We have all watched those exciting colorful documentaries on TV of the Cheetah chasing the swift Thompson Gazelle at high speeds of 65 mph or 104 Km Per hour zigzagging through the Savannah plains in a cloud of dust. Once the Cheetah catches the prey, the deep voice of the announcer says: “This is the law of the jungle and nature in Africa”. Next you see images of very cracked hot dusty dry land which has had drought for six months with no rain which is normal for Savannah Zambia. You wouldn’t think this was normal if you only saw the documentaries. The elephants, impalas, zebras, wilder beasts, buffaloes are shown desperately looking for water as the small water holes have turned into thick dry mud.
These are the negative images that have dominated the media and TV screens about Zambia and Africa since the very early days of European contacts with Africa in the 1500s. The idea that we Zambians and Africans live in miserable drought for six months of the year is very attractive to people who live the Northern hemisphere in Europe, North America, Northern Asia, China and Japan. After all it is generally not only cold here but we have both rain and cold dark freezing snow winters. Sometimes freezing rain and frozen ice and snow fall together.
This Western image of six months of misery contrasted so much with my good life growing up in the village in Zambia that I voiced my opposition to these images of misery in a book I wrote titled “Tit bits for the Curious” that was published in Lusaka in 1989 by the now defunct Multimedia publications. The most difficult times in rural Zambia are the rainy season when there are dwindling supplies of food from the previous growing season, people work in the fields, it is cloudy and sometimes you have mswera which are slow drizzling rains that could go on day and night for a whole week. The dry season in contrast from May to November were known as chihanya among the Tumbuka which means “bright sunny days”.
This was the period when the harvesting was over. Men went hunting. Women molded clay pots, went to the river to bath and took their time scrubbing their feet and washing clothes at the river. People walked to distant villages to visit relatives sometimes travelled to Lusaka or line of rail to visit. Children like me went to dig mice and hunted small birds and animals to supplement meals. We walked bare feet during the hot October sun and caught cicadas. I had forgotten all of the Zambian seasons when I was away from the October heat in North America for more than 20 years and came back to visit in Zambia in October 2012.
I was worried about the heat. The first 2 nights at my uncle’s farm in Chainda in Lusaka, I was sweating so much during the night I needed a fan. But my body quickly adjusted. I walked in the sun wearing my t-shirts and thin cotton shorty sleeved shirts. My taste of October heat increased each day until I went to visit the Mpika Village of Hope Orphanage run by Ms. Jeny Musakanya. I walked to the market and supermarket every day in Mpika. We drove to the orphanage farms and walked in the bush in the hot October heat and I could hear the sounds of the childhood sounds of the Cicadas.
Children from the Mpika Village of Hope Orphanage run by Ms. Jeny Musakanya attending the Independence celebrations.
During the 24th October Independence Day in Mpika, I wandered to the nearby football field where the celebrations were being held. There were thousands of people especially children. Frozen drinks and snacks of all sorts were being sold. Some people were sitting under the shades of trees. That’s when it occurred to me; I had forgotten that if you grew up in Zambia the seething October heat is actually sweet. It feels great to see and smell the seething heat and yet sitting under a tree there is always a mild cool breeze. It’s even better if you are sipping an ice cold drink or just talking with friends and relatives; what the Tumbuka philosophically call kufwasa; which is sitting quietly contemplating and just taking your time enjoying the moment in whatever you are doing.
Students from Mpika Boys High School attending the Independence Day celebrations
Contestants for the Mpika Miss Independence October 2012 at the celebrations.
Mpika District top official as Guests of Honor wave and interact with the crowd during the celebrations.
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?
The natural world in all the tropical areas of the world has some of the most fascinating animals, plants, insects, and the large variety of creatures both large and small. Savannah Zambia in Southern Africa is different in that during the dry hot season, the grass turns brown and the earth turns brown and dusty. Most of the plants and small creatures go into hibernation, plant seeds become dormant, and many creatures simply hide. All of this changes when the first rains fall in November. Suddenly there is an explosion of life as grass germinates, trees grow green leaves, all kinds of creatures and plants come to life. It is one of the most beautiful times of the year. When I visited the village in December 2011, I took many tours of nature. My two small nephews in the village tagged along some of the times as I went around in the bushes around the village to admire the many plants and insects that crawled around. The insects have been given the Tumbuka name and the generic English name.
Chidodo chobilibila – unknown
Kaciwala kadoko – Small Grasshopper
Chenjezi – Dragon Fly
Bulaula or Gulugufe – Butterfly
Chiwala chamabanga Many Colored Grasshopper
Mango zakupya na zibisi – Ripe and unripe mangoes
Chibabvi – unknown
Nthoci zibisi – Green bananas
My Young Nephews