An hour after leaving Malone camp, not another person or hut to be seen, we drew up to the maize grinding mill which my sons had repaired two months ago, deposited diesel for the engine, and cement for the laying of a concrete slab, being watched by the friendly villagers from a village unchanged from that of their forefathers. And when one of my men emptied a sack of empty tins and bottles I had rescued from our Malone camp garbage hole, they rushed forward to claim them. Such are the treasures of a people forgotten by the world.
We then drove the short distance up to M’Shalira Basic school: and basic it is. Close to the road, I found the headmaster, Mr Daka, resting in his grass and pole Chitenje, the crumbling and cracked staff quarters standing close-by. We drove up to the school: six classrooms of mud brick and mud floors - one new classroom built of grass walls had been added on, and signs of flooding all around. Children beavered away inside at arithmetic, unsupervised, but as quiet as the surrounding bush.
“My only teacher is away in Petauke to get his pay. We have to go every month to collect it and it takes a week. As you see I am the only one here now, ” said Daka.
“When last were you visited by someone from the Department of Education?”
“Oh, they never come here. They can’t drive. You can see.”
“And the elephant, they give us a hard life here”, he said, waving towards some mangled pawpaw trees nearby.”
I thought of how an elephant can eat 4% of his body weight in a night of garden raiding.
Later I interviewed three volunteer teachers, one a member of the CRB whom I knew, the other the Village Area Group Chairman, part of the group of six with whom I was developing a landuse plan for the 1 million acre area. We settled on K250 000 each per month, the same sum I paid to keep the village scouts employed, unpaid by Government for seven months: $50 each a month; it did not sound much but it would feed them and their families; the villagers after all earned about $.30 cents a day – if that.
Daka showed me the book store-room, which seemed well stocked. Picking up a few work books, mud fell from between the pages. The termites were at work. Looking up at the dividing wall I could see that the bricks would soon fall onto the books....