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A Muslim, a Jesuit and a Père Blanc [White Father] Walked into an Archive…

Blog 4: A Muslim, a Jesuit and a Père Blanc Walked into an Archive…

Ok now we are in Lusaka rested up. It is time to go to work. Of course, before we can go to work we need to find the archives of the White Fathers (Pères Blancs). But the main problem is that no one knows where it is located. I had a vague memory from seven years ago, but … So, we went on an adventure seeking an archive. We first stopped at the Jesuits. The priest who was in charge was 96 years old and a very lovely gentleman, but he could not remember where the White Father’s Archives were.

He said he would get his phone book. He is 96 –he walks, but slowly. He is an Irish man and if I wanted to describe someone who is at peace, it would be him. In Africa, there is always a lot of waiting. So, fifteen minutes later he brought the phone book.

Chango and I were in the hall of the Jesuit seminary. So Chango called the head of the White Fathers and we got the directions. There are no addresses in Lusaka. When we first arrived at the Jesuits’ house, I was very surprised to see this amazing mural on the wall. The father told us that it was painted in the 1960’s and represent the struggle and future of the Zambian people.

Jesuit Mural

It also included all kinds of rock art designs and was maybe 30 ft. by 10 feet and as you can see it is breathtaking and a little revolutionary. You know the Jesuits are the intellectuals and rebels in the Catholic Church. But it is the White Fathers who meticulously collected languages and ethnography in Zambia as well as in many other African areas.

White Fathers' Archives

Ok finally we are off for the White Fathers’ Archives which turns out to be on the outskirts of Lusaka in a place that looks like a residential compound. But this place is full of information.

We made friends with the main librarian, Charity who I kept calling Chastity which of course are very different concepts. These fathers were intent on recording all that they could. It is interesting to read their ethnographies, because you can tell much about the father from how he looks at the African people in his neighborhood. Some are clueless and some must have gone a bit “native,” because they write with such respect and knowledge.

It cost us $30 each to do research in the archives which was great because it had pretty good internet. We asked Charity why they do not advertise about this collection because it was so good. They said the order was afraid if they advertised the Zambian government would tax them more. Even though since 1998 when Zambia declared itself a “Christian Nation,” church organizations have been taxed. Especially if they are primarily Wazungu (white people and all people from the West).

The date for our trip to Lubumbashi was looming close and we still did not have a plan. Jeff Hoover who I will discuss later, found out that two pastors/ academics were arriving in Lusaka to get a transit visa so that they could go to a conference in Pueblo, Mexico. They had to spend two days at the embassy to just get the transit visas. Dr. Kongolo was both a minister and a President of a religious college about 80 miles from Lubumbashi and he was traveling with the dean of the college of liberal arts, Dr. Nzinga.

Since they were returning to DRC that Friday we decided to travel together so that the border crossing would be easier. We met them that night in their guest home near the embassy. We did not have a ride from the archive to the US embassy, but Charity said she was going our way and gave us a ride.

We did not know exactly where the guest house was—just that it was close to the embassy. So, Charity pulled up to the embassy and asked directions. Later Chango would say, “Are you guys crazy we could have been shot or at least arrested. But then he smiled and said, “You were a car full of women—how dangerous could you be??? Really! But the Zambian guard in front of the embassy was very helpful and we eventually found the place.

Then we took them out to eat at a place called “Dazzle,” which had Indian, Arab, American, French and Chinese food. I think it was a Wazungu hangout. It was quite nice, but the electricity kept going on and off. We had a great meal and set up a time on Thursday to buy our tickets.

The next day we were again working hard at the archive and Charity told us that many of the documents had been stolen and sold. We could understand that. We could have taken anything that we wanted because there was no kind of control. Of course, we didn’t because they trusted us.

When Charity was not there, another woman took over. She was not a trained librarian like Charity, she in fact ran the WF guest house. We paid her for $5 for a Zambian lunch which consisted of nshima (like a fine mush which people eat like their bread); meat (pork ugh) vegetables and fruit.

We sat down and there were 5 or 6 Zambian nuns from all over and one priest. My God he acted like the rooster in a hen house. It was rather entertaining. As lorded over them and preened himself. One sister was very funny because she seemed respectful, but everything she said had a double edge. She knew who he was. He was so arrogant with us. I guess our gender is the point.

Ok only historians would spend several days looking at old dictionaries and documents. They had good internet and God Bless iPhone because each photo copy cost $.50 each –so instead we just made photos of every document. So much fun.

The next day I was appointed the person to buy our bus tickets. To buy tickets one must go to the main bus depot that is very crowded with people screaming all over the place to get you to buy their bus tickets.

So apparently, the best bus to Kitwe was the Euro-African. So, I bought three tickets for 100 Kwacha each, about $10 each. We smiled after making it out of the main bus depot.

Next Blog—onto Lubumbashi …

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