The Mfuban in me

10 June 2015

It’s been almost two months since I left Mfuba Village. But Mfuba hasn’t yet left me.

I’ve taken to wearing an icitenge as often as I wore one in the village. I make small talk with random people standing in line with me at the credit union or the grocery store. I have yet to rid myself of the habit of calling out “Odi?” (“May I come in?”) upon entering a friend’s yard or home.

I’ve made ubwali twice, and Alex has gamely tried it (and liked it!). This week I got to talk about Mfuba with more than 100 second-graders at one of our local elementary schools, AND cook caterpillars for them! (Reactions ranged from eager requests for more to, “I do NOT like caterpillars!”)

This girl was NOT a fan.

This girl was NOT a fan.

Turns out it’s been a little harder for me to adjust here, back home in Montana, than it was on my road-trip reintroduction to America.

This is real life, and in my real life, I walk down the street in our neighborhood and often don’t see a soul. Like me, my neighbors spend most of their time inside their homes, offices, and cars. I miss the constant stream of people on foot and bicycle on every Zambian road.

In my real life, it’s rare that someone stops by the house. I miss daily visits from Cila, Joyci, Obed, and the rest.

Cila (second from right), on my front porch with friends Donna, Line, and Minus.

Cila (second from right), on my front porch with friends Donna, Line, and Minus.

Last week, I found myself driving in a pick-up truck to the part of town I call “consumption junction” to charge to my credit card a couple of fancy electronic devices from two giant, big-box stores. In that moment, I thought, “I’ve finally arrived in America.”

I’d like to pretend that I am just wrecked by all this. That I want to go running right back to Mfuba.

But most days, I don’t.

I am so happy to be back. To see all my old friends, and to be in Montana at the very best time of year. I love that I can practice yoga on the banks of a river, right in my own front yard, in total silence, with no interruptions. I love that I can swim without fear of offending someone with my bare thighs. I love that I live within biking distance of a grocery store and the world’s best bakery.

I love that I can go on beautiful hikes in mountains with friends, and kayak on the Flathead River, just for fun. I love that no one here thinks these things are strange.

Out in Glacier National Park with Dabney, Joe, and Alex.

Hiking in Glacier National Park with (L to R) Dabney, Joe, and Alex.

But I carry Mfuba with me everywhere I go. The kids enter my dreams with startling regularity, and I’m told I occasionally speak Bemba in my sleep.

So maybe it’s no surprise that I couldn’t wait to call Ba Bernardi and catch up. I’d texted him and Ba Allan when I arrived back in the States over a month ago, but I’d refrained from calling. Partly because I hadn’t yet figured out my phone situation, but mainly out of respect for the current PCV in Mfuba. No new volunteer wants to have to hear about how her predecessor keeps calling everyone in the village.

So I waited a while, until finally I couldn’t wait any longer.

I caught Ba Bernardi on his way back from the local agricultural camp show. (It’s a lot like our county fairs, only with more actual agriculture and less live music.)

Had the Mfuba Co-op won any prizes? “No,” Ba Bernardi said, “We lost.” Was Joyci back at home? “Yes!” How was everyone in Mfuba? “Bwino SANA!” (VERY well!) Some things never change.

I also received news I hadn’t expected. By some miracle, the government is finally putting a metal roof on the Mufba Community School! For real! As I write this! Hooray! And Ba Bernardi and Ba Agatha had a good harvest of their first-ever crop of upland rice!

And somehow, in a car-less village where perhaps one vehicle a week passes by, one of the pregnant goats the village received from Miasamfu Research Station was hit and killed by a car.

That almost made me cry. All that work, all that money the co-op spent on transport, all that faith the village put into having these faster-growing meat goats. I couldn’t believe it. Really?? How could Mfuba possibly have had such bad luck?? Some things never change …

I didn’t really call to get the update on our old work projects, though. I called to hear Ba Bernardi’s voice, and those of his family. I called to keep that connection just a little while longer.

Me with the Mutale family (my family). L to R, Ba Bernardi, me, cousin Line, Boyd, Cila, and Ba Agatha. (Gile's peeking out over Agatha's shoulder.)

Me with the Mutale family (my family), shelling maize in their nsaka. L to R, Ba Bernardi, me, cousin Line, Boyd, Cila, Gile, and Ba Agatha.

Luckily for all of us, that link doesn’t depend exclusively on phone calls.

Every time I eat ubwali, I imagine scooping my fingers into the same bowl as the Mutales. Every time I wrap that icitenge around me, it’s like a great big, long-distance hug from all my favorite kids.

Truth is, I don’t WANT Mfuba to leave me. I want to keep speaking in Bemba, carrying things on my head, and greeting everyone I meet with a smile.

And I want to think of my Mfuba friends all along the way.

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7 thoughts on “The Mfuban in me

  1. Hi,
    Enjoyed your posts very much, great to see that there are normall balanced people in your generation.
    Your gift of communication will likely shape the next chapter in your life (maybe write a book)
    Hamba gahle (sp)
    Madala

  2. Reading your blog now is SO surreal. We have switched places. I have just finished 3 weeks of posh corps training with hot showers and five meals a day. Now I’m at Home Stay with bucket baths and pit latrines. And you are in the US. I felt similar when I met my fellow Ugandan PCVs whose blogs I read.
    Enjoy your comforts and never forget! 🙂

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