Chilonga Mulilo

I had a fascinating day yesterday, I attended a Chilonga Mulilo ceremony.

Our neighbour (Zenia) has a sister (Martha) who is getting married in a couple of months. Zenia invited me to this ceremony, saying it would be good for me to learn more about some of the Zambian customs. The families were both very lovely in letting me be a part of this important day. They were keen to have me involved and learn some of their pre-wedding traditions.

Chilonga Mulilo is translated(ish) as ‘seeing fire’. This ceremony is a right of passage for a bride and a time of celebration for the bride and groom’s families. Much of the ceremony is about teaching the bride about how to make nshima (the staple food here) and how to feed her future husband and family. Before this ceremony the groom is not allowed to eat with his future in-laws, so this is also a step towards marriage and him being a part of his future bride’s family.

The day began early in the morning when the bride’s family and close friends began cooking pretty much every traditional Zambian dish.   Once all of the food was prepared, it was time to make the nshima. (Most Zambians eat nshima every day, it is a very important food. People often say that if they’ve not eaten nshima, that they’ve not eaten that day – regardless of what else has been consumed.) One of the grandmothers and a matron of the bride took an extensive amount of time teaching Martha about how to make nshima, many of the other women showed her how to stir it and the like.

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This was also a time for Martha to thank her family and friends for teaching her how to be a good woman and wife. She lay on the ground at various points to show her gratitude to the women there for their input in her life. This is serious business in the Zambian culture and while all of the women there sang and danced Martha was totally solemn as smiling and/or laughing would have been very disrespectful.

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It was interesting to me how, although Martha has already been cooking nshima for years and years (as every young girl learns this from their mother), this ceremony is all about her learning this fundamental cooking process. Young girls here, cook, clean, wear babies strapped to their backs – they are primed for marriage and children from a very young age. Yet this right of passage is all about teaching the bride about making this important food and how to cook for her husband and family. That said, I must say I admire the Zambian culture for their seriousness in bringing families together and the respect they have for their elders and age old traditions.

Once all of the nshima was made, the food was brought to the groom’s home. The groom was equally solemn, not cracking a smile as everyone around him sang and danced. There were various parts to this delivery of food, it took over two hours before the food could be eaten. At points there were chickens stuffed under women’s shirts, everyone had to walk into the Groom’s house backwards, money was hidden in the ground and could only be searched for with women’s mouths and a few other very interesting traditions. All in all, it was a fascinating day.

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Last week saw the sinking of a new borehole at Janna Christian Community School. We are so excited that this is the second school we partner with that now has clean drinking water. Hopefully by the end of the year the other school we work with will also have a borehole sunk and clean water for the school and surrounding community.

What was also very exciting about this particular borehole is that two local businessmen in Ndola have taken care of a significant portion of the costs of this borehole. It’s fantastic to see this generosity but also seeing local investment happening. In addition to this an American woman has been faithfully fundraising for clean water at Janna for the last several months and she is paying for the rest of the costs for the tank, stand etc. We are so grateful for these individuals’ generosity.

I’m not going to lie, when the drillers hit water and the murky brown water starts to spray up in the air, I get choked up. It’s only water, I know, but the thought that the children at these schools won’t go thirsty and won’t catch any diseases from the water on site is a great feeling. I love that the community around the school will be bringing clean water to their homes as well as there being a tap that the people from the surrounding community can use. Soon a whopping 10,000 litre tank will sit high above Janna inviting the children and families to come and drink from a well that will take a very long time to ever run dry.

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Schools close for a month starting this coming week and, although there’s still much to do (Training days and workshops and some maintenance of the classrooms), August brings with it a much welcomed slow of pace after our last few months of activity. So this week we’re taking a little time-out to potty train Jacob. Once again, we find ourselves thankful for sunny weather that makes it possible to keep Jacob in ‘hose-downable’ terrain.

It’s early days but I think we’re winning (there’s an equal amount of stickers on his potty as there are underpants hanging on the line) and Jacob’s not been too annoyed with us punctuating each sentence with a “Do you need a wee?”

Here’s a photo of Jacob, proud of his pants, and sitting on his little swing outside.

Jacob on swing

We also tried taking family photos today – which failed completely. Out of the 73 we snapped there was not a single shot with us all in, eyes-open, looking towards the camera and smiling. Here’s the best of the lot – I’m taking the photo having given up on the remote control approach. It’s a good job there’ll be other days to take another run at it. Good old August.

MElissa and Boys