Dispatch from Ibex Hill/Chainda in Lusaka in Zambia in Southern Africa
My great and deep admiration for the First President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, begun when I was 13 at Chizongwe Secondary School in Chipata. Students had marched to the main road to see and wave at the President as his Mercedes Benz drove from the airport to Chipata where he was to address a major rally at Mpezeni Park. I saw him for may be a few seconds as he waved his white handkerchief through the back window. I began to wonder how it would feel like to see him in person and let alone shake his hand.
My admiration thickened when I was at the University of Zambia. I had the insatiable craving to read books outside my required readings in sociology and psychology. I scoured bookstores including Kingstones in Lusaka every week. Instead of buying beer like most of my peers would do if they had some pocket money, I would secretly buy books and read them instead. I must have been one of the worst fools in the world. This is how as a student I came to read Kaunda’s “A Humanist in Africa” which fascinated me because I felt President Kaunda was describing my life in the village and the traditional Zambian philosophy. Then I read: “Zambia Shall Be Free” and then later “Letter to My children”. I have read all of his books many of them I have read more than twice because the philosophical ideas he expresses are so compelling.
Many decades later I had the first opportunity to meet my hero. The circumstances were unusual. President Kaunda was spending a year at Boston University in the United States in a program of retired African presidents. My boss, President Stone of Bridgewater College in Virginia where I am a lecturer, asked me if I could negotiate for President Kaunda to come and address the small liberal arts college of mostly 1600 white students. I told him President Kaunda did not know me. I did my best to lower expectations. After being in contact with his staff for many months of his extremely busy schedule, I volunteered to go and visit with President Kaunda for even just five minutes because he is such a busy man.
I flew to Boston and rode the train to President Kaunda’s flat. I was very nervous and had carefully memorized what I wanted to say. I just hoped what happened to me when I was 14 years old when I first met the smashing beauty Lina Phiri would not happen again. During that unexpected encounter on a rural road, my tongue was locked, my mouth was dry, and I couldn’t remember breathing as I walked beside her for a mile which might as well have been 20 seconds. I share that memorable disastrous episode in my international romantic thriller novel: “The Bridge” which only 11 Zambians have read but which hundreds of American students have thoroughly enjoyed. When I entered his flat, President Kaunda was sitting on a chair and there was already another chair next to him. He rose as I shook his hand and I embraced him. My heart was racing. We greeted each other. I sat down. It was happening again. All the sentences I had carefully memorized evaporated.
“Do you want to go and play golf?” President Kaunda suddenly asked.
At first I looked behind me thinking he was asking someone else behind me or one of his aides.
“Yes,” I quickly replied. What was my hero trying to do? Ruin my sedate life? How could I play golf with my hero President Kaunda?
I thanked my lucky stars that I was familiar with golf. I have never been athletic. But 16 years earlier when I was doing my Ph. D., I happened to have taken five short lessons in golf. I wanted to know just how to whack the ball in the front direction, the names of the various golf clubs and may be how to score in golf. Winning anything was not even in my thought process. President Kaunda asked his aids to get me a spare golf shirt and shoes. He was paired with me in our own golf cart and there was another Boston University official with his grown son.
I could not believe that I was playing golf with my lifetime hero President Kaunda. I wished my parents, my wife, my children, my friends, Chizongwe Secondary School student classmates, the girls from St. Monica’s Secondary school and including what the Bembas call chipesha mano Lina Phiri could see me. Since this occasion was once in a lifetime when all the stars are lined right, and since I could not record the entire stunning experience, I knew I had to enjoy every second. I noticed every blade of grass, every swing the President made, and we laughed. During the 18th hole in the late evening it begun raining. Is this what it felt to die and go to heaven? I asked myself. Although my return flight to Virginia was the following morning, I was willing to leave at that time and spend a night at a motel. But President Kaunda would have none of that. That’s when I began to realize that good things sometimes happen to fools like me. He was going to take me out to dinner and I was to sleep in one of the spare bedrooms. President Kaunda, his aids, and I went to a fabulous dinner at an Indian food restaurant. Later that night I bid President Kaunda good night since I was going to get up early to go to the airport. Since that memorable day when I first met my hero, I could die and I would have a smile on my face as the grief stricken mourners close the cover of my coffin and lower me into the grave.
Mwizenge S. Tembo has just published the book: “Zambia Hunger for Culture”. You can buy it by asking your nearest bookstore to order it or you can simply look it up on the internet: www.tembohungerforculture.com