Back to the Sender

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Police fire teargas

Police fire teargas

Patrick Sikana

Patrick Sikana

By Patrick Sikana

I stood at the corner of Cairo Chemist, almost welding myself to the wall. The pungent smell from the admixture of methylated spirit and other drugs almost chocking the little strength left in me. I timidly peeped to see if the military tanker had moved. It was still there. Right at that intersection of Cairo road and Church road, it’s long deadly snout pointing towards the fly-over bridge. The whole of Cairo road was deserted, not a single soul in sight, a breeze blew loose leaflets down the vacant streets. Nearby, the Post Office stood ghostly, riddled with bullet holes. A spectral caricutre of it’s former glory.

I stepped into Chiparamba road, heading towards the town centre market. There were stones on the road and all sorts of debris; shoes, spent teargas canisters, handbags, lip gloss and Brazillian hair rolled over towards drainages, an open notebook facing down, a teddy bear with a ripped neck in a pot hole, mobile phones that had been trampled on, broken spectacles, a child’s lone black shoe, bicycles felled on their sides, napping in this ensued melee, hats, a novel by James Hardley Chase with the back cover torn off, and plastic water bottles everywhere.

On Chachacha road there were cars parked with windscreens caved in, some with doors swung open as if waiting for a dignitary to walk out of a building. No dignitary came. No dignitary will come. The buildings were hollow with emptiness, broken windows, naked mannequins, their clothes stolen from their unresisting stiff plastic limbs. When I looked up, over the skyline towards Kanyama compound, black smoke bellowed into the sky. If you listened keenly you could hear a faint scream, like the sound of a strange bird. A helicopter whirred away in the horizon.

The air was rent with burnt rubber and fear and desolation. FINDECO house, now a mockery of development, towered out, hunched in this emptiness. Our Parliament – the theater of comedy – sat silent. At the junction of Parliament road and the Great East road, a few guys in military fatigue leaned on their cars smoking cigarettes and laughing at a joke.

The entrance of the Pamodzi Hotel was bare of that tall elegant doorman who stands there in uniform, he would not be bowing to anyone. If you walked into the foyer you’d be met by broken glass and a bunch of lone suitcases that would never connect with their owners. Up, on Haile Selassie avenue, a half drunk bottle of red wine sat on the counter of the bar at The Intercontinental. At ZNBC, the national anthem was on repeat on all channels. At the gate, military guys stood guard, wielding their assault rifles. Traffic lights at the junction of Thabo Mbeki and Alick Nkhata endlessly blinked amber.

The whole of Kamwala was a ghost town – a transistor radio played that “Munyaule” song loudly from an empty shop. Chilimbulu road, dead. Lusaka Museum, dead…ironically. Intercity Bus Terminus, dead. If you stood at the flyover bridge on Independence Avenue and looked east, you could see all the way to the Supreme Court, now a mockery of justice. Not a car in sight. Not a human. Elections House, where the ECZ was housed, echoed with the carcass of democracy.

Only cops, military officers, stray dogs and cats, and ghosts of a dead nation walked the streets of Lusaka. At night bands of criminals prowled in alleys, ducking into empty shops to steal shoes and money. Lusaka as we know it was dead. Lusaka in ruins. A city that had turned into an oxymoron. Lusaka had become an excclamation mark! Harry Mwanga Nkumbula and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe turned in their graves.

Elsewhere, in the outskirts of the city we fled. Tongas, Lenjes and Ilas, fled towards the south. Bembas fled towards the north. Easterners crossed into Malawi. Lozi’s wandered into the watery plains and reminded the Angolans, it was payback time for the hospitality they receied at Nangweshi and Mayukwayukwa during the Savimbi rebellion. We only carried things that we really needed: family, clothes, food, water and lots of prayers. While we previously drove cars now we were all on foot, every last one of us and we all gravitated towards what we knew as home, kumunzi, kwahaye. We also carried fear and uncertainty and exhaustion. We were weighted by the unknown, by the demon of terror.

We left everything we owned in our homes. Our microwaves would never warm any meal again. In Kabulonga the electric fences still hummed with current, fencing off empty homes. Abandoned dogs, pedigrees that cost an arm and a leg a paw, barked incessantly from hunger and loneliness. Luxury cars lay parked in compounds. We left all our money in our accounts, now useless. ATMs refused to dispense money. Instead, the few that were still “on” just announced a lie: “Sorry, this ATM temporarily out of order.” They would be like that for days, weeks, even months. MTN was the last mobile phone provider to go down. It had gone down a week ago, right before power went out in most parts of the city. Everybody was “either (pause), outside coverage area, or had their phone switched off.” Fuel was a rumour. From Kafue road, you could smell the deathly pong of the dead and dying at the UTH. We all ran away from that stench. From the city of death, a city now framed by smoke.

When we passed by dead bodies lying by the roadside, we covered the eyes of our crying and terrified children. You had already paid school fees for your child next term? Oh he/she won’t be needing that. No bells would ring. There would be no lunch boxes to pack. There was no single bus leaving the city. No water in taps. HH was in Switzerland. GBM in South Africa. The expatriates had all fled, there will be nobody at Chicagos chugging bottles of whiskey, entertaining hordes of our sisters.

No planes took off in KKIA. Proflight aircrafts sat idle on tarmac. Military vehicles swarmed the airport with military guys drinking alcohol from the duty free shop. Nobody was going to land into Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone to go look at the Victoria Falls. In fact, the Mosi oa tunya National Park was so deathly silent, that wild animals started coming out of the park to look for humans to stare at in Livingstone. The young brilliant entrepreneurs who had started excellent hopeful startups had watched them all go up in flames. The Kwacha had become paper.

As we walked across villages we saw cattle in a kraal. The owners had fled at night. No one was there to open the kraal for them. Those cows would die in that kraal. They would die from lack of bread, and lack of brains. They won’t figure out how to jump out.

All this happened because all the tribal venom that we casually played with on social media had now come to pass. Tongas had turned against Bembas, Bembas had turned against Tongas. Ngonis had fought for Bembas, Lozis had fought for Tongas. The rest had sat on the fence, Then when we had gotten tired of fighting and hacking each other because of our last names. When the city had sunk into desperation and suffering, it had become about class, and the poor had come for the few rich who hadn’t left town; climbing over their walls, raping their wives and daughters, breaking into their safes with machetes on their necks and fleeing into the waiting lawless darkness.

Lusaka’s hope had died. Then there was nothing left. The only thing that continued working was fear and hopelessness. Zambia was done. The politicians had put us into a kraal of tribalism. Like cows we had sheepishly obliged. We had blindly followed the politicians to our own slaughter. We were worse than those cows in the kraal. Maybe one day they would jump out. But we would never bring back our loved ones who had perished from our savagery.

We made headlines on all the major networks. CNN kicked us while we were down on our knees. The bazungus shook their heads and muttered, “Zambia? I couldn’t have seen this coming. Africa is indeed cursed.” Talking heads compared us to Rwanda, then Burundi, then Central African Republic. It was open season; comment was free. We had become savages. Hillary Clinton, now the president, sent peacekeepers down; big burly men in dark shades standing legs apart at roadblocks while tyres burnt cinematically in the background. The French dropped us relief food. Even Zimbabwe, broken as she is, stewed in a broth of war, looked over our fences with puzzlement. The UN bureaucrats in their august suits, stayed in meetings, deliberating, looking up the word “genocide” in the Oxford Dictionary first before taking action.

We had all lost. All of us. We were done. We had become refugees.

We crossed through our borders with our children. Thousands and thousands of us, mostly the middle-class because the wealthy and the politicians had left as soon as the fire started burning. Now they were in Milan and in Geneva and in London eating caviar and swirling merlot and cognacs, an occasional eye on a burning country they once professed to love.

We crossed the borders clutching our children’s trembling hands. Children we gave beautiful names like Masuwa, Kandafula and Nabusya. A generation of modern post-internet children, free and alive to all the possibilities that escaped us, children who were to save us from tribalism because they spoke neither Bemba nor Tonga. They were the 73rd tribe, whom we now had failed terribly.

Zimbabweans opened their borders to us. Mugabe, who we constantly mocked on social media, mocked and taunted and made memes of him sleeping or falling down at an airport, now said graciously, “Let them in, let those Zambians in but check their pockets, nobody should come here with stupid quotations of things I never said! Not on our soil!” Uncle Bob had become our father.

And we shuffled into refugee camps in our old shoes and battered faces and weary souls and we were given a section, a large tract of land where all these humanitarian bodies perched on us, like vultures on a dying animal. They pitched huge tents for us and we lived like goats in a pen, relieving ourselves in the bushes, showering from plastic buckets, queuing for food like slaves. Refugees. Even our shadows were miserable.

At the arrival tent a combined team of UNHCR and Red Cross para-professionals conducted screening. As Bemba, you were not allowed in a Tonga camp and vice versa for your own, and other people’s safety. So they asked for your NRC. Most people had taken off in such haste. They had no time to fetch an ID. So the screening team employed other tactics to reveal your identity. They would ask you to repeat “Hammer House of Horror” after them. If you said “ammer ouse of orror,” they knew you were Bemba. If they said repeat “one thousand” and you said “one thouthand” or if they said “european” and you repeated, “earoplane,” then they knew you were Lozi. Sometimes they would randomly ask for your first name. If your answer was anything as wild as “Gaskett” or “Worldcup” or “Sausage” they you hailed from the East. And if the colour of your T-shirt was tangy orange and your pair of trousers was parliament blue, they knew whose swag that was. They just waved you to the Tonga camp.

We had become a disgrace to ourselves, a spectacle to the region. We had stripped ourselves of all dignity and had become beggars. No hashtag would save us. In fact, our neighbours would create a hashtag; #SomeoneSaveThoseZambians at our expense. Imagine that, a hashtag by Zimbabweans. These people whom we had criticized for failing to change regime. Oh how the tide turns. Zambia, the oasis of peace in the region, was no more. Zambia on Twitter had become a rubble of collapsed hubris. Regret cuddled with us in our wintry refugee tents.

Used to instant showers, warm beds, and all these things we currently take for granted, now we craved a place to just put our heads to sleep, a peaceful place where nobody could kick in the door and drag us into the darkness because we had the wrong name. In the sprawling refugee camps, grown men silently wept in darkness. It rained in Karoi. Daily.

Officials from Amnesty International and other NGOs would show up like they always do, in their airconditioned landcrusers and talk to defeated men, place fatherly hands on our shoulders as the clouds above rolled in with more rain. It would rain and rain and rain and we would huddle under the tarpaulin and listen to news from home, aching to go back and do normal things again like buy beef meat and bananas at Mwanamainda. Or go to Manda Hill and receive money from our relative abroad via Western Union. Or sit in evening traffic along Great East Road listening to Komboni radio, have a meeting at Rhapsodys over a smoothie with strawberries and honey. Or going to UB40 concerts. Or signing up for the inter-company relay with Elias Mpondela. Orlike a picture on Instagram, you know, simple everyday things. But we wouldn’t be going home anytime soon. Nobody knew when. Lungu would meet Uhuru, Zuma would meet GBM. Magufuli would meet Kagame. Inonge Wina would meet HH. Then HH would meet Lungu. And then the talks would break down. the cycle would start all over.

As refugees we would sit all day and all night, sit in miserable clusters, wondering how it had all gone to the shitters, but knowing very well how it had come to this. We had refused to love our neighbor. We had adamantly said “no” to diversity. Our children, now with their tattered clothes, would stare at us with empty looks and only find fear in our eyes. And all this misery started because we thought we were immune to war, we thought we would not be broken by tribe, it was all fun and games hating on Facebook right up until the crows came home to roost. Now all that peace we boasted of was a story. No, a history.

“Wake up, ba-shi Masuwa,” shouted Mwansa. “It’s time to go to church.” I jumped out of bed like a warthog and shouted “blood of Jesus! back to sender! back to sender!” What a terrible dream!


13 Responses to Back to the Sender

  1. Pingback: Back to the Sender - Latest Africa News, Breaking News, Hot and Daily News

  2. Useless dream. Please guys don’t post dreams here if you have nothing to post

    Mj banda
    October 9, 2016 at 1:05 am

  3. Lungu does not care about welbeing of Zambia, he wants Zambia to be on fire, useless and selfish fellow and his pf

    Jata Noiluma
    October 9, 2016 at 4:12 am

  4. Useless fikala. Dont post such rubbish here.

    editor chikala chobe
    October 9, 2016 at 5:25 am

  5. Mr. Sikana well done! This should remind and forewarn us of the consequences of the selfishness that has engulfed this country, the lack of respect for rule of law. We must actually sing praises to HH for rising above board. He is a true statesman or else we would already be down on this path. Let us all be sober and continue to pray for those that have gone astray to be touched by God. Let good men rise up and start to push for justice and fairness. For as long as there is no respect for the rule of law and no justice we shall all know no peace.

    Truth be told
    October 9, 2016 at 7:10 am

  6. well done sir, i for one would not take it as joke rather a rubbish as others comment. this seem to my analysis as a repurcation to zambia one day. for it is governed by poor family’s part PF. makabi mwitun’ga da zambia.

    sylvester kambowa
    October 9, 2016 at 7:30 am

  7. In normal lands, Mr Sikana would get a prize for such an article. The writer is a marvel! Even in reference times, now ancient, writers of parodies of dreams like this one only came from Sicily, Greece, and one or two from Egypt. Most were arrested on trumped up charges, detained, unfairly tried and killed by authorities using bizarre, demeaning and crude methods . Unanimously, however, they were all honoured by the greater society. They are now referred to as disciples, apostles, prophets etc (if one is Christian), but the secular world recorded them as philosophers who shaped the world we live in.

    Let us pray!

    October 9, 2016 at 9:50 am

  8. But why posting such horrific things about our beloved country ZAMBIA . There’s power in the tongue. Mr this is way too much, SPEAK A BETTER WORD

    October 9, 2016 at 10:30 am

  9. Which better world? You want him to bury his head in the sand and say Zambia shall prosper under this environment of tribal hate and political polarisation.
    Pf denied the fact that the economy was going under. Now they are relying on the economic recovery plan from IMF.
    Guys let’s learn to be sincere

    October 9, 2016 at 11:00 am

  10. Which better word

    October 9, 2016 at 11:02 am

  11. THANK YOU! Serious leaders base their governance on serious thoughts such as these; for these are the possible scenarios that erupt when seemingly light actions are tolerated. Imagine what form ‘peace’ would ensue if in one of the police brutality activities our police are so used to now, HH was fatally wounded?
    This is irony to others; in reality it happened in Burundi and Rwanda. A plane was shot down. Leaders of a nation died and genocides were triggered. Our political leaders; in government and the opposition parties should read Sikana’s ‘dream’ and debate its merits, and take timely action now to avoid such a scenario visiting Zambia, even if this is a remote thought. Whatever has happened now, President Edgar Lungu and HH can sit together at a round table to agree on a mutually benefiting solution; even one that acknowledges that the election outcome was unfair to the opposition but that nevertheless Mr Edgar Lungu should be accepted as the legitimate president of Zambia. And that the opposition’s role and achievements will be recognised and respected by the government and the ruling party. And that extreme instances of political tribalism should be defined and outlawed in Zambia, and those promoting it criminalised and prosecuted. In every presidential election contest, like a football championship contest, there can only be one winner. Foul play might be employed to win a contest; and that is because to the contrary of many beliefs, that justice,fair play and God’s will excel all the time, the Devil is always in control over earthly matters and he makes sure confusion reigns amongst God’s people. It will be a wonderful day to wake up one morning to watch President Edgar Lungu on television, humble himself before God and the nation and sincerely and unconditionally and respectfully invite Hakainde Hichilema to discuss matters of national and mutual interest, where they will seek to genuinely bring all the people of Zambia together. God, Jehovah and his angels would be pleased, for such are the characters of peacemakers who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

    October 13, 2016 at 6:53 am

  12. Well written my brother. I like it! And I like your choice of words.

    October 20, 2016 at 4:38 pm

  13. Gilly reading that annulment was the best scene of this season and that fat Sam was so obsessed
    with other “stuffs” he totally ignored that Gilly was telling about his beloved friend Jon Snow!

    Game of Thrones Season 7 1080p

    game of thrones s07e05 720p streaming
    August 19, 2017 at 1:03 am

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