After awakening to roosters, the 18 of us packed onto the bus with our multitude of donations and departed for Africa Directions.
Although we have done the drive twice already, the sights along the way are still shocking and intriguing. The first part of the road is paved and lined with buildings. Zambian pedestrians line the street going either way, the men in dress clothes and a tie, the women in conservative shirts, colorful tetenges (long skirts made of tied strips of fabric) and some with babies strapped to their backs. Suddenly, the road becomes dirt, the streets are lined with ramshackle structures selling one or two tomatoes a day, barefoot children wearing dirty tatters, and dingy looking bars every few buildings.
We arrive at an unmarked building teeming with unsupervised children covered in dirt from head to toe, some carrying their younger siblings on their backs. They greet us with smiles and emphatic waves, excited to have visitors in their neighborhood.
Once we step off of the bus and enter the building, the tone changes a bit. Although the children are still in tatters and the environment has an obvious lack of physical resources, there is a strong sense of community within the walls. Groups of young children form along the walls, watching the older children play football (soccer), basketball, and traditional African drums.
A group of young men and women in their 20’s lead the way, and the young cluster around them trying to emulate their every move.
Today is our day to learn traditional African drums, dance and song from them.
We begin by doing some warmups for our mind and body, and soon move onto learning a traditional song about marriage, “Ah, Sevele.” The facilitator goes quickly with us at first, being used to teaching pupils who are much more apt with song and the auditory learning style. Being used to visual aids and having text in front of us, we are awkward at first and have trouble getting past the first few lines. The facilitator patiently adjusts his style to fit our level, and we slowly come together with the song, adding clapping and drums as we go. Our style of singing is much more reserved and light than that of the Zambians.
After we have more or less mastered this song, we move to a dance circle. The Zambians move freely and ably, making the intricate dance steps look easy. They take turns moving, uninhibited, to the center of the circle for solo freestyle, hips gyrating and arms wheeling. The Americans are eventually pulled into the circle, and for the most part we look awkward, and a little uncomfortable. Some dance goofily with a silly expression on their faces while others hesitate for a moment before starting. There is a clear contrast in comfort levels between the Zambians and Americans.
The drum beat changes, and a muscular, long-dreaded young man moves to the center. We chant “Chosa!” at the end of each vocal solo, and are soon to discover that “Chosa,” means “remove,” when the man starts removing his shirt. At first I think that he is just getting hot from dancing, but then his undershirt comes off, too. He tosses it to the next young man, who does the same thing. We are all invited in and have to remove an article of clothing. When it is my turn, I only roll up my pantleg so as not to traumatize my students.
After freestyle, we learn a few choreographed dances. Again, what comes easily to the Africans is awkward and clumsy for the majority of us, with the exception of a few students who dance regularly at home. One of the steps is polyrhythmic, and I spend a significant amount of time unsuccessfully trying to master it. A young man gives me his full attention for the entire time, showing absolute patience and the expectation that I will learn it. Although I try to the point that I am becoming frustrated, I never master it.
After performing the dances to the best of our ability in circle and line formations, the Zambians perform for us.
Although each individual makes a few mistakes, they immediately catch back up with the group and move smoothly from one formation to another, kicking their legs up high as they go. Each individual possesses his or her own flair while performing the danced while remaining a part of the group. The overall effect is impressive, and we have a newfound appreciation for the difficulty now that we have tried ourselves.
Afterward, the Zambians look to us expectantly to teach them something. We choose “The Electric Slide” as a representation of our culture, which we are discovering is difficult to pinpoint. The Zambians immediately pick it up and add their own flavor.
A middle-aged man in the crowd turns to me and asks if this is a traditional dance of ours. I explain to him that we don’t really have a cultural equivalent to what we had just experienced. It is clear that although Zambia has less economic and educational resoures than the United States, they are much richer in tradition, sense of community, and appreciation for the arts.
After we were finished, we went to the American Center and watched The Pursuit Of Happyness with the peer educators from Africa Directions. During the movie the cell phones of the kids from Africa Directions kept ringing. It became very irritating because some of them wouldn’t leave out to answer it, they would just sit there and start talking. When one of the girl’s phone rang she turned the ringer down, answered it in the movie, stepped out to finish the conversation, came back in when she was done, turned the ringer back up, and continued to watch the movie. When the movie we all said our final goodbyes and we left. On our way back the bus was pulled over because the driver made a “bad turn.” The driver gets outs and starts talking to the officer for a few minutes. Soon after, the officer boarded the bus and told us why we were pulled over. When he left, the driver told us that he didn’t get a ticket, but the officier did ask for five thousand kwacha: a bribe. The currency exchange from dollar to kwacha is a US dollar is worth about five thousand Zambian kwacha.