The Breakout Principle in Adelina Banda

As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, I offer up a story that calls for real celebration. In the four years I’ve worked with Adelina Banda, I’ve watched this once circumspect, kindly, young Zambian woman cast off the trammels that constrained her, and transform, step-by-resolute-step, into a formidable, multi-talented chef and partner.

Adelina helping me cook for a neighbor’s wedding in September, 2013. It was our first commercial gig in Livingstone.

Adelina’s story could have read like any of the countless Zambian girls who have resigned themselves to the cultural norms of gender inequality. I read recently that in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2015, Zambia was ranked 116, out of 145 countries. As the post stated, “This means that Zambia is rated among the worst 30 countries with the highest levels of gender inequality in the whole world.”

In mid-2014, Adelina led me to Ruth Mongongo, our resident expert for opening mongongo nuts in a nearby village.

To me, it is evident everywhere. Many young girls fall pregnant not long after reaching puberty. One of these girls was Adelina. She learned she was carrying a child when she was barely out of childhood herself. Adelina fell pregnant at the age of fourteen, forcing her to drop out of school. Many of the women who work on our farm are young single mothers, often supporting their children by themselves. This was a large reason why Chris and I created Taonga Daycare and Preschool: to give these kids a fair start, having been born into unfair circumstances.

Chris and I introduced Farm & Food Tours in 2014. Here Adelina is preparing vishashe for a traditional lunch.

I’ve learned that Zambia is ranked the third highest country with cases of child marriages in the southern African region, according to Girls Not Brides, with 42 percent of women aged 20-24 years married by the age of 18. Again, Adelina was one of these statistics. After dropping out of school she married the father of her child, but endured a life of domestic violence and familial abuse in a village not far from our farm. When she gave birth to her second child, Tecklar, Adelina left her husband after taking a job as a housekeeper for Chris. She’d been working here, on and off, for three years before I moved in early in 2013.

Cooking lessons at Tangala: Adelina teaches her pupils how to make ciabatta bread.

Working alongside me in our simple bush kitchen, Adelina — through her super-fast learning ability, an innate emotional intelligence, and keen eye for detail — has changed her story. She quickly perceived my interest in wild edibles, especially those growing in the bush around our house, and then suggested others to me. She collaborated with villagers and farm workers, who knew more about wild food than she did. She introduced me to Tonga women, carrying within them the age-old wisdom of their forebears, to share their knowledge about the wild fruits and nuts we were foraging. She’s participated in expanding our organic garden, teaching me about the indigenous plants, such as sindambi, along the way. Together we tested recipes, fusing together the wild food with our garden produce, which later turned into the “bush gourmet cuisine” we are serving at The Elephant Café today.

Adelina compares the munkoyo roots at Dambwa Market with fellow chefs, Lovedale Nombwana and Aubrey Tilimboyi.

In just four years we have worked side-by-side in producing food for a neighbor’s wedding; serving lunches here for Farm & Food Tours; providing cooking lessons to foodies and safari lodges around Livingstone; at Chris’s 60th birthday celebration last year; and now at The Elephant Café, which has been awarded Zambia’s Best New Restaurant, as well as Boutique Restaurant of the Year (Africa and Middle East) by the British Luxury Travel Guide Awards.

In the kitchen at The Elephant Café. Image credit: Anthony Grote.

Since becoming a senior chef at The Elephant Café, Adelina has put down a deposit on her first house in nearby Simonga. Her two children are happily ensconced in private schools nearby, and she has fallen in love with an elephant handler. Adelina is just 27-years-old. By proactively changing her story she now has the world before her. When I asked Adelina if she minded me writing about her in a blogpost, she told me no. “By telling my story I hope that it will encourage my daughters, as well as other Zambian women, who feel ashamed for never finishing school, that anything is possible. I’m living proof.”

Adelina and me.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • Lovely story Bella – well done for facilitating Adelina’s dream to become a reality. (I love the addition of her falling in love with the elephant handler 😉 ) x

    • Thank you so much, Bridgey. Actually, Adelina is facilitating my dream. We’re in this together. I feel such gratitude. Can’t wait to see you soon! Lots of love … xo

  • This story brought (happy) tears to my eyes. I wish Adelina and her children continued love, success and happiness.

    • Thank you, Shaunagh. I hope one day you will come here and meet Adelina … and give me the chance of seeing you again after far too many years. Lots of love … xo

  • What a beautiful and important story. I am so glad you and Adelina found each other! Together you are working magic.

    • So much gratitude, Cynthia. It’s a rewarding and happy partnership!

  • Beautiful story and a happy positive future for Adelina and her family. Thanks for sharing Annabel. I’m sure this will encourage more young girls to “reach for the stars”.

    • Thank you, Eva, for your support and interest. Adelina is an exemplary role model for young Zambian women, to be sure! All the best to you, Annabel x

  • Fantastic growth, achievement! Thanks Annabel.

    • So appreciate your interest in my blog, Davison. Thank you!

  • It would appear you were heaven sent with moving to Zambia Annabel!
    Truly amazing the reading of your life now and all that you are achieving on the farm.
    always a fantastic and absorbing read….Thank You so much.

    • Thank you so much, Maddy, for your very kind comment. I do feel very blessed being here!

  • fait accompli ?
    Love your articles, love your writing, love your courage and creativity, love your collaboration with Adelina. So much to love ❤️

    • And I love you for always being so supportive and interested in what we are doing here. Thank you, Mo! xo

  • A wonderful story of growth, vision and empowerment – inspirational as always xxx

    • Thank you so very much, Margie. Much love to you … xo

  • Such a beautiful and empowering story. Its so rewarding when you see someone grow and flourish under your eyes. Truly inspiring. Well done Annabel.

    • Thank you so much for your very kind comment, Fiona. We both look forward to meeting you soon! All the best, Annabel

  • <3

  • Great story! Go ladies ????

    • Thank you, Georgie! 🙂 xo

  • A wonderful and heart warming story. Your energy and inspiration has inspired and created growth in others. Exemplary!

    • Much gratitude, Franks, for this very kind comment. It helps when you are working with someone who really wants to grow … 🙂

  • […] Drizzle Cake — in her hand luggage from Harare. The rest of the food, prepared on-site by Adelina Banda and our kitchen and garden staff, was all local, and girlfriends congregated around the prepping […]

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