I pay attention to store signs in Samfya. Unlike signs in the US, these are almost exclusively hand-painted. You don’t realize it at first, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear. Sometimes if you look closely you can still see the pencil lines where the sign painter actually measured out the width, height, spaces, and serifs of each letter. No printers here! These sign painters can reproduce logos and products with amazing accuracy. I’m a typography fan and I appreciate nice signage. Most people don’t even notice it.
Beyond their excellence in artistic execution, signs in Samfya are interesting for what they say. It’s not uncommon for people to give their businesses very creative names. One store in the local Mwamfuli market is called “Sweet after Sweat”. I wonder if the owner is trying to say that the profits of this business are “sweet” after all the “sweat” he has invested. Or maybe that you need to sweat a lot before you can enjoy the sweets in his shop! A garage in Lusaka, the capitol, is called “Never Mind General Dealers.” All can figure is that the owner wants to suggest that when you purchase a vehicle or parts from him you won’t have to worry about them again. A Lupili grocery store includes the slogan, “Start with what you have” as if to say, look out, this business is just the beginning!
These clever store names, however, do not overshadow a number of businesses with manifestly theological names. A nearby by vendor has called his shop “God’s Grace”. Since the aforementioned grace is not for sale, I’m going to guess that this owner must be trying to communicate that his business is a result of the grace shown to him by the Almighty. It’s a very simple sign. In fact it follows the type style and color scheme of a national cell phone vendor. But its white letters against a bright red background are a silent testimony to the truth. God has shown this man grace. Yet another store is called “God-Given Investments”. This man, a former board member of the Samfya Bible School, was a government official years ago and has done quite well. Yet, at least with this choice of name for his store, he is declaring that what he has was given to him by God.
Now you must understand that Zambia is a Christian nation. This fact is enshrined in the national constitution which says, “We the people of Zambia…declare the Republic a Christian nation…” Because of this fact Zambian Christians enjoy freedom to worship and are not persecuted. That said, I guess its possible that giving a business a theological name is just de rigure, kind of like going to church in some parts of the US. But I suspect that the real beauty of these theologically themed, hand-painted signs the fact that they truly are testimonies, silent witnesses, to God and his grace.
PS. We are all well. The honeymoon is over and we have settled down to the fact that we will be here for a while. Our kids miss their friends. We do too! That said we have settled into a routine and are glad to be here. Tomorrow I will travel with two faculty members to Luela to visit some graduates and local church leaders. It will be an overnight trip. On Monday we will all travel to an island in the middle of Lake Bangweulu to help paint a school.