02 August 2012

Zambian Culture: The Visitor

I think Zambian culture is pretty interesting. People do not marvel at something they see everyday, but my own culture leaves me wowed sometimes. Granted I have not been brought up in a very traditional set up and perhaps that's why I notice these things and are left mesmerized. But there are certain things I have certainly observed. Take for instance the place of a visitor in Zambian culture.

The Visited

Receiving visitors is a special thing. It is part of our culture to make someone feel welcome. In Zambian culture when a visitor comes to your home, life comes to a halt. It doesn't matter if you have an exam tomorrow that you are not ready for or work for which you are rushing, the visitor immediately becomes priority number one. The visitor must be welcomed into the house and offered a sit at the very least. If the visitor comes close to meal time, he/she is immediately catered for. The visitor must be entertained. If the home owner is away, the children know that theirs is the responsibility to entertain the visitor until the owner gets home. The visitor cannot be left with a television or radio to keep them occupied. If the visitor is ignored the parents are tagged as people who have not brought up their children well and even the children are tagged as rude and even disrespectful.

If the television was on, it is usually muted or turned off to give the visitor full and undivided attention. Also it is rude to ask the visitor what has brought them to your home. Anything which even hints at looking forward to the visitors departure is left out of either conversation or behaviour. Smiles are maintained and interest levels are kept high in the visitor. It is up to the visitor to divulge his reasons for being there.

The visitor is usually served with a drink at least and usually something to eat. Again if a visitor is not served with anything to eat, it reflects badly upon the family. That's where there is an anomaly in Zambian culture. Very rarely will Zambian's share money, but they will certainly share food! If the visitor comes from out of town, they needn't even warn their hosts-to-be of their arrival, they can simply come in, and preparations will be made for them to have a room and a bed. Limited space will mean the eviction of children from a room to the sitting room to leave the room for the visitor(s).

Many families will school their children in what to do when visitors come. Their reputation as a family often hinges on the report that visitors send to others when the leave the home they visitor.

The Visitor

Because of this high value that is placed on the visitor, many have abused our lovely culture. There are some who devise brilliant schemes to take advantage of the place of a visitor in our culture. Some, especially bachelors living on their own and also lazy relatives, will target certain homes and happen to visit those homes at meal times. If they use tact and plan well, they can literally have three meals a day for an entire week being sure to make the visits as apparently abrupt, infrequent and random as possible.

Other relatives will visit with a bag of clothing and spend some weeks staying at a home. They will survive that long because to make a visitor feel that you do not want them is the biggest blunder you can make as you would be disrespecting him/her and be damaging your own reputation. Thus the family can only wonder how long this relative or friend will be around. If the visitor is smart, they will absorb as much hospitality as they can and move on to their next victims in good time before being seen as a burden or inconvenience. This is true especially of older relatives, Uncles, Aunties and Grandparents who have the added advantage of not only being visitors but also being older in age and the value of the visitor in our culture is already high, add to that the value of being older in age and you have someone who cannot be touched!

The visitor however is also in danger of picking up a bad reputation. If the visitor is discovered to be one who employs the schemes described above to take advantage of his/her high value, if word does it's rounds, the visitor will soon discover that they are being avoided and it also becomes easier for the visited to send them off because if the the visitor attempts to share that they were treated very poorly, obviously, it will not carry any weight.

Thankfully, the are those who bring honour to the place of the visitor by being a joy to host by the visitors. Many times, regret is admitted by the family to see them leave and at their departure, an invitation is immediately extended that the visitor return soon. May we all be that kind of visitor!

Finally, the high value of the visitor in Zambian culture has made the sharing of the gospel a very easy task. If you go to a home as a complete stranger you will almost in all cases be given time. Many will let you into their homes and some would even serve refreshments. Thank God for the high value placed on the visitor in our culture!

"Visitor always brings joy to a family, either by their coming or their going."