FIrst Lady Esther Lungu was not struck by President Edgar Lungu’s unassuming demeanour the first time she bumped into him when he was a lawyer working for the Legal Aid Board three decades ago.
She was, in fact, to a large extent, dismissive of a man she would later learn was affable, intelligent and witty, in addition to being a loving husband.
Despite dismissing Mr Lungu, she clearly remembers what he wore on the day their paths crossed.
“I met my husband when he was working for Legal Aid Board. I remember the first time I met him, he was in a cream safari suit,” Mrs Lungu shyly said as though reminiscing about that first day she set her eyes on him.
Her aim of going to the Legal Aid Board was to seek legal advice and she was directed to a particular lawyer to attend to her. Opening the door, she saw a man behind the desk, but she was not convinced that he would adequately handle her case.
She immediately shut the door and went back to Chief Justice Ireen Mambilima, who was then the principal at Legal Aid Board, to complain that she had been directed to a wrong office.
“I did not even want to interact with Mr Lungu. I needed a lawyer and I was told to go to room seven where he was. When I entered the room, I thought I was in a wrong office and decided to go back to the reception.
“The principal then was Chief Justice Ireen Mambilima. I told her that she sent me to a wrong office because Mr Lungu did not strike me as a lawyer. But Justice Mambilima insisted that I go back because the man I found was actually the lawyer to help me.”
Their brief encounter left an indelible mark on Mr Lungu’s mind, who started ‘hunting’ for Mrs Lungu. Even her close friend at the office would discourage her to date Mr Lungu. “It is unfortunate my friend died before I became First Lady.
“The first time he visited my office, I questioned what he wanted. But he was a patient and good man. He told me that he wanted to take me out for lunch. I initially refused, saying I don’t eat people’s food,” she smiled.
One thing led to another and 32 years down the line, the couple has enjoyed the relationship, with God blessing them with six children and 12 grandchildren.
As a devout Christian, her principle has been to raise her children on Christian values. She also attributes the privilege of her husband being President and herself being First Lady as a blessing from God.
“I remember neighbours making fun of us in the manner we were raising our children. They would say that we keep our children like national registration cards (NRCs) because we didn’t want to lose them,” she says, again with a natural smile.
Mrs Lungu believes her children are appreciative of the manner they were brought up because they are able to stand on their own.
Three years down the line, Mrs Lungu describes the role of being First Lady as challenging. She and President Lungu have to juggle between being parents, grandparents, as well as oversee affairs of the nation.
Like most women, she enjoys shopping and sometimes misses walking in a shop to pick the latest trends in town but the last time she attempted, she attracted people’s attention. The reaction was expected because she is not just an ordinary citizen but the First Lady of the country.
“People should let God lead the way because without God, it is impossible to be where we are today,” Mrs Lungu says.
It is said the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Mrs Lungu enjoys to cook for her husband.
His favourite dish is nshima with fish, vegetables mixed with groundnuts (ifisashi) and okra….,” she said.
Behind the scenes, Mrs Lungu cherishes moments she spends with her children, grandchildren and husband.
“We cannot do away with security as the first family but we usually spend time together, especially during birthdays and holidays,” she said.
Among her many tasks, she has included being a student because she wants to upgrade herself. At the age of 60, Mrs Lungu has enrolled for a bachelor’s degree programme in special education at the University of Zambia (UNZA).
“I want to be a role model to other women. Time is long gone when women thought the kitchen was the best place to be. Women need to improve themselves by attaining an education,” Mrs Lungu said.
Her advice to women is that marriage and age should not stop them from being ambitious and improving their education.
“I did a secretarial programme and accounts at Evelyn Hone College but I still want to acquire more knowledge in other areas,” she said. She has already prepared herself psychologically on how she will be able to manage being a student, wife, grandmother and a First Lady.
“I would like to be treated like any other student, do group discussions with my classmates and ensure that assignments are handed in on time. “I will also ensure that I attend residential school with my fellow classmates. I will do everything a student has to do to be in school,” she said.
Mrs Lungu has a word of encouragement to those women who did not make good grades to enter UNZA: “You can always rewrite your grade 12 exams to make the good grades like I did,” she said.
“I did not have five O levels to enable me to enrol at UNZA, so I had to rewrite the subjects I performed poorly and got better results. This is why I have been accepted at one of the highest institutions of learning,” she says.
“I am not doing this to get a job, I think I have the best job so far. I want my personal academic growth to help me do my charity work diligently. I have been longing to go back to school for a long time. I am aiming high and I will work hard to advance my education,” she said.
Mrs Lungu, whose decision has been supported by her husband and children, says education will allow her to interact eloquently with people at local and international platforms.
Mrs Lungu emphasises the importance of committing plans to God for them to be successful. She has lived by this principle all her life.
“God is my best planner. I am doing this with the blessings of the Lord and I am very certain that I will achieve my goals. God will provide enough time for me to give service to the nation as well as time to concentrate on my studies,” she said.