Kufwasa and Serenity in Life
Life in America is probably the fastest, producing the largest volume ever of movies, fast food, sporting activity, entertainment, pharmaceutical drugs, books, alcohol, college graduates, automobiles, divorces, levels of anxiety and stress, attention deficit disorders, and electronic communication. Most citizens live the so-called fast paced life in which they are multitasking; talking on the cell phone, driving, attending to five open windows on the computer, instant messaging, listening to the I-Pod, all at the same time. On top of all of this most citizens run around all day at a hectic pace from one activity to another. Reports suggest that most Americans do not get the full eight hours of sleep.
Contrast this so-called cutting edge fast paced style with life in most of the Third World including my home village here in the Lundazi district in the remote Eastern Province of Zambia in Southern Africa. Most people plan one activity per day. They walk, ride bicycles, and if they are lucky and can afford it will ride a vehicle to perform whatever activity. Women take a long time to prepare delicious meals and meals take equally a long time to eat together with members of the whole family. After the meal we linger and hold more conversation and laugh or just sit. Going to town thirty miles away with the local grocer’s old beat up pick up truck takes all day because you wait for people, talk, and sit while the driver and his assistant stop to tighten something under the hood. Life is such a full joyful experience while you do less. Remember the common expression among young Americans and hippies in the 1960s? “Stop the world I want to get off.” The feeling was that life was moving so fast you had no time to enjoy it.
Life here can be best summarized as influenced by the experience of the Tumbuka term “kufwasa”. Fwasa is a verb that can be translated as to be calm, to be patient, quiet, to focus or concentrate one hundred percent, to be serene, to take your time. “Kufwasa” is the state of being or experiencing this condition. Some words and their deeper philosophical meanings in one culture are rarely easily accurately translatable say into English or another language. Kufwasa is such a term in Tumbuka.
Women experience kufwasa when they prepare and cook meals, mould clay pots, sit down to breast feed the baby. Men experience kufwasa when they build structures in the village, carry a hundred pound bag of maize on a bike to another village. Most of these activities are not just performed carefully but with kufwasa otherwise what ever you are doing will be ruined, not just done right, or you will not get the full experience of it. The ultimate in the experience of kufwasa is when men and women are making or doing something creative; carving a drum, sewing a reed mat, weaving a basket, slinging colorful beads together, and holding deep conversations with another person. Children experience kufwasa when for hours they will make their own toys and play with them in the dirt undistracted. Married couples experience the most kufwasa at night in Tumbuka traditional culture. This is because in Savannah tropical Africa, the night is always twelve hours of darkness starting at 6:00 PM. Children sleep soon after supper at 6:00 pm as they are dog tired as they play hard during the day. The customs also have all older children sleep in another house or location with their peers and other older siblings. Couples can experience kufwasa as they can talk, laugh, sleep, wake up again later and do what intimate couples do all without distractions for twelve hours.
One cannot experience kufwasa around loud music, traffic, sharp sounds, while drunk or high, hastily rushing to finish five tasks within a matter of minutes, making hasty conversations or simply saying “hi”, or while producing many widgets in a noisy factory, or workshop. Perhaps the worst anti-kufwasa in the West is when people play loud video games, zap microwave meals, go through a fast food drive-by window, pick up food and eat while they talk on the cell phone and drive. Another anti-kufwasa is when people have loud TV on, the radio, and five other distracting gadgets and then place the child in front of the TV.
My suspicion is that even though people in America today are immersed in the distractions of technology, ultimately what we all need or yearn for is the kufwasa experience. Most of us don’t even know what it is and it scares us if we begin to experience it. Some of us experience some of it when we go hunting, fishing, when we paint, write letters, make or fix things with our hands, or take time to prepare a meal from a scratch in a quiet kitchen, or when we take time to marinate the food in a special source, and fire that grill on Saturday afternoon in the backyard in the summer.