Getting to the Top
‘Good gracious,’ I said, ‘you were at Yunza all those years, just down the road, and we never knew!’
James Nkoma, the son of Sara’s cousin Emily, had finally tracked us down. Sara had spent most of the afternoon catching up on the story of his mother, Sara’s long lost cousin Emily, who had made rather an unfortunate marriage and disappeared from sight. But apparently, after her husband died, she’d been doing very well.
So now, while Sara was away in the bedroom trying to dig out some old family photos, I thought I’d dig into his educational background. ‘So what did you study at Yunza?’ I wondered.
‘History,’ he said. ‘I got a distinction in Modern Medieval History!’
‘Congrats!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have another biscuit! I hadn’t even realized there was anything modern about medieval history!’
‘It’s modern for Yunza,’ he explained. ‘Previously they hadn’t gone beyond Roman History.’
‘Getting to Yunza, that must have been a long and winding road. Where did it all start?
?’ Mbuzi Primary School
‘That’s right. I came out top with 795 marks. I remember there were only twelve of us on that bus the morning we set out for
. All the others came out to wave us goodbye. But we never looked back.’ Lundazi Secondary School
‘Can you remember any of them?’
‘I remember my friend Mkandawire, good at everything, except that he simply fractured when he came to fractions.’
‘Couldn’t you have helped him?’
‘I’d have liked to. But if you help somebody, they might get ahead of you!’
‘What happened to Mkandawire?’
‘I’ve completely lost touch. But I know he’s got the only car showroom in Lundazi. Importing from
Dubai, through .’ Malawi
‘So what do you remember from Lundazi Secondary?’
‘I remember one boy, Dingiswayo, Stinkiswayo we used to call him, asking the teacher why we had to learn to solve quadratic equations. To decide who gets to the top, answered the teacher.’
‘And did Dingiswayo get to the top?’ I wondered.
James lowered his voice. ‘He was more interested in bottoms!’
‘So what’s he doing now?’
‘Running a string of guest houses along the
Great Beast Road.’
‘So next you were headed for Yunza?’
‘Six points. Left the rest of the school behind.’
‘What happened to the others?’
‘They got distracted. Became delinquents. But I wanted to get to the top and serve my country.’
‘But you also left the maths behind.’
‘At Yunza I came up against the square root of minus one, and entirely lost faith in the rationality of maths. So I decided to find some other way to serve my country at the highest level.’
‘So in what lofty capacity are you now using your high level knowledge for the benefit of the nation?’
He lowered his voice. ‘That’s the problem, Uncle. It’s been two years since I graduated, and I can’t find a job. That’s why I came to see Aunty, I’m told she’s got connections.’
‘Where have you applied?’
‘To the civil service, for hundreds of jobs. Not even an interview.’
‘Those are political jobs,’ I explained, ‘awarded for dubious political service, or even worse. Besides, ministers don’t want people more educated than themselves.’
‘I can’t even get a job in the private sector.’
‘That’s because you don’t have relatives in management.’
‘But I’ve got a degree!’
‘So do all their nephews and nieces!’
‘I never thought of that. Then what about the mines?’
‘Really, James, everybody knows that the main reason they bought the mines in the first place was to provide jobs for their own unemployed graduates back home.’
‘Then I’ll just have to start my own business! Lend me some money, Uncle!’
‘Look,’ I said, ‘entrepreneurship needs somebody with their own ideas, and imagination. You’ve just spent the past twenty years under the hammer of schooling which was specially designed to knock out the smallest sign of any initiative or imagination. It’s far too late for you to recover from what has been done to you.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ he sighed. ‘Otherwise I’d have thought of something by now.’
Just then we were interrupted by Sara coming back triumphantly bearing a battered shoe box full of old photographs. ‘Look at this, James,’ she said, putting a yellowing photo under his nose, ‘That’s your mother’s grandmother Ethel, who started her own church and wrote a book about it!’
James looked at the photo and seemed to perk up a bit. ‘Did she have a degree?’ he asked.
‘Of course not!’ Sara laughed. ‘She was a Standard Four!’
‘James has got a very nice history degree,’ I said, ‘but can’t find a job.’
‘Don’t worry about that!’ said Sara. ‘Go back to Yunza and get one of those nice little conveyor belt PhDs, on the history of PhDs, or something like that. Then apply for a job as a university lecturer. Supersata is setting up ten new universities all over the place, Mpulungu, Shang’ombo, Ng’ombe and even Mpika! All unemployed graduates will be made lecturers. A huge national investment and a brilliant idea to solve the problem! Good old Supersata! What a genius!
‘Half a minute,’ I said slowly. ‘That may solve the problem for now. But after ten years we shall have a worse problem, with ten times as many unemployed graduates!’
‘But by that time,’ laughed Sara, ‘Supersata will be out of office!’
‘And I shall be a Vice-Chancellor!’ declared James.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You’ll get to the top!’