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Academic miracle from Nchezzy

THE other Friday I was the leader of the two-man team the Zambia Daily Mail ‘deployed’ to cover President Lungu’s second press conference at State House in Lusaka.
I was accompanied by our chief reporter, Chimwemwe Mwale.
After being cleared by security staff at the gate, I started walking to the main building, which houses the President’s office, conference room and offices for his staff.
Our acting managing director, Mr Chapadongo Lungu, was waiting for me a few metres ahead.
As I walked towards him, I heard a male voice calling me.
“Shani Charles,” it called. When I turned, I saw a squat man offer me a handshake. I recognised him right away!
It was my former class mate at Nchelenge Secondary School in the 1980s, Bright Mwenya, who is now a member of staff at State House.
We had last met almost four years ago. I informed Bright that another former Nchezzy class mate, Vincent Nyemba, who we used to call lieutenant back at school, was at my home.
I informed him that Vincent had brought his wife for treatment at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) as a referral from Mansa General Hospital where she had been referred by Kawambwa District Hospital.
Then I introduced him to Mr Lungu (Chapadongo, not Edgar, please).
After a brief chat and exchange of mobile phone numbers I told Bright that I had to hurry because President Lungu might address the press conference any time, and I couldn’t afford to be late.
After going through the final security check point (there is stringent screening) I walked through to the presidential marquee on the lush rear lawn.
The place was already abuzz with people most of them smartly dressed in suits of different colours and sizes, many of who were already seated while more were still arriving.
As I looked for a seat, I saw another former Nchezzy school mate and former Kawambwa Central member of Parliament Nickson Chilangwa. We exchanged greetings and I moved on.
I finally found a seat next to my former journalism classmate Jeff Kapembwa.
When I looked to my right I saw another ex-Nchezzy boy, former Pambashe MP Ronald Chitotela.
As usual he was in jovial mood. As we shook hands vigorously, he told a gentleman dressed in a sky blue suit seated in front of me, “You! You have been lying that I don’t have a Grade 12 certificate.
Here is Chisala. Ask him if I was not at Nchelenge Secondary School.”
“Oh yes, Honourable Chitotela has a powerful School Certificate from Nchezzy, believe me,” I chipped in and we all laughed.
When I got home that evening, I narrated to Vincent how I had met Bright, Mr Chitotela and Mr Chilangwa at State House.
We then drifted back to our troubled boarding school days. I reminded Vincent of how tough our final year was as we prepared for the final Form V examinations.
As far as we were concerned education was the only available exit from the dungeons of poverty that had held us hostage; that it was only education that could give us back our dignity.
We particularly recalled how we made booths in the forest not very far from the school, where we used to study quietly until the dingo bell invited us for either lunch or supper.
We always carried along a cadet rack sack. So when the bell tolled one of us would go to the dingo with it and bring our shares from our respective tables, which we supplemented with scavenged cassava tubers (akasokobwe) and unripe mangoes.
We didn’t steal the kasokobwe, if that is what you are thinking, but politely approached the owners of the fields who were harvesting to allow us to pick up the small tubers they were discarding.
The kind ones would even reward us with a fully grown tuber or two, and we would gladly roast (ukufunika) them by burying them in the soil and lighting a fire over them.
On such rare occasions we would stroll back into the school whistling happily, drumming our ballooned tummies in appreciation.
As some of you may know it was a near miracle to have a full stomach in a rural government boarding school those days. Back in the campus we would troop to the nearest garden tap and ‘escort’ the uvuni with large volumes of tap water.
There were no cups, buddy. So you just turned the tap open and put your mouth to it until you felt some pain in the sides of your rib cage, telling you that you had had your fill.
“What a life! It is a miracle that we managed to live through all those difficult five years,” Vincent quipped, as our madams listened with open interest.
I agreed with him entirely. “In fact, those boarding schools were like German concentration camps or military training centres.
It is indeed a miracle because we saw how our peers were dropping out of school like dry leaves each term as a result of the almost unbearable hardships,” I said.
It was hard those days, baice. Just imagine, it sometimes took me three days to travel from Samfya to Nchelenge because of bad roads and limited number of buses.
With all these new tarred roads, it now takes slightly over half a day.
On many occasions, I almost froze to death at Mansa UBZ Bus Station and Matelo station in Kawambwa. My teeth would be chattering like a small stone crusher as the body convulsed with shivering during the long cold nights.
God, you are indeed good! How I managed to get such good results (Division One School Certificate with 18 points) was unbelievable, and that was way back in the early 1980s when there were no leakages.
How I wish I could visit my beloved Nchezzy with a whole army of Chinese contractors to rebuild it, for I hear it is so dilapidated that one would mistake it for monumental ruins.

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