Tuesday, 14 November 2017

We’re FBI and happy about it


Mirriam with her friend Alisa say they are happy to be lighter.

We’re FBI and happy about it


JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
MIRRIAM Kaziya and Lilian Kalunga sit bubbly at a restaurant in Lusaka. The two sisters are both wearing heavy make-up and above-the-knee dresses. For Mirriam, her dress is short enough to reveal an elaborate tattoo covering her right thigh.
Both women are light complexioned. But they both have not been light-skinned from birth.
Their new complexion is a result of bleaching.
Though still considered controversial by society, Mirriam and Lillian do not flinch talking about their own transformation through skin bleaching.
They both laugh and giggle as they compare their before-and-after pictures on their phones. Mirriam refers to herself as a FBI (former black individual).
“I used to be really dark. I used to look like that man,” says Mirriam, pointing to a man sitting a few tables away.
Mirriam says she decided to bleach her skin because she usually felt bad whenever she was with her friend who had bleached her skin.
“I looked like her maid because my skin was dirty,” she says.
Then Mirriam decided to buy a bottle of serum. That was the beginning of her transformation journey.
It only took about two weeks for Mirriam to transform herself from a dark-skinned woman into what she is today.
She is very happy about her new skin tone.
“I probably look 10 years younger, when I’m 36,” she says.
Mirriam, who now makes and sells skin products, including lightening creams, says a woman’s confidence comes when she has glowing skin.
Her business is now thriving, with over 5,000 clients, not only in Zambia but in other countries as well. She also streamlines videos via Facebook showing how to use her products called Milly Beauty Products.
Mirriam uses mostly natural oils, kojic acid and steric acid to make her lightening products. She avoids using hydroquinone, saying it is bad for the skin.
When asked how she learned how make her skin care products, Mirriam says: “I read a lot on Google. When I’m home I don’t just sit and watch TV, I read about skin care.”
Mirriam’s dream is to grow her business and become a big name like Oprah Winfrey.
And for Mirriam, the transformation goes beyond her skin.
A few years ago, she was struggling to single-handedly raise four children after the death of her husband in 2011.
Overwhelmed by her circumstances, she had resorted to drinking and smoking. When she became depressed, she would usually get on dating sites just to chat with someone.
“I was doing it just to feel like I was in a relationship,” she says.
And to earn some money, Mirriam would patronise bars.
“Sometimes we would sit in a bar with my sister and when men bought us beer, we would not drink it, instead we would take it to the counter and exchange it for money so that we could buy something home,” she says.
But with a steady income through her business, Mirriam is now able to take her children to school.
But she has had to endure the tongue-lashing from people over her decision to bleach her skin and to promote bleaching. Sometimes people have insulted her on social media, but she says what she decides to do to her body is a personal matter.
“I feel good in this skin and no-one should come and tell me that I shouldn’t have done this,” she says. “This is a decision I made and no-one forced me. Even our parents used skin lightening products.”
As for Lillian, she was motivated to change her complexion after seeing her sister transform before her eyes.
“After seeing how my sister had changed, I also thought I should look like her,” she says.
Lillian seems to have hated her old dark skin so much so that she uses a derogative Nyanja term meaning fake product to describe herself before her transformation.
“Nenze gon’ga,” says Lillian as she bursts into laughter.
“I used to look like a girl who came from the village,” she adds.
Lilian says she used to feel bad about her complexion and usually suffered from low esteem.
“I used to feel shy when I went out, I couldn’t even wear something revealing,” she says.
“At least I’m now able to move with my head high,” says the 25-year-old.
Lillian, who is single, thinks men are more attracted to light-skinned women.
“Most men are attracted to my skin now,” she says. “They look at us to be expensive chicks. Any woman would love to look like divas, which we are.”
Lillian says her new skin has taken her to places.
The two sisters say their new look has even earned them roles in local movies, which are yet to be released.
Alisa Siyuni, who is Mirriam’s friend and one of her customers, has also bleached her skin.
Although she was already light-skinned, Alisa says she wanted to become even lighter.
Alisa is now almost the same complexion as her daughter, who is coloured with Caucasian blood.
“It is not a bad transformation,” Alisa says. “I am still a normal human being.”
She is dressed in an impossibly short red dress and readily shows off her new skin tone, which is accentuated by her long wig and heavy red lipstick.
“There is nothing wrong with it as long as there are no side effects,” she says.
Alisa is married and says her husband approves of her new complexion.
“When I started using the cream, my husband didn’t even notice,” she says. “I think he likes what he is seeing now.”
But Banzah Yumba, who is a beautician, thinks women who bleach their skin suffer from low self-esteem.
Banzah, who is dark-skinned herself, says when she was in school, she used to get bullied because of her dark complexion, which made her think that light-skinned women were more beautiful.
“I once entertained thoughts of bleaching my skin when I was a little older,” she says.
Banzah also thinks men get more attracted to light-skinned women, but she thinks it is foolish to judge beauty by the skin colour.
“There is a rush for women to become lighter nowadays,” she says.
Banzah blames the desire for women to become lighter-skinned on the Eurocentric view of beauty propagated mainly by the beauty industry.
“No-one should define beauty for me but myself,” Banzah says assertively.
As Mirriam and Alisa wander away in the crowded mall, they have many eyes rolling their way; people admiring their beauty or perhaps gobsmacked by the shortness of Alisa’s red dress? Or maybe both, who knows?
 

Kafue Flats: A threatened wetland


Moonga (left) is worried about the spread of the Mimosa plant. (Main picture) A small herd of the Kafue Red Lechwe with a flock of water birds.


Kafue Flats: A threatened wetland


JACK ZIMBA, Monze
BACK in April, while flying from Mongu, I beheld its breathtaking beauty – like a huge canvas painting spread for miles on end.

Even from a thousand metres above, the eyes could only frame in so much of the shades of green broken by shimmering patches of silver, turning to gold as the afternoon sun waned. Such is the beauty of the Kafue Flats.
After coursing for several hundred kilometres from its source at Kipushi on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kafue River seems to just dissipate, breaking up into oxbows, lagoons, tributaries and ponds. The result is this expanse of grassy plains covering an area of 6,500sq km.
Six months later, here I was again crossing the flats, except this time I was not flying over it, but driving through it.
And sadly, the picture-perfect image of the Kafue Flats that I had seen from the skies is not as perfect from the ground.
This grassy wilderness, which is home to the Kafue Red Lechwe, an endemic antelope species, is under threat from human activities and an invasive plant called Giant Sensitive Tree or Mimosa Pigra, a native of Central America. The “sensitive” in its name probably refers to its reaction to touch – the Mimosa’s leaves retract when touched.
The plant is believed to have been introduced by European farmers in the pre-independence period who had settled in the Lochinvar area.
According to Griffin Shanungu, a leading ecologist working for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the increase in the area covered by woody and shrub species in Lochinvar National Park on the Kafue Flats has impacted mammal habitats by reducing the area of grassland.
And here, the Mimosa has no natural enemy, and is armed with sharp spikes to defend itself. The Mimosa has already claimed over 20 percent of the parkland in Lonchinvar, blocking access routes for the Lechwe, while in some instances it has pushed the animal closer to human habitations in the game management area.
Mr Shanungu says studies show that in 1980, the plant only covered about two hactares.
“By 1986, that shrub had covered about 100ha, and now, the cover of Mimosa Pigra is about 3,000ha,” he says.
There is now an ambitious plan to physically remove the plant, although other means such as biological and chemical methods are still being studied.
Mr Shanungu says the spread of the Mimosa is a big conservation issue on the Kafue Flats.
“If it is left unchecked, we face a risk of the entire wetland area within the Kafue Flats being occupied by this plant. It is not eaten by anything, the local people don’t use it for firewood, so if nothing controls it, it will just continue growing. We will wake up one day to find that the huge swath of grassland has been overtaken by Mimosa Pigra and all the animals displaced. And we will lose an animal that is not found anywhere else but here in Zambia, and that will be a disaster,” says Mr Shanungu.
There may be various reasons for the spread of the Mimosa Pigra, but one of them, according to Mr Shanungu, could be the changing hydrology of the Kafue Flats.
The Kafue Flats sit between two dams – the Itezhi-tezhi Dam and the Kafue Gorge – and that in itself has created problems for the wetland. In many ways, the natural hydrology of this landscape has been altered.
While the two dams answer to the country’s ever increasing energy needs, and account for about 50 percent of the hydroelectricity produced, their existence may have huge negative impact on this ecological area.
“We never used to have this lagoon before. The water used to start from there,” says Wilfred Moonga, the area warden as we stand at the edge of a pool of water.
Because of unnatural flooding, areas that never used to get flooded are now under metre-high water while others have become drier.
According to a 2017 status report of the Kafue River by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the impact of human influences and socio-economic development on the Kafue Flats wetland ecology has largely been negative.
“While the details of the causal linkages require further investigation before conclusions can be drawn, it is clear that the change in the flow regime due to the construction of the Itezhi-tezhi and Kafue Gorge dams for hydropower production has been one of the key drivers of change. Changes in floodplain habitat availability and vegetation community structure, mainly the reduction of the area of grassland which constitutes the original floodplain vegetation and breeding habitat for waterbirds and fish, have had the most direct impact,” the report says.
Mr Moonga says there is need to find a way of regulating the water flow to mimic the natural flooding of the area in order to restore the integrity of the wetland and the animals that depend on it.
Kafue Flats is one of the most important ecological zones in Zambia with unequalled biodiversity, with over 400 bird species. It also supports about one million people and the country’s largest cattle population in Namwala.
The disturbance of the Kafue Flats also spells doom for the Kafue Lechwe.
About a century ago, the Kafue Lechwe roamed these plains in their hundreds of thousand, but now only a few thousand remain to fight a seeming unwinnable battle against poachers who have found a ready market in the capital, and an invasive plant that is claiming more and more of its habitat by the day.
The first documented count of Kafue Lechwe in 1931 revealed an estimated 250,000 animals on the flats. By the 1970s, the six-digit figure had fallen to about 93,000. By the early 1980s, the population had decreased by more than half, and was restricted to the areas protected by Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks and the surrounding Game Management Area.
In the most recent aerial survey conducted by the Department of National Parks, Kafue Lechwe numbered about 28,000.
According to the department, approximately 1,000 Kafue Lechwe are lost to poaching on the Kafue flats annually.
The Kafue Lechwe is now fighting extinction, and is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2008.
The Kafue Lechwe may not be as iconic as other endangered species such as the rhino, but it is considered as a keystone species of the Kafue Flats, meaning the existence of this ecosystem is hinged on its survival.
“It is easy for us to reverse the negative trends. If we put our resources together and empower the government departments that are working there, we can completely conserve that animal. It only takes protecting it from massive poaching, it only takes us investing resources to remove that invasive plant and the population will start increasing again,” Mr Moonga says.
Without any deliberate action, the lechwe could become extinct in just a few years. The only Kafue Lechwe future generations may be able to see is the life-size sculpture of the antelope in the lobby of the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

Lochinvar: A lost paradise

Sunset on the Kafue Flats in Lochinvar National Park. Picture by Brian Malama

Lochinvar: A lost paradise

JACK ZIMBA, Monze
THE vehicle did not seem to go any faster than I wanted it to, it was slowed down mostly by the bumpy gravel road we were travelling on. My eagerness was to reach Lochinvar National Park in Monze, Southern Province.

Back in the colonial days, Lochinvar was a private ranch belonging to a Scottish man, but after he left, the land was converted into State land. And in 1972, it was gazetted as a national park.
Home to about 400 bird species and the Kafue Red Lechwe, Lochinvar ought to be a paradise – a top destination for birdwatchers and other tourists.
But arriving at the park gate, something did seem amiss – defaced walls, a dilapidated guard’s house and a non-functional information centre were what greeted us.
Still, park warden Wilfred Moonga, who was leading our small party in his Land Rover, was eager to show me and other visitors what the park had to offer.
After driving through bush, we made our first stop at a hill called Sebanzi, at the edge of the vast Kafue Flats.
We hiked up the hill to the sound of hundreds cicadas and wild birds.
Before Mr Moonga came here two years ago, going up the hill was unthinkable because many local people believed that during the flood season, all the dangerous animals such as snakes found refuge there.
But now, the warden has cut a trail up the hill to allow people to go all the way to the top.
We reached the peak of the hill to find a huge baobab tree that is believed to be 2,500 years old, and we were welcomed by a lone white-backed vulture perched on the branches of the giant tree.
Around the tree on the ground, there were barrows made by aardvarks.
Sebanzi Hill is protected as a national heritage site. Back in the 1950s, an archaeological dig revealed evidence of human settlement dating back to the Iron Age.
From the hill, one can see far across the vast plains, and sometimes see a few animals such as buffalo.
A short drive from the hill took us to the Gwisho Hot Springs, where 60 degrees water flows from beneath a rock. The springs are located on the Gwisho Mound, which is also a national heritage site. Sadly, the area looks unattractive.
Mr Moonga plans to build walkways leading to the springs, and then build pools for people to enjoy hot baths.
The warden has grand plans for the park and he shared them at every stop.
Not far from the Gwisho springs are the Bwanda Hot Springs, whose water is even hotter.
And if the first baobab tree was fascinating to behold, we were in for more fascination when we drove to the second baobab.
Nature has carved a hollow into this one, big enough to accommodate eight people standing.
It is said that during the colonial days, a white district commissioner used the hollow as his office when he came to collect taxes from the local people.
Around lunchtime, we stopped over at the warden’s park house to pick up some food. Occasionally, when Mr Moonga comes here for work, he sleeps in the house. The house is easy to locate, because one can smell it from 500 metres away.
This is because one million bats (well, by Mr Moonga’s estimation) live in the house. And where there are bats, there is bat poop and urine, which produce a suffocating smell.
The bats live in the broken ceiling of the house and then stream out at dusk to go and feed. The floor in the living room was covered with heaps of bat droppings.
During one visit, Mr Moonga told us, he gathered about 70 sacks of bat droppings from the house, which he uses as fertiliser.
And of course where there is such a big number of bats in one place, there is bound to be snakes.
“There is a green mamba that usually stays in the house,” Mr Moonga told us.
One day when he came to sleep, he found a young python curled up in a corner.
Near the warden’s house is the century-old farm house that belonged to the Scotsman.
The house is still standing and Mr Moonga plans to restore it so that it can be used as a lodging house for visitors.
“When I came here, no-one used to come to this place,” he said as he showed us around. “It was abandoned and it had thick bush around it and it was just adventurous boys who would come and smoke and write unprintables on the wall.”
He said the building was in fact earmarked for demolition.
When he was allocated money for a campsite, Mr Moonga decided to renovate the building instead.
After a few touch-ups, the house is almost ready to accommodate guests.
But bringing the infrastructure in this park to acceptable standard will take more than just a creative mind – the park needs a lot of money.
“It is largely an issue of funding, because as you have seen most of the infrastructure in the park is rundown, the area is in a flood plain, so we need a road that is more resilient and we need those tourist facilities,” Mr Moonga said.
The park also lacks resources for operations.
“At the moment we have no operational boat. We haven’t had this for the past three years and this being a wetland ecosystem, we need marine operations,” he says. “That is where the poachers are hitting us hard because they are using boats to come to the other side and we can’t pursue them.”
But because of poor infrastructure, the park can only attract day-time visitors.
Mr Moonga’s dream is to restore Lochinvar as a tourists’ paradise.
“What I would want to see, really, is for Lochinvar to claim its rightful position as a tourist destination because it has the potential,” he said. “Lochinvar used to be one of the premier parks in Zambia and one of the top tourist destinations some years back.”
Lochivar’s infrastructure may be a far cry from paradise, but don’t tick it off your destination list yet.
As we drove out to the open plains, our hearts were warmed to a spectacular sight of hundreds of water birds.
It was the largest number of different types of birds I had ever seen in one place at the same time. There was the glum-looking marabou stock, the elegant wattled crane, African jakanas, crowned cranes, the secretary bird and many others.
“Just the fact that they occur in huge numbers is a spectacle in itself,” Mr Moonga said. “When they take off and then they come to land, it’s just beautiful, you just want to be there.”
Over 420 bird species gather here, some arriving from as far away places as Russia.
“Three days ago, I was in town and I heard the European bee-eaters calling, and I knew they have arrived,” said Mr Moonga with excitement.
But few locals come for birdwatching, most of the visitors are international tourists.
My visit to Lochinvar would have been incomplete if I had not laid my eyes on the Kafue Red Lechwe. And there, among the birds, wading in metre-deep water, was a small herd of the antelope.
The Kafue Red Lechwe may not be as graceful looking as the gazelle or Sable, but its rarity (it can only be found on the Kafue Flats) makes it unique. To think that the animal before us cannot be found anywhere else in the whole world was in itself fascinating.
On the open plains, the treeless landscape offers some of the most magnificent sunsets, with birds returning to their nests adding to the heavenly spectacle.
When in Lochinvar, you have to pray that dusk finds you on the plains, and, for us, it did.

Unmasking the nyau

Unmasking the nyau The nyau characters represent various forms, but animal figures are the most common. Pictures by JACK ZIMBA ...