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Experience #12 - Lukupa, Kasama, Zambia

Since I began to involve myself in social projects, my opinion about so many issues has matured and, in some cases, even transformed. I realized that this happened just because I was more open to see questions that I couldn’t clearly see before from my bedroom’s window.

One of those is really to put in practice my theory and, from there, find new perceptions and conclude that we always have so much to learn. As a lawyer, it would be worthless to know everything about our constitution if I wasn’t able to translate it to my client. The same happens in this new phase. Is worthless deciding that I want to work to solve poverty, without listening previously those ones who really suffer from it. Anyway, I can’t decide to fight for gender equality without even knowing what really prevents it to be absolutely unquestionable.

I’m saying all these to tell about my participation on the funniest and unexpected experience so far. But it was only to me, because Fe wasn’t allowed to join us! In the last post we told about Claire, a friend we made in Zambia and the one responsible for introducing us to amazing inspirations, including herself and her organization – Kasama Micro Grants.

Thanks to Claire I was invited to participate in a ritual for sexual initiation of a 16 years old young girl that will marry her school boyfriend. This is very common here, as I’ve already told in other posts. But this time the marriage was the couples’ choice, who seemed to have fallen in love, despite their young age. At least.

The ceremony is called Cisungu and only the women from the village can participate, but as the presence of unknown people – even more white and talkative like me – usually awakes lots of curiosity, I had the chance to be kindly invited to join them. It is somehow similar to the idea of a celebration done in Brazil, but there your friends full around so much that make you reconsider the decision of getting married – and also your friendship.

No doubt it was the most different and impressive party I’ve ever been to. Even more than those corporative end-of-year parties when people get free like there is no tomorrow…

Around 4pm we arrived at the house of the bride’s parents. The women were in the backyard sat around the grandma, who was the only one sitting in a chair, as a symbol of respect and admiration for her. They kept swapping between playing the drums and drinking beer, while the bride was still waiting, inside house, for the right moment to join us. The children took the chance to dance, always shaking their hips.

A curious fact is that every time somebody joins the dance, no matter where, she has to wrap a piece of textile around the hip, as it highlights it and helps to calculate the level of dancing proficiency of person.

Going back to what matters, the ceremony is conducted by a special teacher in the theme who seems to have a recognized position among the women of the village. When she was prepared together with all the guests, we walked into a closed room, where men couldn’t see us, and the bride came crawling and covered by a textile. The drums went crazy at this moment and I was very happy. I didn’t even imagine what was waiting for me.

Afterwards we went to the bush where they believe is the place where we are more connected to the nature and our female instinct flourishes, what is fundamental to the following exercises. The bride must take all the clothes of and wear only her underwear. Obviously, she didn’t appear to be much comfortable.

The teacher started explaining that before each exercise the bride should roll over the ground as a demonstration of respect to the older women. Afterwards she demonstrates the first lesson that was the following: In a plate full of peanuts the bride should find a different seed and rescue it with her mouth. Just like that one that we should find a ring in the flour. Once rescued, the bride has to crop the seed in the land. Everything with her mouth, without using the hands.

After the instructions, the bride rolled over the floor – wearing only the underwear – rescued the seed and cropped it with her mouth. The women were shouting, laughing and celebrating just as if they were watching the concerts of their favourite band and I got a bit scared for not knowing what would be the next exercises of level hard. The following turn was Claire’s, who also performed well and arise the euphoria of the public.

Then it was my turn. Until that moment I thought I could only watch, but my participation seemed to be a further reason for the joy of my colleagues. Besides that, it was a traditional ritual and a sort of a secret, reason why my presence should only be admitted if I was one of the initiated also.

Then there I was, rolling over the land, hunting a seed between peanuts and cropping it with my mouth. The good news is that at least I could keep my clothes on.

This was only the first exercise. Among others, I had to get a little cord tied to a tree branch with my big toe while doing handstand and be part of the dance. When the night fell we walked to the river, through the bush, using only the moon light… Too much emotion for someone who has snake panic, like me. Claire saved me from taking my clothes of and entering into the river to another exercise.

At that moment, the bride was receiving make up and a mud hair style. She was wrapped into a straw mat and we went back through the same path singing songs. I sang the same way I’m used to sing when I don’t know the lyrics and free my imagination.

When we arrived back to the parents’ house I was exhausted. It was when Claire and I had to lay down on the floor covered by a sheet, while the women were playing the drums, singing and dancing around us. A small basket was put in the middle of the circle so that the guests could contribute with money donations. My cheek was touching the ground and I was laying down holding to my knees. As it was a full moon night and I really believe in vibrations, I think I received a lot of energy in that moment.

During that period the bride was still wrapped into the carpet and I was still holding my knees, it would be like that until the basket had a good amount of money. I almost offered my camera as part of the payment (actually the camera was rolled in my neck inside my t-shirt to avoid any damage on the lenses. While I was still laying down on the ground, of course). When the basket was full of money, Claire and the women congratulated me lovely slapping my arm.

After all, when I was almost calling my mom to come to pick me, I remembered that the bride was still waiting inside of the carpet. Then, she was finally released with a bucket of cold water to clean the mud of her hair and face. The lesson I took from this: never complain as it can be always worst.

Among the main lessons taught, there were some sexual movements to give more pleasure to the husbands and how we should guide our body to give birth. Besides that, some tips related to day to day were given, like never farting close to your husband (it’s true! There was even a song for that). These concepts were super valuable for me, mainly to remind us that our body was made to perform in the most natural way (considering the exceptions, of course).

Around 10pm the dinner was served. Some baskets with nshima, beans, fried fish and vegetables were put on the floor. We sat in a circle and ate together with our hands, what is a local costume. I was a bit afraid for not having washed my hands and neither my friends had. But I ate and I’m alive! This is what really matters.

After that, Claire convinced the women that it was already too late and we needed to go back home. She had to say that because the ritual usually takes three following days and the women can sleep just a few hours during this period. We said good bye and walked into the bush in the dark to Claire and Justin’s farm. Fe was already sleeping in the tent and I had no idea what time it was. Obviously he had to wake up and listen everything about my adventures. Oh, the funniest: even after rolling many times over the ground, I didn’t have a bath before going to sleep. It was too late (almost midnight) and too dark to go to the river. A big hug to the inventor of baby wipes!

It took a long time for me to sleep. There was a lot of information in my head, land in my ears and the sound of the drums didn’t stop until the morning… It was just the first day of the party.

I needed some weeks to digest all that experience. It was curious to think that the exercises seemed to empower and oppress those women at the same time. Why they don’t teach skills that bring pleasure to the wives also? And even with that, I had the feeling that they seemed to get out of there more powerful, after learning – or remembering – how able we are to operate our own body.

I lived a dilemma for days, without knowing what exactly I’ve experienced that day. After a couple of weeks I could draw my first impressions.

The first of them is that most of the times we build our perceptions based on the opinion of others, on common sense or in something that we read/heard someday. This is why we should be always able to change our interpretation. I’m saying that because I bet you may think that all the ritual I described was quite weird and even sexist. I used to think the same until I was part of it – literally – and concluded that the principle is almost the same of a Brazilian famous event done with friends, but much richer in tradition and local culture. They don’t invest so much money in cupcakes. It’s a simple exchange of laughs and knowledge among women.

We hire professors to teach us strip tease, massage and Pompoir, or we simply wait for gifts like wood spoons or rubbish baskets for kitchen. Wow!!! This is also super sexist and even though we still have fun! After the initial thrill I actually liked to learn what I should do when giving birth… Nobody ever told me about it and it seems to be more useful than learning how to use a massage chocolate candle…

For sure the same interpretation doesn’t apply to sexual initiations that sometimes are imposed to girls starting at nine years old, obligating them to leave school to attend the “new course”. After that, they are considered to be ready to get married, most of the times with older men. In this case, the marriage is justified as a shortcut to benefit the bride’s family in financial terms or even to free her from stigmas of women who don’t get married.

So the first conclusion is that we are all very similar, respect the difference and be open to reconsider our perceptions is a path to see these similarities.

Another thing that made me think is that even questioning ourselves about the clichés imposed to the women, most of the times we are the ones who challenge our own friends. There will always be that dear friend who insists in questioning you why you are not dating, didn’t get married, don’t have children or even why you got divorced, changed the job or simply for choosing a different path.

I don’t know the reason for that, but I know that it happens a lot and it seems to be more common among women than men. This thought came to me because during the ceremony I could notice that some women seemed to be more excited than others and in a certain way were trying to intimidate us when we needed to perform the duties and were having so much fun watching us doing bizarre positions. The funniest thing is that those women already took the same place that we were taking that moment and probably they also felt intimidated by others. Shouldn’t this be sufficient for them to wish that next generations don’t need to pass through the same challenges?

Well… You don’t need to go to Zambia to find people like that.

Sometimes we forget to look inside ourselves and realize how valuable our learning and experiences are, even if in that time they were painful and we ended up focusing on replicating same questions, patterns and behaviour that don’t add anything and bring negative vibrations. Of course that changing cultures and traditions is a long way that needs a task force, but for the ones who live in a big city and are daily impacted by so many information, repeating standards it’s a simple convenience. We don’t need always to chose between get marriage or buy a bicycle. We can have both or none of them.

If all of us would have the consciousness of our mind, body and words power, we wouldn’t be so concerned to adequate ourselves to what is supposed to be the regular way. We would be free to create our own patterns, without just replicating the one that everybody uses. And the best thing is that there would be nobody wanting to listen to answers that you don’t have to give.

Well, we are all very similar – in Brazil, Zimbabwe or Zambia – and we have a lot to learn among each other. We just need to put away this habit of always focusing on what is missing (the boyfriend, the husband, the children, the marriage…) and start to look at the beauty inside ourselves. Not needing to follow any checklist, even less that one of your friends’ who always asks if you are dating someone, when you are busier planning you next vacation to the beach.



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