By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. Emeritus Professor of Sociology
The dog may live around some desolate ramshackle dwelling with owners who do not even have left over food scraps. It desperately wanders all night searching for food. When the dog uncovers a discarded bone in some stinking rubbish pit or dump, it gently places the bone on the ground between its stretched paws. It first slowly licks the little bits of meat still left on the otherwise clean bone. As the dog is gnawing the bone, it says to itself: “I must be the luckiest dog in the world”.
Why do I always feel I am the luckiest dog alive? What does this feeling really mean? Do not get me wrong. I grew up in the crucible of typical African village in Lundazi in the Eastern Province of Zambia in Southern Africa. This was 64 years ago in 1959. We had one pair of clothes and often rags if we were lucky. We did not have running water, a car, modern medicine and material possessions. Growing up among deeply loving grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, numerous clan members, numerous friends that loved me far outweighed any negative impact of lack of modern material possessions. I cherish that love in the deepest part of my soul up to this day. As I was growing up, my parents and older siblings told me my twin brother had died of childhood diarrhea at nine months old.
There were challenges that the entire village had to overcome. During the difficult lean food supply or zinja farm growing period from November to February, we had one meal per day in the evening if the family was lucky. When the harvest period arrived from March to June, there was an abundance of food my grandparents harvested; sweet fresh maize or dobe, sweet potatoes, delicious flavorful pumpkins or squash, fresh peanuts, red kidney beans, peas, and great communal meals at the village mphala place.
In the absence of childhood vaccines, infant mortality was really high. I had to survive childhood diseases such as whooping cough, mumps, rubella, measles, diphtheria, malaria, childhood diarrhea, and many others.
My parents shepherded me through a difficult education system. The British pyramid education system Zambia inherited had major difficult exams from primary, secondary school at major points all the way to college or university. At those points, large numbers of my classmates did not qualify to go any further and were forced to drop out of school. I made it through numerous boarding schools all the way to my Ph. D and later to the rank of emeritus professor.
We were a family of 9 children; 6 girls and 3 boys. The greatest gift my parents gave us was that they supported us in school and getting a good education. But during the school holidays however, we worked in our family farm field using hoes. We worked toiling in the hot sun from early morning up to about 14:00 hours. I am thankful up to this day that hard physical work combined with working hard at school prepared us best for productive happy adult lives.
I have genuinely felt like the luckiest dog alive in everything that I have done because events in life and parents taught me about the power of humility. My parents demonstrated to us to be thankful for food, kindness from others, some successes and to be thankful for life itself. Three siblings passed away early in their lives. The death of a child impacts parents in an unimaginable way which in turn affects the deceased child’s siblings. What else would demonstrate to the surviving children how lucky they may be to be alive if not the death of their beloved sibling?
The wisest decision my parents made was to send me to Tamanda Dutch Church Reformed Mission Boarding School for 3 years. My being exposed to the Bible, worship, and power of spirituality was later to help me in my adult life whenever I faced any difficult life crises. During such moments, I have always found myself stumbling back to church in search of support from God.
Always living the life of the luckiest dog alive has helped me appreciate many good things that have happened in my life. For example, when I passed numerous major exams to move up in my education when so many others who were more intelligent than me did not qualify and when I got the job when people who were older and more experienced did not get it. When my girlfriend, and now my wife of 43 years, chose me to spend the rest of her life with and to even have children. What else would make you feel you are the luckiest dog alive when another person feels you are worthy of their deepest till death do us apart?
When I taught in college and university for 41 years, I always felt I was the luckiest dog alive because numerous people in the university had made an effort to recruit the 30 students who were now sitting in my class to listen to me. I felt I was the luckiest dog alive to teach my young students and be paid for the job I loved. I sincerely believe that if you do not have a shred of humility, you can never truly appreciate and enjoy life to the fullest even if you have great achievements. This is one of the great paradoxes of life.