A new view of Zambian women

When the NGO dropped me off at Doris’ place at the Zambia-Malawi border town of Chipata , I got a little nervous. As soon as we stopped, the taxi was surrounded by men speaking in the local language Nenja, and seeming grabby and aggressive.

“I don’t feel comfortable here,” I said aloud, but no one heard me.

A moment later, Mary J Blige’s mini twin sister arrived and broke up the crowd with her greetings and smile. Her afro was cut short with some bleached chucks a dark golden colour breaking up the black. She had on oversized sunglasses and a red, blue and black star trail tattoo under her left ear. Her clothing was more stylish than those in North America.

Crystal Schick/ Independent Photojournalist CALGARY, AB -- Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris was my next subject. She was a bar owner who had used Rent To Own to acquire a GenSet, which is a generator. Zambia has rolling balckouts, and she says you can’t run a bar in the dark. The guys can’t watch the game and the beer gets warm. As soon as I met her, I felt at ease in the place.

She offered me a beer and we started talking in her home, which was located right next door to her bar. We clicked immediately. She was 44-years-old but looked 30. We talked about life. We talked about being strong, single, too independent women. We shared likes and dislikes immediately. It was like we had known each other for years. This older, black African woman was my kindred spirit. My sista from anotha motha. The fact that she owned her own bar had no sway on my opinion of her 😉

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, serves a drink in her bar at Mwami border on the border of Malawi and Zambia, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, serves a drink in her bar at Mwami border on the border of Malawi and Zambia, on June 6, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris had opened a bar a couple years ago in her front yard. She said her bar became too popular too fast, and her front yard would fill up with vehicles and she just couldn’t handle the demand. So about a year ago, she had a building built next to her home for the bar. And she ain’t no dummy. She had a couple extra rooms built into the front so she could rent them out. One as an office she said, another maybe as a barber shop.

Doris’ home is her own too. She designed it and decorated it. It was the nicest home I had seen in Africa. Like the bar, and most well constructed buildings in Zambia, it was constructed of red brick and concrete. She outfitted her home with all the necessary piping to have running water, although she still does not have. She does her dishes outside still – well, mostly her bar staff does that. She even has a semi-functioning toilet, but in order to use it, there is a large bucket of water next to the toilet, for which she uses to add water to the tank to flush!

 The bathroom of Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, who lives a very western looking lifestyle, in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

The bathroom of Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, who lives a very western looking lifestyle, in Zambia, on June 6, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris’ bar is located on the road, right where all the semi-trucks stop for the day or night before crossing the border to Malawi. While there are several other bars on the same road, it’s no wonder Doris’ is a favourite. Every night she barbeques up some meat for the boys, she dances and laughs with them, drinks with them, watches the games and shoots stick with them. Every night till one or two in the morning, gets up around seven and does it all over again. Crazy woman!

The first day I was there, she took me to Malawi. I could tell she was a well-respected person in her community immediately. She walked right into the immigration office at the border and told the officer, whom she seemed to know, that she was just taking her guest across for a few minutes. They were perfectly fine with that. No ID check, no passport, just a smile and wave on.

Malawi was cool, I guess. She was telling me about how different it was. Different money, different language, different foods and ways of preparing them. I only walked a hundred yards into the country, but it looked the same to me. lol.

Doris Ngwenya, takes my picture with my camera after we walked over the Zambia/Malawi border, merely a few hundred yards from her home, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, takes my picture with my camera after we walked over the Zambia/Malawi border, merely a few hundred yards from her home, on June 6, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

The first evening with Doris, we just hung out at the bar. She partially worked. Grilling meat for her “boys” and serving us beers as we sat around a coal fire pot to keep warm. With the music pumping, and the booze a-flowing, everyone started dancing. For me, the night ended when they played back-to-back Bieber for me to dance to. I thought that was a good note to head out on.

A group of me sit around a coal fire to keep warm outside the bar of Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner,at Mwali border in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

A group of me sit around a coal fire to keep warm outside the bar of Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner,at Mwali border in Zambia, on June 6, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris said we were going to a political meeting in the morning at 8 a.m. There is an upcoming election and everyone is campaigning right now. I woke up around 7:15 and she was boiling me water for a bath-shower. I asked if there was time for that and she explain to me “African time”. When someone says eight, they actually mean 9 or 10. Boy was she right.

We headed out around 8:30 a.m., Doris looking smoking hot in high heels, a long skirt, a loose top belted and a headscarf. I wasn’t sure how far we were going. I didn’t ask. I assumed close, stupidly. It took us a minimum hour to drive to the meeting/rally. Partially because we were following an open back semi truck that stopped everywhere on the way to pick up supporters, and partially because of the dirt roads they were more like a rollercoaster.

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, struts her stuff in rural Chapata district while heading to a UNDP political rally on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, struts her stuff in rural Chapata district while heading to a UNDP political rally on June 7, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Fun side note: in some of these rural areas I travel, the children have not yet in their lives, seen a white person, let alone a white blond with blue eyes. Most kids laugh, point, wave or stare. Well, pretty proud (not) to say, at one of our random rural pick up points, I made a child cry by just looking at her. Yep. That’s the power of the CRYstal. (Stole that joke from a friend, Ryan Kerekes!)

We met about another hundred people there. The men were talking, the women were dancing, it was a really exciting atmosphere. Only problem was, the candidate wasn’t there and he didn’t show up for about two hours. Kind of took the excitement out of it for me, but everyone else was still pumped when the candidate, Moses Moyer finally arrived. Like all politicians, he talked far too long, and I even got bored of taking photos and laid on the ground in the sun for a nap. Doris of course knew him, because she knows everyone, so she introduced me to him after the speeches. Seemed nice.

Moses Moyer speaks to supporters at the Kalunga Farmers co in the Khova Ward in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Moses Moyer speaks to supporters at the Kalunga Farmers co in the Khova Ward in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Once back at the Doris’ place, she took me to see where their local water pump was – about a hundred yards from her place. I doubt she ever went for water anyway, because she seemed to hire someone to do most chores around her place, like my laundry or the dishes. I wish in Canada. I might just move in with Doris . . . she does have a spare bedroom. I think it was the bar staff who mostly helped her out, so at least she was getting good use out of her employees, who were always smiling and happy to be working. Very different from privileged Canada, where people are constantly frowning and grumbling.

Doris also bought us a sugar cane stick! My first time trying it. And guess what!? It tastes like sugar, lol. Exactly the same. And it’s messy and sticky, but oh so tasty.

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, takes a snap of me eating sugar cane for the first time at her bar at Mwami border in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. -- (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, takes a snap of me eating sugar cane for the first time at her bar at Mwami border in Zambia, on June 7, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

We took some photos of Doris and her GenSet for Rent To Own, and then commenced another evening of Doris grilling for the boys and sitting around coal fires outside the bar for warmth. One of the boys, Enock, who had driven us to the rally and back earlier in the day, had wanted to take me into town to show me what Chapata could be like beyond the bus station.

So Doris changed outfits to look drop-dead gorgeous, again, and I stayed in my ugly khaki shorts and sneaker, again, and we headed the 15 minutes into town for food and drinks.

We headed to the most popular pizza join in Zambia, called Debonairs. It’d be equivalent to a Pizza Hut or Dominos in Canada. After our late dinner – it’s about 10 pm by this time – we headed to a little bar in town. It was pretty meh. Small. Loud. Dark. Meh. But then I couldn’t find my cell phone, which livened things up a bit! We checked everywhere and deduced I must have left it at the restaurant, which was only a block away. We went back and sure enough security had said a phone was left behind, but the owner had taken it home with him? So we had to call the owner and he had to bring my phone back to the restaurant . . . opps.

Iphone photos of my adventure into Chapata town for dinner and drinks with the ever fabulous Doris, and her friend and my new friend Enock, in Zambia on June 8, 2016.

Iphone photos of my adventure into Chapata town for dinner and drinks with the ever fabulous Doris, and her friend and my new friend Enock, in Zambia on June 8, 2016.

Iphone photos of my adventure into Chapata town for dinner and drinks with the ever fabulous Doris, and her friend and my new friend Enock, in Zambia on June 7, 2016.

After the rescue of my phone, we decided to change locations and headed to a night club. It was actually pretty crazy to see. It was exactly like being in North America. All the women were dressed up, a couple were dancing (ps, they dance crazy cool here! Like all butt.), all the men standing around talking, pretending not to watch. It was a Tuesday night, so it wasn’t packed busy, but was still pretty jumpin. I could only imagine if it was a weekend. There were black lights, everyone’s white anythings were glowing, and the music was pumping. And they even had more than one dance floor, which were playing different tunes.

Poor Enock wanted to stay out a bit longer, but I was tired, and Doris was ready to leave too. So we headed back to the border town.

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, grills up some meat for her "boys", like she does almost every night at her bar at Mwami border in Zambia on June 7, 2016. --  (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, grills up some meat for her “boys”, like she does almost every night at her bar at Mwami border in Zambia on June 7, 2016. —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris once again gave me her big comfy western style bed, and even had hot water ready for me in the morning when I woke up. We took a couple more pictures in the morning, then hopped in a cab for the bus station. I had planned to take a selfie of Doris and I at the bus station, but when we got there and purchased my ticket, the bus started boarding, and that is a crazy free for all. So Doris shoved me into the front of the line, we hugged and then the line started pushing forward toward the open bus door.

I messaged here as soon as I was on the bus, already missing her and sad we didn’t take a picture together. We’ve messaged each other everyday since I’ve left, and I actually do miss that crazy lady. Although I had only been in Zambia about ten days, and only really left the city for a few of those, I thought that I had been developing a pretty good idea of what Zambia was all about. Doris totally threw any preconceived misconceptions I had, out the door. It’s not to say that what I had perceived and learned about my surrounding were wrong, they just weren’t broad enough. Doris may be a bit of an exception, especially in her community, but there must be others like her in Zambia or Africa.

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, stands infront of her home, located next to the bar she also owns, at Mwami border on the border of Malawi and Zambia, on June 7, 2016. --  (Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

Doris Ngwenya, a hip, independent, successful business owner, stands by the back door of her home, located next to the bar she also owns, at Mwami border on the border of Malawi and Zambia, on June 8, 2016. The buckets on the right are where and what she uses to do dishes and other washes since she has no running water, like the majority of people in Zambia.  —
(Crystal Schick/Independent Photojournalist)

She showed me that Zambian women can be fun and friendly, smart, single, independent, stylish, and successful business owners. Just like anywhere else in the world, maybe even more so! Love you lady! xoxo

 

 

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