Red Dust & Cicada Songs

By Mary Bomford

Categories: Memoir
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773860916, 248 pages, November 2022

Writer and educator Mary Bomford describes the formative years of her life working as a teacher in Zambia, and the long-lasting impact those years imprinted upon her.


At the age of twenty-one, Canadian teacher, Mary Bomford and her husband of just eight weeks embarked on a journey that would directly alter their careers, their marriage and their family. That journey would trace an invisible but palpable thread through the rest of their lives.

Enticed by dreams of adventure, in 1969 Mary and her husband Larry moved to Lundazi, a town near the eastern border of Zambia to work as CUSO volunteers in the secondary school there. At the time, the country, a nation newly independent after decades of colonialism, was looking for volunteers to fill the teacher shortage until enough young Zambians had completed their teacher training. New to marriage, teaching and Zambia, Mary and her husband embarked on a profound journey connecting them to the country, their students, and their colleagues. Zambia gave them the experience of a second home, filled with moments of delight in the beauty of the area and enriched by the culture of the Zambian people.

Years later, Mary reflects on her experiences of the landscape, culture and people in the hopeful time following independence. Red Dust & Cicada Songs is an exploration of the deep and lasting connection she still feels for her time in Zambia.


  • Short-listed, Victoria Book Prize 2023


“It is with the power of memories that Mary Bomford takes us on a journey to Africa, to Zambia and the story of her early married life and the people both ex-pat and Zambian who influenced and altered her immeasurably. Though she questions her colonial heritage and privilege as a white woman, Red Dust & Cicada Songs acknowledges that deep desire to connect and to learn in and from other lands and people.”

—Yvonne Blomer, author of The Last Show on Earth and Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur

“In this arresting and vivid memoir, a pair of idealistic Canadian newlyweds join a host of other international recruits for the adventure of teaching abroad. What follows is the story of Mary Bomford’s passionate love affair with a young east African country. Whether she’s coping with hippos in the drinking water or restless high school girls wearing live caterpillar barrettes, Bomford’s resilience and optimism carry her through. Both an elegy and a celebration, Red Dust & Cicada Songs is a coming-of-age story as well as a coming to terms with what this youthful adventure meant—the creation of a ‘village of the heart’ that began in Africa and has lasted a lifetime.”

—Patricia Robertson, author of Hour of the Crab, co-winner of the 2022 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction

“Accessible, beautifully written, and historically important, this riveting memoir tells the story of a newlywed idealistic young Canadian who flew off to Africa with her husband to teach at a secondary school. It gives us a unique glimpse into the peaceful interlude between Zambia’s independence from British rule until the start of the subsequent political upheavals in the early 1970s. The author looks back fifty years later to her experiences, described with remarkable freshness and immediacy, as if inscribed forever in her very being; alongside her, we marvel at the traditional methods of food preparation, of fixing things in creative ways using local resources, and of doing more with less. As we grapple with the effects of colonialism, she is left to puzzle over the effect of her time in Africa and whether it helped her students or ‘injected them with the shortcomings of Western culture.’ The reach of Mary’s book is immense, entertaining as literature and profound as history.”

—Maidie Hilmo, PhD