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.