Unconditional love is important – Tembos


IN OCTOBER 2005, Peter Tembo (known also as Bonyolo in popular soap Banja) was out in the townships on a mission to sensitise communities through sketches on stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.
At the same time, a woman called Natalie, also in the arts, who came from the United Kingdom (UK) as a volunteer, was on the same programme doing sensitisation.
That was how the two met officially, although it was not the first time Natalie had set eyes on Peter, director of Nomakanjani, a group of performers in Zambia who use theatre, dance and music to entertain and educate communities.
The first time was on October 24 during a performance where Peter was in a play and Natalie in the audience, but they were not friends then.
Friendship began when they met in one of the townships during sensitisation of communities on HIV/AIDS, stigma and discrimination.
Peter was then working at Africa Directions in a Theatre group while Natalie came to Zambia as a volunteer and to also work as a drama coordinator.
Initially, Natalie was supposed to be in Zambia for nine months only. She had just completed her degree back home in the UK and thought she wanted to do something different by coming to Africa.
At the time, she had a boyfriend in the UK while Peter had a girlfriend.
Natalie says of her coming to Zambia, “I came with some colleagues through the Volunteer Services Organisation as a Theatre and Arts manager. I wasn’t planning on staying here permanently.”
Through their work, a friendship developed but their relationship would only become official at a party.
“I held a party at my sister’s home and Natalie was there. While we were partying we found ourselves kissing,” Peter said with a naughty smile.
After courting for a few months, they decided they wanted to be together forever.
And so they made their home together in M’tendere compound in Lusaka, where Peter was living then.
“This shocked many people, who wondered what I was doing living in M’tendere. People stared at me when I walked on the streets with Peter and also when I used public transport. They would whisper, onani muzungu (look at that white girl),” Natalie, with laughter.
But when Natalie broke the news to her mother about her relationship with Peter, her decision to stay in Zambia, and that she was pregnant, she (mother) freaked out.
My mother told me I was going to waste my life because at the time she had a different picture of Africa thinking people here still live in the ‘stone age’. She did not even talk to me for a while, Natalie said.
But her mother came to terms with her daughter’s decision and asked Natalie and Peter to go to the UK, where Natalie gave birth to their first child, Nkosi.
And Peter said, “I didn’t know what to expect but when I met my mother in-law, we clicked, surprisingly. We had some things in common. I come from a family of twelve and so does she and so we could compare notes,” he said.
This thrilled Natalie, who was happy to see that Biggie, as she fondly calls him was getting along with her mother.
“When we took walks, the ladies would admire my dread locked husband. Some said, ‘isn’t he lovely! We were so in love and never anticipated the challenges that could come with a cross-cultural marriage.
The couple says it has had some challenging times owing to poor communication then adding that it is no longer the case now.
And as for Peter, he said they both had cultural shocks. “For instance as a Zambian, I expect my wife to prepare food for me and serve me when I get home but she would just tell me, ‘Oh Biggie, your food is in the microwave you can warm it.’
He sometimes has had to prepare his own nsima because Natalie does not know how to prepare the dish.
But Natalie is consoled that Peter is a vegetarian and she is good at preparing vegetarian meals for him.
On the other hand, Natalie found it strange that visitors could call on them unannounced, a situation which is normal in Zambia.
Peter said it has taken a lot of adjusting on both their parts.
He understands that his wife comes from a different culture and it may take a while before she can adjust to the Zambian culture.
Therefore, he has had to accept Natalie as she is, knowing that he also has to make some compromises for her sake.
Peter has decided not to listen to people speaking negatively about his marriage as their opinions had been putting a wedge between them.
On the other hand, Natalie said she is preparing to undergo Zambian traditional counselling, alangizi (traditional counsellors) and all, after which she will have a kitchen party (Zambian style) because she didn’t have one earlier.
And Natalie says she is secure in her marriage because Peter has stood to protect her from malicious people and for that she is grateful.
She says Peter is a wise and stable person and the fact that he is spiritual makes her trust him.
If you love someone, you have to make sacrifices, Natalie says.
“I left everything I had, my whole life, in the UK just to be with Peter. I lived where he lived, when I first came, and tried as much as I could to fit in, in his life,” she says.
Natalie says for marriages like hers to work, it is important that spouses show mutual respect for each other, and not just the cultural type.
To seal it all, she says, “no matter how difficult your beginning may be, hang in there, and do not give up”.
Peter says unconditional love is important.
“Some people think I married Natalie because as a white person, she might be rich. How wrong they are. Natalie comes from an average background and whatever money we have, we have worked for it here. I love her as she is and we don’t see colour but just the essence of the person.
“It’s been a tough journey but we are getting there. We are now preparing to have a wedding ceremony because earlier we only had a customary arrangement. It has taken us this long because we didn’t think we were going to come this far. We are sure this is what we want to do,” the Tembos say.