It was easy to turn down an invitation to accompany my friend, Bob, to Mayela nightclub where he had a short gig that evening.
Not only is Mayela renowned for nocturnal women; I don’t do nightclubs. But then, Bob convinced me, and so it was, that I tagged along.
Apprehensive at first and worried about my reputation, I quickly soaked into the idea; after all, I am an artist with a license to be seen in odd places. Besides, I had been engulfed by a feeling of lethargy and emptiness all week and needed a distraction.
It’s difficult to describe my first few minutes in Mayela. Bob reading my mind, whispered, warning me against self-exceptionalism, the idea that somewhat I was exceptional, better and different from the rest. I scanned the environment, the people and the decor. It felt like shifting into a new neighbourhood. The community well-knit, complete, oblivious and each person consumed with the present, paying no notice to my ‘I-should-not-be-here-body language’.
So much was going on, yet, in its own way, Mayela was peaceful, orderly, embracing, nonjudgmental and to my surprise, cozy.
Beautiful music, crisp as an apple, played in the background. I hummed and even sung along. I began to feel uncomfortable after catching myself feeling comfortable and at ease. I reprimanded and reminded myself that I was at Mayela; a place I shouldn’t be in the first place.
While scanning and watching the going ins-and-out, my heart leapt to the sound of a flute. I turned to where the sound was coming from. I was transfixed. The sound from the flutist ripped my heart apart filling it with colour, lightness, warmth, sound and butterflies. My body and soul merged as the music from the flute filled me. I stood there; enchanted, hypnotized, bewitched and spellbound.
I stood there and saw God, right there in Mayela. He didn’t appear to me in a bush of fire, he wasn’t celestial wearing white robes and speaking in a mighty thunder or still voice nor was he close to the images I conjure, but I knew it was Him.
He was the flutist playing in Mayela nightclub wearing ripped jeans, a Bob Marley T/shirt and playing Zambian music.
Momentarily, the music stopped, and the flutist left the stage; He lit a cigarette, grabbed his phone and gulped a lager. I stayed in a state of confusion wondering why God would be comfortable chilling in a nightclub through a cigarette smoking, beer drinking flutist. I stood there confused. The flutist returned on stage again, his flute riveted and enthralled me yet again. I didn’t want to go home, I didn’t want to leave Mayela. I wanted to stay there forever.
When it was all over, I came to the realization that God lives in us, as us. Some smoke, others fight and some of us loud, but God lives in us as who we are. When we are excellent at what we do, we bring God alive. That’s what that flutist did; he brought God alive, he made Him visible, not in a temple, but a nightclub, a place of sin, some of you would add.
I know I saw God that evening because it is precisely what I saw and felt standing in front of the gigantic sculpture of the Buddha, in Kamakura, Japan. There is something unquestionable, incontestable and evocative about God’s presence expressed in excellence; be it in a Louis Vuitton bag, a Mulenga Chafilwa painting, a Persian carpet or a Kahil Gibran poem.
The presence at Mayela was unquestionable and incontestable because it was what I felt standing in front of the Louvre Museum years ago. It was what I felt when the then legendary Sakala Brothers took to the stage at the launch of their album ‘born in Matero’, an encounter with greatness.
The following day, still glowing in the aftermath of meeting God in a cigarette-smoking flutist in jeans and a Bob Marley T/shirt, I drove down Leopards Hill Road towards Chief Chiyawa area – then, who do I meet again? God! This time He was not a flutist; he was a Chinese foreman overseeing the construction of a road with such precision and joy. I had never seen a road so perfect, a sign in itself that there is truly a God out there. Such a road could only have been constructed under the physical supervision of a higher power.
I don’t know how God appears to others. To me, it is in benevolent acts and masterful hands. I no longer search for him in temples and lofty places. I see Him in my housekeeper when she cleans a room to perfection. I see God in Paxinah Hankanga when she reads the news on ZNBC with breathtaking ease and perfection. Paxinah can read a telephone directory, and have it sound like news.
Driving back from Leopards Hill Road, I linked up with a friend at an Indian restaurant, I knew immediately that God must have passed through. It was all too evident in the exquisite décor, furniture, draped curtains, selection of fine wines and beautiful hand-made silver cutlery.
The food was delectable; sumptuous dish after sumptuous dish, prepared with love, mastery, fresh cumin, cardamom, garlic, cloves, turmeric, ginger and chillies. Then I saw Him again. This time, He was not the flutist in Mayela clad in jeans nor a Chinese foreman constructing a road, He was a Chef, a chubby Indian Chef.
Countrymen, God lives in all of us, not just in some, but in all of us, as us.
Author, Sampa Kabwela, is an artist and mother. She works for an international organization. firstname.lastname@example.org