Everything Jean-Philippe and I saw at Livingstonia was impressive. The lecturers, support staff, administrators, and students we met at the Livingstonia University were impressive in their collective vision, individual mission, and commitment. The primary school learners we interviewed, too, were convinced that one day they would be great Malawians who would contribute great things to their great country.
What impressed Jean-Philippe most was how welcoming and knowledgeable the women of Vunguvungu were. In particular, Lady Nyasamsolabwaka was not only smashing despite her poverty, but also fully knowledgeable about HIV and Aids, politics, and the weaknesses the majority men share.
“And what is this weakness that men share?” I asked Lady Nyamsolabwaka, whose place-of-joy we visited one warm afternoon.
Since we arrived at Livingstonia we booked ourselves at the Stone House from where we launched forays into the Khondowe hinterland. It was during one of these walks of discovery that we tumbled upon Nyamsolobwaka’s place-of-joy. Jean-Philippe insisted that we taste what made the local people, teachers, lecturers, and well, some priests, oblivious about their problems. So, we drank locally made beer, mkontho.
Apart from Jean-Philippe and me, there was a young man in a dark suit. His prying eyes gave us the impression that he was a stranger to the place. He sat in a chair, occasionally sipping at his mkontho komeshi.
“Most men think a woman is a toy to play with and throw away after use; just like they throw away a bottle top,“ she said matter-of-factly.
“My friend here,” I said pointing at Jean-Philippe, “respects women for whatever they are.”
“Is he married?” Lady Nyamsolabwaka asked, smilingly.
“No. You want to marry him?”I joked.
“That’s exactly what I hate about men. You think because I asked if your friend is married then I want to marry. In your rotten mind you only associate women with marriage.”
“It was only joking.”
“Even if I wanted to marry, why would I marry a young man like him?”Lady Nyamsolabwaka asked, pointing at Jean-Philippe with her eyes.
I laughed. Nyamsolobwaka left and went into her house. I explained to Jean-Philippe what Lady Nyamsolobwaka had said. Jean-Philippe smiled and asked me to find out how young she was. I promised to do so as soon as she came back. Since Lady Nyamsolobwaka took time to come back, Jean-Philippe suggested we leave. I called her out.
“Dikirani pachoko waka!” she shouted from inside her house.
As we waited for her to come out, Jean-Philippe greeted the young man we had found at Lady Nyamsolabwaka’s place-of-joy. The young man introduced himself as Jungubawa and explained to us that he was a teacher at Lwegza CDSS.
“What’s is a CDSS?” Jean-Philippe asked.
“A Community Day Secondary School. I understand that previously such schools were called MCCs or Malawi Correspondence Colleges,” Jungubawa explained.
“And why are you here at this time of the year?”Jean-Philippe went on.
“These people at the Ministry of Education think teachers are thoughtless slaves, but some, like me, are not.”
“Do I know why?”
“The Ministry of Education has issued a circular letter forbidding teachers from upgrading unless they go to learn Mathematics, Languages, and Sciences. I find the directive unfair and unjust. Here is a Ministry that does not care about upgrading or promoting teachers, yet it is so interested in discouraging teachers from improving themselves using their own resources,” Jungubawa said, sounding angry and hopeless.
“And why are you here?”
“I have resigned!”
“That was too radical a decision,” Jean-Philippe observed, adding, “If I were you, I would go back to my station or college and study for my degree by distance learning.”
“I don’t want to work for a Ministry that does not care about my intellectual welfare.”
“You know,” I said, “the Ministry of Education is the first institution that needs immediate change. Telling teachers to stop upgrading is a backward policy. Instead it should be looking for ways it can accommodate teacher upgrading without disrupting classes. It can arrange with universities and colleges in the country to organise in-service degree programmes for teachers. Long vacations are ideal for such trainings.”
“But I insist that nobody should think that because we accept to teach in remote areas we, teachers, are stupid slaves. Not in the 21st century!” n