On our way back from Chipaika we passed by my former school, Nkhata Bay Secondary School, located on the western outskirts of the Vizara Rubber Plantation at Banga. The school is still proudly called Nkhaboss, an acronym for Nkhata Bay Boys Secondary school. Some workers, such as Nindi, are still there. The tangerine and banana orchard is still there. The basketball, football, and volley pitches are still there. The hostels are still there and sturdy enough to last the next one hundred years.
Thirty years is a long time. The Marianists who used to look after the school, give us beef, mattresses and pray for us, were gone. Gone, too, were the ceiling boards, window panes, and the demonstration gear in the geography, biology and physical science laboratories. Gone, too, was the mosquito gauze that protected us from mosquito bites. Gone, too, were most of the metal double deck beds.
Since its inception, Nkhaboss has produced some of the best lawyers, bankers, politicians, writers, journalists, cartographers, mathematicians, teachers, pastors, muftis, reverends, and fathers. But Nkhaboss is falling; Nkhaboss is crumbling; Nkhaboss is dying.
As we went round, Jean-Philippe took photos of the current state of the school. Instead of asking the school administrators, he asked me why such a popular school had been left to dilapidate and collapse.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“Why don’t you and your fellow alumni come together, raise funds, and save your Alma mater?”
“There are people paid to manage education and repair schools in this country.”
“That sounds selfish,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Sorry. I already contribute through my tax every month. I will not contribute anything more until and unless someone explains why we build new schools when we can’t look after what we already have.”
When we were through with seeing the school, we drove down to Nkhata Bay town centre to buy some fuel because Chinthechi has no official fuel filling station. After buying the fuel we drove up and down the rolling hills to see my relatives at Unyemba.
“Uyu ndiyu Jini-filipu?” One of my young cousins, Osman, asked in Chitonga.
“Correct. This is Jean-Philippe.”
“He must be rich,” my cousin went on.
I ignored him and went on to introduce Jean-Philippe to my other relatives.
“What do you mean this is your father? I thought you said your father died.”
“He is my father’s young brother.”
“He is your uncle, then.”
“No. An uncle is a brother to one’s mother.”
“And what do you call a sister to your father?”
“And your grandparents?”
My father, or my uncle, as Jean-Philippe called my father’s young brother, asked us to follow him into his sitting room. Lo and behold! Before us, there were steaming, appetising, boiled batala fish and sima ya vigawu dishes. My father washed his hands. I passed the water basin to Jean-Philippe.
“I don’t feel like eating.”
“You are a visitor and, therefore, you are hungry.”
He remembered the Chipaika lesson and washed his hands. I washed mine, too. And we went into attack.
As we ate my father asked what my sister, Jessica, was doing now that Joyce Banda, a woman, is president of Malawi. I told him that she was still teaching gender and feminism at Nkhotakota University.
“I thought she was a lecturer in street demonstrations.”
“She is always vocal and present whenever and wherever there is a street demonstration.”
I smiled and explained to Jean-Philippe what my father had said about my sister. n