WE DROVE on the two-lane Great East Road from the Lusaka International Airport for 45 minutes to the University of Zambia (UNZA) entrance where the road turned into four lanes but without a middle divider.
I instructed the taxi driver to turn right into Chibambe Road after the Northmead Supermarket. Then to turn left on the third road into Buchi Road. I told him to slow down while pointing to turn right into the wide open short two-metre high aluminium metal gate to the third house with the short grass fence along the front. As the taxi pulled in, a medium-sized family black dog named Spot and brown dog Bobbie rushed to the car barking furiously, each dog on both sides of the taxi.
“Ziluma?’’ (Do they bite?), the taxi drive asked glancing at me nervously.
‘‘Only ngati mwabwera usiku (Only if you come at night),” I replied looking at him with a muted smile. He got my joke as he smiled back as I was paying him. The dogs were running around the taxi barking excitedly.
“Bwana (Sir),” the taxi driver said, “sembe namtengelani (I’d have carried the) suitcase but I am scared of the dogs.”
“Osabvutika ba mdala (don’t worry big man),” I replied as I opened the car door. “Azanyamula wa nchito (the house servant will carry the suitcase).”
“Mwabwela ba Tembo (so you have come),” said the house servant Joni, who emerged behind me from the corner of the house as I came out of the taxi. He took my suitcase out of the taxi after the taxi driver had handed him the keys to the car boot through his window. “Namvela imbwa but not taxi (I heard the dog barking but did not hear the taxi).”
The dogs were still barking, whining noisily, growling, wagging their tails, and feigning biting each other, bumping against my legs vying for my attention.
“Hey, Bobbie and Spot!!” I shouted in a stern voice. “Stop!! Chongo!!!”
The dogs quieted as the taxi driver reversed and drove off. The 1972 white Peugeot 504 was already parked in front of the house, which meant Uncle Tenson Ngulube was already back from work.
“Ba Joni muli bwanji (How are you)?” I asked, enjoying Lusaka Nyanja.
“Nili bwino che bamdala (I am alright big man).”
“Sutikesi iyi mufake mu bedroom yanga, ayi (Take the suitcase to my bedroom).”
At our house, all formal guests, visitors and strangers used the front door. Family members and friends used the side kitchen door. I followed Joni to the side of the house as he carried the suitcase up the kitchen door stairs.
“Ehhh! Uncle Mwizenge biza! (Uncle Mwizenge has come),” yelled my 11-year-old nephew, Tizaso.
“Ehhh! Uncle Mwizenge!!” my 8-year-old niece Misozi picked up the chorus in relay as I walked up the stairs, each one of them excitedly holding both my hands. My 18-month-old niece Malita could not come downstairs fast enough. So all she could do was stand at the top of the stairs and imitate her siblings while rocking up and down bending her knees up and down, clapping her small hands chanting excitedly: “Ako! Ako! Ako!”
I rubbed her head and stretched my hand to shake her small hand.
“Eh! Muli uli a Malita! ha! (How are you!)?”
“You have arrived just at the right time,” amama a Nya Zghambo said from the kitchen as I stood briefly at the kitchen door leaning my shoulder on the door frame. “Good timing. You must be a good farmer. Sima yubwata, I will just add more water (The nsima is just boiling).”
“Mgachita makora (That would be good),” I said. “Because I am so hungry, njala yabalilamo bana mnthumbo (Hunger has even produced babies in my stomach).” She laughed.
The familiar scent and sounds of steaming boiling nsima, mild smell of tiny amounts of burning mealie-meal on the red hot stove, the delicious scent of warming ndiyo, dende, umunani or relish, the sounds of clanking plates being placed on the dining table and voices mixed with TV sounds from the living room. The deep comforting nature of home. There is a traditional Zambian belief that if you arrive at a home when they are either cooking or just about to eat, it means you are a good farmer, or chikumbi as the Chewa people would say. But if you arrive after the meal or when the hosts are washing dishes after the meal is over, then you are a poor farmer.
I went to the living room where my uncle Tenson, wearing sandals, was relaxing in his comfortable sofa chair, flipping through a newspaper, with the grainy black and white TV flickering showing some news programme on the only and one TV station channel: Zambia Broadcasting Services.
“Ah! Ah! Tembo mwiza? (Mr. Tembo you have come?),” uncle Tenson said once he saw me standing next to the dining room table. “I heard dogs barking and the next thing was a taxi leaving.”
“Enya ndine (yes, it is me).”
“Mwenda makola uku ku Barotseland? (How was your journey)? ”
“Makola, (the journey was well).”
“Yayi, malonje tizamcita para tarya sima. Mugeze mbafa (take a bath) so that you will be fresh when we eat nsima. (We will conduct malonje after supper).
I went into the fourth bedroom which was the spare bedroom and my bedroom. I had to take my bath quickly as I did not want the family to be waiting for me at the dinner table. I opened the suitcase and reached deep between my clothes and pulled out the six large dried Zambezi bream fish. I had carefully wrapped them into several layers of old newspapers. Then I had put all the six fish in a large thick plastic bag. I placed the package on my bed and went to take my bath.
All members of the family were sitting at the dining room table. My 18-month-old niece Malita was sitting on her mother’s lap. We first prayed, as my uncle and aunt were staunch Roman Catholics. We took turns washing our hands with my uncle washing first and going around the table.
“Amama mwacita makora (Mother you have done well),” I said to aunt a Nya Zghambo as we began eating. “Nkhuku, nchunga ziswesi, and repu. Madende wose ngawemi (Chicken, red kidney beans and rape, all good relishes, dende, ndiyo, or umunani).”
“Enya, nangumanya kuti mkwiza (yes, I knew you were coming),” she replied.
“Niryenge uli sima? Mulomo utanganikenge na (How will I eat? All the good relishes will distract and confuse my eating concentration). Amama mumanya kuti ise a Tumbuka tutemwa chomene nchunga ziswesi (Mother you know we Tumbukas like red kidney beans),” I said. “E…nya,” she replied.
“Tikuti nchunga ziswesi za msuzi nge mwana wajipweteka (Red beans has red soup that looks like blood when a child has hurt himself).” We laughed. “The way my grandmother used to cook the beans in the village,” I continued, “she would put the large clay pot on the fire at about 09:00 hours. She would boil the beans slowly all day while asking us to help her add more wood in the fire while we grandchildren were playing. At about 16:00 hours she would add mcere wolungira (unrefined salt that had large granules). Then she would lift the big clay pot with both strong hands and turn the beans upside down and let it simmer. She would cook a large nsima for more than eight grandchildren. The beans and the soup was so thick and v…ery delicious with nsima!!”
We laughed as they had heard this nchunga story from me for a millionth time. As we ate, we made small talk but avoided talking about my trip because that would be done during malonje shortly after supper. I was still nervous about whether I should even tell them about Linda Jitanda.