Early in the morning of International Women’s Day, I was sleeping, I just wanted to sleep in. But then someone began knocking on my door, and I got up to answer it. I found there was this old, old lady. She was carrying this big sack on her back like a baby. I said, “Ah, Sylvia, what are you doing?”
“I’m coming from Mandevu.”
“What were you doing there? Visiting your relatives?” It was so early in the morning, I imagined that she must have left there very early to get to Ng’ombe at this time of the morning.
“No, no. I left early from my house this morning. I went to buy some groundnuts because I know that I am owing Chikumbuso some money. Now that my son’s funeral is over, I want to start selling so I can start paying again on my loan.” Sylvia, like many older Zambians, believes that if she is owing a debt on earth, she won’t be free to die. At 104, with all she has seen, you can imagine how this grips her.
“So,” I asked her, “how much do you have? Have you started selling by this time?”
“Yes! That is why I’ve come!”
I had her scoop out the groundnuts, bit by bit; she looked up at me in the eyes, “Is that enough?” “No, keep counting.” She counted until they were all out. The total price was 10.50 kwacha, with a profit of 1.5 (about $2.10 in total, profit about 30 cents). She was very pleased and grateful for the money and turned to go.
“No, no, Sylvia, you must stay and have breakfast with me. It’s International Women’s Day.” During breakfast we talked about her plans to earn some money for her loan and I shared the story with my children who would easily look down on working so early and so hard for such a meager profit.
After breakfast, she turned to go. “No, no, Sylvia, you must stay – I will get your clothes washed and pour you a nice bath.”
After we had washed the clothes and ironed them and she finished her bath, she turned to go. “No, no, Sylvia, the day isn’t over yet. You must stay for tea.”
By the time Sylvia went home she was very happy – she’d eaten three meals, sold all her groundnuts and her clothes were nicely ironed, folded and back on her back in the big sack wrapped with chitenge – these are clothes that she will sell to pay back her loan and now that they are clean and ironed, they will be much more likely to sell.
She was happy, but I found I was even more happy. Sylvia is a very old woman and her last child was just buried and yet, she was up very early in the morning, out and about, trying to make just a little profit to get herself going again. And not only that, all the time she was here, she was smiling, laughing, even giving us a small dance – I thought, “Would I have that courage going through all these problems? I kept thinking of her – what if she were my own umbuya (grandmother) and I wondered at her courage when she’s all alone.”
At the end of the day, I was so very happy I’d spent my day with her, celebrating a Grand International Woman.