Claire and I had been eagerly awaiting our first ‘guest’ to arrive in Kasama – Claire’s mom Sue. While we have hosted many local visitors, there is something different about hosting someone from your home place in your own home (in this case, guest house). We have been preparing the house and our farm for many months, and the time seemed to stretch into the horizon, until suddenly we had only a week until Sue would arrive, and I could hardly see the ground beneath my feet through the fog of jobs still to be completed.
We had waited and delayed for a flat-bed truck to carry supplies, trying to compile all of the ‘lasts’ we had in mind for the ‘last’ flat-bed trip (now the fourth ‘last’ trip…). Finally, one week before Sue’s arrival, we hauled several bags of cement, a flat-bed full of sand, and a plethora of saplings, flowers, and fruit trees from Kasama to Lukupa. We now had everything we needed to complete plastering the walls, cementing the floor, adding the veranda and finishing it, and installing the doors and windows. The work here at the farm seems to come in waves, and now we had the last tsunami before the guest-house was liveably complete.
Luckily, there is very little stress here. Kapembwa, characteristically hard-working and quick to learn, plus naturally skilled with his hands, jumped in to help Ba Mukuka and myself to learn and finish plastering the walls. I was glad to be involved and learn through practice another part of the construction process – though I found this to be my least favorite part. Another few days, and I had brick-laid the veranda, the floor was finished, and the floor of the veranda was done. We whisked off to Lusaka to pick up Sue, while Kapembwa remained behind to watch over the place, install the doors and windows, and make the final touches (I have to admit, I was a bit envious not to be finalizing ‘my’ guesthouse). Luckily, I can add to the old adage – It you want something done right, you have to do it yourself (or ask Kapembwa to do it).
I never thought I’d say this, but it was great to spend some time in Lusaka. Claire and I were hosted wonderfully by our friend Helen and her Belgian husband Thierry (Helen is on the Zambian Board of Directors for Bakashana, and she has a contagious laugh and an incredible zest for life). We also chanced some old Peace Corps friends (Joe and Julia) who had served in Zambia at the same time as Claire and myself. It was an interesting experience to catch up again in the same place 5 years later – kind of like a high school reunion. It was great to catch up and hear about each others’ experiences, and reassuring to go back to the same old bars and see that we aren’t missing anything.
We picked up Sue at the airport amidst a few rainclouds – the universe’s empathetic welcome to the tears flowing between mom and daughter. Sue arrived with plenty of energy and in great spirits to join us for dinner with Helen and Thierry, and our old Peace Corps friends. It was a night of friendship, indulgence, and true blessings. These days when we take trips away from the farm, I can’t help but marvel at the abundance and ease with which we live. Even at home we buy most of our food and eat very well, and it is definitely a humbling experience to see that our ‘modest’ lifestyle in Lukupa still affords us, materially at least, more than our neighbors’ dream of. We try our best to share our abundance and be grateful and thankful for all that we are given every day. This particular day, something about the love around the table, topped off by cold drinks and spicy, delicious food – all cultivated, processed, transported, prepared, and cooked by someone else, really sparked the embers of gratitude within me.
We took the bus to Kasama the next day, eager to show Sue the place that we call home, and all that we have accomplished in the past 6 months. The bus ride was, well, the bus ride. Sue had experienced it before, so the long hours of narrow seats and hot temperatures didn’t damper her mood. The cities gave way to rural villages, scattered throughout the forested plain like islands in a sea of green.
We arrived in Kasama and hired a taxi to drive us home. Sue arrived before sunset, welcomed by Ba Kapembwa – who covered his culture shock and seamlessly returned her giant hug as it swallowed his outstretched hand. Sue was awestruck by the peacefulness of the place, the slow meandering of the river, the newly finished house in which she was the inaugural guest. The love and light. She and Claire had many moments, and a few more tears were shed before we prepared dinner, sitting in the Nsaka and gazing at the dancing spirits of the fire.
We awoke to a beautiful sunrise on a crisp morning, and went for a swim. Sue is incredibly kind and receptive, but simultaneously very deep and probing. We discussed many things, and she had many questions about the place. I provided as much information as I could (probably too much at times), and she listened with grace. She and Claire spent most of their time together – wandering the property, swimming, and otherwise chatting and enjoying. Sue had many encouraging comments, such as “its so much land!”, and “everything was planned out so carefully”, and most importantly, “everyone should visit, the pictures just don’t capture it!”. It’s always nice to hear positive reinforcement, and have another chance to encourage guests!
Sue let us know that she slept peacefully in the guest house – that it felt like a second home. We hosted a party the next day, in which about 15 friends from town drove down the difficult road to our place. We managed to set up two tarps tied between trees to make a pavilion, complete with solar lights (thanks Mom!) and candles to complete the atmosphere. Everyone enjoyed wine and pasta, as we shared with Sue some of our more ‘western’ friends here in Zambia.
Sue and Claire had a session with the girls from the Bakashana Program, and Sue’s experience and expertise in the field of teaching was clear from the way she described each young woman, their unique characteristics, and the joys and struggles of working with each one. She helped to encourage Claire, speaking of the natural way in which Claire engages the girls, coupled with her motherly and professional instinct to instruct Claire on different teaching techniques and methods.
We also visited the Chileshe’s house – our Zambian family. We were welcomed with warm hugs and joy from the kids, who rushed the car before we could disembark. Then came a first – Sue’s hugs with Bana Chileshe and Ba Chileshe were so pure, so thorough, that they involved not only swaying back and forth, but also jumping up and down in delight. We shared a warm evening with them which was broken only by the appearance of an unexpected guest.
Originally, the Chileshes planned to host us when we first arrived in Kasama. We were only hours away when I received a phone call from Mr. Chileshe, notifying me that his ‘brother’ (cousin) had been standing on the side of the road when he was hit and killed by a motor vehicle. The family rushed to the funeral, and begged our forgiveness to delay our visit until the following weekend. After we arrived at the Chileshes the following weekend, the very man who had driven that car arrived at the Chileshe’s house. It was a heavy, heavy affair.
We sat in the dimly lit room as the sun set, and the entrance of the guest chased the final light of day from the sky. We sat in near darkness as the man explained his story – he was driving fast, sought to overtake a slow-moving vehicle, and found himself staring down the headlights of an oncoming truck. He saw a man standing aside the road, but chose to kill this man to ‘save’ the lives of those in the vehicle. He swerved to the shoulder…
Listening to this man explain his story, face-to-face with the eldest and most respected member of the victim’s family, was an incredibly powerful experience. On one hand, the sadness in the room was palpable, and tears of grief could clearly be seen – the burden of killing a man did not fall lightly on the guest, and the Chileshes grieved openly as well; on the other hand – what a testament to Ba Chileshe’s humble and forgiving nature! We learned through the story that Ba Chileshe had even called the prisons to find out about the perpetrator after the accident (who had been put in the cells), to make sure that he was okay. This was, keep in mind, immediately after he was the FIRST ONE on the scene of the accident – before the police – to confirm the death of his cousin (I will avoid using descriptive writing here).
After listening to the guest’s story, and explaining that he must do what he can to support the deceased’s’ family, Ba Chileshe gave him a ride home! I accompanied them in the front seat, and it was all I could do to hold back tears for the respect I have for Ba Chileshe. After we dropped off the visitor, I spoke with Ba Chileshse about the incident. I poured my praises on him, knowing that I have much to learn from his handling of such trying times, and praying that during such times of trial, I can also find such forgiveness and love.
When we arrived home, we lightened the mood over a delicious meal and warm laughter. The Chileshes hosted us for more than 6 months, and it was wonderful for Claire’s mom to spend more time with our Zambian family. Sue remarked at how hospitable, how warm, and how free the Chileshes are. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends.
We also traveled to Nkole Mfumu – Claire’s host village while she was serving in Peace Corps. We were welcomed with open arms, Nshima, and a freshly killed chicken. It was nice that Sue got to experience the more ‘authentic’, Zambian village culture during her visit as well. Her patience and respect for the seemingly endless socializing was impressive (it sounds easy until you’re here). Not to mention that the car we borrowed from our friend to transport us to-and-fro broke down several times, could at times only be entered through the window, and was a constant concern.
All in all, the visit was joyful and complete. It is clear that Claire gets a lot of her ability to love and relate to people from her mother. Sue explained that having experience the culture again, but from our home, this time she really ‘got’ why we want to live here. On Sue’s last night, our village family (the ones who fed me and sold us the land) came to visit. This involved warmth and hugs, laughter, and dancing to the beat of improvised ‘native’ drums (buckets). As they walked home, accompanied by the setting sun, Sue let us know that she felt at ease with our living situation, our community, and our friends. As she left the next morning, Ba Kapembwa confided in me about her visit. Although the two had exchanged very few words, he let me know that he was happy to have met Ba Sue. He said he could see where Claire got her ‘warm heart’.