Do You Have Cravings for Truly Zambian Food?

For a traditional Zambian who lives so far away from home, life overseas is not all enjoyment of cheap blue jeans, night clubs, and easy life. There was a Zambian whose name will not be disclosed as authorities and perhaps the Interpol from the overseas country might still pursue him over international waters and land. He was a single young man living in one of a group of modest apartments on the fifth floor. After he had been in the overseas country for one year, he had dined on enough chips, hamburgers, an assortment of sea foods, chicken cooked in a hundred ways, sea fish, noodles and spaghetti. He terribly craved finkubala, (dry roasted caterpillars), chiwawa (pumpkin leaves) kapenta, delele, and fyakusashila (green leaves cooked with peanut powder). But most of all, he craved for a nice, little, salted, and Zambian well charcoal-roasted bird like a pigeon.

He had an idea. City tame pigeons usually played and perched outside on the ledge of the kitchen window of his apartment. One morning, with a hawk’s eye, he made sure no one was looking. He quickly slammed shut the open kitchen window. Four of the eleven pigeons were flapping in his kitchen. He wildly swatted at them with a towel and dove at one of the most dazed ones. In the confusion he apprehended only one and three escaped through the window which had swung open because of his strong breathing. He had a very delicious lunch of nshima with the well grill-roasted bird.

The delicious bird was hardly digested when there was a knock on the door. He opened the door and almost dropped dead. It was the long arm of the law – a police officer.  He politely told the Zambian gentleman that a neighbor with binoculars reported a suspicious activity in which eleven pigeons were seen in the vicinity of his swinging kitchen window and only ten were eventually seen to fly away. If deported, this could have turned into an embarrassing international diplomatic incident. After somewhat regaining his composure, the Zambian put up a courageous argument about counting of flying birds being difficult from a distance even if one had a degree in mathematics.

The police officer politely warned him that it was against city ordinance to cage, capture, restrain, sell, or dispose in any way of city public property without the express permission from the mayor. For the rest of his overseas stay, the Zambian suppressed his cravings and yearning for Zambian home food until he had landed at Lusaka International Airport in Zambia’s Capital City.

Do You Have a Spare Tire?

The last time I shopped for clothes was a couple of years ago. Early this fall I discovered that all my dress shirts were fraying around the collar. Many of my long dress pants had either emergency mending, or were hugging my mid section really hard or had patches in secret unmentionable places only a wife knows. My wife finally broke me down. I had to go shopping for good looking work clothes. I do not exactly have a phobia about shopping but what I experienced was enough to make me have one.

I shopped all day at the mall. What I learnt was a sharp lesson in vulgarities of human anatomy and physiology. I tried on perhaps two dozen long pants of varying sizes, styles, and cuts. Some of the latest really hot chic fashion long pants made a humiliating air bag in front of you know where when I tried them on. None of them fit me. The pair of pants that fit had to have the bottom shortened which was going to take a week. All in all it was a painful exercise. T o add insult to the pain, the department stores also have a rule that you can only take a limit of five pairs only into the small booth to try them on.

After my head had cooled down after my long, trying, and frustrating day, I reflected on my fate. It occurred to me that standard size long pants do not fit me because my anatomy does not really fit the profile of the average man my age. After being alive for more than a good third of a century and some, a man can no longer wear size thirty-two.

Numerous years of consuming foods of various challenging quantities and texture begin to take their toll.  All those Thanksgiving dinners, summer grills and picnics to commemorate birthdays, religious holidays and patriotic national days begin to show. Men in their short lives ingest drinks that are green, white, golden, black, with a high and low viscosity; some of them mind altering and others thirst-quenching. All of this eating, drinking and constant merry making generates a spare tire and a half somewhere in the middle of the man’s waist. Standard size clothes therefore can never adequately accommodate the spare tire.

When my dad was my age, his spare tire made him look as though he was seven and a half months pregnant. He was at the time a willing victim of the various delicious entrees my mother prepared and different types of mind altering adult beverage with high viscosity he was in the habit of consuming called chibuku in Zambia. At that time, his favourite coat fit him perfectly around the shoulders and arms but he could never button it shut.

I am not exactly in this same type of predicament but very close to it. My spare tire looks like I am barely four months pregnant going on to five. My height is not quite average and my legs are rather skinny or let’s say slender for my frame. Which clothes manufacturer is going to cater to men like me and many others I encountered during my failed clothes shopping spree? As I tried my twenty-sixth pair of pants in the department store that day, I came out of the booth to look in the long mirror. At the same time, out came a man shorter than me. He had a spare tire that made him six months pregnant. The long pants fit him around the waist, they were bunched and crinkled around the knees and the bottoms of the pants were piled around his feet. I could not even guess what size those pants were.

His wife said: “They fit you nicely, honey.”

The man and my eyes met and he had this smirk-grin on his face that seemed to say that he and I were in the same boat. I sometimes wish there was someone out there willing to make some easy money. I would soon rather send my worn out long pants that fit me perfectly to a manufacturer who would make me new duplicates of the same pants. I would rather do this than go through the pain of clothes shopping.

Burglars and Home Security

When Erma Bombeck complained that it takes so long to secure the house (Detroit Free Press: 03-02-90) before she and her husband retired to bed because of increased crime I was amused. Because it sounded more like the neighborhood I lived in until recently – only a hair worse.

Burglarizing homes and stealing of cars at night while owners are enjoying their sleep is so common that securing homes and property has become very demanding. Our home was surrounded by an eight foot brick wall with jagged sharp glass along the top edge.

Before going to bed every night the security routine was that we first locked the metal front gate between the walls entrance. We made sure the two dogs were fed, alive, and barking and the outside security lights were switched on. Then I practically disassembled the automobile engine and took it to the security of our bedroom upstairs. The front and back doors were triple locked and all windows around the house were shut. Valuables like T.V, stereo, and computers had to be shipped from the living room to our bedroom. All the doors leading from the kitchen to the dining to the living room were locked. In the morning all of this had to be undone including reinstalling the car engine before driving the kids to school at 7 a.m. The bit about undoing the car engine might be a little exaggerated but doesn’t this sound like What Erma Bombeck was describing but only a tad worse?

Incidentally, this was life in the Capital City of Lusaka in my home country of Zambia until recently in December 1989. Yes, many Americans and millions of Zambians live there and it is no more dangerous than in many neighborhoods here. My wife and I and the two American neighbors we knew were never robbed. Except one  time when I parked down town Lusaka and my spare tire  was stolen. But then I had parked there safely millions of times before the incident. Perhaps the lesson in all of this is that it doesn’t matter where you live in an urban environment these days, the world is becoming more similar than different. Urban crime is escalating in most cities of the world.

****Unpublished article to the features editor of the Detroit Free Press, 321 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48231, 7th March, 1990. After many visits to Lusaka in Zambia since 1990, the urban crime is not as bad as it was in 1989.

Children Scare Me

I love children. But it is the five year olds that scare me. My anxiety and fear are not so much over what they do, but what they can say, where, and when. This was brought to me recently when I had to interact with a group of very cute five year olds. My son’s kindergarten class was having a “parent(s)-eat -lunch-with- their-kids” program. As a precaution, I made sure I wasn’t dressed as a clown. I took a bath, wore a regular nice shirt, shoes, pants, and even a tie. I drove through the rain and made sure I had an umbrella to avoid being a soaked father; then I could have looked worse than a clown.

As soon as 1 walked into the class, I was greeted like a celebrity and was surrounded by excited kids. 1 felt like 1 was a rock star. 1 could see my son was very proud to have his dad there.

“So you’re Mike’s dad!?” one kid asked or sort of stated.

“You look Just like your son. Mike”(not his real name) another kid quipped.

“You must be twins.” (Ever hear of twins being born thirty years apart? one asked me.)

“Why do you have balls in your hair?” another kid asked. (I have very curly hair.)

Then my own son said:

“My dad’s hair is turning white. He is an old man.”

They all giggled.

With my son joining in the offensive, I felt helpless and vulnerable.

1 was saved from this bombardment when another male parent walked in. Then one kid said to another; “My dad is bigger than yours”.

A courageous parent tried to smooth things over and said:

“Com’on Joe, dads come in different sizes.”

The continuous action and body movements the children made were incredible and made me momentarily dizzy. We ate an enjoyable and amusing lunch as the French fries were in the shape of letters of the alphabet. We took the opportunity to ingeniously brush up on the letters of the alphabet. One of the children took some liberties and reversed the order of eating and started with the ice cream dessert. Predictably, she never made it to the main course: a meatball sandwich.  Being a responsible parent, I was tempted to report the kid to the teacher and write down the kids’ name and his home address, and phone number so I could inform her parents of the naughty behavior. But I thought better of it.

I commended the teacher for doing such a wonderful job handling these active but curious kids. I had enjoyed the visit. But as I left I could not help but feel relieved that I had escaped just in time to avoid becoming a P.O.W. of that class of kindergarten kids.

****A version of this article appeared in: Mwizenge S. Tembo, Kids Scare Me, The Bridgewater College Talon, February 11, 1991.

Themba Chako Radio Comedy

Radio Chikaya in Lundazi
Who are the Tumbuka people? They live in Zambia, a country with a population of 10 million people with 2.02% annual growth rate. It has a life expectancy at birth of 43, and adult literacy rate of 78.2% 1. The country is landlocked and shares borders with seven countries; Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Congo, and Tanzania. The Tumbuka are one of the many  Bantu ethnic groups that are found in Southern Africa. The Tumbuka speak Chitumbuka which is one of 72 bantu languages and dialects that have been recorded in Zambia. They are located in the Eastern Province of the Southern African country of Zambia straddling the border between North-Eastern of Zambia and Northern Malawi. Approximately 750,000 Tumbuka people live in Malawi and 400,000 in Zambia 2

Since the early 1920s when the British established and colonized the then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, the Tumbuka have maintained their traditional lifestyle, cultural values, and subsistence farming. But their life has also been influence by Western medicine, education, and Christianity. The Tumbuka who live in the Lundazi district of Zambia  where this radio comedy was broadcast, are predominantly subsistence farmers growing maize or corn as the staple food including peanuts, beans,  peas, finger millet, sweet potatoes, cassava. The Tumbuka grow and sell cotton cash crops. They use the cash proceeds to pay school uniform and fees, modest clinic fees, and the purchase of modern consumer goods such as bicycles, soap, radios, batteries, sugar, clothing, and traditionally brewed beer. They also raise livestock such as chickens, goats, cattle, and pigs.

The Tumbuka still lead a predominantly traditional life style in which family and close kin reside in small villages surrounded by farm lands divided according to the needs of each family. The Zambian government provides clinics, schools, and agricultural extension services. The Tumbuka have certainly been influenced by modern institutions such as schools and clinics. For example, dozens of schools including Lundazi Secondary School, Musuzi and Mphamba Basic Schools, Mchereka Schools are located in the town of Lundazi and surrounding region where these radio programs were recorded. These social influences may have created some unique ways of approaching life.

Radio Chikaya is broadcast everyday predominantly in English and Tumbuka. The one hour weekly Tumbuka show is the character Themba Chako. When I first heard the Themba Chako program, I almost on my food with laughter. It was in the evening under moonlight 30 miles west of Lundazi in my home village. We were eating dinner with my family. The 4 radio programs of YouTube:

1 F. Jeffress Ramsay, Global Studies: Africa, 8th ed., Guildford, Connecticut: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1999, pp. 166-167.

2 The Tumbuka of Malawi and Zambia,