004: Visiting the Sub-Chief

“Kneel!” her host brother Jonathan whispered as they were gently clapping their hands in the customary greeting of the Kaonde people.  Through the trees, maybe three meters away, sat a middle aged man in a lawn chair.  This was the sub-chief of the Sandang’ombe area which included Chelsi’s village of Kamijiji. In training she had learned about the Chief-Subject relationship, but in practice it felt extremely odd.  To this man people were supposed to bring gifts when seeking he counsel, Chelsi’s a brought a small bag of loose leaf tea, and in return he helped settle disputes of landownership, petty crime, adultery and accusations of witchcraft.  Below him is a network of Group Leader and Headman, about one per village, who deal with many of the same issues, but the complaining parties could appeal to the sub-chief if the ruling of the Headman or Group Leader was unsatisfactory.  Above him is Chief, Senior Chief and in some tribe a Paramount Chief, who’s Chiefdom can span across countries, but not for the Kaonde tribe.  As the crème de la crème of their people they are considered royal and chosen for their positions because of their matrilineal lineage.  They are the custodians of culture and tradition, protectors of the land and, most recently, imbued will the responsibility to see that their people receive development; but no volunteer should start their work without formal blessings from a Chief. 
Chelsi started down to one and began to wobble, she broke her customary clapping to grab for the nearest tree.  She was lucky though that she even had a chance at staying clean, in some tribes it would have been customary for her to log roll twice on the ground while clapping before making her introduction to a Chief. 
“Ikalaiko.” Please sit.  Her host brother Jonathan and Chelsi positioned themselves on little stools.  In the silence that followed Chelsi thought, Oh, I guess I’m supposed to talk…
“Jizhina jami ne Chelsi.  Ne wipaana na Peace Corps. Ne mwina Meleka ku Chicago. Nkafunjisha bya bunjimi bwa masabi ne bunjimi bwa bishu ne bumi na HIV/AIDs kabiji Malaria, kabiji… bya kupanga malasha na bipukutu.”
This was the response she dreaded the most.  Her Kikaonde teacher in training had promised that the people would understand, once they became accustom to listening to the way you speak.  Problem was most people were not accustom to the way she spoke.  ‘Keep trying, they will eventually get you.’
She tried her lines one more time. 
She did not like speaking in English, first because speaking like the villagers was the closest she could get to seeming like one, she was never going to look like one after all, and second because although English was spoken by many of the village it was only spoken by those lucky enough to have an elevated level of education, say up to the eighth grade, and she did not want to accidently insult any ones level of education by assuming they spoke English.   But at the rate this was going it seems like she was to have no choice.
“My name is Chelsi. I’m a volunteer with Peace Corps, from America.  I will be teaching about fish farming, gardening, HIV/AIDs and malaria and I would like to teach people how to make charcoal from what’s left of the maize once you remove the grain.”
Jonathan picked up the conversation from there.  She heard him restate some of the things she had just said then explain a little more about Peace Corps and how she was related to Mike, her predecessor.  She lost track of the conservation after that and started to look around.  They were sitting in a thicket of sorts next to house, slightly larger than average size, a palace is how the other villagers referred to it.  There was about fifteen children that had been running about until she arrived, now they were collecting at the edge of the thicket, staring at her.  Like every other banzubo, the space around the house was clear of all vegetation and the top soil swept until the hardpan of the earth was exposed.  Chicken hopped on and off fallen trees in their thicket and a dirty puppy with floppy ears and paws three sizes to big moped by.  Daisy! She turn her body to check on her own puppy who was hopefully still sleeping in the chitenge sling tied to the hand bars of her bicycle. Ah, still sleeping.  But her drastic movement had caught the attention of the sub-chief.  Six or so women also started to gather and sit around the edge of the thicket. Why so many? She wondered.  Kaonde’s were not known to be polygamists like the neighboring Lunda tribe.  And even so, it was a lifestyle that was quickly falling out of fashion.  Sisters maybe.
“…kabwa…” Chelsi’s ears perked up.  That was a word she knew.  She looked back towards the chief.  He was peering through the trees, between her and her host brother towards her bicycles where Daisy was sleeping.
In the pause that followed everyone’s heads turning towards her dog she instinctively interjected, “kakabwa kami, nobe mwana yami.”  Some of the women began to chuckle.  When talking to villagers she eagerly offered the comparison of her small dog being like her child.  This better explained the relationship she with Daisy, which was very different then the way Zambians related to their dogs and deflected inquiries to her motherhood statues.  ‘and what about your children?’ people would ask.  ‘I have my small dog, she is like my child.’  People would laugh of be so taken a back that further inquiries would be dropped. 
She heard the sub-chief ask, “Kwepi?” Where did the dog come from, a common question.  People thought that because she was from America her dog must be too.
“Mashinda, she came from a volunteer that lives in Mashinda.”  He nodded in understanding. 
Jonathan turned towards her.  “The sub-chief wants you to organize a meeting with him, the chief, the Department of Fisheries and Peace Corps.  He wants you to have the Peace Corps car transport us to the chief’s palace about 80 kilometers away, to discuss what you will be working on and the future of fish farming here.”
More than once she tried to explain that she can just make the Peace Corps vehicle go where she wants to, but now was not the time to hash it out again.  She smiled and looked at the sub-chief, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Categories: Adventure, Mystery | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “004: Visiting the Sub-Chief

  1. mary ann c. Kennedy

    I love your writing style, Chelsi. This is a book in the making. I can fully visualize your experiences by your descriptions! Great work. xo


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