I had waited for them to finish constructing my hut so that I could spend the first night in it. I was at last checking out of Mika lodge in Lusaka in the capital city of Zambia in Southern Africa. The taxi was going to drive me about an hour outside the city along the Great East Road to the small fast-growing town of Chongwe of about 5,000 people.

This moment was long in coming. After some serendipitous events in June 2016 in search of cheap land to buy in Zambia, I bought 50 hectares, or 123 acres, of Savannah wilderness land. I wanted to build a small model village on it. This was perhaps the biggest achievement strewn with numerous obstacles in my being relatively poor and living in Bridgewater in Virginia, which is 16,000 kilometers, or 10,000, miles away.

After driving an hour on the single two-lane paved road passing commercial farms, roadside markets, industrial companies, we arrived at the Mwanchilele small rural shopping center. We turned right into a dirt road. The driver slowly and carefully navigated around large stone borders, short tree stumps, rocks and deep dangerous crevices on the small narrow road. My heart was beating fast with excitement and anxiety. Would the village be a desolate place with several incomplete huts and empty of human residents? Would my sociological ethnographic sabbatical research turn into a disaster during which I would sit around in a hut alone? Would I be writing and lamenting that numerous financial obstacles and COVID-19 had ruined my research?

Because this was the rainy season with tall green grass and bushes, the taxi emerged out of the dirt road into an opening. There was the 50-by-30-foot rectangular, three-room red brick house dwelling for the caretaker. There was a vast land of 10 acres of corn, some of knee high and others waist high. The woman caretaker and my brother met us as we unloaded my three bags. Three young men carried my suitcases on their heads. We walked in a single file in a path along the corn fields into the lush green tall vegetation to the village.

After merely 10 minutes of walking, the path emerged into the most spectacular sight: the Mwizenge Sustainable Model Village. There was a line of five brown, well-manicured round huts with thatched roofs. Opposite each hut was a smaller round mphungu kitchen with smoke from smoldering cooking fires. Children were playing in front of the first hut. The third hut was to be mine and my three bags were initially placed by the side of the door entrance of the hut along the chiwundo corridor. The scene was just like my African home village looked like in the late 1950s when I was a child growing up at my mother's Chipewa Village in Lundazi in Eastern Zambia. I planned and designed the Mwizenge Model village in 2019.

I had worried every day about whether the model village would be a success. I was overwhelmed with sheer joy, as my dreams of more than 40 years had finally met with reality. The fact that a few people were already living in it and the village was helping them find some meaning in their lives was already a success in itself.

You might be a struggling single homeless mother. Your dream was to fight to obtain a college degree, get a good job and finally afford that two-bedroom apartment for you and your children. If your dream was to struggle, fight, work hard and finally train to be a nurse, a police officer, fire fighter, a marine; the day you graduate is when your dream meets reality. When that happens, that feeling of euphoria and triumph is the best in life; the feeling that a supernatural power, a God, exists is how I felt all afternoon that day at the model village.

There are a total of 15 people who are model village residents. Complex, challenging life circumstances drew them to the village. They were facing hard lives of lack of education, poverty and lack of any small wage-earning employment to support themselves, their families and relatives. Sometimes it is the broken lives of alcohol addiction. They all now live by the life of hard work, earn a small income, personal intimacy and the lifelong village philosophy of kufwasa; the life in which all resident work together, take their time in everything they do and experience. The life of open everyday interaction with others in a cooperative ethos.

These experiences include seeing each other, talking, and greeting each other every morning, taking time to cook natural foods and eat together every day. Best of all, seeing the twinkling stars, going to bed at 8 pm and getting a full eight hours of restful sleep in a serene environment. I have never had such vivid dreams in a long time.

Mwizenge S. Tembo lives in Bridgewater.

(1) comment


Well, how does it feel to be a landlord who gets to say how the residents will live and who will be allowed to rent ‘research’ opportunities in the commune-like village (commune-like because unlike a run-o-the-mill commune where everyone supposedly has a say in the operations of the community, yours sounds like a kind of a top-down, my “way or the highway”, operation)?

And, rather than attributing it to a “supernatural power”, might I suggest that it was your residency in the West and its classical liberal and enlightened traditions and opportunities that made your land acquisition possible? By the way, as the sole owner of this property, does Zambian law protect your right to this property, was it customary tenure land that reverted to a state leasehold so that it could be transferred to you (if so, were the previous users of the land required to vacate or cease using it (it’s a Commons tradition), and, as a US citizen, did your purchase of this property outbid possible Zambian buyers/villagers who may not have your US-generated resources but previously had use of the land for generations? It sounds kind of colonialist.

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