Zambia’s meal-finishers

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Zambia’s meal-finishers

Audrey Simango writes about young men eating meals people don’t finish.


Zambia’s Spiced Tilapia Stew

Credit: Alexander Mychko / Alamy Stock Photo

In Lusaka, the capital of Zambia in southern Africa, I was eating a plate of rice and tilapia fish at a motel.

It was midday. The large meal in front of me was enough for three people, but I was alone. Zambians usually serve big portions and jars of free sorghum grain drinks. A man in his twenties sat on a sofa opposite my table. He seemed to have no energy and was holding a bag filled with drawing books and crayons to his chest.

I thought he was going to order perhaps a bowl of beans and chili soup, the favourite cuisine here in Lusaka. After a while, he nodded and said hello. He didn’t order anything but watched me eat until I stopped halfway. I was feeling full.

Then he whispered, ‘Will you be upset if I finish your plate?’

I was happy that my meal wasn’t wasted. ‘Sure, go ahead,’ I said. Half the country’s population cannot get enough food but sustainability charity HIVOS says Zambia has a large food waste problem, compared to its sub-Saharan neighbours. The HIVOS charity says Zambia´s food waste is one of Africa´s biggest. In 2020, the World Food Programme fed over 300,000 people but it says there is a lot more hunger in the cities because of Covid-19.

My friend in the restaurant talked to me as he ate. He said he was a ‘meal-finisher’ as he ate my rice and drank cold water. ‘Meal-finishers’ is the everyday word for groups of hungry, often jobless young men on Zambia streets. They quietly come to the motel, hotel, or roadside eateries and politely offer to finish meals. Tourists usually leave the food as they are not used to large Zambia-style meals.

He guessed from my Mountain Warehouse rucksack that I was from Zimbabwe; I didn’t look Zambian and didn’t speak the local Nyanja language. In a city without Uber or reliable Google Maps, ‘meal-finishers’ are now unofficial guides. They give free directions to taxis, walk the visitor to bus stops, carry their bags or protect women tourists from muggers and ticket touts. Over half of Zambia’s population of 17 million live below the poverty line. Unemployment in young people is around 20 per cent and only young men have the courage to ask for this food.

Almost every restaurant I went to, I saw them on benches or waiting around. Another young man came with me as I bought a big box of chips and chicken at Hungry Lion restaurant in Lusaka. He politely offered to carry my bags hoping I won´t finish my large meal. Of course, I didn’t finish it.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)