Monday, October 1, 2012

A Westernized Zambian Kitchen Party

On Friday, Courtney and I were to start off to my sister, Mwaka’s, kitchen party in Kabwe, two hours from where we live in Chamuka. That night we would have stayed up all night dancing with my sisters. Unfortunately, because of the program scheduled to finish up PST (Pre-Service Training), Peace Corps would not allow us to leave early, and we had to depart the next morning. I woke up at 4am, put on my beige chitenge suit patterned with elephants and hunters with spears, and ate my breakfast. My sister Ruthie said that she had arranged for a vehicle to come to take us to Kabwe, and that it would arrive there at 6am. Courtney, her host mother, and her host baby sister, Lina, walked down to our house and shortly after, the vehicle was there- a ‘canter’, which is basically an open-back truck. The bed of the truck was about 8ft long, and had three wooden benches in it, two of which were laying down. Courtney and I climbed into the bed of the pick-up and took our seats on the wooden bench, and then our hosts, as well as 4 other women climbed in too. We took off down the bumpy dirt road, and stopped a little later, as a few Zambians came running up to the truck to hitch a ride. This occurred quite frequently during the journey, with Zambians boarding and alighting at different times; at one point in time we counted 26 of us on this truck. Because we had not picked up the other two wooden benches, everyone squished onto the floor of the truck or sat on the railings. One of the wooden benches had my feet pinned under me and was pressed against my shins, so every time we hit a bump (which was every half a second), the bench would slam into my shins and I quickly got knots and bruises up and down my lower leg.

After a long journey, we finally made it to Kabwe around 8:30. My sister told us to leave our things in the truck, and we would walk around the BOMA (which is a small town, stands for British Overseas Management something). Little did Courtney and I know that we’d be hanging out in the BOMA pretty much all day. We went into a few stores, looking for something for my sister Ruthie to buy for Mwaka as a Kitchen Party/Wedding gift. After a while, she decided on some kitchen pots, and we then ventured into a Shoprite grocery. I was carrying my baby niece, Jesska, in a carrier on my front, and I got a lot of strange looks and overheard a few conversations about a white/blonde woman carrying a black baby. But I’d just smile and kiss her on the forehead and act like she’s mine. J We went and found some tuck shops, drank some cold water (you don’t get cold things very often here!!!, this is something to write home about), ate some bread, and then found our way to some shacks in the back of a parking lot, which would look completely sketch and I probably would have never ventured into alone, or even in America, but sketch is just the way that things look here even when they aren’t. Our hosts sat us down in a little shack that was playing music, handed us the two babies, and then said they’d be right back. A few hours later, Courtney and I started to wonder if they’d left us with their screaming crying one year olds and ran away, and we thought about calling our language teacher to see what we should do. Thankfully they returned, but the wait was still not over. They wouldn’t really let on to what was going on, and by now it was 1pm, and they still hadn’t mentioned the kitchen party or when we would go there. However, I know that we are on Zam time now, so I didn’t bring it up. I figured it would happen when it was meant to happen.

We eventually got in a taxi around 2pm, and it took us out to a very fancy pre-school. This is where the kitchen party was to be held. Now, before I talk about what the kitchen party actually was, I will mention what I had been told/what I thought the kitchen party would be like. From my understanding, we would be with a few women, out in the bush, with a couple of drums. From what I’ve been told, the kitchen party is where older women (but never the mother of the bride, it’s forbidden for her to talk about sex with her children) would show the bride different dances that represent different sex positions and sexual acts. They would school her in ways to please her husband, as they are supposed to have sex on the first night of their marriage. On the night of the marriage, the older women will place money on the bed under the sheet, and the couple is to do the dirty, and if the man finishes, then they will place the money a certain way. If the sex was good and the man is able to finish, this means that the marriage will be good. However, if he doesn’t, then the women will come in and know that the marriage will not go through. Anyways, back to the kitchen party assumptions. I’ve been told that while the women are doing these dances to the drums in the bush, the bride has to get naked and climb a tree, the tree signifying as the man. When we present the presents that we have brought for the bride, we are supposed to dance with our hips. To my understanding, men are not allowed to be present during the kitchen party.

How it really was: As we pulled up to the preschool in the taxi, I heard loud, American music blasting from speakers within the school walls. When we entered, we saw many white chairs, streamers, balloons, a fancy table splayed with hot food trays, a huge sound system set up with 5 young men DJing, and many awnings. And there was an actual brand new kitchen, pretty much. There were cabinets and table tops, an oven/stove, a microwave, a dining room table, and reed mats full of gifts for the brides kitchen- everything brand new and sitting out there on the cement. The guests were dressed in beautiful chitenge dresses, even the little kids running around popping balloons were wearing their Sundays best. My host mom came out, wearing a gorgeous gold ensemble with some major earrings and a brand new hair wig; she looked beautiful, and I was so happy to see her, as she’d been gone for a few days. She told me that Mwaka had just arrived and was in the back of the pre-school, and invited me to go take pictures of her. When I walked into the back room with my big fancy camera, I was really surprised to see Mwaka looking so sullen, almost as if she was drugged. She looked amazing, in a white and black chitenge dress and her hair pulled back and decorated with white beads, her makeup done just like brides in America would have it. But she just looked so sad, she wouldn’t smile, wouldn’t say a single word, and would only look down at the ground.

After a lot of sitting around and waiting (and me taking a million pictures of the kids dancing), the women started to beat the drums and it was announced that Mwaka was coming out. She was preceded by a girl dressed in, what I assume, is the traditional woman dancer-wear, beads covering her face, shakers on her legs, and other things I can’t find the words to describe- see picture. As this girl danced in front, Mwaka was led out by one woman in front of her and one woman behind her. Except you couldn’t see Mwaka, she was in the middle of the two women, covered by a chitenge, almost like a non-transparent veil, almost like a Chinese dragon. They led her to the porch, where they sat her down on a mattress, still covered, and stared at the ground. The MC of the party sang obnoxiously over the music, and women came and danced, with distinguished control of their hips and badonkadonks. A while later, Mwaka’s husband arrived, wearing a chitenge suit that matched her dress. Although he didn’t smile, he looked a lot happier to be there than she did. His entrance was also preceded by a group of women dancing, which led him to the stairs beneath where Mwaka was seated. After some tribal songs and dances, he was then able to slowly roll the chitenge that covered Mwaka back, revealing her to the rest of the party. After he had uncovered her, the MC made him hug her and kiss her, which neither of them seemed to want to do, and then he presented her with baskets and fruit, she presented him with a basket of fruit, and people came up to place money around them. Mwaka then laid on the ground and clapped three times for him, then rolled over to her other side and clapped three more times before getting up, covered in dirt. This was then done for her mom, as they presented the couple to both of their mothers. The entire time, Mwaka did not look up or smile, but she did cry when she hugged her mom.

The group of women danced Mwaka and her husband to the entrance, where she hugged him goodbye, and then returned to her spot on the mattress to stare at the ground some more. It was then announced that food was being served, and although it was just getting started, we were supposed to leave at 17 hr, which is was already passed. They said Courtney and I should eat first, of which we were stoked about because 1) we were starving and 2) they had beer. Beer that was free, and beer that was cold. We stocked up (actually, the lady handed us each two from the get-go, without us asking) and chugged them down along with our food. At that time, my sister said that we had to go, for the canter that drove us here was about to leave. But of course, we couldn’t leave without presenting our gift to Mwaka and dancing! Courtney almost got out of it, until I said that I couldn’t dance without my other Muzungu, and that the gift was from both of us (we got her a toaster) so we had to present it together. So, the dance floor cleared and we shook our butts, to everyones amusement. When I turned around everyone had their cameras out and were smiling and laughing. Everyone except Mwaka. I told her I loved her, to which she did not respond but continued looking at the ground, I grabbed a few more free beers for the road, and we headed out. When we arrived back at the truck we found that it was completely full! There wasn’t any room for us to sit in it. However, because we had already paid the man to take us there and back, and we had hired him for the day, he had to make room for us. Or rather, we had to make room for ourselves. We climbed over and on people to get in, I ended up sitting with one cheek on a tire on the floor, squished up into the fetal position, with my sister sitting on one of my knees and Courtney’s mom sitting half on me. Courtney got to sit on the bench instead of on the floor by peoples feet and crotches, (I HATE FEET!!!!! AND THEY SMELLED!!!!) , but I can’t say that she got a better seat than I did. One of her legs was hanging over the edge of the truck, she was holding my 1 yr old niece, and there was a man sitting on the cab of the truck dangling his legs onto Courtney’s shoulders. We were definitely squished. How squished, you ask? We counted 49 Zambians in the back of that truck. People were standing up and surfing back, because there was no room for them to sit. Definitely not safe, but the driver was trying to make money. My legs fell asleep, my foot was bent in a weird position, I had shooting and throbbing pains up my leg and into my back, and it was hot as hell… But you know what? I didn’t hate it. Because it’s the Zambian culture and I got to experience it. I got to experience how they transport when their only other option is to walk for a few hundred kilometers. And after an hour or so, people started getting off as we would pass their villages, until there was enough room for us to maneuver, and I could join Courtney and sit on the bench. Then when enough of them had gone and there were only the few of us that had started off together left, I got to sit on the edge of the truck, under a beautiful night sky with an almost full moon, and watch the road come ahead of us as the cool wind blew past my face and I thought: how lucky am I to be in this beautiful country.

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