Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Speech day in Muchinga

Speech Day in Muchinga

            Sara and I had come to Speech Day at Muchinga Secondary School, to witness our grandson Kondwa being awarded the prize for mathematics. All the teachers were sitting at the back of the stage as the Headmaster walked to the front.
          ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he began, ‘I am the Headmaster, Mr Noplan Chimbwi, and I am pleased to welcome you to the celebration of our greatest achievements during the past year. Behind me you see the rest of the staff who work closely with me in bringing your children to a bright and prosperous future. Ours is a closely knit team, working in close agreement and harmony to achieve the great ideals of this long established and distinguished academy, always remembering our resounding motto One Muchinga, One School, One Headmaster.
          ‘I hope the old fart gets a move on,’ Sara whispered in my ear.
          ‘To give you some examples of the latest developments in our school,’ continued Chimbwi, ‘I ask our Deputy Headmaster, Mr Scotty Cholaboy, to join me here at the podium. As he spoke a bent figure in a faded salaula suit shuffled to the front, and groveled and slobbered before the headmaster. ‘Tell me, Cholaboy,’ rasped Chimbwi, ‘What have you been working on recently?’
          ‘I’ve been buying second-hand books for the library, Headmaster.’
          ‘You’ve been doing WHAT?’ screeched Chimbwi. ‘Why have you been doing that?’
          ‘I know it’s a long time ago since the school was able to buy books, Headmaster. But these second-hand books are very cheap.’
          Chimbwi now looked round at the other teachers. ‘Can someone tell this old fool why we can’t buy books?’
          A hand shot up. ‘Because, Headmaster, the book allocation is being spent on your fuel allowance.’
          ‘Nonsense! Shut up! Leave the room! Don’t come back!’
          ‘Where is all the unity and harmony?’ Sara whispered.
          Now an ancient old man hobbled to the front, with the help of a stick. ‘Ah, at last, our History Teacher, Mr PaModzi Munshumfwa. I’m sure he can help us.’
          ‘During colonial times,’ explained Munshumfwa, ‘this library was full of many books. Subversive books. Scurrilous books. Seditious books. Revolutionary books. The students read these books, and rebelled, and took over the school. We must never make the same mistake as the colonial authorities!’
          ‘Exactly,’ said Chimbwi, as Old Munshumfwa hobbled back to his seat. ‘And you, Dotty Cholaboy, try to stay awake in staff meetings in future. Now tell us, what is our policy on books in the library?’
          ‘No second-hand books,’ muttered Scotty.
          ‘No!’ screeched Chimbwi, ‘No books at all!’
          ‘Very sorry for my awful mistake,’ groveled Scotty, as he shuffled back to his seat.
          ‘They shouldn’t have let in the parents,’ said Sara, ‘just to see them quarreling amongst themselves.’
          ‘The only books allowed in the library,’ shouted Chimbwi, ‘are the Bible and the School Rules. Now let us hope we get a better report from our Communications Teacher. What have you been doing, Mr Manuel Mwalwe Mwalwe?’
          ‘I have put up new notice boards for students to express their opinions, analyse current affairs, and to ask questions of others.’
          ‘What!’ squealed Chimbwi. ‘As Headmaster, I am the one in charge of information dissemination. All information must first be approved by me and then put on the Headmaster’s Notice Board.’
          ‘No,’ said Manuel calmly. ‘We have the Independent Board Authority which authorises other groups to have their own noticeboards.’
          ‘All Independence rests in me as the Headmaster,’ growled Chimbwi, ‘So your Independent Board Authority is cancelled immediately, and so is your job. Shut up. Go away. Never come back. Shooo!’
          ‘It looks to me,’ said Sara, ‘as if this Headmaster has completely lost control of his staff and has no idea of what’s going on.’
          ‘Good gracious,’ growled the Headmaster, as he turned back to his audience, now restless and muttering amongst themselves. ‘Let’s hope there is better news from the Maths Department. I call upon Mr Redhot Piri Piri to explain the latest developments in maths teaching.’
          ‘In this modern world,’ began Piri Piri, ‘we’re teaching modern mathematics, such as set theory…’
          ‘Sex theory!’ shrieked Chimbwi, ‘I don’t want any homosexuals here!’
          ‘I said set theory,’ said Piri Piri. ‘It’s about how we analyze the mathematical relationship between members of different overlapping groups.’
          ‘Different groups!’ shouted Chimbwi. ‘What are you talking about! This is subversive talk! This is seditious! The motto of this school is One Muchinga, One School, One Headmaster. We’re not supposed to have different groups!’
Now his arms began to wave wildly, his face went purple, and he began to march up and down the stage howling ‘So now I see it! You are the one behind all this! You have foolishly revealed yourself! You are the divisive influence! You’ve been dividing this school into groups and cliques, plotting against me, trying to bring me down! Well let me tell you that before this day is out I’ll…’
          But as he was ranting on, two men in white coats came onto the stage. Each took him gently by an arm and guided him, still ranting, down the steps and out of the hall.
Then onto the stage waddled the ample figure of the School Matron, Ms Christine Award Winner. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ she said, ‘I do apologize for that. Our dear Headmaster is not feeling very well, so he has asked me to distribute the School Prizes on his behalf…’
          But by now the school hall was more than half empty, as parents scurried out with their children, quite frightened by their strange experience.
          ‘If we all run away,’ I said, ‘that’ll be the end of his career as a Headmaster.’
          ‘From what I’ve seen,’ laughed Sara, ‘It’ll be no great loss.’  

[Story line suggested to Kalaki by Facebooker Victor Kabwe]



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Charlotte's Diary

Charlotte’s Diary

Oh Dear Diary, My poor old Scotty looked such a mess when he came to breakfast this morning, still in his dressing gown, unshaven and confused. The first thing he did was to knock the sugar bowl onto the floor. ‘Who put the damn sugar bowl there?’ he shouted.
‘You’ve forgotten your glasses,’ I said gently.
‘Enema!’ he shouted for one of the servants. ‘Enema!’
‘Darling,’ I said, ‘her name’s not Enema, it’s Enela. I’ll go and get your glasses. We must learn to become self-reliant. We won’t always be living in this house with twenty-seven servants.’
‘We’re the servants of the people,’ he cackled, ‘so we have to be looked after properly.’
When I came back he was trying to read The Pest. ‘I don’t seem to look very well in this picture,’ he whined. ‘Are they trying to make me look silly?’
‘You’ve got the newspaper upside down,’ I said. ‘Try it again after putting on your reading glasses. And here are your false teeth, they will help you tackle the cornflakes.’
Oh Dear Diary, He used to be so handsome and energetic. Never marry a man twenty years older than yourself.

          Oh Dear Diary, Another struggle with My Old Man at breakfast. At least he arrived with his teeth and spectacles, but his eyes were bloodshot, his breath was poisonous, and the wobble had returned to his right arm.
          ‘Have you taken the pills for your wobbly right arm, dear?’ I asked him gently.
          ‘Useless fart of a doctor, his bloody pills don’t work,’ he snorted. So saying, he took a hip flask out of this dressing gown, and poured whisky all over his cornflakes. ‘This should do the trick’ he chuckled. ‘What’s on my programme today?’
          ‘You’ve got all day to try to make yourself look presentable,’ I said. ‘This evening you have go to another gala dinner, Christine is being given another award.’
          ‘What for this time?’ he growled.
          ‘She’s being given the award for being the Woman with the Most Awards.’
          ‘Is Michael going?’
          ‘No,’ I laughed, ‘He’s resting. He’s not a young man like you to be gallivanting around to all these award ceremonies.’
          That evening I dressed him up in his dark grey suit. It didn’t fit properly on his hunched back, but the sleeves were long enough to hide his wobbly hand.
          Oh  Dear Diary, Sometimes I remember those young men that courted me at college.

          Dear Diary, Last night my Old Man never reached his bed. He was brought home unconscious from the gala dinner, and left to sleep it off on the sofa. Strangely enough, this made his appearance at breakfast more presentable. When he finally woke up and staggered towards the breakfast table he was still wearing his suit, spectacles and teeth from the night before. Although he did have some trouble eating his cornflakes because he spent a long time finding his wobbly hand in his long sleeve.
          ‘There is a report here in The Pest,’ I said grimly, ‘of your behaviour at the gala dinner. It says that you defended the government by saying We men know what we’re doing. We’re not like women quarreling about which one has been sleeping with somebody’s husband.’
          ‘I don’t remember saying that.’
          ‘That’s the remarkable thing about you. You can never remember saying anything. Especially after insulting all the women in the country, including your wife who works hard to make you look normal. According to The Pest report, your statement came straight after several members of the cabinet had a fight about who was sleeping with somebody’s wife. And then, after your heroic statement that We men know what we are doing, you collapsed and were carried out.’
          ‘Really Lotty,’ he replied, sounding genuinely hurt, ‘you know what the doctor said about my brain not being properly connected to my legs. You should be more sympathetic.’
          Dear Diary, The real problem is that his brain is not properly connected to his tongue.

          When my poor Old Dotty came to the breakfast table this morning, he seemed confused, but got my name right on the third attempt.
‘Look at this headline in The Pest, I said. ‘You told parliament that some of your cabinet colleagues are corrupt. Have you gone completely mad?’
‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘I was defending my friend Kapimbe, who had previously said the same thing.’
‘But why defend him? Is he not going to be fired?’
‘I have to defend him, because he is supposed to take over from me, so I can retire. That was the original arrangement. But if he is fired, I shall be stuck with this job until I die.’ Tears ran down his wrinkled old face and dripped into his breakfast whisky.

Don’t tell anybody, Dear Diary, but next time I shall marry a younger man, energetic and witty. I already have my eye on Spectator Kalaki.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Sinking of the Titanic

The Sinking of the Titanic

            ‘Grandpa,’ said Katendi suddenly, ‘Why did the Titanic sink?’
          ‘It hit an iceberg,’ I said.
          ‘Why did it hit the iceberg?’ she persisted.
          ‘Because the iceberg got in the way,’ I laughed.
          ‘Ho ho,’ she said, ‘Do you expect me to believe that that the person steering the iceberg wasn’t doing his job properly, and foolishly sailed the iceberg right in front of the pabwato? Don’t you think it’s more likely that the person who was supposed to be steering the Titanic wasn’t doing his job properly?’
          ‘Exactly,’ I said, ‘You’ve got it in one. That’s the answer.’
          ‘No it’s not,’ she persisted. ‘Why wasn’t he doing the job properly? Are you really trying to tell me that this huge liner, with a crew of a thousand, didn’t have somebody who could steer the boat properly? I mean, the iceberg was about a thousand times bigger than the boat. You might perhaps excuse the big iceberg for not noticing a little boat, but you can scarcely excuse the little boat for not noticing a huge iceberg.’
          ‘So you want the true story?’ I asked.
          ‘Yes,’ she said.
          ‘The story begins with the captain, Mr Cycle Mata. He had always wanted to be the captain of a big ship, but nobody would ever give him the job. Over a career of many years in many ships he had worked all the way up from able seaman to chief engineer, but the ship owners would never let him steer, let alone appoint him captain.’
          ‘Why not?’
          ‘Nobody’s quite sure, but some say he was entirely lacking in any sense of direction.’
          ‘So what did he do?’
          ‘He decided to build his own ship, and make himself the captain of it. And so, in the shipyards of Belfast he spent ten years building the biggest passenger liner the world had ever seen. When the Titanic set sail from Southampton on its maiden voyage it had two thousand passengers, whom he had promised to take to New York in only 90 hours. He was front page news all over the world.’
          ‘But he didn’t know how to steer the ship?’
          ‘That wasn’t his problem. He employed officers who could do all that. A man called Dotty Scotty was made Vice-Captain. He had a safe pair of hands, although they were a bit wobbly. But at least he knew the difference between north and south, port and starboard, matters that had always been a complete mystery to Cycle Mata. As Purser, Cycle Mata appointed Axe Chikwale, a man who knew how to squeeze money out of the rich first class passengers so that the Captain could live in luxury. Splinter Kapimbe was First Officer in charge of discipline. Second Officer GBM was the Great Banqueting Manager and Chipembele Kambilimbili was officer in charge of sport and entertainment.
          ‘So they all set sail for New York. What went wrong?’
          ‘Nothing went wrong. The whole system worked quite well, even though Cycle Mata never called any management meetings. He just dealt with his officers individually.’
          ‘His previous experience had been in the engine room.’
          ‘Exactly. So he’d never heard of a management meeting, he just gave orders.’
          ‘Without consensus, wasn’t he in danger of the others ganging up on him?’
          ‘He just demanded personal loyalty to himself.’
          ‘Didn’t it sometimes happen that some officers would suspect that one amongst them was more favoured, and others were being done down? Mutiny is always a danger on board ship!’
          ‘Cycle Mata was too smart for that. He would call officers into his cabin one at a time, and say to each of them My dear fellow, you are my favourite and preferred officer. You are like a son to me. You are my successor. When I retire you will be the Captain of the Ship. But don’t tell any of the others, or they might become jealous of you.’
          ‘And they all fell for that story?’ laughed Katendi.
          ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘Each of them had a very high opinion of themselves but a low opinions of the others, so each was very convinced that they were the natural choice as the next captain. So each of them greatly respected the Captain, calling him Your Excellency, and following behind like little dogs as His Excellency did his daily inspection of the deck, giving orders such as ‘Paint that rail! Clear those plates! Rearrange those deckchairs in straight lines!’
          ‘He was even concerned with the arrangement of the deckchairs!’ Katendi marvelled. ‘If he had everything under such control, what went wrong?’
          ‘Just one little thing went wrong. One day, during his morning inspection, His Excellency did not feel so excellent, and suddenly collapsed flat on the deck. Everybody thought he must be dead. But none of his officers had time to check because each had to quickly establish his position as the new captain. So each summoned his subordinates and organized to take control of the ship. One officer led his men to the bridge to control the wheel, and met several rival factions! Others ran to the purser’s office to secure the safe. The entire ship descended into complete and continuing chaos. The control room became a battleground as the engine ran full throttle. As the first class passengers hid in their cabins, the second class passengers looted the shops, the third class passengers feasted in the first class kitchen and the fourth class passengers were recruited into the rival armies of the rival officers.’
          ‘Then the ship hit the iceberg.’
          ‘Exactly,’ I replied.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pabwato Chaos

Pabwato Chaos

            I was busy exploring the mysteries of a brandy bottle when whistling through the door came my grandson Khondwa, wearing narrow jeans and a wide smirk. ‘Hullo,’ I said, ‘have you come to see your Grandpa?’
          ‘Not really,’ he said, ‘I’ve come to get some lunch.’ And so, without any further ado, he disappeared in the direction of the kitchen. Five minutes later he came back with an assortment of cornflakes, biscuits, cake and strawberry jam, and some dark and evil looking drink.
          ‘I thought you were supposed to be away in boarding school,’ I said. ‘Didn’t your father send you to Pabwato Secondary?’
          ‘School’s finished,’ he said. ‘I’m on holiday.’
          ‘Funny name for a school, Pabwato,’ I said.
          ‘That’s your problem, Grandpa,’ he said, as he wiped some strawberry jam from his nose, ‘you think everything’s funny.’
          ‘But the school is in Mpika,’ I persisted. ‘Funny place for a boat.’
          He took a long swig of the filthy black liquid. ‘It’s the symbol of the school. Symbol of what we stand for.’
          ‘Oh, I get it,’ I said. ‘All paddle together. Take orders from the captain. All team mates, cooperating for collective progress, moving in the right direction, getting ahead. Getting ready for the long race ahead of you. Marvellous thing, education.’
          ‘It was a long time since you were at school, Grandpa,’ Khondwa laughed. ‘It’s not like that anymore.’
          ‘No computers in my day,’ I admitted. ‘But we still got our qualifications. School and university. Then get a good job. All work for the common good. Improve the world. All paddle together. I’m sure you’ll do well, Khondwa my boy!’
          ‘It’s not like that anymore,’ Khondwa repeated. ‘A university degree is a sure route to unemployment. At Pabwato we prepare for the real world!’
          ‘Oh very good!’ I said. ‘Vocational training. Not everybody can get to university. Bit of agriculture and carpentry! Honest sweat! Very good for you! Make a man of you!’
          ‘Poor old Grandpa,’ sighed Khondwa. ‘You’re really living in the past. How old are you now?’
          I took a swig of the brandy. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘What do you do at this damned Pabwato?’
          ‘We’re trained for power struggle,’ replied Khondwa. ‘The school is founded on the educational method of Perpetual Fiasco. The school is divided into two camps, and we fight for possession of the Pabwato.’
          ‘There really is a boat?’
          ‘Oh yes. A huge wooden canoe with a hundred paddles. The whole curriculum is concerned with who can get control of the Pabwato! That’s what life is about, Grandpa! Power! It’s us or them! Control or be controlled!’
          ‘Don’t you study maths, science, history, that sort of thing?’ I wondered.
          ‘Nobody knows anything about things like that in Pabwato. The only subject is Politics – the pursuit of Power.’
          ‘And how is power obtained?’
          ‘Not by economics or maths,’ laughed Khondwa. ‘Power is obtained and maintained by force!’
          ‘But where is the Headmaster in all this?’
          ‘He’s the Captain of the Pabwato. He always acts as the Referee and gives rewards to the crew that has captured the boat!’
          ‘But you’re on dry land. What are the paddles for?’
          ‘For hitting people round the side of the head. The crew wields the Paddle Force, and the attacking pirates use the Punching Fist, and the entire battle is called the Pabwato Fiasco. This is what it’s like in the PF! It’s PF versus PF!’
          ‘Has the school always been run this way?’
          ‘Oh yes, ever since it was founded by the Headmaster, Mr Chimbwi Noplan.’
          ‘Are there any teachers?’
          ‘He doesn’t need any, he knows it all.’
          ‘Is there a Board of Governors?’
          ‘All appointed by the Headmaster.’
          ‘So which students make up the crew and which play the pirates?
          ‘It depends on which side wins.’
          ‘But who decides who joins which side?’
          ‘One side is led by the officers of the school cadets, and this is known as the Great Big Military. The other side is led by the school prefects, and they are known as the Ministry of Justice.’
          ‘And what do they mean by Military?’
          ‘They mean Might is Right!’
          ‘And what do they mean by Justice?’
          ‘They mean Revenge!’
          ‘And does the system work?’
          ‘It all worked very well until a couple of months ago.’
          ‘What happened then?’
          ‘Our dear Headmaster, Captain Chimbwi Noplan, suddenly disappeared. After that, the Pabwato Fiasco game had no Referee.’
          ‘Where did he go?’
          ‘Nobody knows. Some people say the Barotse Royal Establishment were after him for stealing their Nalikwanda. Others say he just got bored with the endless chaos of Pabwato Fiasco, and went away on a world tour.’
          ‘So what happened then?’
          ‘The Great Big Military weren’t content with just capturing the Pabwato, they wanted the entire school, and to take over control from the missing Chimbwi. So then the Ministry of Justice took revenge and burnt Pabwato to ashes.’
          ‘You mean the boat?’
          ‘The entire school!’
          ‘I was wondering,’ I said, ‘why you’re school term had ended so soon . What are you going to do now?’
          ‘I was thinking of joining the Youth Wing of the Movement for Murdering Democracy,’ he said.
          ‘Yes,’ I said, as I patted him on the shoulder. ‘Now you’ve had a good grounding in politics, I’m sure you’re well qualified to play your part in destroying the entire country.’

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Cabinet

The Cabinet

            I put my head round the Editor’s door. ‘Ha ha Richard,’ I said, ‘There’s no job for me today, so I’m off to the bar!’
          ‘Not so fast!’ he replied. ‘I want you to go and interview the Cabinet!’
          ‘What!’ I laughed. ‘You must be joking!’
          ‘I’m certainly not,’ he replied, pulling a serious face. ‘I’m fed up with you just sitting on your bum and making up stories, rather than going out there and digging up a real story. So you go and interview the Cabinet!’
          ‘Hah!’ I cackled, ‘I wouldn’t even know where to find them. Do they meet at the Secretariat or State House? Or at Crapsody's? Or do they ever meet? Where are they? They’re probably all abroad seeking medical treatment. I think I’ll write something about that.’
          ‘Look, Kalaki,’ he said seriously, ‘I’m fed up with reading stories from your brandy bottle. Go and interview the Cabinet. In case you didn’t know, they all stay at the Cabinet Old People’s Home at Chainama Hospital.’
          So I got on my bike and off I went. An hour later I was knocking on the door of the Chainama Superintendent, Dr Mankhwala. ‘Kalaki!’ he said, as he rose to greet me. ‘Have you had a relapse? Got the shakes again?’
          ‘It’s not that,’ I said. ‘I’ve just had the brilliant idea of interviewing the Cabinet.’
          ‘Oh dear,’ he said, ‘I try to keep them away from journalists. You know they’re all rather old and confused, and get very irritated if anybody asks them a question because they never know the answer.’
          ‘Don’t worry about that,’ I said. ‘My technique is just to let them babble, and write down everything they say.’
          So off we went to the Cabinet Old People’s Home, built in a wooded area of Chainama, away from prying eyes. The first room we came to said Vice President Dotty Scotty. Mankhwala knocked on the door, and in we went.
          There he sat in the October heat, an old man hunched on an ancient Dundee chair, wrapped in a thick blanket in front of a roaring wood fire. He looked terribly pale and the skin under his chin hung in folds like a pair of curtains. ‘Feel my skin, doctor,’ he said in a quavering voice. ‘Cold. I’ve gone all white. I can’t keep warm. I need a diagnosis. I may be dead.’
          ‘Don’t worry Dotty,’ said Mankhwala soothingly, ‘I’ll bring the pathologist to have a look at you.’
          ‘They were all clever chaps once,’ said Mankhwala sadly, as we walked down the corridor. ‘This is what happens if you linger on too long.’
          The next room contained nothing but boxes of pills, piled high to the ceiling. Except that in a far corner sat the remains of the Minister of Medicines, Dr Joseph Kasombwe, strangely dressed in a thick woolen English suit. ‘Don’t take my pills,’ he sobbed. ‘The donors won’t give me any more after I lost the last lot!’
          The next room was equally strange in an entirely different way. There, on an academic throne, up on a high platform, sat a little man fully dressed in a purple gown and golden mortarboard. On the wall around him were all his certificates, and on the shelves were many photos of himself wearing different gowns. He was the Minister of Certificates, Professor Pompous Piri-Piri. ‘These students just need to study!’ he suddenly screeched. ‘Why do they always talk about hostels, toilets, bathrooms and dining rooms! They must just shut up, stay in the library, and study their books!’
          I looked round the room puzzled. ‘But no books in here?’
          He tapped his forehead with his forefinger and squealed sarcastically ‘It’s all in here! I read all the books to collect all these certificates!’
          ‘Very sad,’ said Munkhwala as we pushed on down the corridor. ‘His certificates are still here, but his brains have gone.’
          The next experience was even more frightening. The inmate was a little fellow with splayed eyes, one looking at us and the other watching his back. ‘They’re after me!’ he shrieked, clutching at my sleeve. ‘All these ministers are out to get me. They’re jealous of me because I am the only one who’s sane! They are mad jealous tribalists, thieves and assassins, but I shall discipline them because I am the Minister of Discipline!’ He scurried to a corner and hid behind a bookcase full of law books, from whence came a heart-rending screech ‘I am not scared because I was appointed by the Great Leader!’
          And so we came to the door labeled The Great Leader. Mankhwala took out a key to unlock the door. ‘What?’ I said. ‘Do you have to lock him in?’
          ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I have to lock the others out!’
          He opened the door, and we went into a completely bare and empty room. ‘They must never know that their Great Leader has gone. One day he just disappeared, and took all his promises with him. His poor Cabinet is driven to distraction and madness, waiting for him to come out of this room and inspire them with his great vision, and remind them of his promises. But they waited in vain, driven further into madness and despair. Every day they bang their heads on this door, but no response. He was the one who appointed all of them, and without their leader they are lost souls.’
          We walked out of the Old People’s Home onto the wide lawn. ‘But how can we be governed,’ I wondered, ‘with the entire Cabinet locked up here, waiting for nothing?’
          ‘Don’t worry,’ he laughed. ‘We’re much better off without them.’