Watson Mushimbei is one of Our Moon’s alumni – class of 2019. He is currently studying at Columbia University in New York.

Watson loves poetry. He loves writing it and he loves listening to the songs of some of the greatest lyricists of all time: Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan among many others. Last year, he set up a Facebook page called Scripted Silence Poetry and started publishing his own poetry. It has given him an outlet to express his emotions and observations on the world around him. 

During lockdown in New York, Watson decided to run a poetry competition where contestants were to write a poem with the theme, idea or title, “What does it mean to be Zambian?” He offered a small cash prize to the winners – which he funded from his stipend – and recruited 23 independent judges, currently living in nine different countries. Watson received 95 poems, from which he produced a short list of 15 poems for the judges to review. To make sure the competition was fair, he removed the names of the contestants. Each judge gave a score on each poem which were totalled up to reveal the winners. The top three are featured below.

In addition to the prize money, Our Moon agreed to publish their poems on our website and share them on social media. The standard was very high and the poems really thought provoking. I hope you enjoy reading them and learning a little about what it means to be Zambian. 

FIRST PLACE

BITTERSWEET by Chabota Sibuku

Two flavors mingle in a summer lemonade: 
a ripe dainty tang stitched in with a sour sap 
scraped off the bark of a beautiful dying tree. 
This is the feeling of being Zambian. 
 
First, is pure euphoria that soaks a 
Zambian’s chest like the 
squirt that surges from Mwinilunga 
into the outskirts of Livingstone— 
a mere metaphor for a waterfall with a 
guttural roar. 
 
Eyes feasting on its wonderful burst marvel. 
Delight does not dodge a heart while 
seeing it roar. 
 
Then the other taste leaps in: 
That which oozes a stream down one’s 
cheeks— 
about how the economy bites. 
A little, then much; pockets hold holes 
as they lie against rough thighs and 
mahogany-colored chests. 
 
To be Zambian is to know ambivalence. 
Like having a brother of blue blood, 
sweetness never leaves 
so does bitterness sit on the taste bud. 
 
By some stores of Soweto market, 
bare sky canopies the heads of street kids 
as they munch on yesterday’s trash. 
Their sly palms have mastered the art of 
begging. 
 
Then there is a set of a classical bunch 
so sweet on the class system. 
They are clean of worries. 
In place of hands, they’ve got sharp arrows 
and their smiles like hissing serpents; 
so this stanza must pause adrift this dance 
like a stiff cripple. 
 
But a poem is just a poem, 
like this one, muttering on and on off
bittersweet tales of a vast piece of land. 
About how being Zambian means having 
expertise in the craft of curdling with mud. 
To clutch it in hopes of inviting smiles 
on the cheeks and a penny in the 
pockets. 
 
Being Zambian is to voyage 
searching for translucent fabrics of joy to be 
sewn together with hope held high.
 

SECOND PLACE

I AM ZED by Raphael Banda

Proud negro 
I was born a landlocked child, my melanin tells an African tale 
Zambia is my body and the Zambezi river runs in my veins 
My bloodlines are descent to the luba lunda 
Patriotism and my cultural heritage are made manifest in every heartbeat 
My routes lay beneath the underbelly of the equator 
Over the years I have mastered the linguistic art 
And a collection of several tribes reside in my mouth 
I’m the voice of 72+ languages and my mother tongue is black 
English is nothing but a refugee I have given a home 
Otherwise I’m fu-fu-vo-vo, fa-fa-ve-ve a mutating tongue in this weldi. 
Body language speaking love. 
I’m a nsima warrior. 
Five finger soldier sourcing energy from maize. 
I grow my skin to survive the harsh economic crises 
though Zesco* has made me see darker days 
my faith lies in the light at the end of the tunnel 
I’m an artist A chameleon 
Learning the art of camouflage, adapting to changing environment 
In a country where the dollar keeps appreciating 
Survival colours matter the most 
I plant my dreams on fertile land,with hope to reap a better tomorrow 
Once upon a time identity crises called me chambian. 
I am product reciprocating gone wrong abibas knows better. 
I’m jovial with an obsession for memes 
Stuck in between bally and adada 
I’m politically dramatic 
Some of us consider alcohol family 
Though my brothers and sisters include peace and harmony. 
In most cases I owe loyalty to trade kings for improving my life 
And praise to the mercy of GOD. 
I believe loafing is not a good game for bread winners to play 
With the copper belt holding my waist 
I am striving to find other means to hold my pants up and tight 
Investing in agriculture, education and etc. 
By virtue of birth, black is strong and that is my strength. 
So, not because I was born in Zambia 
But because Zambia was born in me 
That is what makes me 
ZEALOUS, AMBITIOUS, MAGNANIMOUS, BRAVE, INDESTRUCTIBLE, AND NOTABLE
 
*Zesco is the Zambian National Electricity Company
 

THIRD PLACE

ONE ZAMBIA, ONE NATION by Edison Chabinga

"One Zambia, one nation" 
 
We quote this saying to represent our unity 
In a land of peace, we let love lead our community 
A prospering generation 
We're Christian by heart 
Letting our different hues mix 
Creating an authentic piece of art 
 
By the hand of God, our land is carved and dressed 
A divine land that's truly blessed 
A divine land prosperous and profound 
Our bodies are driven by the African Rhythm 
We dance to nature's sound 
As well as the beat of the drum 
In mother Africa is where we abound 
And to our anthem we harmoniously hum 
 
But what does it mean to liberally live in this blessed land? 
With a people so proud and unique 
A people gifted and kind 
"What does it mean to be Zambian?" 
 
To be ZAMBIAN means to be FREE 
 
The freedom found and forged by our forefathers 
The freedom to express our ways executing with great exception 
The freedom to grow 
To steadily stand strong before our foe 
And release from the depths of our soul 
Our mighty Zambian roar 
Shaking the very winds 
In which our eagle swiftly soars 
 
Honouring those who by sheer might 
Bravely broke down the ignorant slavery walls 
Gathering together, neglecting gender 
As one people, they greatly fought our wars 
Their names ring in our hearts and their works we will forever recall 
Their blood, a constant reminder of their courage 
As we put our hands on our chests and stand tall 
 
One Zambia, one nation 
One heart, one conversation 
 
We are free spirits 
 
With ferocious flames burning deep within 
Clapping to the tune that the national colours sing 
And the soothing sounds the mighty Victoria falls brings 
Each man moved by faith to live out his 
dreams 
 
Free to enjoy our own trends and even those from the western seas 
Free to say zindagwa, shosholiment and in the weldi 
Free to speak our own languages 
Even in the finest establishments 
For we are unashamed 
Of our culture that the Caucasians tried so hard to tame 
 
It's in the hope of the workers 
Working the same job every day 
Hoping they'll acquire just enough to live in much better ways 
From the miners, 
The teachers, 
The farmers and preachers 
To the lady by the corner selling chickens that are yet to be born 
The young aspiring entrepreneur selling scones 
And the street kids that unite and form a pack so they do not feel alone 
 
That even with division in the parties 
There's still a goal that links our societies 
That what we need is a leader who will build our locality 
With blocks of honour and transparency 
Building our economy that is as fluctuating as a woman’s mood 
Putting our best feet forward 
To plan for a better Zambia, just as we should 
 
One Zambia, one nation 
One voice, one generation 
 
Our holy land is a canvas 
That we paint with our colourful characters 
Zambitous, ambitious, it’s where the inspired inspire 
The youths aspire 
Their bubbling filled goals and dreams that are yet to be released 
And a currency that represents a brighter day 
Saying "Kwacha",it's a new dawn, let’s find a better way 
Being Zambian is being free 
Free to honour Christ who was hung and nailed for us on a tree 
Artistically armed and aiming at the world 
Changing hearts and minds along the road 
Bringing our afrocentric swagger 
Shouting "this is who we are!” 
Genuine, and not a copy of another 
 
It's inexplicably inexplicable 
Something purely unexplainable 
Being Zambian is complex 
Cannot be defined in context 
It's by far beyond unique 
Our minds we are unafraid to speak 
 
From the North to the South 
Provinces in the East and West 
There’s a smile on every mouth 
Every citizens heart seeking rest 
From the wealthy man living in the city 
To the young man hustling in the hood 
We are always looking forward to better ways 
Fighting fire, focusing and praying for better days 
Standing in faith that they will be greater 
Never losing hope, hand in hand, holding onto one another 
 
Being Zambian is being at peace 
Living life and living it with ease 
Even when the storm hits and rocks our boat 
We still stand strong and stay afloat 
Even when mother nature takes her best swings 
We still rise and sore the serene skies with our mighty wings 
Because that is who we are 
We hope and never despair 
Zambian is in the people 
It's not the land or the minerals 
 
With the virtue of aging with time 
We've been grown, natured and preserved to be like the finest of wine 
Adding onto the wages of life, we can only say without a doubt that 
To be Zambian is simply to be Zambian

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