Category Archives: strong Zambian men

Inspirational Life Story of a Zambian Entrepreneur

I just re-connected with a Zambian friend, whom I met when I first came to Zambia in 2007. I met him when he was a budding campaign manager for one of the presidential candidates. Now, he is the owner of three businesses, looking to start a new venture in the broadcasting business and is as passionate about his work as ever. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept and practice of emotional resiliency. What makes someone resilient, despite the daily challenges they face? How do they re-interpret difficult events in their lives to motivate them to persist and continue to achieve their goals, even when it involves taking paramount risks? In Zambia, I constantly encounter individuals who possess this strength, a testament to their ability to bounce back even in the face of economic and social vicissitudes. Most often, they start with nothing or very little and build an enterprise for themselves. I have captured the life story of one of the most resilient people I have met in Zambia. He has dictated to me his difficult childhood, his political involvement, his belief in entrepreneurship and his life philosophy.

Background

My dad was a agricultural officer also a preacher man, so he volunteered part of his time for God’s work. I was brought up in the church. At the same time, my father moved from [my] province to about 160 km from Lusaka and he settled there without any relatives. He married my mother. We grew up in a village where Dad was helping farmers selling produce. The road networks were bad. We had no vehicles; we used to walk to school barefoot. I remember crossing a stream and we had to cut a tree so we could create a bridge to walk to school everyday. My father repeatedly lost jobs here and there. Where we lived, there was a marketing company. My father was marketing grain on behalf of the government and he later lost his job at one point and that company changed into a new cooperative. He joined the cooperative movement and that closed down, so he changed and went to a different company. He was retrenched and this is the sad part of my life.

My father was retrenched when I passed from grade 9 to grade 10 in another district far away from our home. My father suffered meningitis and he lost his memory and he lost his speech and he couldn’t talk. He was admitted to the hospital for a long long time. One time my brother was taking care of him, and I remember he jumped from the top floor and he hurt himself on the spinal cord. I continued with my schooling. It was a difficult time that when we closed schools, I would not get any transport money so I had to go on the road to hike from truckers or I would jump on the train TAZARA to get transport. By that time, my dad had died. My mother was a housewife. I had challenges to go to school so I had to cross the border to Tanzania to buy plastics to come and sell here to raise money to go back to school. It was difficult to continue. I couldn’t concentrate properly in school. I had to try and ask to put with family to continue with school. I dropped out for some time, but then I continued. I was associated with NGOs and the Young Farmers club and this enabled me to further my education out the country.

Political Activities

Because of my troubled background, I didn’t like the suffering I went through and what I saw in my siblings and other people who were equally underprivileged. I thought there was a way to fight this. This inspired me to join the NGO sector, the civil society. But I saw there was limited contribution one would make from NGO sector and I needed to jump in mainstream politics to change the status quo. I started my political career while at school and I worked closely with UNIP and I learned how to organize at the local level and participate and critique policies which I can help to fine-tune and deliver the interests of the masses.

When I graduated grade 12, I went to university and decided to stop. I had a challenging time. So I started an organization called Lusaka School-Leavers Self-Help association. With that, I always believed that when people leave school, most who are underprivileged, that’s where the breakdown of life begins. To the contrary, I thought we should keep these people and bring this organization to the Lusaka City Council. I thought we shouldn’t sit at home doing nothing; let’s go clean our cities. In order to keep ourselves active, we participated in the Keep Lusaka Clean Campaign and I remember going to the radio to speak about that campaign. This informs you that I never believe in self-pity. Self-help means that you get up and do something. Don’t let your life pass you by.

I later continued my civic and political involvements by joining UPND when we were just starting in 1998. I was involved with the youths. I thought they should speak out against joblessness by participating in the electoral process to cast their vote where they think their hopes and aspirations lie. I was already politically active. From there, my political career just continued.

Motivational Philosophy

My entrepreneurship spirit comes from always want to see a better situation. I’ve always liked to innovate. I don’t like to do what someone is already doing. What excites me is doing something new and changing lives with it.

I’m an enemy of self-pity. I don’t like people who pity themselves. I always feel that a human being shouldn’t say I can’t do anything. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I feel that I must do something unique to change lives and I hope that I can remembered as someone and kept on trying until my last breath on earth.

You see, I grew up in a family where our firstborn was not that successful. And I didn’t like that the this person I looked up to as his sibling. after my dad has passed on, was not doing so much. I felt like somebody must fight for this family as well. The way to fight is knowledge, secure education. And not education in the literal sense. I see the entire world as the largest classroom ever on earth. This is where you learn about life and I believe in the principle that South Africans say umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, a human being is only a human being when he cares about others. So really, I have a socialist approach to issues because I find that very close to my African setup. And so right now, at my home, I take everybody who wants to come and visit me. I take care of my nephews. The extended family to me is not a burden. I can give them shelter, food and take them to school, and with education, they can open their own horizons. One day, they can be successful, more than myself. I believe the best is yet to come. No matter what I succeed myself, I have not arrived at the best. The best is yet to come.

On Resiliency and Entrepreneurship

I grew up in the village. My grandma lived in game management area and we grew up in wildlife arrangement where lions, hyenas, elephants were story of the day. By that, I had a lot of lessons from my grandma who said, when you are walking along the path, you meet a lion, don’t show it you’re scared because it can eat you. You must show the lion you’re not scared of it. That’s teaching on self-esteem.

I was also taught that when you go to the river and a crocodile attacks you, if you can find the tail of the crocodile and lift it above the water, you can drag the crocodile to the surface to the banks of the river because I was told that if you let the tail of the crocodile, it will defeat you. If you lift it up, you can struggle to the banks of the river and when you’re at the banks oft the river, get a stick, stick it in the nostrils of the crocodile and you’re safe. That’s survival skills.

Coming to my entrepreneurial spirit, whatever any man does to live, I too can do it. So why should I go to look for someone to create a job for me? Why can’t I create a job I’m looking for and employ somebody. Further, I have come to understand from my travels abroad that what makes the best way out of poverty is production – meaning entrepreneurship, and any form of production. My friend told me I have so much potential and that any human being is an unfinished product with room to improve everyday. That has been my principle all along. Whatever I’m doing, if it’s not good today, it will be better tomorrow.

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Inspirational Life History (part II)

This is John’s** life history eloquently told to me over a cup of tea, while I assiduously recorded the details.

I was born in Zambezi District hospital to a single mother. I was the fifth born. My mother died when I was five years old in a bad bus accident. What I remember most about my mother was that she had beautiful, long hair and she was gentle yet a harsh disciplinarian. My father left a long time ago so I never knew him. So I was orphaned at age five.

When my mother died, everyone came and picked who they were willing to collect and adopt into their household. I was the only one left and nobody had volunteered to take care of me. Even after my mother was buried, I was alone. My mother had taken care of this man when he was sick at the hospital and because he was so grateful to my mother, he came to her funeral and chose to take care of me. That is how I was separated from my siblings.

This man came and took me to live in a village called Mumbezi. He was an elderly man with a wife and no children. They were very kind to me. He used to carry me on his back. Just when I fell in love with him, he died. He left instructions to his eldest son to ensure I would be taken care of. The village was very superstitious, so they thought I had death following me. This man’s eldest son was afraid and for three days after his father died, I had no home. I was only six years old and left alone. After those three days, the man called and explained why he had been so hesitant to come collect me. He said the villagers said if I take you in, I’m also going to die, but I don’t care, so you’re coming to my house.

They changed my name to Mumba, the name of a village headman who had died many years before. I stayed with this man and his wife and three children and they treated me as their firstborn. I used to sell sweet potatoes and mukoyo (a drink made from fermented maize) by the roadside. The man I stayed with worked for the roads department so he moved from place to place. He did not make enough and drank alcohol, so his wife would make sweet potatoes and other foods to sell by the roadside and I would help her. Those years, there was a rebel man, a bad guy who lived there and he used to kidnap children. I was terrified of him. But villagers killed him and danced all night in jubilation. These are some of the memories I had as a child.

Then, one day, when I was in grade four, my life changed. I was left with one of my younger siblings because the man had gone on duty and his wife went to deliver a baby, so she went to be with her mother. We continued to sell sweet potatoes and food so we could have some income while the man and his wife were gone. One day I was selling and there was a bus that came by. A beautiful lady asked to buy stuff and I just liked her. She kept gazing at me. After she got on the bus, she remembered me. I was her kid brother. I kept calling her, but the bus continued to move. There was no communication then so she had no idea where I was. She left and told my firstborn sister, I know where our youngest brother is. There was little they could do. They were still in school. My firstborn sister graduated college the next year. As soon as she started working, she went looking for me. So one afternoon, I was designing my toys – I enjoyed making art even as a child – when somebody sent for me. The family didn’t know her, except that she looked like she was from town. Later on, I recognized her. It was a touching moment because I had not seen her for years. I was 11 years old at the time and my firstborn was 23. So my sister collected me and asked permission from the man who had been taking care of me if I could go. He and his wife said I would be better off if I left the village.

So I went with my sister to a town beyond Solwezi. There I continued grade five in school. Now, suddenly, I had electricity and running water. From there, I went to secondary school and moved to Zambezi where there was a boarding school. My uncle was a teacher. I finished school and moved to Lusaka to live with my second sister, who married and lived there. I went to college, finished, and met a nice man also from Zambezi who let me stay with him. I worked at Munali boys high school and afterward, got a contract teaching in Botswana. I taught at a junior secondary school about 78 km from the diamond mines in Mpipi for three years. Then I got a contract with one of the international schools in Zambia and came back. I have been working here now for four years.

I did not see the family that took care of me until last year. I kept dreaming about them. I was worried that the woman had died and I never got to express my gratitude to them for taking care of me. They had a child after I left and they named him Mumba, after the name they had given me. They told him stories about me and said I would one day come back. One day, the child heard me singing on the radio. There was a brief interview with me and that is how the child knew where I was. They traced me and he came to find me. I went to visit them last year. It was a joyous moment and the man said, I knew one day you would come back. This boy comes to visit me once in a while. I am still in touch with the family.

I dream a lot about my mother. I had a dream that I was in college and went to live with my uncle on holiday. He told me this man in town is doing miraculous things. They can dig out remains and resurrect people. So in the dream we go dig the remains of my mother, all her body parts, and try to revive her. After putting her body in a bag and harboring so much hope to see her alive once again, we are told we’re too late. Then I am once again disappointed. It’s so real – all that hope. I miss her.

**John is a pseudonym.