Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D
Professor of Sociology
Marita Banda, Telling It Like It is, Lusaka: National Arts Council, 2016, 62 pp. K116.00 ($12.00), Paperback.
My soul stirred with tinny flashes of excited anticipation when I saw the brown envelope from Zambia in my mail box with my hand written name on it. It was date stamped 18 July 2017. It was time to enjoy my primordial ritual of 43 years. I would wait until later in the evening at the right moment.
I cooked a small nshima with the special Zambian breakfast mealie-meal stored in the deep freezer. The nshima was so small that my Tumbuka mother would have mocked me that it was like kasima kamnkhwala; small nshima for medicinal purposes. But this same nshima has saved me from the ravages of high blood pressure because of the serious risks associated with obesity, being overweight or like we would say in Zambia: being too fat. I slowly ate the small nshima with delicious (from my back yard garden) mphangwe ya nyungu yotendela; fresh pumpkin leaves cooked with fresh self-pestle and mortar pounded
Another relish was the delicious American black eye peas cooked with no cooking oil but water boiled with curry powder and garlic just as my grandmother would have cooked the peas from home in Lundazi. I ate it slowly nicely kukonya each nthozi; molding each lump of nshima. Afterwards, I checked some email and watched some TV.
I took a good shower. I turned on my small side-bed table lamp which has a glowing soft light. I crawled into bed and finally opened the brown envelope. The rainbow beautiful colors of a butterfly softly flew on the cover of the book: “Telling It Like It Is” writings of Marita Banda. Glimpses of the contents of the small book were visible on the cover embedded under the lovely feminine font. I realized immediately that I was in for a treat; that’s what good books have done for me all my life.
Telling It Like It Is
“Telling It Like It Is” by Marita Banda is series of 29 poems. She had mentioned to me in July in 2016 when I saw her in Zambia that she was publishing a book of poems. But I have a confession that I am not embarrassed to make. When I was a wide eyed freshman at University of Zambia in 1972, I took E 110 – Introduction to English. We read as many as 25 books and wrote assignments about them. Some of the books made a very radical and deep impact on my young curious mind that was yearning for knowledge. Books such as the provocative “Autobiography of Malcolm X”, the novel “The Grass is Singing” by the Nobel Literature winner Doris Lessing, “Soul of Ice” by the radical Black American Eldridge Cleaver. I love prose. But I hated poetry. For a long I didn’t remember that we read in the class Senegalese President’s famous book: “Senghor Prose & Poetry” which I still have on my shelf.
Twenty five years later in 1997 after I had taken my E – 100 course at UNZA which I nearly failed, tumultuous events
compelled me to write my very first poem ever. I went on to write 30 more poems. I was born again poet. I am only making this confession to properly contextualize what I experienced first reading Marita Banda’s book. I never engage in this ritual for the hundreds of purely academic books that I have read. But I conduct this ritual that I reserve for a few selected books, like the one that I have just received, because they appeal to my soul.
During these moments of emotional drama, I am torn. Do I read all the 22 short poems on 60 pages may be in half an hour? And then what? Why should I be in a hurry? If you have a great vintage bottle wine, do you want to gulp it all at once? You want to sip a small glass everyday may be after dinner perhaps with your beloved. So I did what I have always done for very nourishing short sweet books: I have read a few pages every night enjoying the pre-reading ritual every night.
Gombeza and The Poems
So I first went to the poems 3, 4, and 5 which are titled: the Tumbuka language “Gombeza” – blanket. This is not just a blanket but it has a deeper meaning. Gombeza to me is the blanket I shared with my 2 cousins when I was sleeping in my grandparents’ house growing up in the village as a child. Gombeza then is not just a material item that you use at night to cover yourself when you are sleeping but has much deeper significance. Poems provide deeper meanings using a few carefully chosen pregnant words in a language. It is tempting to tell the reader what all the 29 poems are about but then what is the hurry? I haven’t read all these poems yet. Poem number 6: “There is a carnival in my garden”; Poem Number 10: “A Few stolen moments”; Poem 21: “The Man I Want to Meet”; now this ought to make all the single guys want to read the poem.
What I love about these poems is that they have the feel of a new genre: she employs several languages; English, but also some French, and some Tumbuka. I was able to enjoy the Gombeza poem in English and Tumbuka. But you can also enjoy it in French. The physical book itself has such a soothing feel that I would want to take it with me on a long plane, bus or train ride. May be I could sit under the tree shade and read the poems at the beautiful Goma Lakes sunset at UNZA or may be at Munda Wanga Botanical Gardens. I will read a few poems late every night before I go to bed. I don’t know what to anticipate. But I know it will be great.
Young Girls, Women, Boys and Men
If you are a young girl or a woman who wants to read something inspiring, this is the book. I like it that it is from Lusaka. If you teach poetry, you can use this book. May be after this I will write a few poems of my own because I am sure I will feel inspired. If you are a young boy, man or grown man, read “Telling It Like It Is” writings of Marita Banda; there is everything right with discovering and appreciating your feminine side. Feminism and the women’s liberation movement gave me that permission to enjoy my feminine side 30 years ago.
This lovely book of poems is available at East Park Mall next to University of Zambia (UNZA) at Grey Matter Bookstore next to the Arcade Mall in Lusaka the Capital City of Zambia.