April finally arrived and everybody in the village was enthusiastically looking forward to the harvesting period and Elena’s wedding rituals which were to take place in two weeks’ time. Every young man was envious of Lubinda because he was going to wed the village’s most beautiful and intelligent girl. Stories about Elena’s wedding were the talk of the entire season; it seems the news had swarm to all nearby villages and everyone couldn’t wait to witness the ceremony. April came with its own feel and touch; it was hasty, slightly windy, cold, and always foggy in the morning and slightly shower rains here and there. April had a dry-wet smell; it was a wired month especially to Elena. April told sorrowful stories of how the witches where burned, how the able bodied men in the village died of lightening and many other mysterious stories. This was indeed a peculiar month of joy and laughter but it was also a sad month of sorrow and pain.
N’gandu had her own story to tell; despite her age it was clear to see that Elena had inherited her mother’s beauty and her father’s long nose. N’gandu was a daughter of a slave who was sold to a missionary white man before Zambia’s independence, her father was strong as two bulls combined, he was tall and as dark as two nights combined. N’gandu’s father was sadly sold in slavery to go work in the plantation fields in the west and ever since no one knows if he died or if he may be still alive. N’gandu often avoided talking about her life; she always hated narrating stories to her children but she was very wise and spoke less. She was leader of the women’s harvesting group and the chairman in her church committee.
To prepare Elena for her wedding rituals, tradition required her to stay with her grandparents who would teach and cleanse her. Later that day Elena took off for “Chasaya” village were her grandmother had lived. On her way there she was accompanied by a novel written by a revolutionary white man; in one chapter of the novel the author describes the city of London- as follows;
“Simply busy and mild. Concrete jungle of tall buildings that block the sun’s rays. This city is evil and selfish, highly capitalistic in nature, every man for himself and hence the motto is kill another for one’s survival”
After reading this novel, Elena often wondered if such a city really existed. The thought of it scared the ghosts in her head and she would quickly cast a spell on such a city. Before she could finish reading, Elena arrived at her grandmother’s house and quickly approached Chipakwa who sat on her western fur thatched mat.
Elena -“Good afternoon grandmother, I missed your presence so much. I’m sure you know why am here right?”
Chipakwa – “Afternoon my poor granddaughter, I see neglect in your eyes, your voice sounds very sorrowful and your mood is very evil like the gods of thunder. Before you quickly interrupt let me remind you of something;
My daughter, I shall always remind you of your worth not your beauty
Everyday beauty is given and worn by all women in this village
Knowing your worth can save your life
Beauty will starve you; you will be raw like the mupapa fruit.
You will be weak! Knowing your worth is what will liberate you, unify you and take you home- yes! I mean home, real home.
Elena- “Grandmother you speak so well and meaningful, in fact you read through me it’s so bizarre. Grandmother I do not want to marry that man. I want to learn, finish my education and make a difference in this village, is that too much to ask for? Is it a crime for women and girls to have aspirations in the same way boys do? Is it evil of me to object to this? Why can’t we change tradition and allow girls to marry only when they feel like marrying!?.. why can’t we question our own ways and if necessary adopt new methods? Grandmother I’m simply tired and angry. My blood boils of pain, my head is bigger than before, my teeth gnash like an anxious woman waiting to give birth, and I carry a heavy spirit in my heart that has slowly taken hostage of me. I do not know who I am anymore, perhaps I will be remembered as a nobody or if the gods truly exist I’d rather be described as the “The untold follicle journey of a black girl” a very tired and angry girl.
Chipakwa- Heavy sigh*……
“My daughter, the gods are always with us in us for us. You have spoken so unapologetically with a heavy heart. I shall not forsake you. I shall not be an accomplice in the murder of a great girl; I shall not allow the granddaughter of a woman who survived a crocodile infested river to go unnoticed. My daughter I shall free you.”
After Elena and Chipawa’s long intense conversation, the duo proceeded to the kitchen and prepared “Chikanda”, (Orchid tubers combined with ground peanuts and chillies) lumanda (traditional vegetable leaves mixed with pounded groundnuts) and finished the cooking by preparing nshima. After eating the delicious meal, Chipakwa decided to take some fresh air out and gaze at the beautiful full dark moon. Elena followed her outside and an awkward silence sung in their ears.
“Grandmother, it’s a full moon and its radiant energy is just magnificent. But let’s finish our afternoon conversation….what shall I do?” Elena was anxious at hearing what Chipakwa would say, she quickly moved close to her and stirred in her grandmothers old weary eyes. Chipakwa took a deep breath and proceeded to say;
“My lovely Elena you’re fast like the cheetah but slow like the chameleon, you’re the fruit of my labor that will remove shame on me and bring forth joy on “we” the women. Tomorrow morning I shall call your uncle, Mupapa to await your arrival in the city….I warn you keep this a secret because you shall elope at night. I will give you some money tomorrow morning and it is tomorrow when the sun sleeps that you shall elope out of this village.”
Morning came by quickly as if they had only slept for an hour or two. Elena and Chipakwa did their routine farm work that day. Later in the day Chipakwa handed Elena K300 (Old currency, K30 new currency) and told her to keep it for her long journey that night. Chipakwa quickly rushed to a nearby fee paying telephone agent of which she echoed the coming of her granddaughter to the city (on phone). Elena quickly packed and the time to escape had arrived. Chipakwa was too old to escort her granddaughter all the way to the station therefore all should could do was offer a kiss and her last words to Elena;
“Don’t be to civilized for your mother
Don’t be too foreign for your people
Remember your grandmother is an uneducated poor woman that cannot speak any English.
It shall be well with you.”
Elena couldn’t help but cry and strod out running to catch the 3AM bus to Lusaka. She ran as quickly as she could with tears in her eyes until she could weep no more. She was just on time and took the 3rd seat near the driver. After the bus was fully packed with people and commodities, the engine was warmed and off, the journey begun.
It’s 5 o clock in the morning, I wake up and open my windows to enjoy the clean fresh air, to emit the negative energy and allow myself to think and reminisce about the events to follow.
The fresh air reminds me of who I am, it’s so gentle like sweet cream and it hits my face just the right way as though it’s caressing me. The sun rays begin to effortlessly shine on me and expose my glow… I yawn and smile from nowhere. As I’m enjoying this I stumble on myself and think, who am i? Who have I been and who am I going to be one day?.
Elena is an 18 year old girl in Chinsali district, she has 8 other siblings and the only girl in her family to attain her levels of education – grade eight. Elena has dreams of becoming a novelist and an English teacher; she often read almost everything and anything she could lay her hands on. She borrowed books from her school and would read them at the top of the hill- alone and often envisioning herself in the book characters she read. Her favorite novel was “Things fall apart” by African author Chinua Achebe. She read this novel not once but twice , thrice then again and again and often cried at the finishing end of the novel. She wondered why tradition allows women to worship men and does not allow men to be emotional beings or show vulnerability. These questions bothered her so much that she was always arguing with her English teacher about women’s rights, feminism, African tradition and racism to mention but a few. Each time Elena felt grieved, sadness and terror she remembered her favorite words from her grandmother, Chipakwa.
“Dear my granddaughter, remember how to weep without filling your blood with pain. You must remember never to cut your hair out of anger. You must remember never to curse at the person staring at you through the mubange mirror; even when you cannot remember her face, even when her eyes hold an ocean of pain, You must remember how to hold yourself back from hurting others when your anger swells into days. You must learn how to heal yourself when the nights make it seem impossible.”
Consequently the native people in “lukaleshi” village do not believe in women’s education, at the current scene of the moment Elena’s mother is currently looking for a good husband for her. Often her mother would tell her,
“We are women whose hearts carry cancer that continues to harm us but silently we endure….
We are the heart beats of our village and the door to sustain our lineage…
Elena my daughter, you have blossomed to be a red rose gentle yet thorny.
I have spoken to Mr Nalikwanu and his son, Lubinda wants to wed you as his wife.
Upon hearing this, Elena would respond in a very hash disappointing tone. Mother I’m not like every other single girl in this village, I have aspirations and dreams! I want to be a novelist and teach English in the city, why is that so hard for you to understand!?
Elena’s mother N’gandu proceeded to make plans and arrange her daughters traditional wedding which was to take place in four market days on the 16th of april, to be exact.