When he went to Russia to do his PhD in Economics, Lubinda Haabazoka came back with something closer to his heart – a Russian wife.
In 2008, Maria Gulyaeva was a young banker in the port city of Rostov-on-Don and Dr Haabazoka was a young PhD student who hung out with celebrities and regularly appeared on a TV show on a local channel.Dr Haabazoka had seen Maria around town a few times before, but never really had the chance to meet her.
Then one day he discovered that he and Maria shared a mutual friend on social media Vkontakte (a Russian equivalent of Facebook). He asked for her contact and the two began communicating via the internet. But it would be almost a year before they could finally meet in person.
“We agreed to meet like a million times but we never met,” says Maria in Russian-accented English.
Dr Haabazoka says there were a lot of broken dates, which obviously left him frustrated. “I would forget about it and get upset for three months then she would write again,” says Dr Haabazoka.
They finally bumped into each other at a year-end party at a bank where Maria worked as a financial manager. After the party that night, Dr Haabazoka walked Maria to the waiting taxi.Moments later, she called just to say she had arrived home safely. For Dr Haabazoka, that was a good sign.
Then about a week later, they celebrated New Year together. In fact, when they met that December, Dr Haabazoka had already booked his flight back to Zambia to take up a job at the Copperbelt University. But he decided to postpone the trip indefinitely after things began getting cosy between him and Maria.
The next eight months were a roller-coaster for the couple. Dr Haabazoka and Maria describe a life of partying and travelling together.
They were a happy-go-lucky couple that fell head over heels in love with each other from the start. “It was basically a life of no worry,” says Dr Haabazoka.Maria says she liked Dr Haabazoka’s humour from the start. “We laughed, we danced. We didn’t have a lot of money. We just jumped on a bus and went for days,” says Maria.
“We didn’t even know where we were going,” she adds. Maria also remembers the couple getting cold together. But perhaps the young Russian banker was also impressed by Dr Haabazoka’s authority in economics. “To me that was a connection because I was into banking,” she says.
In fact, Dr Haabazoka had even helped Maria with her thesis when she was doing her masters.
“We used to play a lot and she didn’t have time to write her thesis, so I was helping her,” he says. Maria is quick to justify the help. “My grades in university were perfect, always A+, but just because I used to work and then I met him,” she says. For Dr Haabazoka, the big attraction was Maria’s strong character.
“I don’t like weak women, women who always say yes. I like people with a strong character,” says Dr Haabazoka. In fact for Maria, there was no down-on-one-knee proposal, but things just fell into place. “There wasn’t really a proposal. For me I think the proposal was when he bought tickets for me to come to Zambia,” she says.
But Maria feared falling in love with Dr Haabazoka because she did not want to leave Russia, especially for Africa.
Maria had not been to Africa, and had a lot of misconception about the continent.
“You know those typical things that Europeans think about Africa. And when you see those scenes on BBC, you get scared,” she says.
Maria’s father also did not approve of the relationship at the beginning. In fact, when Maria broke the news that she was engaged to a man from Zambia, her father did not want to talk to her.
But there was no turning back for Maria.She resigned her job and followed her love to Africa. “It was a major decision for me,” she says.
When she arrived on the Copperbelt, her myth about Africa burst. “I was shocked in a good way,” she says, “because I expected worse.”
“I was thinking there is Savannah everywhere, lions, just like some people think about Russia and think of polar bears and drunk men in warm hats,” she says. They got their marriage certificate in Luanshya and a kitchen party followed.
Maria still talks about the Tonga traditional dress she wore for her kitchen party.
The two decided to do the kitchen party in Zambia and then the wedding was in Russia in 2011. “It was perfect, everything was the way I dreamt,” says Maria. She had organised everything from Zambia via the internet, including choosing the deco, musicians and emcee for the function.
The venue was picked by her father, who chose a friend’s restaurant.
She says her father later accepted her decision and now he and his son-in-law are best friends. “They are very proud of him,” she says of her family. In-between the interview as we sit on the balcony of the couple’s home in Roma, Maria attends to her year-old son. Just finding his feet, Kevin is a handful.
Maria has chosen to stay at home to take care of the children and the family’s business. Dr Haabazoka and Maria speak Russian between them and usually use English when speaking to their children. “I’m used to Zambia and when people ask me when I’m going back to Russia, I tell them ‘Never’,” she says. Dr Haabazoka and Maria still like going out with friends or family.
“He is very caring about the family,” she says “When he travels, he always comes back with something for me and the kids. It will not be my husband if he comes with nothing,” she says. And how romantic is he? I ask Maria. “Zero level,” she says, giggling. “He’s an economist,” she adds.
“I think romance depends on the country where you live, if you are in Zambia, you do what other Zambians do, if you are in Russia you do what the Russians do,” he says.
“I used to do those things in Russia, but in Zambia you start thinking of cement,” he says. For Maria, what binds the couple even more is the fact that they did not possess much when they met. “We have passed through a lot together. When we came to Zambia we had nothing,” says Maria.
“Our house was just floor, walls and ceiling. That is it, not even curtains and we were happy,” she says.
Their relationship is also built on mutual trust.
“My husband never hides anything from me,” says Maria. “I know that many Zambian men don’t show their payslips to their wives, but I have access to his bank account.” Dr Haabazoka believes that for a man to be free of worries, he must not hide anything from his wife.
“Even if you hide your salary from your wife, she will do her mental calculations and you are going to be very unlucky if she calculates a salary K5,000 more than your salary because now she will be saying ‘where are you taking the rest of the money’,” he says. Dr Haabazoka says he is an economist at everything even when it concerns such issues as marriage.
“I never really wanted to marry at a young age. I’m an economist in everything,” he says.
“If you marry just because that is what society says, you end up divorcing after two weeks, because now you discover there is Chicagos there is Capones and night clubs,” he says. And when it comes to children, he says two are enough because he wants to give them the best life.