First Time I Saw the Train Part Four


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Author of the Internationally Acclaimed Romance Adventure Novel: “The Bridge”.

I was a village boy who was going to see the train for the first time any second now. My dad and I had just completed a grueling sixteen-hour bus trip from the remote Eastern Province of rural Chipata district of Eastern Province of Zambia. We were dusty, black and blue just from the physical pounding we had endured on the 600Km bumpy bus ride on a gravel road. We had spent the wee hours of the morning on the Zambia Railways concrete platform station and I was seconds away from seeing the train. I stared in the southern province direction with great anticipation of the rail tracks as the train approached. I first saw the engine’s bright white head light.

 First it was the loud moaning piercing melodic steam whistle blow that echoed around the adjacent downtown skyscrapers of Cairo Road in Zambia Capital City of Lusaka. I saw the billowing thick black smoke. Then the train platform vibrated as the massive engine thundered by amidst a loud cacophony of screeching metal, sparks, and jets of white steam furiously shooting from the sides of the massive engine. The train gradually ground to a halt. Suddenly doors flung open and people poured out of the passenger cars like ants as my dad and I excitedly moved forward to board the train to Kitwe. The legend and my dream of the train had met with my reality. I was ecstatic. It was just as my uncles had described in the village but even more exciting. This was to be forever my life before and after I first saw the train.

Suddenly doors flung open and people poured out of the passenger cars like ants as my dad and I excitedly moved forward to board the train to Kitwe.

My uncles had traveled from our African village to work in plantations 1,600Kms or one thousand miles away in the former British colonial Southern Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe in the 1940s and 50s. Some relatives had gone as far as Johannesburg and Cape town in South Africa which were almost 3,200Kms or two thousand miles away. They told riveting romantic stories about the train on their return to the village.

The train was an imposing technological phenomenon. But there is an aspect of it that creates tremendous enchantment. I experienced the wonder during that first train ride from Lusaka to Kitwe in Savannah Africa in the mid1960s. My dad and I were riding in a third-class car. I stuck my head out of the window to the blowing wind and a vista of short grassland of the Savannah interrupted by commercial farms, grass hut villages, valleys, and grazing livestock.

At the first stop outside Chisamba, people ran along the sides of the train with oranges, guavas, bananas, biscuits or cookies, the famous yellow chikondamoyo home- baked buns spread with jam or butter, boiled eggs, and an assortment of soft drinks.

I had been warned that these traders often ran away into the bush with your change if you were not careful during the hasty transactions. Some crooked passengers also deliberately delayed in paying the traders until the train would take off with the trader running along the train shouting for his or her money as the train picked up speed. My dad had learned his lesson at Kacholola. He did not dare give the trader his cash until he had the items and paid with the exact change. No more asking for change from my now wise father.

One of the best things my father did for me was he bought me the famous chokondamoyo; the lover of life. Once it was in my hand, I stared at it and slowly took one bite. Like many town foods on this trip, I had never eaten anything like it before. It was mildly sweet with a rich aroma of what towns people called butter. It was bright yellow but a little chewy as if you were eating a piece of maize cake.

Once we resumed the trip the train picked up speed. When we reached a long bend, I could see the three long massive black bars below the engine synchronously  moving rapidly making loud sounds: nashupika!!! geza njani!!!! Wauhhhhhhh!!!!! was the piercing loud moaning melodic steam whistle as the massive train passed road crossing after road crossing. It was a melodic sound beautiful and pleasing to the human soul as the black plume of smoke curved behind the engine spiraling into the blue sky of the savannah grasslands. Then the black smoke was evaporating into thin air.

Now I understood why people in my village at the time described the train as “moaning” and the loud chugging along was characterized as “nashupika” which is an indigenous word for  “to suffer”. They were almost attributing human qualities to the chugging train’s effort that was hauling probably over a hundred cars including cabins. Since that first memorable train ride, I have come to understand why the train as a technological marvel became such a legend and inspired so much imagination.

My uncle Paulosi or Chimbaranga lived in Kwacha township in Kitwe. He had two twin brothers sons Charles and Elijah who were my age. Most of the town foods were new to me. The full cream milk was in a small rectangular plastic container with Drinka Pinta insignia cartoon of a smiling cow on it. The sliced Supaloaf bread was in a reddish white plastic covering. I thought the taste and flavor of the bread could not compare to the strong aroma of  the yeast buns baked at Molozi bakery back in rural Chipata. My cousins took me to the Kitwe Round Table playground which was near mayadi or high income neighborhood which used to be reserved for Europeans only during the colonial days of British racial segregation before Zambia’s independence in 1964.

One day down town Kitwe, I was standing on a street corner when I saw this big seven ton lorry turning a corner and behind the wheel was a Zambian woman wearing a colorful duku. My eyes must have almost popped out of my sockets because of my utter disbelief that a woman could drive a lorry!!!? Such things happen in cities and towns. I never forgot that significant rare event in Kitwe during the rest of my life.

The First Time I Saw the Train Part Three


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Author of  the Internationally Acclaimed Romantic Adventure Novel: “The Bridge”

On my long bus journey from Chipata to Lusaka to see the train for the first time, we left Kacholola on the Great East Road and now entered the treacherous Muchinga Escarpment hills leading to the Luangwa Bridge. It was hot, dusty, and pitch dark outside except for the two bright beams of the Fiat bus that cut and sharply lit the darkness ahead to reveal the narrow gravel road. Suddenly there were dark hills on both sides of the road as the bus rumbled, vibrated and rattled picking up speed.

There was sign after sign of steep slopes and dangerous sharp bends ahead. The carcasses and skeletons of trucks, lorries, and cars that had crashed, over turned and sometimes burned were visible on the side of the road just as we navigated sharp bend after sharp bend. The bus would lean to one side as the driver carefully navigated as we took each sharp bend. The repeated sounds of Tsa-shaaaaaa!!!  Tsa—shaaaa!!! could be heard from underneath the bus as the driver repeatedly hit the hydraulic brakes. The danger and risk that the bus could overturn while navigating sharp bends if the driver was not careful and experienced was real. I was tense and scared. The bus was quiet.

When the bus was bumping and vibrating violently, you could not hear the sound of the engine. Then suddenly the sound of the Fiat bus engine would be heard again reemerging as if it was a phoenix that had risen from the ashes.

There were small and large leaping flames of fires along the dark hills on both sides of the road. It was eerie. These are lupya seasonal dry season fires rural people deliberately set in rural Zambia. We could see many approaching vehicles 3Kms away in the valley as their beams meandered and zig-zagged  toward us. When we finally met the oncoming vehicles, the bus pulled aside and waited as the gravel road was too narrow for both vehicles to safely pass each other.

The concrete platform of the Lusaka Railway Station where my father and I laid down as we waited for the First Time I would see the train. This was a few years after Zambia’s independence in 1964.

After sometime, there was a road sign that we were approaching the bridge. The bus came to a stop and then drove slowly into the Luangwa Bridge. The driver switched on the bus inside lights. We drove really slowly. We could barely see the water of the mighty Luangwa River flowing under the bridge. Once we crossed the bridge, the bus conductor announced that the next two significant places on the road to Lusaka were Manenekera and Rufunsa.

After driving for some time, the ominous road signs were visible. First it was a sign of sharp bends ahead with was an image of a long wriggling snake. There was a sign of a long sharp gradient ahead. And most ominous was “Sharp bends and narrow road next 10 miles. Buses and trucks engage lowest gear”. I had a knot of apprehension and fear in my stomach. The driver stopped and made big movements and loud gear changing sounds of apparently engaging the lowest gear. The bus began inching along really slowly down Manenekara. He switched on the lights inside the bus. Two elderly women moved from their seats and sat on the floor in the isle of the bus. They were too afraid to look outside the windows. They were weeping with tears rolling down their cheeks. They were afraid of Manenekera.

Half way down the long steep slope, I could see that the very narrow  gravel road had been carved out of a tall mountain. There was a tall mountain on the left of the bus and a deep dark bottomless chasm on the right. As I peeked through the bus window, the gravel road was so narrow it appeared inside the bus as though part of the body of the bus on my side was leaning over the edge of the deep chasm. The wheels of the bus looked like they were barely twelve inches or 30cms from the edge of the deep dark scary bottomless chasm. If the bee stung the driver or if he sneezed uncontrollably and lost control of the steering wheel, the bus  could plunge down the bottomless chasm. Passengers were very quiet. I was sweating and scared to death.

Once we safely passed Manenekera, we arrived at Rufunsa where the bus stopped and we ate nshima. I knew the next step would be Lusaka and my seeing the train for the first time. I was so excited that I began to think and quietly ham the old traditional song from the Nsenga people of Petauke.

Leader: Kalindawaro ni mfumu (Kalindawaro is the Chief)

              Ehhhhhhh!!!! Ehhhhhh!

Response: Chaipirako ni chimo chikomo chotaya mbumba (One bad thing is ignoring his sister)

                  Ehhhhh!!!!    Eh!!!!!!!!!

Leader: Naima naima nebo!!!!!! (I am going on a journey)

Response: Naima!!!! Naima nikaone njanji ningafe wosayiwona (I want to go and see the train

                 before I die)

                  Mayoehhhhh!! Eh!!!!!

After riding the bus for a while, suddenly the ride was quiet and smooth. We had hit the tarmac of the outskirts of Lusaka. A passenger said on the left were the bright lights of the Lusaka International Airport. I had never before seen so many streets, houses, and street lights  of the big capital city. We finally arrived at the Kamwala Intercity Bus Station.

A few passengers said they wanted to catch a train to go to Kitwe or Livingstone. About fifteen passengers decided to proceed and walk to the Lusaka railway station. My father carried our big suitcase on his shoulder as we walked through the Kamwala Shops what was called the second class shopping center for black Zambians during the racial segregation of British Northern Rhodesia colonial days. The first class which was for Europeans was Cairo Road where there were glitzy shopping stores.

In the wee hours, we arrived at the Lusaka Railway station concrete platform. We were to catch the train to Kitwe. My dad and I laid our blankets on the concrete platform and laid down. I saw big red flashing lights which had the word: “MobilOil.” This I was to learn later was along Cairo Road. I waited for the first time I would see the train.

First Time I Saw  the Train PART TWO


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Author of the Internationally Acclaimed Romantic Adventure Novel: “The Bridge”.

After washing our faces early in the morning, my dad and I went to the Kapata Tea Rooms at the market. A cup of plain hot black tea was 2 pence and with milk was three pence or ticky. The buns were one penny for two buns. We drunk one cup of tea with milk with three buns each for breakfast. This was the time of transition from the Northern Rhodesia British colonial currency of Pounds, Shillings and Pence to independent Zambia Kwacha and Ngwee. Chipata was somewhat still called Fort Jameson.

When we got to the Kapata Bus Station, the relatively brand new 50 passenger Lusaka-Chipata Fiat bus was waiting. It was a long bus with bright United Bus Company (UBZ) logos along the sides and two silver round long small metal rodes along the sliding windows. Soon my dad bought the tickets. I stepped on the first step into the bus and I could feel and hear the bus trembling and rattling. The smell of burning diesel hit my nose and the excitement and anxiety of the starting of the big journey suddenly gripped me.

My dad and I sat on the two- passenger seat and I sat next to the window so that I could see everything. People were noisily hastily bidding each other good bye and to tell the relatives in Lusaka everybody was fine back home. Soom the bus was filled up and every seat was occupied. I saw the young bus driver remove his UBZ Khaki jacket and toss it on the back of his seat as he jumped into the driver’s seat and immediately hit the accelerator and the hooter.

Gyeeem!!! Gyeeem!!!  Peeep!!!!! Peep!!! Peeeeep!!!  Gyeeeeeem!!!!!

Many passengers were feverishly shouting good byes through the windows to relatives and friends standing outside waving goodbye.

“Tizafika ku Lusaka mailo! (We will arrive in Lusaka tomorrow )” “Nizapita ku Matero pa Sabata kukaona amai banu! (I will go to Matero to visit your mother on Sunday!!!)” I heard one woman shout through the window to a waving relative. The bus took off and we were off for the 372 miles or 600 Kms to Lusaka; ku walale, the City, and the line of rail.

One of my teacher Mr. Banda’s many Grade Six Social Studies lessons at Tamanda Boys Dutch Boarding School in 1965 went like this:

“Pupils!! In todays’ social studies class, we will travel from Chipata to Lusaka. We will learn about major towns, what tribes live in the areas along the road, what type farming they practice, transportation, and the types foods and trades they practice.”

Nyimba Bus Stop today 58 years later. Nyimba perhaps has the most different varieties of bananas.

Among many of those lessons, I would now get to see the places, listen to some different languages, and different types of foods. Mr. Banda’s social studies lessons would be from Mpulungu to Lusaka, Lusaka to Livingstone, Solwezi to Chingola, Lusaka to Mongu and many other major roads in Zambia. I was familiar with and had heard about the many major places and towns from Chipata to Lusaka.

The Fiat bus hummed quietly on the smooth tarmac road until after St. Monicas Girls Secondary School turn off just outside Chipata when suddenly without warning all hell broke loose. The bus bumped, shook, rattled  and vibrated loudly as it bounced around on the gravel road. The driver swung the steering wheel from side to side while switching gears and searching for a smoother part of the road. There was no smooth part. Once he accelerated, the bumps were a little smoother. Some dust seeped into the windows as some passengers closed the windows to keep out some of the dust. This was to happen throughout the long trip.

Soon we passed Msandile River and stopped at Mtenguleni. My dad and I looked at each on other and we said we were in for a long journey if we stopped everywhere at the numerous bus stations and bus stops to drop off passengers and pick up new ones. Passengers began to talk and make commentaries on the journey, the many places and speculated about when we would arrive in Lusaka. The passengers talked about the legendary scary places during the journey. The worst was the dangerous and risky was driving through Manenekera narrow mountain edge in  the dark at night in the treacherous steep hills of the Muchinga Escarpment along the Luangwa River.

We were driving all day. We passed through Katete, Sinda, Patauke, Minga, and stopped at Nyimba where we ate nshima. It was dark by the time we arrived at Kacholola before entering the treacherous Muchinga Escarpment. Something happened that was significant. It was hot, dusty, and the smell of burning diesel was strong.

At Kacholola the bus lights from the inside the bus lit the outside such that we passengers were able to see and to buy snacks from traders who were walking displaying their merchandise in baskets on their heads. Guavas, soft drinks, boiled eggs, buns with margarine or sweet red jam spread on them, vitumbuwa,  and bananas.

My dad leaned over me to the window and asked a boy for six bananas which were costing one ngwee or one penny for two bananas. My dad gave the boy the susu or six pence coin and the boy handed my dad the six bananas. The boy reached in his pocket as if to reach for change. The boy slowly backed off and quickly disappeared into the dark and the milling crowd of traders.

“Young boy!!! Iwe!!!” my dad shouted through the window. “Give me my ticky change!!!! Give me back my change!!!!”“Aka kamwana kanibira chenji yane!!! (This child has stolen my change!!!)  ” my dad shouted dejectedly after a while of waiting for the boy to bring his change. My dad sat down and gave up. I looked out away facing the window capping and covering  my mouth so that my dad did not see my face. “A young boy has just robbed my father!”  I quietly laughed rocking my shoulders.

First Time I Saw the Train Part One


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D,

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Author of the Internationally Acclaimed Romantic Novel: “The Bridge”

President Kenneth Kaunda was young. Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe was young. Munukayumbwa Sipalo was young. Peter Matoka was young. Julia Chikamoneka was young.  Chibesa Kankasa was young. Mutumba Mainga Bull was young. Chieftainess Nkomesha was young. All the chiefs in Zambia were young. The hills, the forest, and the trees in Zambia were young. Cairo Road in Lusaka was young. The Zambezi River, the Luangwa River, and the Kafue River were young. My parents were young. My  three brothers and six  sisters were young. My uncles and my aunts were young. All my friends were young. Zambia was young. The University of Zambia was young. I was young.

My father was a teacher at Kasonjola Primary School in Chief Mkanda’s area north of rural Eastern Province of Zambia along the Chipata Lundazi road. We were living in a small five room teacher’s brick house built in all rural primary schools just after Zambia’s independence from British colonialism in 1964 at the beginning of the sleeping Zambia’s more than twenty-five years of spectacular leap in development and social change.

Molozi steepest slope today on the Chipata Lundazi Road fifty-eight years later.

This is what we always did as a family after supper. This one August evening we sat in our tiny living room on wooden chairs around the dining room table chatting for hours. The younger siblings would already be sleeping having slumped over on the floor in the dark. Something totally unexpected and unusual happened that night.

My father emerged from the bedroom carrying a paraffin hurricane lamp which he had just lit because we were trying to save the paraffin. We often only lit the paraffin lamp if we really thought it was necessary. Some nights we ate dinner outside and chatted in the bright beautiful moon light. My father placed the flickering orange light hurricane lamp in the middle of the table.

“Mwizenge,” my father said sitting down. “After tomorrow we are travelling to Kitwe to the Copperbelt to visit your uncles, aunts, and cousins.”

My eyes popped out as I grinned from ear to ear. The darkness in the room was suddenly bright. I was frozen and speechless with shock.

“Mwanyithu muluta ku walale ku Kitwe na awisemwe, (you our friend are going to Kitwe and line of rail with your father)” my mother added fuel to my excitement and imagination as she

must have seen my wide grin and popping twinkling eyes of sheer rare joyful moment.

“Your mother will help you tomorrow wash the clothes you will be taking with you,” my father said as we all dispersed to go to bed in our rooms.

That night was torture as I could not sleep from sheer excitement and imagination. When I was young living in the village, I had heard so much about Lusaka, Broken Hill (Kabwe), and Kitwe in the then Northern Rhodesia from my uncles who had gone there to work. Some uncles had gone far away to Salisbury (Harare)  in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Johannesburg and Cape town in South Africa. They had exciting experiences and stories but also warned of the dangers of matsotsi or crooks, conmen, and criminals in the cities. There were too many cars, road car accidents, and it was dangerous, the delicious new European or (white man) town foods, and then there was the romance of the train. As I finally drifted to sleep, I wished the journey was right there and then. I did not want to endure one more whole day of torture waiting for this greatest trip of my young life.

On the day of departure, my father rode his bicycle carrying the one large suitcase which had our two blankets and some clothes. I was wearing shorts but barefoot which was common for boys and children my age in rural areas. My father was wearing his normal attire of shoes, pair of trousers, long sleeved shirt and a jacket.

I rode my mother’s bicycle. We arrived at the Molozi bus station at about 1600 hours and promptly rode a lift to Fort Jameson (Chipata) as it was late in the day and the United Bus Company (UBZ) from Lundazi to Chipata had already passed. Molozi was notorious because it had the steepest chikwela or slope on the gravel road on the Chipata Lundazi road. It was so steep that during the rain season we could hear from 5 miles or 8 Kms  away at Kasonjola, trucks and buses painfully moaning up the hill. Many a vehicle simply broke down trying to climb the Molozi Hill.

We arrived in Chipata at Kapata Bus Station at 18:00 hours and reported at a guest house that charged each one of us six pence or six ngwee for the night. We laid down on the cement floor using half of the blanket to lie on and folding the other half as cover. We would be buying the ticket and boarding the Lusaka bus early in the morning.

Travelling to the Village in 2016 in Zambia.


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology


Since the Curriculum Development Center (CDC) of the Ministry of Education approved my novel “The Bridge” to be used for teaching English Literature in Secondary Schools from Grade 10 to 12, there was one thing I was very anxious to do: I wanted to go to a few Secondary Schools. I wanted teachers and students to meet the author of the novel directly. Most of the knowledge we acquire in Zambia is foreign. Not that there is anything wrong with foreign knowledge, products, ideas,

The twin birds and the 2 roses symbolize romantic love

The twin birds and the 2 roses symbolize romantic love

books, or novels, but there is a need for Zambians to realize that we as Zambians can do many of the things that are always from foreign countries. That will gradually build our confidence.

When I arrived in Lusaka, I made the radio and television appearances. I wanted to visit some secondary schools in the Eastern and North-Western Provinces of Zambia. How was I going to do this?

Using a Vehicle

I could have used the bus like I often do. Since I had so many commitments and did not have the whole year for the 2 trips, I decided the best way to visit the few schools was using a rental vehicle. Fortunately Avis at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka had just the vehicle I needed: the F 15 Double Cab diesel Ford Ranger. As soon as I left the Airport Parking lot, I noticed a distinctive personality of the diesel vehicle. It had tremendous power to tackle the steep mountains of the Muchinga escarpment but also it did not hum or whine, instead it growled which was reassuring.

Lusaka to Lundazi

I was excited, full of energy, and pumped up for the journey to Lundazi. I filled up the tank. The last was to stop at the farm in Ibex Hill in Chainda where my aunt had prepared nshima with two tender nicely roasted doves as relish. I was ready. The journey to Chipata is slow until after Chongwe when you begin to hit major road marks; the tsetse control barrier-check point is one of

During another trip, just around the bend after Luangwa a truck had jack knifed blocking the road.

During another trip, just around the bend after Luangwa a truck had jack knifed blocking the road.

them. The most challenging part of the trip is between Rufunsa and Nyimba. This is where you encounter the Mchinga escarpment hills, sharp bends, and steep climbs. Trucks loaded with hundreds of bags of maize, cotton, and other commercial products may end up using all their more than 12 gears. The F15 Ford Ranger simply growled through the steep hills and  ninathila dizilo as I poured diesel according to the Zambia parlance. As you navigate through the sharp bends, your foot has to quickly, constantly, and carefully move from the accelerator, brakes, and the clutch to down or up the gears. You have to focus because often a huge surprise could be just around the sharp bend.


Just after Rufunsa there is 10 km or 6 miles stretch of the road which includes the treacherous and dangerous manekera. It is no longer dangerous as the new Zambia government at

Manenekera are just behind me on the right. In the 1950s I would not have been able to park where I did.

Manenekera are just behind me on the right. In the 1950s I would not have been able to park where I did.

Independence in 1964 fixed the road which the British colonizers had been unable or unwilling to do. But in the 1950s the rough gravel road was perched on the edge of the mountain where only one vehicle could travel at any one time. Any mishap including brake failure result into the vehicle, truck, or bus plunging may be a thousand feet down the abyss of a steep embankment.

I stopped briefly at Luangwa bridge at 4:00pm and bought some dry fish to eat in the village. I crossed the massive Luangwa suspension bridge and arrived at Nyimba at about 6:00pm as it was getting dark. The road was being repaved from Luangwa all the way to Chipata. There were some detours. The new repaved road was good and spectacular with a wide shoulder for bicyclists, pedestrians, and ox-drawn carts. When it got dark the marked road with reflectors looked like a well-lit airport runway all the way to Chipata where I arrived at about 8:00pm and spent the night.

Village F 15 Surprise.

The 746 Kms from Lusaka to Lundazi are all paved except the last 33 Kms or 21 miles to my home village. I drove through a gravel road that had not been graded for nearly 2 years. The final 2 Kms to my village had a surprise. I was crossing a dry creek which had a wooden bridge which another nearby village driver used to cross with his SUV. The F 15 growled at the bottom of the small creek and rose out of the embankment, immediately there was a noisy piercing screech only on the driver’s side of the front wheel when I hit the brakes. The screech lasted all the way to the village. I was worried

The road from Luangwa to Chipata is being repaved providing temporary jobs.

The road from Luangwa to Chipata is being repaved providing temporary jobs.

The following morning at 7:00 am I wanted to drive to the next village to visit, when to my horror the entire clutch pedal for some unknown reason was on the floor. It was impossible to change gears. I panicked. I had to be back in Lusaka in a few days. Besides visiting with parents and all the relatives in the village, I did not have time to attend to a major vehicle mechanical failure. I called Avis in Lusaka. The manager calmly told me they could send another vehicle that could be there before the end of the day. That was reassuring. But I told them to hold on.

Before the end of the day with the use of the widely available cell phones, someone brought two small bottles of clutch fluid by minibus from town. The local mechanic came and fixed the minor problem. Avis did not have to send another vehicle all the way to the village 746 kms from Lusaka.

Village Life

Village and small town life in the Eastern part of Zambia in 2016 is good. People are building

I left a copy of my novel "The Bridge" at Chizongwe Secondary School.

I left a copy of my novel “The Bridge” at Chizongwe Secondary School.

more brick houses in the villages and purchasing a few iron roofing sheets at a time after they have sold their cotton and other agricultural produce. People are suing solar power for charging phones and for house lights. Up and down the entire road from Lusaka to Lundazi people just look visibly busy, healthy and happy. This does not mean if I asked the people they would say they have no problems; unemployment, illness, prices of farm produce, poverty, problems which school fees for children’s educations, and problems with fertilizer for farming. The massive road paving and construction camps along the Lusaka Chipata road suggests people have jobs although this might be temporary. Signs of commerce are everywhere. My father is 93 years old and my father is about 90 years old. They are alive, healthy, and happy in the village. They have seen so much change in Zambia since the mid 1940s when they married. My father then started his primary school teaching career.

Return to Lusaka

I left a copy of my novel "The Bridge" at St. Monica's Secondary School.

I left a copy of my novel “The Bridge” at St. Monica’s Secondary School.

I delivered a copy of my novel: “The Bridge” to Lundazi Secondary School, Chizongwe Secondary School, and St. Monica’s Secondary School. My return to Lusaka was smooth and uneventful. I stopped at Nyimba at 10:00am and ate my breakfast of nshima with rape and chicken. I arrived in Lusaka at 14:00 hours or 2:00pm. By they way, the screeching on the driver’s side front wheel stopped after driving on the paved road from Lundazi to Chipata for about half an hour. It seems the screech may have been related to driving on a very dusty road to the village.



The Challenges of Travelling Back Home


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology

I have been flying to and from the United States and Zambia my home country for more than 30 years. The trip has always caused me great anxiety because many things can sometimes go terribly wrong when checking in at the airport. Often that has to do with weight of my bags. May be sometimes I wrongly think it happens to people like myself who travel on the economy plane ticket. We are the people with the cheapest tickets who sit in the back of the plane. Often the check-in works out smoothly including the security screening prior to boarding.

Checking in

As I was checking in at Dulles Airport flying to Lusaka via Johannesburg recently, my stomach tightened as the official weighed my 2 bags each at 49.5 lbs. or 29.5 Kgs. The weight limit for each bag was 50lbs. or 30Kgs. There was little margin for error between my house scale and the one at the airport. Then the ticket agent said twice firmly: “Put you carry-on bag on the scale”. It was upwards of 16 Kgs of my lap top, cameras and large lenses. My carry-on bag had to be 8 Kg I was told. I could not move anything to my checked in bags. Neither could I leave anything which my son could mail to me later as my experiences with the Post Office had not been positive lately to put it mildly. I was told my carry-on bag was too heavy. The agent consulted his baggage handler colleague about what to do. The colleague shrugged his shoulders. There was excruciating silence paralleling what Jesus Christ the Son of God must have felt before being crucified on the cross.

New Back Pack

The ticket agent advised me to go around the corner and buy a back pack. I was apparently allowed two carry-on items. For a long time passengers were allowed to carry only one bag on to the plane. At least I was not being asked to part with my precious belongings that I had taken agonizing weeks to carefully choose and pack.

I kissed the Zambian soil soon after disembarking from the plane to the surprise to the Zambian airport employee behind me. This was in December 2011.

I kissed the Zambian soil soon after disembarking from the plane to the surprise to the Zambian airport employee behind me. This was in December 2011.

When I came back with my new backpack that had cost me upwards of $30 unexpected dollars, I removed some of my few belongings from my carry-on into the new bag. This time the bag weighed 11kgs. The ticket agent shook his head and instructed me to remove more items. I walked away and feverishly removed more items. This time the bag was 9Kgs. The agent smiled while he told me to remove more items. I realized to my anguish that he was enjoying torturing me. He was not a World War II NAZI  SS concentration camp guard in Germany about to send captives to the gas chambers. But this was humiliating me. I finally told him as gently as I could that at 8 Kgs my carry bag would have almost nothing in it. He may have felt some pity for me and waved me on. Later at the boarding gate I saw the same ticket agent. I asked him why he had given me such a hard time. He smiled and tried to make a joke of it. But I was not in a joking mood. I quietly walked way being afraid he might tell me this time I could not board the plane. I have learned in my life that anyone with power can find a rule that is never enforced but they may decide to enforce it on you.

Flight Home

The flight home was long but uneventful. When the Boeing 737 gently kissed Zambian soil at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka in the dark of night and twinkling lights, I was gripped with the usual excitement of coming home or kukaya where my soul resides. I felt the warm anticipation of seeing relatives, friends, eating Zambian food, speaking the familiar and comforting language, the blue sky, and being with the 14 million fellow Zambians on the same God given soil.

Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka.

Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka.

I have actually kissed the Zambian soil after landing at the airport. I have a few photos to show for it. This time it was dark on a rather chilly May night. I did not kiss the Zambian soil. The trip home is always worth the obstacles and the anxiety I always experience.


Why Does God Do Good Things for Fools Like Me?

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:

Dangerous Journey to Chasela

Sometime in late 1959, my mother arrived back at our village in Chief Magodi in the Lundazi District of Eastern Zambia in Southern Africa. I had lived with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, dozens of cousins and other kinship member. The village may have had a population of over 200.  For two years I was first herding goats and later doing Sub A at the nearby Boyole School. My mother had come to get me to join the family in the Luangwa Valley where my father was a schoolteacher.

We caught the then Northern Rhodesia Central African Road Services (CARS) bus at Hoya on the Lundazi-Chama Road. When the bus coming from Chama finally arrived, it was exciting. There was dust, passengers coming out, all the relatives who had escorted us saying goodbye to me and my mother. The smell of burning diesel fumes was very strong, strange, and new. When I stepped foot into the bus, it was all shaking, trembling,  and rattling from the idling engine. We rode the bus for half an hour and we arrived in the tiny provincial district of Lundazi.

My mother and I spent a night at the rest house in Lundazi. It was a huge building with tiles for a roof. It had upstairs and downstairs. It cost you six pence for upstairs and 3 pence per night for downstairs. The following day at noon, we boarded the bus for Chief Mwanya.

The bus drove really slowly as we quickly reached the outskirts of the tinytown. The road was narrow and bumpy at first. Later on the bus picked up speed. It was going so fast and trees were zooming by so close to the road I wondered how the driver missed crushing into them. The repeated bumps, swerves and ups and downs were so violent and nerve jarring that adults, including my mother, were vomiting out of the bus windows. I stood all the way and was enjoying the experience.

At 3:00 pm that afternoon, we arrived at Lumimba Catholic Mission station. We all came out for refreshments. There were streaks of vomit  all along the bus outside. None of the adults could eat because their stomachs were so upset. My mother bought me nshima with delicious chicken and I ate it all, wiping the plate clean.  I was very hungry.  At 6:00 pm that evening we arrived at Chief Mwanya’s palace. My mother and I spent a night at one of the chief’s guest houses since the Chief knew my father as the head teacher  at Chasela Primary School.

Early the following morning, my mother and I set off on foot for Chasela Primary School. But first she went into the bush and broke a small branch of the mnyongoroka tree. She stripped the fiber and broke the stick into 4 pieces which she threw in all four directions; North, South, West, and East. My mother was carrying a bundle on her head of our clothes and blankets.

I was small so my mother had to walk at my slow small boy’s pace. By 9:00 am, the searing valley heat was on and we were walking bare feet. By noon, our drinking water was gone, I was trotting as the ground was scalding my feet and I was crying and asking my mother to carry me. You could smell and see the seething heat which could have been easily atleast 100 degrees Fareinheit. The earth, dust and dirt were hot. My feet and legs were aching and threatening to turn into jelly every step I took. My mother kept saying we were almost there and “your dad has nshima with chicken ready and plenty of drinking water”.

At one point my mother pointed to a distance where we could see some baboons and herd of buffalo. I was by now bawling with both my hands behind my head and pleading with my mother for us to stop. She said we could not afford to stop and rest, as there were too many lions, leopards, and hyenas that came out at night. We had to get home before sun set. We could be meat. This was true. We had to get home before dark.

She kept sweetly encouraging me to walk a few more yards with: “The house is just beyond those bushes”. At 3:00 pm, we finally arrived at the house. I had walked ten miles in seething heat and bare foot. I collapsed, did not eat dinner and slept all night. The following day I could hardly walk as my feet and legs were swollen. This is where I was to live for the next 2 years; a place among the Bisa people in the Luangwa Valley with incredible wild life everywhere everyday. When I was older, she explained that the twigs of the mnyongoroka tree that she tossed in four directions were meant to ward off all dangerous wild animals along the way. Indeed, that whole journey not a single dangerous wild animal crossed our path. This area at the time was teaming with dangerous wild animals night and day.

Incidentally when my boys were small they used to like the game “bus ride to Chasela” with daddy. I would put them on my knee, bump them violently up and down, half tip them over on sharp bends, and they would pretend to throw up like grandma did.  They would giggle and scream because it felt like riding a roller coaster at an amusement park. They all loved the ride and begged me to give them the ride to Chasela during any spare moment when they wanted to have some fun with daddy.

The First Time I Saw a Train

I was a thirteen year-old village boy who was going to see it for the first time any minute now. My dad and I had just completed a grueling sixteen hour bus trip from the country. We were dusty, black and blue just from the physical pounding we had endured while riding the bumpy bus on a dirt road. We had spent the night at the station and we were seconds away from seeing it. I stared in the southern direction with great anticipation as it approached.

First it was the loud moaning piercing steam whistle blow that echoed around the adjacent downtown sky scrapers of Cairo Road in Zambia’s Capital City of Lusaka. I saw the billowing thick black smoke. Then the train platform vibrated as the massive engine thundered by amidst a loud cacophony of screeching metal, sparks, and jets of white steam furiously shooting from the sides of the massive engine. The train gradually ground to a halt. Suddenly doors flung open and people poured out of the passenger cars like ants as my dad and I excitedly moved forward to board the train. The legend and my dream of the train had met with my reality. I was ecstatic. It was just as my uncles had described in the village and even more exciting. This was to be for ever my life before and after I first saw the train. I have been in love with the train ever since.

My uncles had traveled from our African village to work in plantations one thousand miles away in the former British colonial Southern Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe in the 1940s and 50s. Some relatives had gone as far as Johannesburg and Cape town in South Africa which were almost two thousand miles away. They told riveting stories about the train on their return to the villages.

The train was an imposing technological phenomenon. But there is an aspect of it that creates tremendous enchantment. I experienced the wonder during that first train ride from Lusaka to Kitwe in Savannah Africa over three decades ago. My dad and I were in a third class car and I stuck my head out of the window to a vista of short prairie grassland interrupted by commercial farms, grass hut villages, valleys, and grazing live stock. At the first stop people ran to the sides of the train with oranges, guavas, bananas, biscuits or cookies, the famous yellow chikondamoyo home- baked buns spread with jam or butter, boiled eggs, and an assortment of soft drinks. I had been warned that there traders often ran away into the bush with your change if you were not careful during the hasty transactions. Some crooked passengers also deliberately delayed in paying the traders until the train would take off with the trader running along the train shouting for his or her money as the train picked up speed.

Since that first memorable train ride, I have come to understand why the train as a technological marvel became such a legend and inspired so much imagination. At the time of my first train ride there was a famous song in Zambia among the Nsenga people of  Petauke in Eastern Zambia in which someone in the country side was longing to travel to see the train before they died. Alick Nkhata was one one of the most popular Zambian singers in the 1950s. The song is on Alick Nkhata’s CD “Shalapo”.

Nsenga Zambian Language

Naima naima neo
Naima nkaone njanji
Ningafwe osayiona
Maye we ehhh
Olile olile
Ningafwe osayiona
Maye we ehhhh.

English Translation

I am leaving, I am leaving
Yes, I am leaving
I am leaving to go
And see the train
Before I die
Yes, to see it
Before I die.

Many people at the time described the train as “moaning” and the loud chugging along was characterized as “nashupika” which is an indigenous word for  “to suffer”. They were almost attributing human qualities to it.

Memorial Day signals the beginning of the long dog days of summer travel in America, a reminder that the train was a staple of the  American frontier in the West that inspired numerous Cowboy-Indian movies. Travel also became possible between the South and the burgeoning city life of the Industrial North-East cities such as Chicago, Memphis, Detroit, New York and Boston. Ray Charles’ version of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” in the “The Genius Hits the Road” album and James Brown’s “Night train” are some of my favorites. Perhaps the most touching impact and enduring legacy of the train is in Blue Grass mountain music of West Virginia, Appalachia to Kentucky.  “Oh, train I can hear your whistle blow…” is one of my favorites by the Seldom Scene.

Has AIDS Changed Social Life in Zambia?

Note: This article was written on November 22, 1988 in Lusaka in Zambia

Has AIDS changed social life in Zambia? AIDS is a terrible, incurable, fatal disease that renders the body’s immune system vulnerable to disease. It can be contracted through blood transfusion, exchange of body fluids with an infected person, and through sexual intercourse with an infected person. Because sex is a likely source of infection, have men and women changed their relations in public social places like bars, parties, discos etc.?

Two experiences recently suggested to me that Zambians may be changing their social behavior towards the opposite sex in public places. One incident was at a popular night spot in Lusaka and another in Munyumbwe in the Gwembe Valley in the Southern Province of Zambia.

Late on a Friday night in my local club in Lusaka, a long time friend talked me into visiting one of the local night spots. I had not been to one of these places since the 1970s in my hey days of youth. I am not a fontini (square) but I have read, heard, and seen enough about AIDS to realize the seriousness of the disease. I did not know how much of this information I had internalized until we entered the night spot.

After paying our dues at the gate, my friend and I stood near the door to survey the situation. The rhumba music was blasting and good. There were red, blue, and white fluorescent lights flashing everywhere. The cold one was really cold and plentiful. Men and women seemed to spend a great deal of time milling around and not dancing close to each other in pairs. I saw a couple dancing and another totally strange man cut in and dance with the lady. I expected ugly faces, violent gestures, blows, and blood. But the men simply smiled at each other as the other man went his own way with a look of vast relief on his face.

I could not understand what was going on. Ten to fifteen years ago, men and women went to these night events glued together in twos like Siamese twins. You often got the man’s wrath if he so much as went to the toilet for five seconds and zoomed back to find you talking or dancing to his girl or prospect.

Since we had walked in, two women had been dancing on their own as partners. One of them walked over and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Finshi muletina tuyeni tushane!” She said. (Let’s dance. What are you afraid of?)

Did I have fear written all over my face? How did she guess? This made me even more apprehensive. Bells began to ring in my head. Was she a carrier trying to lure me into death? I nervously shuffled my feet to the nice rhumba song and clearly she could see my mind was not in the song or in her. When the long rhumba song finally ended, I mumbled a thank you. I heard the woman remark to her friend:

“AIDS nayichinja mano ya abaume.” She said. (AIDS has changed the thinking of men.)

A few days later, my employers sent me and another company colleague to Munyumbwe in the remote Gwembe Valley in the Southern Province for work. Munyumbwe Sub-center is located 45 kilometers from Chisekesi through difficult hilly terrain in the valley escarpment in Southern Province. There are steep rocky slopes. Most of the cars that limp along and fumigate our city roads with thick black smoke would not make it in this terrain.

During the few days we were in Munyumbwe, we had memorable experiences. You cannot experience and appreciate the geographical and cultural diversity of Zambia unless you travel. The people were nice and friendly. For a long time, I had never seen so many twinkling bright stars in the dark night sky. The usually scarce drink had just arrived at the only local bar. After work, my colleague and I decided to go there and relax.

We were jovially talking with some of our newly made men and women friends and acquaintances when it happened. An obviously good looking woman wearing a dark blue dress joined us. She was well groomed. The woman walked to our group greeted and joined us. As it often happens, the conversation somehow drifted to social life and AIDS. The woman in the dark blue dress took over the conversation with a smile, radiating voice, and her eyes twinkling with warm remembrances of better times.

“There was a time,” she said. “When a friend of mine and I used to cause havoc at this bar. At 16.00 hours my friend and I would bath, do our hair, put on attractive dresses and latest shoes. We would put on just a dash of sweet perfume. Then we would saunter into this bar. At the sight of us, men would drool, freeze in mid air with bottles of drink in their mouths, and some men would break their necks trying to look and follow us around with their hungry eyes.”

We all roared with hearty laughter.

“What about now?” one man asked.

“Now it is dangerous,” she said slowly shaking her head. “With AIDS life is different. Now if a man proposes you at the bar, you have to think a hundred times. Is he really worth dying for? Do you love him enough to die? Often the answer is no.”

We offered the woman a drink. She refused. She said she had come on her own for two only and that was enough. She had work to do the following day. She bid us good bye and walked away into the night in the direction of the village. Not one man among many of us offered to walk her home. Although AIDS is such a deadly and devastating disease, experiences like these make one optimistic that people in Zambia will change their attitudes, social practices, and survive the disease.

Are You Sleepless in a Glitzy Hotel Room?

It was 2:00 am and I was still tossing and trying to sleep in my sparkling clean hotel room in Richmond in Virginia in May 2010. At 5:00 am I finally sat up in exasperation. My heart was racing. My whole body was so wired up it’s as if I had drank fifty cups of strong coffee and a jolt of horse tranquilizer. I was peeing every half hour. I bolted out of my room as soon as there was light. I sat in the hotel garden in my robe pretending to enjoy the morning fresh air in the flower garden.

I had spent a retreat there three years before and I had enjoyed my stay. What could be wrong? I lied to my generous hosts that I had an emergency at home. I did not want to disappoint them. I was feeling so unwell that I cut short my retreat and went home. I dismissed the whole thing as a fluke.

In early June, members of my wife’s family from out of state were staying at a glitzy high-end hotel in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. They booked us a room and invited us to join them touring the famous Civil War historic sites. We could not pass up the occasion. After tossing for a couple of hours again, I got up at 3:00 am. My heart was racing. I told my sleepy wife that I would spend the rest of the night in the car in the parking lot. At 7:00 am I called my wife on the cell phone to wish her a good morning. We discussed our next course of action while I was sitting in the car.

We broke the disappointing news to the two family relatives that we would be driving back at the end of that day. We enjoyed ourselves as much as possible. But I felt bad to be a party spoiler although everyone said they understood. But I also know that people are very skeptical that a clean sparkling hotel room can cause any discomfort in anyone who is a normal human being.

I did some research on the internet. What I found out alarmed me. There are people who develop chemical sensitivity to hotel rooms. I was doomed. After spending so many years traveling and spending numerous nights in all kinds of hotels, I would now be confined to one-day trips to anywhere.

Two weeks ago, an unexpected rare opportunity came up to attend the Clarksville Writers Conference in Tennessee. It would be a 9-hour drive and I did not know any uncle there at whose house I could crash on a couch. I booked a room at the Riverview Inn. A few hours later, I called the hotel manager Leslie Capp and said: “By the way I have a problem”. The response by e-mail stunned me. They would give me a room which the housekeepers would vacuum, clean with no chemicals, no fragrances and no air fresheners. My bed linens would be washed in special hypo-allergenic detergent. I was so ecstatic that they understood. I did not want to take any chances though. I asked them to put a cot in my room just in case. I brought with me blankets, sheets, and a pillow from home.

When I opened my hotel room, it was air-conditioned and it smelt very clean which means there were no obvious chemicals or none at all in the air. Later that night, I apprehensively crawled into the bed between the fresh hotel sheets. I woke up at 6:30am after the most restful sleep I had had in a while. The tiredness from my previous day 9-hour drive was gone. I drew the curtains open and there was the beautiful Cumberland River in the fresh morning sun. My conference started at 8:00am.

I was so excited I went downstairs and profusely thanked everyone of the hotel lobby clerks and sang the praises to the manager. I thanked the housekeepers when I saw them in the elevator.

I had such a wonderful time attending the conference meeting wonderful people and learning more about Southern history and hospitality. As I was driving back through the wonderful State of Tennessee, I couldn’t help but think that many civilizations have perished in the past due to something catastrophic happening to them. May be what will kill our civilization are the toxic chemicals we eat and breathe every day which we have convinced ourselves are necessary, safe and harmless.

My First International Flight

Part One
The build up to my first International Flight started one morning when I lived in Lusaka in February 1977. I received in the mail the acceptance letter to go to Michigan State University for my Masters Degree. My two housemates and very close friends immediately began to spread the news. The flight was in Mid September and I had all those months to bask in the glory and sheer buzz. Two weeks before my departure that Sunday morning though, one of the most cruel things happened.

Word spread that there was going to be the mother of all parties on Saturday night in Kitwe at one of the close bachelor friend’s house. I was flying out of Lusaka International Airport that Sunday morning at 10:00 am. All the beautiful nurses from Mufulira Hospital, Kitwe General Hospital, Ndola, and Lusaka were going to be there. There was not only going to be plenty of Mosi but the just released heavy music from the Nigerian Fela Ransome Kuti, the new album “Gentleman” or “Gentomani” was going to play all night. Since I was a party animal, this created a dilemma for me. My two dear friends began to tease me mercilessly; that I was going to miss the beautiful girls, the music, the booze.

My friends suggested that I go to the party that Saturday night. Then at about 6 am that Sunday morning one of the friends who owned a red Fiat 127 could drive me to the Ndola airport where a Zambia Airways flight was leaving for Lusaka at 7 am. I could then make the connecting flight to London at 10 am in Lusaka. I thought of all that could go wrong, I dropped the idea. But I was still so torn that I agonized about this for two weeks.

Part Two

My two dear housemates and friends left Lusaka for the party in Kitwe that Saturday morning. I spent most of the day packing feeling rather morose, lonely, and sad. In the evening I went to the nearby Kaunda Square Shebeen for a few last Mosi to bury my sorrows. When I woke up in the morning, I discovered that my packing had not gone very well the previous night. So I got a taxi and quickly dumped all my stuff in it and drove to my uncle’s house in Northmead where I deposited everything I was leaving behind which was a lot. I was late arriving at the airport. I arrived at 9:00am and the plane was leaving at 10:00am. I should have been at the airport two hours earlier. There were massive crowds at the Zambian Airways check-in counter.

As I checked in, I overheard alarm between the two Zambia Airways women employees. After a brief argument, one of them said to the other:
“Just push him there. After all it’s not your fault that they made a mistake”.

I didn’t pay attention to all to this detail as I just wanted to get on the plane. It was hot and I was sweating. As I finally walked into the International Departure lounge to sit down and catch my breath, I heard this on the public intercom.

“Will Mr. Tembo, passenger to London please report to the nearest phone. Will Mr. Tembo, passenger to London report to the nearest phone. Thank you.”

I rushed to the nearest phone.

“Hello, Mwana Mwizenge,” a very deep rusty sleepy voice said. “I thought I should say bye to you.” It was my friend Ben calling from Kitwe.

“The party ended at six this morning. You remember that girl, Jane Lungu, from Kitwe Nursing School that you had an eye for? She was there and was asking for you. Mary Mafuleka from Ndola was there too. Banda (the host) had emptied several crates of mosi into the bath tub and put in it some huge blocks of ice from Lakes and Fisheries. The Mosi was cold. We danced all night. Banda just drove 4 girls back to Mufulira.”

I could have strangled the son of a gun if he had been three yards from me. How could he be so cruel? We made some small talk.

“Please, send me some blue jeans when you get to America. I am going to sleep now.” He hang up. I placed the phone on the receiver very slowly all the while contemplating what could have been if I had been at the mother of all parties.

Part Three

Passengers were already heading out of the only gate to board the plane. Once I had entered the very first cabin, the hostesses welcomed and directed me to about the fifteeth row seat at the very back of the first cabin. She offered to put my coat away and immediately asked if I needed a drink. I was beginning to like this already. It was better than what my uncle had said about hospitality on international flights. The Boeing 707 was jammed judging by the hordes of people who walked by and disappeared to the back of the plane beyond the thin curtain.

We took off as if going toward Chongwe or the Eastern Province along the Great East Road. But soon we sharply veered left. The beautiful Zambia Airways hostesses kept asking me practically every few minutes if I was comfortable, needed anything, if the air conditioning needed readjusting, or if I needed a glass of red or white wine, a soft drink, or a beer. I didn’t want to appear to be a fontini like Zambians would say. So I declined the offers and instead lay back contemplating the mother of all parties that I had just missed in Kitwe. The traffic of hostesses between the front and rear of the plane was thick with assortments of drinks and monies going back and forth. Soon meals were served. I sipped my second coke and soon had to go to the bathroom.

After I used the bathroom, out of sheer curiosity I pushed the dividing curtain and peeked to see what was behind it. The plane stretched for what looked like a mile behind the cabin I was sitting in. People were packed and squeezed shoulder to shoulder like sardines. They were buying their drinks. I didn’t have to buy my drinks. That’s when the eureka moment happened. It hit me: “I had been put in the first class!” Zambia Airways had overbooked the economy class. I had arrived late and so I had been pushed into the first class.

Things began to go through my head as I sat down in my first class seat with lots of room to move my elbows. I could ask for any drinks, any food, anything short of asking the gorgeous hostess for a date or to sleep with me. I wanted to start with red wine, then may be white, may be green, yellow, may be all the colors of wine available. Wait, may be I could drink mosi first, and then try German, Italian, and other foreign beers. But I didn’t want to pass out on the plane and arrive in London in bad shape. Then I could really be a fontini. So it was that afternoon that I settled for large generous glasses of red wine, and asked for various magazines to read.

As we flew over the red sands of the barren Sahara Desert, I was on my second glass of wine and holding my own and trying to look very cool and sophisticated, or like I belonged in the first class. Something told me that the hostesses were not fooled and probably most of the regular first class cabin passengers were not fooled either. This did not deter or faze me. I didn’t drink anything the last hour as we flew over Southern France before we landed at London’s Heathrow International Airport. The sunset cast golden red rays in the cabin as the plane smoothly touched down. Everyone in the cabin clapped and cheered including Zambia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Siteke Mwale, who was sitting eight seats in front of me. I didn’t know at the time that something would happen to me that night at the hotel that would threaten to abruptly end my first international trip.

Part Four

After coming out of immigration and customs, I caught the courtesy bus to the hotel near Heathrow Airport where I was to spend the night before the connecting flight to America the following day. I checked into my immaculately clean room. I took a shower, put on some clean clothes, and went downstairs for dinner.

When the waiter brought the menu, I didn’t recognize a single food. I didn’t want to eat a salad because the idea of eating raw green leaves like a goat would in the village back home did not appeal to me. When I went through the menu the second time, I recognized a dish that said: “Rice with curried something”. I pointed to it and asked the waiter to serve it to me. After all, rice was the closest to the Nshima traditional Zambian traditional staple meal.

Back in my hotel room, I suddenly became very nauseous. I began to breathe rapidly and soon there was sweat all over my body especially my face. I thought I was going to die alone in London on my very first trip abroad. What a way to die! But I had faced so much adversity in life since I first went to Rukuzye Primary Boarding School alone for my Standard two at the age of nine years in 1963. This was going on for an hour and I was going to give it another 10 minutes before calling the desk for medical help. The nausea was so bad that I rushed into the bathroom as I heaved out everything in time uncontrollably. I got violently sick atleast five times in the toilet. Suddenly I felt so much better.

I laid on my bed for a while and if the symptoms came back I would then report to the hotel desk. I suddenly felt hungry. This was a good sign. I drank lots of water to avoid dehydration. But I was not about to eat anything from the hotel again. I made a cup of black tea in my room and sipped it slowly. I soon went to bed and slept soundly.

When I woke up in the morning, I felt fine. I took a shower and skipped any meals at the hotel. I caught the courtesy bus and was in the Heathrow International departure lounge by 10 am. My plane to Chicago was at twelve noon. I ate some breakfast and enjoyed a Castle Lager, which is a kissing close cousin of the Mosi beer.

Part Five

There was a huge wall in the big crowded Heathrow Airport lounge which had all the departing international flights listed. When the just departed planes were removed and the ones ready for boarding added, there were loud rapid continuous rattling sounds like thousands of falling dominos as the words and numbers were moved up, some down, and some disappeared. This was amidst continuous echo of intercom announcements informing passengers of boarding planes and other sundry information.

I saw a tall skinny brown African man with a goatee beard walking. He was in a hurry. I recognized him as Gwangwa Mzeta a South African who worked with the Pan African Congress (PAC) of South Africa. I called his name and he called mine. We shook hands vigorously as we laughed. We had shared the house at the Institute in Lusaka with his African American wife and their 8 months old daughter. She was conducting research for her Ph. D. dissertation. They had left Zambia months before perhaps never to meet them again.

“Tembo,” he laughed. “The world is small. Who could have thought of all places we could meet at Heathrow. Where are you going?”

“To Michigan State via Chicago,” I replied. “And you?”

“I am going to Stockholm for a PAC conference. You know the revolution must go on,” he said as he glanced at his watch. “As a matter of fact I must rush to catch my plane. I can see you are liberating that Castle Lager,” he laughed as he pointed at my half full glass of beer.

“Oh, yes,” I replied as we slapped hands. We laughed heartily again as he walked away.

At noon, I boarded the TWA Boeing 747 for Chicago. The plane was so massive compared to the Boeing 707. I sat somewhere toward the back close to where all the smokers congregated. I paid some money for earphones so that I could listen to music and whatever else was on the channels. A few hours into the flight as we flew over the vast blue Atlantic Ocean, I fell in love with the Jazz channel.

It had music by Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind”, Billy Holiday, and many other Big Band era American Jazz Greats. I was in heaven listening to the piercing saxophone of Armstrong in “When it’s Sleeping Time Down South”, then Glen Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo chooo..” and especially Woody Herman’s “Wood Chopper’s Ball”, Benny Goodman and Count Bessie. At one point several times during the flight I wandered to the front of the plane to peek at the flight cockpit of the 747 with those zillions of instruments.

We landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago at 4:00 pm. As I was going through immigration, customs, and finally the baggage claim area, I noticed that American officials seemed very casual compared to their British counterparts. This was the most anticipated part of my trip. How would America look like? What about the people? I was very nervous and tense. As I walked out of the arrival lounge into the street to go to the domestic flight gate, something shocked me as being so wrong.

Americans were not wearing gun holsters and carrying one or two pistols in the holsters ready for street gunfights. I looked at the men and women walking about. I could not believe it. Sure someone besides the police had to carry a visible gun. Was this really America?

When I walked into the bathroom at the domestic departure lounge, I tightly clutched my briefcase under my armpit as the other hand nervously navigated my use of the urinal. When two men both stepped up to the urinal on both my sides, I tightened up. My eyes rolled sideways like a chameleon to see what the two men were up to. I was sure I was going to be mugged any second. I expected anyone or both of them to stick a gun in my rib cage ordering me to give them all my traveler’s checks. When they both walked out harmlessly. I breathed out.

After being in the domestic departure lounge for an hour waiting for the plane to East Lansing, I concluded that all the stereotypes I had held about Americans had been wrong. I had watched too many black and white cow boy movies when I was at Chizongwe Secondary School in the 1960s. After all, the people were just normal. Some of the few African Americans I saw looked just like Zambians back home.

The End
If you liked this story, you can read a whole novel I have written titled: Mwizenge S. Tembo, The Bridge, Lusaka: Julubbi Enterpriese Ltd, 2005, pp. 190. Available at Book World at Manda Hill Shopping Mall in Lusaka, from Lusaka Cell 095- 576-1375, and from the author. There is a blog about the novel on this same web page. The novel The Bridge can also be browsed on line on Google.

Tags: adventure, travel

[1] AUTHOR: Mwizenge S. Tembo was born and grew up among the Tumbuka people of Eastern Zambia. He obtained his B. A. at University of Zambia, M. A. and Ph. D. at Michigan State University in 1987. He worked for ten years at University of Zambia before he came to Bridgewater College in Virginia in 1990 where he teaches Sociology. He is Professor of Sociology. He has just published  a novel of a love story between an African man and an Irish woman titled: The Bridge: a Transoceanic Love Story.  It available at Bridgewater College Bookstore and

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.

Letters to My Grandfather

Letters to My Grandfather in the Village in Zambia

*These letters were written in December 1977.

Dear Grandfather,

I should have written you this letter a long time ago.  But I was so busy with my further education and daily wandering that I could hardly find the time at all.  But I hope you and the village are alright.

I know that the rain has now started pouring and you will soon start planting crops.  Perhaps you already have calabashes full of those delicious mphalata flying ants that come with the first rains.  I wish you could dry some, salt them and post them to me here in America.  But probably they would be rotten by the time they got here.  And also since the Americans would not know that one can eat them, perhaps the immigration officials would charge me with a criminal offence; importing foreign insects without an import license or the state Health Department would declare it a health hazard.  Let me not bore you with this unimportant subject.  I know you are anxious to hear about my journey.

As you know I am still a bachelor; (you would say I sleep in ashes) the morning I left my flat in our capital city of Lusa, I could not eat anything because I had no time to cook.  I had to pack my suitcase and transfer some luggage to my Uncle Kakoba’s house for safekeeping.  When I arrived at the balaza la ndeke (airport) the sun was very high in the sky and it was getting hot.  I was sweating because the previous day I had been to a bar to drink home kamulaile mosi beer for the last time.

I know that you have seen small aeroplanes at the boma; but the plane I rode was very big.  It stood there like a big bird with its wings outstretched in the burning sun.  When its stomach was opened, it began swallowing us one by one.  We were about two hundred people; Indians, whites, and we black people.  This plane was so big that the entire village of Mtema could have come in and there would have been enough space left.

When I entered I found beautiful black young girls standing by the door greeting everyone coming in.  The inside of the plane cannot be compared to the dirt floor of your thatched house!  The floor is made of smooth wood covered with very thick beautifully colored cloth.  Although this cloth is so beautiful people still step on it; it is for the feet.  You would have thought people who have ragged clothes like you would have been better off wearing them.

When I sat in a chair, I felt as though I was seated in a house.  Meanwhile the girls would not let us, their guests, remove our own jackets.  They asked if they could put them away for us.  Although it was hot, cold air was being blown through pipes to make us cool and settle our hearts.

After a long wait, there was a voice heard from the ceiling; “Kakani bande!” fasten your seatbelts!  Before you begin assuming that there is witchcraft in an aeroplane; how can a voice come from the roof?  I was told later that the men who were flying the plane (pilots) were in a separate room in the front.  From this room and through wires fixed inside the ceiling, they could speak to all of us.  We had to tie ourselves across the stomach against the seats.

Then the thing jerked forward, it began to move very slowly.  Then it began to trot, walk, or kundondomela, then it trotted; finally it began to run so fast that my stomach felt as though it was being squeezed.  This is why some people vomit!  Then I saw that we were leaving the ground, the roads and houses were looking smaller and smaller.  There were no bumps, so swaying like in a bus.  In fact we were able to drink water, tea, fanta, and cocacola, and beer without having it spill.

Inside the plane there are toilets; you can help yourself even if you are flying in the air.  The young girls served us food.  But the food was strange and very small in quantity.  Even a young child of Mtema village could not have been satisfied.  They put on a tiny piece; small relish like the leg of a chicken, a small piece of cow meat and some reddish soup.  But one good thing is that we were still able to drink our home beer.  I kept on sleeping and waking up the whole day and I still found we were still flying in the air.  At sunset we arrived in Britain or mangalande and the big famous city known as London.

When the plane stood still, the young girls stood at the door again saying farewell to us.  London Airport is very big.  At one shot of the eye you can see so many planes that it would take you a long time to count.  This is where aeroplanes from different parts of the world meet and people too.

When I walked down the plane I discovered that Britain was a very cold place compared to Mtema village.  Our coldness there cannot be compared to theirs.  We all went into a big hall where there were many people collecting their luggage.

I was to sleep in London and catch another plane to go to America the following day.  It is like our bus journeys from Mtema village to Lusaka city; you normally sleep at Egixikeni to catch another bus for Lusaka the following day.  Where as you know where to sleep at egixikeni, I did not know where I was going to sleep.

I was told on the plane that there was a room reserved for me in a place they call a ‘hotel’.  But I did not know where this place was.  You can imagine in what trouble I was.  Every one of those white people I asked did not know.  Until finally I asked an old white man who told me I would have to catch a bus to get to the place.  You cannot compare London to Lusaka.  London is big.  Comparing Lusaka and London is like comparing a breast fed baby to an old man.  Up to now I cannot remember where exactly I spent the night.

The hotel was a very quiet place.  People speak in low tones.  I got keys for my room.  As I walked to my room I saw a group of white men sitting at a bar drinking beer.  I was amazed.  What were those men doing drinking beer and not being able to make noise or at least talk loudly.

Mtema Village

P. O. Egixikeni


Luangwa Game Park

A Vacation Destination –

Recently, I had a few days off from work. Instead of spending them in my local club elbowing people to get that perpetually scarce drink, or dozing under the tree shade in my hammock in my boring back yard, I went with my family to the Luangwa Game Park for the first time.

The flight from Lusaka International Airport to Mfuwe Airstrip in Luangwa was a short 45 minutes in the air conditioned comfort of a Zambia Airways Boeing 737 jet. Once in the air, my children, 3 and 7 years old, thought they could see paths on the ground. I told them those were dry river beds in dry savannah climate.

When we disembarked, we were rudely greeted by waves of October Luangwa Valley heat of probably 105 degree Fareheit. We could smell the dry hot air. The tarmac was so hot one could have easily fried an egg on it. There was tremendous excitement at the airport arrival lounge. Over 15 Safari open pickups were waiting to take all the passengers to the nine camps and lodges in the game park. Our destination was Mfuwe lodge. After an hour’s drive through villages, schools, and some shops, we were at the Luangwa Bridge.

luangwa Game Park Jeep rideOur driver and guide announced that we were now entering the game park. My children had looked forward to this trip. The last three days at home,  my wife and I could not eat properly as the young one kept asking when we would be flying to the zoo. I kept correcting him that it was a game park. As we crossed the bridge, I now asked them to get ready and tell me the first animal they saw. Before long, there were screams;

“Daddy, there is a monkey! monkeys! Giraffes!! look a small cow with birds on its back!!!” Before we arrived at the lodge, we had also seen several gorgeous  impalas and two lone buffaloes.

girafeThe Mfuwe lodge is beautiful. It overlooks a lagoon where you can watch thirsty animals drink water while you are relaxed drinking a cup of tea, mango juice, a good cold one, chatting with new friends, or just doing nothing. Within the lodge, there are monkeys everywhere which provide their own side entertainment.

The rooms at the lodge are spacious. For those three dream days, it was nice not to worry about cooking, shopping, work, driving in congested traffic, or waiting for a mini bus. The food was rich and wonderful. For those skinny people it is a wonderful chance to put on a little more weight. For example, I rarely have a chance to eat eggs, bacon, baked beans, cereal, milk, toasted break all at once for breakfast at my house. Because between my wife going to work, and I taking the kids to school before seven a.m, we do not have the time. Besides we could not afford it.

zebrasEvery day, there was early morning game viewing at six a.m and afternoons at 4.00 pm. There was also night game viewing with a search light. The game was simply mesmerizing. It was nothing compared to what you see on TV, post cards, or the Zoo. You have to see it with your own eyes to believe it. We saw many elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, and hundreds of hippos, impalas, buffaloes. We made friends with other couples at the lodge swimming pool as our children excitedly swam in the lodge swimming pool with their newly found friends.

The most memorable and exciting incident though happened during the last night. After the night game viewing, there was a marvelous Bar-B-Que dinner outside the lodge dining room. We had made friends with Indians fro India, Zambians, coloreds or people of mixed race, and Europeans. As newly found friends, we all ate and drank merrily exchanging interesting, and in some cases somewhat sugared anecdotes, about the different animals we had seen during our game safaris.

elephantAt 10 p.m, some people went to bed. The younger children, including ours were asleep in the rooms. My wife, I and another couple meanwhile decided to drink our last one for the night. A few of the older children were still playing. Then we stopped conversation as we heard snapping twigs nearby just beyond the edge of lights. About less than 40 yards from the edge of the lights and lagoon water, there was an elephant. It was feeding on the tree shrubs and blossoms on the Nchenja wild fruit tree. Someone shone a flash light on it. The elephant got excited  as children screamed. The elephant charged towards us for a few yards, raising its trunk, and flapping its ears and stopped. There was pure excitement. We didn’t know whether to run into the safety of the toilets, to our rooms or watch what the huge elephant was going  to do next.

Meanwhile, the Manager of the lodge was the only one who was seated and as cool as a cucumber. He told everyone to keep quiet and calm down. The elephant was making a mock charge to test us. Sure enough, the elephant calmed down and resumed its meal. After a while, it walked away towards another part of the lodge. What we didn’t know was that 10 more elephants were lurking in the dark behind the lodge dining room.

That same night, my wife woke me up at 2 a.m and whispered that she could hear noises outside our room. When I nervously peeked behind the curtain, literally in front of my nose and almost against the open window, an elephant was eating the fresh grass. Its massive belly was blocking the window and its back was nearly touching the edge of the roof. Like a frightened child, I slowly and nervously pulled the bed covers over my head. From under covers, I whispered to my wife to remain very quiet. I prayed that one of the children right there and then did not wake up with a loud cry that he wanted to go to the toilet. The elephant was not going to like it. After a while it walked away.

luangwa1The following morning, everybody had a story about those elephants that were apparently just grazing in their territory and not out to harm anyone. But the excitement they provided was incredible. Next time you are on vacation, go with your family to the game park. It is a memorable and magnificent experience.

****A version of this article was published in the Sunday Times of Zambia, 26th October, 1988.