Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology
President Kaunda was young. Simon Kapwepwe was young. Munukayumbwa Sipalo was young. Peter Matoka was young. Julia Chikamoneka was young. Chibesa Kankasa was young. Mutumba Mainga Bull was young. Chieftainess Nkomesha was young. Cairo Road in Lusaka was young. The Zambezi River was young. My parents were young. My brothers and sisters were young. My uncle and my aunt were young. All my friends were young. Zambia was young. University of Zambia was young. I was young.
I had just triumphed in my long struggle to complete my B. A degree at the University of Zambia in the Capital City of Lusaka in 1976. I pounded Cairo Road, Chachacha Road, and Freedom Way in search of a job. A few weeks later I was fortunate enough to land a job as a Training Officer in the Personnel Division of the Parastatal National Agricultural and Marketing Board (NAMBOARD). The massive national headquarters occupied four floors of Kwacha House in the North-End of Cairo Road. I walked half an hour to work every day from my Uncle and Aunt’s house in Northmead.
After I had been working there for a few weeks, my boss sent me on my first field assignment. I was to inspect all the dozens of NAMBOARD depots scattered in the entire Western Province and to submit a written report after my return. My boss gave me a plane ticket with instructions that Mr. Imasiku would meet me at the Mongu air strip. When I went home that evening I told my uncle and aunt that I was very excited. I was going to visit a different part of Zambia; Western Province. My aunt’s response was to ask me to bring back some dried fish. I was so excited that night I could not sleep for fear that I would over sleep and miss my plane at the then Lusaka International Airport.
The 2 propeller Hawker Sidley 35 passenger Zambia Airways plane smoothly took off from the Lusaka International Airport heading west. It was a pleasant November day with such clear blue skies that I could see as far as the eye could see through the comfort of my window seat. After about an hour we landed at Mongu airstrip.
Mr. Imasiku looked about 50 with a slightly bald head and a mix of dark and some grey hair. He had a wonderful broad grin, sparkling small eyes, and reassuring deep calm voice. He was the NAMBOARD Assistant Provincial Personnel Manager. Beside him was a brand new cream Land Rover which was one of the dozens of brand new Land Rovers NAMBOARD had bought that year that had just been distributed to all the provinces. The young driver was Mundia who looked 20 wearing smart well ironed trousers and a shirt; no doubt in readiness to meet me the big official boss from Kwacha House NAMBOARD headquarters in Lusaka. They both welcomed me and we drove to Lyambai Hotel.
The next two days, I visited the offices of the NAMBOARD provincial headquarters. Behind the office building was a large storage yard that had high piles of bags of fertilizer, ox-driven ploughs, agricultural pest control chemicals, seeds, storage tents, empty sack grain bags, pesticide sprayers, chains, ropes, irrigation equipment, pumps, and all kinds farm equipment spare parts. I attended part of the provincial depot manager’s workshop that was in progress. As I was walking through the offices, I heard loud heated raised exchanges of voices between 2 female personnel. They were speaking back and forth in SiLozi; until one of them said to the other in English:
“…….I don’t know why you expect me to do this! This is not my mother’s NAMBOARD !!”.
Since I did not understand any SiLozi, Mr. Imasiku later explained to me that the conversation wasn’t anything unusual as the two employees were having a normal disagreement among workers.
Since I had to learn some SiLozi, I asked Mr. Imasiku how do I ask for water and beer in SiLozi. In my own mind I assumed that if ever I was in danger of dying, these were the 2 things I would absolutely need to know how to ask for. He told me; asking for water was“Nikupa mezi” and asking for beer was“Nikupa bucwala”. Although I might have learned many other phrases, these were the most important phrases at the time which I still remember to this day many decades later.
That evening, Mr Mundia dropped me off at the nearest watering hole which was about two hundred meters from Lyambai Hotel with the expectation that I could walk back to the hotel at my ease after whenever I felt I had successfully “inspected” the Sinjonjo Bar watering hole that evening. Half way through my third Mosi, I saw what many men live for; a woman. She was not just any woman, she was a very beautiful woman standing next to the bar next to other people; she was stunning. Thirty seconds before my eyes landed on her, the drinking establishment had been boring with rather dim lighting. But suddenly there was a beautiful glow of light all around the bar and her like a halo.
She was wearing a fabulous bright yellow dress, oh! and a curvaceous figure that made me salivate, large white sparkling eyes, and she was smiling in my direction. I quickly glanced around to see if her attention was to someone behind me. There was no one. My mind and body both panicked together. The Nyanja would call her “chiphadzuwa” (sun killer), the Bemba would call her “chipeshamano” (one who kills a man’s brain). I was immediately drawn to her like inswa insects are drawn to a bright light in pitch dark tropical night Zambia in December. The momentum of my confused body took a few fateful steps toward her and stammered:
“aaaa….b-w-anji?!!!” (…how… are you?) I asked in my Lusaka Nyanja. I stretched my hand toward her. She actually touched my hand in a split second handshake.
“……something… something.. Kaonde.” She replied smiling with a beaming face and sparkling eyes; that special inviting smile every man dreams of in his sweetest dream; a stunningly beautiful woman who is so obviously reciprocating the attraction.
“ eehhh…manje…what’s your name? Zina.. lanu?” I pointed at her as I stammered with my heart beating very fast. “..nachoka ku Lusaka…(I have come from Lusaka)”. I was anxious to create a strong impression that I was a sophisticated city man; and not one of the Sinjonjo bar locals.
“…something —something Kaonde,” she replied again with her bright smile.
We obviously were not communicating. I looked around frustrated. Where was Mundia the young man when I needed him? At that instant I wished I knew more SiLozi than “nikupa bucwala”. I probably needed to know some ChiKaonde too, may be Lunchazi, Chokwe, ChiLovale, may be Chi Lunda. How could I know what she was speaking as my mind was racing for an urgent solution? This was a do or die emergency.
“Nikupa bucwala? Do you want a beer or a drink?” I desperately asked again reaching into my pocket for some money; even though I knew that was probably botched or poor conversation SiLozi even in a watering hole.
“….something …something Kaonde,” she replied again with a bright smile.
At that point some man, who did not approve of what she was doing with me walked to her and they had a heated argument either in Kaonde, Luchazi, Lovale or SiLozi. I couldn’t tell. He grabbed her by her stiff arm as she resisted and pulled her away from me as she protested. She wanted to talk to me. I felt so helpless. Was the man her husband? Ex-boyfriend, cousin, relative? I knew that if that was her lover or husband, I would already be dead on the ground after his left hook landed on my jaw. Part of me wanted to intervene. But something in a split second held me back. It was my father’s voices when I was young about how to handle fights and other dangerous altercations in bars. My father’s voice was saying: “Walk away, walk away, walk away”. But my other voice was saying” “Be a man, get her from the beast of a man, she is stunningly beautiful, she loves you! You are young and strong. You could throw in a few punches. Be a man. Defend her against that animal of a man!”
I saw her in the corner of the bar in a full blown animated argument with the wretched man who was ruining my dream. I continued to finger my mosi on the bar counter as I waited like a coward for them to settle the argument. My thinking was she would soon come marching back to me. It did not happen. The man dragged her by the hand out of the bar as she was resisting. I waited. Later, I looked around for her outside the bar. She was gone. I walked back to Lyambai Hotel dejected. I could not sleep. What was her name? What language was she speaking? Where does she live? Who was the man? Things had happened so fast in the bar that I did not have time to ask all these questions.
Early the following morning, Mr. Imasiku, Mr. Mundia, and I drove 190 miles (306kms) in the Land Rover through the November dry, hot and sandy Zambezi flood plain to Kalabo to inspect a NAMBOARD depot. Soon after leaving Mongu, we used the pontoon to cross the Zambezi River. There was so much thick sand that the road was just tracks of sand which our vehicle followed. I had never seen so much sand in my life let alone travel on it. The sand was so thick and deep that our brand new Land Rover could only drive a maximum of 35 miles per hour (56 km per hour) where the sand was less deep. Otherwise we drove at between 15 to 25 mph (24 to Km per hour) using four wheel drive during the long, hot, and slow 5 to 6 hour drive to Kalabo.
There were virtually no large trees in the sandy flood plain.
All along as we drove and made conversation, my mind was with the woman chiphadzuwa. I had to find some way of meeting her again. But how would I solve the language barrier?
At noon we pulled from the track and parked the Land Rover under the shade of some short bushes for lunch. We ate some buns and coca-cola. After lunch, I called Mr. Mundia our driver behind the Land Rover away from Mr. Imasiku’s ear shot.
“Mr. Mundia,” I said. “I met a woman at Sinjonjo Bar”.
Mr. Mundia began laughing holding his hand to his mouth leaning down while excitedly trotting away from the Land Rover as he clapped his hands together repeatedly.
“Bo Tembo,” Mr. Mundia smiled as he walked back toward me. “You have to watch out at Sinjonjo Bar. It is a dangerous place. I could see that you mind is somewhere else today.”
“Can you do me a favour?”
“Yes, sure. What!” Mr. Mundia paused.
“Tomorrow night when we return to Mongu, can you come to Sinjonjo with me? If she is there, you can translate for me. I didn’t know what language she was speaking”
“Ok, no problem,” Mr. Mundia replied. “We can go there. And I will even tell you if she is one of our local girls, Bo Tembo.” He laughed again.
“Hey Mr. Mundia,” I whispered as I tapped his hand. “But don’t tell your boss Mr. Imasiku because he might not understand since he is older.”