Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Zambia? In our “Jamaicans to the World” series, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy speaks with Denise Clarke, a Jamaican living in Zambia.
Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Zambia? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com and today in Jamaicans to the World we talk to Denise; who has been living in Zambia for a while. Welcome Denise, how are you?
Denise: I am good Xavier. Thanks for having me on your show.
Xavier: Well, I’m thankful to you because I know it’s a different time. We’re in a different time zone at this point in time and yes, so I know I probably have you up. I don’t know how late it is there but, it’s morning for us.
Denise: And it’s afternoon for us. I’m about 6 to 7 hours behind Jamaica.
Xavier: Okay, alright. Not too bad.
Denise: I’m ahead of Jamaica I should say, because it’s afternoon here now.
Xavier: Alright, well, not too bad. I’m actually here in Florida aka South Florida, Kingston 21 wi (we) call it. So my first question is this one, which paat (part) a Jamaica yuh cum fram? (you come from)
Denise: Boy Xavier, I’m a country girl. I come from Ewarton, St. Catherine and maybe this was before the North South Highway. So Ewarton is that last community right at the foot of Mount Rosser, before you start going up into the Mount Rosser Hills. A lot of people used to stop in Ewarton when they were going to Ochi to buy bread. That is where I’m from.
Xavier: Okay, I’m a St. Catherine guy myself. I’m a Portmore.
Xavier: So, yes. Good to have a St. Catherinite talking and my other question is this one, which high school did you go to? I know we’re passionate about our high school. So which one did you go to?
Denise: I am an Immaculate girl. So I went to Immaculate.
Xavier: Okay, alright. So tell us the story. How did you get to Zambia? How did you end up in Zambia?
Denise: Alright, that’s a pretty roundabout route but I work for a US organization that implements projects on behalf of one of the major donors and I’m actually here, heading an education project in Zambia. I think my route to Zambia has been a very interesting one. Zambia is not the first country that I’ve lived in on the continent and work has taken me to all of these places, but the first place I lived was actually Ghana. I lived in Ghana for about 6 years and then afterwards moved to Liberia. I lived in Liberia for close to 10 years, 9 going on 10 years and then in 2019 I moved here to Lusaka, Zambia. So it’s been work.
Xavier: Okay and how long have you been in Zambia on this particular project?
Denise: I’ve been here for about a year and a half. I moved in January of 2019. Yeah, so last year.
Xavier: And how was the experience? You said you were in Ghana, how long were you in Ghana for?
Denise: Ghana was 6 years.
Denise: I lived in Accra in the capital, also working on an education project. It seems that my passion is education. I actually worked with Heart Trust when I was in Jamaica for close to 10 years and so a lot of those skills that I learned back in Heart, I’ve actually applied to projects that I’ve worked on internationally since. So, yeah, Ghana was 6 years. Then I met the love of my life, who is from Liberia and decided, okay, if I can’t get a Jamaican man, then I gwine (going) marry this Liberian man and yeah that was 9 years in Liberia.
Denise: He claims that he is Jamaican now so that’s a good thing.
Xavier: You see we do our own colonization ourselves, I guess.
Denise: Of course.
Xavier: And how interested is he in Jamaica? Have you taken him to Jamaica yet?
Denise: Of course. We got married in Jamaica. Of course, he had to do the right thing and meet my mother and my family. He didn’t do the African thing, so he didn’t pay the bride price, which I still have him up fah (for) because I’m worth about 40 cows, but I think that’s apart of the culture. It’s not in the Jamaican culture, although my sister still demands the bride price. He’s been a couple of times, loves it and Jamaica is very similar to West Africa and West Africa to Jamaica, both in terms of food, in terms of people and so he does feel right at home.
Xavier: Question, how do you like living in, you know, what do you like the most I guess about living in, I mean, you’ve gone a couple places, but Zambia, what do you like the most about Zambia? I think you said about 2 years there, what do you like the most?
Denise: I love the animals, wild animals. I’ve never lived in another country where I’ve actually been able to see and interact with wild animals, I mean, of course, you know, they’re zoos and what have you. I like to joke sometimes and say that West Africans tend to have eaten all of their animals because bushmeat is a very popular thing there, but Xavier, it is not unusual to be driving on the road, especially the outside of Lusaka when you have to go to some of the provinces where we work and you have to stop to allow elephants to cross or you have to stop to allow antelopes to cross and so I think coming from Jamaica, were I often laugh and say the biggest thing we have is a cow. Just being able to see animals live in their natural habitat has been a mind blowing experience for me and that’s something that I really, really liked.
Except in about, I think about three weeks ago when we went on a Safari, and we were attacked by an elephant, but! we live to tell the tale but that was a seriously scary time, because normally they’re quite placid but we have gone at a time when this particular herd had babies and it depends on where you go in terms of the National Parks here. There’s some National Parks that unfortunately, have had a really bad history when it comes to poaching and so of course, elephants are definitely, in those situations you don’t try to get even close to them. There are other National Parks, which hasn’t happened as much and so been able to interact with them is that much easier, but yes, that was probably one of my scarier moments and I’m now respectful of them, because you don’t want anything that’s over 5 tons to be chasing after you, but I think definitely the nature and the wildlife in Zambia is just absolutely mind blowing.
Xavier: That is just totally fascinating that you’re able to interact with elephants and so on. I mean, we’re seeing them from a distance at the zoo and that’s just fascinating that you’re able to do that. You mentioned that there’s a lot of Bushmeat or bush food, yeah, I don’t know if I have it right there.
Denise: Well, Bushmeat, but Bushmeat is not as popular in this part of the continent. It was more popular in Liberia. It was more popular in Ghana, but yes, it’s not very popular, at least as far as I know in Zambia. There’s lots of other meat, of course, that we would normally eat anywhere, including in Jamaica. They have quite a large cattle growing group here, so beef is nice and easy and I was just so happy to finally come and meet oxtail again. I can get oxtail quite, quite easy. I think the only thing I missed in terms of that kind of food is our sea fish, because Zambia is landlocked, so there is only freshwater fish, Tilapia and Bream. You get everything else.
Xavier: So in terms of the Bushmeat, have you tried any of what they call the Bushmeat? Because the way I see it is this, you know you have yuh (your) town fowl and you know yuh (your) have the country fowl, and you know the country fowl taste really nice because the country fowl eat just about any scraps that it get and yes, the meat tuff (tough), the country fowl meat tuff (tough), right?
Xavier: Any experiences with Bushmeat that you had tried or anything?
Denise: Well, here in Zambia, for example, you will get village chicken which is the same as a country fowl and it is just as tough, but once prepared nicely, that’s really cool. I think the most exotic meat that I have tried is crocodile, actually it is quite good. I’ve also tried guinea fowl which is a cut above chickens, I must admit and I’ve also tried warthog as well, which is good. I tend to ignore or I tend not to try the more, the wilder ones. So for example, in Ghana, depending on where you go, bats are popular. I’m not going to try no bats.
I remember there was a particular incident, when I had just moved to Liberia, and we were renovating the house, we kept hearing these noises in the roof and so I asked the gardener, I said, look, get somebody to come and explore what’s happening because every night I keep hearing these noises and thing. So it turned out that there were some cats living in the roof. So I tell them alright get somebody who can come tek out di cat dem and ting (take out the cat them and thing). So couple nights I still hear the same noise, so I sent back for the guy. When the guy come, I said, look, the cats are still up there and we need to do something and him seh (said), “yes madam, I will remove it immediately”. The last one was so nice. Mi nah eat no cat (I am not eating any cat)
One man’s meat is another man’s poison but no, I think I am careful with where I venture to Xavier. I’m not going to eat the more exotic type of animals. Again, I’m not knocking anybody. There are tribes that will eat cats, there are tribes that will eat dogs, there are tribes here in Zambia that actually eats field mice and they’re well prepared, right, and clearly there is nutritional value but yeah, it’s just not my thing.
Xavier: Well seasoned.
Denise: I’m not going to try it knowingly.
Xavier: Okay, I see. I see what you’re saying. Now, I know we as Jamaicans go abroad and people are typically, you know, curious. Have you had, in any of travels, so it could be Zambia, it could be Ghana. It could be anywhere else you have been, but let’s use Zambia for this example. Have you had that moment where somebody finds out that you’re Jamaican? And what happens thereafter? In terms of, you know, maybe a funny thing that they think maybe. Tell me about that moment that you can remember.
Denise: My very first day in Zambia, I arrived at the airport and handed over my passport and the immigration officer was, he was just so excited. He said, boy, madam, you know, this is the first Jamaican passport that I’ve held and he started to tell me about all of the Jamaican music that he likes, and you know, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and what have you, what have you. And he was just really, really excited and then after a while, im (him) kinda (kind of) just lower im (him) voice and seh (said) to me, “so is true that dem (they) legalize ganja?” So I said, “Yes, they legalized it but I don’t have any on me.” But it’s always funny just to see, of course, there’re the stereotypical thing that people sometimes will think about Jamaican, you being a Jamaican but the warmth I think when people see that passport, and when people start to just ask you questions, because they simply want to know more about the country. It’s really heart-warming. It’s something that I really enjoy.
I had another incident where the taxi man said to me, “So you come from Strench Town?” I said, “What?” Him seh (said), “Strench Town” I sey (said), “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Im seh (he said), “The same place where Bob Marley come from.” Mi seh (I said), “No, you mean Trench town?” Im seh, “Yea man.” (he said, “yes man”). It’s nice to see what and hear when people have picked up over time and what they’re interested in but people are just blown away when they hear that I’m from Jamaica and I think especially in Southern Africa, where there was just so much of our music that was about addressing the struggles in apartheid, I think that makes us appreciative even more.
Xavier: You know, that’s a very interesting point because, you know, I tell this story a lot. There’s a friend at my church who was from Zimbabwe, and he says, “You all Jamaicans don’t know how much your music in South Africa and Zimbabwe has influenced us.” “It was our Sunday music”, he said. “And it was the music that made us feel like we were liberated, like we were free, and you know, we as Jamaicans don’t realize or appreciate the way our music has touched the world, you know.” So it’s very interesting that you say that. Is the music there also in Zambia, reggae music? Or because I know in Ghana.
Denise: You hear your reggae, you hear your dancehall, you hear you lovers rock, you hear everything. I hear more popular Jamaican music here than in a lot of other places. And just from a historical point of view, if my memory serves me right, Zambia was actually Northern Rhodesia, so they did have their own struggles with apartheid too. So I’m sure a lot of what your Zimbabwean friend shared, it’s the same thing that happened here as well.
Xavier: And you hear it, as I said, he knew songs, you know, and like the gentleman may have gotten Trench Town wrong, but at least he was in the range.
Denise: Exactly and I mean, I think that’s one of the things, I mean, I love my music, and I really love my Jamaican music but I think when you see other countries and we know that other countries appreciate our music. To have someone tell you just how much of a difference it makes in person, it really makes you feel good. It does. Yeah.
Xavier: Good. So Denise, if a Jamaican or anyone wants to come to Zambia, what’s the one place, one attraction you would tell them, you know, or a place you must visit? It could be anything. What would you tell them?
Denise: Hands down it would have to be Victoria Falls. Hands down. It’s about a 7 hour drive outside of the capital city Lusaka. In fact, it’s in Livingston. Livingston has its own International Airport but even if you’re in Zambia for a day, you have to go and see Victoria Falls and of course I had studied about Victoria Falls when I was doing geography and what have you. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World but to see Victoria Falls in full flow, it is absolutely mind boggling and breathtaking. It actually spans two countries. So there is the Zambian side and there’s the Zimbabwean side and the fascinating thing about it is that it is a part of the Zambezi River. Some of you may have heard about the large Zambezi River, which actually goes through, I think if my memory serves me correct, about 14 African countries, but when you see Victoria Falls, no, definitely if you only have one day in Zambia, that’s where you have to go.
Xavier: Alright. So what advice would you give to someone considering, you know, a Jamaican or anyone, considering moving there to Zambia? What advice would you give them? What’s the one thing you’d say to them?
Denise: Jump on the plane and come. No, I mean, I think Zambia has a lot to offer as a country, as a people. I think one of the things that I do like, I do feel a lot more comfortable in West Africa because I think the West African characters are more like us in terms of personalities, you know, they’re more dramatic. Zambia has acquired cool elegance with a lot of arts, a lot of music, a lot of culture, a lot of nature, that I never enjoyed before in the other countries that I’ve lived in and that I’m really beginning to appreciate here. I think I’m more than open minded as you would go to anywhere else and it’s funny I’ve met quite a bit of Caribbean people here, including other Jamaicans. There’s one Jamaican couple who has actually been living here since the 1970s. They came shortly after Zambia’s independence and have worked and retired here and they love it as well. So it’s a peaceful country, fascinating people, fascinating history. The food not too hot, not too much into the Zambian food because them don’t cook with spices but other things, come, jump on the plane and come.
Xavier: So you said they don’t cook with spices?
Denise: Bwoy, mi not even know if dem cook wid black peppa (Boy, I do not know if they cook with black pepper). No peppa, no spice, no nothin’. (No pepper, no spice, no nothing)
Xavier: That is surprising.
Denise: Yes, it is.
Xavier: You brought up a point about the way, you know, that you are able to relate because they’re dramatic and whatever. My kids seh (said) to me; my kids are Jamaican-American okay, and so they seh, bwoy (say, boy), we dramatic and whatever. It’s funny you say that because, you know, I visited Nigeria and, you know, you saw that demeanor and, you know, I visited Ghana; I just kind of saw some of that demeanor. So you’re saying, you see the drama, you see the way they react to things is what you’re talking about just like us?
Denise: Yes. Zambia is a little bit more conservative, not dead, but conservative, unlike West Africa I think. In Ghana and Liberia there’s always drama, even when there’s no drama, it’s still dramatic.
Xavier: So, you know, again, it’s, you know, it’s just great hearing this. The connection, you know, between, just that connection. It’s one of the thing that, again, I absolutely love. I have to come and see you, you have convinced me. I have to come out there.
Denise: You have to come. The nice thing about Zambia too, Zambia is surrounded by 9 countries. So quite a bit of other countries to visit and there is one gentleman in Malawi, who I’m planning to go visit for the simple reason that im (he) have couple dozen Ackee Tree. So that is going to be my next road trip as soon as Covid is over because I need some Ackee. They don’t grow it here and I want some Ackee, so yeah. The person know who I’m talking and he sent me pictures of the Ackees the other day. It’s not a figment of his imagination. Going fah mah Ackee (going for my Ackee).
Xavier: So my last question is this and maybe you just gave the answer already; what about Jamaica you miss the most?
Denise: Lawd di food (Lord the food). I miss my food, I miss my patty. If I cudda (could have) just wake and have one patty today, I would be happy. I miss the food, I mean, apart from the food, I miss the people, I miss my family, of course. I think living in Zambia, I’m a little bit farther away. So it’s going to take me an average about 36 hours to reach home; something that I’m not looking forward to. I’ve never sat on a flight for 17 hours, but from South Africa to Atlanta is 17 hours. I miss the people. I don’t think anybody else’s drama is as nice as Jamaican drama and I always tell people when we talk about things like that, is that you can just have the most interesting conversations with any Jamaican, anywhere you go and I miss that. I miss the people. I miss home. I do.
Xavier: Well, we’re going to have to get you some Ackee and some seeds so you can plant because I’m sure if you plant it, it will grow.
Xavier: And I know yellow yam, well I know when I was in Nigeria, yellow yam wasn’t a thing, it was the white yam and maybe yuh caan (you can) find yellow yam or something.
Denise: We don’t have yam here. In fact, if I need more West African-Jamaican type food then there is what’s called Tuesday Market with a lot of vendor’s farm, Tanzania coming over so I can get plantain at that market, I can get coco, I can get green banana, I can get coconuts, mangoes. So yea, but it don’t taste the same. It don’t have the Jamaican flavor.
Xavier: So Denise, I want to thank you for providing the great information. We have to get you some Ackee. We have to get you some Patty. We have to figure out how we’re going to get that done. If anybody watching this, is near Denise in Zambia, you have to link har (her) and get har (her) all this stuff. Any closing thoughts?
Denise: I just think Xavier, I also want to say thank you. I think this is a fascinating project and I’m so glad that you’re doing it, because I think there’s still so many stereotypes about other places in the world, including the African continent and for everyone of the countries you can visit on the continent, each is just unique and fascinating. So thank you very much for allowing me to share some of my insights on Zambia. I really appreciate it.
Xavier: Alright, thanks again Denise and we will definitely catch up, alright. Take care my dear. Have a great one.
Photos: Deposit Photos