Annie Bwalya: My Zambian Mother


Integration is key in this volunteer life. It is essential for survival, individuality, and development. Two years of work can be beneficial for the volunteer and the village if integration is there.

My mother, Annie Bwalya or Banamulenga (mother of Mulenga, her oldest) is key to my survival in Zambia, especially inside a village as isolating as mine. Not isolation related to distance from a city but isolation from same cultures as my own.

My mother is actually a mother of mine. Volunteers usually feel close to their families or respect them or don’t even have a relationship. I am actually a child in this family. Since I am unmarried and still considered living in the property of my parents, I am the casuli or the baby of the family. (Even though my youngest host sister is 21).

My host mother is not my host. That’s my counterpart Violet’s job as host. To make sure I got everything and answer my requests, etc., etc. She is a good host. My mom is truly my mom.

My first three months here I felt distant from her feeling scared that we will never be close because of language difficulties. She spoke Bemba and though I understood and comprehended it well, speaking was difficult so I answered usually in English. The first few weeks I spoke through my English speaking brethren or Violet. My bataata or father and me just have a professional relationship and since he was always quiet, we kept apart. Granted, he always protects me like a quiet dad though he is always respectful to me. But my mother…she was the one who talks and wanted to try with me.

Thus, the first month was difficult. Until the first week of the hottest month of the year came around and I was so hot and tired from being under the dizzying sun even though I was inside the clinic ALLL day and I came home early.

I ate hot nshima burning my fingertips and fresh fish and Zambian green leafy vegetables called rape cut up and cooked with tomatoes. I was full and the migraine that was now pounding my temples and my jawline was growing at the sight of the hot sun and I laid down on the reedmat. And that was uncomfortable cause I was trying to sleep on a hard ground and it was too warm and instantly, I saw the shade on my mother’s lap and fell asleep on it. I woke up an hour later and she was combing my hair and trying to braid it. I tried to get up to not impose on her time anymore but she pushed me back down and said:

Megha, the sun is still out and it will hurt you more. Rest, you walk too much. You are my daughter now, my Zambian daughter. So sleep. Work later.

She said in Bemba and smoothed my hair. I fell asleep and woke up, relieved of my headache. This became my ritual every time it was hot. Whenever she would nap inside the Insaka, I would join her.

The greatest gift to this joint venture was that I found out is that she understands English. We can both talk our languages and understand each other. Soon, everything came to the table.

Indian culture. Women, school, and marriage in America and India. My plans for Lunchu and what Lunchu is ready for.

My mother became my source of comfort. She checked in on me. She tried out my food. She taught me how to cook certain Zambian dishes even though she was already out the door for church. She called me Megha and not Madame or Mapalo. She calls me also baby girl or my casuli. She tells Joe my brother off for not being there for me or helping me. And yells at him for teasing me. (That doesn’t stop him but he’s my older brother, what do you expect?)

She has become my family in Zambia. When I away, she has become my daily caller. Though I feel like a child when she calls, for the first time I feel taken care of. I feel like the baby who is always considered and never forgotten. The baby girl that everyone coos and fawns over. She makes me feel accomplished when I learn new things and boosts my motivation to get out and teach her new things. I have never felt like this in my life. Not many people search for specifically me for my point of view, my benefits and what I can provide or if they can help me. But my Bamaayo treats me as her baby without actually coddling me. And I don’t call her Bamaayo.

I call her Ma or to tease my brother, who calls her, “Maamieee!!” (He’s 26 and seriously a stay at home slacker, gosh). She has learned more about my job than anyone. She knows my favorites more than any Zambian And she is the reason I call Lunchu my home.

My mother. That’s what she is. Not my host. Not my neighbor. My mother who keeps the keys to my house. Reminds me to close my doors. Feeds my dog because she also loves him. Rubs my forehead when my migraines come every few days. She is what I see first every morning.

Silent and covered in a citenge over a five a.m. fire with nothing cooking as she warms up, watching me sweep my floor from her Insaka. She smiles a slight smile to the dimples that dip in her cheeks as smooth cracks form around her eyes. I don’t say a word as I let out a sleepy smile and tired feet to join her. I sit next to her and warm my toes next to the fire.

My mom opens her citenge blanket and wraps it around my shoulder and I crawl in and lay my face on her soft shoulder right about the time she lets out a wide and long yawn. It’s five AM and the darkness is seeping out of us as the sunlight won’t come for another five minutes. And though, my bed is far away and my day is going to be hectic, for right now, for five minutes, I am safe and warm next to my mom.



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