I had a little flashback to my Zambian past from this photo this one guy took in his back yard and posted on the Kitwe Past/Present Group Facebook page. It’s a flame lily, indigenous to South Africa. The Wanderers Hockey Club, for whom I played right wing, gave me a brooch shaped like this flower, all brilliant orange and yellow, looking freshly picked from the field across from the house where I grew up.
It was a farewell gift when I left Nkana, off to America, way back in the 70s. I still have it. On those odd occasions I come across the brooch in my small cache of memorabilia from those days, I quickly stuff it back into its original box from Maison Lentin (the only jewelry shop in two-block long Kitwe and also where my first ex-husband–God, that’s the first time I’ve written that: FIRST ex-husband–bought my engagement and wedding ring). Of course, I do this with most of those keepsakes I brought with me to America in the 44-pound weight-limited suitcase both me and the ex were allowed on the plane.
It’s always hard for me to revisit these pieces of my past: too many conflicted feelings that leave me edgy and sad. There’s the regret of not having done things differently and guilt for leaving my dad and mentally impaired brother with such a cavalier attitude, though they were so happy for me. And my mom, how did she feel? I don’t know. The thing is, I couldn’t wait to get out of Africa, I couldn’t wait to get to America. I’ve since made peace with the past and have absolutely no regrets about the move. This country gives me the stimulation and leeway for the crazy way my mind works.
But I do miss so many things about Zambia. Sometimes when it rains I can almost smell the green-brown stench of soil rich with pike and bream eggs and rotting animal remains left by crocodiles from those days I bicycled down to the Kafue River at the bottom of the pump station. And then when the sun comes out while it’s raining, sun showers they call it here, monkey’s wedding, we Africans call it (it’s also the name of my first book). But it’s more than these easily recallable events, Africa is in my blood.
Whenever I return, to South Africa that is, to visit family, I’m reminded of this. The familiar sounds that nail me to the spot, odors that have me sniffing the air like a crazed antelope catching the scent of a lion. And of course, all the old foods: gherkins, gem squash and biltong, which I make here, a poor replacement, but hey. And then there’s that resiliency or wildness, is what my friends call it, that I have. Or is that just me?
The thing is, I’ve never been back to Zambia. I’m afraid. Will all my regrets return, will I be overwhelmed by all the changes? But then when I read all those entries on The Northern Rhodesia and Zambia Group Facebook page, which are mostly nostalgic, but also about how life has proceeded, along with pictures like the flame lily and the chongololo, a black centipede, as you can see from the photo below, I take heart and it gets me to thinking that I might just return one of these days.