This is head teacher Chimfembwe Ng’oma (En-GO-Mah) of Hope School in Ndola, Zambia. I sit next to him during dinner one night, and he has a story to tell.
He’s forty-three years old, and was married for the first time a year ago, to a woman he met at church. He was a “latecomer” to marriage, he says. His friends had written him off. He has an irrepressible grin and glow at the mention of his wife.
He courted her “on the down low” for a while, until one day at school he announced he’d be getting married a week later. He’d kept the secret since his (mostly female) colleagues were prone to being in his business.
Of course, at his advanced age, everyone had an opinion on his singlehood.
“I was never a ladies’ man,” he says. “When you’re still single at my age, people, they think you have a terrible demeanor, or something’s abnormal with you. Physically,” He taps his temple insistently. “Or mentally.”
I nod. I have felt this myself.
Once he and his wife agreed to get married, they settled on an opening offer (traditionally quite low) for her dowry. Then Ng’oma traveled to her parents’ home with a “middle man” to settle on an agreed amount. Tradition dictated that he not see or talk to her parents during that visit, so the middle man conducted the negotiations, making calls to Ng’oma via cell phone. He took the calls while hiding in some bushes.
When we spoke, Teacher Ng’oma had paid off a little over half the dowry.
After the engagement party, at which he gave his beloved a ring, her family came to his house one day bearing lots and lots of food and singing songs. One song in this traditional ceremony says something like, “We open the way to you.” The food signified his acceptance into the family, and that such hospitality would always be available to him.
“How has your life changed since being married?” I ask him.
He eats much better, for one. And he’s had a bit of makeover.
“I used to dress very awkward,” he says. “I didn’t know how to put colors together.” Now he’s inspected before he leaves for school, his sartorial missteps put right before he goes out the door.
His wife keeps him “accountable,” he says, and so his life is more structured than it was. On the whole he likes it very much.
Congratulations, Teacher Ng’oma.
The above is excerpted from my photo essay and travelogue A Groupon to Africa, which pairs with a steaming cuppa like a summer slice of four berry pie. Give it a try!