UNCLE Tenson or adada sat in his brown sofa chair. Aunt a Nya Zghambo or amama sat is her brown sofa chair next to him. I sat in the corner closest to them on the long brown 3 cushion sofa.
“Tizaso and Misozi!” Uncle Tenson called.
“Sah!” both of them answered and came to the living room.
“Go now to the bathroom. Musuke mino na mswaji, wear your pajamas and go to bed. You have to get up early to go to school. Kucedwa yayi ka! [Go and brush your teeth. Do not delay].”
I quickly went to my bedroom and brought my package. I opened it on the coffee table to show them the 6 large dry bream fish I had brought.
“Yeo Tembo, [Thank you]” Aunt Nya Zghambo said clapping her hands. “This is very good fish. We will cook some of it tomorrow for supper. The rest we will put in the deep freezer.”
“Yes, Yeo Tembo (Thank you)” Uncle Tenson also said clapping hands.
“Tembo,” Uncle Tenson turned to me and said. “Malonje ngakuti ine na Anyi Namwe, and the family tose we are doing very well since you left. So tell us about Barotseland!? How was your trip to Western Province? How was it?”
“Adada na Amama muli apa, (Father and mother right here)”, I replied emphatically. “Ulendo ukanowa chomene. Ningamtetezghani yayi. (The trip was very sweet. I cannot lie to you).”
“Eh! Anenani [Tell us more].”
“Uku Ku Ulozi nkhuwemi chomene (The land of the Lozi is very good). “This was the second time I have flown on a plane. The first time was in 1974 when I flew Zambia Airways from Lusaka to Chipata for which I personally paid the fare of K13.00”.
“Sure?” my uncle said with surprise at the very low fare. “That was about the price of a UBZ bus fare from Lusaka to Chipata at the time!”(United Bus Company of Zambia)
“Enya!! The flight from Lusaka to Mongu was even better; very smooth very good. The NAMBOARD officials Mr. Imasiku and the Driver Mr. Mundia welcomed me at the air strip. But what happened the following day, I will never forget.”
“Mr. Imasiku had put me at Lyambai Hotel. When I woke up in the morning and opened the curtains of my window, the scene was the most beautiful I have ever seen in my whole life living in Lundazi, Chipata and Lusaka. The long glowing soft morning sun rays were landing on a beautiful canal with shimmering blue waters with some of the Lozi people busy rowing canoes up and down catching fish. After the first rains, the November tiny shoots of green grass were just beginning to shoot up all over the land along the canal.”
“Anenani (Tell us more)”, Uncle Tenson said sitting on the edge of his chair.
“The previous night I had gone to Sinjonjo Bar.”
“We are not surprised!” My and Aunt Nya Zghambo laughed. “We know you are a young man.”
“It is not what you are thinking”, I said as they both were still laughing. “I only drunk may be 2 or 3 Mosi because I had to be at work the following morning.”
“Yes, so what happened?”
“You know when you have had some beer the previous night, the following morning you are very hungry and you want to eat something salty. So I quickly drunk a little tea with a fried egg sandwich for breakfast before rushing to attend the NAMBOARD provincial seminar. What happened afterwards is what I will never forget.”
‘I went back to the Lyambai Hotel dining room for lunch. I was very hungry such that hunger even bore children and grandchildren in my stomach. They gave me a menu. So I said to the waiter I want nshima but I did not want it with the usual chicken or beef.’
“Why don’t you try nshima with Litapi?” the waiter suggested. “That is our local.”
“What is litapi?” I asked.
“That is Silozi for fish.”
“Oh! Of course I will try that.”
“So after about 15 minutes,” I continued. “The waiter brought me the steaming nshima with a whole big bream of Zambezi River fish. But I was worried. There was no soup!”
“Ahhh!!!” my Aunt Nya Zghambo interjected. “How were you going to eat nshima without msuzi?”
“That’s what I was asking myself too,” I agreed. “But when I was told there was no soup, I reluctantly washed my hands. I got a lump of the nshima, nakukonya makola. (Got a lump of nshima and nicely molded it). When I tried to get a small piece of the bream fish, the flesh came off on its own leaving the bones intact. When I put the fish in my mouth!?”
“What happened?” my uncle asked.
“The fish was very delicious. It had a great flavour that I had never tasted in my life. I had eaten fish from Lundazi River, Rukuzye River School Dam and even the Luangwa River. But this fish was very moist, tender, and just nicely salted. The fish was not certainly fried. I don’t know how they cooked it.”
“Was the nshima delicious?” my aunt asked.
“Ye-e-eees I devoured the nshima. It was so delicious from the top of my head, through the back of my skull all the way to my feet. I didn’t even talk.”
My aunt and uncle laughed.
“When I finished eating, only the fish bones were left on the plate. Even the head was gone. I was sweating. I drunk a big glass of cold water. From that time in Western Province at Lyambai, all I ate was nshima with litapi.”
“So how do the Lozi cook the fish so well?” my Aunt asked.
“Amama, I don’t know. If they cooked fish like that in restaurants even at Intercontinental and Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka, the people would enjoy.”
“Why are the Lozi so good at cooking the fish in this way?” My uncle asked.
“I think it might be the same as the way people in Lundazi and the East know how to cook mbeba (mice),” I replied.
My aunt and uncle laughed and clapped their hands.
“Ah! a Tembo,” my aunt smiled. “How can you compare cooking mice with cooking fish?”
They continued to laugh.
‘Listen to me’, I said. ‘If you hunt, cook and eat some type of food for a long time, you become good at cooking it. This is why the British in England would not know how to cook it, because they do not have Zambezi bream in the Thames River. The French, the Germans and even the Portuguese there in Europe would not know how to cook this fish because they do not have Zambezi bream. For example, my grandmother knew how to cook mice really well. This was the traditional way of cooking it. She would remove the insides of course. Then she would boil the mbeba in plain water adding some salt. Then she would dry them on mafigha; which were the 3 stones or bricks which were used to support the pot while cooking on the fire. That was the secret. The mice would dry slowly over a few days.’
“Is there a modern way of cooking mbeba?” my Aunt asked.
When European cooking was first introduced in Zambia in the 1950s and 60s, some women thought they could add cooking oil, onion and tomato to mbeba. Which was a big no!!
“Yes,” my Uncle said. “I remember that.”
‘In fact there was a popular song that was composed in 1964, when I was attending the Tamanda Boys Dutch Reformed Church Boarding School North of Chipata when I was in Grade 6, that we used to sing during evening school concerts that criticised the new way of trying to cook mbeba’. I sang the song to my uncle and aunt clicking my fingers.
“Can you tell us one of your mbeba stories Uncle Tembo?” Tozani suddenly said.
“And me to,” added Misozi.
“Why are you two still awake?” Uncle Tenson asked the children who unbeknownst to us had all along been secretly eavesdropping on the conversation just behind the corner wall of the hallway. “You should have gone to bed an hour ago. Kagoneni!! [Go to bed!!]”
“We overheard Uncle Mwizenge mention mbeba stories,” said Misozi.
‘I can’t tell you stories now”, I said as I looked at my watch. “It is late. I will tell you a story about mbeba digging on Thursday or Friday because tomorrow I will be late from work. Go on to sleep now.’
“OK uncle Tembo,” Tozani said. “You promise?”
The two children walked back to their bedrooms.
“Ah! Yes” Uncle Tenson said. “It is really late. Malonje and nkhani zanowa.” [Malonje and stories have been sweet].”
“We will go to bed now,” aunt Nya Zghambo said as they both stood up and went to bed. “Sleep well”.
I was so tired after my long emotionally charged day flying from Mongu, Sesheke, Livingstone, then to Lusaka that when I crawled in bed under the covers, I fell fast asleep almost immediately.