cropped as the boys’. We knew that many
of them suffered from such debilitating
diseases as bilharzia and malaria, yet they
looked healthy with a handsome sheen to
their dark skins.
After the slight rustling had subsided,
we were struck by the quiet intentness
with which the children fastened their
eyes upon their teacher. We had noticed
this same marked attention in other
schools, an attitude which stemmed from
the children’s eagerness to absorb as
much as possible in school. Their presence there was to them a privilege and
they seemed keenly aware of it.
The only light came through the window and door, for there was no electricity
in the whole Reserve except possibly at
the mission station where a private generator might run for a few evening hours to
provide electricity. Because the window
area was large and there were open spaces between the thatched roof and the
walls of the building, fresh air was plentiful. When the rains came, however, the
children got wet. When winter arrived,
they had no heat.
There were several distinct odors if one
wanted to bother to trace them. One was
the odor of straw from the thatching. Then
there was the musty odor of dust and cow
dung, of which the floor was composed.
The movement of the children had stirred
the acrid odor of unwashed bodies. Water
was precious and too valuable to use for
frequent personal washing, even if the children were inclined to wash frequently.
As our eyes grew accustomed to the dim
light, we listened to the now familiar direct
method of teaching English to these Sho-na-speaking children.
“Thees ees myah ahm,” said the teacher,
pointing to his arm.
The children repeated the words in unison, imitating precisely the incorrect pronunciation and intonations of the African
teacher, who himself had been taught English incorrectly by another African teacher. This seemingly perpetual transmission
of poor spoken English was an old story to
us by now.
“What ees thees?” asked the teacher,
pointing to his arm. Hands shot up at once,
and there was a great straining forward in
eagerness. “Yes,” said the teacher, pointing
to the most eager little girl already on her
feet before him.
“That,” she pointed to the teacher’s arm
and formed the words deliberately, “eez
“Correct,” commented the teacher, who
prepared to proceed with the lesson. The
little girl, however, as she sat quickly down,
shot us the briefest kind of look that was
too humble to be proud. But we saw the
pleasant feeling in her eyes.
The lesson went on, no doubt over well-
learned material previously covered, but
who could deny the teacher and his pupils
a little show in their quiet lives while we
were there. But this was still school, still
class, still learning, and we noted here as in
so many schools the same ardor and fer-
We stood up. The teacher stopped and
the children rose. We thanked the teacher
and told him we would visit other class-
rooms. He thanked us for coming to see
him. As we moved toward the door the
children, led by one or two of the older
ones, addressed us again in unison, “Good-
bye, madam. Goodbye, sir.”
We visited class after class where we
heard lessons in the vernacular, arithmetic
nature study, hygiene, history, and geogra-
phy. The Headmaster then showed us the
school garden and spoke proudly of the
vegetables which the pupils had planted.
All African schools, as we had already
learned, must offer some agricultural in-
struction. Southern Rhodesia, despite the
growth of secondary industries and the Af-
rican move to urban areas, still depends
heavily on rural people and agriculture.
The Inspector, too, had looked over the
classrooms, conferred with the teachers, and
talked matters over with the Headmaster.
We said goodbye and climbed into the
Land Rover. The children, now recessed,
halted their games, smiled, waved, and
shouted friendly goodbyes to us. We
waved back as well as the bumpy road
would allow us to do. As we left the school
behind us, the small children etched
against the sky grew smaller and at last
were lost to sight.