I’m not entirely sure what he means.
I ask him to share more.
He grew up friends with my friends. At some point, one or both of his parents died. Iggy’s mom watched out for him, and was like a mother to him. He would never have guessed that it would turn out that way; and that she would come to mean so much to him.
Iggy and his parents, Margaret and Benedict
You just don’t know, Andrew confides in me. He could never see that coming. You just don’t know when you meet someone how they will be a part of your life, or the impact that they have.
I didn’t have time to take his photo or discuss more, because it was his turn to play pool, then it was dark, so I ended up with not the best photo of Andrew, at dusk on my phone but I wanted it.
Unless they’re family, pretty much every single person we have chosen to be integral in our lives, to invest our heart and soul into, and who either give us the good chills or inspire us to cry at night, were strangers, until we let them in.
I have thought about that often since Andrew had occasion to share his insight. Just three months earlier I was dancing to a terrible cover band at a horse race in the town I never expected to be in in Australia, and met Iggy. Two months later, I trusted him enough to show up in Zambia and try life on there for some weeks. A complete stranger weeks earlier.
I have always believed in an “internal magnet,” as i call it. For the most part, we guide ourselves with this inner compass to the people we are supposed to meet. Andrew, thanks for our reminder, next time someone sits down next to us on a park bench, shoots a smile for a hello, or …. or ….
-Kris in Zambia, Africa 2015
Many people supported my dream and this project in a fall Indiegogo campaign. It means so much to me. Every day is an epiphany and the world grows smaller - and bigger. Thank you to all of you. This is a story I shared with "mohfoh" for the "storyteller's corner."