Movies and Midnight Feasts: Boarding School Memories, Part 2

Picking up where I left off yesterday: more about life at Beit School in Choma

Between baths and dinner, we polished our shoes after which they had to be inspected by the matrons to make sure they were shiny enough. After dinner we had free time, usually in a large hall. Sometimes we used that time to finish homework, and once a week on Thursdays we had movie night (lots of Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello shorts), but mostly it was fairly unstructured although certainly never rowdy. I especially remember movie nights because I had my first “date” during one. Lowell was a Pilgrim Holiness missionary kid who lived in town and was in my class at school. We exchanged letters at school, and arranged to sit together one movie night. This wasn’t really allowed, however, so with my friends’ help we each finagled to sit at the end of different rows next to the window drapes, and we held hands behind the drapes during the movie. He asked me one time whether I thought my parents would approve of our “relationship”; I told him I didn’t know but I thought it would be okay. I’m quite sure I never told my parents about him!*

Bedtime at Beit was around 7:30 p.m., with lights out soon after. As far as I can remember, there were no extra privileges to let the older girls stay up later. I’m convinced that the main reason we went to bed so early was so the matrons could have most of their evenings free and unbothered by a bunch of active girls. There was always one matron on duty, though, and she would check periodically to make sure we were actually in bed and sleeping. Sometimes we would break the rules and have “midnight feasts” after lights were out and we were fairly certain no matron was going to stop by. The feasts usually consisted of saved tuck (candy), and I suspect that midnight was actually more like 9:00. We were fortunate that our dorm room was down a long hall so we could hear when a matron was coming long before she got there. If we heard someone coming, we would scramble into bed, quickly tuck in our mosquito nets, and pretend to be asleep while the matron shined her flashlight on us. Some nights we were even braver and hung out in the restrooms where the lights were kept on all night. I always felt vaguely guilty about breaking the rules, but it was all very harmless in the great scheme of things.

The routine was different on weekends. We always washed our hair on Saturday mornings, and we weren’t allowed to do anything else until it had been inspected and deemed dry enough. Sometimes this it took a long time – no hair dryers here! Saturday was also when we wrote our weekly letter home. Then our day was mostly free for outdoor play. Sometimes we played with dolls. Favorite games included hopscotch and jacks, and even hula-hooping when that 1950s fad made it to Northern Rhodesia. I along with some of my friends were also part of a local Girl Guides troop. Sometimes we walked (again two by two) into town to the community center to see a movie; that’s where I first saw The Wizard of Oz. On Sundays, we went to church. Again, we all lined up and walked to town, first dropping off the Catholics at the Catholic church and the Dutch Reformed at their church, and then the rest of us Protestants would go to the interdenominational church where the Brethren in Christ had their monthly turn to be in charge of the service. Beit was not a Christian school, in the sense of teaching and nurturing Christian faith and practice like I was used to at home on the mission stations, but we always observed Christian holidays and routines.


The pin on the left is my house pin at Beit (no idea what Z meant). The one on the right is my Girl Guides pin.

Some other random memories:

  • Being divided into houses for competitive purposes (think Harry Potter and Quidditch matches). We had three houses at Beit – called Buffalo, Eland and Sable. I was in Buffalo, and I was the house captain during my last year. Every year, we had a sports day when the houses competed against each other. I was also a prefect, giving me some measure of authority over the younger girls.
  • Watching fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day each November 5.
  • Climbing the big mango tree near the hostel and eating green mangoes. We would remove all the pulp from the seeds, wash the seeds and remaining fibers thoroughly, and then fashion doll heads and hair out of the seeds and fibers.
  • Overhearing that I had an enlarged heart. This was not long after my bout of rheumatic fever which left me with a heart murmur. After a routine physical exam at school one day, I overheard the doctor telling a matron about my “enlarged heart.” I had no idea what that meant, but it really scared me – I imagined a super-sized heart beating in my chest and wondered what they would have to do to fix it. Ultimately, it wasn’t anything serious.
  • Being rigorously schooled in cursive handwriting. One of my teachers – Mrs. Smith, as I recall – was a stickler for good handwriting and taught us a particular method that still influences my adult handwriting style.


    Sample of my handwriting in 1960, from a “Composition and Writing” notebook I still have. This was the beginning of the essay on cats I referred to in my post on 4/6/13.

The three years I spent at Beit were fairly stable and happy years. While I always had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach during every trip back to school after vacation, I quickly got over it when I was among my friends again. It was good to be in one place at one school long enough to make friends, feel comfortable with my surroundings, and develop a reputation as a good student and someone who generally didn’t cause trouble.

My report cards were always full of praise, except for one time when one of the matrons wrote that I wasn’t being my usual helpful self. I always kind of resented that comment because I didn’t understand where it came from. The only thing I could figure out was that it had something to do with how I might have treated the younger girls I was supposed to be helping. I remember being irritated some mornings when I went to help my assigned little girl make her bed only to find that she had wet the bed and so we had extra work to do to strip down to the mattress and make it up with clean sheets. Perhaps I expressed my irritation to these little girls, some of whom were barely six years old. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now imagine how homesick and scared they probably were. I was being a normal pre-teen, but I regret my lack of compassion and I hope I have long since learned to err on the side of compassion and understanding rather than judgment and criticism.

*I googled Lowell and I think I found him – he’s now a surgeon in Michigan! Wonder if he would remember me (somehow I doubt it)?


10 thoughts on “Movies and Midnight Feasts: Boarding School Memories, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Can I Pull My Plug? Boarding School Memories, Part 1 | Pieces of Peace

  2. I am really loving these posts ,Harriet. I enjoy getting to know you better. And I do think Lowell would remember you. Why not? Just keep the stories coming!

  3. Was Lowell’s last name Bursch? If so I am in email contact with his father the Rev. Daniel Ray Bursch.
    “Uncle David”

  4. Again, many many common threads. I recall the midnight raids–I recalled that we had found some crawl space and hid out there. Somehow, someone had purchased marshmallow creme on which we gorged ourselves. To this day, I can’t STAND the stuff. Also large Coke containers–which I suspect were 16 ounce size.
    The houses–one time I was hauled up before the house council to be reprimanded–having gotten a bad grade on a test. The house older girls berated me as a “rich American” because I had shortie pajamas–which had been sent from the U.S., no doubt in a kind of charity shipment. I was stunned–rich American? Because of shortie pajamas?
    I too was prefect in Form I or II–and then was demoted by the matron when a couple of us girls were goofing around bouncing on our beds and a bed broke as a result. Because I was head girl, I was blamed and promptly demoted.
    One singular recollection I have is of visiting Daryl–since I was in high school and he in elementary, I could visit him on weekends. He would always PLEAD with me not to go–“please don’t leave, Donna.”

    • Donna, your mention of being accused of being a rich American reminded me of something else I had intended to include. Even though I think everyone knew I was American, I tried not to make it obvious by speaking with a British accent when I was at school, and then I would promptly switch back to an American accent when I went home to the mission stations. I could switch back and forth pretty much at will. I always thought I blended in fairly well with my British accent, but perhaps not! I suspect other MKs did the same thing to try to fit in better in boarding school.

  5. I remember one visit from Donna — possibly all of them rolled into one — in which I kicked the ball I was playing with into the trees nearby and asked her to get it, to keep her from leaving. Didn’t work. I also developed a Rhodesian accent, but not well enough to cover up my American-ness. Lovely writing, Harriet. Sparkling!

  6. Pingback: The Top Five of 2013 and Looking Ahead to 2014 | Pieces of Peace

  7. Pingback: A Story Waiting to Be Told: The Education of Missionary Kids - BIC Historical Society

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