1 May 2013
Ba Samwell and I just wanted a little potluck gathering with our families and a few others we’d befriended during our two-month homestay in Yuda Village. All the PCTs were hosting a Cultural Day/Graduation celebration on April 30 at the farm college in Chipembi where we’d been studying, but only two people from each family were allowed to attend. In Zambia, this leaves out a LOT of people.
To remedy this, we came up with the American-Zambian potluck idea and agreed to have it the day before, on a Sunday. We would cook pumpkin bread (since our families love pumpkin AND bread, but had never heard of mixing the two) and daal (not actually American food, but a favorite of both mine and Samwell’s, not to mention something for which we could actually find the ingredients in Lusaka). Our Bamaayos and a couple neighbors would cook the usual Zambian fare: ubwali, beans, soya, bread, and various veggies. We invited his three siblings; four of my parents’ grandchildren; our neighbor Ba Susan and her six kids; and another neighbor, Ba Margaret, an older woman who’s one of my favorite people in the village.
Ba Grace, Ba Margaret, me, and Samwell enjoying the potluck.
Then word started to get out. My Bamaayo invited her son and daughter-in-law, of course, since their kids were supposed to come. Then her brother was around one day, and we were told we should definitely invite him and his entire family. Then when the headwoman stopped by, Samwell’s Bataata chastised us: “you haven’t invited the headwoman!” So, we did.
On the day of the event, our families started up the charcoal braziers at 8 a.m. BOTH of our Bataatas helped cook. I’d never seen my Bataata near the cooking pots, but clearly we needed all hands on deck. Bamaayo fetched a LOT of water. We gathered every available chair, bench, and stool and set up our lounging area.
Potluck under the mango tree.
People began arriving around noon, right after church. There were people there I’d never even seen before! Were they just passing through? Had they heard about free food? I don’t know, but in the end we had at least 60 people, including two more PCTs.
Someone’s giant boom box was brought out, and the dancing began. I was stoked. Though I can’t say I love Zambian pop music, when I brought out my iPod and tinny little speakers to play some American music, it didn’t go over so well. So back to the ZamPop we went. Then, out of the blue, my Bataata informed me that we would have to give speeches. So on the fly, Ba Samwell and I pulled out our best Bemba and thanked everyone for being so friendly and welcoming to us, for opening their homes and hearts to us, and for being so patient with speaking the local language with us. We explained that we would be leaving the next morning and were happy they could join us to celebrate our time in the village. This seemed to go over quite well. Our Bataatas also gave speeches, clearly proud of their soon-to-be Peace Corps Volunteer children.
Half the vil, gettin’ down.
Then we went in to serve the food. Having no idea how many people there were, really, we tried to be sparing, but in the end the first to be served got a LOT of food, and the last (us, our immediate families, and the headwoman) got a whole lot of white rice and nshima, about a cup of daal, and a cup-and-a-half of beans. (We DID all get tiny pieces of both the pumpkin bread and my Bamaayo’s delicious tomato-onion-egg bread, so all was not lost.) Luckily, though, they served the kids first! (This is not usually the case.) So every kid there got a whole lot of protein and veggies, which made me very happy.
The dancing started up again soon after we ate, and this time Ba Margaret – a serious dancer – brought out a reed skirt with bottle caps on the ends, and some leg rattles.
Ba Margaret demonstrating her amazing dance skills.
The boom box was turned off, and a couple women grabbed some empty water jugs and started drumming. Then Ba Margaret danced like a Zambian queen (actually, that’s just my interpretation. No idea what the song was really about.) She dragged first me, then Ba Samwell into the circle to dance with her. When she was done, Ba Samwell put on the skirt and rattles and did his own little dance, which was met with such glee among our friends that it was pretty much a given I would do the same afterward.
Me doing my best to copy Ba Margaret’s moves (and losing the citenge around my waist in the process).
I freaking love that in this country, it really doesn’t matter if I do the “right” dance or not. They just love to see the muzungus shaking their booties. And they love it even more when the they do some crazy, hop-around dance like we were doing. (That’s clearly more entertaining.) But I did TRY to follow Ba Margaret’s moves, and out of that came one of my proudest moments in this country so far. Two of the women who danced with me said, “Ah, muleshiba” (“You know”), which felt like being accepted into some secret women’s club here.
The night before the event, I’d slept maybe three hours. I’d been having some serious issues with the mefloquine (that’s the malaria prophylaxis that often causes insomnia and crazy, vivid dreams. Luckily I’ve now been switched to something else!), and I was exhausted before the preparations even began. So by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, I was DONE. At four, my Bataata told me we should tell people they needed to go home, which I did. It was our party, after all. But not everyone took the advice, and at 4:45 I couldn’t take it any more and excused myself to go sit in my hut and chill by myself. By 5:30, everyone had pretty much left.
I was utterly exhausted. What a crazy-entertaining-overwhelming-joyful day. By the time I sat down to dinner with just my parents; their littlest grandson, Musonda; and Ba Margaret, who often stops by at dinner time just to visit, I had never felt more grateful for peace and quiet. Musonda apparently felt the same, because he promptly fell asleep in the most awkward position you can imagine: face-planted into Bataata’s hard chair with his legs dangling off onto the concrete floor. He never even ate dinner. Bataata left him be and sat on a stool instead.
The next morning, at 6:30 a.m., Ba Samwell and I left our homes in the village to a much more sedate set of good-byes.
The funny follow-up to all this is that two days later, when we had the official Cultural Day at the center (after spending a day shopping in Lusaka and preparing everything), Ba Margaret was there, too. (I’d forgotten that she was still a “host parent,” since she hosted one of the Tonga teachers. Our language teachers also stayed in the village with us.) And they’d smuggled in Ba Susan! Minus her kids, but still, I was stoked to see her again!
Cultural Day was equally stressful-crazy-amazing, but with one key difference: there were more than 30 people preparing all the food, so overall there was a lot less work involved.
Cultural Day was also the debut of the Zambian songs we’d been learning, and – unexpectedly – an American song that a handful of us had practiced only one time before! Right before the event, we were informed that we could only do ONE song – not two or three as we’d planned – and I was so bummed out that I protested a little. Bashimpundu, our fantastic homestay coordinator/resident musician, said he’d do what he could.
I had my public guitar-playing debut with “Shekenu Anghezhi Jetu,” a Lunda song that we kind of train-wrecked when, at the point where we were supposed to speed up for the final verse, the singers and the pickers (me; Jacob & Adam on banjo; and Ryeon on ukulele) sped up at different rates. We pulled it back together, though, and everyone loved it anyway. They’re our parents, of course.
Then later, when there was a lull in the program (we were all waiting in a semi-circle to exchange gifts with our parents), one of our awesome language trainers, Ba Harriet, whispered in my ear, “do the other song now!” Since this one didn’t technically require instruments – just singing and dancing – I passed the info down the line, bwangu bwangu. Then I caught the eye of Bailey, one of my fellow PCTs who had been starting the call-and-response with me, and we both shouted out, “Sansamukeni!” It was ON! Not all the PCTs had practiced this song, but since we were all there in the circle, people just jumped in anyway, whether they wanted to or not. And it turned into a huge dance party that no-one could hold back – time constraints or not. I pulled Bamaayo into the circle, other people pulled their parents in, and we sang and danced and hugged for all we were worth. Even our PC country director jumped in! All the Zambian drummers and dancers who’d come in for the occasion – whom we’d thrown a bit of money to as is customary – started throwing money at us!
I thought that was it for the music, but then right at the end of the ceremony, Bashimpundu said, “and now the trainees will perform an American song for you.” WHAT? We’d all thought that was completely off the table. Our instruments had been put aside, and as I said, we hadn’t really practiced that one much … but after a few moments of chaos, we decided, what the hell, let’s do this! And we did. Played and sang “What Does the Deep Sea Say?” Luckily Jacob carried it, because he was the only one who really knew it. And again, they loved it. So did I.
The whole thing ended with another round of dancing, led by the Zambians, which gave us the opportunity to give the money back again. :+) It was a sad but glorious two-day good-bye.