Long walk that nearly killed me

A STORY on page four of the Thursday, April 12, 2018 edition of the Times of Zambia caught my attention.
It was about the long-awaited Kashikishi-Lunchinda road project in Luapula Province.
Government will upgrade the road from gravel to tarmac.
The Times reported that the government has already signed a contract for the K750 million project, and that it has already paid the contractor K37 million for mobilisation.
Kashikishi-Lunchinda road connects Nchelenge and Chienge districts, and a gateway to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The stretch of this road between Kashikishi village in Nchelenge district and Mununga in Chienge is a page in the annals of my personal struggle for education.
By the way I am warning all easterners to immediately stop mispronouncing and misspelling the name of the district.
It is Chienge and not Chiengi mwebantu!
I don’t know how and when the name changed.
It is like saying “umwengi” to refer to umwenge (torch), Nchelengi instead of Nchelenge or Chembi instead of Chembe.
Stop it now, or else I will incite their royal highnesses in Northern, Muchinga and Luapula provinces to bring back those guns and canons they bought from Arab and Portuguese slave traders with which they frightened the hitherto boastful and cheeky Ngonis out of their skins during the tribal migrations.
Back to the story. I was saying the Lunchinda-Kashikishi road is special to me.
Every time I read about or hear people mention it I recall the events of 1980. I was in Form I then at Nchelenge Secondary School or Nchezy, and had to travel all the way from Samfya district.
For an unsophisticated village boy who had not ventured beyond Ndoba Bridge from Ngúmboland before it was a huge challenge to traverse five districts.
My age did not make matters any better.
After very difficult first and second terms during which I had to contend with mockery (bullying), perpetual hunger and home-sickness it was time to close school and head home, sweet home.
Unfortunately, I had passed to Form I at a time my family was going through serious challenges.
My father’s inability to acquire new fishing nets because of lack of resources had plunged the family into the abyss of poverty.
We were bearing the full brunt of rural poverty stoked by the UNIP government’s failed socialism.
To make matters worse I had four other siblings who were also in school – one in secondary and the rest in primary.
In those days parents and guardians would start sending transport money a week before the closure of schools through the post office.
Our school office orderly would pin or paste the list of the names of all those who had received transport money on the notice board, which stood aloof mounted on two wooden stands and a roof over it at the centre of the school.
So each day of that last week we would rush to the notice board at break time and at the end of lessons to see if there was a new list of recipients of transport money.
We called it ukusabuka. Those who saw their names would leap in the air and hoot with joy.
They would quickly erase their names from the list to keep away beggars and creditors.
While my schoolmates were celebrating after seeing their names on the notice board I had little hope of seeing mine.
By Thursday, which was the last day, my name had not appeared.
I was scared because I did not have any relative in Nchelnge.
A fellow Form I who came from the same area as I in Samfya, Virgilio (we called him Filikilyo in the village) had a cousin who worked as a corporal at the Zambia National Service (ZNS) camp at Kapako in Mununga.
He had also not received transport money.
On Friday when our friends were buying tickets and boarding the yellow, white and black United Bus Company of Zambia (UBZ) Leyland Willowbrook buses in the main car park behind the administration block we just stood there and watched.
It was only after the last bus had cruised out of the campus heading to Mansa that the reality of our situation struck home.
We cried quietly as we walked back to the boys’ dormitories to think of what to do.
I was somehow relieved to know that I was not alone after all. There were a few others who shared my predicament.
Virgilio invited me to go with him to his cousin at Kapako Rural Reconstruction (RR) camp on foot.
I had no idea where the place was or how far away it was from Nchelenge Secondary School.
He only told me it wasn’t “very far”, and I trusted him.
We spent the night in one corner of a dark dormitory sleeping on the hard sides of felled wooden lockers.
Since we did not have where to leave our books we packed them in our bags together with our modest belongings and castaways, including clothes, linen and shoes which we had scavenged from open lockers, left behind by ‘wealthy’ pupils.
We left around 04:00 hours using the Indeco Milling bush path, joining the main road at St Paul’s Catholic Mission. It was still dark.
We were nervous, hiding every time we heard voices ahead or saw lights.
By the time the sun was rising we had walked past Ntoto village and were heading towards Kabuta village/fishing camp.
My feet and legs were beginning to feel sore. The traveller’s bag was getting heavier and heavier.
When we reached Mwatishi village we were already ‘starving’. We had not had any breakfast.
Our last meal was the lunch we had had in the dingo the previous day.
The pangs of hunger were becoming unbearable.
“We have not even covered half the distance of our journey,” Virgilio told me. It was like rubbing salt into an injury.
Follow me next week.

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