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Anna: strong and hardworking

Anna: 'Even now I am still strong. I do all the work on my own.'

Anna became pregnant when still at school. Her family was tough with her, saying she must pay the price of her “negligent body”. She says that she is grateful as she learned to be strong and hardworking. She later married but her husband is ill and they can’t afford the drugs he needs.

Anna believes it is vital for women not to be financially dependent on men. Now her husband is unable to work she has to do everything for their five children, as well as work on a tobacco farm.

Even so, she counts every blessing. “Poverty is having nothing… I am not poor because I am able to sell a few things and when they’re bought I am able to have some money. There are things I lack…. I don’t have a well or a latrine… If I had these things…I could have been vegetable gardening and poverty would be history.”

My name is Anna…I was born in 1956 in Monze. Before going to school, I was helping with farming at home… We grew groundnuts, [sweet potatoes] and maize, and I even [helped] apply cow manure in the field around October…

We were even encouraged to sow seeds and learn how best to do it. They did this to prepare us for our survival in the future. They gave us our own small piece of land to practice on. After harvest, we could sell our produce and earn some money.

To protect the soil and have good growth with our crops, we never applied fertiliser. We just planted. Even with groundnuts, you don’t apply any chemicals. This applies to sweet potatoes too. For maize we applied cow manure. The crops grew well without chemicals.

Crop rotation existed. If this year we had groundnuts, the following year we would have maize. Some years they would grow sunflower, as it transformed the land for better. I got this knowledge from my parents. My grandfather practiced this a lot…


The change I am seeing is that the land can no longer produce good crops without chemical fertiliser… I preferred using manure because you would not need to apply any other chemicals to have a good yield. With fertiliser, when you apply basal fertiliser, you also have to apply top dressing otherwise your maize will die.

What has made my field barren is the use of these different kinds of fertiliser. This year you apply this kind and the following year you apply a different kind. This destroys the fields…

We no longer apply manure as most cattle are dead because of denkete (foot and mouth disease)…so where can you find the manure? My [standard of living is] going down…because I no longer have the yields that I had in previous years…

Back to the past

[In] the past…life was good. Our daily livelihood was very good because we never bought cooking oil, we would pound groundnuts to mix with vegetables and eat this with the children. In samp (pounded maize and beans) we mixed buntele (pounded groundnuts). Nowadays we no longer add groundnuts because…production has gone down…

My father had three wives and he had one big grain bank that he used to help his family and his whole clan. If anyone had a problem, they would go to my father for help. The old man would not take anything from the grain bank of his wives; he would get it from the main bank of the village…[this practice] no longer exists.

Motherhood as a schoolgirl

When I finished… actually I didn’t finish school – I became pregnant [laughs]. I became pregnant in Form One. Afterwards I started growing groundnuts so that I may take care of my child. When time for harvesting came, I would get my yield and have something for my child.

It was difficult to get clothes for my child – they told me that I got pregnant deliberately, to stop school. I was told to raise the child on my own. Whatever problem I was in because of my negligent body, they told me, I was to “find my own way out”.

The difficult part was fending for myself. But this was good, for I learnt a lot of things. I learnt how to farm, how to grow sweet potatoes. Even now I am still strong. I do all the work on my own. This is how I raise money for my children although I am now married.

In the initial stage [of motherhood], I felt greatly troubled… I wanted to continue school after [weaning] the child, but there was no one to sponsor me… Today I have come to realise that what they did was good for me. If they had just kept quiet and left me unpunished, I would not have learnt anything.

They made me strong and I am still strong and hard-working. I am still doing the work I did then. I learnt all this through the punishment they gave me [laughs]… The [first child] is now married and has a farm in Kapiri…

The importance of independence

I would encourage women not to rely on men… Now, [imagine] your husband dies, and you remain with no business of your own – you would really be in trouble.

These days, even when you are with your husband, you must be something too. If you can’t do business… then cut grass. There are plenty of people in need of fodder. Get firewood and sell it. You will be able to find money to help your children.

These days some women are free to do business ventures; others cannot manage. Some have no start-up capital…. Like I said, if you cut grass you can sell it, but some fail even to do this. They are never thinking of where or how to get money to do a business venture.

I am managing because I do not wait for someone to come to buy my goods. Whoever is on the road can buy from me as long as I have my items on display…

Begging for water

I had such a [good] harvest in 1979. I harvested 25 bags of maize. With this maize I managed to send my child to Kalomo Secondary. Now there is nothing. I just have a very few [bags]…which cannot even be put in a grain bank…

If you are based near a stream, you can do vegetable gardening. Problems are lessened when you garden. Water here is a problem, especially now that the rainfall is poor. We have to beg for water from those that have it. The hand pump is broken. The wells are drying up. We go round asking those that have got wells: you get one container filled here and you go and ask another to fill your other container and so on…

I started digging [a well nearby]. The only problem is that I have run out money to pay the ones doing the digging. The well is left at shoulder height due to lack of money. The water is bad [for drinking] because there is no chemical added to destroy the germs [but] my body has somehow become resistant to them.

No money for medicine

The disease that has disturbed my family is vomiting…accompanied by diarrhea. I have lost two children from this disease… We have a clinic but it’s not opened yet… my old man (husband) has had problems with his legs…since last August.

I find there are more diseases now compared to previous years. We never went to the hospital in the past. You could just dig up musampinzyo (wild root) and give it to your child to drink. You would get mululwe (wild root; very bitter) and he would get better. We could cure any kind of disease, but nowadays even when you go to the hospital, you could die. This is where I draw the difference…

What has brought an increase in disease, here in Mwapona, is that the water we drink is not safe… We have also had scabies of late and malnutrition…We go to Shaampande [clinic]. It’s far. We go on foot [and] when the patient can’t walk we borrow a bicycle to carry them. If the drugs are there, they give [you them]. But when they don’t have them, they give you a prescription…

If you don’t have money, you just stop. My old man is in bed. He was given a prescription but he can’t afford to buy the drugs. We still have the prescription…

“What makes me poor…”

Poverty is having nothing…I am not poor because I am able to sell a few things and…to have some money. There are things I lack. I don’t have a well or a latrine. If I had things like the well, I could have been vegetable gardening and poverty would be history.

I would say I had a better life in the past…. What makes me poor is the illness of my old man, the head of the house. I have to fend for everything to help my children, to keep them in school. I have five children going to school… I have to pay for them all.

Previously I never had problems because I had few children going to school… only three. I used to manage to pay for them and the old man at that time was working. When he got paid he would assist me and when I made some sales it would also help. It is now difficult because I am now all alone doing the work to help the children.

I do this through casual work. I work at a farm… I harvest tobacco. At the month’s end I am paid 120,000 Kwacha. I use this money to help my children…We use firewood [for cooking]. We work for it on the nearby farms. Charcoal is available but expensive…

Social change

[In] the past a girl would really reach maturity, and when I say maturity I mean all the features of a girl are visible. You would feel that you are now somebody. This is the time you would think of getting married. These days even a small girl knows how to attract boys. Is it the world that has changed or is it something else? What has gone wrong? I don’t know…

I have a big family with eight children…two have died. I also have grandchildren.

I was in a polygamous marriage and found it to be very bad…the friendship that existed [between co-wives] was nothing but pretence. When you are not there, the other one doesn’t take good care of your children. This is the bad aspect…

Of the children I bore, one is married in Namwala, the other has a farm in Kapiri. These two children assist me a lot. If am in trouble and go to them, they are able to assist me….

A son with HIV

I have a child who was infected with HIV in 1981… My son got infected because he never heeded my advice. It was sad news. I really suffered to take care of him. He was even insulting me when I was trying to care for him. I never discriminated against him. He is my child… if I were to avoid him; he would have no one to take care of him…

In Mwapona HIV and AIDS is widespread… Like now, there are seven funerals in this area… When you have a bereavement, you can go to the [section] Chairman and he is able to donate mealie meal (maize meal) and firewood to help you with the funeral…

Kara Counselling [and Training Trust] is busy teaching us the best preventive measures. They brought things like condoms…[but] the disease will continue to rise because some use them while others do not… Although they are taught what to do, they don’t follow instructions…


Mmmmmh…..the government and development…they had given us a hand pump, but it’s already broken. When there is hunger and starvation, they assist us with food. Recently they constructed a community school…They are also building a clinic though it’s not operational yet. This is the development I am seeing in Mwapona.

[Clubs?] Let me not lie. I never join such groups. The only group that I hear of a lot in Choma is this one that has come to give loans to people… I can’t remember the other one. They give loans to women to start up businesses such selling beer. [About] those other organisations, I have no idea…. there is none [that has helped me].

We have failed to improve our country because farming has gone down. We had the Namboards (National Maize Boards). These are no longer in existence. We had cooperatives; they are also dead. This means agriculture has really gone down.

I have paw paws, guavas and some mangoes [at home]… We need to protect them because when they bear fruit, they are a source of food. You can survive on mangoes in times of hunger. The guavas bear fruit at a different time… so you can also survive on them…

Cutting trees to survive

I know the law that protects trees. They should not be cut because if there are no trees, rainfall would be very poor. A good example is Kapiri where they don’t allow cutting of trees. There is good rainfall there.

Here in Choma, it’s hunger that’s the problem. People produce charcoal for a living. Some have licenses while others do not. Chief Singani had at one time stopped them from cutting down trees, but their response was that it was their only livelihood.

The land has become poor and there is no fertiliser. Even when you try to plant something, there are no good yields. This is what makes them continue with charcoal production – to earn a living…

Tonga traditions

In the yesteryears, if there wasn’t good rainfall, we would hold Lwiindi (rainmaking or thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate end of a good harvest) and we would receive rain. This is now hardly practiced and in some areas it no longer exists…

We need Lwiindi because in the past it was working very well. If they had no rain for a week, they would go to the shrine and ask for rain, and the rain would come whilst they are at the shrine. But today this no longer happens.

The way forward

What I need [from the government] is a piece of land, especially for those of us who no longer have relatives to turn to. When you are given that piece of land, you would settle there. Then you can be able to farm and feed your children. When I have the land they can assist me with fertiliser and seeds. Then I can take it from there.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.


Anna: strong and hardworking is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Zambia oral testimony project.


Anna: strong and hardworking

Benson: people need jobs

Dominic: valuing tradition

Edward: anxiety of poverty

Gilbert: cattle is wealth

Grandwell: sustained support

Mirriam: dedicated to others

Ruth: a mother’s struggle

Sara: coping without family

Utrina: working the land

Warren: the HIV burden

Grace: an open approach

Key themes

Introduction to the project


Food security


Water and drought


Survival strategies

Self-help and community support


Loans and debt

Political representation

The cycle of poverty