I talk a lot about Peace Corps in this blog, and I make an effort to introduce you to a variety of volunteers, staff members, and other people involved in making the Peace Corps machine tick along. But, Peace Corps is really about the people whom volunteers live and work amongst. In my case, it’s really about Zambians and Zambia as a country. This week, I am pleased to introduce you to one of my favorite Zambians and nearest neighbor.
Tamar Simwizye – Age 30
Rather than the usual interview format I use in this feature (which Tamar would have found uncomfortable), I instead asked Tamar to tell me about himself and his life and combined his responses with my knowledge of his day-to-day life. It is my hope that through this post you will gain a glimpse into the life of the average Zambian.
Tamar, who also goes by Sunday and Ya SiBette, starts his day around 4:30am. Married for eight years, Tamar and his wife Ya Docus make their living from selling sweet potatoes, tomatoes, tilapia, sugar cane, and a small quantity of maize. They have three children: Memory, Precious, and Bette, all of whom are cuter than sin, healthy, and are adored visibly by their parents. Tamar will head out to his fields, which he shares with his father, Ya Teddy, to feed fish and stir compost bins, look for signs of theft or damage, and work for a few hours before the day grows hot. If he eats breakfast, it’s likely to be boiled sweet potato mixed with peanut powder or cooked down with onions and tomatoes.
In the afternoon, Tamar usually tackles a project of some kind. Maybe it’s building bricks with his fish farming group (my other neighbors), maybe it’s attending a meeting within the community, or maybe he’ll burn a new field for planting in the coming rainy season. More often than not, he’ll head into Kaka Village (the nearest center of commerce) on his bicycle to sell produce, buy sundries, or to perform community work on the new school. Tamar is rarely at rest, even when too sick to speak or too tired to smile.
Tamar has never been to formal school past first or second grade as he had to drop out early to help support his family. But, he is tangibly intelligent and likes to learn English, Swahili, and other Zambian languages by listening to the radio and practicing the words. He regularly makes his own tools, cooking implements, and fixes his neighbors radios, bikes, and lights through ingenious patch jobs.
Tamar is the very definition of Zambian grace and hospitality. He regularly invites me to eat with him (he often makes the nshima in his household; the only man I know to do so) and is visibly distressed if I explain that I’d rather eat American food that nshima that day. Nearly every morning I hear him rounding the side of my house saying, “Odi! (Hello!)” with some generous gift in hand. Sometimes it’s peanuts from his fields, sometimes it’s fresh sweet potato or tomatoes, and sometimes it’s a long, juicy stick of sugar cane. He has seemingly endless patience for my regular butchering of his language (a Mambwe speaker, he also speaks Bemba, some Kayonde, and understands small amounts of English) and makes every effort to teach me new words and help me negotiate Zambian culture. He and his wife are my closest friends in the village and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their unending generosity and kindness.
Tamar has big dreams. Having moved to our small village from the larger, distant city of Mpika in 2010, he wants to build, own, and operate his own restaurant business. He is already a successful businessmen with a local clientele of people who turn to him for fresh produce. As a local teacher and regular customer said to me, “Tamar keeps his promises. If he says he will do something, you can be sure it will be done.” While this may not sound novel, un-kept promises and lack of follow-through are hallmarks of Zambian business in the village, and Tamar is a breath of fresh air in this regard.
When I spend time with Tamar, I feel like I am seeing the future of Zambia embodied in a person and an attitude. He believes in his country, in educating his daughters, in the power of his own labor, and in being a faithful husband to his wife in a culture accepting of polygamy and promiscuity. These are, of course, pleasing to me because they are also ‘Western’ or ‘ American’ values and so it is instilled within me to view them positively. However, Tamar pursues these values for himself and his family because he finds them fitting to his own views of progress and faith (he is a devout Christian), with or without the influence of the West. Born after Zambian independence and developed in his views long before Peace Corps came to his village, Tamar is his own man in as much as we can be ourselves in this ever-globalizing world. Tamar’s attitudes toward life and family, faith and work are going to be the greatest gifts he gives to his village, his children, and even to me. He is my friend, and he is the future of his country as Zambia passes her 50th birthday. I am lucky to call him friend and neighbor, and Zambia is lucky to call him son.
Pssst…want more Peace Corps? Check out my latest post over at Go Girl.