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From Magande’s memoirs: My experience at School

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“The infrastructure at Chikankata Mission was being expanded to provide for space for the introduction of secondary school classes and also additional medical services. Among the new facilities were additional dormitories, classrooms, laboratories, new wards at the hospital, and a new large dam.
We had an exciting development when the school completed the construction of the first waterborne ablution blocks with showers and flush toilets. I vividly recall the great effort made by the expatriate white teachers to demonstrate the etiquette of bathroom and lavatory use. The two-day demonstrations included how to lift the pan cover, sit on the pan, hang and unroll the toilet paper, flush the cistern, clean, and cover the bowl of the lavatory.
The teachers emphasized that the new equipment with its immaculate white pans and cisterns were very clean and hygienic on their own. One of them even sipped some water from the cistern and dipped his hand into the pan to demonstrate the cleanliness of the system. He stated that the water and the pan will be made dirty only by actions of one of us. They emphasized that each one of us was therefore responsible for cleaning their own mess. We were taught to leave the toilet in the same condition we’d found it.
This reminded me of the wise saying by the philanthropist Mother Teresa (Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu), which states that:
“If everybody cleaned their doorstep, the whole world would be clean”.
We abandoned the pit latrines we’d used up until then and the bathing in the nearby Munyeke Stream. This was a big change for me as we did not even have pit latrines in the village.
The new waterborne sanitary system brought some challenges to many older students who did not want to be associated with cleaning the ‘dirty’ place. On a Saturday in 1959, a team of older boys failed to carry out their duty as per the roster. When confronted by one of the prefects, they accused me and another young boy, David Ng’andu as the ones who’d failed to clean the ablution block even when it was not our turn to do so.
David and I were summoned to the principal’s office. The principal reiterated the imperative for keeping the new facilities clean in order to avoid outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. He recited the famous saying by Rabbi Phinehas ben Yair that, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” and threatened to dismiss us from the school for insubordination.
After checking in our files, he cooled down and stated that he would forgive us because we were very bright students. This incident once more showed the degree of respect the principal had for education and led us to concentrate on our studies while strengthening our friendship.
I have tried to live according to these lessons on hygiene and have managed to keep clean our lavatories and bathrooms even when hosting visitors from the village. The arrangement is that we show the visitors how to use the facilities early in their visit since many are not familiar with these modern facilities. At times, even some of our visitors from urban areas have to struggle to use some of the modern facilities due to the frequently changing designs of flush mechanisms and handles.
Chikankata School provided carefully formulated and balanced meals. The common diet for the school was of maize porridge for breakfast, then nsima, vegetables, and dried beans for lunch and supper. The kapenta fish, which became common in educational institutions, was not available as it had to be brought from distant Lake Tanganyika in the far north. Every Saturday, the senior students in the Trades Institute and secondary school were treated to a luxurious meal of rice and beef. The beef was from animals slaughtered in the surrounding villages by senior students.
The irony was that many senior students exchanged their rice for nsima, as rice was regarded as a snack and not food to satisfy a hungry person. I participated in the nsima-rice barter trade with Dux Halubobya, one of the students in the Trades Institute, who became my long-time associate.
After leaving Chikankata Mission, Halubobya ended up in Canada for training in cooperatives. On his return to Zambia, he pioneered the development of the savings cooperative movement by establishing the Credit Union & Savings Association (CUSA) of Zambia under the personal guidance of President Kaunda. Under Halubobya’s guidance as general manager, CUSA became a household name in the whole country and helped in building a culture of saving amongst many civil servants. Our paths crossed later in life as we worked in the ministry responsible for cooperatives and we continued to be close to each other even in old age.
I put a lot of effort in my class work at Chikankata and soon earned the respect of both the teachers and other pupils in my classes. We went through a lot of the usual subjects of biology, chemistry, civics, history, mathematics, and physics.
The lessons on the English language could not cover all that we had to learn. One had to get really interested in order to understand and appreciate the collocation and irregular forms of words such as adverbs, adjectives, nouns, proverbs, and verbs. Some words in English, the so-called ‘Queen’s language’, were very complicated and required a lot of effort to master their spellings and usage. For example, the word ‘go’, which changes to ’going’, ‘gone’, ‘goes’ and ‘went’ and the word ‘sing’, which becomes ‘sings’, ‘sang’, and ‘sung’.
I discovered that the English language, like Tonga my native language, also has thousands of idioms and therefore the language was not ‘a piece of cake’. After my prized gift of an English dictionary in 1963, my fluency in the English language improved dramatically.
Later in secondary school, the Latin language was introduced. Latin verbs, which have four patterns of conjugation, active and passive voice were even more complicated. With conjugation being affected by person, number, gender, tense, mood, and voice factors, this brought more frustrations and confusion in learning the language. We were assured that once one mastered Latin, they would find English easy as about eighty per cent of the entries in any English dictionary are derived from Latin.
We spent time memorizing and reciting the verses of Civis Romanus the classic textbook for Latin learners, which had so many remarkable stories on the civilization of ancient Rome. Our British teachers did not emphasize the fact that the Latin language was imposed on the British by the conquering Romans under Emperor Claudius. As we were mere students, we wanted knowledge for passing the examinations and not to engage in ancient politics of supremacy between the Romans and the English.
We were taught ciTonga as an academic subject by Teacher Maguswi, but it was punishable for anyone to speak the language within the school premises. Since we knew some items only in Tonga, we sometimes melded Tonga and English words in our speech, but our elderly lady teacher Major Daton could not understand. As it happened, between Latin and English, I strongly believe that a blending of English, Latin, and Tonga words would have produced a rich intercultural language easy to be understood by the members of the local community. After all, English, Latin, and Tonga words use a common alphabet of twenty-six letters, which do not have any diacritical marks.
I was most fascinated by geography, taught by a very gentle and motherly lady, Captain Watkinson. We learnt about all the countries of the world and their peoples, physical features, resources, natural and political divisions, climate, agricultural, and manufactured products. Some of the explorers, such as Vasco da Gama, were covered under geography because of the trade and economic aspects of their expeditions. The knowledge acquired in the geography lessons became handy in my later life as I travelled to various countries of the world.
For the dreaded subject of mathematics, the Mission recruited an American geologist, Dr Arthur Thompson who made the subject less intimidating. I enjoyed mathematics and befriended my age-mate (musaama), Arthur Bbuku and a young girl by the name of Irene Kaumba, who were also good at mathematics.
I came to know how the modern numbers are derived from the few symbols using additive and subtractive methods. I learnt that the Hindu-Arabic numeric system was developed by the Persian Muslim Mathematician by the name of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi born around 780 AD in Baghdad.
The hefty American geologist, often seen around picking stones accompanied by a huge Alsatian dog, also introduced American baseball to the school sports programme. As one of his good students in class, I had no choice, but to join his baseball game, although I never made it to become a star player. The teaching of mathematics at Chikankata Secondary School laid such a strong foundation that I continued to score distinctions up to university level.
The Trades Institute trained professional artisans in brickwork, carpentry and blacksmithery. The institute’s facilities were available to the primary and secondary school pupils. The lessons were given by a very dedicated teacher, Cox Sikumba, who managed to persuade us of the practical value of these skills in real life. Sikumba also took us for physical education and sports.
We made various household items from timber and metal during our lessons. The students of the Trades Institute helped in maintaining the school’s infrastructure. I was excited to hold the tools of the various trades such as trowels, levels, craw hammers, welding guns and rods, planes, chisels, saws, and tape measures, which I had never seen before. This grounding in these survival skills at an early age has enabled me to effectively supervise some construction works and carry out maintenance work on our various family properties.
Among the extracurricular activities I actively participated in was drama, in which I always preferred to act the role of one of the three wise men from the east in the nativity play. Once I did offer to take on the role of Jesus Christ in a religious play. But our organizer, Captain Cammody could not allow a human being to assume such a role.
We were indoctrinated to believe that it was blasphemous for a human being to portray Jesus Christ in a play. The role was always played by an unnamed senior teacher, who read the participation of Jesus from behind a curtain. I kept on wandering for many years whether something sinister will happen to anyone who acted as Jesus Christ.
I was therefore mentally liberated when I watched the George Stevens 1965 biblical epic film, The Greatest Story Ever Told in which Max von Sydow convincingly portrayed Jesus Christ and nothing sinister happened to him. With a cast of some of the famous and my favourite actors among them John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Sydney Poitier and Telly Savallas, producer Stevens must have preserved the reverence of the story of Jesus Christ by seeking the advice and prayers of Pope John XXIII before producing the film.
I took a religious course and after baptism and confirmation of my religious name of Peter, I became a Corps Cadet and participated in teaching the Bible readings to younger pupils during Sunday school in the nearby primary schools. This gave me the opportunity to study the Bible from Genesis to Revelations. Religious education (RE) became one of my favourite and easiest subjects. I found the Bible very educational with lessons for all circumstances. I must admit that the teachings of the Bible have assisted me greatly when confronted with many modern-day challenges.
Dancing was not allowed at Chikankata Mission due to its moral sensibilities. Singing, especially of religious songs, was encouraged and I became an active member of the school choir after taking some music lessons.
I joined the Scout Association as a cub and later graduated to a scout. The motto of the movement is “BE PREPARED”, which stands for Bravery, Enterprise, Purpose, Resolution, Endurance, Partnership, Assurance, Reformation, Enthusiasm, and Devotion. I enjoyed most of the outdoor camping challenges, such as mountaineering and compass reading as they reinforced the self-sufficiency and survival techniques I’d learnt during my days as a shepherd boy in the Namaila hills.

About the Author: Ng’andu Peter Magande is former Minister of Finance


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