Sept 8 It was a small, crumbling concrete building half way up a steep dusty red hill. It had four rooms, each with spaces in the walls roughly the size and shape of windows and doors. There were no windows and doors. A mangy stray dog wandered in. Two rooms were empty but for pieces of cracked slate fastened loosely to one wall. The other two were packed with splintered wooden benches. There were no lights, nor any sign of electrical outlets or wiring. There were no books, desks, bulletin boards, writing utensils, rulers, posters, or other items normally associated with learning. In fact, there was not a single written word to be found in the entire building.
It was two o’clock, the hour that classes were scheduled to begin. (Primary school students occupy the building in the morning and clear out at lunch time to make way for secondary school students in the afternoon.) But the place was deserted. By 2:30 a half-dozen students had wandered in, mostly adults who wanted to get a degrees in order pursue specialized college courses. It was a few minutes before 3:00 when a teacher finally arrived. Biology. He gave a 30 minute lecture on mitosis. Two students took fastidious notes. The rest idly gazed out the hole in the wall. I couldn’t help but wonder why they were learning about mitosis. It seemed so disconnected from their daily lives and livelihoods.
No other teachers showed up that day.
I asked a student about history class. He told me it had been a month or two since the history teacher had showed up, but he offered me his notebook. The most recent entry was a set of class notes dated in July, detailing the escalation of the conflict between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in Russia between 1905 and 1917.
Sept 22 We went to the capital city of Lilongwe to take care of some administrative tasks. While we were there we made a trip to the brand new supermarket – a Shoprite, I believe of the same chain that operates in the US. Sliding glass doors whisked us into a massive airconditioned space with high vaulted ceilings. Aisle upon isle of food goods stretched out before us. Suddenly my aversion to flourecent lights, excessive consumerism and large chain stores disolved. For a few minutes, I was home. We indulged in lavish and luxurious products: peanut butter, yogurt packaged in individual serving cups, fruit disinfected and wrapped in cellophane, Diet Coke, and a Snickers bar. It was glorious.