My favorite woman in all of Zambia is my next-door neighbor, the headman’s wife — Mrs. Fubisha. Her real name is Saliki Mumba, but she uses her husband’s surname as a sign of respect. She’s a wonderful woman.
At first, Mrs. Fubisha and I got off to a rocky start, although I doubt she knew it. I felt she was a little overbearing with me, and all I wanted when I was new to the village was to be left alone and have time to ease into this new world. She wouldn’t budge.
Every day she would come by at 6 a.m. on her way to the field and make sure that I was awake. She would always find me fast asleep. It drove me crazy.
But my breaking point was one day when she noticed the paint on my new plates was chipping off. She asked for my spare house paint and I stupidly gave it without question. When I looked next she had painted every plate with my orange house paint.
I was furious. But, after cooling down I realized something very important and unique — she didn’t think of me as just someone else, she thought of me as her son. She only wanted me to be taken care of and to feel a part of her family.
I started being more accepting and, over time, things changed 180 degrees to the point where I would gladly welcome her to paint more of my plates or forks, or even my shirts if she wanted.
Since that first day when the Peace Corps dropped me off in this village until now, she’s taken me in as one of her own, and I’ve been better for it.
The most fulfilling aspect of Peace Corps, to me, isn’t seeing how people live — that’s what an observer does. No, it’s living with them and seeing the world through their eyes. Few have shown me more or taught me better than Mrs. Fubisha.
I’ve seen joy, sadness, hardship, surprise, and the ins and outs of everyday life in a small African village.
Many of my favorite days in Peace Corps have been the days when I’ve gone to the field with her and harvested peanuts or corn. A kind of contentedness comes over me on those days. We just sit there and joke or we quietly work away. The time flies.
But it’s also those days when I’m nearly too tired to walk home and look over to see her carrying some of the day’s harvest home that I see her true strength: the heart of a lioness.
Because even when she gets home, the work doesn’t stop. She’ll have to cook, wash clothes and look after the children. Her day goes from sunup to sundown.
I’ve often thought how different her life would be if she had the opportunities that I have had. What would she have done?
Many times I’ve heard men in the village talk about how hard she works and how strong she is, both physically and psychologically.
It’s their way of saying they have respect for her, which isn’t often done in this male-dominated society. Respect isn’t easily gained but it is easily lost and she’s managed to keep it while building upon it for years. That’s impressive.
She’s even become a bit of a local celebrity as of late when the Zambian National Broadcasting Corp. came to our village to interview her and myself about some of our different projects.
She gave a wonderful description of our work and explained why it was important for the rest of the nation to try and replicate her efforts. I kept thinking that I would like to replicate her efforts and to have the strength she does.
When I leave this village for good it’ll be hard because of people like Mrs. Fubisha, but especially because of Mrs. Fubisha.
Not many people have impacted my experience in such a way. She told me that when I do go she’ll lock herself to the front of the bus, so I can’t leave. I kind of hope she does, so I don’t have to.
Jordan Blekking of Pennfield is in Zambia as a member of the Peace Corps. His dispatches are reviewed by the Peace Corps before they’re sent. Reach him at [email protected] or visit his blog, jordan blekking.blogspot.com