Just the other day I was sitting on the stoop of my hut reading a book. Simple enough for an American girl, but it is a privilege that no other woman in my village is privy to. Sure there are a few that could string the sounds of these English words together into something you and I could recognize but, for them, there would be very little comprehension.
The background noise that pulled me from my bookworm trace was the giggling of 3 of my girls as they kicked around the small football that my brother brought with him on his visit. For some reason, it was in this moment, after two year here, that finally got me to wondering how different my own life would be had I been born in this Zambian village and not some farm in rural Kansas.
Since the very beginning of my time here in the village I have taken comfort in the many parallels between life here and life in my small town Riley. Atate (Dad) still knows everyone and everyone is pretty quick to tell him all of the good and bad that I have been up to. Not at all that different than my life in Riley, where Pappa Tom used to know that I skipped school before I knew that I was thinking about skipping school. It still seems, at times, that there are more cows than people, and instead of Mamma Julie yelling at pigs for tearing up her flowers or ruining our nice things my Amai (Mom) is yelling at goats.
Just like a small town, people are still fucking people that they shouldn’t be, thinking that no one knows about it, meanwhile the gossip of it all is spreading faster than a bushfire. Which is how I know that I would still enjoy gossip no matter which side of the tracks I was born on. There are the: dirty kids, rich kids, unfortunate kids, dumb kids, class clown kids, the smart kids, and the kids that are too smart for their own good. All of the above demographics of my high school existence, but where would I fit in? What would I be like?
When you start to ponder this question you become very aware of how much education influences the things that you are interested in. When you ask a village girl/woman the question, “What do you like to do?”, the answers are always the same. “I like to cook nsima, sweep the yard, collect firewood, wash clothes or do laundry.” Since coming to Zambia, I would list, reading, writing, running and listening to music.
By itself he ability to read has pretty much completely changed my life. Reading kept me in school, which lead me into running. Running has really done a lot to shape me into the person I am. It helped me discover an independence and courage that I am not sure I would have unlocked without running. It helped to give me a taste for travel that has sent me many places.
Lately I have been using reading to explore books that help me unlock the kind of person that I want to be about religion and self-discovery. The self discovery has given me the confidence to be comfortable in my skin. I have also been very into biographies of musicians from the past, which have helped me explore different ways of expressing myself, and well as unleashing a new understanding of a lot of the music I have come to love here in country.
The courage from running and all of the confidence that my upbringing has instilled in me brings us to the issue of my personality. I am loud, really giggly, and getting progressively sillier as my time in Zambia grows. The silliness could be attributed to my ever declining maturity, but I think I am just growing more into myself and I am always keeping company that continues to cultivate silliness. I have never been too timid to tell you to fuck off if I think that you need to hear it. I enjoy talking about sex. I love watching sports, and I’d rather hang with guys than ladies.
If I was born into a Zambian village, most of these traits would not be allowed in my culture. I would be expected to keep my mouth shut. Not make eye contact when looking at people that I am talking to, which implies submissive behavior. The only time I hear girls tell someone to fuck off is when they have been waiting in line at the borehole for hours and someone tries to cut them in line. (I have seen it happen, and yes it is awesome!) Girls and women don’t really have time to be silly because they are doing all of the required chores. And they really only have fellow female friends because they are always doing chores together.
In the end I am very thankful for my two years here. I got to see the best things that this world has to offer. My Zambian village life has afforded me the gift of my digressing maturity which has actually helped me view all worlds with more child like wonder and innocence. And that is probably the best thing about Zambian women everywhere. They always laughed with me and even at me. Coloring books and fingernail polish excites them all the same, from age 6 to 66 they love all things silly and have shown American Maggie that the world needs more of that.