Veteran writer and former Minister of Tourism KEN LIPENGA is spending his political retirement hiking mythical Michesi Mountain near his home in Phalombe. However, it is for a good cause he recently paid homage to Sapitwa Peak—the birthplace of Waiting for A Turn, his famous short story once taught in school. He writes
Many years ago, when I was about to finish secondary school, I set off with a few friends on a hike up Mount Mulanje. Our destination was Sapitwa Peak.
Having taken a bus from what was then Glenorchy Factory and dropped off at Likhubula, we started our climb and got to the Chambe Plateau via the Skyline Route.
And then everything suddenly came tumbling down upon us. It was the most hopelessly ill-prepared journey I have ever undertaken.
A writer’s turn
We had no idea where exactly Sapitwa was and we did not even have anything like the supplies needed for such an undertaking.
And then nature stepped in with the most miserable weather just to ensure we did not dare go any further or we would perish.
Years later, still feeling bad about this disaster, I made up for it by writing a story, which is a little more than just undergraduate juvenilia, set in a fictitious Sapitwa.
In the story, a young man jilted in love decides that life is not worth living. He heads to Sapitwa to “jump from the highest point on earth into the abyss where he would be warmly welcomed by the spirits of the ancestors and find a more meaningful existence”.
Upon arrival, he is about to jump when suddenly two bulky men grabbed him. Thinking they were the usual do-gooders who won’t let a fellow do whatever he wishes with his life, he protests vehemently.
So they politely explain to him: “Sir, we’re not trying to stop you. You’ll jump into the abyss as you wish. But there’s a queue here and we must take you to the back where you will wait for your turn. You have to wait for your turn, sir.”
As far as I can tell, he is still waiting.
Two days ago, the fictitious Sapitwa came face-to-face with the real one in what felt like a pilgrimage—a journey, often into an unknown destination, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about themselves, nature, or a higher good, but experience some transformation.
This was a pilgrimage for a second reason: I really embarked on this expedition for my friends the children of the Nazombe School for the Blind.
I went to Sapitwa using what is known in the hiking world as the Suicide Path on account of its steepness, but unlike the jilted lover in Waiting for a Turn, my mission was not suicide.
In fact, the only woman in this real life story, Stella, instead of jilting me, drove me to the banks of the Thuchila River, on the morning of September 17 and prayerfully saw me off on my journey.
The only demand she made was that I use her hiking stick on my arduous climb. This not only saved my life in some dangerous spots, but it also served as a flagpole for my banner.
I went to Sapitwa for the children and teachers of Nazombe School for the Blind, a part of Nazombe Primary School at Chiringa in Phalombe.
I have had a special relationship with this school—my alma mater. Whenever I have been able to, I have helped with some of their needs, though I cannot claim to be their benefactor.
In the past, the school benefitted from support from the Lions Club of Blantyre.
I have always been very impressed with what the dedicated teachers working with children with special needs using limited resources.
But bad things are happening to this place of educational miracles. Thieves have invaded the school more than once, stealing beddings, a computer, buckets and other materials from the hostel.
These days, the school also includes children with albinism, who live in perpetual fear of evil attacks that target them.
A noble cause
So, upon arriving on Sapitwa Peak, instead of jumping into the abyss, I rolled out my banner appealing for your help. This appeal has the approval of the authorities at Nazombe School for the Blind.
To restore a more conducive learning environment, we need to replace the things that were stolen.
We need 35 beds and accompanying beddings. We also need to build a 274-metre wall around the premises to enhance security for the children and their possessions. The fence requires 227 500 bricks, although cement blocks will help conserve trees and soil.
On Mount Mulanje, I spent a night at Chisepo Hut below the absolutely amazing Sapitwa massif.
Although I carried a sleeping bag, as a member of the Mountain Club of Malawi, I also used a basic mattress and blankets to ensure a comfortable night in the cold mountain weather.
There is no such comfort for the children of Nazombe School for the Blind.