The best fighters of this world had known defeat a hundred folds. And the bravest ones have all once been afraid of their own dreams
Every person has that dark, cold, lonely place in them…
Sikeji is a christian boarding school located in the Kalene Hill, in the remote Ikelenge district of northwest Zambia. It was built to cater the affluent Zambian children and those of the many expats’.It was where I was from preschool to 2nd grade.
It was the late 1980s when, after 7 years of being a municipal health officer, my Dad, without the security of a specialty training, and with five very young children approaching school age, decided to join the UN Peace Corps as a doctor. It was 18 long hours of plane travel and 2 lay overs before we finally arrived in Lusaca airport where my Dad was waiting for us. It was the middle of June and it was cold and wet in Zambia, which is a landlocked republic in Southern Africa. We stayed in a hotel for 2 weeks before we took the long and straight drive to Mwinilunga where my Dad was stationed along with 5 Indian doctors and 3 British delegates. This was the time when AIDS was wiping out an entire village of Zambians, and the country was struggling in deep mire in terms of economics and healthcare after years of being besieged by civil war.
In a child’s eyes, being in a place where there were more forests than houses, where there were more people than food, where the nights were long and dark, where snakes get inside the pipes and get lost inside the house, where families grow their own garden because the market only comes to town once a week, is like being in a twilight zone. My parents decided to put my brother and I in the safest niche this place can offer, and so we were enrolled in Sikeji school came August, where the unfamiliar surroundings did not only continue to alienate us, but actually gave birth to the nightmares we still have until today.
Parents make the wrong decisions with the best intentions. It was an expensive school, and it’s the best there is even in British standards. Most of my classmates were white, coming from as far as Johannesburg and Pretoria. Children of the affluent British families who have established companies in South Africa. Most of them have been in Sikeji for years. For them to still be alive and lucid is beyond my comprehension at that time. To be in that place for longer than a few years is surreal. The short time I was there, I have already lost most of my light. A bit more time longer and I would have drowned myself in the nearby Zambian River.
I was towelled dry and soothed to sleep the first two nights I tried to run away from school. I did not get far. I tried to follow the car tracts on the muddy road presuming all the tracts were made by our car. But then a truck load of africans passed by ( farm workers from the school), they were chanting with drums and I got scared. I barged in the dining hall dirty and screaming, and late for dinner. My next attempts were punished with spanking (with a ping pong paddle). I was also denied my candy ration came Sunday.
The nights in Sikeji were particularly difficult. There were no one to comfort us when we have nightmares, and we have a lot. Bed wetting was severely punished with a ping pong paddle on the glutt. Mornings where chaotic. We were young, and most were barely weaned from diapers. I’d often get into inappropriate clothes for the weather and my socks were often mismatched. My brother who was younger would forget his socks altogether, or his shoes for that matter.
After months, we learned to push back. I particularly learned to grow as fast as I could because it’s what the circumstances called for. My brother regressed, and I grew overnight. Bullies were everywhere. Kids steal from one another and the small number of faculties and orderlies managing all the pupils were often overwhelmed. And so when I am pushed, I shoved. When someone kick my brother on the playground, I drew blood. Fear is often the most viable motivator for violence and I embraced both. I was easy to mutate. While I was a child outside, I had grown beyond my years in the inside. I never blamed my parents for putting us in a boarding school. I blamed circumstances. I blamed the inherent madness of the world and life itself. Loneliness fuel deep seated anger that often grows beyond the bearer if not extinguished. My experience however made me clingy and independent at the same time. It made me both broken and strong. The best fighters of this world had known defeat a hundred folds. And the bravest ones have all once been afraid of their own dreams.
I bear a calloused heart, and my soul had been stitched together many times over. I am made up of memories that consume and overwhelm. But I have never once known surrender. I fought until my battles were over, and I braved the unknown with the marks of yesterday written on my skin, on my heart, and on my soul. But I’ve moved on, a step forward at a time. And every distance I made from my brokenness is a conquest all on its own.