Zumbwe Wild Cat and Human Greed

Why is it that Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and other rich moguls want more billions upon billions of dollars? Why is it that we consume more and more oil polluting the environment, gorge ourselves on too much food until we become obese, build more and larger houses until logging deplete trees, we want so much sex with so many partners that teachers have sex with young boys or girls and pornography is wide spread? Perhaps the most well known example of these human excesses is a former President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal. Beyond what we need, why do we humans have this insatiable desire for what ever we find good? Religious experts, biologists, economists, sociologists have different explanations for this human proclivity. But the answer might lie in a small wild animal that lives around my home village in Zambia in Southern Africa.

When a male domestic cat becomes wild it turns into what the Tumbuka people of Southern Africa call a Zumbwe. It becomes sneaky, nocturnal, lives totally in the wild and only hunts for food at night. One of the most despicable acts the Zumbwe will engage in is if it sneaks its way into a chicken coop at night. The Zumbwe is so stealthy that the chickens don’t even have a chance to raise commotion. The Zumbwe will kill one chicken and eat may be half of it. But then tragically, it will proceed to kill the rest of the twenty or more chickens in the coop. When the owner of the chickens wakes up in the morning, what appalls them is not that one chicken was killed and half eaten, but the other nineteen lifeless chickens. People often will say the Zumbwe wild cat killed the rest of the chickens because of what the Tumbuka call kaso or it’s as if the wild cat killed just because the chickens are delicious food and were alive.

We humans behave the same way; just like the Zumbwe wild cat, once we have met our basic needs for sex, shelter, food, money, power, material possessions, glamour,  we will pursue more often in a selfish and destructive way, for no other reason, besides because we can have more.

When we are in this Zumbwe mode, we engage in behaviors that destroy or threaten the physical environment, creatures, and others in our physical and social environment. We then want more money when we have enough, we want bigger houses when we already own a home, we want bigger cars so we can use more gasoline, we want to buy more shares on the stock market, we want more sexual titillation even when we have enough. The list can go on. When we look at why we do these things, the bottom line answer is that, like the Zumbwe wild cat, because we can. Even the former American President has now repeatedly said he engaged in the sex scandal just because he could; this the ultimate excess of having power.

As decent human beings we could do such tremendous good for ourselves and people around us if, unlike the Zumbwe wild cat, we did not destroy life. But instead we can become the Zumbwe or wild cat of good deeds. Indeed if we did one good or kind deed, and then paused and then performed such kind deeds for the next hundred people in our immediate neighborhood here, in the next village, town, and city and everywhere on the globe, wouldn’t the world be such a better place? Why don’t you become the next Zumbwe wild cat and “kill” the next twenty people with kind deeds?

Kamthibi Diaries: Diary of a Young Teenager

Unedited Diary of a Young Teenager – Book One

August, 1969

I went home that day semi-discouraged and encouraged. I had very high hopes, expectations, dreams and imaginations about my school holidays.

On the other hand, I had planned with my best friend to go for a picnic during the holidays. We planned to buy fishing hooks, lines, and packets of pullets for bird air gun. We would go down the Rukuzye dam for fishing and swimming. Later in the day we would collect my air gun and his and go for hunting birds around the Rukuzye River, and return in the evening probably with large quantities of fish and stupid birds of the Rukuzye. Those were our plans.

But suddenly, like a flash, my best friend died one week before the holidays. Sorrow wounded my soul and I was deeply grieved. Tears once came to my eyes but my thoughts went back to the time when my younger brother died of rabies Tamanda Upper Boarding School. I had cried and my bed sheets had become wet with what had felt to be hot tears. The head teacher had called me to his house. I went there and wondered what he would say to me. I realized afterward that the whole point was to comfort me. I was given a cup of coffee and he spoke to me some comforting words. He told me that time for writing secondary school entrance examinations was nearing and I should forget all about it. At that point the tears had disappeared.

I felt pity for my dead friend once more when I thought of sleepless nights when we used to chat together about some adventure in boy life. I remember, one night my brother-in-law had to come and knocked on our bedroom door to advise us not to make noise and we kept on chattering in low tones. But now he was gone.

“I should forget all about it,” I said to myself.

But that atmosphere of sympathy hang on me for some time. I would have missed him a lot if I had decided to go home for my holidays. So my mind was diverted completely to another course. Therefore I chose to go to the City of Lusaka. On the school closing date, I went home and collected money for transport from my father. I came back happy in mind and awaiting for night to come which would give away the scent of the following day. Since the school was closed, I slept late that night with my friends.

The morning was cool, no signs of sun rise yet. I looked through the window and saw that it was cloudy all over. I went to wash my face and still no sun. So I knew that it would be a cool day. I was just packing after dressing when the engine of a fiat bus sounded in the school road. Probably it was a Msoro bus but news came that it was going to Lusaka. So early! Some boys were still asleep they had to be woken up. They dressed and shuffled their blankets quickly into their suitcases. We all rushed to the car park where the bus was standing still with no signs of hurry. I bought a half fare ticket and boarded the bus with my small hand suitcase specially taken for the journey.

Boys had already began sucking at their cigarettes immediately after taking their seats. The driver in every one’s eyes promised to be good particularly at fast driving. They whispered to say he was very young and fit.

Presently the bus was full and nobody was entering any more. In other words all the Lusaka route boys were in. He started the engine and pressed upon the accelerator resulting into the sound of G-y-i-me! G-y-i-me! Off we went.

We were all disgruntled during our journey judging from the atmosphere in the bus.

To begin with, the constant unnecessary stops he made were not comforting. He packed us like sardines. From the door, near his seat, in the seats, it was everywhere people. When it stopped one felt as if one was in an oven. Small children and babies were yelling. I was told that children don’t take in enough oxygen. One child was thought to be sick. It cried and gasped like a long distance runner.

At Nyimba, after a rest of about one hour, everybody was in to resume the journey and the driver was at the wheel too. Among the entering people, there came a man in dark brown jacket, dark trouser and white shirt.

“Ey! you two boys come here!” he exclaimed. “Stupid, come out! You fools!”

The two Chizongwe boys stopped talking and rose to go out.

“Why do you dare insult him!” the man continued. “You are very foolish boys. Quickly! Come out! You are going to remain, this is Nyimba if you don’t know. Come out! and collect your suitcases!”

We didn’t know what was happening. They went out into the darkness. We couldn’t see what was happening outside since bus lights were on. Four big boys from Chizongwe went out to help or probably to see what was happening. Everyone asked his neighbour what had happened. Nobody knew. At this point, the driver went out also. Shortly after 10 minutes they all matched in and settled down. We went on.

After 30 miles of travel from Nyimba, some boy was alighting and while he was looking for his suitcase which was underneath the others, the driver began.

“These boys are very talkative. I advised them earlier on not to talk too much. Without me they should have remained no doubt. That man was the Bus Inspector. He was outside the window and he heard them insulting me. I didn’t hear them but the inspector heard. The boys think because they have “forms” they can insult anybody anyhow? This is very bad. They were going to sleep there and the police would come to collect them to Chipata instead of Lusaka. You young men should take care.” From that moment the journey went on with utmost silence. People were all asleep. We arrived at Kamwala bus terminal in Lusaka on a Sunday morning at about six o’clock.

I got a lift to Olympia Park area with some other  two boys. The taxi at last turned at 6 Machester Road and I went to find out whether people were up yet since it was so early on a Sunday morning. A face opened a curtain a little on a Sunday morning. A face opened a curtain a little and saw what was outside. He had obviously seen me. He opened the front door and said “Oh! at last you have come!”

Uncle Chambula got my suitcase. I paid the taxi driver and he drove off. He took me into the strange house. The first thing I saw was a living room, with nice sofas. A radio gram, a good carpet and some house decorations. He took me to the spare bedroom.

“Have you had sleep?” he asked.

I said “No.”

I had sat up all the night long. He told me to have a sleep first. Although I told him I had enough blankets. He gave me another one. It took me long to sleep. The engine was still rattling in my mind and ears. I looked through the window before sleeping, I saw a small girl of about 13 drawing some water from the garden tap. I didn’t know who she was. Probably Jennifer? Can’t she be Theresa? I would see later. I covered myself with the blanket and slept.

I woke up and found out that I had dreamed nothing. I got out of bed and sat up. He showed me the bathroom and the toilette. I body washed myself with warm water coming from a geyser. After washing my weariness disappeared and instead there came a feeling of being at home. I went into my bedroom and dressed myself into proper and clean clothes.

Immediately after dressing, I was taken to the breakfast table. On the way he drew behind my long sleeved shirt and asked whether I had any watch. I said “No.”

I had a cup of coffee, slices of bread with fried tomato in between them. I warmed up once more. I remembered that it was  two days before when I had taken some warm food. At the table I was greeted by his wife, Aunt NyaDindi, who had a new baby boy born on 1st August. I told them of how I left parents at home and how I had managed to find my way to the house. They told me that they had gone to the bus station 5 times during the previous day hoping each time that I had arrived. After breakfast I was given a new watch and a new shirt. I was then told to prepare for a football match, while he went for prayers. For the  first time in my life, my wrist had a watch of its own.

We had a delicious lunch. The nshima was in the center. Everybody served himself while charting about some important views of Lusaka.

At two I was beside him in the Vauxhall car. We set off Woodlands Stadium.

After two corners, we were in the Great East Road again, this time going towards the Chipata round about. Before we could reach it, we turned to drive in the New Castle Street up to where the  street joins Churchhill Road. We parked at the petrol station for the car to drink two gallons of petrol. We proceeded to reach A Nkhazi’s house. I thought it was an office. But I discovered two weeks later that it was a house. I said how small it  was! He went out and I was left alone in the car. I leaned on the door with the side glass winded in. I felt very proud for the first time. The young woman came and she sat in the back seat and she alighted somewhere near Katungu bar,

We were late  for the curtain raisers. People were cheering aloud. What a vast number of people were there! I thought to myself. Before leaving the car we made sure everything was locked and that the car was packed in a place where it would be easy to get away after the match. In a new shirt, watch, and a good trousers I thought I looked a real boy.

That was my first time to see the famous zoom soccer star in full swing and prooved the constant praises in newspapers and many a mouth of people.

At six p.m we were back at the house, but the routes we travelled had completely confused me. So I remembered nothing otherwise very little.

Two days later I decided to go alone into the city to have a glance at it. I went during the late hours of the afternoon at about three o’clock. I went through the main roads without taking any short cuts in case they led me to unknown places there after get lost. I once more went through Manchester road, Chepstow road then the Great East Road, and up the New Castle street to where we had previously driven through by car. I once more arrived at the petrol station where the car had drank two gallons of petrol. I walked with care and kept each sign of the way back to the house. I turned right of the Church hill road towards the Cairo Road. I went over the high ridge with the train dashing underneath. I entered the Cairo road with anxiety. I had heard many stories of its beautiful flamboyance and its fame in many accidents due to the fact that it is always busy during working hours. I feared to cross these busy roads before looking at how owners of the city crossed and I would follow their example. I had quite a different imagination of the famous Cairo Road before. The two pictures didn’t match at all. During this time I managed to see how the robots function to help the flow of traffic. I bought an exercise book and a pen which I would use when writing an essay which the teacher had told us to write. I would write about the car which was at close hand. He had told us to write about any machine which has an internal combustion. I saw some good nice novels. But I had very little money. I reached home very late because I had taken long roads instead of taking short cuts.

After supper, I asked Uncle Chambula about how the robots operated.

“That is what we refer to as a highway code. You have got to follow the rules and directions otherwise you can be in a serious accident.” he said.

He explained everything for example, he said the pedestrian crossing is there to help those on foot to cross the road with less difficulties. He also said that, the one way road is there to prevent accidents. Afterwards I moved with less fear of getting lost since I had known the center stores of Lusaka and I had also known the main signs of the way if I happened to get lost.

Jennifer was a 13 year old young girl. She was relatively very short and skinny. She was one of the people who kept their hair carefully and done at times. She was very clever and talkative. I liked her for the qualities which fitted almost exactly with mine. We called her Jenny.

Thereza was 16, short, plump, girl with very small hair which couldn’t by any means get done but she used to comb it beautifully. She was less talkative and got all work done immediately after being told by the mother. Jennifer liked mini skirts but Thereza didn’t like them. We called her Treza.

Judy was a six year old eldest daughter of the family. She was skinny and clever too. One day, talking to me, she said,

“Kamthibi, come here. I want to tell you something in the bedroom.”

I said, “Oh! you can tell me just here,” and I put my ear close to her mouth. She said whispering; “Mr. and Mrs. Martin were kissing each other on their door step this morning,” and I laughed. How did she know that that was a secret? Mrs. Martin was a housewife. Mr. Martin was working in the city. They were both Africans.

Tyson was the eldest son of the family two years old and known as Ty or “Mdala”. At this age he was unable to eat nshima and as a result he ate farex porridge only. The second son was 1 month old known as Thomson.

Ledu Himba was a relatively tall man. A good houseboy. He was 20 but unmarried. I read one letter from his girl friend in broken English. She was telling him to stop visiting her since he wanted her to visit him instead. He was very funny. He drunk a lot too. He had written to Theresa that he wanted her.

Sophia was the new arrival in the family. She was about 17. She was taking care of the new born baby while Aunt NyaDindi the mother was at school teaching. Theresa had gone to her friend Dorothy. At Dorothy’s house there was John who told Theresa that he (John) was coming to see Sophia, the new house girl, because Ledu Himba was very sleepy. Ledu Himba was mad with rage when he heard this. Blinded with furry he went to ask John about this. John denied it and Theresa admitted that she was just joking.

With in a few days Jennifer was a partner in playing. We were in very close contact.

Judy was learning at Olympia Park school and she was very proud of it. She had influenced all the young ones, for example class music. There was one song which she had taught me:

One little finger,

One little finger,

Tap!  Tap!   Tap!

I asked Jennifer to show me her class exercise books. She showed me one. I asked her to show me some more but she refused. I rushed to her bed room. But she ran after me in pursuit. I didn’t know where the case was. She ran and took the book case from the ward robe and I was unable to get it. She was doing well in class.

Uncle Chambula was very funny at times. He didn’t take any beer at all. After returning from work he would complain of hunger and that hunger had produced babies in his stomach. His wife would hurry up in cooking nshima. On his arrival from work his son would say “Hullow, Mwana” in a childish manner. Closing his car his father would say; “Hullow, Mwana!”

Ledu Himba complained that he had no money. He asked Aunt NyaDindi to lend him 5 ngwee for a candle. The housewife gave her money. On his way to the grocery he was tempted to go for gambling so that he would gain some more money. As a result he slept in darkness because he had lost five ngwee during gambling. But one day he had won a pair of trousers in gambling by luck.

All these people played their part in amusement during my stay. After the month, we went to shop with Jennifer. We first went to Ankhazi’s house to hand some vegetables. We arrived at Mwaiseni store at about 9 o’clock. Jennifer was down stairs and I went up stairs to the clothes department. I hesitated whether to use the conveyor belt or not. But I had never tried it before. So I went round up the steps to up stairs. Presently, Jennifer came to give me some advice on which shirt to get. She told me that somebody wanted to see me. I asked who it was. She said she didn’t know them. We continued shopping. Then we asked the sales lady where we could find hair pins. She caught me by the shoulders. We both bent just to look between the two walls, with the moving conveyor belt directly in front of us. What a nice perfume she had. And she whispered while making some signs with her hand.

“A mahair pins mwana.”

We went down stairs and got the hair pins. I asked Jennifer to show me the people who wanted to see me. This was after buying my new shirt, shorts, socks and an underpants which amounted to Six Kwacha. She directed me to the man on the counter. He just laughed and spoke something in Bemba. He told us to go. Later on Jennifer told me that the men thought Jennifer had come with an older sister whom they could coax for a date. I was taken aback.

In the afternoon, I decided to write a letter to the Zambia Mail column of free for all. When writing I remembered the coming day. I wrote this:

OVER CROWDING BUSES

It has been discovered that when schools close parents seem to go on holiday too. The same thing happens during the opening of schools. Therefore I think it is advisable that parents should try to fix their time for going somewhere depending on the period of closure and opening of schools. This I think is necessary just to give chance to school boys and girls to rush quickly home to start spending their limited holidays. Otherwise if this goes on any longer, it will result into risking one’s life to get home quickly. Since if you stay at a station for a longer period, it may result into different things all together. For instance, thieves may rob you, money may finish and no food as a result.

I know that there are some parents who go somewhere at that time for some very important duties. The parents I mean are those, for example, who go to look for work, to visit their son in the city. Such parents I think can wait a bit longer to let the school transport periods go over and then they can start their journeys later.

Anyway, this is just a suggestion to parents otherwise their children will suffer the consequences of life.

I ended.

I didn’t post this letter. And yet it was nearer there. But I just felt very lazy to post letters. I thought to myself, but some parent may say everybody uses his own money, so why should he stop going on a journey? That is true yes but it should depend upon some one’s business. Anyway, after all I wasn’t going to post it.

On a Sunday afternoon I went for pictures at Calton Cinema. I had known short cuts by now. I took 30 ngwee for the entry fee. I arrived at the door rather late because they were already through with the introductory part. Afterall it wasn’t important. If somebody asked how the film was, I wouldn’t speak of the first small introductory part. I bought the 15 ngwee ticket and went in. The room was quite carrying many people. It was as dark as a moonless night except for the side exit lights. The film was a nice attractive one. About the beach boys at the beach with their girls at the club. The film ended very late.

When the day of departure came, Ledu escorted me to the station on Friday morning. The Chipata bus line was very long. I was discouraged. We sat there all day with my school mate George. After missing all the buses Uncle Chambula came at 7 o`clock to collect me to the house  with his car. I was back the following morning in his car. After having no chance of buying a ticket that day, I decided to sleep at the station with some school mates. It became so cold at night that I couldn’t feel that I was covering myself with a blanket.

The following day was a critical one. There were many people on the Chipata line and as a result no proper line could be made. People were just pushing each other. Police came to help. By chance Evance, a school mate bought tickets for us. We hastily boarded the bus.

It was a Sunday hot afternoon. All the Lorries seemed to have died. Except for an occasional hooter of the train and the cars passing by seemed to be moving silently. The round-abouts and the Cairo Road seemed to be feeling lonely. The people in the shops’ corridors were not moving briskly like during any other days of the week. The loaded bus moved like a hungry centipede. The city wasn’t as lively as usual. All these left a departing impression with the city life.

The people in the bus weren’t active at talking. They all seemed to be murmuring.

After the Luangwa Bridge, I already started sleeping after that sleepless night and toiling in the sun. I was glad because the journey was mostly going to be done in darkness because I was so dirty.

Next to us was Joyce the girl we had recently known in the bus. She was attractive. We giggled with George speaking and discussing about her. Shortly afterwards, George gathered courage and went to sit beside her. They lowered their heads under the seat in front of them as if tying their shoe laces. They didn’t seem to be speaking. When the bus inner lights were on, people were surprised to see the change which had occurred during the darkness. From there, I couldn’t open my eyes until our arrival in Chipata. I was surprised to see the big welfare hall and the bus station. I was relieved on the other hand to be back home safely. My lips had been cracked while at Kamwala and now I didn’t feel at ease at all.

Joyce disappeared with an escort to the houses which were formerly for Europeans.

November, 1969.

Everybody in Form I, III, and IV  became more happy as the water shortage crisis became more acute at Chizongwe Secondary School. Because that meant the scent of an elongated school holiday. This was late November 1969. We couldn’t read, everything in school was disturbed because of the absence of one thing “water.” Already two boys were in the hospital because of diarrhea and many more automatically would go. Due to that trouble, part of the school had to close earlier while Forms II and V stayed to write their final examinations which would decide and determine their unknown future.

With the necessities of a newly established Chipata Dzithandizeni Nutrition Group depot, I went home with Mr. Leverkusen, my math Dutch teacher, the following day on a Saturday cloudy morning. Miss Spencer my Canadian English mistress  had to accompany us. We arrived at my home after about 25 minutes of driving along the Lundazi road. This was at Kaulembe School where my sister and brother-in-law were both teachers.

We entered my sister and brother-in-law’s house and led them to the seating room which was rather too small. I gave Mr. Leverkussen and Miss Spencer seats. Mr. Mthetwa private nutrition salesman at Mr. Leverkussen’s house was given a seat too. My sister came in with minimum surprise because she had been told before of our coming.

Mr. Nkhata broke in with an automatic smile on his face. He greeted them and introduced them to him and vice versa. They started talking about nutrition depot and how it operates. Shortly, coffee was served with slices of bread. They stayed for an hour talking, they would go in and out of the nutrition topic. We would joke and laugh. Then Miss Spencer asked; “I wonder how this book for Canadian students is found in Zambia?” Mr. Nkhata said: “Well, it is one of the Canadian sisters who gave it to my wife when she was schooling.” Presently they both departed leaving a very warm farewell.

At the school where my brother-in-law taught, the school boys and girls were going by lorry to Tamanda Upper School for football matches. I refused to go with them and instead I went to fix or hang some posters about nutrition along the roads.

The school day for ballroom dance came and I was filled with uttermost excitement. But on the other hand I didn’t know how to dance it. I would learn and that word gave me a lot of encouragement so to speak. I brushed myself and put on nice clothes. When we entered, the radio gram was already there and everything available; ladies of any age but not more than 20 years and less than 8. Gentlemen were many, but the rest of the school teachers had not yet arrived. Nevertheless, we commenced.

We began with “Torture” by the Everly Brothers. Everybody took his partner but I couldn’t because I didn’t know how to dance it. After watching 4 records being danced to, I fell too for one lady and I tried. But I had many disadvantages; we couldn’t take an immediate corner and the quality of the dance itself wasn’t so good. Constant misses of steps were very disturbing. I had to admit before each girl that I didn’t know how to dance it. After many records I warmed up. One thing was no lady tried to resist if I tried to pick her up for a dance. I noticed many ladies taken aback if I went for them for four consecutive times. But one thing I found hard was I always failed to dance with a lady who didn’t look good before my two eyes.

There was a relation between us now. Every girl with whom I had danced previously used to either smile, look away or stoop with shyness.

When I thought back, the dance was so enjoyable. I had never dreamed of holding a girl by the waist and her breasts warmly touching my chest occasionally. But there was one thing which I had always thought of but why don’t the forces of nature react? I proved it this time. Nothing happened really and my curiosity was overcome. The next time, I would try to make it even more enjoyable I concluded.

There were a number of records which reminded me of dancing time. For example, “Listen to the ocean”. The others like ones sung by Virginia Lee remind me of the moment I was waking up in the morning because they were usually put on the radio gram during that time.

Hunting with a bird air gun was my main hobby for pleasure. My hunts left a good effect upon my sister and brother-in-law especially because I brought with me about 12 birds each time and this way I would save them the trouble of looking for nshima’s partner. This also revealed my aiming talent with my air gun. The school boys and girls knew this because the children would sit there with a plateful of birds while uprooting their feathers. I was proud of myself for being so good at long range shooting. This made me feel like a knife which is sharp on both sides both academically and at home.

I had never seen a girl as shy as Sophia before. After dancing ballroom with her, I never had a chance to look in her face even at a distance of 40 yards. If we happened to be at a place with an unavoidable closeness, she would always find a way of hiding herself. I had never made her talk except during ball-dance. Apart from that nowhere else. She dodged in a reasonable manner. I don’t know whether my only eyes would kill her. But she wasn’t as shy with boys of her school.

Days flew by at a tremendous speed like that of Apollo 11. With usual happiness days still passed. The closing night came, we had been sleeping at 2 a.m for the past 2 days. The concerts were presented by various groups of the school and finally the results of different grades’ terminal exams were announced. The school closed.

Happiness had been deprived of me. From that very night loneliness came on me. I had been enjoying for the past 2 weeks. Hunting, looking at the school girls, looking and studying their differing characters and their responses. Besides all I had danced with a lot of them for the past 3 joyous ball dances and all these contributed to my unhappiness. Misery started right from the time I opened my eyes the following day. Playing records couldn’t amuse me neither hunting. A natural depression had crept into my mind. I had no power, completely discouraged. I wondered what my real holidays would become of while seated on the arm chair. I was feeling sleepy. The word natural depression seemed to prick my ears. My brother-in-law asked what was wrong with me. I said nothing.

Sophia, Misozi, Sarah all these girls had left yesterday. People whom I had enjoyed to see, people whom I had liked to speak to, people whom I was happy to study their differing characters, they had made my stay a bright and comfortable one. I remembered when Sophia failed to approach and meet me she turned and went through the village to another short path. Misozi was always ready to dance without any doubts. She just gave herself up. Sarah and Sophia were the first two girls I had learnt on how to dance ballroom with. I wasn’t going to see their faces anymore. Probably Misozi who was the nearest to me. The more I thought of them the more my heart became heavy.

To cheer up myself, I took the bird air gun for hunting but that couldn’t do either.

My thoughts went deeper into the holidays. My friend Isaac was going to Ndola, Samson to Lusaka, Philip to Luanshya. With whom will I stay? That was the main worry adding to the ones which were already there.

I almost thought all night and finally made a conclusion to go to Lusaka again for my holidays.

There were a number of things which father was going to consider. I had gone there in August, he didn’t actually allow me, but with the help of brother-in-law I had gone to Lusaka. Mother was away to Lumezi and therefore father wouldn’t make immense decisions like this one on his own. Otherwise he would prove to have been wrong later.

I was in despair already, before I could go to ask for transport money. I am a boy I thought to myself I should have a try first. I went to his home, and found he wasn’t there. I left a letter demanding for permission and transport money.

The following day I went and collected K10 for transport. I was filled with joy and relief. Brother-in-law and sister wondered what had happened to father to allow me to go to Lusaka again.

————–End of Book One——————-

The Ghosts of Man-Eating Lions

I must have been about seven years old. My dad had gone out of town on business riding his bike through sixty miles of dangerous desolate wilderness in Luangwa Valley of the Eastern Province of Zambia in Southern Africa. At that time there were fewer people but many wild animals everywhere. He had travelled to Fort Jameson (now Chipata) on business from Chasela Primary School where he was a teacher. My mom asked me to leave my bedroom and instead to sleep in my dad’s bed since we were by ourselves that night. It was 7:00 pm and the yellow paraffin or kerose  lamp was burning and flickering on mom’s small bedside table. My mom had just finished giving my seven month old baby sister, Ester, a bath. Ester was whining and fussing with mom bugging her to apply the Vaseline on herself. My mom was saying no and will she please go to sleep when all of a sudden:

“Aaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!!” One lion roared with the deepest bellow literally five feet outside our rickety bedroom door and window.ManEatingLion

“Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!” The second lion roared in response. Our whole small 4 room red brick house shook and vibrated.

My mom hastily blew out the kerosene lamp. My sister tried to dive under mom to hide. I was so scared I could not move to hide under the covers. My little heart may have stopped. The plates, dishes, pots, and pans rattled on the kitchen shelves as some crashed to the cement floor in the kitchen. Some rats fell with a thud from the grass roof. The two lions continued to roar in tandem.

There was loud commotion in the nearby Chibande large village as playing children screamed and fled in terror. Mothers desperately yelled calling their children by name to please run home. Most kids ran into the nearest house for cover for that night as there was no time to run to their parents’ house.

My mom and I did not get out of the house well until the sun had risen up to nine hours the following morning. First, my mom prayed to God for having saved our lives that night. She then gingerly opened our small wooden bedroom window and carefully peaked outside to make sure the lions were not waiting anywhere outside. That’s when we walked out of the house.

The terrible memories of that night decades ago in Zambia came back because of a book a work mate had given me to read. Coincidentally, my car broke down over the weekend and I could not go anywhere. I read the 275 page Philip Caputo’s “Ghosts of Tsavo: Stalking the Mysteries of Lions of East Africa” in one day.
“The Ghosts of Tsavo” rekindle both the terror and deep mystery that man-eating lions still invoke in history and contemporary times on the African continent. The book is an adventure thriller that offers convincing insights into how and why some lions stalk, kill, and eat human beings in a shockingly brazen fashion. Some parts of the book are shocking and brutal in their detailed descriptions.

In “The Ghosts of Tsavo” the saga of the Tsavo man-eating lions happened in the late 1890s in East Africa. But I was surprised about a similarly shocking episode described in the first opening chapter of the book of a man-eating lion in Mfuwe in the Luangwa Game Park as recently as 1991. This episode is much closer to home. I lived in the area with my parents in the 1950s when I had the closest call with lions. I have since then visited the Luangwa Game Park in Mfuwe several times and as recently as July 2009.

The book has three major themes: First, the details of the adventures, investigations, the research and the sheer thrill Caputo experienced in actually visiting many of the places in Africa where man-eating lions still exist. Second, the conflict, tensions, and ambivalence Caputo exposes between human beings, tourism, the mysteries of lions in the African natural habitat, and wild life conservation. Lastly, Caputo explores some of the scientific evolutionary questions that still have to be resolved about the relationship between man-eating lions and their status in the Darwinian evolutionary process.

The detached average reader whose closest encounter with a lion may be the docile lion in the local zoo, may not fully appreciate both the terror and sheer mystery man-eating lions evoke. The “Ghosts of Tsavo” is both thrilling and educational. The book made me relive some of the old memories including the family legend of my grandfather who was mauled to death by a man eating lion in 1941 in our home village in Lundazi. That is another story.

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[I met my kid sister Ester on August 2 2009 at the Arcade Shopping Mall in Lusaka. The thing with younger siblings is that one can’t believe they can get older. She lives in Sinazeze in Southern Province on the bank of the Kariba Dam with her husband and their now grown childrnn. We had such a great time for two hours laughing about old times. We had last seen each other over 20 years ago, in 1989. She made an effort to travel so that we could see each other before I returned to the States. It was such a blessing to see her and for her to meet her nephew. i.e my son.

I am Glad I am Not In Jail

As a child growing up in my home village in Lundazi in Eastern Zambia in Southern Africa among the Tumbuka people, an incident changed my life forever. I was in the middle of a squabble with my little cousin that escalated into a risky duel with tiny twigs. My grandmother shouted at us to stop. We froze. She then said to me if I poked my little cousin in the eye or killed him, did I know what the Muzungu or white British colonial court messengers and police would do? They would swarm the village, slap painful metal handcuffs on me, and haul me away to jail. She said when you kill someone they will nyonga or hang you. Except nyonga has a much more ominous meaning in Tumbuka. Nyonga is when my grandmother and other women at the river were washing clothes and they would wring or twist them hard to remove the last drop of water. The thought that that’s what they would do to my neck if I accidentally murdered my little cousin scared me.

Then my grandmother said if I stole or broke the law, the same police would haul me to jail where they would feed me salt day and night as punishment. The idea of eating salt with nothing else for months and years just appalled me. From that moment onwards I decided that I would not fight, steal, kill, or break the law for fear that I would go to jail or worse be nyongad.

These thoughts were going through my mind many decades later sitting in my back yard during a North American afternoon in Bridgewater away from that little village. After weeks of relentless 95 degree heat days with oppressive humidity, this past Saturday was one of those rare near perfect summer days. I had slept well the previous night because the cooled down air had gently breezed through the shatters of our bedroom window. The sun was bright, the sky was blue with some scattered clouds and the humidity must have been down to zero. I couldn’t go to the office because the house keepers at my office were doing their annual summer August waxing of the floor. Everyone was forbidden to walk into the building until Monday. I joyfully worked in the yard all day; something that I could not have done days before because some men died of heat exhaustion risking mowing their lawn at noon in 100 degree humid temperatures in the North East.

I mowed, weed wacked, and I stared at the jungle of weeds that I was going to attack next in my vegetable garden, when it hit me. I wasn’t sweating or tired. Why was I wasting this precious day? That’s when I decided to just sit under the shade of the pine trees and really enjoy the day. There was no radio, no cell phone, no TV, no book. I heard and observed the different bright colored birds drinking and flying around my neighbor’s small drinking fountain.

Then a bunny rabbit hopped two feet into my yard maybe realizing the dogs Max and Nyika were inside the house. The rabbits and my  neighbor’s three cats always play the chasing ritual with our two dogs. The rabbit just sat there wiggling its ears. Bees, butterflies, and other insects were busily buzzing around the large flowering hibiscus shrub that I had to trim three years ago. Then I saw a large bee. It rested on the clothes line next to the shrub for a split second then buzzed on the first flower. No, it was a humming bird.

In spite of all of life’s endless problems I began to appreciate how lucky I was to experience that day, that moment of utter freedom, and serenity. This is the moment and time that I am glad I am not in lifeless jail walls  in a twelve by sixteen cell with a toilet in the corner.

I thought of my grandmother, my parents, and all the people dead or alive that I care for in my life. My wife came out of the porch door with huge sliced pieces of chilled large watermelons. We devoured them with juices dripping to the grass. It was tempting to blurt to my wife that I was glad I was not in jail. But then I thought better of it.

Thanks to all Teachers

We all at one time or another thank someone who played a very important role in our lives. This could be a parent, a friend, an uncle, aunt, a teacher, or just sometimes a total stranger who was kind to us at our greatest moment of need. We might express our thanks and gratitude for good health and be lucky and blessed enough with the bounty of food on our tables when others in the world, sometimes even our neighbors were starving. But who should we thank during our birthday, wedding anniversary, or Christmas? Should we thank Budha, Jesus Christ, God, Yaweh, or the very Allah on behalf of whom some terrorists claim they carry their dastardly acts?

The most appropriate person to acknowledge most to the time is the teacher, especially one who inspires and ignites in the students an intense motivation to achieve their dreams. I had such a teacher who I have never thanked publicly. I still vividly remember him forty-five years later after my Ph. D., having a family and a teaching career. This was an African Headmaster and seventh grade English teacher at Tamanda Boarding Upper primary school. This school was located on a remote plateau literally on the British colonial drawn border in the countries of Zambia and Malawi in Southern Africa. We had limited facilities but our teachers gave us the best.

The daily routine was grueling. But it was particularly so on a chilly morning when I decided to be tardy and skip my early morning chore of sweeping the school Assembly Hall. The floor was so dirty that as soon as the school teachers entered the assembly, the first announcement from the Headmaster’s lips was for Mwizenge Tembo to see him in his office after the assembly. The Headmaster sternly asked me why the assembly Hall floor was unswept and dirty. I had no answer. My tears did not help either as he gave me two swift strikes of the cane on my rear end. When they saw tears on my cheeks, my classmates did not need to ask what had happened. I never skipped my chores again and didn’t dare complain to my parents either because they would have supported the headmaster.

One chilly morning, Mr. Phiri digressed from teaching English, and asked the class what we wanted to be after completing school. My classmates and I looked at each other blankly in stunned silence. What could kids in a rural African village school dream about after finishing only Grade Seven? Then Mr. Phiri gave us his memorable talk.

“What’s the matter with you!” he raised his voice and he said almost whispering: “You are young. The future for all of you is wide open. Our country just got its independence 2 years ago. We will need doctors to cure disease, pilots to fly planes, locomotive drivers to run trains, bankers, teachers, surveyors, architects to design homes, engineers. Any of you could even go to college at the new University of Zambia, get one or two degrees and become professors. You need to know not just about our school, our chief, your village, or our country, but about the world. Did you know that as we speak in the classroom now, on the other side of the world in Japan its midnight and people are asleep?”

I smiled and looked around my classmates. That was it! That was fascinating class for a kid who had only known about herding goats in the village at this point. My imagination was ignited and a seed was planted. I begun to dream night and day about going to University of Zambia if I worked hard. Our imagination as students was further ignited when word came around that our government of Zambia was raising funds all over the country to build the University of Zambia. This would be the highest educational institution in the land where students would gain degrees. Everyone donated ten ngwee ot ten cents toward the national project.  I qualified to go to Chizongwe Secondary School, then qualified to go to our only national University of  Zambia at the time and later went to do my Masters and Ph. D. in the United States.

Later that year when I was still in seventh grade at Tamanda Boarding Shcool, the Headmaster received an urgent letter from parents. He had to inform me in his office that my younger brother had passed away. I couldn’t go home for the funeral as my home village was too far. As I was weeping in the dark with deep grief alone lying on my dormitory bed that evening, I was summoned to the headmaster’s house. Students were often summoned to his office but never to his house. His wife made a cup of tea with some buttered scones. I wiped my  tears as I sipped the tea. Mr. Phiri said he was deeply sorry about the loss of my brother. He wanted me to be strong because the big all important high school entrance exam was only three months away. He wanted me to pass, go to high school and may be University. This would be my only chance.

Teachers play many different complex roles. However, what is paradoxical is that people can also become excellent teachers of the extreme hatred as demonstrated by the Hitlers of this world and as demonstrated by the tragic terrorist events of September 11 and many others since then.  If ever you have taught in a classroom, may be you are a parent, scout leader, trained police officers, members of the armed forces units, fire fighters, emergency service personnel, or have inspired young people  to learn any useful skill or to do be good human beings, you are a teacher who should be celebrated and thanked. For  teachers not only inspire us to read and write,  but chances are that you and I are reasonably decent human beings because of teachers who may have prodded us when we were slacking and motivated us and gave us self esteem when we felt the least confident.

People Passing Through Our Lives

As I look back on my life, I believe many people come into our lives and impact us significantly for a short while. Then they disappear never to be heard or be seen again leaving us with a wonderful story with glowing warm memories to last eternity. Sometimes in moments of contemplation we wonder why the person crossed our path. Sometimes we just wonder what happened to the person as we are left without conclusions. This creates the tension that is mystery in our lives. That’s why we find nostalgia to be so sweet. Our expectations of always expecting a neat ending to a story with mystery solved is a popular Hollywood myth that today overwhelms all of us. A story has to have a conclusive ending often a good one. I have come to the conclusion that whoever crosses your life, enjoy and cherish the moment with them, because once you part they may never cross your life again. This childhood story probably best makes this point.

Mgubudu stores is still located about 25 miles north of Chipata on the Lundazi road in the Eastern Province of rural Zambia in Southern Africa. The shopping center with its 6 Indian owned shops at the time was a vibrant shopping center in the 1960s. Trucks, buses, travelers, shoppers, villagers, professionals from fifty square miles mingled there. After cycling for 8 miles one late afternoon from Kasonjola School where he was a teacher, my father bought a cold coca-cola and was sipping it sitting on the stairs of the shop. He saw a man wandering past the shop.

The man was four feet nine and filthy. He had dusty bare feet, shreds of rags for clothes; he had patched lips, and looked tired. His neck less head rested on his hunchback. My father greeted the man. The man spoke Tumbuka which is our mother tongue. My father asked the man’s name and asked him why he was so far from the town of Lundazi which was nearly hundred miles away.

The man said he had not eaten for days. He had had only one lorry ride on the way but had walked most of the way for weeks in search a job. No one would give him a ride because he did not have any money. My father got out a susu (six pence) and bought the man a coca-cola and a bun. He thanked my father profusely. The man said he had been living in poverty in the village. He was looking for any work so that he could buy some clothes. But most of all he wanted to save some money so that when he returned to his village, he would be able to marry a woman from the lobola (so called bride price or bride wealth) he would save.  After they had had a long conversation, my father had the man ride with him on the back carrier of his Humber bicycle.  He brought the man back to our house.

My mother forbade us from staring at this short, filthy, hunchbacked man. As soon as they arrived, my mother immediately put some warm water in the bathing shelter and a bar of soap. The man scrubbed off all his dirt and my mother gave him a meal and a pair of my father’s old used clothes.

The man’s name was Sekelelani which means be happy or laugh. So it was that Mr. Sekelelani arrived one evening into our family of 9 children. We did not need the help because my father was a teacher and the little plot of land we grew crops on was to supplement our food. Mr Sekelenai was to help us work in our 2 acre field growing maize and peanuts. My father paid him One pound 5 shillings a month. He saved the one pound for him in an account and gave him the 5 shillings every month. My mother cooked and served him meals. My father gave him some used clothes. Because he had a hunch back, he never wandered away from our house into the villages because people stared and sometimes made fun of him even when he took short strolls near our house in the evening. He was very self-conscious. He had  a great laugh and broad smile and we kids were very fond of him and were always listening to his many funny stories. My mother sometimes teased him in the evening as we sat in the moonlight outside after dinner. My mother would ask him why he was not married yet.

Mr. Sekelelani would always laugh and say: “Mrs. Tembo, women like me, I know how to talk to them…….”

Twelve months later, we were all sad to see Mr. Sekelelani leave one morning. My father gave him the twelve pounds cash he had faithfully saved for him and a small suitcase with a blanket and some clothes in it. We escorted him to Mgubudu Stores where he boarded the bus to his home village in Lundazi. We never saw or heard from him again.

Over the years I had always wondered and have been intrigued by my father and mother’s partnership. They were such a kind people when we were growing up. They brought so many strangers into our home and into our lives as children. They treated them all very kindly. I have always wondered what happened to Mr. Sekelelani. Did he go home to a hero’s welcome? Did he marry and live happily ever after?

Sacred Cows and Myths are Broken

In September of 2002 sacred cows and myths were broken in my African home village. The wider implications of the breaking of these myths are still unclear. It all started when the Tembo family decided to purchase two bulls to help with plowing crops during the coming growing season, which starts in December. The 2001 drought that affected large regions of Southern Africa was already hitting many village families whose harvests had been poor at the end of the growing season the previous April. Our family decided to increase the chances of improving next year’s subsistence farm yield as well as the cotton cash crop through the purchasing of two bulls.

Although I was born and raised in the African village, I have lived in the US for more than twelve years. Since my urban and American good looks and good clothes, shoes, hefty appearance, (fat by African standards) and smooth skin would immediately double the price of an average bull, my brothers 35, and 39, agreed to scout numerous villages for bulls. Once they found them, I was to show up at the last minute to close the deal.

My brothers scouted by bike a three hundred square mile area of dozens of villages in the Lundazi district covering the Chiefdoms of Magodi, Phikamalaza, Kapichila, and Zumwanda. What they encountered always breaks the average Westerner’s heart: people experience visible poverty when they own anywhere from ten to hundreds of cattle. They are unwilling to part with them despite the obvious attraction of receiving rare large sums of money in exchange. Two long days later, my brothers finally returned with some good news. They had found five potential bulls at a small village on the Eastern side of the district in Chief Phikamalaza’s area close to Zambia’s international border with the country of Malawi.

Early the next morning, we set off for the village on bicycles. By this time, I had been in the village for three weeks. I had made two long forty-two mile trips by bike and numerous miles of bicycle riding in African scorching heat without needing a sip of water. We arrived at the village at noon. As arranged, the forty-one herds of cattle were not released yet for the day from their kraal for grazing. The owner was Aliboo; the man in the town of Lundazi who owns a chain of lucrative businesses including wholesale and retail trade, bus and truck transportation, buying and selling of corn, peanuts, cattle, goats, and sheep. He was the Bill Gates of the small rural district.

The Chief Herder and caretaker, a young man in his mid-twenties, and his two assistants led us to the kraal. There was pandemonium in the kraal as the designated animals milled around to elude capture. The five bulls on sale were reluctantly pointed out to us. We picked two of the youngest, healthiest looking and strongest looking bulls. The herder looked as sad as if he had just lost someone very valuable and dear to his heart. He reluctantly strapped to a yoke the two bulls for the long return trek to our village.

After the formal transactions of the purchasing of the bulls were over, the herder pulled me aside. He expressed his tremendous regret and sadness that the two bulls had to leave. He expressed deep fondness for them. He reminisced how he had broken them as juveniles to become his most favorite haulers and when plowing the fields. It dawned on me then and there that there is more to selling and agreeing to part with an animal.

At two in the afternoon, the two cattle, my two brothers, two young boys who were escort herders and I, started the thirty-five mile walk to our village. My brother had already nicknamed the young red feisty bull “Gumuza” which means to “husk corn” and the calm black one “Boma” which means “town”. We briskly walked and chatted in the sizzling African afternoon sun passing several villages and a school. The two escort herders frequently whipped the young bulls back into the narrow dirt road and bush paths each time the animals broke and wildly wandered off into the bush.

At sunset, we arrived at a stream on the Western side on the outskirts of the Lundazi town. The escort herders released the two cattle from the yoke although they were still tethered to along rope. The bulls grazed for a while and drunk some water in the nearby stream while we sat down to rest. Our dinner comprised three small buns for each person with some margarine on them. We downed them with a cup of plain water sweetened with a couple of teaspoons of sugar stirred into it using a small twig.

As darkness fell, we began walking the rest of the twenty-three miles to our home village. In the moonless dark night, we followed the light glimmer of the narrow small dirt road. The flashlight drove the bulls berserk becoming belligerent and wildly taking off into the bush. We could not use the flashlight. We passed many villages and three schools with our hoofed merchandise. Two trucks passed us carrying gigantic loads of cotton from the scattered village markets back into the Lundazi town. Hour after hour we placed one foot in front of the other. We plodded along and sweated as we followed the faint glare of the narrow, meandering, rough, and sandy dirt road.

We were a few miles from our destination and we had been walking for a total of nine long hours. We were all so exhausted that each one more step required much more will power than energy since there was practically no energy left in all of us including the two bulls. At one thirty in the morning we finally arrived at our village. The two bulls; Gumuza and Boma were released from the yoke and feasted on some raw pumpkins. My sister-in-laws cooked a long awaited hot meal as we talked to my mom and dad about our long trip. I was already thinking of the two young bulls, Gumuza and Boma, not just as beasts that can be sold at a whim. They were part of the family. Even the young eight and ten year old nephews, who were to herd the cattle, were roused by the excitement and woke up to admire the two new members of the Tembo family as they grazed behind my house in the dark. I finally understood why pastoralists everywhere in Africa and the rest of the world are often reluctant to part with their animals even if they have a large herd. Two myths were broken:

  • That a “fat” African who has lived an American life style of a soft life cannot ride a bike for numerous miles let alone walk for thirty-five miles. Incidentally being “fat” is so rare among the people in the villages of Africa that it is seen as a culturally positive thing. A young American Peace Corps volunteer was shocked recently when she was called “fat” when she first arrived in the village. But she has since learnt that being “fat” is used in a positive sense among the Tumbuka people and traditional Zambians and rural Africans in general.
  • The second myth is that peasant cattle owners and pastoralists in traditional rural Africa are irrational when they refuse to willy-nilly sell their animals even sometimes in the face of hunger and starvation. They perhaps truly love and sometimes deeply care more for the animals than their own lives, money and material modern consumer commodities.