LIFE! WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
LAST week I met a former school mate while on a tour of duty in Luapula Province.
It was a surprise re-union after so many years. We had not seen or heard from each other since we wrote our final Grade 12 examinations in 1984 at Nchelenge Secondary School.
As we were having a snack at a popular eatery in Mansa we reminisced about the highs and lows we passed through for five years at our beloved Nchezzy, attracting the attention of our friends who were in our company.
They confessed that they did their secondary education at day schools in the urban areas and had, therefore, missed the adventures of a rural boarding school pupil of the 1980s.
The guys were eager to hear what life was like at a boarding school those days and were lucky, just like you are today, because I was in my usual story telling mood that day.
â€œLife in boarding school those days weaned us from our parents and made adults out of us at a tender age,â€ I explained. â€œWe were forced to learn how to be independent and survive on our own right in the first term of Form One.â€
I told the guys – with a bit of exaggeration – that those days a rural boarding school was like a military training camp or a Nazi concentration camp.
â€œLife was so tough guys that sometimes you felt your parents hated you for condemning you to such a hostile place,â€ I said.
I explained that besides bullying, which was commonly called â€˜mockeryâ€™ (ukupuukula), there was also hunger to contend with.
In fact hunger was the biggest challenge. Some Form Ones did not come back when the second term opened. Each day was a nightmare if you were a junior pupil â€“ Form One, Two or Three.
In the middle of the term you already have sold all your unused exercise books, bath soap and some of your treasured clothes and bed linen to the villagers or bartered them with boiled cassava (iboote) at Zanzibar market (pa Zanzi).
But the Form Ones (Ba Fomo) suffered the worst. Whereas there were four or three Form Fours and Fives per table, eight to nine Form Ones were forced to crowd around one meal in the dingo (dining hall).
Main meals mostly consisted of nshima with beans, salted fish, kapenta (imisomali) and vegetables, maize samp (sempo) and rice (indamu).
They were prepared as if they were meant for slaves. You could actually count the beans in the plate with your eyes and see your own face in the soup for beef or chicken.
As a survival mechanism the Form Ones were tempted to scavenge left-overs, and they were plenty, from the senior formsâ€™ tables. It was called ukuwetulula, a dishonourable practice indeed.
Boys who were accused of scavenging were subjected to cruel taunts in class mostly by the girls, who would vow never to have anything to do with a guy who ate amawetu (left-overs).
But it was not just boys who scavenged.
There were a few â€˜courageousâ€™ girls as well who would raid Form Four and Five tables after the occupants had left.
You would see them lurking in the corners, ready to pounce on the left-overs before the wicked cooks could sweep them off the tables and cart them away into the village and Cohen Compound to feed their dogs, chickens, ducks and pigs.
But we were always on the lookout for the food councillors, food captain and food minister. Once you fell into the hands of those people you became a victim of humiliation and physical abuse.
They would take turns in slapping your tender cheeks until they became puffed up like a frogâ€™s.
They once â€˜capturedâ€™ me, in the company of my friend Emmanuel Ntambi, now working for Samfya district council in Luapula Province.
They marched us like common criminals into the feared kitchen and by the time we were coming out of that dungeon our eyes were red and our noses wet. I can still feel those slaps.
But their â€˜crimeâ€™ could not go unpunished as if we had not been brought up in the village.
One evening a week later, Ntambi and I sneaked into the bush and came back with a bagful of the itching velvet beans pods called sepe in our language.
We liberally sprinkled the loose hairs of the bean pods on the beds of the food councillors and food captain while they were attending prep.
They had to receive first aid treatment at the school dispensary that very night.
The guys were screaming, jumping up and down while scratching themselves all over their bodies like lunatics as the sepe took effect.
â€œThe perpetrators of the â€˜atrocityâ€™ were never known. It was sweet revenge for us bane! â€ I said, and we all laughed.
â€œThat was cruel,â€ remonstrated one of the guys.
I answered him with a question, â€œBut what about those slaps they rained on our cheeks and backs, and we were just kids then?â€
We also told them some of the skills we involuntarily developed to survive the pangs of hunger that perpetually tugged at our guts throughout our junior secondary school days.
â€œIf we heard the repeated thuds of something hitting against the floor in the dorm we would know what it exactly was. We were able to distinguish different sounds,â€ I explained.
â€œIt was easy to tell that someone was just dusting his shoes or breaking up a cassava tuber.
If the latter was the case in no time we would all be tiptoeing towards the source of the sound to share the akasokobwe [stolen cassava].â€
If you wanted to make some zigoloki (sugar and plain water) you dared not use a spoon for stirring or else the whole dormitory would be at your locker to beg for â€œsome crystals (sugar).
You also had to be careful when eating tutobomutwe [rock-hard fried maize flour doughnuts], otherwise people could hear you several lockers away and queue up for a share.
Well, that was then. I donâ€™t know about now.
LIFE! WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA