The Iron Press

The most interesting parts of Zambia are the parts they don’t tell you about. It is a country that loves to innocently prove your assumptions wrong. Maybe this has something to do with my being a half-baked crazy muzungu – who knows.

One thing I have noticed is that the Zambians take great pride in their attire. One of the ways they demonstrate this is by walking out of their mud huts with immaculately pressed dress shirts.

I have not stopped marveling at the quality of the ironing. It impressed me to such a degree that I inquired about it. I wanted to know how these people walk out of slums and appear looking like they just picked up their laundry from the best dry-cleaner in town. I had to know.

From deep in heart of the second biggest slum in Africa, I learned the answer.

During the mining boom in Kabwe, people came from remote villages looking for work and a better life. After the mining boom turned to bust and with no money or place to go, they ended up staying. Today approximately 60,000 residents now call the slum of Makalulu, home.

Children struggle to survive, let alone gain an education here. The poverty leads to chronic starvation, which affects the children’s motivation and attention in school. There isn’t enough money to pay the teachers well and hence, the schools have a difficult time attracting qualified teachers.

In this community of approximately 60,000 people, 24% of the adults are HIV positive and more than 1 in 4 children are orphaned.

Martha calls Makalulu home. She has three children and is suffering from Tuberculosis as a complication of Aids. Blood oozes from her lip as her skeletal and starving body strives to sit up and greet us. All the while, her children fill the dark smelly mud hut with joy.

The Zambian’s are extraordinarily hospitable and at the end of our visit, Martha’s dad went and retrieved his iron to show me. The hut is two rooms small and before I knew it there appeared before my eyes the oldest and most beautiful iron I have ever seen.

The scene caused some amusement amongst all those present as Martha’s dad demonstrated the proper usage of this incredible artifact and held it proudly for me to inspect every square inch.

The iron is actually made of cast iron (and now you know why they call it an ‘iron’). The lid is hinged to permit “fire” to be placed within its belly. There are vents to allow the smoke from the coal-lit fire to escape and a wooden handle is used to protect against burns. The bottom surface of the iron frequently rusts but a simple “sanding” (with actual sand) alleviates pesky rust particles. There is no thermostat. One simply dips the hot coal-heated surface into some water to get the right temperature.

We all collectively ooohhh’ed and ahhhh’ed at this incredible piece of priceless antiquity that emerged from the slum.

And thanks to Martha, I now know how Zambian’s iron their shirts.

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