25 February 2013


"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." ~ Psalm 90:12.

One thing Zambians are very poor at is keeping time. The average meeting in Zambia will start 30 minutes to an hour late. As far as I know, only exams start on time. It is actually a chronic problem. The reason why Zambians are poor with time is simply because they, or should I say 'we', do not value time. And the reason for that is we think we have a lot of it.

Anything that you have in excess will not be valued. If you have plenty of money, generally, you will be reckless with it. A child with plenty of sweets will not keep track of (or as the bible passage above puts it, 'number') them. As long as you think you have a lot of something, you will not value it. After all, there's plenty of it.

If a man is told that at this very moment tomorrow he will die i.e. He will die in exactly 24 hours, he will 'number' his hours. He won't be reckless with his time, he will put every minute to good use. Why? He no longer has 'all the time in the world'.

That phrase, "All the time in the world", is actually one of the greatest lies on the earth as far as time is concerned. In fact, the bible is quite clear about how little time any given person has:
Job 7:7~ Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.

Psalm 144:4~ Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Proverbs 27:1~ Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.

James 4:14~ yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

There are a few more verse on top of these that hammer the same nail. Life is brief. The one thing that we do not have is time.

Ask any parent who's child has gone off to college or gotten married, they'll tell you. "It feels like yesterday when he/she was just a little baby."

One of the principles that can help with ones attitude towards time is to realize what a great resource time is. Isn't it amazing that two men will be given the same amount of time and yet one will achieve up to five times more than the other? Why? Because for the one, time is something that he uses to the full while for the other time is meant to be 'passed'. Isn't it amazing that one 21 old takes the gold medal at the Olympics in one of the swimming competitions while millions of others hold no achievement that can compare even slightly? They both had exactly the same amount of time only that one maximized on the resource.

The people most blessed with the resource of time are young people. If there is one resource at the disposal of youths, it is time. Unfortunately, many squander away their youth doing nothing productive and at the end of their teen years discover, they don't really have anything to point to as an achievement. Some, however, do use their time wisely. Those are the young people who turn into the great sports men and women of our world, the great men and women of wealth, the great minds of the day and so on. People who picked up interests or recognized certain abilities in themselves and poured themselves wholly into them. They would never be where they are today if they never recognized the great resource of time that was at their disposal and used it to the full.

A second principle that can help improve one's attitude towards time is simply to take seriously the brevity of life. To realize that they really don't have all the time in the world. When you realize how brief life is and that you are not guaranteed tomorrow, you will make the most of your time and therefore gain a heart of wisdom.

That's what Psalm 90:12 is all about. When we number our days which simply means valuing our days, we will make the most of each day and therefore be wiser men and women.

Notice however, that Moses, the writer of these words, asks the Lord to teach him. We would do well to make a similar request to our God.

08 February 2013

Zambian Culture: The Bride Price

It's every young man's nightmare and every father of the bride's dream. The bride price. Most father's take it as an opportunity to make a little money, make a down payment on a vehicle, go for a holiday or renovate the house. Indeed one man's poison is another man's cup of tea. Here's how it typically works.

A young man finds a girl and wants to marry her. He looks for a representative, another man who IS NOT his father. This man becomes the young man's intermediary between him and the girl's family. This is in keeping with African Culture. It would be disrespectful for a young man to approach the father of the girl he is eyeing to declare his interesting in taking her hand in marriage. Thus he elects a man to represent him. The young man then tells the young lady to inform her family that he wants to marry her and would like to declare interest in a gesture normally called "taking plates". These plates are a token perhaps of appreciation at being given an audience. A small sum of money is put on a plate and covered with another plate. If these plates are accepted, then the man has been approved of and negotiations may begin. If they have been rejected it is just that. His representative travels to a location where he has been told the plates must be brought. There, a meeting is held where, through his representative, his interest in the girl is declared. This process is then followed immediately or in another meeting by the pronouncement of the bride price by the older men of the bride's family, particularly the mother's and father's brothers. The father may attend but not participate actively. He leaves this to his brothers and brothers-in-law. He is not forbidden however, and may or may not choose to actively participate.

Before the negotiations (which is the second process) may begin, the man is called into the meeting (until then he would have been present), and is asked to confirm whether or not the girl, who is also called in, is in fact the one who he wants. The girl is also asked to confirm if the man is indeed the one. After this process, both of them are excused and negotiations may begin.

At this point the wisdom of the young man in his choice of a representative is put to the test. His representative must use his 'negotiation skills' to ensure that the bride price quoted is favourable to the young man. When a price is agreed upon, the young man is free to pay whenever he is ready. If at any point the girl's family change their mind about him or he about her, the plates are returned and negotiations are terminated. The price may be monetary or otherwise but mostly will be largely monetary with a few items such as a suit for the Dad, a chicken etc.

Once the price is paid in full, traditionally, the girl is his wife. In reality, he may now marry her with her family's blessing.

What then is the use or purpose of the bride price? The general assumption and understanding is that the man is buying the girl. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bride price has never been, even historically about purchasing the girl. Father's, unfortunately, have distorted the beauty and use of this important tradition.

Even young ladies misunderstand the bride price. If they heard that their father had set the price at an amount so low, the question in their minds would be, "I'm I so cheap?" They don't realize that if they bride price was about buying and selling, they would die spinsters.

What then is the use of the bride price?

A lot of flings take place among young people in the world. A father may be aware that his daughter is in some kind of relationship. However, he will only rejoice when he hears that the young man wants to "bring plates". The only way a young man can really prove his seriousness is by offering to bring plates which as I have explained is indicative of a man's intention to marry a girl. Until then, that relationship is not guaranteed to culminate into marriage. That is the first function of the bride price. It is proof of seriousness intent.

Secondly, the bride price plays a pivotal role in ensuring the young man can take care of the girl. Many instances, the man is completely new to the girl's family. They have no idea who he is, where he is from, etc. This only comes to light when the girl is privately questions. However, they cannot depend on the girl's testimony as proof that he can financially provide for her. What better way of finding out than giving him an amount for him to pay?

The bride price is deliberately high. This serves a third function. The bride price is high to also see how resourceful the young man is. Will the young man be able to cope when there are financial demands in the home that he does not have the money to satisfy? If he was able to source the money for the bride price, he probably will manage to find money in tight situations to keep the family afloat.

What if the man's family helps him pay the bride price? Surely his resourcefulness will not be put to the test. Well, if his family paid for his bride price then his family's assets are likely to pull them out of any tight situation they find themselves in when they are married. You may further probe, what if he borrows the money to pay the bride price? If he has the contacts to borrow enough money to pay the bride price before marriage, he probably will after marriage! What if he has a problem and lands the family in debt? Well, the bride price doesn't guarantee 100% that a man will be able to take care of the girl. There will obviously outlier cases where a man who cannot manage to take care of the girl finds the money however, as a general rule, if a man can find the money to pay the bride price, he is resourceful enough to take care of his family. If he can come forward and take the girl as his wife in the right way, following the traditions and the culture in a way that honours the girl's family, he is responsible enough to take care of his family and if he can pay the money, he will be able to take care of his family-as a general rule.

A lot of young men hate having to pay the money. And many times they are required to pay unreasonable amounts of money. However, if men can look at this as an opportunity to prove their ability to take care of the girl, they would do it more cheerfully. They would send their representatives to the negotiation table with the words, "Tell them to bring it on."

Many of our traditions do not go against God's law and will, particularly, and we keep them because they still hold value and meaning in our lives. I believe the bride price is one such tradition. It separates boys, who want to flirt with girls, from men who want to marry girls. And helps put confidence in the family that they are giving their daughter away to a man who will care for her in such a way that she never goes without and a man who loved her enough to go through the lengthy and often taxing process.

One other thing you notice in Zambian culture is that the man is always held in high esteem by the girl's family post the wedding. This is because if he has married her then he has jumped through all the hoops and hurdles our culture puts between him and his beloved in order to finally get her and has been able to overcome the biggest hurdle of them all, the bride price!

Long live the bride price!