The first time I met Harrison, our head “librarian,” I was convinced he didn’t like me. He was shy and didn’t speak much English, which made communicating with him challenging. So on the days I went to the library, I would sit quietly and do my work and he would do his job of ensuring that visitors signed in and were well-behaved. Then one day I brought out my laptop. I was instantly surrounded by curious children eager to look at pictures and play games. Harrison, who would often listen to music on his cell phone, asked me if I had any music on my computer. I mistakenly said yes and was soon inundated with requests to hear Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West. Sadly lacking rap music on my iTunes, Harrison settled on Beyonce. As soon as I turned on “Single Ladies,” this introverted young man became a different person. He grabbed one of his friends and started dancing in the middle of the Reading Room circle. While not exactly library-appropriate behavior, it was vastly entertaining to see his “Thriller-esque” dance. Since our random dance party, Harrison greets me with a huge smile and shouts out “Mapalo is here!” (The kids decided I was in need of a Zambian name so they chose Mapalo, which is the Bemba word for “blessing”).
Harrison is one of the most impressive young people I’ve ever met. He takes his librarian responsibilities seriously, and is always there to open the building at 8am and close it at 6pm. He dutifully ensures that everyone who comes in signs their name and he conducts at least one story time per day. He sweeps, shelves books, and greets visitors. But perhaps the thing I most admire about Harrison is his positive attitude amidst a life of hardship and uncertainty. He is like any other teenage boy, laughing and playing with his friends, making jokes. When this is posted, Harrison probably will have already been “re-integrated” with his family. Knowing that his departure from Fountain of Hope was imminent, I decided to interview him to get his life story before he arrived at the center. It is both incredible and heartbreaking. With the assistance of another Lubuto librarian, Elijah, we have translated my interview with Harrison.
“My name is Harrison Zulu. I am seventeen years old. I have been one year at the center. Before, I was staying with my family in Kabwe. My uncle (Mr. Abel) was working as a prison warden in Luapula province. Mr. Abel sent a letter to Kabwe to let me stay with him. So then I went to Luapula province. Then Mr. Abel was transferred to the Copperbelt and I started experiencing some abuse at home. I worked from sunup to sundown. I was not allowed to come home late. One day, I escorted some friends home and was going to be late. Before I got home I heard that my uncle was going to beat me so I decided not to go home. I spent the night with a musician visiting from Lusaka. In the morning I did not want to go back home so I walked and followed Mpongwe Road by myself. I was heading to a village, but before I reached the village I met Mr. Manjoro who worked for the Council. Mr. Manjoro questioned me. He carried me to the police and they wrote down my statement. Mr. Manjoro carried me to his home. I became like a son to him and I entered into school. My uncle never even tried to look for me. I changed my surname to Manjoro. Then I moved to Lusaka with Mr. Manjoro. Mr. Manjoro started to drink beer. I make noise (snore) when I sleep so he made me sleep outside on the veranda. I slept outside on the veranda for one month. One of the neighbors saw how I was suffering. He communicated with friends who worked for Victims Support. Social welfare came to pick me up and brought me to the Center.”
In an attempt to fill the gaps of Harrison’s history, I spoke with people at Fountain of Hope. Apparently, Harrison’s family in Kabwe (which included an abusive aunt), thought the uncle had sold Harrison and that he had died soon after. The family even held a funeral service for Harrison. It’s unclear whether Harrison’s integration with his family again will be successful. It has been three years since he’s lived with his family, and given the previous pattern of abuse, he may run away from home again.
But, there is reason to hope. Since Harrison began working at the library in March, he has earned a small salary, enough to pay for his school fees and provide small savings. Harrison told me that he would like to work in an office one day, managing documents and papers, and he thought that his experiences in the library were good preparation for this. “I learned to be responsible…responsibility and discipline. I will never forget working in the library and it will be always in my memories.” I will also never forget Harrison; his special dancing capabilities, his ability to make me laugh and to laugh with me (or at me, like when he tried to teach me to eat nshima properly). My earliest Lubuto memories will always be of Harrison’s smiling face greeting me as I first stepped into the library.