When I Woke Up

by Patricia Alvarez (United States of America)

A leap into the unknown Zambia


As I closed my eyes, all I could feel was the sun on my back and the hot air taking all of the space in my lungs. I felt a lightness that I could not explain. The dust raised from the ground in form of clouds as the green safari truck raced across the desert plains. It layered on my skin over and over until it formed a natural protection from the sun. I looked around at the people that were with me on the back of the truck, sitting wide-legged, smiling and laughing. The man to my right was telling his wife “I wonder if Jenna is home by now.” “Well she probably left later than usual because we aren’t there to yell at her,” his wife responded. When the truck stopped, the driver yelled, “okay everybody, wiggle your legs and stomp your feet, be happy and have all you can eat!!” We all laughed and looked at each other with excitement and we jumped off one by one. We grabbed our small belongings and were escorted towards a village of miniature mud huts. There were a few locals enjoying Sunday breakfast with their families. They laughed and teased each other as they shared a couple of tiny bowls filled with vegetables and fruit. In the center there was a large bowl with a white paste. Everyone seemed to reach for that bowl before adding anything else to their plate. The activity of sharing a meal required full effort from each participant. Passing each other bowls between bites and sips of warm orange cola. The tourist families were very easy to spot. There was a level of confusion that could be seen through the interaction with the same communal meal. Glancing over at local families to see what needed to be done. One of the local families noticed this confusion and jumped right in to help, “Hey, my friend, you gotta grab white paste and put anything you want on top! Just like tortilla!” “Like this?” “yes my friend, PERFECT!!” As I reached my hut, my guide smiled from ear to ear and said “Welcome, please come in, this is where you will rest.” I stepped in. My little hut was very simple. Brown mud walls that rounded at the top. Small rectangular holes that replaced windows, covered by small white nets, held down by long steel nails. In the center of the room, there was a large bed with a wooden bedframe that had four skillfully handcrafted bedposts. Over the entire frame, there hung a white net that only opened towards the foot of the bed. Outside, there were children playing in the middle of the street, unbothered by incoming traffic or stray dogs. There were groups of men in conversation at the doorstep of most of the huts. Laughing, joking and pointing me out, “Hey little caramel girl, are you from America?” I’d look back smiling and nodding as I continued on my walk. A little further away, there was a small school courtyard and a choir of young girls singing “…we are the world, the world needs us, we love the world, the world loves us….” At the end of the street there was a group of women chanting and humming. There were candles of every color imaginable and patchouli incense that I could smell from where I was standing. They looked to the sky and back to the ground repeatedly, still chanting. The chanting grew louder and louder, but when I made eye contact with the leader of the group, she quickly turned away and blew out one of the candles. Everything went dark. As I opened my eyes, I slowly became aware of my fingers and toes. The light of the sun came in through my double-paned window and hit the center of my forehead. When I woke up without the towering white net above me, I could still smell the incense that burned in my room the night before. There was a burning sense of curiosity in my soul, and all I wanted to do was fall asleep again.