Over the past two months I have learned a lot about the Zambian culture from my cross-cultural trainings and from living with a Zambian family. Culture and religion are extremely valuable to this Country and it varies across the various regions as well as within the villages. These are brief overviews of what I have either experienced personally or have been told by native Zambians.

Time and Distance. These are two areas, which Zambian and American cultures vary greatly. It took me a while to learn the difference between ‘just now’, ‘now’, and ‘now now’. ‘Just now’ could mean in 10 minutes or 10 hours, ‘now’ is any time from now, and ‘now now’ is for real now. Very similar with distance is the expression ‘Just There’. This is actually one of my favorites and I used is quite often. You will ask a Zambian where anything is and they will ALWAYS respond “It’s just there.” This could mean a few feet away or several km away. You may ask where someone is and you will get “oh, they are just there.” Once again, this could mean they are in the hut next to you or they could be visiting someone in a village 20 km away. As you can imagine, this can lead to great difficulties when you are trying to get directions because EVERYTHING is JUST THERE! I was trying to find ZamChik just last week (its only the best take away in Zambia) and I asked at least 5 people and they all gave me varying directions…. “Turn by the tree and you will see a path”…WHAT!? Do you know how many trees and paths there are? Which tree and which path…who knows? Finally a child escorted me to the best chicken and chips ever…it was worth it! Another common expression related to location is “You will find me just there.” As a sign of respect when you are ending a conversation you tell the person that they will find you and of course it is always just there. In American we learn that time is money and we always try to make the most out of our time. I tried to explain to my host family that Americans can buy precooked and packaged meals that can be cooked in a microwave (yeah that took a lot of explaining). They were even more shocked to hear that we “take our meals’ in our cars. Time is of no virtue to Zambians. When someone comes to visit you it is expected that you stop what you are doing and sit and talk with them, no matter what you are doing. You offer them a seat and usually some food and drink. They may stay and chat about nothing or even sit quietly for hours and hours.

Language and Expressions. I have already told you about some common expressions related to time and distance. Another frequently used expression is “It’s just okay.” How is the n’sima? It’s just okay. How was your day? It was just okay. Fosholo is one of our favorite words in Chinyanja. Its literal translation is shovel but we use it to mean ‘fo sho’…like ‘for sure’. We love it fosholo! Also, Zambians say, “you will be used.” At first I thought they meant that people will use me, but I now know that it means to get accustomed to or to get used to. For example, two nights before I left my home stay family the rats came back. This time I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I was before. My family said, “You are used.” I knew that at the moment I was truly ready for my posting to my village…I was used. I am used to this lifestyle, even the rats.

Witchcraft and Juju. Witchcraft, juju and traditional medicine and healers are quite common. Zambians actually have strong beliefs in their practices. Unlike stories of witches that we are accustomed to hearing witches here do not fly on brooms, they fly in baskets. They are only able to fly naked and at night. There are restrictions on areas in which they can fly called NO FLY ZONES. This is an area in which a more powerful witch resides and if they fly through this no fly zone they will be thrown from their basket. Here is a true story from a man in my village. He said that one Sunday he was walking to church and saw a naked woman laying on the ground. He believed her to be a witch and she was killed. Villagers also believe in juju. A PCV in Eastern told me that a woman in her village unexpectedly died and they believed her death was caused by juju. The family accused the neighbor of putting a juju spell on her. The husband confronted the juju woman and she said yes, she was a witch (it is common in here to admit to a crime even if you did not do it…I don’t know why). The husband then set fire to the woman’s house and she was killed. If a person dies tragically or unexpectedly the villagers have a “flying coffin” ceremony. This is where the coffin is carried around the village after the funeral to find the person that caused the death. Supposedly the coffin directs itself, much like the weegee boards we are more familiar with. The coffin goes to the door of the person that caused the death and the person immediately admits to the crime. Witchcraft and juju is so strongly believed that the innocent truly believe that they must have done it.

Beliefs and Superstitions. Just as in America there are numerous Zambian superstitions however, the different is that here in Zambia they are commonly practiced and truly believed.
-Pregnant women cannot stand in doorways or they will have difficult labor.
-If a man cheats on his wife while she is pregnant the wife or child will die in delivery. If a woman is having difficulty during delivery, the husband is called in and accused of having an affair and the only way the woman or child will survive is if he admits to adultery.
-If a spouse dies, his or her spirit will haunt the living spouse until that spouse has been cleansed. To be cleansed another person within the family (usually a cousin) must have sex with the grieving spouse and that sets the spirit free.
-A woman who is at the moon (menstruating) is not allowed to cook with salt or she will become ill.
-If a young boy as premarital sex, his fingers will grow oddly long.
-It is considered bad luck to ask a woman about her pregnancy.

These stories are just a small taste of Zambian culture. There will be many more to come.

Advertisements