I spent the afternoon surveying the school grounds. As nightfall approached, I looked forward to seeing the lights along the streets and in houses. I was amazed that it never got dark as the lights came on immediately the sun disappeared. As I admired the brightness, I wondered why the lights were needed when people were fast asleep during the night.
I was very impressed with Chikankata Mission as it comprised a hospital, a trades’ institute, and a primary school. The hospital had a training wing for nurses and medical assistants. At the time, Chikankata Hospital had the largest leprosarium with patients from many parts of Zambia and beyond.
The Mission was located in between two streams that provided water for the community. The surrounding Mapangazya area consisted of a large vibrant farming community that met some of the food needs of both the hospital and our school.
All the new students underwent a comprehensive medical examination at the hospital. During the medical examinations, I was among many pupils who were found with the bilharzia disease, which was prevalent in many rural areas. All the pupils found with various illnesses were put on treatment immediately. Not much attention was given to stopping my nocturnal enuresis by the medical authorities, as it was attributed to the change of the environment and the molestation. With a reputable hospital in the vicinity, the school population was healthy.
I settled fast in my new environment in spite of the brutal bullying and mocking, particularly from the pupils in my class who’d arrived earlier at the school. The school had a thriving vegetable garden maintained by junior pupils, which was turned into a battleground for supremacy every Wednesday afternoon.
I was mocked even for my peasantry background as “kana kazwa kumalundu,” meaning, ‘a child originating from the mountains.’ Mountains were regarded as degrading geographical features denoting primitiveness and poverty. Later in life, when I landed at the Geneva International Airport located between the Alps and Jura mountains in Switzerland, I was relieved to learn of the enormous riches and the wealthy citizens of this mountainous country. I resolved to change the misfortunes of the people of Namaila, someday, using the riches hidden in the mountains.
I made friends with other pupils who had also done well in their primary school examinations and had been redirected to Chikankata for senior primary education. My best friend was Geoffrey Hamayobe, a son of Petrol Hamayobe, the bricklayer who’d built the Chikankata Mission Hospital. For his invaluable contribution to the development of Chikankata Mission Hospital, Uncle Hamayobe deserved some permanent recognition, such as the naming of one of the buildings after him. My efforts in this direction with successive Mission administrators have not succeeded.
Sometime in October 1958, Uncle Aaron came to check on me. I informed him of the kind white man, who promised to look after me, while at school. My uncle promised to come back to collect me when schools closed in December. Unfortunately, he did not arrive when the school closed even after waiting for the whole morning. I, therefore, decided to trek to Namaila alone. Not to alarm the people I met on the way, I told them that I was going to the next village. It got dark before I had gotten over the Mabwetuba hills into Namaila.
Although it was common knowledge that there were leopards in the forests between Namaila and Mapangazya, I was convinced that having been spared by a black mamba, not even a leopard would stop me getting to my destiny. As I was passing-by some village in the dark, the dogs barked so fiercely that one of the villagers, Dickson Chibaala Habatumbu, came out and invited me into his hut.
Even after I’d explained the circumstances for my walking alone in the night, Habatumbu was still angry with me for risking my life. He persuaded me to spend the night at his home, but I insisted that I must get to our village that very day. After a meal, he informed me that my grandmother, Mizinga had died a few days before. I was weeping as we walked in the darkness to my village.
Closer to the village, Habatumbu told me that my grandmother was not dead after all. He was just joking as my mujwama. When I later narrated the story to my grandmother, she just laughed and explained that this was a very ancient valued relationship in Tonga traditions. It allowed the bajwanyina to tease one another even with the most dreadful and scary stories. She concluded by saying that ordinarily, elders do not tell lies.
We arrived at my village late in the night and woke up my parents, who were surprised with my arrival. My mujwama admonished them for not collecting me from school. He implored them to ensure that I fulfilled my craving for education as demonstrated by risking my life walking in the dark. Habatumbu then left to return to his village.
This incident must have embarrassed my parents and deflated my father’s anger as they were not too concerned with my new name Peter. I explained the strong religious stance of Chikankata Mission as the headquarters of the Salvation Army.
My parents heard the details of the story of Jesus Christ and the twelve disciples, one of whom was Peter, for the first time. I informed them that the name means a rock or stone in biblical terms and cracked a joke that I intended to be as strong as a rock.
The following year, I arranged with Uncle Aaron that when he comes to pick me from Chikankata, we should pass through Mazabuka Town. I wanted to have the opportunity to see and ride the train for the first time in my life. We made the trip from Chikankata by bus and then had a train ride between Mazabuka and Magoye, a very short distance of a few kilometres. We then trekked eastwards from Magoye to Namaila, a distance of thirty-four kilometres, which is much longer than that between Chikankata and Namaila.
The experience of visiting Mazabuka Town and riding the train was worth it as it raised my social status amongst my peers in the village. I was becoming the envy of my age mates as I was getting way ahead of them in life experiences and knowledge.
Thereafter, I made many trips between Namaila and Mapangazya walking alone through the forests of the Mabwetuba Hills. I made a habit of stopping by Habatumbu’s residence to brief him on my progress and to assure him that my parents were fulfilling their promise.
Ng’andu Peter Magande is the former Minister of Finance.