LIFE WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
I FELT a strong sense of piety and holiness as I walked to the administration block to meet instructor Kabbongo, Bible tucked under my right armpit.
When Inspector Kabbongo saw me he laughed and pointed at the Bible.
â€œYou donâ€™t need to carry a Bible, bwana squad leader, because there are plenty of them at our church.â€
But do you people have any idea of the â€˜churchâ€™ where this man and his two lieutenants took me?
We went straight to Buyantanshi Social Club, a popular drinking joint within Mindolo township, near Mindolo Primary School.
The â€˜churchâ€™ they had been talking about so excitedly turned out to be a bar. What mischief!
Insp. Kabbongo noticed my utter disappointment. Smiling mischievously he touched my right shoulder softly.
â€œSorry ba squad leader. This is our church, the one weâ€™ve been talking about. We use this language to avoid being discovered,â€ he said.
â€œYou know very well that it is a serious offence for recruits to sneak out of the training school and drink alcohol. It is even worse when they discover that an instructor has been breaching rules by sneaking out with recruits and drinking beer with them.â€
My fellow recruits, whom I will not name, just stood there, grinning at me like tramps as Insp. Kabbongo spoke.
â€œIn our language the â€˜churchâ€™ is actually the bar, the â€˜pastorâ€™ is the barman while the â€˜deaconsâ€™ are the waiters,â€ he explained.
He continued, â€œThe â€˜prayersâ€™ are bottles of lager and spirits or packets of opaque beer, chibuku. The â€˜choirâ€™ is the music system while the â€˜conductorâ€™ is the DJ.
â€œWhen we mention a â€˜sermonâ€™, bwana squad leader, we are talking about a round. The â€˜church serviceâ€™ simply means a drinking spree.â€
I was not sure how to react to this blasphemy! When we entered the bar there were about 10 patrons already, and low music was playing.
â€œGood morning pastor. How is the church service going?â€ Insp. Kabbongo greeted the smartly-dressed barman hunched behind a well-polished counter.
â€œGood morning â€˜church elderâ€™. The service is on already, as you can see. There are already about 10 â€˜worshippersâ€™ (patrons), and my deacons are already busy,â€ the barman answered and they both laughed heartily.
Then Insp. Kabbongo turned to the two recruits. â€œWho will propose the first sermon (round)? I will do the second one.â€
One of the recruits dipped his right hand in the right back pocket of his stone-washed jeans trousers and fished out some money, which he handed to the â€˜pastorâ€™ so that he could deliver the first â€˜sermonâ€™.
After we had settled down at one of the tables Insp. Kabbongo started â€˜orientingâ€™ me as a new â€˜worshipperâ€™.
â€œIf you have just arrived you are expected to start with a very long â€˜prayerâ€™, then follow it up with quick, shorter ones until you are completely filled with the â€˜Holy Spiritâ€™.
What he meant was that if you were a new arrival you were expected to empty the first bottle of lager or packet of chibuku with a single swig (umusa), without breathing, and later drink the beer at ease.
One of the two bald headed recruits chipped in, â€œAnd if you want to propose a sermon (order a round) you donâ€™t have to walk to the â€˜altarâ€™ or â€˜pulpitâ€™ (bar counter) but simply gesture to the deacon (waiter) to bring the prayers where we are.â€
What kind of people are these, I mused? Fortunately, I was not a drunkard. I took alcohol only occasionally in mild quantities.
â€œBut bwana, are you not being blasphemous to God by referring to the bar as a â€˜churchâ€™ and beer as â€˜prayersâ€™?â€ I asked Insp. Kabbongo.
He laughed and stroked his chin. Peering at me through squinted eyes he said, â€œNo sir. We also fear and honour God. In fact we are all Christians. Itâ€™s just coded language.
â€œConcentrate on your â€˜prayersâ€™, Charles. Your bottle is almost full,â€ one of the two recruits counselled me. â€œIf you ask too many questions,â€ he added, â€œyou will not enjoy the church service. You should pray frequently if you have to be filled with the Holy Spirit.â€
To these guys being filled with the Holy Spirit meant getting drunk!
I politely left them â€˜prayingâ€™ and returned to the training school, never to accompany them again.
Here are some of your comments:
I am a Ghanaian on a short professional assignment here in your beautiful capital city, Lusaka.
Thanks for your serial article on prostitution in the Sunday Mail. They are very thought-provoking and incisive, and I note the story being universal and instructive to me and my country. It is a major step in the resolution of this ancient profession from being oiled.
Did you check out Senama also in Mansa? That place is bad.