Lusaka: The Beautiful Language

By Andy Swanson

If you want to see the epitome of football as the universal language, Lusaka is your spot. Anything is a ball, anything is a goal post, and anything goes. 

As I flew in for the first time to Lusaka, Zambia to work with an organization that supports AIDS orphans, I wondered if language would be an impenetrable boundary to reaching their hearts. Little did I know, we already spoke the same language. I may have learned a certain dialect on pristine club soccer fields in Houston, Texas, but two minutes into my first game in Zambia, I realized that we were very much on the same page. 

The ball was a tightly-packed mass of plastic bags, but it was still round. The goal posts were two empty bottles of a maize-based porridge drink called Super Maheu, but kicking plastic through plastic was the same as polyester through metal. Shouts of "weleeeeeeeee!" and "goooooaaaal!" both still produced a momentary session of dance moves. One-twos were still understood with an extension of the hand, and a nutmeg still resulted in giggles of delight.

Nevertheless, there were still a few cultural nuances. Zambia has a very playful culture, and in the event of a nutmeg, it's understood that the nutmegg-er is allowed to punch the nutmegg-ee on the arm in the run of play. I found that out the hard way when a 12-year-old boy half my size embarrassed me in front of a crowd of onlookers, and I laughed as he smirked and whacked me on the arm on the way up the field. 

The allure of it all is in the escape. Just for a few minutes, all that matters is how you can get by the man in front of you, not how you can get by for the third day in a row without a meal. It allows for a few moments of pride from a band of orphans who are sadly considered the lowest of the low in Zambia. For a few minutes, the playing field is equal and an American man 10 years their elder can look as foolish as anyone.

Fast forward through a solid five days of bonding, and our time together came to an end. As the buses pulled away to take us to the airport, tears were in every eye. We were brothers. Without this simple game to break down our walls, deep, worldwide relationships would not exist. That's why I love the game.

Editor's Note: Camp LIFE, Father’s Heart, and Tree of Life are a group of outreach efforts working towards bettering the conditions of AIDS orphans in Zambia. Camp LIFE is a week-long summer camp where meals are provided, and over 600 Americans come to lead a group of ten orphans and bond with them. Father's Heart is a sponsorship program for the thousands of orphans in each of those groups. It pays for education and meals essentially. The Tree of Life Children’s Village is located just outside the capital city of Lusaka and is a 130-acre community of homes for orphaned children designed to be a haven of hope and light. Their vision is to build 12 Children’s Villages throughout the country of Zambia to rescue orphans from abuse and poverty and bring holistic change to a nation in need.The children at the Tree of Life come from the most severe backgrounds of poverty, abuse and neglect. Some are HIV positive, while others come from child-headed households. The current village has a school and homes, with a medical center set for future construction.

You can learn more at: Family Legacy.

Photos by Andy Swanson, Sara Tarby, Jamie Dunn, @natxoms, Futebol Dá Força, and Home of Hope


Words and photos by Andy Swanson