This past spring, from mid-May to early June, I spent three weeks in Africa—two weeks in Zambia and one in South Africa. The first week in Zambia we spent backpacking in the bush, in a village called Zalulao. No electricity, no running water, no toilets, beautiful people; it was amazing!
Afternoon’s in Nalulao generally consisted of naps, soccer, or playing an odd assortment of games (catch, duck-duck-goose, volleyball). One particular afternoon, I was playing “Throw the Ball to the Makuwa” with about 30 girls between the ages of three and twenty-three. The girls had already exhausted one makuwa (white person) and were doing a fine job of tiring me out. Suddenly they all stop, move in towards me, and start talking to me. (I only know three words in Lozi: “encha,” a positive affirmation serving as a greeting; “makuwa,” white person, and “wena,” you, when speaking to a child or peer.) They know limited amounts of English from school. I catch a few words: water, game, photo, and washing. Every time they say washing they make splashing motions and giggle; I choose to ignore that one. I agree to nothing yet. The girls eventually called Soko our translator over. His listens for a moment and then explains. “They want to play the game down by the water and have Jess take pictures.” That’s not a big deal… sure! I agree.
The girls erupt with squeals of delight as we go running to the lake. There I am in a long flowing skirt, walking through waist-high grass, with squealing Zambian children running around me—it was perfect! We get to the water’s edge; but, oh… they aren’t stopping. Maybe we are dipping our feet in? I lean over and daintily unvelcro my Teva sandals. As I look up, I see the bank is littered with clothing, and all the girls are piling into the water butt-naked. I have never seen that much nakedness in my life. I was a bit shocked at first, but I agreed to play, and to turn back now would be an insult. However, moving forward meant going in fully clothed—we were given strict instructions to under no circumstances be seen without a skirt on, else we would risk being perceived as prostitutes. I couldn’t pass up the chance, so in I went. We had a grand time; though, they couldn’t understand why I wore my clothes in. I became the talk of the town—the women made fun of me for days… It was totally worth it.