By Sampa Kabwela
Welcome to Zambia! In addition to the anti-malaria tablets, mosquito repellent, sunscreen lotion, A-Z vitamins, maps, a copy of Lonely Planet, GPRS, energy bars – which we all have here – I thought I should share with you insider information into our men, the Zambian man. Oh! before I forget, this guide is written with the ‘Western’ woman in mind.
While in Zambia, should you find love or plan to marry a Zambian man, here are a few things you need to know in advance. By all means, this is just a guide; there are variations to the Zambian man and your experiences on the ground might as well be the opposite, but typically this is what you must expect.
First things first, our men don’t ‘split the bill!’ The Western idea of splitting bills is not Zambian. When a Zambian man invites you for dinner, he will not add the caveat ‘it’s on me’ because, by default, it’s on him. Our men are raised to settle dinner bills! If you meet a Zambian man who stares at the bill, disappears to the bathroom or expects you to pay half (without you offering or insisting) he is either a freeloader or has picked up the habit from the diaspora. It is not that we Zambian women can’t settle the bill, far from it, it is just what it is, men pay bills here. Ditch the equality argument. Here, men pay bills in the same way that you don’t open car doors for your men. Frankly, it can be shocking for us Zambian women who find ourselves on a date with your men to be expected to half pay for dinner, we don’t do that here, but we have now assimilated.
The display of affection in public, which comes naturally with your men; kissing, touchy-touchy doesn’t come naturally with our men. You will not be kissed in public or looked into the eyes every so minute and be re-told how much you are loved. It is not that our men are not romantic, or unloving, far from it, it’s just what it is over here. Affection is expressed in privacy and in most cases behind a locked bedroom door, not even the living-room is private enough. Some men, fresh from the diaspora kiss in public; looking all laboured, stiff and contrived as if under duress. Here, us women know what we know, our men love us and they do so relentlessly and hard.
If your idea of a man is one who can cook, run his own bath and clears the table after eating; you have arrived in a wrong country in search of a wrong man. Without exception, a Zambian man does not do dishes! He doesn’t cook either unless of course, he stays alone. This birthright cuts across class, religion, ideology and ironically even the most liberal and learned of them all. Even those who wear the Western diaspora badge of honour may adopt a questionable or even convincing accent, acquire the taste for salmon and even enjoy Mozart, but dishes they do not do!
Our men are Kings! Ruling over small kingdoms, some with as few as a single subject and living in palaces as little as one room, but mighty kings nonetheless. As a wife, this is how your palace life might look like – In the morning you will prepare or run a bath for the king, and you will also un-run it. It is his irrevocable right to have clean ironed clothes at all times as it is your irrevocable duty to ensure that all his clothes are clean and ironed at all times.
The right of your Zambian man to eat is solely your duty. He is incapable of fixing himself any meal even if its just pouring cereal, sugar and milk in a bowl. The kitchen is one area of the house he has little knowledge of; it’s a foreign land, a minefield.
Forget the culture so ordinary and common where you are coming from where the kitchen is the centre of the house, a place in which your lives are lived and shared, trading the goings of the day; where even if a man can’t cook, he helps with peeling onion, cutting tomatoes, keeps you company or minds the babies.
I will be pleasantly surprised if you will find yourself among our men one who can spend more than two minutes in the kitchen at any given time. You will be a special woman if the Zambian breed of a man you will find is one who can make a meal even once a year or one who can find sugar from the kitchen without turning the entire kitchen upside down.
If our everyday experiences are anything to go by, you will cook all the meals, juggle the children, run around and do all other things. For his part, he will await his meal while face-booking, texting, watching tv, anything, but the kitchen. After eating, do not expect the simple but loaded gesture of appreciation expressed by taking one’s plate to the sink. He can’t because by doing so, risks becoming less of a man stripped of respect and masculinity.
Pregnancy; our men don’t hang around in labour wards witnessing the messy and bloody business of birth. At most, he will be outside the labour ward. It will be pretty much a normal day for him, if he is the English premier league type, he will be watching his match until he gets the phone call from the hospital. The new baby will pretty much be your business too.
I can hear you dismissing this guide arguing that the man I describe is ancient, extinct, traditional and chauvinistic. The man I describe is young, Western-educated, liberal and exposed. When it comes to power structures and male privileges in a home, our men are notoriously traditional.
The Author is an artist, mother and works for an international development organisation. She can be reached on lyrical.zambia AT gmail DOT com