Friday, November 18, 2011


Fifteen years have passed since we left Zambia, but memories are still fresh in my mind. During my idle hours while I recline at home, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, I let loose my mind to wander along the streets and by-lanes of Mufulira where we spent a good part of our life: quarter of a century.

Pictures of the town depicting house No. 34 which was our home for fourteen years, as my starting point on Faraday drive which was later renamed as David Kaunda drive on either side of which stood the Rose Avenue (Pamodzi) primary school where my son studied and the Mufulira High School where my wife and I taught, the Mine flats at the Top shops where No.3, Mulungushi house accommodated us for another ten years, the Maina Soko road leading to the combined Kitwe-Ndola main road which passes through the edge of the town as Chatulinga road and goes up to the Zairean border of Mokambo giving off a branch namely Chachacha road at the corner of Mufulira Hindu Hall before reaching the town and which goes to the second class trading area passing by the side of Ray's Motti Rozzi garage, bus station and Zesco and then connecting with the road from the second class trading area to Kantanshi while the Jomo Kenyatta road which passes through the main residential area of the upper class miners cuts through the road to Mokambo and becomes the high street which runs in between the Civic centre and the Mufulira hotel leading to the town centre where the main post office and the Zambia National Commercial bank are situated on one side and the Barclays bank on the other, ZCBC shopping mall and Solanki's super market on either side, with a side road to the Malcolm Watson hospital and the posh residential area of the senior staff miners, the high street then giving rise to another road passing in between the second class trading area and the vegetable market, making a semi circle around the grounds of the Ronald Ross Mine hospital and going all the way to the Basuto Road Secondary school (Butondo) and the Kankoyo shaft while the main road from Kitwe-Ndola, after passing along the edge of the town, branching off to the left just before the railway crossing and going straight to the main office and the vast plant area of the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, are all etched vividly in my memory. The Eastlea primary school, the Dominican convent, and the Rose Avenue (Pamodzi) primary school where my children Lisa, Liju and Lindsey had their primary education and the High school where my wife and I taught for twenty five years stand up in relief on my mental map of Mufulira.

However, my thoughts always come back and revolve around the few acres of school grounds situated in between the Kafironda club and the Liemba road that goes around the Tennis courts, the Foot ball fields and the Teachers' quarters to join with another road near the Top shop high level water storage tank. This is where Mufulira Secondary School, popularly known as the "High School" is situated. The massive "IN" and "OUT" gates on the side of David Kaunda Drive, the semi circular drive way, Davidson’s metal workshop on one side, the cycle shed and car park area, the double-storey main building housing the Administration block, the Staff room, various offices, Jackson’s Technical drawing room, Casson’s Wood work room, Mrs. Costello’s Domestic science room, a number of other class rooms, Banerjee’s Physics lab. and my Biology lab., all built around the spacious quadrangle where morning assemblies were held, Mwambwa’s English departmental office, Mweshi’s Careers room and Asthana’s Science office on the sides, the foyer with its double glass doors on both sides, the show-piece school hall that was once the pride of the school as headmaster A.J.Pillay used to say, the swimming pool, Mrs. Masiye’s Art block, N.M.Pillai’s History block, Mrs. Rajadyn’s Chemistry laboratory on its own, and the new World Bank buildings that accommodated several class rooms are all part of this magnificent building complex. This is where we taught our classes, supervised sports and other activities of our pupils, mingled with them, joked and laughed with them, encouraged and praised them sometimes, reprimanded or punished them at times, played with them and even cried with them whenever tragedy struck the school community and lived for twenty five years. This is where we were loved and admired by our students, liked and respected by our colleagues, trusted and relied upon by our superiors.

The other day, a friend of mine asked me an interesting question: What career would I like to follow if I were given a second chance to do it all over again? I did not have to think twice before answering that I would like to be a teacher at my former school for another twenty five years, teaching the same subject to the same pupils I taught before and having the same old colleagues along with me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


The Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi was announced and the passengers started scrambling down the steep staircase from the departure lounge to the corridor leading to the pathway to the tarmac. The blue and silver Boeing 737 stood majestically in the bright afternoon sun. The date was 25th May 1996 and we were at Lusaka international airport in Zambia, just about to bid farewell to the country that was our home for the past twenty-eight years.
My wife and I were the last ones to leave the departure lounge. We had our bags slung from our shoulders and also one or two pieces held in hand. Once in the open, we looked back to have a last glimpse of the terminal building. We knew that our friends who had come to see us off were watching from the balcony on the first floor and waved at them even though we could not distinguish them in the crowd. Two or three hands waved back.

The Kenyan air hostess in a smart-looking uniform, on the platform at the top of the staircase, greeted us in Swahili (the language of East Africa) and directed us to our seats. In the limited space of the 737, we walked awkwardly to reach our seats. My wife took the window seat and I sat next to her after stowing our cabin baggage safely in the overhead lockers. Soon, the last passenger also got in and the door swung shut. The "No smoking" and "Fasten the seatbelt" signs stood lit up and soft music from the loud speakers had a soothing effect on us. Before long we felt the aircraft moving, leaving people and vehicles on the tarmac far behind. It moved away from the proximity of the terminal buildings to the starting point of the runway where it took a 90 degree turn and came to a halt. It stood still for a few moments as if taking a deep breath before the final onslaught. The Rolls Royce twin engines worked up to a crescendo and the aircraft started rushing forward at break-neck speed along the long stretch of the runway for the “take off”.

It was final departure for us from Zambia, the "Friendly Country" where we had spent the best part of our lives. While I watched for the last time through the double perspex window the Zambian topography falling away as the Boeing rose to new heights I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes clouded. I felt as if I were leaving behind a part of me and the thought that I would not be coming back to this beautiful country ever again made me very sad. Now that the aircraft had reached the desired altitude even above the thick canopy of waterless clouds, it hung as if motionless while moving swiftly along the dazzling blue expanse of the African sky towards its destination while my heart cried out silently the words "Good bye, Friendly country, good bye".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


We arrived at Lusaka international airport by the morning flight from Ndola and sat for the last time in the airport lounge awaiting check-in for the evening flight to Bombay. We had lunch at the cafeteria, looked around the duty free shops and watched the arriving and departing passengers by the provincial flights. Our suitcases and hand luggage stood stacked up near our seats. There were still about three hours before the flight would take off. It was almost time to check-in.

Some of our Lusaka-based friends had come to see us off. They were discussing about their future plans and giving us some advices for a successful retired life. They brought us some parting gifts as well, which served only to increase my apprehension about the excess baggage we had been carrying. As a matter of fact, each passenger was supposed to carry only one piece of cabin baggage, but we already had five pieces in between the two of us. Moreover our baggage to be checked in exceeded the permissible weight by a few kilograms. Formerly, a lady's hand bag and a lap top computer bag were allowed in addition to the regular cabin baggage, but that was during the days when we were traveling by Zambia airways' D.C 10 flights. Now that Zambia airways no longer operated on the Lusaka - Bombay sector and we had to depend on Kenya airways' Boeing flights, cabin baggage was strictly limited to one piece per passenger. In spite of our best efforts, we could not limit our hand luggage to one piece per person as some of our friends brought us some last minute parting gifts which we could not refuse. Now we were really worried about the excess baggage fare we would have to pay at the check-in counter and therefore could not participate whole-heartedly in the conversation. Our friends realized our predicament and advised us not to rush to the check-in counter too soon but to wait until a long line is formed so that there would be some laxity in the procedure.

While we were waiting for the counters to open, I was watching idly people moving about in the main lounge and the adjoining passages. A group of three men, engrossed in conversation in the local dialect passed by. Two of them were in the uniform of the ground staff and the other one was in casual wear. They just passed us and then the one in the casual wear stopped in mid-stride, said something to the other two and retraced his steps. He came straight to me and asked "excuse me, are you Mr. G. John by any chance?"
When I answered in the affirmative, his next question was whether I was a teacher at Luwingu secondary school. I answered him "yes" and added that it was a long time ago, in the early seventies. He then smiled broadly and extended his hand saying, "I am Abraham Musonda, one of your former pupils". Even though I could not recall the name exactly, I grasped the proffered hand, said something like "glad to see you" and asked "how are you?" After the exchange of a few more pleasantries, he left and joined his waiting friends.

Before long, the counters were opened and quite a number of people lined up at the three economy class counters of the KQ (Kenya airways) flight. The executive class and first class counters also were opened but there were no passengers to check in immediately. The ground staff at the first class counter was beckoning to someone behind me, or so I thought. I turned around to see the person behind me, but there was no one. As I looked at the officer inquiringly, he told me that he was calling me to check in. Sitting where I was, I showed him my ticket and told that it was for economy class. He then told me it was alright and he would check me in. We scrambled to our feet and went to the counter with our baggage trolley and tickets. He asked us to put our baggage on the scales, checked their weight and noted down on the tickets. Then he counted out the required number of tags for our cabin baggage, tore off the airways' coupons from the ticket books and handed me back the remaining part of it along with the boarding pass. To our surprise, he did not mention anything about the excess weight or the additional pieces of hand luggage. As we were just leaving the counter, he said "the supervisor Mr. Abraham Musonda has asked me to convey his regards. Have a pleasant journey, Mr. and Mrs. John".

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Catherine Sepa was the head girl in Mufulira Secondary School during the year 1975. She was well-liked and respected by the students. The teachers found her as a very reliable person. She left the school at the end of that school year and there was no contact thereafter.

We left Zambia in 1996. During our stay of twenty eight years in that country, we had acquired a lot of stuff including books and many household things. Most of the old things from way back our stay in Luwingu were still stacked in our store room. We decided to get rid of most of them but to send the books, some crockery, kitchen utensils and gadgets as unaccompanied baggage to India. We got some special wooden crates from the traders, modified them in the woodwork department and packed the articles in those. We used a lot of packing material in between so that fragile items were not damaged during transit. Our home address and the name of the destination airport were stenciled neatly on each box. Arrangements were made with A.M.I (Agency Maritime International) to collect the boxes from our place and send them as air cargo. Accordingly they sent their truck to collect the stuff from our apartment in Mufulira and take it to their office in Kitwe. We accompanied the truck in our car to the Kitwe office where we signed the necessary papers and made the payment. They assured us that the cargo would be sent by road to Lusaka within three days but they could not tell us how long it would take for the Lusaka office to send it by air to my home city of Trivandrum. It may take many days before they could send them. As we would be leaving Mufulira within a couple of days and then staying in Lusaka for a week before our departure to India, we gave them as contact number, the phone number of one Mr. Thomas in Lusaka with whom we had intended to stay.

Two or three days after our arrival in Lusaka, Mr. Thomas received a phone call from the A.M.I office in Lusaka. The manager wanted to know whether Mr. G. John from Mufulira was staying with him and if so, she wanted to meet him. Mr. Thomas thought that it would be for something in connection with the unaccompanied baggage I sent and he gave the caller directions to reach his house where we were staying. After about half an hour, a white Toyota Corolla car came in through the gates and a well-dressed lady in her late thirties got out of the driver's seat. She was ushered in by Mr. Thomas' wife Molly and she introduced herself as the branch manager of A.M.I, Lusaka. She added that she had come to see Mr. G. John and his wife. Imagine our surprise and pleasure when we recognized her as none other than our former student! While we were wondering how she managed to trace us after all these years, she explained that she saw my name and contact number in the manifest of a recent consignment of goods destined for India and the rest was simple.

We talked for a while and then she said she should run along. However, she promised even without my asking that our unaccompanied baggage would be sent by the first available cargo flight even though there was quite a considerable backlog of cargo owing to the discontinuation of flights to India by Zambia Airways.

The Branch Manager kept her word. Three days after reaching Trivandrum, we received intimation from the Airport Cargo Complex that our unaccompanied baggage had arrived. And sure enough, we found all of them intact and ready for clearance and collection.


I took the payment vouchers from the Finance Ministry straight to the south-end branch of the Zambia National Commercial Bank which handled all the foreign payments of the Ministry. I was accompanied by my wife. We were supposed to get the vouchers converted to the foreign currency of our choice. As there was one day only between then and the day of departure from the country, we did not have any time to waste.

We went up the elevator to the third floor where the bank's offices were situated. We were directed by the smart lady in the outer office to the person who handled matters related to the Finance Ministry. We found a lady in her late thirties behind the desk marked "Foreign Exchange" and took our seats. We told her the purpose of our visit and handed her the payment vouchers.

The bank official glanced through the papers and assured us that they were in order. She put the bank's date stamp on them and filed them neatly in a box file marked "pending". Then she told us to call back after a couple of weeks, but should phone her first to find out if the papers were processed.

We did not understand what she was saying. So I asked her politely what she meant by saying to come back after two weeks. Our flight to India was within two days' time and we were leaving the country for good.

She tried to explain by pointing to the "pending" file and saying: "There are about thirty-five people in the waiting list and we are treating each case in the order of priority. It will take at least ten days before we could process your papers and issue a bank draft or traveler’s cheques as you desire".

However, we were not prepared to leave the matter at that, especially after all the hurdles we had gone through at the Finance Ministry. We told her of our predicament and how crucial it was for us to have this money in our possession before we board the plane. She would not even listen, but after pestering her for some time, she told us to go and see the manager if we were not satisfied with her reply.

We walked to the partitioned off office marked "MANAGER" and knocked at the door. We were told to go in and found a very smart young lady in a well-tailored dress suit behind the manager's desk. We were rather surprised to see so many ladies in that place, but it was none of our business. Zambians are very polite people and this lady was no exception. However, she told us that she could not accede to our request as it would mean overlooking the priority of many others. As a last resort I told her that it would be a disgrace to this country if a foreigner who had worked here for the last thirty years had to go home empty-handed so that he would have to depend on the charity of his fellow countrymen once he returned to his own country. My last remark struck home and the manager told me that she would have to talk to her superior officer whether the rule could be relaxed a bit and she asked us to meet her at 9 a.m. on the next day for a definite answer. With an air of trepidation, we left the bank as there was nothing else for us to do.

On the next day we arrived at the bank a little earlier than 9 a.m. and rode up the elevator to the third floor. As we walked in through the main entrance of the bank, we saw the manager, as smart as ever, trotting out through a side door and walking briskly away with the 'clack, clack' of her high-heels. It was precisely 9 a.m. and we thought ruefully,” well, so much for her sweet promises!" There was no doubt that she was now going away in order to avoid us.

However, we decided to wait even if it was for the whole day for her to return. We found a pair of comfortable chairs outside the manager's office and sat down heavily. We did not even feel like talking to each other as we were engrossed in our own thoughts. Only when someone approached us after about twenty minutes or so with the words "Excuse me, are you Mr. and Mrs. John?" that we were awakened from our reverie. We answered in the affirmative and looked up inquiringly at the speaker. He had a sheaf of bank-slips in his hand. He asked us to indicate in those slips the type of currency required, denomination of traveler’s cheques etc. as well as the address of the overseas bank and signature of each person. He collected the bank-slips from us, scrutinized them and said the traveler’s cheques would be ready within half an hour.

We finished the business at the bank by 10 a.m. and came out with our "life's savings" tucked away safely in the V.I.P brief case I was carrying. Even though we wanted to thank the manager for what she had done, she was nowhere to be seen even by the time we left the bank.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I walked through the massive glass doors of the Ministry of Finance building in Lusaka, out into the bright afternoon sun. I continued to walk slowly along the concrete drive way in between the spacious parking lots on both sides where most of the slots were occupied, into the tarmac road where a few taxi cabs waited for prospective fares. Soon, I would be traveling in one of those, to the intercity bus terminal where with luck I may be able to catch a late bus to the Copper-belt.

My heart was heavy. All my efforts of the past three months and the many journeys I had made to the Finance Ministry were in vain. During my previous visit, I was assured by Mr. Ndabala, one of the senior clerical officers, that the papers were in order and my name and my wife's name were already posted in the list of people who would be receiving their terminal benefits that month. However, it appeared that something went wrong and our names were struck off the list. Instead, two new names were added from the waiting list. We were pushed back to the next allocation of foreign exchange which would come only after three or four months. We would not be able to stay back in the country until then and the money would go invariably into the pipeline. In that case it would take a very long time, perhaps a couple of years or more, to reach me and all our future plans would go astray. This realization made me very sad. Even though I talked to Mr. M'hango, the Senior Accountant to expedite the matter, he said he could not do anything about it.

I was just about to board a cab when a thought flashed through my mind- Why should not I go and see the Permanent Secretary who was the over-all boss of the Finance Ministry and tell him of my predicament. Perhaps he would do something about it. Anyway, I had nothing to lose.

But to see the P.S was not that easy. I could not just go to his fifth floor office, knock and enter. I had to go through the various official channels before I could get an appointment to see him. It may take several days before he would accede to my request to grant me a meeting with him.

It was then that I thought of Mr. M.R.B. Nair, the Chief Auditor to the Finance Ministry of whom I had heard sometime back from Mr. Krishnan, one of my friends on the Copper-belt. Mr. Nair was a British citizen of Indian origin, whose native place was Trivandrum in the State of Kerala which happened to be my native place too. Even though, we had never met before.

I retraced my steps with new vigor. In the foyer I met a well-dressed lady whom I took for a Ministry official and asked her if she could direct me to Mr. M.R.B. Nair's office. She took me up all the way in the elevator to the fourth floor and along a long corridor to the door marked with golden letters: M.R.B. Nair, Chief Auditor. She did not even wait for my thanks. I knocked at the door, and was bidden to enter.

Mr. Nair was alone in his spacious office except for his Zambian secretary. He was very cordial to me and listened patiently to my narration. He told me that the Permanent Secretary was the only person who could do something about my problem. As he was out of the country, Mr.Chipuma, the Deputy Permanent Secretary was in charge. Mr. Nair said he would introduce me to him, in case he was available. He asked his secretary to phone the office of the D.P.S and request for an urgent appointment. The D.P.S was in his office and he would see Mr. Nair without any delay. We went up the single flight of steps and reached the office of the D.P.S. We were admitted immediately and directed to the inner office by the lady in the outer office.

I saw a very well-groomed Zambian gentleman with slightly graying hairs at the temples sitting behind a large glass-topped desk. He greeted Mr. Nair with a broad smile and nodded briefly to me. Mr. Nair introduced me to him and added that I had a problem that needed to be sorted out by Mr. Chipuma. He then left the two of us together and departed.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary listened patiently to what I had to say. He did not interrupt me or showed any signs of impatience. When I finished my narration, he talked to his secretary on the intercom and asked her to call Mr. Ndabala and Mr. M'hango to his office straightaway, and tell them to bring Mr. G. John's file along with them.

The two gentlemen arrived within ten minutes, with a look of apprehension in their eyes. As soon as they saw me sitting comfortably in Mr. Chipuma's office, their face darkened and their apprehension increased. Mr. Chipuma questioned them in such a manner that they had to admit their mistake. He ordered them to rectify the matter within three days' time. They said it would be impossible as the next allocation of Forex (foreign exchange) would come only after a minimum period of three months. At this reply Mr. Chipuma got very annoyed and asked them whether they expected a retired expatriate officer who had neither any job nor any house (the government quarters should be surrendered to the Works Department within a month or so after the last day of duty) to stay in the country for such a long time in order to get what was rightfully due to him from the Zambian government.

They had no reply. Finally Mr. M'hango, the Senior Accountant said there was one solution only. That was to apply for a special allocation of Forex from the Treasury. This procedure was adopted in extreme cases of emergency only and the Permanent Secretary had to make a special requisition for the same. Mr. Chipuma told them to prepare the requisition forthwith and get his signature. He gave them one week's time during which they should follow up the matter.

It was with clockwork precision that the matter was followed up by Mr. Mhango and Mr. Ndabala and thanks to the kindness of Mr. M.R.B. Nair and Mr. Chipuma, I received the payment vouchers two days before our final departure from Zambia. There remained just one day within which we had to get the Zambian Kwacha converted to foreign currency at the Zambia National Commercial Bank, Lusaka, but that was another story.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


When Northern Rhodesia became the independent nation of Zambia in 1964, the UNIP (United National Independent Party) government decided to establish a number of new secondary schools throughout the country. They wanted to recruit from other African countries, people with many years of teaching experience in order to fill the vacancies in the new schools. As the Terms and Conditions offered were far better than those of the neighboring countries, there was a great exodus of serving teachers from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ghana and other African countries to Zambia. There were hundreds of Indian teachers among them.

Joseph and Mathai (not real names) were two Indians, from the state of Kerala, working as teachers in a school in Ethiopia. As there were no other people from Kerala in their school, they were very friendly with each other and did many things together. Their families went together frequently for outings and picnics and entertained each other on Sundays and on special days like Christmas, Easter and Onam. They always consulted with each other on important matters.

Through one of their mutual friends they came to know about the great opportunity in Zambia and that many of their acquaintances from Addis Ababa, Asmara and other towns had already secured jobs in Zambia. Joseph and Mathai felt that this was an opportunity that they should not miss. Accordingly they took the first step of obtaining from friends the address of the Zambian Education Ministry and writing to them for Application Forms. After waiting eagerly for about two weeks, to their great delight they both received by the same day's mail, a set of forms from the Ministry of Education headquarters in Lusaka.

Each application form consisted of four pages. Joseph and Mathai sat together and discussed the manner in which to fill up the form and how to answer the various questions contained in it. Thereafter they departed to their respective homes and embarked on the process of filling up their forms.

Most of the details to be given were simple and straight-forward such as full name, sex, date of birth, educational qualifications, and experience in teaching, so on and so forth. There were also some personal questions such as fluency in English language, speech impediment if any, etc. While Joseph was filling up this part, he suddenly remembered that his friend Mathai had an occasional problem of stammering. He thought it was unlikely that Mathai would indicate it in his application form. Therefore as a truthful and honest person, he thought that at least he should mention it in his own application form, in the best interest of the government of Zambia. So in the space against the question "Have you any speech impediment?" he wrote "I don't have any, but Mathai(full name) has". After completing the rest of the form, he enclosed it in a manila envelope along with other relevant documents, sealed properly and walked the short distance to Mathai's house. Mathai had already completed his form by this time. They went together to the post office in the town, mailed their envelopes and returned home with the satisfaction of a job well done.

A number of days passed. Mathai and Joseph waited eagerly for the return of the "mail boy" (the school worker who used to collect the mail from the post office) each day. Then on a fine day, the long-awaited official envelopes with the superscription "On Zambia Government Service" addressed individually to Joseph and Mathai arrived by the same day's mail. With pounding hearts, they opened their envelopes and studied the contents. Mathai found a letter from the Ministry of Education containing an offer of appointment stipulating the initial salary and other relevant details as well as the name of the officer whom he should contact in case he wanted to accept the offer. In Joseph's envelope, he found a single sheet of paper on which the following sentence was type-written neatly:
"With reference to your application dated.....(date), I regret to inform you that your application for the post of a secondary school teacher has been unsuccessful". Underneath were a signature and the words "Yours faithfully," "for the Permanent Secretary."

Mathai and his family left Ethiopia for Zambia within three month's time. Joseph remained in Ethiopia until the end of his contract and returned to India without leaving any forwarding address. And that was the end of a beautiful friendship.

None of us was aware of this incident until a few months later the matter was disclosed by an official of the Education Ministry to one of the expatriate teachers, during a friendly conversation.