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Open Features: Zambia In The Old Days

Margaret Dunn recalls her sudden and dramatic decision in 1967 to leave Edinburgh and live in Zambia.

1967 was the year my life took a sudden change of direction. I was living in Edinburgh with my husband and two small children. By the end of that year my marriage had suddenly ended and I found myself alone with the children, trying to cope with this new and desperate situation during a very cold Scottish winter.

We all have times like this when everything seems very dark and hopeless and we can’t see a way out of the awful mess. But as often happens, a light appeared in the darkness. My sister-in-law and her husband, with their five children, had gone out to live in Zambia, in Central Africa, the previous year and they now wrote to me suggesting that I join them there in Lusaka, and try to make a new life. I couldn’t see things getting better where I was and decided to reach out to this new challenge.

All the preparations for our departure took some time and it was March 1968 when my small family boarded a VC10, the passenger carrier in vogue at that time, en route for Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

At first we lived with my relatives. My brother-in-law worked in the Botany department of the University. They were very helpful and supportive, and my children enjoyed being with their young cousins. I found a job right away as secretary in a Zambian law firm – Shamwana and Co., based in a block of modern offices in Cairo Road (First Permanent Building Society.) It was a very busy practice with an interesting mix of personnel. There were four lawyers in the firm, Edward Shamwana (boss), Bruce Munyama, Philip Banda (Malawian) and one lawyer from Rhodesia. The Secretarial Staff consisted of two English women, one Hindu girl who taught us how to wear a sari, several Zambian typists, and myself, the new girl. All were excellent workers, and I enjoyed being in such a mixed group. At first, the girls were a bit shy with me, but as women do all over the world, we soon found we had so much in common and lots to talk about in our tea breaks!

I shared an office with a Zambian girl, Delight Chongwe, lively and outspoken. We had some great discussions. She would say “Margaret, I wish I had a white husband. They look after the children and help with the housework, and take their wives out to dinner. Zambian men never give any help.”

I assured her that not all white husbands behaved like this!

After that first year I moved to a house provided by the Company, in a residential area, Ngumbo Road, lined with blue jacarandas. The children were thrilled to be in their own home, and still able to visit their cousins. A local girl, Agnes, came to us to do housework and care for children when I was at work.

We were a happy and contented little family. Louise (7) attended Woodlands Primary School – David (2) started there when he was five years old, and attended nursery school prior to that.

Zambia had been independent of British Rule for four years, with Kenneth Kaunda as our First President. It was an exciting time to be there and our lives were busy and interesting. I made lasting friendships and gained an understanding of other cultures and different ways of life.

My life wasn’t all hard work - there was the chance to travel. We went on a safari trip down the Zambesi Valley into Rhodesia, as it then was. We visited the marvellous Victoria Falls which were in full spate at the time we were there. At weekends we could go to the botanical gardens at Munda Wanga for picnics. Social life was free and easy; lots of parties with this interesting mix of people coming together. Music we enjoyed was from The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond and The Sandpipers. We saw lots of films at the Open Air Cinema.

At the end of 1972 I left Lusaka and returned to Edinburgh. My aging Mother was begging me to return as she was finding life difficult on her own and was longing to see her grandchildren. I was sad to leave, but my years in Zambia had enriched my life and given me the confidence to make this move and start on the next phase. Perhaps one day in the future I will go on an African Safari tour, and once again walk down Cairo Road.


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