Humility is defined as ‘…having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.’
As we enter into winter months, I am drawn into a sunny and nostalgic trip down memory lane where I learnt my first lessons on humility. The approaching festive season reminds me of the excitement I used to feel growing up in Malawi as this time of year often meant a family road trip to the lake side (Lake Malawi).
Going to school in Malawi is and will always be a memorable experience that always helps me to keep things in perspective. I remember walking the 7 miles or so to our ‘local’ primary school alongside my 2 brothers and sister – often at the break of dawn. We were bare footed but full of pride at our matching tunics and Khakhi uniforms. We were fortunate enough to afford uniforms. They proved very practical, as the number of clothes in our closet was somewhat limited. Now before you break out the violin, I want to just make it clear that these are the happiest memories of my childhood. Why? Because things were simple and clear.
The school walk was often rich with many a story of bravado from my brothers, accentuated by frequent howls of laughter which were usually met with quiet reproach from my older sister. She is 11 years older than me and often shouldered the brunt of keeping us in line. I love her to bits. She is a trooper who continues to be a force to reckon with. Whilst we were adjusting our behaviour to her discipline, she would often giggle behind her hand so as not to let us see that our shenanigans were just as amusing to her as they were to us. She continues to play this role of cheering us on whilst keeping us in line, from time to time.
I often tagged along several steps behind my siblings – picking up twigs and pebbles that would prove to be unique and therefore act as a toy to play with for the rest of the day. Not to say that I didn’t pay attention in class, but sometimes it was necessary to entertain myself with something else whilst the teacher attended to the other eighty or so students in my class. Despite the conditions, my siblings and I all learnt to read and write (and a whole lot more) reasonably well in both our mother tongue (Chichewa) and English by the age of five.
We somehow excelled in our education, probably because of the strict nature of the teachers who often randomly picked pupils to the front of the class and used their long pointing stick to rap at the blackboard before fixing their eyes on the pupil. This was a cue to glance up at the teacher then timidly look down at my dusty feet before I made an attempt at reading the numbers and letters. Eighty eyes would often look on – the remainder were usually too busy playing with their version of a unique looking pebble or twig that they had picked up earlier. The threat of the teacher’s pointing stick being used for disciplining was often enough to get the best out of us. This and the very fact that the community was very small and any news of poor behaviour would reach our parents’ way before we would arrive home in the early evenings. So to avoid walking to a displeased parent, we often ensured that we learnt our ABC’s and whatever else was required.
You might be reading this and thinking ‘What a miserable way to grow up!’ and I agree it wasn’t always fun to be scraping from the bottom – but I cherish all the experiences that this period of my life taught me. In particular, I learnt to always try to keep things simple, cherish the simple things in life. At such a young age, the impression of the urgency to try our best was imprinted on most us and has been carried through to today. It is this same urgency to strive to do well and make a difference to our communities that has led to various personal and work related projects like the Reach Out Project, Moyo Academy and Moyo Aids Foundation. So as we enter the winter months, my family and I reminisce on our beginnings and renew our collective and individual commitments to try to keep things in perspective by keeping a firm hold on respect and humility.
Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy festive season!