Fifty years ago, my life changed forever. That summer, my family left the city of Detroit and relocated to a mission station near Kasempa, Zambia. I had just turned eight. Two days after arriving and moving into our tiny turquoise house at Mukinge, my mother and I climbed into a crowded van and I was on my way to boarding school. The date was August 5, 1967. (Even at the age of eight, I knew it was a momentous date.)
For the next eighteen weeks, I lived in a dorm room with fourteen other girls. I did everything else with those same girls–went to school, ate meals, went to church, played games, and even learned to garden. Sakeji School shaped the person I became in so many ways. I spent more time there than I did at home, and as a result Sakeji was the place I thought of as “home” in Zambia.
I know some of you associate boarding school with misery and abuse—and there certainly was plenty of both at times during my years at Sakeji. But the reality is that I loved my school. I loved the way it smelled. I loved every building (well, except maybe the outhouse and the changing hut down by the river). I loved the rain and the sun and the mangoes and the gigantic glowing moon at night. Most of all, I loved to learn, and I crammed knowledge into my brain as fast as I could. I spent all my free time reading and even read in bed by moonlight. If you want to know what my life there was like, you should read my book about it:
But today, I just wanted to acknowledge the influence this school had on my life on this, the fiftieth anniversary of my arrival there. It made me who I am. It gave me lifelong friends that are more like siblings. It enriched my life in so many ways, and I am grateful.
My last year at the school (Form I/9th grade) was the happiest of my childhood. I reveled in every moment of it. Graduation plunged me into a deep depression that plagued me for many years afterward. It was almost like all my siblings had died, because all my classmates went elsewhere (together) and I stayed at home to do school for the next year and a half. I had to learn the hard lesson of looking forward instead of back.
Today, the school is still in operation, though it has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable to former students of my vintage. Still, it has been a source of great delight for me to know my daughter Lina is teaching and living in buildings I once frequented, is seeing the same moon and the same river and the same airstrip, and hearing the same birds at night. Wish I could pop over there and spend a couple weeks of her vacation with her this month!
Here’s a Google Earth view of the school: