Born Again Zamadian

Sunday, July 5th.

Alfred pulled me into the house and I sat with him and Fiensa to say goodbye. It really felt significant, and I struggled to find the Tonga words to thank them for their unbelievable warmth and generosity… I reverted to English even though Fiensa wouldn’t understand. Even the act of trying to articulate what it had meant to me got my emotions stirring, like a bubble wand in the bottle. As I brought those words into the world and they floated into the room I nearly burst.

With my bike piled high w/ a mattress and blankedt, I said goodbye to all 5 children. Liebeck, the first born, with his quite smiles, big laugh and bright eyes. Albert, my clothes washing and computer games buddy, the animated and wide smiled character. Krechma the quirky but hard-working. Danny the skeptical youngster (although teaching him how to snap seemed to really win him over).

Mutinta. The mischievious musimbi (girl). She lights up my life and is a bright beacon of Zambia’s potential in my eyes. Without any prompting, this less than 2 year-old ball of energy ran up to me and followed her brothers’ examples of handshake and she even said Twalumba (thank you). But she didn’t let go. Her delightful smile lit up her face and she started to chatter and bounce around. Then she danced around and I went right with her, every baby step of the way. Fully loaded with my camping backpack and all. There was an amazing fusion of emotion as the joy of dancing w/ Mutinta swirled into the sadness of saying goodbye to her. Eventually the moment dissolved into the cool stiff breeze, and Alfred and I set off for the farm, where I will be staying for the rest of the summer.

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swiveled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.” (The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay)

Sunday, July 12th, 2009.

Mebo, ndime Muchindu. Ndizwa ku Canada, Ndikala ku nganda Ba Choloka.

I came to the village live, to learn, to love. To deepen my personal connection to rural Zambia, and broaden my perspectives. I had no idea what awaited me.

The word is not the thing. And for that reason I hesitate to try and describe the growing bond between me and my growing family. Two parents and their seven children. Choloka the father works at a nearby dairy farm, and I’ve been working on my milking skills early in the morning. Florence the mother beams every time I see her, and hardly speaks any English. She calls me by my new Tonga name, Muchindu (which means from the cat family – lions, cheetahs). She works insanely hard at everything from cooking toncleaning to chopping wood to gardening, and carries the youngest son Chipo (Gift) on her back the entire time. The eldest daughter is Memory (17), who is in grade 8. She can be shy or assertive – it depends who’s around. The second born is Derek (15, Grade 6) who is starting to come around me, but uncertain whether to speak English or Tonga. The other two girls are Brenda and Pristina – I’ll tell you more about them later. There’s one boy who seems like a ghost – I rarely hear his name, and it’s difficult to remember. Finally there’s Best – the second youngest, and with confidence that lives up to his name. He beats the dogs and demands stuff all the time from everyone, including me!

Snapshot highlights from my new home:

-First hour: surrounded by 30-40 kids in the yard, staring, giggling and running to hide behind each other, too afraid even to greet me. I learned that some had never seen a white person before. Crazy weird tension in the air that even the tennis coach in me didn’t know what to do with.

-First day: Sitting around the fire in the last fleeting hours of daylight with a pen and notebook learning Tonga. 10-15 kids crowded close to me now to watch what I’m writing. Also laughing at my mispronunciations and poor listening skills.

-First night: teaching some of the family “Frere Jacques” in English and French – they laughed so hard at “Ding-Dang-Dong”. Then we upped the stakes and translated it into Tonga and sang it as a group. Good times!

3 new people I’ve met & will briefly introduce. Yes they’re all male – as are most of may extended interactions with people in the village.

Fred – met him in his tomato garden, where they were digging a long ditch to reach the irrigation canals (built to water all the huge sugar-cane commercial farms, but tapped into by many small-scale farmers). Freddy is 31 with 2 kids, and is sharp as a whip. He has just finished selling his crop of tomatoes which grew through the rainy season (extremely difficult) and has sold them for a killer price. He’s saving for a motorbike so he can greatly increase his ability to transport vegetables to town. He calls nshima “Kapower” because it gives you power. Many Zambians strongly believe that they will only have strength for the day if they eat lots of nshima… I think this super strong belief/attitude could be pointed to as a root cause of the huge dependence on maize.

Livias – dropped by while I was reading in the yard, and we ate some Makoa together (a crazy spiky fat and short wild cucumber that is quite sour but good!). He proceeded to tell me all about his life – he’s 27 with a child named Harman, but the child’s mother has married someone else. This is because he wanted to finish school (aka high school) before marriage and she wouldn’t wait. He’s 27 and didn’t finally get his grade 12 until 2 years ago. His father died when he was in grade 7, and his mother sold off all their livestock to pay for 3 years of school fees. Then he was sponsored by some people in Saudi Arabia for the next year and half (and the headmaster made him go to the Mosque as they tried to convert him). Finally that source ran out, and he scraped as much as he could together to finish grade 12.Unfortunately he still owed 400,000 ZMK (roughly $1000 CAN) and it took another 3 years to get his transcript. Like many Zambians, he shakes his head in disbelief when I tell him that high school education is free in Canada. And that we have less than 30 in a class, not 60 like it can be here.

Lovewell – Choloka’s nephew and frequent post-dinner fire visitor. Huge buck-tooth smile and a heart of gold. He’s 25 and in grade 11, and loves biology. I threw whatever I could at him in terms of terminology tonight and he was game. He told me “Ah, you have to be serious with this one, Biology. If you say to yourself it’s difficult, then you’ll never manage. You must say – it is the easiest thing in the world, then you’ll be all right.” His pride in knowing about different flowering types of plants and how it related to maize was really wonderful, and filled me with hope.


As the grains of sand trample each other in a rush for the bottom of the hourglass, I’m left wondering. Exposed to the reality of what a “short-term” placement means. Playing mediator between my excitement for Canada and my longing to follow Zambia down the rabbit hole. Curious to probe the impacts of this blog on myself and others. Has my form of reflection affected the heart of what I’m learning about myself? Am I forming or changing people’s perceptions of “Africa”? From what to what? Time to shut the brain off… Whiirrrrr, click.


~ by mikeklassen on July 13, 2009.

6 Responses to “Born Again Zamadian”

  1. Wonderful pictures. Fascinating stories. Yes, you’ve changed my perception of Africa. It sounds like a wonderful place – full of warm, lively, determined people and lots of laughter. Though it breaks my heart that they have to struggle so hard to get educated. Just not right.
    But you will carry your tangible sense of Zambia with you forever now – in a way few are privileged to do. Keep the blogs coming. We are all just loving them.

  2. Hi Mike,
    Sorry I missed your birthday. I bet it is one you will never forget, although I wonder if it didn’t make you feel a little homesick. We have all been enjoying your blogs so much…you are a wonderful writer and the people you describe come alive. It sounds as if you are finding very direct ways to connect to them. Have you found the EWB tools useful? Or is personal intuitions the way to go? Or a mix?
    Anyhow, Happy Birthday a few weeks late.

  3. Hey Mike!

    Great post – congrats on the move and the new friends you’ve made.

    Interesting that you mentionned the male interactions being predominant… I didn’t read Alfred’s dreams for Mutinta in your old posts… I would love to hear what some aspirations are for women in Zambia. What do they see as a successful life, and what do they hope for their daughters?

    Much love,


  4. Hey Muchindu! (awesome nickname, btw!)

    Loved the pictures. As always. I just keep reading your blog and wishing I was doing something new and amazing every single day like you are. We’ve become so entranced with the lives we lead, we forget there’s much out there to be done.

    I would say you’ve changed my perception of Africa a little bit. I’ve read up on some of it and I’ve heard a lot from other people. Everyone’s stories are a little different.

    You might be surprised, my high school education wasn’t free. And from what I know, in Saudi, it’s quite a norm. Unless you’re a Saudi national – you can go to a public school – in which they teach you in Arabic only until the 6th grade when you get introduced to English!

    Take Care,

  5. Really enjoyed reading your blog. I was in zambia around the same time as you (doing a tour if malawi, zimbabwe and zambia) and really loved the place. Unfortunately didn’t get to experience the real africa as you.

  6. […] to school, if there is a school within reasonable travelling distance. From Zambia again, in 2009 Mike Klassen told the story of a man named […]

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