23 February 2013

Zambia: When Mushrooms Got Me Stranded

MUSHROOMS are always a delicacy in not only exotic restaurants, but in most homes in Zambia. Unfortunately, they're not found everywhere and people must make forays into the bush to gather them, risking their lives to snake bites and other dangers in the process. But less grimly, you could just get lost in search of the fleshy, edible fungal food that grows above ground on soil. TIMOTHY KAMBILIMA now reports.

WHEN I was growing up in the low density area of Zambia Avenue in Chililabombwe, my friend Charles Mwila, among others, and I, used to go for 14:00 hours movies at Vega Cinema Hall on Saturdays, otherwise we gave over our time to watching my childhood favourite football team Konkola Blades play big teams such as Kabwe Warriors, Mufulira Wanderers and Nkana Red Devils.

Incidentally, I used to be a ball boy and, one day, I was privileged to shake hands with Kalusha Bwalya when he played for the then 'Mighty' Mufulira Wanderers, and I was so excited that, I shared the experience with my family during supper that evening.

Well, one Saturday morning, in December 1985, when I was a pupil at Kamenza Primary School, I went to visit my sister Bana Mack in Kakoso Township which was just about one kilometre from our home. I had not sought permission from my parents.

Upon reaching her place, I found that my brother in-law, Bashi Mack, was about to make a trip to the bush to collect some mushrooms.

As an adventurous boy who enjoyed life, I asked him if I could accompany him to the bush.

At first he turned down my request, seeing that I was too young to go to a distant bush which was several kilometres away from residential areas.

But I gave it my best shot and convinced him and he finally nodded. Joined by his neighbour whose name I can't recall now, we straight away started off on our trek into the bush.

After walking for quite a distance, I was so exhausted that I regretted having volunteered to join him on the bush 'safari.' Though I didn't directly tell my brother in-law so for fear of being scorned, he gave me the I-told-you-not -to follow look, straight from the bottom of his heart.

Anyway, as a boy who also used to play football, I soldiered on until we reached a place which was guarded by Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Konkola division mine police men with those fierce 'police dogs'.

I later learnt that the place was a restricted area which was used to store utupata (explosives) used in rock blasting at the mines.

We hurriedly passed through the area and we started gathering different varieties of mushroom, including the brown ones locally known as kabansa or tente and the bigger type, bunkungwa or icikolowa, usually found on the sides of, or near, anthills.

Since, I had no basket of my own, I put all my collection in my brother- in-laws' big basket.

As we kept on gathering the mushrooms, my brother in-laws' neighbour went out of sight from where we were doing our harvest, forcing my brother-in-law to also decide to cast his net wider in search of more of the delicacy, away from the place.

He told me, "Let's go this side", but I said I would join them later.

That was the beginning of my troubles.

No sooner had I remained alone, than I saw a small green snake. Instead of shouting for help, I quickly started running for my dear life and, after about 10 minutes of involuntary sprinting, without looking back, that's when it occurred to me to stop and start shouting at the top of my voice,

"Mulamu! Mulamu!" But there was no response!

"Mulamu! Mulamu!" Still there was deafening silence, except the echoes of my own voice and that of the singing birds.

Fear gripped me and as I walked round and round, I realised I was getting nowhere.

In short, I was completely lost. When I looked at the position of the sun, it was 13:00 hours.

Since this was my first expedition in the bush, I was confused and didn't know what to do next.

But somehow, I resolved to keep walking until I heard the sound of a vehicle and I was relieved because it was a sign that I was getting closer to the road.

Indeed, presently, I found myself at the Chililabombwe-Chingola Road near Fitobaula Bus Stop.

Those who have lived in Chingola or Chililabombwe know what I'm talking about.

When I narrated my ordeal to some women street vendors selling roasted maize, one of them was kind enough to arrange a free ride for me with the driver of an open van who was transporting charcoal to Chililabombwe and, by 16:00 hours, I was back home and went straight to my room.

In the evening, my sister and my brother- in-law came and explained what'd happened.

My mum and dad expressed shock at first because they thought I'd gone to play football with my friends at Kamenza Primary School grounds and not that I had gone to visit my elder sister.

I apologised to them for my omission about my whereabouts.

Dad was, however, pleased with the haul of mushrooms brought by his son for the first time which my sister had given mum.

When I grew up and married in June 2000, my brother in-law would jokingly reminisce about this incident and tell my wife; "Your husband got lost in the bush while collecting mushroom."

Though my brother- in-law died on October 7, 2001, the year Zambia's second president of the Republic of Zambia Fredrick Chiluba was leaving office after 10 years, I still have fond memories of that Saturday when I got lost.

The valuable lesson from this episode for me is that, I always encourage my two daughters Tricia and Trinah to always inform us of their whereabouts whenever they leave home to play with friends or whatever.

God is wonderful and I wish all my age mates I lived with in Zambia Avenue in the 1980's could read this story to remind them about those good old days in Chililabombwe.

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