This Saturday, Monsignor John Ryan, a former Mathematics Professor, will be consecrated as Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Mzuzu. As mentioned a few times on this column, Fr Ryan was my teacher of Mathematics, Additional Mathematics and Physical Science at St Patricks Seminary in Rumphi in the early to mid 1990s.
Today, I want us to share some of the big lessons some of us learnt from Fr. Ryan.
One of the many lessons that I leant from him is the discipline of planning. I had the privilege, along classmates like Chimwemwe Msukwa and Fidelis Sindani that Fr Ryan liked to take on camping trips and vacations to Chombe beach, which lies near the border between Rumphi and Karonga districts. In particular, during my long wait for the delayed university entrance examinations from 1996 to 1997, Fr Ryan got me into computer programming and we did a few joint projects and Chombe was the place for concentration as he was then doing his PhD in Mathematics by correspondence with the university of Cork while teaching me computer programming.
Fr Ryan would be planning for a trip for a few days. He would think about everything that we would need on the 2 or 3 day holiday. He would be writing down a list of exactly what is needed, including remembering to carry candles, matches and a lighter, spoons and the kit for mass and so on. I am yet to discover his methodology for contingency planning. I learnt a bit of it but never mastered to his precision.
However, one day and only one day, he was almost caught off guard. We did not carry vegetables! We must have been at Chombe for a few days and I struggled without vegetables. Each time he would surprise you with his ‘contingency solution’ except this time. Still he thought of a solution out of the box. For some reason lakeshore people around Chombe did not really grow vegetables. Fr Ryan took his bicycle into the villages to look for ‘chigwada’—the local delicacy made of cassava leaves. While there, the women who were selling him the chigwada attempted to sell him bad hard leaves and Ryan spoke to them in local Chitumbuka language telling them to pluck only the soft small cassava leaves. This puzzled the women. He confused them further when he joked that he was a Jere from Mzimba. Little did they know that Ryan had been in Malawi for nearly 20 year that time and nearly 40 years now!
On the flip side, the best illustration of Ryan’s contingency planning was on a trip we made to Chitipa with Chimwemwe and Fidelis. We camped in tents in bushes between Karonga and Chitipa and also around Nthalire on the other side on the way back to Rumphi.
Interestingly, Fr Ryan packed two spare wheels against the norm of just one. The 100 km road from Karonga to Chitipa was not yet tarred by then. Midway to Chitipa, we suffered a tyre puncture and Fr Ryan replaced with one spare wheel. When we arrived in Chitipa, the first thing that he did was to mend the punctured tyre so that we could have two functional spare wheels again. He made sure this was the first thing we did so that there should be no cancer of forgetting—another good tactic for being well organised and good at planning.
The next day when we travelled back to Rumphi via Nthalire and Nyika, we suffered punctures on two wheels through the long stretch of a difficult earth road. The two spare wheels helped us make it back to Rumphi Boma safely. I asked Fr Ryan how he had predicted that we needed two spare wheels. He said: “Experience. I have been in Malawi since 1978. I know.”
Ryan is a master of planning and especially contingency planning. With a little interest, discipline and attention to detail, you too can become a master or planning. All the best and see you at his Episcopal Consecration at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Mzuzu on Saturday!