The last few weeks I’ve reminisced on the places where I’ve shed both my skin and my memory. It’s not usually the place that stirs up my emotion but the image of the people who become part and parcel of the life I live there. So I want to end off four weeks’ worth of reminiscing by telling you about the place where I started out. Not necessarily of the brick and glass that makes this place but more of the memories that are evoked by it. The last two years have been a slow progression towards adulthood. The journey has been difficult and the lessons have been humbling but, even when we are stumbling and grovelling we are forging forward. I read somewhere that I should celebrate that I have overcome a hundred percent of my best and worst days. Isn’t that something? Three places mark three significant periods of my life. I was born in Lusaka, Zambia. My family migrated to Johannesburg, South Africa and upon graduating from high school, I left the nest to move to Adelaide, Australia. To speak of Zambian history, political culture or even the larger society would be an untruth. All that I know of my place of birth, is from within the walls of my family home. I have written of what I know for sure.
My grandparent’s house is a massive two acre property in Lusaka’s more affluent Woodlands community. In fact, the land is so vast as to sit two very sizable homes on the one property. One of the houses is leased out to wealthier families or small businesses looking to set up camp in Lusaka. This house is more commonly referred to as ‘The Office’. The garden of our Woodland’s property has been sectioned off. Each section has been purposed for the needs of each specific generation of the family. At Christmas, we assemble upon a designated area that serves as a soccer pitch for over twelve grandchildren. After the church service and prior to an indulgent Christmas feast, we split into teams and compete for the most goals. Having grown up on a steady supply of Enid Blyton novels, my cousins, siblings and myself initially titled ourselves the Famous Five. We then became the Secret Seven but now the Liwewe kin have far outnumbered those in an Enid Blyton novel.
Behind a rather long L shaped hedge my grandmother has what would classify as an area of cultivation. The smell of earth and ripe fruit lingers in the air. Fallen pulp is scattered here and there, disintegrating into the soil. Here my grandmother has a forest of mango, guava, peach and avocado trees to name a few. My grandmother, known amongst the family as Gogo Kazi has a gardener whom even in her old age she endeavours to help with growing rows of maize, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and the like. Zambia’s colonial heritage has left remnants of the old order of society hence, behind this rich piece of cultivated earth is a more archaic building. The servant’s quarters has room for two household workers. At one point it served as a sewing room for one of my aunts seeking to gain financial independence. It is in these quarters that the gardener can shower at the end of a long day and, that he often will smoke a self-constructed cigarette whilst making idle chat with the cleaner over a lunch of nsima and kapenta.
Right in front of these quarters is a defunct borehole with a rusting metal frame that my cousins and I spent many of our childhood afternoons climbing. Our ‘monkey bars’ were once our after school play area. We would climb on them until our hands and feet blistered. It would not be uncommon to see one of the grandkids picking at an old blister that had hardened over time. On this little patch of childhood heaven, we would make mud-cakes with a rich black earth that would dampen after the rain. Nearby a guava tree spits an abundance of its fruit onto the stone ground beneath it. The fruit is plentiful, such that, much of it, is left to rot on the ground. Sickly sweet guava perfumes the air here. I would take to climbing this particular guava tree to pick fruits to satisfy my cravings for something sweet. I am quite certain that a worm my grandmother once had to extract out my thigh with a needle found its way into my body from here. After the rain, we were always told to wear our ‘slippers’ when we went out. At four in the afternoon, the maid would descend from the kitchen carrying a tray with jam and peanut butter sandwiches cut into triangles. We would follow this with a sweet glass of orange cordial Mazoe. Playtime continued till five, after which we headed to the house to shower and prepare for the evening ahead.
19 B Nsumbu Road as we commonly refer to my grandparent’s abode, has housed my family since 1974. My early years were spent there in a house that kept three generations of my family under one roof. As you can imagine, living in such close quarters makes for good storytelling. Every evening my grandparents and any adults would sit at the stately wooden dining room table. A buffet of food prepared by the maid, my grandmother and at least one aunt would be served up. Each dish in or on its designated bowl or platter. A roast T-bone, stewed goat, local mushrooms of different varieties and a large soft but firm lump of nsima made to my grandfather’s liking. The children of the house sat in the less stately dining area near the kitchen. Here we gorged our meals and made raucous chatter that often prompted the adults to check if we were actually eating. After dinner, myself and two of my cousins grouped by age as ‘The Three Big Girls’ would assist with cleaning up as the maid would have retired for the day. My grandfather would head over to his couch strategically placed for optimum views and watch the evening bulletin on ZNBC. I left my grandparent’s home when I turned 7. From this mammoth sized house with its many members, I migrated to a humble flat in Johannesburg, South Africa to live with my parents. It is in Lusaka that my earliest memories remain.