Settling in The Comunity
I think it took both me and the members of the community sometime to adjust to me living with Mfuwe Village. I was the first white person actually to reside within the community on a long term basis. I quickly learnt that living in a rural community is slightly different than what I was used to.
My house was situated on the outskirts of the only senior school in the area, the only other two houses were for the Head Teacher and Deputy Head Teacher and their families however it was the ‘hub’ of the community and surrounded by a number of small villages separated from each other by bush where at night the local wildlife - small, furry and cute to large furry and dangerous to massive, grey and big ears ventured. Walking at night was not advisable!
My little house was basic but comfortable and my boss and her husband who ran the Charity I was working had made it as homely as possible for a UK Rookie like me!
Electric? Yes, but unpredictable especially in the early years and you got to be grateful for even just a spark! Sometime it was out for maintenance all weekend. I began to understand that living basically was the way to go as if you rely on any technology you just got disappointed.
Water? Yes – but a lot of work was involved to get it to run out of the tap and that was courtesy of my Housekeeper. It was expected that a white person was to have a housekeeper and after a bit of resistance I realised I relied on her not just for keeping my house clean but to translate for me on a regular basis, keeping up informed of customs so I did not offend anyone with too short clothing or not greeting someone in the correct way. she became a good friend and we always started the day with a cup of tea.
One of my amazing housekeeper’s jobs was to fetch water that filled up the oil drum that was effectively my water tank. Thing was the tank was suspended on a water tower only accessible by a ladder. It has to be high In order to give it pressure to flow through the taps and shower. It took her 8 trips a day to go to the borehole fetch water, climb the ladder to fill the drum. This did not sit well with me and I started rationing my water as I felt so bad about this labour intensive activity. In a day to day life of 90% of the female population in the area did this everyday and Ednis was a lucky one as she was employed so she was happy. It got some getting used to though. Each time I took a shower and I needed a lot in order to cool down I felt that every drop was another step for her.
I had and electric cooker, fridge/ freezer and that was about it. It was a basic and comfortable house and over time I realised that all of the paraphernalia I had back in the UK I did not really miss.
Being bought up in a typical British way I assumed that my little house and the surrounding area of garden would be private meaning that only myself would be there and whoever I invited. That was not the case and quickly I learnt that walking around in underwear or less was probably not a good idea unless I had my curtains shut as 9 times out of 10 there would be at least one little pair of hands and a head of a child peering in through the window! It took me a long time to get used to the fact that whatever I did I shared it with the community.
The village is set on the very edge of the National Park and therefore a very popular tourist spot for wealthy Westerners who holiday in the luxury of the Safari Lodges which is a huge contrast to village life. The community were used to seeing plush safari vehicles pick up white people (Muzungus was the local name for us) from the airport and drive them swiftly through the local villages to get to their destination. They were however not used to having one living with them and the curiosity of the community could be a little overwhelming on occasions
For example, although I had a vehicle supplied with my job I thought that it would be nice to walk to the local shop to get my daily tin of pilchards (I can never look at tin of pilchards again) Back in UK I walked to be by myself, de stress and think. No chance if that in my new home, here, I caused chaos!
‘Madam, Madam, what are you doing? Where are you going, do you know how to walk’? Very soon I was the new generation Pied Piper and attracted a crowd of the local children who in turn were fascinated, curious and scared of me.
It took me all of my willpower not to turn around, run and shut the door but I can’t order take away pizza or shop online so I had to bite the bullet and just put one foot outside the door and carry on.
All of a sudden I realised I was halfway around the world in the depths of rural Zambia and very much the ‘different’ one. So it was me who had to do the adapting. Starting with children I gradually became part of the community.
I played games of chase on the path up to the main road and making them smile and laugh the children got to feel more at ease and then the touching started. It started with little taps on my arm, just to check out how I felt and gradually into holding my hand. Well, once one of the children was brave enough to do that they all did but I only had two hands so we compromised and they had a finger each so 10 children at a time could hold my hand. Hectic but amazing at the same time. Once I felt something wet on my elbow, that was a little girl licking me, well obviously I must taste different!
‘Musungu, Musungu!’ was chanted everywhere I went and great excitement of not only a newcomer to the village but possibly one that had been dropped from another planet.
English is the second language here and children who do go to school learn at relativity early age but even the tiny tots have learnt the mantra of ‘hello, how are you?’ ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ I would reply, ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ they would reply and this then could go on for a very long time until one of us got bored!
In time I had the honour for the Muzungu calling to stop and exchanged for my name so as soon as I stepped out of the door ‘Lisa, Lisa, Lisa’ could be heard when this happened I knew I had been accepted by most in the community.
I am proud to say quite a large number of dogs, cats and in the later years children were named Lisa. One of my Teacher friends told me one day he was in his bedroom and he could hear his little girl playing with her new puppy. ‘Come on Lisa, we are going to go outside and get breakfast, Lisa, sit done, don’t be naughty’ He loved the thought of it being me his daughter was trying to get to sit down not the puppy!
It got to the stage where the children started to generalise white people and if they saw another white female its was ‘look! it’s a Lisa’
Reflecting back now I think these initial experiences are some of my favourite and even after 8 years I can remember my first days as if they were yesterday.