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.
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.
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)?