Among the students, we were lucky to have two or three people who were coming from the extension field to upgrade their skills. So these became our guides to the professional field. We were eager to get going, but also anxious to know the possible opportunities for professional advancement.
Old man Chisaka was one such field veteran. He was returning to college after 20 years gap, and unsurprisingly some of the academic stuff really bamboozled him. I had quite a good relationship with him, and would help him with some of the sticky stuff. On quiet days, I would sit with him and quiz him about the field. The one consistent impression that you got from the talks was that “extension” was not a glamorous job. For one, it was a job that took you to the margins of society. In fact, some of the areas that you might work in were so spectacularly remote, they can best be described as the margin of the margin!
And again, you did not work with rich people. If anything, you were supposed to work more with the poor, because they were in more comparative need of your services. For us, it was all hypothetical, and of course there was another angle to it. One of the field veterans, whom we called Mr. Majee was predisposed to advertise the opposite: the wealth that he accumulated working in a very marginalised area! Opportunities were everywhere in such an environment, so went the theory. And your standing in society was very high. As it turned out later, everything was correct on all counts! But at that moment in 2004, it all seemed quite contradictory, but certainly exciting!
As for me, well…I don’t know. I saw myself, in my own mind, more as a future teacher, for whatever reason! That was just how I projected myself in my mind, and I guess that went to become reality. The consequence of this self-image was that I was more predisposed to learning the underlying principles of things, to have a firmer grasp, to go beyond mere knowledge of the case. I guess it’s a trait that I have kept: I am more interested in the bigger picture than the immediate issues. And I have found that once you master the principles of any discipline, the nitty-gritties are easier to put in their right place.
How friendships were born and maintained I am not sure. I guess things happen naturally, and compatible elements gravitate towards each other. And how we came to be quite a tight trio- me, Harbour and Chinos I am never sure. But that was how it turned out. We did stuff together, read together, went hunting for money in the farms together. Yes, in that final year, some of us were already confident enough to go into the farms and do small technical jobs: a castration here; wound management there; deworming here. That was Harbour’s doing of course: he was much older than us and knew his way around the area. Plus he had a flair for marketing: he had more confidence in our abilities than I could ever admit myself. And on our way from the weekend sojourns, we would pass through the Blue Ridge Supermarket and stock up on expensive goodies: good coffee, good powdered milk, biscuits, fruits! It wasn’t much, but it was the kind of experiences that set us apart and cemented the friendship.
But come to think of it, I guess I know what made us tick. For one, all three of us were quite humorous people: we liked to laugh. And those two guys had such sense of irreverent humour, they were a blast! There was one particular lecturer who was so strict, he became the butt of some of our uncharitable jokes. Like the time Harbour came with a classic. The lecturer, whom we called Teacher, was still single and quite liked the girls. But in our judgement, his problem was that he could not “attack!”. So Harbour came with this classic. Harbour said that one of these days we would have to get Teacher into a room with a girl and lock them up. Then we check for progress at hourly intervals. The mental image of the awkward Teacher marooned with a girl in a room was enough to crack everybody up! And being Harbour, he went on to say it would not be surprising to find him reading her a Bible!
Yet again, come to think of it, it wasn’t just the humour. It was also the substance. While Chinos came across all breezy and cheery, there was something honourable, old fashioned about him. He was competitive (we were all competitive!), but not in an unpleasant way. He was solid academically, and you could see him doing important things. He took his studies seriously, as any young man from a poor background who senses his break would. So in that respect we were quite alike.
The rains came late that year, so in October the water level in Mazowe Dam was quite low. We were writing our final year exam in December, and we ready for the field, for an unknown future. Our last taught lecture was Aquaculture, and that required us to do a few practicals with nets in Mazowe Dam.
The College is situated by the dam, a few kilometres upstream from the dam wall. So it wasn’t much of a journey to get to the sight of the practical. Because water levels were low, we were rowed into an “island” so we could find deeper water to do the practicals. What happened next, will remain with me forever. One thing for sure, we were all excited at the outing. And some of us took a few playful dips into the water as we waited for the lecturers to find a perfect spot.
The last dip
Chinos was among those who took a dip to swim on that fateful, hot October morning. And he drowned. Just like that. We had swum together on other occasions: he was a good swimmer. What happened to him, nobody can claim to know even today. He just went under, and people thought he was being his playful self, but he stayed there. Next thing, we watched 2 hours later as they dragged his ashen-coloured body out of the water, to an eerily silent group of young people witnessing a senseless loss to the nicest person you would ever know.
It was never the same after that. The 2 months until December were some of the most traumatic that I have ever known.
So what is there left to say? Only that I remember, back then, making a vague vow to myself to honour Chinos somehow. It’s not something that we normally do back home in Zimbabwe, but sponsoring an endowed prize in his name would not be amiss. The Alois Chinopfumbuka Prize For Dedication maybe? I like the sound of it.