What I remember first is the warm voice of Brinah and the shaking of hands with Godwill, the Royal Chundu car picking me up and carrying us off to the market. I remember the words: Tina has organised something special for you. The scenes out the window as we arrived at the market in Livingstone: the beans and vegetables and grains piled up on tables in stalls, men and women hiding from the afternoon heat, a boy walking up to me with one hand in a peace sign and a tyre held up with the other. The beat-up Landrover that intersected us and the winding dirt path leading to a dark corner lit up with every pattern and colour of chitenge possible.
I remember the chitenge! And Brinah saying, please take a look; me already eyes and elbows deep into fabric, camera trying to catch up to the motions of my excitement. Brinah saying, pick some of your favourites. For a dress. I tried to understand what was happening, a shopping trip for me? I asked. Yes, our gift. But I should go to a bank, I said. No, our gift, she repeated.
I remember the first cloth that jumped out at me and every cloth thereafter: this one and how about that one, ooh wait, how many more can we get? These two! Ooh ooh these these! Camera down, hands exchanging, body spinning from wall to wall, we collected several fabrics and paid the shop owner and moved back out into the sunlight.
I remember every dress worn by the women we passed, the shirt on Brinah’s own body, wondering how I’d gotten so lucky, how much kindness I’d stumbled into, how undeserving of it all I felt as we headed back to the car past faces I wanted to greet and meet and share stories with. I remember designing the dress in my mind as we drove to the lodge at Royal Chundu and Aggie in her own perfect chitenge dress and Hessah in his bright bold shirt moving in the “welcome home” dance at River Lodge.
I remember meeting the seamstress, Mrs Kalota, and feeling Zambia wrapped around me closer than ever before. I remember stepping into the final product and not wanting to take it off. I remember you, all of you. Your colour and your kindness.
Read more in our blog, The Chitenge ~ A Zambian Icon