Journey to Chasela by Mwizenge S. Tembo

After my father completed his teacher training at Katete Teacher Training College, his first school assignment was at Chasela Primary School in the Luangwa Valley among the Bisa people. At the time the valley had numerous wild animals roaming like Africa had been probably for thousands of years. Lions, buffaloes, impalas, hyenas, monkeys, leopards, and elephants were everywhere night and day. Humans and deadly encounters with wild animals were common.

The Cape Buffalo; one of the meanest and most dangerous wild animals

Sometime in late 1959, my mother arrived back at our village. I had lived with my grandparents for two years; first herding goats and later doing Sub A at Boyole School. My mother had come to get me to join the family  at Chasela Primary School.

We caught the colonial Northern Rhodesia Central African Road Services (CARS) bus at Hoya along Chama-Lundazi Road. My mother and I spent a night at the rest house in Lundazi. It was a huge building with tiles for a roof. It had upstairs and downstairs. It cost you six pence for upstairs and 3 pence per night for downstairs. The following day at noon, we boarded the bus for Chief Mwanya. The road was narrow and bumpy at first. Later on the bus picked up speed. It was going so fast and trees were zooming by so close to the road I wondered how the driver missed crushing into them. The repeated bumps, swerves, up and downs were so violent and nerve jarring that adults, including my mother, were vomiting out of the bus windows. I stood all the way and was enjoying the experience. At 3:00 pm that afternoon, we arrived at Lumimba Catholic Mission station. We all came out for refreshments. There were streaks of vomit all along the bus outside. None of the adults could eat because their stomachs were so upset. My mother bought me nshima with chicken and I ate it all cleaning the plate. At 6:00 pm that evening we arrived at Chief Mwanya. My mother and I spent a night at one of the chief’s guest houses since the Chief knew my father as the Head Teacher  at Chasela Primary School.

Early the following morning, my mother and I set off on foot for Chasela Primary School. But first she went into the bush and broke a small branch of the mnyongoroka tree. She stripped the fiber and broke the stick into 4 pieces which she threw in all four directions; North, South, West, and East. My mother was carrying a bundle on her head of our clothes and blankets. I was small so my mother had to walk at my slow small boy’s pace.

By 9:00 am, the searing valley heat was on and we were walking bare feet. By noon, our drinking water was gone, I was trotting as the ground was scalding my feet and I was crying and asking my mother to carry me. You could smell and see the seething heat. The earth, dust and dirt were sizzling hot. My feet and legs were aching and threatening to turn into jelly every step I took. My mother kept saying we were almost there and “your dad has nshima with chicken ready and plenty of drinking water”. At one point my mother pointed to a distance where we could see some baboons and herd of buffalo.

I was by now bawling with both my hands behind my head and pleading with my mother for us to stop so I could rest. She said we could not afford to stop, as there were too many lions, leopards, and hyenas that came out at night. We could be meat. This was true. We had to get home before dark.

She kept encouraging me to walk a few more yards with: “The house is just beyond those bushes”. At 3:00 pm, we finally arrived at the house. I had walked ten miles in seething heat and bare foot. I collapsed, did not eat dinner and slept all night. The following day I could hardly walk as my feet and legs were swollen. This is where I was to live for the next 2 years; a place among the Bisa people in the Luangwa Valley with incredible wild life everywhere everyday. Incidentally when my boys were small they used to like the “bus ride to Chasela” with daddy. I would put them on my knee, bump them violently up and down, half tip them over on sharp bends, and they would pretend to throw up like grandma did. They all loved the ride and begged me to give them the ride to Chasela any spare moment.