Our night with Martha

Note: The internet is incredibly slow and intermittent tonight, so the post will be lacking in photos. What I lack in images, I hope to make up for in imagery. I apologize about the inconvenience. I will attempt to add photos throughout the night.

First and foremost, thanks to Ciara for taking over the blog last night. As you should be aware by now, since I am writing the blog, Rene and I made it back safe and sound after a night in the nearby village. We had an amazing night with Martha and her family and I cannot wait to use the footage we got to tell her story.

Yesterday around 4pm the group left to go to the market while Rene and I stayed behind to walk with Martha back to her village. When we began, the sun was blazing hot with very little cloud cover. The walk was about two kilometers along the main road right outside of the school grounds. Cars and motorcycles whizzed by as we and dozens of students did our best to stay as far on the shoulder as possible. Due to the relative lack of activity, you could hear the cars coming from a mile away (or perhaps I should say “from 1.609344 kilometers away”). Each car that overtook us gave a quick honk or two prior to passing us, making sure that even the most aloof of the pedestrians made room.

After what seemed like forever, we turned onto a small dirt path that lead to her village. Altogether there were over a dozen homes scattered about the village with chicken coops, fenced off areas for the cattle, pig pens, outhouses, bath houses, and other assorted buildings interspersed among them. Within 15 or so meters from her family home we were quickly surrounded by barking guard dogs which Martha and her family promptly called off. While the dogs were far from large, I certainly wouldn’t have stuck around without the owners present – they had been trained very well for their roles.

Immediately after putting down her book bag, Martha began working on her chores. She worked efficiently and with purpose. She started by washing her school uniform, a process that included a bucket of water, a bar of soap, and lots of elbow grease. She then proceeded to sweep the debris away from the home and surrounding dirt as well as from inside the family home, take a quick bath, scrub the pots and pans, and cook dinner. All of this was done as her mother rolled out groundnuts and the rest of the family sat back and relaxed. While we had arrived a bit later than the rest of the family, it was obvious that Martha was a driving force in her family.


Watching Martha cook dinner was mesmerizing. In a small, three-sided hut with plenty of ventilation, Martha stoked up a fire that had apparently been smoldering since earlier that morning. A bucket of stripped maize cobs sat by her side and acted as firewood; I must say, it worked quite well. Once the pot of water that sat atop the fire began to boil, she masterfully fed corn meal, handful by handful, into the water. Despite the smoke going directly into her face, Martha remained stoic as she stirred the soon-to-be nshima. Within a matter of minutes, the solution had solidified and the pot was magically filled with nshima, piping hot and steaming.

Martha cooks nshima for her family with a fire made from spent maize cobs. One of her nightly chores.

Martha cooks nshima for her family with a fire made from spent maize cobs. One of her nightly chores.

Martha's brothers sit around the fire that they use for cooking and heat.

Martha’s brothers sit around the fire that they use for cooking and heat.

As the sun disappeared from the sky and darkness fell upon us, Martha sat and ate the nshima along with the ocra/groundnut combination that her mother had created. As someone who just had his first helping of nshima earlier this week, Martha was a master of the process. Forming each scoop of nshima into a small paddle with her fingers was second nature, barely necessitating her to look at her food while she ate. With just scraps left on her plate, she began to drop the leftovers at her feet so that the dogs could have their share – they pounced at each piece, making sure not to go to sleep hungry.

By the time dinner was complete, the village was darker than Seattle has ever seen. The entire family sat on the elevated foundation of their home and stared out into the greatness that is the Zambian sky as millions of stars stared back. All was quiet and very few words were spoken as they mentally retreated from the day’s activities and prepared for sleep.

We left the village to stay with Idah Masala at her nearby farm. There we ate a lovely meal of nshima and vegetables in a hearty potato gravy and then proceeded to talk with Bertha for about an hour prior to tucking into bed and catching up on some much-needed sleep.

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