To Find the Real Zambia, It Took a Village
Sunday, March 25, 2007
The traditional healer, a dark-skinned woman with intense brown eyes, wasted little time introducing herself when we walked into her thatched hut in Kawaza, a village of 48 people from the Kunda tribe in eastern Zambia.
"Right now, my name is Fanny," she said. "But when I am possessed I am no longer Fanny. My name becomes Hetina."
Fanny was wearing a long white dress decorated with bright red crosses, signifying her status as the village shaman. She was gripping a well-thumbed Bible that she soon would be reading to us while describing how she tackles her village's health-care issues -- from the common cold to HIV/AIDS.
But first Fanny had a question for her three foreign visitors.
"Is there anything you'd like to ask me?" she said, speaking in her native language, Senga, through our English-speaking guide.
Yes, we had a few questions. Quite a few, as a matter of fact. We had traveled to this corner of central Africa to view some of the most abundant wildlife on the continent. Lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants -- all can be found in nearby South Luangwa National Park, an eco-tourism jewel famed for its walking safaris.
On this day, though, my wife, Freddi, our 13-year-old daughter, Gabriela, and I were in search of something more -- a glimpse, if only a fleeting one, into the lives of the people who inhabit this region. So with an assist from our safari lodge -- a bumpy, 45-minute drive away on a rutted dirt road -- we arranged to spend a leisurely afternoon in Kawaza.
"And how did you become a traditional doctor?" Freddi, a nurse who manages a hospital emergency department, asked Fanny.
She smiled broadly, seemingly delighted to tell her story. "I was sick as a child, and my parents took me to a regular hospital, which couldn't find anything wrong with me," she said. "Then they took me to a traditional doctor who found I was suffering from a hidden spirit."
Fanny said she was cured by the traditional doctor, which inspired her to become one herself in the early 1970s. And today, guided by the Bible and what she calls "the spirit," she often heads into the bush to collect plant roots, tree bark and other traditional remedies to treat her patients.
"This is not magic," Fanny assured us.
For us, the encounter with Fanny was pure magic. Not that I was surprised. During three decades of traveling around Africa, Asia and Latin America, I rarely have been disappointed with the side trips I have taken to villages off the tourist circuit.