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