Zambian homecoming

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By M. Mayuka
“When are you coming home? ”is the oft-asked question uttered by my loved ones in Zambia. After every lengthy phone call the pangs of home sickness burrow their way in and settle themselves for the long haul. Nostalgia creeps slyly into your psyche stoking the dying memories of a happier side of Zambian living. Load shedding, water shortages, corruption are conveniently forgotten and instead days of picking mangoes and guava’s from childhood backyards flood your soul. Tastebuds mildly tingle at the culinary memories of yester year; fried kapenta, chimpapila, kalembula, chikanda, and sweet potatoes, render your usual dinner of pasta bolognaise unappealing. To Zambians at home this might be surprising as the traditional food stuffs they take for granted are readily available in any market worth its weight in maize meal but heartbreakingly these goods are conspicuously scarce in aisle 9 of any supermarket in Australia.

As Zambians living away from home the mundane is missed as much as the extraordinary. Your ears are accustomed to French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic but what you miss is the comfortable humdrum buzz of Zambian vernacular languages being spoken amongst housewives at the market, gaggle of school girls gossiping or business men haggling over lunch. You become increasingly frustrated at explaining to people in your host country the meaning of your name, how to pronounce it with the right emphasis and for the fifteenth time that day you wonder if appointing yourself with an English name, a “real name” would help with introductions in social settings or business meetings.

This is not an unfamiliar existence to the Zambian diasporan and eventually the inevitable question asked of them again, haunts them… “When are you coming home?”. A homecoming tugs at the heart strings but strains the purse strings more. The idea of returning to the comfortable bosom of friends, family, home and country is often tinged with excitement, joy and stress. Yes, stress.

Recently my mother returned home after an absence of six years. The preparations for her trip beforehand made her an intrepid traveller rather than a prodigal daughter returning with glee. She had concerns about the care and status of her ailing parents, the financial responsibilities of said care, the burden of various family issues and generally her lack of knowledge about the living standards in Zambia since the last time she was home.
There is an assumption that a trip home merely requires a return ticket and appropriate spending money. The stark reality is often harsher and confronting. In addition to the various necessary gifts and tokens of appreciation for various friends and relatives (which makes it difficult to stick to a strict twenty three kilo baggage allowance) there is the adjustment to life in Zambia once again. Not everyone is cut out or built for it. Misconception’s by many back at home are based on the idea that those abroad are able to take on single or multiple trips simply by virtue of being overseas and making dollars or pounds.

Zambian diasporans rarely share the difficulties they face in their host countries. Instead they highlight the improved standard of living in their relevant host country yet they gloss over the fact that cost of living is still a concern regardless of where you live. Diasporan living is fraught with stress inducing utility bills, mortgage repayments or rising monthly rent, school fees, health care and everyday groceries.

Zambian’s in the diaspora must endeavour to make it plain to those at home that the grass is not as green on the other side. Both sides of the fence still need to be watered and the water bill paid for. Zambian’s at home must be considerate that their returning counterparts although seemingly flush with overseas success have just as much to worry about. A Zambian homecoming although desired by both sides, carries more weight than the requisite baggage allowance. The next time the question “when are you coming home?” is posed, hopefully there will be a greater awareness and honest dialogue.

43 COMMENTS

  1. The pictures make my mouth water! How so true the burdens of a simples visit back home bring. Other than the cost of the trip itself you have to budget for the gifts and for your time while back home, especially sinc there are unrealistic expectations by friends and family that you are to fete them during your visit. This tends me to only visit my closest friends and family back home as they are more likely to understand your real circumstances than others whome you just will not bother to burden with your problems and real situation. Once visited a few relative on my last trip home and you could sense the hostility in them when you bed farewell without leaving them a gift. One other issue I dread about the trips back home is just the cost of logistics such as gettting around..

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  2. So true,Its so stressful planning a trip back home but the nostalgia surely creeps in.All you think of is seeing your family, the mouth watering food, the lovely weather! Oh you surely forget about load shedding , the dust in Lusaka, the poor water supply(at least in some copperbelt towns).Its heaven hearing the the zambian accent,bemba and nyanja being spoken on the streets.

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  3. How amasing it is to hear about our wonderful motherland, especially how difficult it has become for people to blend into a culture they grew up in after being away. I love every bit of my homeland, including the Aug/Sept dust. I enjoy shopping ku Soweto, Kamwala and Chisokone markers. Dont get me wrong, I also love shopping at Vic Market, DFO and Chadstone but in Zambia am home and the air knows me. You surely cannot beat that.

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  4. So true,the article echos the feeling for alot of us.The last days before departure for home can be quiet stressing just like the last days before returning from zambia.

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  5. Guess this article is adressed to the wrong audience. Majority of visitors to this site are themselves in the diaspora. Those domiciled in Zambia probably have their own means for a living and donot need the kind hand of a relative based in some disadvantaged neighbourhood in Brussles, Paris or London to take care of them. While what has been said is true, the peception is fueled by the unanatural flamboyanace by which you guys in the diaspora seem to carry yourselves with when you happen to come to Zambia.

    Unfortunately, this is also true of those staying in the urban areas in comparison to those in rural areas. You have someone staying Kalingalinga, trying to show off to someone who is much better off in Chipata’s Kalongwezi, just because kalingalinga is in Lusaka.

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  6. Just get me some fried Kapenta please….and I will shut up for good. Oh, please don’t add anything to it, just fry it and add a little salt to taste. No tomato, no onion. Oh, my God. with a kama little nshima there on the side. Kapenta is the only thing that can corrupt my mind. Everything else, try other people.

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  7. A good read 4 some one like me who s planning to return home 4 good early next yr after so many years in Dallas.

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  8. # 7 what would shut me up is chibwabwa prepared with pounded groundnuts -not saladi na ka nshima of course!!!!

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  9. Thats true like me when i went home last december am telling you both my two suitcases where over weight instead of 23kgs each one was 28kgs and the other 32kgs just for gifts my clothes where in the hand lagage its like i was going by kashikishi trucks not on a plane so embarrasing.when you give them a gift they also want money on top of that am telling i was so stressed that when i got home they even telling you look so thin like you can coming from europe they expect you to be fat and light in colour.i know we are to help our relatives but guys do it wisely you give them money when you go home they look better than you.

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  10. #5 Kibakimani – some times its not that people from the diaspora or urban areas are showing if,its just that they do things differently and this is perceived as showing off.When I took my toddler to zambia he was terified-literally shaking at the sight of so many flies.(I do not know why there were so many flies then because I don’t remember flies being a problem growing up) The dust gave us sore throats and whenever we wld drive to makeni we’ld ask the people driving us to please close the windows.Ofcourse we were perceived as snobs.It wasn’t intentional though

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  11. # 12 You just killed me! Kapenta na ****!!!!!!! Can anyone suggest anything that can beat that? Perfect combination. After the ka-meal, drink water like a thirsty cow and off to the bedroom for a fiesta. And then later wake up eat again! That is why food from Zed never lasts in my pantry…it’s like a kid in a chocolate factory to me! When can I come! Lol! I guess I have scared you now!

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  12. # 9 – You know what, I actually enjoy chibwabwa with groundnut, yes, but the groundnuts MUST come from the village. The groundnuts you buy in town grown with too much fertiliser and stuff don’t release the flavours that I want. Have you tried that? If you do you will never let go! My problem is always where to find village groundnuts – because you can’t tell from just the look on the market stall. And those big market women sellers will always tell you they are from the village, but they are lying! Those banamayos at markets are also cons, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for!

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  13. THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.
    No matter how poor your mother is, you are happiest when living with your mother. This tells why we always miss mother Zambia. Until you leave Zambia, you will never know how much Zambia mean to you. living in the diaspora teaches one thing; There’s no better place on earth than your mother land. Bills, Rent, mortgages, traffic infringements etc, are just some of the things which remind us that not every that glitters is gold. People long ago left villages to go work in the towns and came back with gifts for every relative. Today the same expectation is raging. Money in the diaspora is hard to find and people work very hard. Those left behind think that just because one is coming from abroad/overseas one is loaded with Dollars.

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  14. This is one view point that is hardly mentioned by most Africans in the diaspora. Not just Zambians. It is difficult and truly expensive coming back home but most of our people don’t understand that. It has to be said. Poignant article.
    I can truly see that Africa is one BIG continent. Lotsa similarities.
    Btw, that dish in the blue plate, what is that? Looks like cassava and chilli pepper?
    Ach, my two visits to Zambia have been memorable….from the smiling people on the streets to the always relaxed atmosphere. A far cry from your frowning *Southern* neighbors. Your boisterous night clubs and home parties. Most memorable was when I forgot my phone in the hotel in Lusaka and was called by the hotel after arriving home. It was returned to me in Lagos via courier. Wow moment.

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  15. So why don`t all those who miss home come back to Zambia then? Why did they in the first place decide to go and live in diaspora? This smacks of people who never appreciate. Why do people send their children to Unis in the west? How about Bob Mugabe spending time getting educated in the UK only for him to tell his people you don`t need to go there? Kamuzu? Gaddafi secretly sending his children to the west for education? Shut up you fools and learn to appreciate.And,by the way, I ate tasty Tilapia in London than the one we get here from Sewerages.How about that healthy Chibwabwa we get grown from deliberately blocked sewers? Muletasha ba Kolwe! I met a Brit who toldme about how he missed their horrible Steack and Kidney Pie!

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  16. Can Mushota comment about this article. Doesn’t she/he miss Zambia in anyway, not even Kapenta and vinkubala?

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  17. # 19 MULETASHA BA KOLWE – yes may be the Tilapia you have eaten so far is from sewerages. If I got you PROPER tilapia Zambian bream, caught in a rural area river like southern luapula or western province, there is no way the London tilapia can even dream of tasting better than those. The problem is that most of us just shuttle between London and Lusaka or Copperbelt…and then use that narrow experience to make comparisons. I travelled widely in Zambia before re-locating to UK and I know that life in urban areas in Zambia is crap compared to rural areas. The only problem is that if you listen to stories from rural areas they are mainly told by people who are struggling with life and so they have no time to look at what they have and appreciate it. But real gold is in rural areas!

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    • Muletasha ba Kolwe. My question is why did you relocate? Why didn`t you just remain in the rural areas of Zambia? I know you are the ***** that writes LT the Kolwe I was talking about. Read my post again. Muletasha ba Kolwe. There are a lot of people here in the rural areas of Zambia who would want to swap with you everyday. Waba I tall lay chi colour chawiso. Waba ba no call umushino ukununka. There will be a when you will remember this. Do youknow how our people are suffering in these rural areas? Akabukala ubunono satan nill all call!

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  18. Who is the author? Where is he/she based? Is it asking too much to include this in a footnote? How do expect us to comment on your articles LT? Is that even their real name?

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    • Hello Jay Jay,

      Thanks for commenting and wanting to know more about me. Yes that is my real name. I’m based in Melbourne, Australia. I run a website with my business partner called Diasporan Darlings (www.diasporandarlings.com), that is specifically geared to African Diasporans dealing with Life, Love and Work in the Diaspora. I hope that’s enough detail? :)

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  19. You have that right about people always expecting gifts . i once got a shock of my life when visited zed where my friends took me out to a restaurant  and after the bill arrived I was expected to pay for 8 people. After several visits I have learned my lesson not to be all hope foundation handing out gifts I just get gifts for few people I can afford to get something. You cannot please everyone it’s always almost a guarantee that someone will be hostile to you because you haven’t given them the ipad they asked for funnily enough which you cannot even afford.

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  20. Its so heartening to see how we yearn for our home grab form the diapora. #7 I would really shut up if someone sent me katapa with only onions and oil, smoked game and a lump of nshima. Any time.

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  21. BUT, isn’t just so shocking how our people can just siut back and expect to be fed, without shame? Does this signal a more serious problem that is showing evevn at national level, about the way people expect the government to provide everything for them even after they have drunk their entire salary. Even more shocking a lot of my friends who recently relocated to Zambia now always expect me to meet all their entertainment bills when we go out..in just a year or so for some of them they have already forgotten the sensibility they used to demonstrate here in the UK and have suddenly and DELIBERATELY transformed into ‘beggars’ – but I know the real problem is a lot of Zambians are selfish…always wanting to save and then later laugh at the people who have been giving them something.

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  22. LIFE HERE IN EUROPE CAN’T BE COMPARED TO ZAMBIA. WE LIVE HERE BUT WE ARE LOOKED AT AS “SECOND CLAS”. At home, you meet people and can join even in their conversation easily, here if you are waiting for a bus at the station, you mind your business. Life is stressful here. Racism is a painful reality.

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  23. This is one of the best written articles ever on this site. Is the author a writer, journalist or academic? I have not read such good writing in a long time … . Therefore, I am forced to agree with everything the author has written. Please continue writing!

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  24. At least here you can find sweet potatoes,okra ,kelembula sommetymes nabondwe ku ka congolese area.Kunta-kinte anytime my dear you welcome.

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  25. Expectations of goodies is not only the preserve of those in the diaspora.Maybe thats why corruption is widespread in zed because we expect those whom we percieve as better off to give us something.This includes those whom we elect as we see them being close to the national trough or as influence peddlers who can make deals happen.

    As for living abroad it is nice to tell the bare truth since there are citizens of these countries who are living hand to mouth.Its also an awakening feeling for zambians here who expected to find money on trees as it finally dawns on you that there’s no such thing as easy money and these countries made it by hard work while most zambians just wait for luck,connection or favours to make it.No other way but hard work.

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  26. Blame the song ‘a Phiri Ana bwela kuchoka ku Harare…..with an empty suitcase” People at home think ‘all’ good things come from abroad. One strategy that has worked well for our family is we just buy chocolates and other Cary right from shop rite after we arrive home and distribute them to anyone asking for a present from the states. We get just a few things for mostly close family members. Reality is that you can’t clothe everyone at even even if you have a stable professional job here. Also do not hesitate to say ‘I don’t have’ or I cannot afford your requests and your family and true friends will understand.

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  27. The problem is when you try to explain to the people back home ati yalikosa mu diaspora, they don’t believe you. As soon as you just finish explaining how stressed you are, they ask you for money.

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  28. Boy can I relate to the article, felt like words just came straight out of my head. Hope our counterparts in Zambia can spare some time to read and absorb this nicely written article. Can’t wait for next trip home. 

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  29. If you live in the UK let me tell you a secret …. When you travel change your monies into £5 notes to distribute to relatives .Bureau de change do not change £5 so your relatives will be coming back to you to change it and send it back when you come back to Engi and once the money comes back to you know that you would have pulled a fast one LOL !

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  30. So true what this article says, some expectations people have are are just plain ridiculous. Last time I went back, I just told everyone, dont expect anything, just be happy to see me and and dont ask what i have brought for you coz i’m not bringing anything except for kids under 15. Worked well.

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  31. Hi Mukuka! What a fantastic article! It was so heartfelt and clearly and plainly written. Some interesting dialogue and exchange of experiences via the comments section as well! I am really very, very proud of you; and wish you all the best with your writing and Diasporan Darlings!

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