"I was barely eight or nine, years ago in a village at Kolwe, Mibenge, Mansa/Samfya, Luapula Province. All I saw around me were crusted ground, and plenty of sunshine. Groundnuts, so-called imbalala and cassava leaves, also known as katapa, waved 'good evening' to those returning from a hard-day work. I sighed - I lacked most physical prowess my counterparts had - and all I had was a young opining brain. I thought about the future; it, indeed, looked bleak, hopeless, and even unmanageable. At that time someone had already introduced me to a pencil and paper. In my deep thoughts, I wrote down, at first, ineligible, and then with the passage of time, much, much clearly. Perhaps I said something like: "When I grow older, I will turn these underused lands into glorious reserves for food and joy." Or perhaps, like most young boys I said, "Oh, who is going to deliver me from this poverty!"
Fast forward. It was September or October 2007. I returned to Mibenge's village. This time with a pen and a paper. I interviewed the last living, immediate aunt. She told me how my ancestors trekked from the Luba Empire into the then modern Mansa area - famously named “Ubwaushi!" Someone told me, "Groundnuts, not Mansa or Samfya is the authentic Ubwaushi.' This reminded me of Mr. Silungwe, my 4th grade teacher at Luano Primary School in Kapisha, Chingola, Zambia. He told me once that, 'Children who come from Mansa-Samfya don't fail in mathematics - because they eat groundnuts and also fish from Lake Bangueulu.'
Let me not get lost in memory lane, so there I was back at Kolwe (or monkey's) village. I took my usual trip to Kolwe's stream, to fish. I didn't catch many fish that day. But I thought a lot - just about everything - whom I should marry; how many children should I have; where I would go to learn how to change lives, for good; and where I would be in ten to fifteen years from then.” I was a Christian, a very committed Christian, and still, I am. But even then, I knew that there were more to life than simply frolicking in the azure skies of a clear sun lit Luapula.
Then an idea popped into my mind, "Land, all this land – and sky – and streams – and why would anyone still be poor?"
“Ba mulamu[my brother-in-law], it seems you will come out number one – since you transferred here you have been getting everything, on tests, and all classwork. I have never seen such an intelligent boy in all my life.” Those were the words of my brother-in-law, Henry Mangisha (late husband to my sister Mary). But those words fell on deaf ears. For me, school was just a chivalrial cavort; I only relished the joy of blasting numbers in Maths, untangling English grammar and canvassing the jovial relics in Social Studies. Oh, let me not forget, and the play-boyhood of what we called science. It never occurred to me that I was learning – it was all a game – and I was enjoying it.
It should explain why one innocent day I just saw one delicate figure approach my desk, naively squeezing itself nearest, should I say, closest to me (in Canada, we would say, “Invading my private space.”)
“Hi, my name is Theresa, Theresa Musonda, may I sit?”
Well, she was already sited, did I have a choice. “Of course," I retorted shyly.
Then this bold, unprovoked, and unusual shout to the class, “Listen everybody,” she began. “From today onwards, Charles will be mine; I don’t want anyone close to him, but me.”
Did I just hear correctly? Theresa had just proposed to me openly and owned me in one single vocal. (Don’t take it to heart – we were just a little boy and girl – but don’t underestimate it, either. Because this childish infatuation lasted for as long as I remained in Kapisha). What can I say? The rest became history. Of course, this was celebrated by contemporaries like Mary Namukonda Chimaramafundo (If you didn’t know, in Namwanga, it simply means, “Mary, I love you …”).
You heard or read me rightly. In Africa, in one name you could sing, retell the ancient past and even predict the future. African names are not given lightly – and it is no wonder it pains me that we are losing them fast and furious to foreign nomenclatures. It does pain me less that I am named Charles than that I could have been called anything else. I have attempted to bembalize one of my daughter’s names, Tashany, literally, “Thank you,” or “Tasheni” in Bemba. It makes me feel a little bit better. Anyways, names and their sociology aside.
It was not Theresa but Christine Nankamba who ended up becoming my desk buddy, almost for the entire primary school life. (It makes me remember, in college here in Canada – I had another buddy named Katy, a brilliant Russian-Ukrainian pretty – she was my desk buddy for the entire four-year period – inseparably.)
That, too, aside, let us continue from where I was, again, where? Oh, it was still at Luano Primary School, and Henry was prancing through my books and noticing that each grade was 100%. And it didn’t end there – just about throughout all my primary education, every mark was a total blockbuster.
Kapisha and Luano are forever engrained in my soul. Next time, I will tell you more about my loved ones – batata bashi-Bwalya, bamayo-bana-Bwalya, my cousins Bwalya, Agnes, Godfrey and Chibesa. Batata bashi-Bwalya, my cousins Bwalya, Chibesa (Zambia remembers Chibesa as that famous musician who sang “Isambo Lyamfwa”), Godfrey, and even Theresa, are all late – and I want them to know that I haven’t mourned them yet. Things happened so fast for me; trying to hem out a life and an education in new lands and places, all I could was only drop a frozen tear. But I have long longed to visit their graves and plant a flower.
Indeed, you were my Kapisha, my innocence and conscience. I miss you all, dearly!
As I write now, I am thinking. I felt a complete sense of hopelessness sometimes growing up in Kapisha. And what kept me afloat was a belief in education. You see, it does not matter where you were born or in what compound, village, squalor or favella you may have been brought up – an education can be a common denominator. The future belongs to those who learn – and for me, it is a weapon against poverty.
Luano Primary School was just a walking distance from Number One Luswishi Street where I lived, astride our residence. And our immediate neighbor was the residence of the Kapisha Catholic Parish priests’ residence. You will hear more about my rendezvous with the Catholic priesthood later, but for now, let me tell you something you should want to know about two of my favorite schools in Zambia.
Luano itself was the laughingstock of all schools in Chingola, literally. In sports we performed poorly, in academics, we were last, and in extra-curricular activities we were at the bottom of the ladder. No-one, as far as I can remember, wanted to either enlist at Luano or be associated with Luano. It was, indeed, a school relegated to the poorly brought-up of Kapisha compound.
But Luano would be my prize and reward for the five years of my primary school life there.
When I went to Luano in Grade Two, it was only routine. However, when I learned how other schools despised us, I purposed to change Luano’s academic history and outlook. I began to work hard. I joined every club imaginable at Luano. I even played in the soccer senior squad.
In academics, I was the cream of the school. As I have already mention, I came out first from Grade Two Term Two until I completed my Grade Seven. I can only remember coming out number 14 once, because I had missed two subjects on Mr. Silungwe’s examination. That term, I believe it was in Grade Four Term Three, Beatrice Chansa came out number one.
I remember because this was significant; I had never known any other number except number one. From then on with Mr. Mbewe as my new teacher, I cruised on to Kabundi Secondary School with flying colors.
During the Second Republic, primary schools gave prices for those who came out tops of their class. That’s how I managed to get the necessary school supplies for the next grades. I came out number one, and each time I went home with a cache of pencils, books, and etc. that way, despite our struggle and poverty, I guaranteed myself an uninterrupted supply of what mattered most to me – my education.
You see, Kapisha was where one jumped from the hot pan into the fire. Boys became men before their maturation. For me, at least, it took longer than most boys in Kapisha. I remember those boyish conversations, each week a boy would reach puberty, and earned their bragging rights. Initiation ceremonies were festive in Kapisha. For girls, it was public knowledge. However, for boys, information became available only in soccer fields. There, you would frequently hear – “You’re not playing according to the rules, no wonder you’re not yet a man!”
That was the biggest insult “undeveloped” boys, as they were called, could receive. That’s why it became a bragging right when it happened. For me, I had one strength – academic genius – and it equalized me with the “developed” – among them, Charles Pandos. He, apparently, had an unscheduled “brothel” – where he “educated” boys into manhood. I should confess, I tried to visit it twice – just to fit in with everyone else, but both trips were a disaster. But don’t ask me how and why.
You see, looking back, I have been very proud of myself, relative to the Sodom & Gomorrah in which I found myself. It was not unusual for pretty girls in Kapisha to gang up against me complaining that I didn’t think they were pretty enough – because I didn’t look at them twice.
Honestly, we had mpopos(beautiful girls) in Kapisha. But poverty frightened me; I had made a choice to come out of the pan into the breeze, and not into the fire. That’s why, I could be wrong, but I think, among all my peers, I am the only one to have made it out of Kapisha, either alive or with academic progress, at that time.
My late uncle, bashi-Bwalya, always told my late cousin, Godfrey, and his friends, “Look at Charles, he’s always disciplined – that’s what you should all emulate.” May his soul continue to rest in peace.
Then I made it to Kabundi Secondary School.
At the time, Kabundi was one of the three leading secondary schools in Chingola; the other two were Chingola and Chikola. There were other prestigious private secondary schools in Chingola as well.
At Kabundi, I found enormous competition in Edward Chembeya. Edward and I had been acquainted with each other when we were in primary school. He attended Twateka Primary School in Chingola’s Riverside. Twateka is translated “We Lead.” He had heard about my academic progress at Luano through some of his classmates who resided in Kapisha. I had become so famous that the brightest students from other schools became aware of me.
It was under these circumstances that Edward came to see me in Kapisha one day. I could see that he was very disappointed. Rather than finding a huge, taller boy, he found this young, small, and ruddy boy. From then, Edward and I followed each other’s progress very critically. Going to Grade Eight, we took a National Grade Seven Leaving Examination. It was a standard examination administered throughout the country. I beat Edward by three points. And Edward was not happy. At Kabundi, as though in submission to a common fate, we found ourselves in the same class, Grade Eight B, at Kabundi Secondary School.
Our relationship improved tremendously. We did, however, become rivals in another way. We competed against each other while competing on behalf of our class in school quizzes and debates. One of our former classmates at Kabundi attests to our competitiveness: “Kabundi was a successful venture because of you guys [Charles and Edward] who sparked that spirit of competition in me.” Our class always nominated Edward and I to represent it in debates, quizzes, and various competitions. Edward and I always came out tops. Because our class took it for granted that the Charles-Edward duet would always win, it began to monitor our individual responses in competitions.
I remember in one inter-class competition, a huge quarrel ensured. A section of our class claimed I did much better than Edward in mathematics and science. Another section claimed Edward did better than me in general knowledge. There was so much credibility in this brawl. If the other section believed Edward did better than me in general knowledge, it was right.
I will pause here on Edward; I will tell you more how our relationship evolved later.
In Bemba they say, “Umwana ashenda atasha nyina ukunaya,” (literally, one who is less travelled, only appreciates their mother’s cooking). The Bemba people of Zambia believe in mobility. They believe that exposure to a wider world is necessary in opening up people’s worldviews. I did better in academic subjects because I had access to books and class notes. However, I had no access to television, newspapers, or radio from which most of the current affairs questions in the general knowledge category of the quiz emanated.
In Kapisha compound, radio was a luxury. Only a few households owned radios. During soccer matches we would be glued to a small radio listening to commentaries by Dennis Liwewe or his son Ponga. Television was not even heard of; I knew televisions existed, but my family did not own one.
I was missing on a great deal of what went on in Zambia. That is why I read anything my eyes gazed upon. (I remember once when he visited us, my brother, Charles Chibwe, sharply rebuked me because I kept picking up every newsworthy piece of paper I found on the ground). That’s one of the ways I was informed – and as fate would have it, I ended up knowing more than my contemporaries.
I sometimes imagined if I had the exposure some students had at Kabundi! I always came first in my class, but not without great sacrifice. Lack of access to information is a challenge. Information is absolutely necessary for development. I struggled to know what was going on in the country. Lack of a radio or television or access to information impacted negatively on my perception of life. The only place I was familiar with was Kapisha and anything outside of it was unknown to me.
When children grow up without proper information, they fail to innovate, and this has devastative consequences on the overall development of a nation. For example, in Kapisha where we had no access to information, our only window to the world was rumors. Whether those rumors were true or not, we believed them. In other words, lack of information leads to lack of innovation and independent rational thinking. In societies where access to information is limited or non-existent, poverty and ignorance rank high.
As I moved to Canada later on in life, I realized that Zambian children and Canadians or children from the developed nations are all the same except that the latter have early access to information. This disparity explains why kids from the rich and developed nations grow up with the capacity and nurtured inclination towards technological, scientific, and artistic development. Moreover, rich kids have a rare privilege to have necessary resources available to experiment and invent.
I lacked both proper information and resources. But I was as bright. Because whenever I have written an exam or performed a task with those who have grown up with information and resources, we all fair equally well and most of the time I have carried the day. For example, when I was in college in Canada, I always obtained honors.
Most people have read my books. I have written no less than 30, and more are in the offing. At the minimum, God willing, I would love to have at least 100 titles to my name before I join my ancestors, siblings, friends, brothers, and sisters who have made it to glory.
But do you know that I failed my first English Composition in Secondary School?
In the 1990 Grade Eight Term One test at Kabundi in English Composition, I got a zero out of 40. I wrote that English Composition test with no knowledge of how a Composition should be written. In fact, I had written everything in one paragraph: No introduction, no content body, and no conclusion. Mr. Musonda, our teacher in the English subject, had no pleasant words for me. I deserved a zero. But I had made up for it in other sections of the test, such as in Comprehension and Grammar. So, no-one noticed.
I failed the Composition part of the test because I had no access to information. I knew what to say, but not how to say it. Like most kids from the poor shanty-compounds without libraries and community educational facilities, the only means of information we had was a teacher. If the teacher also hailed from a poor educational system, you could only imagine how impoverished the quality of learning. With all the challenges I faced in Grade Eight Term One, I decided to move heaven and earth and do better in the Mock Examination.
The following term, and importantly because it counted in the scheme of competition, especially with Edward, I enlisted the help of Kenneth Chenga. Kenneth loved to study. He taught me the fundamentals of a good Composition. True to his assistance, I went ahead and came out top of all four Grade Eight classes at Kabundi Secondary School that year. Later, during the Mock Examinations in Grade Nine, I was number one, leaving everyone far behind, including Edward.
However, Edward settled the scores in the final examinations.
Both Edward and I were accepted at Hillcrest Technical Secondary School, at that time, one of the schools for the cream of Zambia’s secondary education system. In fact, after writing our Grade Nine examinations Edward and I found ourselves in the same neighborhood in Lusaka’s Emmasdale Township. And it was Edward who informed me that I had been accepted at Hillcrest.
At Hillcrest, Edward and I again found ourselves in the same class.
This time, we were mature enough to know that school was not all about competition. Besides, at Hillcrest we had found those who matched our wits and even exceeded them, like Sweathen Mwenefumbo; a true born genius!
However, after completing our secondary school education at Hillcrest, Edward attended Mpelembe Secondary School in Kitwe and completed his Cambridge University A-Levels and subsequently attended Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. He graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science degree (with Honors) in Exploration Geology and has since attended the London Business School, focusing on executive and leadership.
He has worked in various Senior Project Management capacities in the mining and minerals exploration industry. He has a passion for languages and inspiring others and his personal philosophy is that anyone who chooses to work in his team must accept that he, Edward, is the minimum standard; they must do better than him and he facilitates this for anyone with the right attitude, ambition, and ability. He says of the enormous competition we had:
“Contrary to what the ‘competition’ looked like, for me it was a blessing that you (Charles) were there because I would have just become comfortable with beating everyone and I would have definitely drowned in the sea of mediocrity. It was ‘Formative Competition’ and very much similar to kids coming from rich homes playing with toys except our toys were more serious and included books, test tubes, brains, and etc.
“It was God’s plan for us, my friend, and we must just thank him for putting the two of us in the same place at the same time during those formative years – imagine how easy and boring it would have been without the challenge we posed to each other? I can almost guarantee you that we wouldn’t have made it to Hillcrest and everywhere else we have been….
“And like you, my friend, I resorted to books because I came from a poor background, even in Riverside, I had no access to TV, and etc., so I used to call school and studying as ‘my extracurricular activity’ besides life on the streets. It was just Riverside by name but very much Kapisha by practical existence and because I am a very private person, my sufferings and troubles are never on the outside, always inside.”
(Fate dictated our coincidences; we met again in Canada in the early 2000s when Edward was sent by his company to conduct a feasibility study). Edward and I, are more than just friends; we are siblings from different parents.
Shortly before going to Hillcrest in Grade Nine Term Three, two events had taken place which would shape my philosophy of life and my conviction of a democratic society, respectively.
First, I had become a Born-Again Christian. The circumstances leading to my conversion were purely by accident. I had asked my best friend, Elijah Sinyinza (I will have more to talk about Elijah later), if I could stay with him during the days leading up to the examinations. I did so for two reasons: I wanted to be near to Kabundi Secondary School; and I wanted to take advantage of electricity which we did not have in Kapisha compound. Elijah lived with his brother in the Nchanga mine area.
And this is how I converted. Before that, I had been greatly impacted by a piece of leaf I found from the Book of Revelation. You will recall that my brother had to constantly rebuke me because I picked up every piece of readable material I found on the ground. One time, fortune had shined upon me: I picked up a leaf from the Holy Bible – I can’t exactly remember the circumstances, but I found myself engrossed into the only part I had – the part which showcases the four living creatures who rested neither day nor night, saying,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
Later, I learned that it was from Revelation 4:8.
This was my first baptism into the love for Scriptures and poetry. I recited those lines till I composed my own private song. Each time I was low and down, I sang those lines back to myself and to a God (with whom I had no phantasmal relationship).
Whether it was God who directed me to stumble upon those lines, or it was merely my usual crazy obsession with reading, God will clarify that someday in Heaven.
One particular Sunday in 1991, one of Elijah’s sisters-in-law, for Elijah’s late brother had married three wives and all of them resided in one house, asked Elijah and I to accompany her to a church called National Church. She had invited us several times and we had declined, citing the impeding examination as our excuse.
This time, however, she caught us, enticing us, “There will be a dramatic performance today at church.” I consented to accompanying her, not only because there would be a dramatic performance at her church, but importantly because I wanted her God to help me in my examinations.
At church, that morning, there was a scintillating dramatic performance. The theme was simple. A very rich and educated man was about to die. He gathered his family around to bid them farewell. Upon his death, his first-born son remarked, “With all the education and riches my father had, he failed to buy his own soul!”
To say that I was deeply touched with that aside will be an understatement. That entire week my focus was disoriented.
At that time, I only loved two things: education and soccer. I was so good at playing soccer that most people thought I would be a national soccer star. I had not to be. Second, I loved school to an extent that I dreamed writing and failing examinations very often. I would wake up immediately and begin studying. The other reason that motivated me to study hard was my fear of continuing in poverty. At the time, there was not so much prospect in soccer in terms of poverty relief. Education was the only thing that gave me hope of changing my poor economic circumstances. So, I did not compromise when it came to my schooling. I did everything to succeed in exams. And I always did!
However, that week I began serious soul-searching. It was like the dramatic performance I had watched that week was challenging my priorities. I was so convicted that for the first time I asked Elijah to go back to that same church the coming Sunday. Elijah agreed. After reaching the National Church, we found that there was no-one there. We looked at ourselves and remembered that it was announced that the National Church would be visiting a sister church the following Sunday.
Elijah and I decided to visit another church in the vicinity. We went to Lubambe Primary School. There, we found Grace Ministries, a Pentecostal Church. We went inside straight. Pastor Jim or Ngimu, preached on faith that Sunday. (Pastor Ngimu, would, after 1996, be my classmate in a literature class at the University of Zambia – UNZA, a coincidence?).
I was touched that Sunday. After his sermon, Pastor Ngimu gave an altar-call. Everything in me told me to go in front and, “Accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.” But I did not do so that Sunday. I was shy and proud. But when I reached Elijah’s home, I became even more uncertain of my future and destiny – the entire week.
I remember vividly saying to Elijah, “Boyi (boy), I am going back to that church this Sunday not to listen or do anything, but to answer the altar-call!” True to my words, I did just that the Sunday that followed. Elder Kabulaya preached that Sunday, and when he gave an altar-call, I rushed in front to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I was relieved. I jumped up with joy. The following Wednesday, at a cell-home, Elijah and I were baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Elijah and I are spiritual twin-brothers – we became born-again the same day and got baptized into Spirit the same day!
After this encounter, there was a dramatic shift in my perspectives. It was like I had divorced a long and dependable lover. No longer did I feel the fear of failing an exam, or the uncertainties of the future, for they were many in my thoughts before this encounter. I felt like born-anew, in the truest sense of the word. For the first time in my life, I became conscious of my wrong doings, and I began to confess my sins. I even began to take back things I had borrowed from people and which I kept indefinitely. The change was drastic at best.
Now, I added another passion to my life. The first two passions were education and soccer. Now I prayed as well. I became committed to all at the same time. I remember going back to Kapisha and telling the neighbor Catholic Priest, Father Gilbert, “I have now joined the Protestants.” He was very sad. (You see, I have observed that most of the mistakes I have made, I made them when I was extremely excited, not when I was lowly or sad. I have since learned that too much excitement and too much sadness are both not good – I now prefer to deal with things in moderation).
Father Gilbert (who first introduced me to coffee – for he drank coffee like booze), and Father Butch (who was the first to connect me to my first Singaporean pen pal) before him, were very good to me. I remember that each time the priest wanted to strengthen his Bemba grammar; he would ask me to help out. Kapisha Parish had a very large Catholic population and an equally very large church building. I sang in the “F” Section choir and played drums and later a big bass banjo in the church.
Like most people in Kapisha then, attending Catholic masses was like a pastime; I had no real convictions. I only relished the idea of, literally, watching Theresa there every Sunday, and also the new songs. There was an intense competition among the over 20 choir groups – each vying to outdo, out-sing and outdress the others. Funerals became platforms for competitiveness. There were more impregnations and lubricities in those overnight choir events, per capita, than anything I had observed. How I was never affected, was a miracle. It was partly because I always remained a voice of conscience even when I had no real relationship with Jesus.
Anyways, coming back to Father Gilbert, of course, he was disappointed – he had expectations that I would be a priest, perhaps, and now I had left the Catholic church.
However, I remained true to my new convictions. I began a ferocious study of Christian history and religion. I studied night and day that within four weeks, I could answer question in the Holy Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
Many people were so shocked with my rate of spiritual growth. It was so fast that I began to rise in church leadership like a rocket. I even refused to tell people how long I had been a convert because they could not believe me. With time, I came to realize that it was not only the urgency in my prayers, but it was also the joy of knowing that I had been forgiven, which propelled me in zeal and evangelism.
Truth be told, the balance I experienced in Catholicism, and the charisma of Pentecostalism, have both informed my inclusive spirituality.
You should understand that my weakness was one – I had an affinity for pretty girls. It was not a secret. All my friends – in Kapisha, I can talk of Saxon Vwalika, Goodson Sanga, Robby Sakala, Yotham Sinkala, all knew this. In fact, and this might sound fun and even selfish, my friends left the prettiest girls for me. They said it, “Those girls there, that pretty one is for Charles.” Why they did this was unknown to them. But I had a pretty knack for mpopos.
You know that after I became Born Again, I literally prayed to marry a very beautiful woman, “So I don’t fall back into regrets.” I meant it. I didn’t want to “punish” someone’s daughter; of course, my wife is beautiful (but that would be for another chapter). The greatest challenge I have had was, that all my female friends were beautiful women.
But before I met the aforementioned beauties, I had met Extockia. At Kabundi, in our class, was a phenomenon called Extockia. I referred to her as, “Namusala pakunyanta,” (in Bemba, she who observes where she steps).
You know, the rest of the people at Kabundi admired my academic prowess. Some where even jealous because of it. Not Extockia. She understood me. She understood my potential and she acted accordingly. If I were to tell my story anywhere without mentioning Extockia, I would sin. Extockia knew my limitations. She knew I was poor. But she also knew that I had rare qualities. She was my age-mate and yet she took it upon herself to care for me, truly and fundamentally.
Extockia would share her food, water, and anything she had, with me. At first, I wanted to feign manhood and strength – that was not going to click with Extockia.
“Take it easy, Charles. I just want you to be okay, that’s all. Take it, come on, have this.”
She was, perhaps, the first girl who began to destroy childhood foolishness in me. She was, arguably, the charmest girl at Kabundi. I know this because some of the people whom she had turned down targeted me. They thought that she was my girlfriend. But she meant more than a friend to me; she was, literally, like a sister.
Extockia rejoiced each time I succeeded, each time I came out first and each time I had enough food and comfort.
Oh, Extockia – even in adulthood, while I am still married, Extockia still asks if everything is okay, “Mr. President,” as she refers to me. Those who simply knew me when I had already braced against the winds of poverty and need, can’t understand the role Extockia played, just in believing in me, that so honestly and caringly – with no strings attached.
Extockia, thank you.
But you remember I mentioned the first of events that shaped by philosophy of life was being Born Again. Well, there is the second. This happened at Buyantanshi Park, Chingola, where I had a rare opportunity to witness the excitement of the masses and hope of a return to multipartyism.
On that innocently looking day, the month and date of which I cannot remember, but it was towards the end of the year in 1991. At Buyantanshi Park were gathered a throng of people waiting for Frederick Chiluba to give a speech. Lloyd Sinyinza, Elijah’s nephew, came with exciting news that Zambia had a new hero. He said his name was Chiluba and he spoke with a “nice accent.” Then Lloyd said that Chiluba would use words like “harass” and “embarrass” in the same sentence. Later I came to learn that what Lloyd was alluding to, was a poetic technique of rhyming.
The atmosphere was hilariously charged. People had such a sense of expectation I had never seen before. I still remember a blind singer with a banjo who sang, “Tukekalakenge.” He sang about how under Chiluba and Mwanawasa, Zambia would be better again. It was something akin to, “Making Zambia Better Again or MAZABEA.”
Chiluba had delayed in coming. Then all of a sudden, we heard that he had arrived. I could not see him at first. Then I saw him. He was a short man with a fair, smooth-skin, and very handsome. He carried an aura of dignity with him. Perhaps it was because of the excitement of the time. But whatever he was, people liked it. In fact, he did not even say much. He only said that he had delayed coming because some of Kenneth Kaunda’s stooges were bent on destabilizing the meeting. And the people cheered and hailed, “Shame, shame, shame!”
This was my first time to see Chiluba. The next time I saw him was when he visited Bread of Life Church for a service in 1998. During that service, he pledged K20 million to the church’s building project.
When I arrived at Hillcrest Secondary Technical School in 1992, for so it was called until it was later changed to Hillcrest High School in 1994 with the introduction of co-education, I had these two experiences on my back. I was a Born-Again Christian and a witness to multiparty democracy in Zambia. I quickly found a Scripture Union (SU) there which was led by Christian Bwalya, and I joined the Hillcrest Christian Fellowship (HCF). Shortly after, I became a school librarian.
So many good things happened at the SU. But also, so did some disorientation. For example, I found that the predominant Christian philosophy at the SU did not attach so much credence to academic performance. In Grade Ten Term Two, I was one of the students who received an award as one of the best ten students in Grade Ten. Later, I found my niche in the union, and I was lost.
If Christianity tastes sweet, for me it did at Hillcrest. There is a place called “Powerhouse,” an old swimming pool area, abandoned, but used as a prayer house by the Pentecostal Christian communities at Hillcrest. Here, I perfected the art of prayer.
I even founded a movement called Hillcrest Evangelism Gospel Reach Out or HEGRO – I was told recently that it still exists. We gave the devil such trouble with that movement. And, looking back, I can simply say, “To God be all the glory.”
However, I became lukewarm to academic performance, always justifying my progress or lack of it for, because of it being of “heavenly worthless.” But, fortunately, my previous Catholic balance still ensured that I did relatively well in academics. Not at the rate I would have wanted, though.
At Hillcrest we used to shout that, “God is a good God.” True, for without Him, I would have not met two or three good people in Livingstone (the tourist Capital of Zambia, and where Hillcrest was located).
Each week, the HCF invited an outside preacher to minister to the Hillcrest student body. It was during one of these meetings that I was dumbfounded by the eloquence, preaching style and carriage of a mixed-colored preacher. His name, I came to learn was Dennis William Macdonald. He preached with a fire dynamic confidence I had never seen in others. He was reachable, personable and, for lack of a better word, inviting.
To cut the long story short, I had fallen in love with his style. For me, he was my preacher. After making inquiries, I visited his church which met at a primary school in the Livingstone second class town center.
The first time I entered his church, you will be shocked what I found there. It is true Evangelist Dennis was there and preaching. But the first thing or person my eyes fell on was this explosive beauty – humble, undecadent and chaste. Christine, was her name, I learned.
You talk of being confused; I was. I went to Gospel Promotions Ministries or GPM (for so Evangelist Dennis’ church was called) to find God, but I found both God and Christine. And, of course, in Pastor Dennis ministration, I was not disappointed. He would become my spiritual mentor for the balance of my life both at Hillcrest and in Livingstone, generally. In fact, it was Pastor Dennis who gave me the first opportunity to preach in church. That Sunday, I preached on the “Prodigal Son.”
I had purposed that Sunday that I would win Christine over. But the battle proved very tough. Christine expressed no interest in me, whatsoever – except, of course, in relating to me as a brother-in-Christ.
Slowly but surely, we became buddies, probably the strongest and most meaningful relationship I had ever had to that point. It lasted six long, memorable years.
We did every Christian activity together – we prayed, sang songs (and our favorite being, “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray,”) evangelized together (one time, we went to a remote village in Livingstone and preached powerfully there, including seeing a woman who had had an issue of blood receive her miracle. The villagers were filled with awe for Jesus), and, of course, rendezvousing at Mundawanga, a lot.
Christine’s mother – may her soul rest in peace – was, in the absence of my own mother who was many kilometers away in Mibenge – a de facto mother to me. She treated me no more different than her blood children. I will always miss her.
Then, there was Glory, and she was beautiful, as beautiful as they come. I new Glory as a young girl; she was Pastor Dennis’ first-born daughter. At first, she was like a sister. I saw her grow right in my presence. Then, we began to fall in love for each other.
I can’t pretend, at that time, I strongly believed that I would marry Glory. I think God had other plans. But I always say that all the female friends God allowed me to befriend came in golden packages – any man who has married any of them, is truly lucky.
Success is not linear – it has many people (men and women) who contribute to it. It is wisest not to forget those who gave us the wings with which to fly. And whenever possible, we should pause and say, “Thanks,” to them.
Every leader has a defining moment. For me it was came at the age 20. I founded one of the most moving concepts that changed the spiritual landscape of Livingstone, Zambia – the Life Movement. Like Martin Luther King Jr., I had a dream. I dreamed of a revived and revolutionized youth. And it began to be implemented as soon as I left Hillcrest.
I have already introduced Pastor Dennis (Rev. Williams) in previous sections. Well, after my last exam, Rev. Williams called me.
“Charles, I have a strong sense you need remain in Livingstone. I need you, just as you need me” (paraphrased).
“I will pray about it,” I replied.
However, even before the Man of God (as we called him) had hinted of me remaining in Livingstone, I already knew. I had become Rev. Williams’ confidante and right-hand man, everybody knew. Rev. Williams gave me every freedom in the church, except preaching. I led in worship, gave encouragement, evangelized, and collected tithes and offerings. And, in fact, I was on the standby to do anything the Man of God wanted me to do.
Trust, nothing but absolute trust stood between us.
Mr. and Ms. Rajamani
But before I continue narrating ministerial frolicking with Rev. Williams, let me tell you something about Mr. Rajamani and his wife.
Mr. Rajamani was the patron of the HCF. He was originally of Indian descent but him and his wife had made a home in Zambia. He was also an expatriate teacher at Hillcrest. Both of his children were, at the time, studying in England.
First, Mr. Rajamani introduced me to his wife – they both were elderly, probably in their late sixties.
Second, especially Ms. Rajamani, they asked me if they could, unofficially, adopt me as one of their own. I consented. And that started one of the best mentoring experiences of my life.
For one, the Rajamanis would watch me preach or pray. Then, they would take me aside, usually, at their home – which was simply a stone throw away from Hillcrest campus. My preaching and prayers used to be fiery and full of energy. Naturally, in those days, such preaching and praying were construed to be “powerful.” And like every young believer, I thought so. Not with the Rajamanis. They straight away cautioned me against sacrificing message for histrionics. I was humbled, but with gentle and tender love. I learned my lesson.
For another, it was not my maternal mother in Mibenge who taught me to love a woman and marry some day; it was Ms. Rajamani. It was detailed, frank talk, no mincing words. I had to know how to love a woman – where it mattered and how it mattered. I was enlisted in the school of marital love. There was no meandering or hiding in religiosity, Ms. Rajamani called a spade a spade – sex was sex and not some alien phantom somewhere. I had to know how to have sex with my future spouse, as she put it, “Gently, tenderly, but assertively and lovingly.”
The lesson came handy – you see, like most boys (and young men), we had no-one to prepare us for the adult world. We ventured into life through trial and error – and many were the errors. Not with me after meeting Ms. Rajamani. It was from her that I learned that kissing a woman was not just a spontaneous placing my lips onto the woman’s, there were ticks involved. To cut the long story short, by the age of 22, I was ready, if I wanted, to marry and satisfy a woman. All thanks to, Mr. Rajamani.
Then she introduced me to the dexterity of food-loving. She made chupattis, roti, curry-rice, and several kinds of sweets, right in my presence. She had introduced me to one of my favorite dishes, roti with curry goat. In Canada, I am a regular in West Indies and Caribbean restaurants, for roti with carry goat, of course.
While Ms. Rajamani was pampering my social and life skills, Mr. Rajamani was perfect my preaching, teaching and leadership skillsets. Then the couple, literally, handed me over to Rev. Williams – who then mentored me in practical ministry. I had my cup full. We became like father and son.
In 1995, shortly after graduating from Hillcrest, Rev. Williams retained me in Livingstone to help him with his church. I agreed. I did so because of the love I had for him and also because I knew I needed him to sharpen my remaining unrefined potential. Every person who had a world-changing dream needed a mentor, a father-like figure, who was instrumental in launching them into the deep of things. For me, it was Rev. Williams.
As mentioned before, I preached my first church sermon in Rev. Williams’ church. The theme of my message was from The Prodigal Son. After that service, word spread so fast at Hillcrest that there was a new preacher in town. But Rev. Williams, like a good father, gave me constructive post-mortem of my message. He appraised where I needed work and praised me where I did well. From there I was launched like a rocket. Rev. Williams and I have maintained constant communication, either through him directly, or through his son, Blessings Williams (I will have more to say about Blessings later).
Rev. Williams and his wife were very kind to me; they treated me just like their son. As hinted, their first-born daughter, Glory (or Gloria), and their second-born son, Blessings, were just toddlers then. However, as I contributed to Rev. Williams’ vision, I had my own brewing inside, and I was kneading it to perfection.
Not only did Rev. Williams show me how to conduct my life wisely in honor of God, but he also introduced me to one of his congregants, Sianga Sianga. Sianga was a lecturer at Livingstone Trades Training Institute (LTTI). He had trained in Germany in Special Education. Rev. William had arranged that I stay with Sianga at the time. Sianga was a bachelor then.
Sianga was what in Christianity they call a worshiper. Every evening after diner, he grabbed his guitar and began to praise his God. He was the humblest person I had ever come across. Through him, I learned how to be responsible over small things. Because we were only the two of us in the home, most of my time was spent in prayer. I should say that I developed the art of prayer to some great levels while staying with Sianga.
It was through Sianga that I started to be aware of the richness of the disabled and intellectually-challenged communities. As a lecturer, Mr. Sianga was one of the first teachers I had known who had specialized solely in the intellectually, physically, and mentally challenged students. And he had divine passion for it.
You see, Peter knew the City of Livingstone like the palm of his hand. He knew its history (including spiritual history – for he could tell me the who of who of spirituality, political or the society of Livingstone).
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