Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Very Dusty Home-coming

We were on the last leg of our journey, returning from a five-day trip to Chilubi Island and Bwangwelu swamps in the Northern Province in connection with the National Census in Zambia. During our voyage from the Island port of Santa Maria to the mainland port of Nsombo, we ran into bad weather and the waves were so high that we thought we were going to capsize. However, now that we were nearing the mainland, the surface of the lake became as smooth as glass and the boat raced evenly like an arrow released from the bowstring. The mid-morning sun cast its bright light on the lake and the port of Nsombo emerged out of the horizon.

However, a great disappointment was awaiting us at Nsombo. There was no government transport available to take us back the sixty kilometers to Luwingu. At the sub Boma they told us that the government “Land-rover” from Luwingu had been coming for us every day for the last three days and returning empty. The vehicle had come this morning also, but went back earlier than usual, i.e. just a few minutes before our arrival. The telephone system was out of order and there was no means in Nsombo to contact Luwingu. This was certainly not one of our lucky days!

We could see the ferry from where we were standing. The Moonraker, the boat in which we had come, was pulling out slowly from the jetty into the great expanse of water. The crew members were on their way to their base at Samfya, after accomplishing their mission. The blue lake, the bright sun and the gleaming white boat made a pretty picture before our eyes, but we were not in a mood to enjoy the scenery. We stood there racking our brains to find a way to reach our final destination.

Perhaps most of my readers may not be able to understand the seriousness of the situation. Like many other remote parts of Africa, Nsombo was a place where the only motorized transport that you could see was a government Land-rover or truck that would appear once in a blue moon on official business. The villagers in those parts never travelled far. The only places they frequented were the fishing areas of the lake and the “bush” from where they collected firewood. No one in a radius of fifty kilometres would have owned a motor vehicle, let alone a bicycle. We were in a ‘fix’ as some people would say.

I don’t remember how long we stood there, contemplating our next move. I thought Mr. Sichangwa, the District Secretary of Luwingu who was the leader of our party would figure out a way, but I could see helplessness written all over his face.

Even before we heard the laboured rumbling of an old motor, we saw a moving cloud of dust at some distance on the winding dirt road. We craned our neck to see what was happening, but could not see anything except a belt of trees on the road side and the dust cloud. Then we saw it, a box-like contraption, moving in our direction. When it came closer, we could distinguish it as what was left of a Land-rover, without any top or sides, a rusty chassis mounted on four wheels with some kind of a platform fixed on it and the engine sounding as if the whole thing would break loose at any moment. There were no seats inside. The driver was perching precariously on the metal skeleton of something which used to be the framework of a seat a few decades ago. But if I say our hearts lifted at the very sight of this moving monstrosity, you can just imagine how desperate our predicament was. The vehicle, if I can call it so, sped up to the jetty and stopped abruptly as the road ended there. The driver wanted to take the vehicle back. While he was making a number of unsuccessful attempts to throw the gears into reverse, Mr. Sichangwa approached the driver and introduced himself as the District Secretary of Luwingu before asking him anything about the vehicle. We learnt that the vehicle belonged to the Department of Agriculture and had been involved in a serious accident sometime back. The wreck was bought in an auction sale after many years by the present owner who was a former mechanic in the Ministry of Works. He rebuilt the vehicle to its present state by improvising the necessary parts from here and there. It was still in a very early stage for making a trial run on the public road, but he was taking a chance as the roads were fairly deserted most of the time. The DS asked him whether he could take the three of us to Luwingu in his vehicle to which he replied with an emphatic “No”. In the first place his vehicle had no road tax or fitness certificate. Then there were other reasons too, he may not have enough fuel in the tank, the engine was misfiring every now and then, the indicators and the hooter were not working, there were no seats and he was afraid that it would break down before reaching its destination. The DS told him that he would give him thirty minutes to adjust the carburetor and check the brakes. He added that he should not worry about the road tax or fitness at the moment as we were on national duty and it was an emergency. He said that he would make sure that the police would not bother him. As for the seats, he told him to organize some mattresses from his home to put inside the vehicle and we would take a chance with the other things such as a possible break-down or running out of fuel. He also promised to pay for his services as soon as we reached Luwingu and also to provide him with sufficient fuel for his return trip. After coaxing him for another fifteen minutes, he agreed finally but with a warning that no blame should be put on him in case the vehicle had a break-down on the way. Then he departed to make the vehicle ready for the trip.

He returned with the vehicle after about an hour and we set off sitting on a couple of old mattresses from which a very unpleasant odor was emanating and with a lot of unfamiliar noises coming from the engine and other parts of the vehicle. As there was no roof or canopy to protect us from wind and sun, we sat there in the scorching heat of the sun, clutching firmly on some part of the bodywork lest we should be thrown out by the repeated jolts or blown apart by the wind. Within a short while we noticed that a lot of red dust was settling over us, but could not do anything about it. The journey was pure torture by the combined effects of heat, wind and jolts. The many bumps and ditches on the road as well as the twists and turns of the road were all taken at such a high speed that we thought we could hear the rattling of our bones within the body. The driver did not utter a single word throughout the journey that appeared to go on for ever and he totally ignored our plea to reduce the speed. However, the vehicle did neither break down nor run out of fuel until we reached Luwingu late in the afternoon, tired and hungry, aching in all the joints and completely covered from head to foot in red dust so that we all looked like creatures from another planet and beyond recognition even by our own mothers. The Land-rover dropped me at my home and I could see by the expression on my wife’s face that she was panic-stricken on the very sight of this apparition before recognizing me as her beloved husband and the vehicle as the moving wreck of an old Land-rover. It was of great consolation to me to know that I was just in time to stop my wife from going to the police to file a complaint about her missing husband who left home five days ago on national duty. Some of the neighbours who looked up at the high-pitched whining sound of the vehicle and witnessed my home-coming expressed later their delight in seeing me back in ‘one piece’ even though in a very shabby and unrecognizable state.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Neither Too Early Nor Too Late

We were on our way back to Luwingu from the remote village of Fube (pronounced "foobey") after an operation in connection with the National Census in Zambia. There were five of us in the boat, including the district secretary(D.S) of Luwingu and me, the senior census officer for the district. The Moonraker, a 30 ft. cabin cruiser which could do upto 35 knots in the open sea was now making about 6 to 8 knots in the treacherous Bangwelu swamps.

It was Thursday afternoon. In fact, we should have been back home by Tuesday evening. The reason for the delay was due to the fact that our skipper who boasted at the commencement of our journey that he knew the waterways of the swamps as good as the lines on the palm of his hands, lost his way miserably and got us all stranded, but for the help of some local fishermen. It goes without saying that we lost a lot of precious time, effort and fuel as a result. However, we accomplished our mission and were on our way back. Our going was very slow because of the many sand bars in the canal and also due to the presence of under-water weeds that kept on getting entangled on the propellers. Even though we were very anxious to reach home, we knew that we would have to spend the night at the island port of Santa Maria and resume our journey early next morning.

We were sitting on deck chairs and chatting. The D.S casually asked the skipper how long it would take to reach Santa Maria. He hesitated before answering and then said "may be two hours unless our tanks run dry".

We were startled. We never knew we were on the brink of running short of fuel. "What about the reserve tank?" the D.S asked. "We are almost at its bottom. May be another ten km" was the reply.

The D.S and I looked at each other. We were given to understand at the start of the trip that we had more than enough diesel. The boat had an extra fuel tank for surplus fuel and the skipper had been instructed to ensure that both tanks were filled up before commencing our journey.

Apart from losing our way in the swamps, we had another misfortune. The skipper's assistant who was new, fiddled with the boat's wireless set and made it inoperative soon after we started on our voyage. As a result we had no means of communication at present. There were no passenger boats operating through the swamps. Our food supply also was running very short and each one of us was longing to reach home and have a decent meal and proper sleep.

We travelled for another thirty minutes or so, and found ourselves at the mouth of the canal leading from the river. It was good that we were at last out of the swamps, but still we had to go far. Even though we were nowhere near the passenger-boat service lane, if someone came along in a canoe, the skipper's mate could go to Santa Maria and send a wireless message to Bwangwelu Water transport company in Samfya which owned the boat to arrange for some fuel. Even then it would take several hours before we could get out of this jam.

Now that we were in river Chambeshi, the skipper could have opened up the throttle and sent the boat at full speed. But as the tank would run dry at any moment, he kept the boat moving under minimum acceleration. As we cleared the turn-off, a lone bottle store from where we bought soft drinks two days ago came into sight. We decided to stop there and explore the possibilities of communicating with the outside world.

The bottle-store appeared empty and forlorn. It was nearly 2 PM. As there were no people around at this time of the day, our arrival did not create any excitement. While the skipper's mate made the boat fast to the railing of the rickety jetty, we noticed a 200 litre drum like the ones they use to transport petroleum products lying on the river bank, a little distance away from the jetty. It was rusty and appeared as if abandoned by someone a long time back. However, the skipper went and examined it. It was either stuck fast in the mud or filled with something, as it would not move easily. He went and made enquiries at the bottle-store. The man at the store told him that the drum contained some diesel that was dropped there at lunch time by a passenger boat from Santa Maria. The boat crew had instructed to give the diesel to one of their charter boats by name “Moonraker” which had gone to the swamps a few days ago as it would have exhausted its stock of fuel by this time. He showed us a written message scrawled on a piece of paper. It simply read "Diesel for Moonraker".

We did not know whether to laugh or cry for joy. There was no difficulty in convincing the store-keeper that we were from the Moonraker as the name was written clearly on the side of our boat. The man at the store came out to assist us in siphoning the diesel into the boat’s tanks and we proceeded on our way after thanking him profusely. We also felt so grateful to someone at Bwangwelu Corporation in Samfya who was thoughtful enough to visualize our predicament and ordered one of their passenger boats to deviate from its normal route and make a side trip of more than thirty kilometres to assist us even before receiving any message for help from us. Above all, we thanked God for sending this timely help that came neither too early nor too late.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Therapy of Occupation

There were no apparent reasons for the pain in my shoulder. It started one day when I lifted up my arm to write on the class-room board during teaching. The pain was so sudden that I put down my arm with a jerk. Some of the pupils might have noticed my action and wondered what it was all about. Even though, the pain subsided temporarily, it recurred each time I raised my right arm.

Back at home I had a hot bath after which some liniment was applied. Even though I slept well, the pain was still there when I got up next morning. I did not do much writing on the chalk board that day.

As the pain still persisted even on the third day, I decided to go to the hospital and consult a doctor. Accordingly I drove the 100 miles to Kasama General Hospital, even though it was a very painful exercise. The doctor had my shoulder x-rayed and then prescribed a few medicines. He told me that I should consult an orthopaedic surgeon if the pain did not subside within a week or so. He gave me the necessary papers. I was also advised to keep my arm in a sling.

I was very depressed. In fact I was supposed to go to Lusaka next week to participate in the metal workshop organized by the JETS (Science) Clubs. It was a week-long workshop to which I had been selected being the Advisor of Luwingu Science club. Now it was almost certain that I would not be taking part in it.

By the end of the week, my arm had become quite stiff and I realized that no time should be wasted in seeing the orthopaedic surgeon. The problem was how to reach Lusaka. I discussed the matter with my headmaster Simposya. By a mere coincidence it happened so that the headmaster was looking for a lift to go to the Copperbelt to buy some spare parts for his car. He agreed to take me up to Ndola in my own car if I would let him drive it. Accordingly we set out to Ndola on a Friday. I gave him directions to take me to a friend's house in Ndola where he left me with my car and departed. My friend Chacko took me to Lusaka the next day in his car and after dropping me at the UTH (University Teaching Hospital) returned to Ndola the same day, as he had to attend some urgent business at home.

By the time I reached the hospital it was about lunch time. On making enquiries at the orthopaedic department, I came to know to my great dismay that the orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Gold had his weekly clinic on the previous day and his next clinic would be on next Friday only.

My immediate problem was to find accommodation in Lusaka until next Friday. It was unlikely that I could manage to get accommodation at the Hubert Young hostel or the Long Acres hostel at such a short notice. Staying one week in a hotel would be very expensive and I did not have sufficient funds. The other alternative would be to gate-crash to some friend's house, but one week was a long period and I felt very reluctant.

It was then that I remembered about the JETS workshop. The Ridgeway Campus where the participants were to be accommodated was right across the road. As I knew I was expected for the workshop, I thought I would go and register there. So I removed my sling and walked over to the place, with my brief case in my "good" hand. The man in charge told me that he did not expect anyone so early, but he did not want to refuse accommodation as I had arrived already. He ticked against my name on a check-list and handed me a key to one of the rooms. The room number was on the tag and he gave me directions. He also gave me a name-plate to wear for identification purpose and a printed card showing the meal-times at the Campus etc.

The room was quite spacious and intended for double occupancy. Another guy whom I used to know before, joined me on Sunday. His name was Anthony and he came from a place called Mpika (pronounced 'empeeka') . He also had come for the workshop. While we were getting ready for the supper, he noticed that there was something wrong with my arm. I told him in one or two sentences about an unexpected pain in my right shoulder that was troubling me a bit and that I might require some help from him during the workshop. He promised all possible help and did not bother me with further questions.

The workshop started on Monday morning. Our instructor's name was Carpenter. I thought it would have been more appropriate if it were Blacksmith. There were about twenty of us. Many were personally known to me. All of us were provided with a large sheet of galvanized iron and a set of metal-working tools. Our assignment was to make a tool box using the sheet metal, paint it and stencil our name and school-address on it. The tools were to be placed inside the tool-box after making it. Mr.Carpenter would examine our work on Thursday afternoon and would allow us to take the tool-box and the tools along with us for the use of our science club. The participants would leave the campus after breakfast on Friday. I thought how convenient it would be for me to keep my appointment on Friday afternoon with Dr. Gold.

The crunch came when the session of instructions was over and Mr. Carpenter asked us to start the work. There was a great flurry of activities as everyone started measuring and marking the metal sheet. I found the sheet so heavy that I could not even lift it with one hand. I decided to wait until Anthony would come to my assistance. However, he was so busy with his own work that he hardly glanced in my direction.

Just before lunch break, Carpenter came round to see what progress we had made. Most people had finished measuring and marking the sheet, ready for cutting. He nodded approvingly to each person and then came to me. He was so surprised to see me standing there with the huge metal sheet lying on the floor and the tools in a heap beside it. He asked me for an explanation and I told him I misplaced the instructions. He asked me why I didn't go to his office and ask for another copy. I didn't say anything. He expressed some doubts about the authenticity of my intentions in being there and asked me to follow him to his office for another copy of instructions. I complied with.

When work was resumed after the lunch-break, Carpenter came round the workbenches, to see how things were going on. I could not stand lazing around any longer. I started measuring and marking the sheet, very awkwardly, as I could not use my right arm properly. When Carpenter came to my workbench, he noticed how I was struggling and asked me if there was something wrong with my arm. I told him about a pain that developed all of a sudden and got his sympathy. He told me to take it easy and do the job without any hurry and left.

When the work for the day came to a close I noticed that all the others had their sheets cut into the required measurements and shape. I somehow managed to finish the marking and left the sheet on my workbench along with the tools and departed. My arm was aching so much that I rushed to my room and swallowed a couple of “panadol”. However I decided that I would not seek anyone's help hereafter. If I could not finish the work on time, well, I would leave it unfinished.

Cutting the sheet was the job for the next day. This was found more difficult than I thought, especially with the pain on my shoulder aggravated by the previous day's efforts. As I could not lift my arm above waste-level, I decided to place the sheet on the floor and kneel over it while cutting. It was a very tough job but I managed to cut the required pieces and made them ready for soldering.

To cut a long story short, I finished my work by Thursday afternoon and submitted it for inspection on Friday morning. Mr.Carpenter expressed his satisfaction, gave me a course- certificate and a cheque for my travel-claim and I left the Campus after lunch.

I kept my appointment with Dr.Gold on Friday afternoon. He looked at the x-ray and the other papers that I had brought along with me from Kasama and asked me to raise my hand above my head, to lower it and to extend it. To my surprise, I found that I could perform these actions without much difficulty. Then he told me that he did not find anything wrong with me and I could just go home. I was a bit disappointed and tried to tell him how bad it was before, but he cut me short and asked me what I was doing since my first arrival at the hospital. I told him I had been attending a metal workshop and he replied with a smile that it was the best treatment for me under the circumstances. He handed me back my x-ray and other papers and called for the next patient.

I caught a lift to Ndola and collected my car from where it was stored. On the next day I drove back to Luwingu, taking along with me the tool-box that I had made, with the set of tools in it and my right arm no longer in a sling, but on the steering wheel of my car.

Friday, November 21, 2008


The riot broke out without any warning. Everything appeared normal on the previous day which was a Sunday. Fr.Deltern from the White Father's mission in Luwingu conducted Sunday service and mass in the school hall as usual and the attendance was quite normal. In the afternoon, drum- beating started as early as 2 PM and the Kalela dancers started lining up immediately thereafter. By 5 PM the drum-beating was at its loudest and the dancing was in full swing. The dancers stood swaying and gyrating, one behind the other, with each one's hands on the sweating shoulders of the one in front, boys and girls intermingled, the line starting from the clearing near the boys' dormitories and snaking through the entire length of the foot-ball field. The sound of the drums was accompanied by shrill whistles, cat calls and what not. We had been watching this spectacle on every Sunday except during the school holidays, ever since we moved to the boarding school campus. It was quite a fascinating sight. The Kalela dance was the forum for all pupils to get involved in something interesting, irrespective of their age, sex or other characteristics.

During supper-time, Manachongo, the boarding master noticed a bit of restlessness among the senior boys. He knew the reason. The supply of meat that was scheduled to arrive from Kasama the previous day had not arrived due to reasons unknown to him. As a result there was no meat for the Sunday lunch. Formerly on such occasions, it was compensated at supper-time. As the supplier did not send any meat even by Sunday evening, no meat could be provided for supper as well. The boarders were greatly disappointed. It was rumoured that the C.E.O's office did not make the necessary payment and that was why the supplier did not send meat. Some of the senior pupils were even giving a hint to boycott the food but the majority of the boarders did not take it seriously. By Monday morning, everything appeared normal and the pupils had their breakfast as usual. At the beginning of lunch time some of the senior pupils went into the kitchen to find out whether there would be any meat for lunch. The cooks reminded them that the kitchen was out of bounds for the pupils and they would know whether there was any meat when the food was served. The boys were greatly annoyed and they stood at the entrance of the dining hall, asking each and everyone to boycott lunch as there was no meat. A number of juniors were intimidated from entering the dining hall that they went back hungry. As a result, a lot of nshima (cooked maize-meal) had to be thrown away.

As the boarding master knew what to expect at supper-time, the cooks were instructed to cook less food for supper. In the meanwhile the headmaster had been in touch with the C.E.O and was given assurance that his office would contact Shawn's butchery in Kasama and arrange with them to make an immediate delivery of beef.

Supper-time arrived and still there was no meat from Kasama. This time the girls also joined the boys in boycotting the supper. Some senior boys stood guard over the entrance of the dining hall so that the juniors may not sneak in. In addition, they procured a few tins of some detergent powder from the kitchen store and sprinkled it all over the cooked food so that no one would be tempted to eat the food even though hungry.

In the meanwhile the headmaster called an urgent meeting of the prefects (a selected body of senior pupils who were authorized to assist in maintaining law and order among the pupils) and explained to them the situation. He sought their help in restoring peace in the campus and they assured their support to the authorities. However, there was a strong feeling among the members of staff that some of the prefects themselves were involved in causing the agitation among the pupils.

There were two M'hangos among the prefects- Vivian and Bruce who were identical twins and were exactly alike in appearance. It was difficult to tell them apart but for the smile on Bruce's face and the scowl on Vivian's. We received an unconfirmed report that Vivian was one of the ring-leaders of the present unrest among the pupils which later proved untrue.

The situation became worse by Tuesday morning. All the boarders appeared for the breakfast, but no one seemed to be in a hurry to get back for the lessons after that. They were standing here and there in small groups and discussing matters. Even though the bell for the morning assembly was rung, no pupil took any notice of that.

In the meanwhile, the boarding master brought news that some pupils had started fighting in one or class rooms causing damage to the furniture and light fittings. The headmaster ordered Mukuka, the caretaker, to go round and lock up all the class rooms, laboratories and the generator shed.
By mid-morning while the pupils were still roaming about the school campus, about half a dozen senior pupils went to the headmaster as a delegation. They had a number of grievances written on a sheet of paper. It was not just the matter of having no meat for food, but there were other things also. They said that the boarders had taken a unanimous decision to boycott lessons until their grievances were redressed. The headmaster said he would look into the matter.

As there were no lessons going on, I decided to go to the main shopping area for a few purchases. I drove to Patel Syndicate, the shop where you could get most of your requirements and made my purchase. I chatted for a while with Mulenga, the manager, and returned to the school.

As I approached the school, I decided to drive on to my house and leave the car in my garage. I saw Bruce M'hango standing at the turn-off to the school and he waved at me to stop the car. He came to me and told that there was a bit of a problem. There was an open space beyond the school buildings, in between the girls' dormitories and the staff houses. All the pupils had gathered there, chanting some slogans and some of them were instigating the others to stone the staff-houses and cars. The headmaster, the boarding master and the boarding mistress were with the pupils, asking them to disperse, but no one was paying any attention. The headmaster had asked some of the prefects to inform all the expatriate teachers to stay away from the vicinity of the pupils' meeting place.

In order to reach my home, I had to drive round the corner of the place where the pupils were gathered. Somehow, I had a feeling that as I was popular with the pupils because of my science club activities, they would not hurt me. However, I forgot the fact that in situations like this, it was the mob-psychology that prevailed and their actions were not controlled by the head but by the heart. I thanked Bruce for the warning, but decided to keep going. I slowed down at the corner of the meeting place for a better look when I saw the boarding master coming towards me. I heard him telling me in a tone of urgency not to stop but to go home quickly. The situation was so tense that even the presence of a foreigner could provoke the pupils to behave in a totally uncontrollable manner. I hurriedly went home.

There were no further happenings on that day. By late afternoon the pupils became so tired and hungry that they dispersed one by one. Many of them were very disappointed that they could not go into a rampage. Later we came to know that it was Vivian M'hango whom we suspected of being one of the ring-leaders who prevented the pupils from going into a rampage. As he was very influential among the prefects as well as among the pupils, no one could act contrary to his strong stand against any attack on teachers' houses and property.

The meat truck from Kasama arrived in the evening and the pupils decided to call off the agitation. The incident had a happy ending by the headmaster making an announcement in the assembly next morning that all charges against the rioters were dropped.

We all heaved a sigh of relief as peace was restored to the campus once again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


It was with mixed feelings that we received the news of the President's visit. Our headmaster Simposya announced in the staff meeting that the President of the Republic Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda was intending to visit Luwingu within a period of two months and he would be addressing the pupils, teachers and parents during that time in the school hall.

Even though we had heard a lot about President Kaunda, we did not have the opportunity to meet him. In Africa, President Kaunda was not only well-known but also well-respected. He had the vision of a Unified Africa. He knew very well the importance of education in a developing country and he wanted all Zambians in the on-coming generations to be fully literate. With this view, his government in conjunction with the World Bank, formulated a plan called the Transitional Development Plan (TDP) under which new secondary schools were established in all the districts of Zambia. This was in addition to the existing "high schools" of the Colonial days. Luwingu secondary school was one such school.

The district governor called a series of meetings of the heads of various departments in the district to make preparations for the Presidential visit. The schools in the district, especially the one and only secondary school had to play a very important role. Pupils and teachers were briefed adequately on the procedures involved and the part each had to play. The Ministry of Works did their best to give a face-lift to the town and its surrounding areas. There was a week-long campaign of cleaning activities within the school campus. The atmosphere was filled with an air of expectation. The teachers also got busy making the classrooms under their charge as well as the laboratories and departmental offices to look spick and span.

In the midst of all this excitement, there was some apprehension also. The reason was that the teaching staff consisted mainly of expatriates (foreigners) only. Many of us still remembered what another prominent African leader commented about his capital city a few years ago. He said that he wanted his capital city to look like an African city and not like "Bombay". When he visited some schools in his country he remarked that he would like to see "more African faces than the faces of expatriates". Even though there is ample justification in what he said, it could hurt very much when such "truths" were hurled in your face when you were recruited by the very same people and given a contract. We did not know what would be President Kaunda's reaction when he found out that the entire teaching staff consisted of expatriates.

Being a very enthusiastic amateur photographer, I wanted to take some pictures of the President's visit. To my dismay, I found out that I had no films in my camera. The nearest place where I could get some 35 mm film was at Norman Kenward in Mufulira, about 250 miles(400 km) away from Luwingu. The President's visit was now due in three weeks' time and it was unlikely that anyone from the campus would be travelling to Mufulira during the above period. As I knew how much a film would cost, I decided to send the necessary amount plus postage by registered post requesting to send a roll of film urgently.

Just two days before the President's visit, I received a registered envelope from Norman Kenward. It contained some money and a note telling me that the film could not be sent as my payment was short of 15 ngwee (about 15 cents). I felt very bad but could not do anything about it. So I put my camera safely away.

We had a science club at the school comprising of a number of students. They wanted to record the President's speech, but the school had no tape recorder. The headmaster gave us a broken-down tape recorder and told us to repair and use it. We opened it and found a couple of loose connections which we soldered up. We found that the tape recorder worked well.

At last the great day came. All the students and the teachers lined up at the airstrip to welcome the President. There were the governor, district secretary, heads of departments, party militants, members of the public and a lot of police personnel. The Mercedes car for presidential use was brought from Lusaka two days ago and kept at the district governor's place. As we stood there straining our eyes, someone spotted the plane even from a very long distance and cried out in joy. The Zambia air force jet landed smoothly and rolled to a standstill. There was a make-shift rostrum near the place where the dignitaries sat and a red carpet was spread from the step of the plane up to the rostrum. As we looked on, the door of the plane opened and a smiling President, as well-groomed as ever in his Savile Row tailored safari suit emerged, waving a white kerchief at the crowd. No sooner than the President climbed up the rostrum the military band started playing the national anthem. The President addressed the crowd briefly, then got into the Mercedes and departed for the guest house accompanied by a number of police vehicles, and other vehicles containing heads of departments, party officials and other dignitaries. We returned to the school to continue with our preparations for the presidential visit in the late afternoon.

The school and its surroundings were decorated with colourful banners and Zambian flags. The banner at the main entrance to the campus read "WELCOME YOUR EXCELLENCY DR. KENNETH DAVID KAUNDA TO LUWINGU SECONDARY SCHOOL". Seats were arranged in the main dining hall to accommodate over 500 people. The Zambia Information Service (ZIS) put up their public address system with a number of loud speakers all around the place. There were many security men among the crowd that had gathered already. One of them was asking questions to the students who placed the tape recorder under a table for recording the President's speech.

At 5 PM the Presidential motorcade arrived at the entrance of the school campus. The teachers and the pupils in two separate groups lined up on both sides of the path. The President waved at the pupils and shook hands with all the teachers with a smile and one or two words in Cibemba (pronounced "chibemba" which is the prominent language of Zambia).

When the President stood up to address the crowd, there was thunderous applause from the people for many minutes. The loud speakers carried the President's rich voice all over the place. He made a special mention of the expatriate teachers by saying that he was greatly delighted to find so many people from other friendly countries who were there to assist the Zambian people and he was extremely grateful to those people and the countries from where they had come. He wished all the expatriates in Zambia a pleasant stay as long as they desired.

After the President and his entourage left, we wanted to replay his speech. The tape had already run out but we were sure that most of the speech had been recorded. It was then that we noticed that someone had pulled out the microphone cable from its socket. As we had checked and double-checked everything before the arrival of the President and none of us could go anywhere near the dais thereafter, there was no doubt that one of the security men could have played this mischief thinking that our old-fashioned machine was some kind of a voice-operated time bomb or something. Needless to say that we all felt very disappointed.

In spite of such disappointments, the visit of President Kaunda, who is considered as one of the greatest statesmen of Africa, and his encouraging words still remain fresh in our memory even after so many years of leaving that Friendly Country.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Appointment With Death


They had met never before. In fact they even did not know about the existence of each other before they met quite accidentally that day. However, fate brought them together on an appointment with death at a rendezvous on the Kawambwa- Mansa highway about two and a half miles away from the town of Mansa.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the late 60's and early 70's, Goldring Motors in Mufulira were the sole agents of Skoda cars in Zambia. The East European Skoda was a far-cry from today's luxury models. Zambia had many makes of cars, out of which the most prominent ones were Ford, Peugeot, Fiat and Volkswagen. Japanese cars like Toyota, Nissan and Mazda were already in the market, but most buyers were unsure of their performance in the long run in spite of their elegant appearance and attractive price index. In the midst of all these new models and different makes of cars, the rear-engined, modest-looking Skoda was in very little demand. However, Goldring Motors were offering easy hire-purchase terms, handsome discounts and extended warranty to encourage people to buy their vehicles.

Vijay was a teacher in one of the newly opened government secondary schools in a place called Mporokoso (pronounced m'porokoso) in rural Zambia, about 120 miles from the sleepy little town of Mansa (formerly Fort Rosebury). Before coming to Zambia, he had been teaching in Ethiopia. He was from the state of Kerala in India. Vijay was young, smart, energetic, well-liked by his colleagues and pupils and had a keen interest in outdoor activities. He was a bachelor.

During the school holidays soon after his arrival in Zambia, Vijay made a visit to the Copperbelt where he had some friends. He was badly in need of a car. His plan was to go to Lusaka to get a government loan and to buy a car from there. However, finally he decided to go for a Skoda from Goldring Motors as new vehicles were readily available and could be bought on easy instalment scheme without going through the hassle of obtaining a government loan.

Vijay made a down payment with some money he had and took possession of the vehicle. He said he would make arrangements with his bank in Kasama for the payment of the on-coming monthly instalments. After reaching his station, he wrote instructions to his bank and sent through the mobile bank when it made its very next monthly visit.

In spite of its unimpressive appearance, the Skoda proved to be a good car. It had very good road-holding, especially on the treacherous gravel roads of the northern province. Vijay enjoyed driving his car. As soon as the school term came to an end he left for the Copperbelt in his car. His intention was to spend the whole vacation with friends in Lusaka and the Copperbelt and return just before the reopening of the school.

His first port of call was Mufulira. He wanted to get his car serviced at the dealer's. In fact the dealer was waiting very anxiously to see Vijay. The bank had not paid any instalments and Vijay was at default. The dealer had sent one or two notices to Vijay but there was no reply. Vijay could not explain what went wrong. He tried unsuccessfully to convince the dealer about the poor communication facilities in the rural area which he attributed to his failure in receiving the dealer's notices. He even tried to contact his bank by phone but the connection was bad and he could not get a satisfactory reply. The only alternative was to drive the four hundred miles to the bank at Kasama and sort out the problem. The dealer insisted that he should leave his car behind until all dues were cleared. Vijay had no option.

While Vijay was walking back to his temporary abode, contemplating about his next move, he came across a friend called Eugene from another rural school who also was on vacation. He too was a bachelor. Vijay explained his predicament to Eugene and as Eugene was intending to spend a number of days in Mufulira, he lent his Volkswagen beetle to Vijay to go to Kasama and come back within two or three days. Accordingly Vijay set out to Kasama very early next morning.

Vijay managed to reach the bank before closing time. He found out that his letter had not been received by the bank. However, there were more than sufficient funds in his account to pay Goldring Motors. After arranging to send the necessary amount by telegraphic transfer, he took a longer route to Mufulira, via Mporokoso instead of through Luwingu, as he had to see the headmaster of his school on the way.

There was a place called Kawambwa on his way from Mporokoso to Mufulira. Just before reaching this place the engine of his borrowed Volkswagen came to a stand-still. In spite of his best efforts, he could not get it started again. He left the car on the side of the road and walked to the shopping area, looking for a mechanic. Then he came across a small garage where he found a mechanic who offered to help. However, he could not get the engine started. As he could not do much on the side of the road, the car had to be towed into the garage where it was checked thoroughly. Soon it was established that the engine had seized.

Now Vijay was in a fix. He was stuck in a strange place in the middle of nowhere, about a hundred miles away from any familiar place and with the added liability of a broken-down car. Leaving the car with the garage people, he explored the possibilities of getting a lift to the Copperbelt. It was imperative that he should reach Mufulira as early as possible and inform Eugene what happened to his car. Then he should get back his Skoda from Goldring. Once he was mobile, he would be able to go to CAMS (dealers of Volkswagen in Zambia) and get the necessary spares to repair Eugene's car. As the engine had already been dismantled, it would be just a matter of fixing the rings and bearings and reassembling the engine, provided the crank shaft was not damaged.

In the meanwhile he realized that he was terribly hungry. In a place like Kawambwa, he did not expect to find any star hotel or even a decent restaurant. After looking around he came across a place from where he could hear some loud music blaring and where people were found going in and coming out. It was a tavern.

While he was having a drink and some snacks, he saw another Asian in the bar. He made his acquaintance and soon came to know that he too was a teacher, teaching at Kawambwa secondary school. His name was Victor. He was from Madras. Vijay told him about his predicament and asked him whether he was aware of someone going to the Copperbelt. By a mere coincidence, Victor himself was intending to go to Ndola, another town in the Copperbelt, early next morning. He said that Vijay could go with him in his new Toyota car as he was alone and could drop him at Mufulira, on his way. He invited Vijay to his house to spend the night there so that they could start very early in the morning. They left the tavern by 8 P.M. for Victor's house.

No one knows exactly what happened thereafter. Someone at the tavern who overheard their conversation said later that they were talking about leaving for the Copperbelt as early as 4 A.M. Between 7.30 and 8.00 o’clock next morning, some passers-by on the Kawambwa- Mansa highway noticed a car in the "bush" a few metres away from the road, not very far from Mansa town. Someone went to investigate and found indications of the car having gone off the road and hitting a tree head-on. Its bonnet and front part were extensively damaged. The place was littered with broken glass. There were two people in the car. One look was sufficient to realize that the man in the front passenger seat was dead. The driver was showing some signs of life. However, he was trapped in the crumbled part of the vehicle. It was quite evident that more men and materials would be required to get him out of the car. There was nothing they could do except to rush to the nearest police station and report the matter.

Vijay was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Later in the day Victor died on the operation table. The doctor who operated on him at Mansa General Hospital confirmed his death to the few people, mostly Indians, who had gathered together at the hospital on hearing the news of the accident.

Vijay and Victor kept their appointment with death even though they both were unaware of it when they met for the first time, only a few hours before it really happened. Fate wrote down their names also in the never-ending list of people who are being sacrificed on the altar of Road Carnage in Zambia.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An English Wedding in an African Village

We had a chronic bachelor in our school. His name was Longridge. He taught English and Geography and stayed alone in the first house in the second row of staff houses.

Delkins Construction Company built all staff houses in the campus alike except the first and the second houses in the first row. These were meant for the headmaster and the deputy head. As the post of the deputy head was still vacant, the house for the deputy remained unoccupied. Campbell was the person who acted as the deputy but he stayed in a house similar to that of Longridge in the same row. When we moved in, the next house in that row was allocated to us. We stayed in that house for three years until we moved to the Copperbelt.

Longridge was what you would call a typical English gentleman. He mingled with the other members of staff, but sparingly. He would go to school punctually just before the first bell and stay there until the school was over. During his free periods he would stay in the staff room and do some reading or catch up with the school work. He was never found indulging in any idle talk. During the weekends he was found tending the flowering plants in his garden or working on his Volkswagen, while the other bachelor teachers frequented the bars in Luwingu. Mwenso bar in the shopping centre was a well-favoured place for teachers as well as for some senior pupils. Longridge was not in the habit of visiting the bars, but used to enjoy an occasional beer in the privacy of his home.

When schools closed at the end of every term all the expatriate teachers used to leave for the Copperbelt or Lusaka. They would spend the month-long school holidays there and come back a day or two before the reopening day, in time for the staff meeting. Longridge was no exception. However he was not in the habit of bragging about his holiday adventures as the other bachelors used to do.

It was at the end of one of the school holidays that Longridge returned from the Copperbelt with his girl friend. Until that time no one knew that he had a girl friend. The impression we had about him was that he did not want anything to do with the members of the opposite sex. However, on one morning soon after the reopening of the school, as we went past his house to the school, we had the glimpse of a lady in a house-coat standing in Longridge's yard. Later we came to know that she was Longridge's girl friend Liz who had flown into Ndola a few days before the reopening of schools. Longridge met her on arrival and they both had been visiting Kafue game park and Victoria Falls at Livingstone before heading to Luwingu. It was rumoured that as she had come all the way from the U.K., she would be staying for a month or so before retuning.

After the arrival of Liz, we could notice some changes in Longridge. During his free periods he no longer stayed in the staff room but would rush home. Even though his house was within walking distance from the school, he started using his car even for such short trips. At times when he remained in the staff room he was found taking part in the general conversation and sometimes even laughing. On the whole, his demeanour had undergone a very remarkable change. In the meanwhile Liz made a number of visits to the school, got acquainted with the headmaster and the staff members and was accepted as a member of the community. She was found to be an attractive person with a pleasant disposition and the fastest typist we had ever seen.

The school term had almost come to the end and Liz was still in Luwingu. Two days before the closing of the school Longridge made an announcement that he and Liz decided to get married and that the wedding would take place in Luwingu during the third week of the school holidays. As he wanted all the members of staff to take part in the wedding, it was his earnest request that those who go out of Luwingu during the holidays should return a week earlier than usual to participate in the wedding. His announcement was accepted by a thunderous clapping of hands and someone shouting at the top of his voice "I knew it, I knew it". Longridge just smiled at everyone.

Liz took the other ladies in the campus into her confidence and they did all the planning for the wedding. They decided to conduct the wedding on a grand scale even though the resources were limited. A church ceremony was ruled out as there was no Anglican priest in Luwingu. Both Longridge and Liz preferred a civil ceremony. The district secretary agreed to conduct the registration of marriage in his office at the Boma. The reception was arranged to take place at the school hall immediately after registration. The daughters of some of the teachers in the campus would dress up as flower girls. My daughter Lisa was among them. Food arrangement were done by the Pipers who were the oldest members of staff in Luwingu.

The wedding dress for the bride was a problem. No suitable fabric could be obtained in the shops in Luwingu or Kasama. We did not know of anyone going to the Copperbelt within the next two or three days. The ladies in the campus came to the rescue. My wife said she would give her white sari for making the wedding dress out of it. The pattern was obtained from a fashion book and the dress was stitched on a hand-machine. On the whole it looked presentable.

The wedding reception was a grand affair. The school hall was decorated with balloons and multi-coloured paper flags. All the dignitaries of Luwingu were present. The bride and the groom appeared splendid in their wedding garments. The presence of the flower girls was an added attraction. Reid, one of our colleagues acted as the master of ceremonies. Headmaster Simposya in his new three-piece suit made a speech in his flowery language, on behalf of the school community and Longridge gave a suitable reply. There were refreshments for all and thereafter a ballroom dance for those who wanted to join. In short, Longridge's wedding remains as one of the most memorable events during our stay in Luwingu.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A "Waterless Month" in Luwingu

Luwingu had its own water supply. Even though this supply was basically meant for the government offices, hospital and shops in the town, a number of residential houses also were included in the system. With the coming up of the new boarding school in Luwingu, the pipeline was extended another two kilometres to the school campus which stood about one km. away from the Kasama- Fort Rosebury highway. The six-inch pipeline was connected to an overhead tank which supplied water to the school kitchen. The administration block, school toilets, staff houses and dormitories had direct connection from the main line. Each staff house had its own water tank which had a capacity of about 500 litres, built into the roof.

The waterworks had an overhead tank to which treated water was pumped from a low-level tank. Water was brought to the treatment plant from a river situated about ten km. away from the town. The massive diesel pump at the waterworks pumped thousands of litres of water into the overhead tank daily to keep up a steady flow of water to our taps. With the coming up of the boarding school, the demand for water increased so much that the pump had to work overtime to keep up the flow. As all the toilets in the campus were provided with European type closets, it was essential that running water should be available at all times.

Everything went well for some time. Once in a while the pump had to be shut off for servicing and experts from the Works Department in Kasama came to do the job. The school kitchen had enough water in its storage tank for the preparation of food and the staff houses also could hold on for a day on such occasions. In fact, our water supply was fairly efficient so that we at the school campus did not experience any serious problem of water shortage even in dry seasons.

It was during one of the dry seasons that the diesel pump at the waterworks broke down. We came to know about it at the school campus only when the pupils complained that there was no water in the ablution blocks. As the kitchen tank contained some water, there was sufficient water in the kitchen and dining halls even at the time of supper. In the staff houses, we felt the pinch next morning only. At that time, we did not know about the breakdown of the pump, but thought that someone had overslept and failed to turn the pump on. But as the taps remained dry even by lunch-time, the thought that something might have gone wrong at the waterworks occurred to many of us. It was when we phoned the council that we came to know that the pump had broken down and experts were working on it. It was expected that pumping would resume by the evening.

By late afternoon, the school campus was without a drop of water. There were nearly 700 boarders at that time, about 300 girls and just over 400 boys. The ablution blocks were locked up and the pupils were advised to go to the “bush” for certain primary necessities. The school truck was sent to the river to fetch some water for the kitchen. At home, we found some bread and corned beef with which a “waterless” supper was procured. Then we drank some coca-cola as we had no water to drink.

I did not sleep very well that night. Whenever I woke up, I lay listening for the thumping sound of water falling into the overhead metal tank but was disappointed greatly. The morning came, still there was no sign of water. Patrick, my servant arrived promptly at 6.30 AM and knowing my predicament volunteered to bring some water from a “water hole” somewhere in the “bush”. With the water that he brought in two plastic containers, we performed our morning ablutions. After a breakfast of bread and “coke” we proceeded to the school.

At the school we found almost all the teachers gathered in the staff room. Most of them looked bedraggled and untidy. Everyone was talking about the water crisis. More than twenty-four hours had elapsed since the breakdown of the pump. The pupils were roaming about the campus as if on holiday. The bell denoting the commencement of the lessons had been sounded sometime back, but went unheeded.

We heard the sound of a motor cycle. The boarding master Mr. Manachongo who had gone to the waterworks to find out the situation had just returned. He brought bad news. The pump was dismantled and the main bearings were found worn out. As spares were not available anywhere nearby, someone had to go to the Copperbelt or to Lusaka and get new bearings. That would take three or four days if spares were available from ready stock. It would take at least another day to put the pump back into working order. The Rural Council would be holding a meeting that afternoon to discuss the matter.

This news shattered all hopes of getting the water supply resumed in the immediate future. It was with heavy hearts that we went to the classrooms to commence the lessons of the morning session. We found the class rooms half empty. Moreover, those pupils who remained in the class rooms were not at all in a mood to learn anything. We stayed in the class rooms for a while and returned to the staff room when the bell rang for the mid-morning coffee break.

There was no coffee as it could not be prepared without water. Instead, we had some soft drinks brought from the school tuck shop. When we returned to the class rooms after the break to resume lessons, we found most of the class rooms deserted. Even though almost all the teachers stayed around until the bell rang for the lunch break, there were no lessons taken as the atmosphere was not conducive to teaching or learning. However, the kitchen staff managed to prepare lunch for the boarders by sending the truck to the river to fetch a few containers of water.

Late in the afternoon we decided to visit the waterworks to get some first-hand information on the situation. My wife had the bright idea of taking a few empty plastic containers along with us. We put half a dozen five-litre cans in the trunk of our car and proceeded. When we reached the place we found a small crowd there as some other people also had the same thought. We found one or two people sitting under a canopy of heavy canvas and cleaning some machinery. A number of Zambians, mostly women
had lined up with their pots and buckets to collect water from the settling tank. There was a man in charge who was controlling the crowd, but there were no other restrictions. With the typical Zambian hospitality, the crowd parted for us and allowed to fill our cans without making us to wait in the line. In fact, some of the men-folk helped us not only to fill up but also to carry the cans back to the car. Since the water came from the settling tank, it was rather clean and could be used safely for cooking.

Things went on in this manner for the next few days. By the end of the week, the majority of the boarders had left on their own accord. We, the teachers could not do anything about it. Practically, there was no teaching taking place. However, the teachers were not supposed to leave the campus as the school term had not come to an end.

There had been unexpected problems with the repair job. It took more time than they thought to get the spares from the Copperbelt. The bearings were found to be of a different size when they tried to fit them on the pump. As a result someone had to go again and look for those of the right size. To cut a long story short, the pump could not be repaired nor supply resumed even by the end of the second week.

In the meanwhile, soiled clothes piled up in the “washing basket”. There was no way to get them washed. It was Patrick’s idea that we should make a trip to the river. On next Saturday we put all the dirty clothes and sheets in the trunk of the car along with buckets, basins, soap etc and drove to the river. As the river was quite far from the town, there were no people around. We spent a couple of hours at the river, washing the clothes and giving ourselves a decent bath in the not too cold water of the river. Then we ate the food which my wife had thoughtfully taken along with us and returned home fully refreshed.

By the middle of the third week, my servant reported that the waterhole had dried up. That meant we had to depend solely on the water brought from the waterworks for all our needs. As a result, we had to make trips to the waterworks on a daily basis. By this time, the waterworks authorities imposed restrictions on the quantity of water that could be taken from the settling tank as the demand had increased greatly. The pump was not repaired yet as the mechanics had gone back to Kasama after waiting several days for the spares. In fact, the situation had become worse.

The days were getting hotter. There was no indication of any rain in the near future. However, I decided to put up a make-shift rain channel by cutting open a few five-litre oil cans and hammering the sheets together. I managed to nail up this crude thing on to the edge of the roof, slanting slightly to one end and put an empty oil drum underneath hoping to collect some rain water in case it rained.

Then it happened one day. It was the Friday of the fourth “waterless” week. The school was closed officially that day and the few boarders who had still remained behind faithfully left the campus already. I heard the rain pattering on the roof and jumped up from my bed to see whether it was a dream or not. The rain was real and I could see my oil drum filling up fast. I stood there watching the rain for a long time while it cooled my body and mind. I did not even realize that my wife had joined me to watch the rain.

Thereafter we had rain almost every day for a number of days, even after the pump was repaired and put into operation. Even though the “waterless month” at Luwingu was an unforgettable experience, it is with gratitude that we remember the help rendered by Patrick our servant and also by the authorities of Luwingu Waterworks who allowed us to enter their restricted area at any time and to fill up our containers throughout the “dry season” so that the misery of our predicament could be alleviated to some extent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Gift From The Sky

We heard the drone of the engine even before we saw the plane. It was the mid-morning break-time and the pupils were spread all over the school premises. They looked up, saw the plane and started shouting to each other in great excitement. The sight of a plane was a very rare occurrence in Luwingu.

The plane flew in a low arc, almost touching the tree-tops. Something was dropped from it in a clearing not very far from where we stood. The aircraft then gained altitude and disappeared beyond a cluster of trees. Someone ran and picked up the object. It looked like a parcel wrapped in brown paper. The headmaster came out of his office and the parcel was handed to him. He took a look at it and brought it to me where I was standing, watching all the commotion. “It is for you” he said. “I think someone from Lusaka is at the airstrip. Perhaps you could go and pick him up” he added.

The parcel was addressed to the Head of Science and the contents indicated as “Science Equipment Catalogue”. On the brown paper wrapping it was scrawled with a felt-tip “Please come and pick us up – Syme”.

The airstrip was not very far, about 3 km. away. I jumped into my car and drove fast. By the time I reached, the plane had landed and the pilot had come out of the cock-pit. He was still wearing his goggles and I recognized him as Mr. Syme, the inspector of Science. There was another gentleman along with him whom I had met before, at the Regional Science Fair in Kasama. He was Mr. Huxley, who also belonged to the Science Inspectorate. They had come all the way from the Ministry Headquarters in Lusaka.

After the preliminary greetings, Mr. Syme told me that he had brought something for me from Lusaka and pointed in to the plane. I looked in and found something for which I had been pestering the Science Inspectorate ever since I took over the Science Department- a brand new Honda generator!

In this present age of computers in class rooms and laptops in school bags, a Honda generator may sound silly and too trivial. However, during the 70's it was a precious gift for a secondary school in rural Zambia where electricity was a rare commodity. Luwingu was not on the main grid and had no supply of its own as in Kasama or Mansa. The school, dormitories and staff houses had a limited supply, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. provided by the massive diesel generator housed in the generator shed.
As this generator was shut off during the normal school hours, most of our electrical equipment in the science laboratories remained idle and practically useless. What we needed was a small generator which could supply electricity for the various gadgets in the laboratories whenever we wanted to use them. A 2400v generator was the answer and my request was granted at last. Even though the normal practice would have been for the school to make arrangements for the collection and transport of the equipment, in this case, the science inspector decided to make an official visit to Luwingu and deliver the equipment as it would give him an opportunity to visit the school for the first time by taking advantage of his newly acquired pilot’s licence.

We brought the Honda in the trunk of my car and set up in the physics lab. One of our teachers, Mr. Proctor who had some knowledge of generators assisted by the laboratory assistant started working on it. As the arrival of the inspectors by plane and the bringing of the generator had created a lot of excitement, a large crowd had gathered in and around the physics lab. to watch the procedures. The generator had a “pull-start” mechanism. After filling up with petrol, the lab.assistant gave a tug on the pull-cord, but nothing happened. However, on the third pull, the generator roared into life, with the emission of a small cloud of smoke from its exhaust. There was a great shout and clapping of hands from the onlookers.
The lab.assistant procured an electric bulb on a holder and connected the wires from it on to the A.C terminals of the generator and the bulb lighted up promptly. There was another shout and clapping of hands from the crowd even though not as vigorous as the previous one.

After a tour of the laboratories and a brief meeting with the science staff, the inspectors decided it was time to return. The “Cessna” was waiting at the airstrip unhindered, even though there was no one to keep watch. The inspectors got in. Mr. Syme put on his goggles and raised his thumb. Soon the engine came to life and the single propeller started turning as if reluctantly at first and then gained speed. Slowly the aircraft started rolling to one end of the field where it took a U-turn and then surged forward at full speed. Soon I could see it lifting off from the grassy runway and climbing higher and higher smoothly and effortlessly until it disappeared from sight.

I do not know where Mr. Syme and Mr. Huxley are at present. However I acknowledge the fact that they both contributed a lot to the teaching of science in Zambia by their untiring efforts in encouraging the science teachers and pupils throughout the country by organizing science fairs, seminars and workshops and also providing the necessary teaching materials even to those schools in the most remote parts of the country. There is no doubt that their efforts will be remembered with gratitude by the pupils and teachers of Zambia who had come into contact with them during their stay in the “Friendly Country”.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A day of dismay

We left Kasama in my Volkswagen at about 8 PM on that Friday after the Regional Science Fair in Kasama. We were on our way to Luwingu, about 100 miles away on the Kasama-Fort Rosebury road. There were five of us in the car, Lasford, Smarts, Abraham and Joseph, students of Luwingu Secondary School, and I, their science club advisor. It was after a very hectic and colourful day at the Regional Science Fair and we were on the top of the world. The Luwingu science club had scooped four out of the six first prizes and two second prizes in the competitions. In addition, we were declared the over-all winners and Abraham, one of our junior students was given the title of the "most promising young scientist of the region". The students were having their trophies and certificates with them. They were discussing among themselves how glad everyone at the school would be and also about the oncoming National Fair in Lusaka in which all the first-prize winners would be participating, all expenses paid. I concentrated on my driving.

The Kasama-Fort Rosebury road was a gravel road all the way along. As there were many places of loose gravel on the road-surface, a car could skid easily if you were not very careful. There had been many accidents on the Zambian gravel roads resulting in to loss of lives. However, I was very confident and did not have any qualms about driving on these roads even during night. Moreover, I too shared the enthusiasm of the students and was eager to get home. That was why we even declined the invitation of a friend to stay over-night at Kasama and to proceed to Luwingu next morning.

There was good reason for our high spirits. As a matter of fact we did not have great expectations of attaining any remarkable achievements in the fair. Ours was a fairly new science club and we had no previous experience of taking part in any science fairs. However our students were very enthusiastic and they lacked no imagination. The projects were of their own creation. During the prize-giving ceremony, the leader of the judges mentioned that they were very impressed by the originality of the Luwingu projects and that had been a very important factor in deciding the first prize winners.

Once on the main road, I maintained a steady speed of 50 mph or about, as the road was fairly straight and not having a lot of "corrugations". The twin beams of my headlights cut a silver path through the sheer darkness that surrounded us. There was not even a glimmer of light in the darkness that stretched on both sides of the road. The road was completely devoid of any vehicular traffic or other movements as far as we could see. In fact, there was no sign of human habitation, but as it was not an uncommon phenomenon in rural Zambia, we were not bothered. The blue light on the instrument panel gave a soothing glow and the steady drone of the air-cooled engine was quite reassuring.

All of a sudden, I felt a tug on the steering wheel to the left. I tried to correct it by turning the wheel to the right. In a moment I realized that the car was out of control as it skidded and careered off the road, running on two wheels. There was nothing I could do, but to cling on to the steering wheel as the car rolled over its side two or three times before it came to rest on all four wheels. We felt being thrown about within the car, hitting here and there until all movements stopped. The engine had stalled and there was utter silence. The headlights continued to project their light, but on a very uneven terrain with many trees and shrubs in it.

I called out the name of each of my students and heard the answering "yes" . I was greatly relieved to find out that they all were there and none was hurt seriously. However, when we tried to open the doors we found that the doors were jammed and we could not open them. We thought we were trapped.

It was Smarts who discovered that the wind-screen as a whole, had come off leaving a large opening in its place. We extricated ourselves through that opening and stood on solid ground. It was then one of the students fainted to the apprehension of all of us, but the cool air revived him soon and we all found ourselves in reasonably good health.

After the initial excitements, we tried to assess our present situation. As the headlights were pointing in the wrong direction, we could not see much. However we realized that unless we get outside help, we would not be able to manage ourselves. One look at the car was sufficient to tell us that it would not be running for a long time to come. We noticed that we were at the bottom of a large ditch and the road was somewhere high up. We had to climb up a steep slope in order to reach the road. As we tried to climb, we found the loose soil underfoot giving way making us to slip down every now and then. By the time we climbed up and reached the road, we all were utterly exhausted.

We looked eagerly up and down the road for any sign of movement. Even though we could not see much in the pitch black darkness around us, we could make out the faint outline of the road stretching back and forth. It was totally deserted. The glowing dial of my watch showed the time as close to 9 pm. There was nothing we could do except to wait for some vehicle that may come along. We all knew fully well that we may have to wait until the next morning and anything could happen to us in the meantime.

By 10 pm we were feeling very tired. The initial numbness had gone and each person was feeling some aches and pains from the hither to unnoticed cuts and bruises that we received during the fall. The night air made us to shiver even though not violently at first. The night was turning much colder than I expected. We had no warm clothing. I yearned for a cup of hot coffee and a warm bed but our personal safety from wild animals and other hostile beings was my main concern.

Time passed on. It must have been past 11 pm when we heard the distant rumbling of some heavy motor. After a while we saw a certain part of the night sky getting paler at a distance. Soon it was apparent that some huge vehicle was approaching from the direction of Luwingu as powerful beams of light cut their way through the surrounding darkness.

Soon we could see the bright twin beams that were approaching fast. We knew well that no vehicles would stop in such a desolate place during night-time for fear of robbers, especially dissidents from neighbouring countries who encroached to Zambia to kill and plunder but we had no option other than trying to wave down the oncoming vehicle. We stood in the middle of the road for the driver to see us clearly and waved frantically. The vehicle kept on coming at us like a huge monster with two glaring eyes while the driver gave a mighty blast on his airhorn that sent us scampering out of his way for dear lives. However, before our shout of dismay died down fully, we heard the hissing of the hydraulic brakes as they were applied and saw the bright brakelights blooming out of the darkness. Sure enough, the vehicle was stopping. It came to a standstill some fifty yards from where we were standing initially and we ran up to it.

It was a massive trailer truck, the type which is commonly known as the "road-train". There were two people in the cabin, the driver and another person, probably the mate. They glared as if real mad at us and the driver asked furiously whether we wanted to commit suicide. However, he cooled down when he saw a foreigner among the "locals" and asked us what our problem was. I explained to him what happened and requested for a lift to Kasama where they were going. At first he hesitated saying it was company orders not to give lifts to hitch-hikers, but later relented and said he would take the "usungu"(foreigner) with him. I pleaded with him to take Smarts as I preferred to stay with the rest of the gang. I gave him directions to reach the house of one of my friends in Kasama by name Santhan Pillay and to seek his help. Smarts hopped into the truck and they left.

It was well after midnight that we saw a car approaching from the direction of Kasama. It stopped near our little group and Smarts and my friend Santhan Pillay got out. No vehicle had passed in either direction during our long vigil and we were much relieved to see them. We all piled up in to Santhan Pillay's car and went back to Kasama, leaving the wrecked car and other articles behind as nothing else could be done until day-break.

Even after many years, it is with gratitude I remember those good people who came to our rescue, especially the unknown Zambian truck driver who stopped his trailer truck for us. Perhaps it was his action that saved our lives that night from whatever perils awaited us on that desolate stretch of road. Who knows?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Chambeshi River Incident

There were five of us in the "Moonraker" which was a 30 ft. cabin cruiser belonging to the "Bwangwelu Water transport Corporation". The people on board were the district secretary of Luwingu, his orderly, the skipper of the boat and his assistant, in addition to me. The boat was on lease by the Department of Census & Statistics for their operations in the district in connection with the oncoming National Census. Being the senior census officer of the district, it was my duty to visit various parts of the district and inspect the arrangements made so far.

The Moonraker was a fairly new boat fitted with a 300 hp. Perkins diesel engine. Its blue and white paintwork gleamed in the bright African sun as the boat glided effortlessly through the dark blue waters of the Bwangwelu lake. However it took more than three hours to traverse a distance of forty-five miles from the port of Nsombo on the mainland to the port of Santa Maria in Chilubi island.

By the time we reached the island, it was late afternoon. The sky was overcast and the skipper insisted that we should spend the night at Santa Maria and continue our journey at daybreak. We moored the boat and settled down within the boat for the night. Even though the place was swarming with mosquitoes, the nets fitted on to the cabin windows gave us adequate protection. We all got up at daybreak, but it was almost 8 am by the time we pushed off from the island.

Soon we left the broad expanse of water which was part of the lake and entered the river Chambeshi. The boat slowed down as we travelled upstream. The river snaked its way through the infamous "Bwangwelu swamps". Crocodiles by the dozen basking in the sun on the river banks were seen jumping into the water as the boat came around each bend of the river.

While we sat on deck chairs and chatted on, the sights and sounds of the river and its banks warmed our hearts and we felt relaxed. I might have dozed off on my deck chair lulled by the cold wind from the river and the drone of the engine. I woke up with a start at some grating noise . I felt the boat shuddering and inching backwards. Soon I realized that the boat was stuck in shallow waters and the boat crew was trying to pull it out backwards into the main stream.

The time was about 2.30 pm. We were supposed to have reached our destination before noon. Soon it became obvious that the skipper had taken the wrong turn into one of the many canals connected to the river and we were lost in the seemingly endless swamps.

Once in the main stream, we moved forward with increased speed until we came to another turn-off. But before we travelled a few hundred yards along this new canal, we got stuck again.

We looked around as far as eye-sight would permit but could not see a single human being throughout the length and breadth of the swamps. Now we were quite certain that we were lost and our escape would not be an easy one.

We backed out into the main stream once again, but not without great difficulty this time. The boat increased speed and we proceeded further until we found ourselves in a certain part of the river where the water appeared quite still. We noticed many trees with thick foliage on both sides of the river as if we were in the middle of some forest area. There was an eerie silence that prevailed all around us, and darkness as if it was going to rain. Even the birds, if there were any, kept unusually quiet.

Suddenly it came to our attention that there was absolute silence prevailing in the boat also. The engine had stopped without any apparent reason. Even though it was cranked several times, it failed to start making all of us very apprehensive. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I could see that everyone was under the grip of some unknown fear.

It was then that we saw a boat at a little distance upstream. We all saw it together as it was not there one minute ago, but it was there now. It was a canoe with a lone paddler standing upright with a half-raised paddle in his hand. The canoe was coming towards us at a terrific speed. The paddler appeared motionless and his paddle never touched the water. Even though we hailed, he neither looked in our direction nor uttered a single word. The canoe slid past us at a distance of barely ten feet with hardly any ripple and we saw the paddler distinctly. He stared ahead with yellow eyes and his face was expressionless as that of a corpse. The canoe went on as if gliding on the surface of the water and disappeared from sight while we all stood transfixed as if under the spell of a terrible nightmare.

We do not know how long we stood like that. Suddenly we realized that it became very dark all around us. The boat was made fast on a tree trunk and all the port holes were closed.
We turned in for the night. None of us could sleep that night. The fear of the unknown had gripped our hearts and the hours of darkness dragged on.

At daybreak the skipper got up to work on the engine and to the surprise of us all, it started at the first cranking. Rays of sunlight filtered in through the foliage and we heard the cheerful cackle of the birds. It was the start of another day and we continued on our journey looking out for the right canal that would lead us to our destination.

(Note: We reached our destination late that evening with the help of two friendly fishermen who gave us proper directions and one of them accompanied us all along the way).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Destination: Kasama

Kasama is the head-quarters of Zambia's Northern Province. There was a flight to Kasama from Ndola international airport three times a week which used to go up to Kasaba Bay in the northern border.

On that day, the Kasaba Bay flight arrived rather late and was nearly full. We had no confirmed bookings. However, the airport authorities were very sympathetic and allocated three seats to us even though there were many others in the waiting list. Probably it was due to the fact that we were "new arrivals" in the country and this was the next available connection flight to our destination.

The Fokker Friendship aircraft was not flying very high. Most of the time during the flight, we could see the landscape far below as a map in an "Atlas". Even though a bit "bumpy", we enjoyed the flight. After about an hour and a half, the "fasten the seatbelt" sign flashed on and the aircraft started its descent. It landed smoothly on a grassy airfield and taxied along the runway until coming to a standstill.

The airport building did not appear very impressive. It was a small, low, single storied structure. There were hardly more than two or three vehicles in sight in the parking area. Our baggage were the only ones offloaded from the plane. There were no porters in sight. As a matter of fact, there was no one from the Ministry of Education to welcome us. Some people with long fishing rod in their hands, probably holiday makers in Kasaba Bay, boarded the plane and it taxied away for the take off. Even the few cars in the parking lot have disappeared. We realized that we were the only ones remaining behind. Our baggage stood in a heap where it was put down from the plane.

We were feeling tired and hungry. My five-year old daughter had started complaining already. Leaving my wife and my daughter at the baggage, I walked to the airport office and asked if I could use their telephone. I looked up the number of the Provincial Heaqdquarters from the phone book and the operator got me connected.

A disembodied voice asked in a monosyllable "yes?" and I said in one breath " I am a new teacher recruited by the Ministry. I am waiting at the airport with my family. Can someone come and pick us up?"

The answer came in another monosyllable "wait" and the phone was hung up.

Barely fifteeen minutes elapsed; a maroon Peugeot 404 station wagon pulled up to the parking lot and a man came out of the driver's seat. He was having the dignified appearance of some high ranking official. He came towards our small group and with outstretched hand introduced himself to us " I am Mayondi, the Chief Education Officer, Northern Province. I apologize for any inconvenience caused: Lusaka (Ministry H.Q. at the capital) did not inform us that you were coming today". After shaking hands with each of us, he walked towards our baggage and started picking them up.

I was totally embarrassed. Instead of sending one of the drivers from the motor pool, the CEO himself had come to pick us up. This was something unheard of in the country from where I had come. Not only that, he even apologized for the delay in meeting us, even though it was not due to any fault of his. In addition, this provincial chief was picking up my heavy suitcases and loading them into his vehicle in spite of my vehement protest. I felt ashamed. We were then whisked off to the Guest House where we would stay until we were ready to proceed to our station.

It was our "Day Two" in the "Friendly Country" where we were destined to spend nearly 30 years of our life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lost and found

On my first arrival in Zambia we had to spend a night in Ndola as the connecting flight to our final destination would be on the next morning only. The hotel where we spent the night was right in the centre of the town and the intermittent sound of speeding motor vehicles gave us some discomfort. The breakfast which consisted of toast with butter and marmalade, bacon and eggs washed down with a generous pot of African coffee enabled me to have a cheerful disposition by the time we left the dining room and came to the foyer. The suitcases were stacked in one corner, ready for transportation. I asked the European lady at the "Reception" to ring for a taxi. While waiting, I thought of calling the airport to ask whether the flight was on time. The receptionist connected me to the airport and my wife and daughter waited patiently while I talked.

The flight would be on time. Soon the taxi arrived and the bell boy put the suitcases in the trunk. We all got in and the cab took off. I was running a check list of my baggage- three suitcases and a 5 gallon tin of cooking oil (someone in Tanzania had told us that cooking oil was a rare commodity in Zambia, and hence the 5 gallon tin. We soon found out how much mistaken we were) in the trunk, my wife's hand bag and her overnight bag just beside her on the car seat, my brief case.... where is it?

It should have been with me. I looked down. It wasn't there. I turned round and looked on the back seat where my wife and daughter were sitting., asking my wife at the same time "where is my brief case?"

She looked left and right and also in the space between the seats and asked me "Is it not with you?" which meant she could not find it. It contained all the money, travellers' cheques, passports, air-tickets and other important documents.

I told the African driver to turn the car round and go back to the hotel. Fortunately he could understand English. While he managed to make a U-turn I told him about the brief case. He muttered something about too many thieves hanging about in Ndola. I was panic-stricken.

Even though it took only another fifteen minutes to reach the hotel, it felt like ages. Even before the cab came to standstill, I jumped out and ran up the steps to the Reception. The European lady looked at me enquiringly.

I simply blurted out " my brief case..... did you see a brown brief case?"

Without answering, she bent down and picked up a brief case and put it on the desk beside her. I realized with a great sense of relief that it was my own brief case which I thought as lost for ever in the foyer of Ndola's Savoy hotel, even before she asked with a smile "Is it the one?"

I had no words to thank her. She said "you are very lucky because I saw it on the telephone table immediately after you left. It would have disappeared within another five or ten minutes". Then she reminded me to make haste so that I would not miss my flight.

This was one of the many incidents of friendliness I experienced during my stay of nearly thirty years in Zambia- the Friendly Country.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Warm heart of Africa

Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) can be called the warm heart of Africa as it is one of the friendliest African countries. It is situated in Central Africa, surrounded by Zaire (formerly Congo-Kinshasa), Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania. As a result it is a land-locked country and has no sea-port of its own. However, Zambia has access to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, the Angolan port of Lobito and to the Mozambican port of Maputo through its rail links. During the period of the Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwe) after Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (U.D.I) from Britain, the TAZARA railway line was built with Chinese help for the express purpose of connecting Zambia with the port of Dar es Salaam as Zambian import/export through Southern Rhodesia came to a standstill. Under the able leadership of Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda, Zambia came out
with flying colours through the most difficult times of that country's history.
The writer and his family lived in Zambia for 28 years, from 1968 t0 1996. Even though they live now in Trivandrum, India, they cherish many happy memories about Zambia and wish to return to Zambia once again, sometime in the future.