The succession, p.1
The Succession, p.1Besa Mwaba
Copyright 2013 Besa Mwaba
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School head teacher Thomas Jefferson- a Scottish expatriate seconded to Zambia- retires in three months’ time after serving in Africa for eighteen years and must recommend his successor to the board. Three ambitious senior teachers see this as an opportunity for career advancement and they engage in a fierce and often humorous suitability competition in order to catch the attention of the appointing authority. Only one position is up for grabs though.
FINALLY, head teacher Thomas Jefferson reached the main point for having called this meeting.
“Fellow teachers, as you are all aware, the Board has accepted my retirement from my position as Headmaster of this school. I have served this school for eighteen years and am grateful for the opportunity availed to me. The Board has also communicated that it shall fill the vacant position in the next few weeks. There is no automatic replacement so this might just prove to be an opportunity for one of you.
That will be all for this morning’s meeting. It is now nine o’clock and we must attend to our various classes now.”
As the twenty-six teachers rose from the old wooden table around which they had sat during the meeting, they clustered themselves into their usual “gossip” groups. Thomas Jefferson had a good idea of what the topic was, and as he rose from his own seat at the head of the wooden table, he adjusted his spectacles.
Eighteen years earlier and straight from his native Scotland, Thomas Jefferson had joined this missionary school as a teacher of English. Before coming to Africa, he had been apprehensive of what the situation would turn out to be. He had suspected that lions freely prowled the streets in Africa at night. He had believed that a few Africans still wore tree barks to cover their buttocks, were extremely promiscuous, lazy and that they lacked common intelligence. And that they still worshipped false gods in mountains. Indoctrinating biblical teachings and values into the staff and pupils, and through these, to the rest of the community had been one of the prominent terms of his job offer.
To prepare for the challenge of converting the people to Christianity and also to curb the promiscuity, he had carried with him nicely packed bibles and pamphlets. He had not altogether been certain on how he was supposed to curb the reported "laziness" of the local people other than through sheer physical force. To prepare for the anticipated harsh, primitive and unsophisticated African life, he had arranged two pairs of khaki shorts of surpassing ugliness, two short sleeved shirts and one jacket. For his transport, he had managed to find for himself an old VW which the owner had planned to incinerate after no one showed any interest in it during a local auction sale.
Upon his arrival in Zambia, Jefferson had been surprised to find roads, buildings, bars, shopping malls, banks, night clubs, hospitals and all the latest vehicles that he had left back in Scotland. As a result, he had starkly stood out with his ancient appearance and transport mode, gaining constant stares and ridicule from curious local onlookers.
He had proceeded to rural Kabwe where Sambililo mission school was situated. Again he had been shocked that the school had been built in a similar manner to the ones he had left in Scotland. He had felt uneasy as the teachers at the school had all dressed up to welcome him.
He had only worked for a year as a senior teacher of English before rising to the position of Deputy Headmaster under Peter Graham. Three years later, Peter Graham had returned to Ireland, and Thomas had replaced him as school Headmaster.
He had been at the helm of the school since then.
As he hung his striped jacket onto his chair in his office, the issue of his successor came to mind. After working with them for a long time, he was aware that a good number of them had the necessary skill, experience and academic background and that one of them could emerge from the group.
To his relief, he stumbled upon a realization that the task of choosing his successor would be much easier now than it would have been in the past. In the past, the Zambian staff had resented his decision whenever a promotion went to a European teacher. They complained that there was racism at the school and became hostile to the promoted European teachers. Efforts to explain to the teachers that more than experience was required fell on deaf ears.
An incident of ten years earlier came to mind. A young teacher from Ireland had won promotion to a vacant senior teaching role, and the Zambian teachers who had also been expectant had raised a protest. Though not required to do so, Thomas Jefferson had decided to explain to the protesting teachers that the major consideration in the promotion had been the academic status.
The depth of the resentment had become manifest a week later when the newly promoted teacher had asked her Zambian counterpart to show her where she could buy pounded groundnuts to try out a local cuisine.
“Just ask your degree,” she had been told.
The number of foreign teachers at the school had continued dwindling as their contracts expired one by one. Jefferson was the only European teacher left at the school now and for the first time, he realized that there wouldn’t be another cry of racism when a new head was selected.
JUMA Siame, a senior teacher of Chemistry at Sambililo, walked confidently to a grade twelve class. Since graduating from Kwame Nkrumah College with a Teaching diploma eight years earlier, he had always set for himself a target of achieving a hundred percent pass rate in every exam class he handled. Not once had this target ever been even neared, but that did not discourage him from renewing the same target every year. Successive grade twelve classes had kept failing him badly every year, but he was hopeful that this time there was promise. The class he was about to handle that morning was by far the brightest combination of pupils yet. Having that thought on that morning made him very happy.
In reality though, something else made him happy that morning. During the staff meeting, the head teacher had mentioned that his successor would be selected from among the Zambian teachers this time. For a Zambian to occupy that position, it meant that the board had enough confidence in the teachers. Of course, that gesture would be of little or no use to him as an individual if the promotion did not came his way. But he was very sure that it would come his way. With a respected diploma and eight years’ working experience, he felt that he was equal to the task. Added to this was the fact that he was a married man, and by perception, responsible. Everyone knew that Juma was a deacon at a local church which held its noisy prayers at the school every weekend,
As Juma reached his class, he caught sight of another teacher, Moses Phiri. The two had a lot in common. Both taught grade twelve classes and they were also senior teachers. However, whereas Juma taught Chemistry, Moses taught Mathematics.
“How is your morning, Moses?” Juma asked, extending his hand for a hand shake. Moses shook it warmly and replied, “As fine as it can be. By the way, did your wife prepare those sweet potatoes with peanut again for your lunch today? Please invite me for lunch. Those potatoes we had last time were delicious!”
“Ah, today she prepared nothing. You see as we move towards the end of the month, we have less money at our disposal. But if you love peanut in sweet potatoes that much, why don’t you marry a Bemba woman?”
"You should know!" laughed Juma.
The two teachers laughed and then went their separate ways to their respective classes.
Juma took a moment to reflect on Moses. He found Moses to be eccentric. Whereas all the other teachers carried books and other aids to their classes, Moses carried nothing. Instead, he only moved with a stick in his hand. And whenever he was not holding conversation with anyone, he would be whistling silly tunes to himself. He never tucked his shirt, and being tall at almost six feet, he always walked with huge awkward steps.
Moses had joined the school three years earlier straight from the University of Zambia, where he had graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Education. He was easy going and he freely mingled with his fellow staff members. But when it came to pupils he was a menace. That was especially true for male pupils.
Apart from these two teachers, the school had two other senior teachers, Ackim Hamweenda and Nawa Sitali, teachers of Agriculture science and Biology respectively. Juma hadn’t seen Ackim in a long while, but he had seen Nawa in that morning’s staff meeting. Nawa overtly loved his job, and he was usually the first teacher to arrive for work. He had built a reputation with the teachers and pupils alike, having been at the school for seventeen years. His examination classes usually performed well year in, year out.
Regardless of the weather, Nawa was always seen in some jacket, the favorite of which was a green checked one. He always said that a gentleman knew no weather.
Like Juma, Nawa was a married man. He had six children and looked after nieces and nephews in his small two-bedroom house.
As Juma settled to teach his grade twelve class that morning, a sudden realization hit him. He was probably not the only teacher in queue for the upcoming vacant job at the school.
How many times has this happened?
This was the question on Moses’ mind as he stared at Maria, one of his pupils, sleeping soundly next to him on his bed. He ran his fingers through her short, black hair and she moaned sleepily. Moses knew very well that this act, which he had now turned into a risky regular practice, could earn him a straight dismissal if he was to be caught and reported to the headmaster. But Moses toyed dangerously with a thought that he was not going to be punished for this. He drew his hope from two factors, the first of which was that there was a critical shortage of well trained teachers at the school and the school would not risk losing a good teacher like him. Secondly, someone had whispered to him at the bar that all male teachers, including the headmaster himself, indulged in the same hobby regularly. Moses had wanted to know the source of those rumors but the man telling him was not a teacher. He had just been told by someone who had himself been told by another person who had claimed to have been told by someone who knew what was going on at the school. As a result, Moses knew that the second defense was as solid as water and that in an event he ever tried to raise it, it would merely be grounds for yet another legitimate dismissal.
How many times?
Moses had noticed Maria in his grade ten class during an algebra lesson. She had not been taking any notes and she had not been asking any questions. When he gave the class a test in algebra, she had emerged thirty-second in a class of thirty-two pupils. Moses had instantly recognised a crisis and had asked her why her performance had been so pathetic. She had confessed that her background in Mathematics had been very poor and Moses had arranged to be coaching her privately. They had agreed on a reasonable monthly fee for the tuitions, seeing that she was only but a pupil with no income of her own.
When the time had come to pay the fees, Maria had at first said that she had come with the money and they had proceeded as usual with the tuition in Moses' house. At the end of the session, Moses had asked for his payment. She had opened her purse but there had been no money. She had then searched herself all over but to no avail. Afterwards she had stripped down to her underwear looking for the money but none could be found. Finally, even the underwear had been stripped but still no money had been found. Instead, she had ended up in his bed.
And this had happened thirteen times already.
The issue of paying the tuition money was never brought up again. Instead, it was Teacher Moses who now had to part with his scarce resources from his meager teacher salary to carter for her needs. And Maria was fashion conscious.
By seven thirty that morning, Moses was already at the school. As soon as he reached the staff room, he was told by one of the female teaches, who for some reason looked annoyed, that he was needed by the headmaster as soon as he arrived. Moses leaped up from his seat in the staff room and headed outside quickly. He was very much afraid. Why would the headmaster want to see him so early in the morning? Did it have something to do with the girls? Had someone reported him about his overnight extra curriculum exploits with Maria? Was a dismissal awaiting him?
Moses began to sweat profusely from every pore on his body. How now was he going to look after himself and his aged father in the village? What was he going to say? He took his long steps even faster this time, preferring to know whatever it was in store for him now rather than later. He reached the headmaster’s office and then knocked. A voice from inside invited him in. He walked in, still clutching his stick in his shivering hand.
Moses tried to gauge from the headmaster’s face whether his suspicions were correct or not. But he found this difficult, partly because the headmaster was not the type to show emotion on his face and also partly because his face was covered by the glass from which he was drinking water. Moses waited impatiently. He sincerely felt that the headmaster was testing his patience. Even if Moses was wrong and was about to be sentenced to death, he found it unacceptable that the headmaster was torturing him with such unnecessary suspense.
“Good morning sir,” Moses blurted out at last after seeing that the headmaster was taking forever to set the ball rolling. He preferred to get done with it once and for all.
“Good morning Moses, please pull a seat,” replied the headmaster. Moses almost declined, but then quickly changed his mind and sat down. He looked at the headmaster impatiently.
“How is work proceeding with you?” the headmaster asked. Moses did not like such questions at such times.
“Fine,” he replied quickly, not wanting to waste any time on a formality question.
“And are you receiving support from the other teachers?”
Moses almost told the headmaster to quit beating about the bush but he instead said, “Yes.”
The headmaster then proceeded to take another long swig from his glass as Moses almost burst with anxiety. Was this about the Maria scandal?
“It is a tradition of this school at this time every year to draw up a program for Preventive Maintenance of the school. The teacher who handled the last one did well, although there were some few problems. But with you in charge this time, I expect it to run smoothly. I am putting you in charge of the program, to manage it this year.”
Moses was very, very delighted. With a broad smile he said, “Thank you very much sir. I will not let you down sir.”
He was so relieved.
“As you know, this program helps us keep our school clean and prevents diseases. It means I do not expect to see stagnant water bodies, tall grass, dirty surroundings or indeed any atmosphere that can put the pupils at risk of contracting diseases.”
“Count it done sir.”
“Secondly, it builds in pupils the ability to learn work, to be responsible…”
“Capacity Building sir,” he cut in.
"Sorry sir, I meant that by making pupils take responsibility for their own cleanliness, we are building capacity in them for the future."
“Right. And I have full confidence in you.”
“I am humbled sir.”
“Well, get down to work then. Remember that on this assignment, my appraisal will be based on the results t
As soon as Moses walked out of the headmaster’s office, he threw a clenched fist into the air. He was very happy.
He had expected a disastrous outcome from their meeting, but it had been very different. It had confirmed what had been on his mind for some days now, that he was been seriously considered for a position of higher responsibility. The headmaster had used the term “manage” which obviously meant that he was being considered for a vacant managerial job. Above all else, the headmaster had stated clearly that he had full confidence in him. If that was not a strong enough hint, nothing would be.
He just had to become the next head teacher.
These happy thoughts made him reflect on his personal life. He knew quite clearly that his affairs with school girls were inappropriate, and he had to do something about it to clear his image. As long as no one discovered the affair, he would be alright. But if the worst happened and he was cornered, Moses could always suggest that being a single man, he was dating for the purpose of finding a marriage mate. But that still could not justify his dating school girls. Perhaps he had to think seriously about ending these affairs.
That was all Moses had to worry about. Otherwise, his performance at work had been good. His pupils pass rates had always been good. There were always more of his pupils passing Mathematics than those failing it.
And this improvement was generally credited to his teaching prowess.
There was above all one area in which Moses had a clear advantage over his fellow teachers. He possessed a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Zambia. There was only one other teacher who had a degree, but he was on suspension because of indiscipline after a fist fight with one of his male pupils. Moses ruled him out of the race. Obviously, he was the only one worth monitoring and the headmaster’s assignment had confirmed it. He would execute the assignment above expectation and earn the promotion. He would be the next headmaster without question.
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