Maunga Village, Zambia – Travel Short
Brad Nehring is a writer based in Seattle, and a friend of RAD AND HUNGRY. A BIG thanks to Brad for sharing his journey back to Zambia with us!
Most experienced travelers have their “happy place,” the destination that has made the biggest impression on their overall worldview. My happy place? Maunga Village, a rural farming community located in Southern Zambia.
From 2006 to 2008, I volunteered with the Peace Corps in Zambia. The bulk of my service was spent in Maunga, working with subsistence farmers and extension officers to develop resource protection plans. As a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV), I was expected to live at the local level. I slept in a hut, read by candlelight, cooked over an open charcoal brazier, took my plastic jugs to the borehole whenever I needed water. Acclimating to daily life in Maunga was challenging at first, but eventually I learned to love the routine and see my village for the beautiful place it is. Elephant and giraffe sightings were commonplace. Every sunset was picture-worthy. As for the people – I can’t imagine you’ll find a friendlier, funnier, more hospitable group of folks anywhere.
I said goodbye to Maunga village when my volunteer service ended, hoping someday I’d get the opportunity to return. Last spring, after an eight-year absence, I finally got my wish.
James Machakube is one of my closest friends from Maunga – and also one of my only village friends with a Facebook account, which allowed us to communicate over the years. Since my first visit, James left Maunga and settled in the nearby city of Livingstone, a tourist hub built around Victoria Falls National Park and the Lower Zambezi River. Once the airfare was booked, I sent James a message about my plans to visit. His reply: “We should have a village party.”
We met at Dambwa, Livingstone’s largest local market, and set about the all-important task of shopping for the party. The list included three large bags of maize meal for making nshima (a starchy staple similar to grits), a few dozen sun-dried fish, plenty of fresh veggies and a three-liter container of cooking oil. We loaded everything into the nearest taxi – the vehicle sagged once we had all piled inside. “All right,” James said, “we’ll go get some beer and then we’ll head to the village.” Shit. I’d forgotten about the beer.
(I use the term “beer” rather loosely, since Zambian beer looks nothing like the lagers and ales most Westerners enjoy. The beer, known locally as chibuku, is rendered from fermented maize. It’s best described as “mud-like” in color and “chunky” in consistency, with a “rich” flavor in the most euphemistic sense of the term.)
As the crow flies, Livingstone is roughly thirty miles from Maunga, but the rough, sandy roads definitely add to the drive time. We arrived in the early evening, just in time for dinner. The overall consensus since my last visit: “Brad is fat now.” Which, in Zambian culture, is considered a compliment.
We spent the next three days preparing for the party. In the mornings we walked house to house, informing the residents of Maunga about the festivities. Serving meat at the gathering was crucial, so arrangements needed to be made for obtaining a cow, a goat or two and some chickens.
On the day of the party, James came to my tent just after 6am. “Time to kill the cow,” he said unceremoniously. We walked to a nearby copse where the animal was tied to a tree. I’ll spare you the graphic details. The butchering was finished in astonishing time (forty minutes or so) and we left the trees with enough steak and innards to – quite literally – feed a small village. Not long afterward, the goats and chickens met a similar fate.
The party guests began to trickle in around noon. An army of local women held down the kitchen. Some took turns stirring the massive pot of nshima (no easy task), while others chopped veggies and fried meat in saucepans over open fires. The rest of the attendees lounged beneath shade trees, sippin’ on chibuku and munching Zambian party snacks like congealed cow’s blood and deep fried liver (both much tastier than they sound). A little after four in the afternoon, each partygoer was served a plate of nshima, meat and veggies. Once everyone had plenty of food in their bellies, the dancing began.
Imagine a crowd of more than 100 people, ranging from infants to the elderly, clapping their hands and stomping their feet in the dirt and shaking their booties and singing along to local music blaring over the stereo. And this goes on for hours. We began dancing just before sunset and continued well into the night, movin’ and groovin’ by the light of battery-charged headlamps. Standing on the sidelines is simply not an option, and anyone who attempts to take a break will be quickly dragged back onto the dance floor. At one point I was dancing in a circle with an elderly woman, a young mother with her baby bundled over her shoulder, and and a teenage boy in a Stone Cold Steve Austin T-shirt.
The next morning, James and I talked over boiled rice and leftover steak, then exchanged our final goodbyes with his family once the meal was finished. As we gathered our bags and prepared to leave, James asked: “Did you enjoy the party?”
“Oh yes,” I replied.
“That’s good,” James said. “The next one will be fun too.”