Smoke That Thunders (Zambia) by Usman Rattu

This time during traveling, I was not sure whether, I will arrive to my destination or not! My landing visa letter was full of mistakes: born in Pakistan, Living in Malaysia, Nationality is Chinese and unmatched Passport number: all together enough to make me suspicious. This was what happened at Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok boarding counters. Surprisingly all was well at immigration of Zambia. May it was because of my help as Chinese to English interpreter to Zambian immigration during their handling to Chinese passengers.

I was landing in one of the world’s least densely populated land where population is only 14 persons per square km. This could be the reason Zambia is one of the wildlife richest country. With 19 national parks and 34 game management areas, Zambia is having abundant animal population. Counted 27 birds types just in my home garden made me believe that 723 the recorded bird types while rest of the animal just make a WILD guess!  Curiously looking down from airplane’s window, instead of lions, leopards, tigers, zarf and zebras I found circular fields before touching the Lusaka. This was new to me, as to date I have seen the rectangular fields not the circular one. Later, on ground, I realized that these circular fields are the result of Center Pivot Sprinkler Irrigation System.

To be excited from the natural life of Zambia, during search for some safari villa residence, where several animals playing around the grounds as well as several breeds of antelopes and birds, one should reed following news twice and then decide! “A monkey urinated on Zambian President Rupiah Banda as he spoke to assembled journalists at a press conference this week. Banda shouted: “You have urinated on my jacket,” and paused as he looked up to see the animal playing in a tree just above his chair…………..

Kenneth Kaundaold called KK, is the founder of Zambia and first Zambia president back in 1964. After visiting KK’s old residence, I asked driver to take me KK’s tomb so that I can pay my tribute to him. He said, “You have to wait because KK is still alive…….”

Before entering Safari, remember an animal is having vision 10 times, hearing is 10 times and temper is also 10 times to you so don’t try to make fool any animal (unlike make fool your friends, “human”). If you will face any just stay, calm and don’t move. If you will be lucky then you will be saved otherwise……….

While stepping in Lusaka (capital of Zambia), I was scared by the talk of passenger who was sitting beside me. Entire way to Lusaka, he was wearing sleeveless shirt with shorts. Before landing at Lusaka, he wore full shirt, long trouser with tie on it in a hot sunny day. I asked; is some reason behind this dressing?

He: Just protection

I: Protection! What you mean?

He: You know in Africa beside mosquitoes there are many dangerous insects. Therefore, I wear full cloths for protection.

I: Yes, but still tie with long cloths!

He: Tie, I wore because I don’t want to allow any insect to enter via my shirt. You don’t know, here the insects are very dangerous.

I: Yes, I heard of malaria and such diseases

He: Be careful during your stay, you know here there is one kind of fly. If that will bite you then you could loose you fertility and can’t have baby for two years. Never dry your cloths outside, as some insects eggs are harmful and could cause for itching. 

Though these things were scary especially I even didn’t get my vaccination before coming to Africa. Later, I could not find any proof and realized such stories are not more than gossips but be careful from snakes and other reptile, which are using the same path. On your way, if you found mangos on trees, don’t try to get them. You may get these mangos without any money but along mangos you may carry the eggs of Mango Fly. These eggs could enter in body via skin which later could cause swear pain and trouble. 

Though, I did not come across to any insect but for sure I became one of the millionaire like many other Zambians are, by converting my USD in local Kwacha (1USD= K4650). Things are comparatively expansive. I spent K2,100,000.00 (460USD) only for my visa fee, others you can just calculate.

Called Lusaka is as peaceful as other parts of Zambia. People are friendly. The living standards are like other developing countries, i.e. some rich and many poor. Despite having world’s largest copper deposits, starving is common; mostly people survive on one meal daily. Diseases are common, and major cause is lacking of notorious food. Around 25% of aids penetration with 35 years average age sounds sad, but still the people are warm to shake hands. Know or not! greetings are must to meet with anybody. So if I want to ask, where is toilet! I have to ask: 

I: Hello

Mr. ABC: Hello

I: How are you?

Mr. ABC: I am fine and you

I: Me too fine

Mr. ABC: Great

May I know, where is the toilet…….

Just imagine if one is about to relive, what this conversation can cause! So better, start looking toilet before you really need it.

Every developing country is having mobile hawkers, but what about mobile minimarket, from electronic gage gates, house holds, paintings, vegetables, fruits, cloths….. all range of products are available in “drive away” shopping. Also, I never come across such a perfect business strategy, which Zambian hawkers have adopted. Early morning: it is time to sell recharge cards (your mobile money may run out during night calls), newspapers etc. During afternoon, it is time to sell fruits, sunglasses, caps, drinking liquids etc. On the way back home (evening), it is time to sell toys, vegetables, turkey etc. If there is rain, umbrella is also available to buy. They change products timely in accordance to the purchaser’s requirement.

Interesting and funny advertisements are common:

“A roof without is like a baby without nappies”. “Friendship Surgery”. “Darling furniture”. “Graduate with A’s, not aids, get a positive unza degree, not a positive HIV, certificate! Zambia needs your brains. “Cheap computer on sale”. Even you can meet with, Dr. Exhaust who is specialized in, Exhaust System, panel beating, welding & metal fabrication etc.

Normally, pavements are beside a road, while here roads beside pavement. I loved to walk on pavement, in the middle of road under thick red flower trees. Never mind, if you see footbridge on a crossing, despite crossing is having traffic signals and zebra crossing for the pedestrians. Where you really need footbridge, you have to cross that busy road at your own risk. Before railway-road crossing, one must look right and left as there is nothing called protection gate. Train will just whistle to keep passers alert, now it is their will to safe their life or take risk. Never think this risk is dangerous as trains run…… I don’t think so, because train moves with speed of less than 10km/hr. If you have really nothing to do or you want to finish some boring book, just buy ticket and sit in train. Along intercity buses, one can also try post buses. These buses are actually for the post office carrier, but it can carry passengers too if there will be space left. A fully automated state of the art bus which was designed for the high ways was stopped and toed back from the half way because it’s computer system did not accept the road as highway, it was too narrow for her.  

Perplex names may make you uneasy sometime. “He is jealous” don’t be arrogant indeed he is “Mr. Jealous”. As I ask my colleague, let us do this job. He replied, “We should wait for Monday!” Come on, today is Thursday and let us finish it before Friday. Of course (my colleague replied) but we must involve Monday in this assignment. Then, I realized it is Mr. Monday. Even in a dark night, one have to call “Bright” and don’t hesitate to call Wireless, Engine or Handbrake if you met with them. “Send Chuma” does not mean you have to make kiss like in Urdu/Hindi.

In general fashion tempts young and especially women. Coming to hair industry it is at peek in Zambia. 99% of women are having artificial hairs tide with original hairs. Some women spend more on their hair making than food. Not only to women, even four year girls are having wigs. And for sure, little dark girls in white dress with colored hair bands, looks angels. 

Among 85% of Christens still Mosque and Hindu temples (Mandir) could be found in Lusaka. Defiantly it is unusual to see Mandir and Mosques are head-to-head placed. I mean, during Muslim prayers they face towards Mandir and once Hindu pray they face towards mosque. That is how, both religions are “bound” to respect each other. Muslim & Christian’s graves located in same graveyard with common boundary walls. So don’t wonder if you will hear “Azan” ringtone from a non Muslim’s mobile.

If you born in Zambia you may be given your late uncle name or your grandfather; as most communities do believe in life after death. Naming ceremonies are conducted after consultations with ancestral spirits supposedly living in shrine. These shrines form link points between the deceased and the living.

After your childhood age; be ready for initiation rites. If you are a boy then you will be circumcised followed by learn matter related to manhood. If you are a girl, you have abounded in home till the senior women teach you everything about adultery. You have to come out from the place with decorated naked body, beads nickels and visit to certain place along singing and dancing companions.

After initiation procedure now you are ready to merry. If you are groom pay your mother-in-law in appreciation for giving birth to your bride. Incase of bride, these days you need to attend kitchen party where only women are allowed to take part. Men are strictly kept away from kitchen parties but for sure food does not require any gender classification. You may have chance to taste Chikanda, Chunkubala (caterpillar), Chibwabwa (green pumpkin leaves), Musalu (rape), Isabi ilyauma (dry fish cooked in gravy), Isabi ilyakusalula (BBQ fish) along Shima/Ubwali (maize cooked in pulp form), Ifitumbuwa (African bun made of maize flour). 

For funeral and burial though customs in Zambia vary from village and city but everything ends to grave. Traditional customs combined with modern or urban modifications makes the funeral unique in Zambia. Name of dead is announced with somber organ music. To attend funeral, you have to wear old cloths and could cry kukhuza

mayi –baba-beeee!

mayi –baba-beeee!

If you are a woman then learn Chitengelo/Kudinginyika




This high-pitched cry can often be heard within a three miles radius, in rural villages. Children are always present during the funeral as they play the crucial roles of running errands (food/drinks etc) for all mourners known as Kutumikila. The meal is served after collection; bear is also served (greatJ). Now it’s time to lay body in grave, males burry facing East that at sun break they would always leave to hunt for fund while females burry facing west as at sunset they would attend to kitchen. Don’t worry about yourself, now the burial is gender free as this custom is outdated now but still, all the mourners are supposed to wash off their feet all the red or yellow dirt from the grave site.

Well during your lifecycle in Zambia never forget to visit one of the 7 world’s natural wonders. 1.7km stretched 110meters high a pure white curtain formed by 750,000,000 liters/min flow (at peak) can stun to anyone, a simply breath taking experience to see “Mosi-oa-Tunya (Smoke That Thunders)” now called Victoria Falls. This is the place where rainbow completes circle, and dual rainbows play hide and seek with clean water of Zambzi river. Here you find the way to “boiling point”, don’t expect warm/hot water there, it is actually starting point of Zambzi rift valley. Over this a bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia where monkeys often wait to snatch food and belongings from the pedestrians and scared everyone ultimately good measure to stop illegal immigration.

Forgot to tell about house in village, a typical family house all rooms are separated and round in shape. The biggest one is for the family’s head, smallest one would be kitchen and the lifted one is to store food (lift provide protection from animals). In general men eat together in one place, women cook and bring food there while women eat as per their own.

This time I have to say good bye to the land where human life traced back by 200,000 years, where footprints of stone & iron ages could be seen, slave tree reminds the pain from thousands of people’s sighs included a sigh, of Germen commander who surrendered his army to end World War II in Rhodesia (Zambia). I also want to surrender my life to three simultaneously colored (navy-blue, blue and light blue) sky, dark nights with brighten stars, steady pleasant weather, lush green fields, sweet water lakes, white curtain falls, harmonious wild life, but I have to move. For sure Zambia’s memories will be smoked that will thunder anytime.

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