An inspiring new voice from the Zambezi…

We’ve been working with local seamstress, Mrs Aggie Kalota for some time. Many of us are wearing her dresses as you sit here reading these words… We’ve known the great skill she has with the needle and Chitenge cloth, we’ve seen her magic weaving in our warehouse next to the Royal Chundu school. But only recently were we introduced to Mrs Kalota’s daughter, Susan Chessy Kalota. While Aggie lives permanently in the Malambo village next to us, Susan has been away, like many young people, working in Livingstone.

After only one conversation with her, it was clear where her future should lie… in the written word and the philosophical and romantic dreams that occupy most writers. She has found herself a rather perfect muse, close to her family home… the Zambezi River. Below, Susan shares some poignant words on what the Zambezi means to her.

“The Zambezi River Gave Me a New Life.”

By Susan Chessy Kalota

Scientist and author, Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “Where there’s water on Earth, you find life as you know it.”

The great Zambezi River is no exception. Every life form here is dependent on it, and is entwined with it. Humans, plants and animals have built their lives around it. As birds sing songs that only they know, every new flow signifies life. As trees dance swiftly to every wind that blows, every flower brings content.

Mabi creating new mini mekoro for Royal Chundu, outside his home in the village right next to the lodge.

Mabi Sitali a 50 year old man living in the Jeke area in Katombora was a happy child like any other, until a health condition – polio – crippled his legs at age two and confined him to a wheelchair. His father took care of his every need. Mabi lived a fulfilling life until his only supporting family member passed away. His world came crushing down leaving him with only two options; either roam around the village, at risk of being ridiculed for failing or rise to show the world that he too was capable. He chose the latter.

Mabi says, “I used to shed tears at every sunrise until I started to resent self pity. The Zambezi River gave me a new life. Because of it I got my pride back as a man.”

Mabi wakes up early every morning to the banks of the Zambezi River, sets out his fishing nets made from reeds and lets them dry before rolling them out onto the ground to use as a sitting mat. Mabi, you see, has created a life for himself as an artist, using the tools he can find, including trees like the Baobab, Mopane, munanga and Mululwa trees. This wood he carves to create animals, walking sticks, boats, key holders and doorbells. He sells these in bulk – including to Royal Chundu, which provides a place for travellers to see, learn about and purchase Mabi’s creations. Mabi now smiles at every sunrise.

Mabi Sitali is not the only person whose life wholly depends on the great Zambezi River and its banks. The Zambezi River from which Zambia derived its name plays a major role in the survival of the people living alongside it and helps in its winding way to nurture and educate children who grow up and continue to improve their communities. The Zambezi provides, you see… it helps us to generate income from farming, fishing, carving and crafting as well as through tourism.

Kids from the Royal Chundu Foundation School enjoying an afternoon of soccer on a nearby field.

The Zambezi means life and evidently many people would be much poorer in every way without it.

But sometimes in survival, rivers don’t always run smoothly. According to Social Darwinism, the life of humans in society is a struggle for existence ruled by the “survival of the fittest,” a phrase coined by Herbert Spencer. The same concept rules plant and animal life.

To survive in most economies and societies, humans need to work their hearts out. In the plant world, only plants that grow faster find a place in the sun. In the animal kingdom, only the strongest animals survive. To rule, animals need to prove their capability. The African fish Eagle is a prototype of this nature – adapted to survive in its terrain. It grabs its prey from the river – fish, water birds, frogs, terrapin. Though its prey is slippery, its large talons do not lose grip.

And then there is the blue water lily…

Not only are they appealing to the eyes but to the body – they are said to have some surprisingly medicinal qualities, such as being an aphrodisiac and alleviating pain, depression and upset stomachs. They protect themselves in the changes in the weather with a clever trick. They close up in the cloudy cold and open up in the sunny heat. A life is saved. Fish and other water-dwellers find relief in the blue water lilies by spreading out under them during the most unbearably hot weather.

I have tiptoed through the thick bushes beside the Great Zambezi. Though alone, I find solace in the birds cheeping, leaves falling to the ground at every windy gust and the flow of every drop of water in the river that gives life to all living things. This natural world is my perfect home. When I feel lonely or sad, nature nurtures me, like no human can.

As humans, we have to endure hardship time and again, not because we are weak, but because we desire love that is felt from the heart, a smile that will last a lifetime, dances that delight our spirits, songs that bring revival and the kind of beauty that never fades. The Zambezi, and all of the natural world, manages to answer this request, this desire. It’s why humans often feel close to their God when around nature. It’s why many people have built prayer gardens around trees and flowers and why others go into the hills and mountains.

The natural elements of the Zambezi environment provide physical healing too.

The roots, leaves and fruits of certain trees have numerous medicinal purposes. For instance, the Mopane tree is used in the treatment of diarrhea in animals. The healing process from medicinal plants is seemingly slow, but effective and safe compared to synthetic drugs, which work faster and address specific diseases but have more side effects.

There is another way that the Great Zambezi River manages to give life to and revive the people living beside it or travelling to it… for the fortunate travellers who come to view her from lodges like Royal Chundu. It’s not merely the river’s bounty that supports people like Mabi through fishing and tourism, but also the inspiration and excitement and beauty that she gives us. Just look at the extraordinary beauty of the Victoria Falls, locally known as Shungu-Namutitima by the Tonga people, meaning ‘The smoke that thunders’. And the river’s adventures… like canoeing, rafting, wildlife viewing, birding, bungee jumping, island walks, sightseeing, and sunset cruises.

The Zambezi is our home and it gives us life in every way we could possibly ask for… sustaining and restoring us, over and over again, nurturing our hearts, bodies and minds as a constant provider, friend, guide and muse.