“Ba Katie!!”, a trembling voice calls suffocated by sobs. “Ba Katie… *sob* come… *sob* Piko took the relish.” I glance up hunched over my decrepit Chacos trying to finagle them in to one more hike. “Kika?” (What?)”, I ask wondering why my six year old brother Kyabanya has broken down in to one of those cries that swallow words before they can emerge. “Come.”
We walk next door to my host family’s house hand-in-hand. His tear soaked words come dribbling out of his mouth. He tells me that Piko, the family dog, has snatched the goat relish that was drying in the sun on top of their kinzanza (cooking shelter). She has dragged it away and now he can’t find it. “Dad is going to beat me!”, he keeps crying as if it is the end of the world and his father will truly come out from behind the house with an axe and do away with him. I hold his shoulders trying to steady him and assure everything will be ok.
My host family here in Zambia is extremely poor. Having goat as a relish (anything eaten along side of their staple nshima) is a very big deal. They are subsistence farmers and their diet is mostly vegetables and nshima. I try to relate to the missing meat… a broken computer perhaps?
Piercing through my flow of thoughts is an unmistakable pungent odor of rotting flesh. This delicacy must be within spitting distance. I suggest we follow the dogs in to the shoulder high dry grass surrounding my family’s hut. Still crying Kyabanya agrees and we trudge forward. The smell becomes overwhelming. A few minutes pass and I have to stop short of our goal to avoid losing my cookies. My little Zam-strong brother continues forward unfazed and determined. A few moments later he comes back with an enormous grin reaching across his small face. He holds up his right arm at the end of which is a goat head. All this fuss over a goat… head?
My brother’s mood has turned 180 degrees as he skips back through the temporary path we have made. When we reach their hut he asks if I would hold it while he monkeys his way up the kinzanza roof to put the priceless possession back. “Iwe, nakana. (You, I refuse)”, I say as I hold the back of my hand to my mouth choking back my half digested breakfast. He sighs a bit and I read his thoughts… weak American sister. He balances the goat’s horn hooking it on the bottom bamboo rung of the roof. It sways a bit in the hot African breeze which is blowing too delicately to disturb the flies sucking moisture from its eyes and exposed trachea.
Zambia has been a place of eye opening experiences for me. Every single day I have spent in this beautiful country I have learned something new. In America if our family dog snatched the steak off the dinner table there would never be uncontrollable tears and stress. Millions of Zambians live in debilitating poverty and even though I am surrounded by this all the time it is easy to forget until a little brother come crashing over looking like his life is over.
Yet, for the little amount of money/food/possessions a Zambian has, their ability to share what they have trumps any person I have ever known.
This was proven to me yet again as I sat down at the nshima table with my host mother the following night. She gently lifted the lids of the food bowls and there, just for me, were four succulent morsels of goat meat. I looked up and must have had shock written across my face because she immediately dove in to an explanation. The family had bought a leg of goat and had saved it to cook for me when I returned home from my last trip to town. She said that the family is very appreciative of what I have done for them and that she feels like I am her first-born daughter. The scrawny goat legs I have seen walking around my village do not have much more meat on them besides what was waiting for me on my dinner plate. The family’s portion, to spread among eight malnourished bodies, was the temporarily escaped and reclaimed goat head. In Zambia it is very rude to refuse food so I swallowed the emotional lump in my throat and sunk my hand in the pile of hot nshima. The kids sitting on the ground around my feet watched me eat the precious and delicious protein bite for bite. After two of the pieces I insisted I was full and the rest of the meat was passed around.
Intertwined with this unparalleled generosity is the Zambian definition of family. They treat each other as one huge family, not just by their word choice (everyone is a brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt) but by the way they conduct their lives. More often than not you will find distant family members and children staying together. In America there is paperwork and documentation that need to be completed on behalf of a child that needs to switch homes. There is more of a sense of permanence to the process. In Zambia if a distant family member needs help another well off family will take in any and all that need support. For example my good friend Ba Daka’s 13 year-old daughter Blessings stays with a family a couple of houses away because the Dakas do not have enough space and the Lwanjas do. Can you imagine sending off one of your children very casually to another house as if we are all just part of one big family? In Zambia, at least, this is true.
As part of this greater family one’s belongings are fluid and shared freely among everyone. If something is needed one can find it in the enormous extended family that makes up Zambia. Possessions will be passed on endlessly to continue the selfless cycle.
One of the best examples of the Zambian way of giving the greatest amount they can and acting like one huge family is the way they honor a death. Funerals will last three or four days. The greatest gift that can be given to honor the deceased is time and presence. Hundreds of community members cycle through the household to spend time with the afflicted family. I always know when a funeral is happening because the sharp piercing mournful wails of the women can be heard for kilometers. In America we gather together for typically half a day in muffled silence to attend a church service or burial. We hide our emotions covering our faces with our hands trying to stay strong. We bake a hot dish for the family that has lost their loved one or we send a card. All in all it is a hushed affair.
Not in Zambia. Zambian women drop to their knees sobbing and cry out as if trying to send a message to the other side. Zambian men will hold a drumming circle all night long for three nights as the community comes together to sing. There are no emotions hidden during a funeral as their wails and songs of sorrow help carry their loved one to the other side. In America a funeral is attended by those closest to the person that has passed. In Zambia everyone near and far comes to physically and emotionally show their support.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the funeral for an elderly man in my village. I went with three women that are my neighbors and good friends on the third day. We slowly walked through the family compound passing small circles of seated men and women separated by gender. The hut we entered was very small and dark as I had to crouch down to fit through the entrance. The smell of his body hit my nose like a punch as I fumbled in the dark for a place to sit on the floor. As my eyes adjusted I realized I had sat right next to the old man’s body and his wife sitting steadfastly by his side. The wife was obviously exhausted from wailing for three days straight and she sat in silence for a few minutes as I tried to find the oxygen in the suffocating sorrowful sob soaked room. She took a breath and let out a melody that carried the same intonation of a Native American song if such song was lower and slower and depressed. We sat with her and the body for a while as she gave her husband her time and presence. We listened to her sorrowful song and after a few versus the women around me joined the agonizing chorus. It took my breath away.
In a Zambian village the suffering is palpable. I have been here for 20 months and truly feel I have seen the very bottom of the pit of human suffering. What I have also seen is the human spirit at its best – a determination to carry on no matter what. It is like Zambia is running in molasses, trying to reach a better place, and each sticky foot that is forced up and out plunges right back down to assist the other. Their drive and will to persevere is unlike any I have ever witnessed.
I have also suffered in Zambia. I have never been as sick as I have been in this country. When I had food poisoning I spent an entire night and half of the next day sprawled outside my hut, half-clothed, wondering when the next explosion of pure liquid would come out of either end (if not both). When I had malaria I was bed ridden for 3 days with a fever spiking to 103.5 and convulsive chills feeling the Coartem killing everything inside of me – and at one point I could feel it killing my spirit.
In this country these things are comparatively small fries to the super size portion served to Zambians. I was nourished and cared for from day one. My body and immune system are healthy. The Peace Corps has given me a suitcase full of medicine that I can access within minutes of feeling poorly. If it gets serious I have a guarantee of excellent medical care. I have seen Zambians with malaria that have walked for days, feet bleeding, to reach the clinic near my hut – who then might wait for hours to receive mediocre medical care without guarantee of medicine. So how do these people do it?
How does the woman pushing a bicycle piled high with firewood with a right foot bent 90 degrees inwards keep limping uphill toward her expectant family? How does the grandmother with feet that have swelled three times their true size keep taking steps toward her farm to bring her family food? How does the severely malnourished eleven year old boy (that has the stature of a six year old) with an abusive alcoholic grandmother “providing for him”, an abusive alcoholic runaway mother, a father that has committed suicide on the tree outside of his hut, and a baby sister that has succumbed to disease keep coming to my house every day to ask if I need help fetching water? How does the rape victim of a school teacher, sex in trade for school fees, brush herself off and go home to take care of her entire family – washing all the clothes, fetching all the water, cooking all the meals and looking after her 7 siblings? How does the TB victim with a deformed face and left side keep getting up early every morning to help her family in the fields?
The answer to these questions is The Incredible Zambian Spirit. It is something I am in awe of every day.
When I got a chance to go back home over Thanksgiving I had an amazing time. I had easily forgotten the comfort and ease of life in America. I was reminded every minute – every site, smell, sound, and feel – of how lucky we all are. Undeniably there is suffering in America. I am not trying to belittle our problems as a country. It is hard to even compare the two as Zambia can fit inside of Texas and has a population of 14 million compared to our 314 million – not to mention we are culturally, economically, and socially on completely different pages. But being submerged in Zambian suffering on a daily basis, knowing it is in all the far reaching places of the country, and seeing how these amazing people deal with hardships shakes me to the core.
What we can try to mirror is this Incredible Zambian Spirit. Life pushes them down in the mud as they claw and crawl and climb and fight to stand just to be violently shoved back down again. After time elapses their bodies get cut and bruised and broken but a Zambian will always try to stand. It is something I admire and push myself to replicate.
Today, appreciate the amazing opportunities that have come to your life. And if something is holding you back – act like a Zambian.
I love my job. Every position I have held in the past has been in the customer service industry. I have worked a minimum of 35 hours a week since I was 16 years old. I worked my way through college so that I didn’t have to take out a loan. At one point I was holding down 3 jobs while attending school full-time. It was a stressful 4 1/2 years to say the least.
The customer service industry requires one to put on a mask. The customer is always right and you are always happy to see them. I did enjoy meeting new people every day and forming friendships with customers, but sometimes there would be days I wasn’t feeling as cheery. All I wanted to do was crawl in to bed and sleep for 12 hours. On those days I would reach deep down inside and pull the happy-to-see-you-Katie out by the feet even though the happy-to-see-you-Katie was clawing the ground to stay put. I knew that the customers didn’t deserve an ill-tempered jewelry salesman/outdoor gear salesman/barista. I did my best to be the happiest I could be so that people felt good about coming to buy stirling silver bangles/a new Arc’teryx raincoat/a perfectly poured cappuccino.
They say Peace Corps is the hardest job you will ever love. I love my job. I can be exactly who I am every single day of the week. I can wear what I want, I can speak how I feel, and I can spend the majority of my life outside feeling the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. My mom used to say that you find out what’s inside a tea cup when it tips over. Zambia has not only tipped me over it has hung me by my legs and shaken me out. I like what has fallen out of my pockets and I know more about myself than I ever have.
In my village I have become extremely attached to my family – especially my little brothers. They come visit me every day and they love me for exactly who I am. When I cry they hold my hand, when I laugh they giggle with me, and when I am sitting in silence listening to the never ending chorus of birds, frogs, and crickets they listen intently. They accept me with open hearts.
Zambia is a place where I can just be.
Because I can just be I have found out who I really am.
It is a beautiful thing.
Zambians have an extremely colorful culture. In almost all aspects it is the opposite of American culture. Zambian culture is unlike anything I have ever experienced – it is wonderful and beautiful.
Zambians hold respect very high in their levels of importance. Younger people must respect older people. I will be walking the 10K to my local vegetable market and along the path I encounter hundreds of children and young adults. As soon as a Zambian child is able to stand, they are taught to curtsy and clap when they greet a person older than them. 4 year olds will see me coming and shout to the gang of toddlers in their compound to come and greet the mizungu. Ten or so snotty nosed, torn clothed, and dirt splattered children will come running to greet me. In Zambia if you do not greet someone crossing your path you are not acknowledging their existence and this is extremely disrespectful. How many times do you ignore those around you in America? The majority of the people you come across you ignore. Although if you said hello to everyone that you came across in America you would never be able to complete your schedule for the day (and people might think you have a few screws loose).
Granted, there are far fewer people inhabiting Kyafukuma but it still takes a lot of devoted energy and time to show respect to everyone. Here is an example: I was following my host father Ba Rocket when we were bicycling to the police to report a pipe that was stolen from him (a long hilarious story where the two thieves ended up shackled together on the floor of the police room (yes it’s one room) cowering and pleading for forgiveness as Ba Rocket scolded them – Don’t mess with my pops!). It took us 1 hour to make the 15 minute journey. Every person we came across we greeted and for those in his extended family (almost everyone in my village because Ba Rocket has lived his entire life in Kyafukuma + no birth control… you do the math) we stopped, got off our bikes, and chatted a bit.
It is more important to a Zambian to show respect to another Zambian than any other task they have set for the day. This fuels what is known as “zam-time”. If you set up a meeting at 12 hours expect everyone to mozy in around 14 hours. Even if you were headed to meet with President Sata himself you place higher importance on giving the people along your path respect.
Hundreds of women have crossed my path carrying 20 liters of water on their head, a baby on their back, a hoe in their right hand, and freshly harvested rape in their left and they will stop, set down their hoe to create a free hand so they can curtsy and pat their chest (a shortened version of clapping) to greet me.
Even the words they choose to greet each other reflect respect. A common morning greeting is “Mwabuuka byepi?” (how did you wake?). The response is a variety of things but most commonly “Twabuuka, nga abo?” (We have woken, and him/her) Instead of saying “and you?” they use the third person because it is more respectful to address someone indirectly.
It is disrespectful to look at someone directly in the eyes in Zambia. I’m not sure why this is, but I figure it is related to why you don’t stare a dog in the eyes – it is threatening. Obviously I’m not trying to compare dogs with Zambians but this is something that I can relate to that helps me try to understand. So there you are, trying to look at someone in the eyes while you are having a conversation, and their eyes will be darting all over the place instead of settling on your gaze.
All these things took some time to accept as respectful. In America if a person of color was walking down the street and a bunch of white children called to each other, “Black person coming!! Let’s greet them!” and as the person passed the children said, “Hey black person, how did you wake?” it would be extremely rude and racist. Similarly, if someone doesn’t look directly at you when you are having an important conversation they are considered shady or untrustworthy or disrespectful. “LOOK ME IN THE EYES WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU BOY!”
It is also rude to walk in front of someone older than you. At first I was annoyed when kids would see me coming and slow way down almost to a crawl so that eventually I would catch up and overtake them. Once I passed they would pick up the pace again and walk right behind me. At first I thought this had something to do with me being obviously different and the children wanting to look at me. But now I realize they are showing me respect. If someone did that to you in America you would find them sketchy, creepy, and possibly getting ready to do something behind your back.
The one aspect of Zambian respect that I hate is gender related. Men come before women. During a meeting the men get to sit in chairs and the women sit on the ground far enough away that you wonder if they can even hear what is going on. As a strong Holder woman I like to shake things up. I ask everyone to sit mixed together creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Because Zambians believe Mizungus (no matter the gender) come before Zambians I always get the most comfortable seat. As of lately I will mix everyone up and then pick an older woman to have my seat and I take a seat on the floor. The concerned faces of the men and giggly faces of the women create priceless moments.
During meal time the women cook and prepare everything only to have the men sit separately and are served first. Once they are satisfied it is the women and children’s turn to eat. When I am a guest during a meal I will ask if we can all eat together and when I am asked why I say that I like to eat with the chef.
Ba Rocket is the man. His wife wears the trousers in the relationship (or shall I say kitenge). Now that he has seen that I like to eat as one family we always eat together. I often spy on them practicing the same when I am not present. He now only segregates when a male guest has come to discuss business over nshima.
Women in Zambia carry the brunt of the work load in the village. They fetch the water, clean the hut/compound, raise the children, cook all the meals, and assist the men in farming. The men just farm. Because of this I give more respect to women than men in my village. An example being when I pass a man and hist wife (or should I say a woman and her husband?) the man is always walking in front. I will greet the man with a pat of my chest and when the woman passes me she is expecting to be ignored. For the woman I will pause, curtsy and clap as I greet her. She will do the same but try to get lower than me and clap harder and faster. What follows is a wonderful dance of furious clapping and lowering and we end up laughing and the man always looks a bit disgusted. Stirring it up in the Zambian bush this one!
The other strange thing the Kyafukuma Mizungu does (note the 3rd person as I respect myself) is give respect to animals. Animals are dead last on the respect list in Zambia. I talk to my dogs, ask them how their day is going, kiss their heads, fluff their beds and feed them bwana people food. The villagers think I am crazy. When asked about these strange behaviors I tell them that these animals are my friends and they protect me and my house and I respect that immensely.
The most interesting part of Zambian respect culture comes in everyday conversation. If there is something that needs to be said that is a bit difficult – like asking for money – a Zambian will talk around the issue. They will speak about everything that might relate to the issue but never pin point it directly. With the money issue they might bring up how cold it has been at night and they wished they could afford sweaters for their family, or how they are not sure how they will afford next terms school fees for their children. This way of indirect speaking influences a Zambians ability to tell the truth when that truth might hurt the other person. For example if there is a meeting on Wednesday and I ask a fish farmer if he will be able to make it the answer is always yes. It is considered rude to tell someone you can’t come because of x, y or z. In America if you say you will come but then don’t show up that is disrespectful. So I tend to say, “Will you really come?” and they respond, “Yes.” and I’ll say, “Does your family have some program tomorrow?” and they will say, “Yes we are going to our farm.” At this point I know I can cross them off my list of potential attendees.
This is yet another reason why my pops is the man. He tells the truth. If he says he will come he comes. If he says he can’t come he doesn’t come. I found this out at the very beginning of my service. We scheduled a time to put plastic on my roof in preparation for the epic rainy season during community entry – we decided 14 hours. It started to rain at 13:30 so I figured we would put it off until later. Nope! Here comes Ba Rocket soaked to the bone at 14 hours ready to help his Mizungu daughter. I love that man.
All of these interesting cultural differences create an extreme learning curve and I feel I am finally comfortable working with and around them all. They make each and every day wonderful, new and interesting. It has been frustrating, tiring, fun, awesome, and exciting to live in the Zambian culture and I feel lucky to be a part of it for 2 years. I must say I am looking forward to the day my skin color does not single me out and I can walk down the street without anyone really caring or noticing me. I do think it is a very important experience to gain in the life of a white girl from Montana and I feel lucky to know that one day it will be behind me. For some people they will forever and always stand out. For the people you come across in life that somehow stick out treat them like a fellow human being and not a human being with a strange fill in the blank.
It is a beautiful sunny morning in Kyafukuma. I have finished my cup of coffee and stand-by breakfast of champions – oatmeal. I’m sitting on my porch listening to Paul Simon sing of love and life while gazing across the grassy patch of land between me and my neighbor’s compound. I see goats and chickens scattered around grazing. I see children laughing and playing with their homemade toys they construct from trash. I see Ba Mayo’s strained faces turn to relief as they return home from fetching water from far away, finally reaching the comfort of their family. I see a brother pick up a new born baby and raise him in the air, then slowly bring the child down to cradle in his arms. I see what Paul is putting in to perfect pitch: I see love and life. The people of Zambia have the opposite culture that I am accustomed to but we are all still here on earth finding love and making our way through this thing called life. I am happy.
The bright midday sun poured through the entrance of the hut like liquid gold. It revealed two pairs of feet. The first were my Grandmother’s: jet black, cracked, stubbed, wrinkled, crooked, small and beaten. Her name is Ba Jilanda. The second were mine: white, smooth, chaco-tanned, freshly bathed, big and lotioned. That day I went to visit her in the next village over from mine. She was not well and was staying with her friend to be cared for. Her kaonde accent was thick and from the variety “deep kaonde” – only spoken in the far reaches of the African bush. She was explaining to me her horrible ordeal with breaking her hip.
She is an old woman but her beauty maintains, piercing through her charcoal black eyes, shining in the form of wisdom that penetrates deep in to your being. Her beauty is one that is earned over the years of a long life as a strong Zambian woman.
She told me that she had fallen twice. The first time she broke her right arm. This broken arm caused the harshness of her second fall as she couldn’t catch herself properly and broke her hip. She can’t walk anymore and she can’t afford the 60 pin ($12) bus ride to Ndola where the nearest legitimate hospital is.
I looked down at our feet again. The tattoo on my right foot of a tea leaf cost me $50. I hardly had to save to buy it. It was more of a question of what I should spend my extra money on that month – steak dinner? ski lift ticket? concert? That tea leaf looked back at me with disgust. It could have purchased the Ndola bus ticket many times over without a wince. My eyes drifted to my brand new kitenge on up to my patagonia tank top and over to the 7 bracelets I have been collecting from my time in Zambia. Then my eyes looked over to my grandmother’s arms – they were bare, her shirt was ages old – stained and torn, her kitenge could have passed for a bunch of rags sewn together and her feet were a blank canvas save the decades working in the fields to feed her family.
Here I think I can come to Sub Saharan Africa and live like an African bush child for 2 years and feel better about my time on this earth. I have now seen what I already knew deep down inside. Change and developement take years and years of hard work and determination. Along this path of change are people like Grandmother Jilanda that get chewed up and spit out.
I walked home that day thinking about what I could possibly do to help. I couldn’t give her the money to get to the hospital because thousands of other deserving villagers would come to my doorstep asking for the same. I can’t financially help everyone. Once she got to the Ndola hospital the bills would be endless until her body finally passes. I decided what I could do is show my respect and love for her as best I know how.
The next morning I spent baking a loaf of fresh whole grain bread over the brazier. I walked it back over to her hut. I approached the doorway slowly. At the threshold I met her friend who yelled inside that there was a visitor. I heard Grandmother Jilanda fumbling around inside amongst the clutter and chickens. Then THUD… THUD… THUD… she hobbled with her walking stick to the entrance. It took her a good 2 minutes. She was holding her foot completely off the ground and gripping both white knuckled hands around the stick. I got down on my knees and greeted her with the clapping and respect words as custom. As I rose I handed her friend the bread then leaned through the doorway and placed my hands around hers. I kissed her on both cheeks and held my head on her shoulder for a moment. The emotions of rage and fear and sadness couldn’t be held back any longer and my eyes watered up. I backed away and looked in to her eyes hoping to absorb some of her beauty. They too had welled up. There were no words spoken but I felt that I had made my point. I took the long way home that day.
There are four things that Zambia is better at than the rest of the world: bananas, mangos, pineapples, and hospitality.
Their bananas are around all year. They are about 1/4 of the size of your average American banana and they taste polar opposite. They have a slight tang to them to go along with their creamy sweetness. To die for.
Their mangos come around only once a year. There are a few different types but my favorite are the huge ones. They don’t have the stringy texture of other mangos – i would compare the texture to a cantaloupe. The fresh mango taste bursts in your mouth like a sweet volcano of love and sunshine.
Their pineapples come around twice a year. They are overflowing with juice so when you cut down through the outside to separate the funky spikes off the juice gushes off your cutting board like it has been waiting to taste the sweet air of the outside world for years. They are extremely sweet with just the right hint of tang.
I experience Zambian hospitality every single day that I am here. Zambians are amazing people. To give you an example I will tell you about my trip to watch Zambia play Ghana in the first football game played in the new Ndola stadium last weekend.
To travel around in this country it is common to hitch a ride. Hitch hiking in the states is extremely dangerous and the only stories you hear about hitch hiking usually end up with someone dead in a ditch somewhere. This is not the case in Zambia. The people that can afford the money to purchase a car are educated individuals with comfy jobs. I have met the nicest people while hitching around. After I explain who I am and what I’m doing in Zambia they give me the ride for free. I have never paid for a hitch in this country.
My three friends and I started hitching at 8 a.m. and got a ride within 10 minutes. We were dropped off in Kitwe. I had drank a ton of coffee that morning and needed to excuse myself to the bathroom. But of course we were in the middle of Africa and they don’t do “public toilets”. So because I know the kindness and generosity all Zambians possess I peaked in the back yard of a random house and came upon three ba mayos cooking nshima. I asked them if I could use their toilet and they said no problem. I followed one of them through their maze of a house and we came to a closed door. The ba mayo asked through the door if I could use the toilet and the woman inside said yes no problem. So I waltz in there thinking I would come upon a lady fixing her hair in the mirror or something. Nope – she was buck naked sudsed up from head to toe taking a bucket bath. I did my best to look away from her beautiful Zambian body and quickly sat down on the toilet to do my business. She was just scrubbing away all over the place and asking me “So you’re a football fan yes?” and “Who do you think will win?”. After I finished I quickly bowed a bit and thanked her and then went outside to thank the other women.
After that we got another hitch within 10 minutes straight to Ndola and the gentleman was so kind that he made sure we were safely in the parking lot of a grocery store kilometers away from where he wanted to go. We had lunch at a sandwich shop and got another quick hitch to the game. Once we got there there were thousands upon thousands of decked out fans getting ready to see their team play. We couldn’t find our friend who had bought us tickets in advance because the cell phone towers were overloaded from the thousands of people calling each other. A concerned gaurd walked all over the stadium with us trying to help find our friends until we found them about 15 minutes later. The game was epic but I won’t go in to detail here because I’m trying to explain Zambian hospitality. My friend met a nice gentleman on a hitch a few months ago that lives in Ndola. He offered for all of us to stay for free at his beautiful mansion of a house. Him and his two friends fed us free dinner, gave us a place to crash, and made us crepes and coffee in the morning. We didn’t pay a dime. They said we were all more than welcome to come back anytime. We cleaned up their house and hitched our way back to Solwezi – three hitches – all free – all extremely nice Zambians.
What is with this country? Why can’t America be like that? Why don’t we trust each other like Zambians do? Why do we think of ourselves first before we think of others? Zambians are extremely selfless people and if we all took notes on how to treat others from them this world would be a better place. The perception of Africa to most Americans is a scary war torn continent. Yes, Zambia is an extremely peaceful place compared to some African countries but I wanted to share with you why we shouldn’t come to one conclusion about a continent filled with thousands of cultures and peoples and religions. This small portion of Africa has proven to be filled with people with warm hearts and open arms.
Please note that the following post presents sexual practices and customs of Zambian and American culture and may not be suitable for children. It is strictly meant to share the fascinating and awesome Zambian culture with American “Holder fans”.
I just got finished with a PEPFAR workshop in Solwezi. PEPFAR stands for “President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief”. It was a five day workshop and it was all about HIV/AIDS education. We each brought a counterpart from our respective villages to learn with us. The best part of the workshop was the discussion on Zambian sex practices versus American sex practices. We broke up in to male and female groups and spent about an hour learning about each sexual culture. After our discussion we got back together as a group and presented what we learned.
Here are some fun facts about Zambian sexual culture that I thought were worth sharing. (Note that not ALL Zambians practice these things just like not ALL Americans practice certain things)
- If a Zambian man wants to have sex with his wife she must obey. She is not allowed to say “no” and if she does he is allowed to beat her. There are many cases in the clinic where a woman comes in for emergency care because the man demanded sex immediately after child birth even though the woman had fresh stitches after the birth. A Zambian wife never initiates sex with her husband and if she does she is considered a prostitute.
- Starting at age 7 or 8 Zambian girls “stretch” their labia. This is sometimes done with the stem of a leaf. They split the stem in two parts and wedge the labia in to the “V” created and pull down. It is desirable for a grown Zambian woman to have long labia (Tamara our Zambian Peace Corps HIV/AIDS specialist held up her thumb to show an example of desired length).
- Before a Zambian woman gets married she goes through roughly a week of “training”. This includes everything from cooking to cleaning to how to have sex. This is called a “kitchen party” and many women are invited and they all bring gifts just like Americans do for a bridal or baby shower. During the lessons on sexual training the soon-to-be wife and her teachers get naked and the teachers show the young girl how to “dance” in bed. Zambian women are expected to lay on their backs with their hips in the air while the husband is on top of her. She is supposed to do all of the thrusting work laying down in this position and he lays on top of her and just enjoys. The women show how to move their hips in certain desirable ways. I have been around a camp fire listening to a drum circle and I have seen some of these hip movements. These ladies can shake it!!
- When a man and a woman get married they receive a shaving kit. A Zambian woman is expected to shave her man before they have sex and the man shaves the woman. Pubic hair is considered dirty and smelly and generally unclean. This is also a good way to keep track of your husband’s or wife’s sexual activities. If your partner comes home shaven and you didn’t do it you know something is wrong. Also if your husband or wife dies and they are not shaved you can’t view the body at the funeral.
- Some Zambian men keep their pinky nails very very long. In America some cocaine users do the same thing. But here in Zambia it is used for sex. While the man is on top of his lover he holds his pinky finger underneath the woman’s lower back pointing upwards. This way she will continue staying off of the bed while “dancing”.
- If a Zambian woman’s husband dies she must be sexually cleansed. The husband’s brother (or cousin depending on the family) will go and have sex with the new widow to fully help her deal with the death of her husband. Once this is completed she can finally move on.
- It is thought that a woman physically can’t have sex when she is menstruating.
- Masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, and homosexuality are illegal. Polygamy is legal but only with one husband and multiple wives.
- If an HIV positive Zambian man sleeps with a virgin he will be cured of his illness. The younger the better.
- Zambian men like “dry” sex. They have the woman put herbs in her vagina that help dry up the vaginal fluid. This makes the vagina tighter. Ba Rocket showed me the tree on his compound where these herbs come from. He told me he knows which teens are having sex because they come to his house for the herbs. I told him that dry sex is bad because the vaginal walls can easily tear in turn spreading HIV/AIDS.
- Sex is strictly to pleasure the man. The Zambian woman is not concerned with her own pleasure and is only concerned about pleasing the man. Many Zambian women have heard about orgasm but have never experienced it themselves.
- Zambian woman are branded on their lower backs leaving a scar before they are married off. Zambian men are turned on by the way the scar tissue feels.
- (Note the damaging effects some of these traditions and practices have on the spread of HIV/AIDS – this country has many obstacles to overcome concerning the battle with this deadly virus.)
The Zambians think we are crazy too. Genital piercings, homosexuality, anal and oral sex, orgies, the woman’s right to say “no”, dating multiple partners before marriage, 100 plus sex positions, pubic hair etc etc all freaked them out.
Goals two and three of the Peace Corps are all about cultural exchange. Done and done.